Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ferrets and elephants and bears, oh my!

Bright and early the Sunday morning of Fandom Fest in Louisville, Sean Astin was invited for a unique behind the scenes tour of the Louisville Zoo, specifically to see the endangered black-footed ferret breeding facility, one of a handful in the country.

On arriving at the Zoo, we were met by ferret keeper Guy Graves, who explained a little about the rare animals in his charge.

Black-footed ferrets, once thought extinct, were rediscovered in 1981, but by 1987, there were only 18 animals left. Thanks to a successful captive-breeding and reintroduction program, numbers have climbed to around 1300, and they are slowly being returned to their native prairie habitat. Read more about black-footed ferrets here.

Because of the ferrets' susceptibility to disease, staff and visitors must shower and change into scrubs and masks before entering the ferret room!

This ferret was as curious about Sean as he was about the ferret!

Rat for breakfast!

Mom and 4 week old kits

Zoo Director John Walczak and Sean
After visiting with the ferrets, we were greeted by Zoo director John Walczak (a fan of The Lord of the Rings!) who offered to take us to a few of the Zoo's other hot spots. We hopped on one of the Zoo's golf carts and took off!

First up was Glacier Run, a new habitat for grizzly and polar bears that mimics a gold mining town (based on Churchill, Manitoba) on the edge of the arctic wilderness. The exhibit features building, trucks and overhead walkways as well as craggy cliffs and deep pools for the bears to explore.

Again, we were given the opportunity to go behind the scenes, and to get very up close to both grizzly and polar bears, while the Zoo staff told us the history of each animal.

Note the sign on fridge; do not confuse with other fridge!

Sean contemplates the grizzly bear…

While the grizzly contemplates Sean!

The hot weather doesn't bother this polar bear—he has his own swimming pool!

Next up was a visit to the elephants.

Sean discovers how velvet-soft it is behind the elephant's ear.
Even the hairs on Mickey's hide were softer than he expected.

"Mr. Frodo! Look! It's an Oliphaunt! No one at home will believe this!"

Just chillin' with friends!

It was this 5-day old giraffe that was clearly Sean's favorite! The youngster was being hand reared.

Throughout the tour, we were impressed by the facilities, but even more by the obvious the dedication and love the staff show for the animals in their care. Sean told them that is was the best Zoo tour he'd ever been on. Throughout the rest of the day, Sean talked about his experiences with the ferrets, bears, elephants and baby giraffe to the fans who came seeking his autograph. He showed off pictures from his phone to a shy little girl and told local residents of the treasure they had in their town.

Visit the Louisville Zoo's web site, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

All photos are from myself, or courtesy of Kyle Shepard, Media Relations Manager at the Louisville Zoo.

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