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Enjoy the latest feature story from The Nucleus
Members Meet Our Newly Arrived Fennec Foxes at a Virtual Keeper Chat
On August 21, the California Science Center welcomed our Member and donor families to a Virtual Keeper Chat, live on Zoom from the Desert gallery of Ecosystems, presented by two of our expert keepers - Louise Leborgne and Alex Soto. Members had a chance to meet our newest and cutest additions, two fennec foxes, and learned about the adaptations that allow animals to survive in the intense dry heat of the desert.
Louise began by introducing our North American desert tortoise named Flower. To survive in the harsh desert environment, Louise explained that tortoises avoid the heat by spending the majority of their lives in their burrows. They come out only during dusk and dawn to feed on cactus, prickly pears and various grasses, foraging far and wide to find food. Water is scarce in the desert unless it’s the monsoon season, so tortoises get most of their water from the food they eat. The moisture from the food gathers in their bladder which acts as a reservoir of water. We also learned that Flower enjoys having his shell scratched!
Next, Members were introduced to a chuckwalla named Rocky. Chuckwallas have adapted to the desert in a variety of ways. They are covered in scales that are dry and act as a perfect barrier to keep moisture in their bodies. Like the desert tortoises, chuckwallas don’t need to drink water, they retain moisture from the food they eat, and they also escape the heat by hiding underneath rocks or inside crevices and fissures where they also feel safe from predators.
The chuckwalla was followed by a desert millipede from the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts that crawled briskly all over Louise’s hands. Millipedes are particularly well adapted to burrowing so they can avoid the desert sun. They have tubular bodies and many legs that allow them to dig effectively in the dirt. Millipede means "a thousand feet” but in reality, they have hundreds, not thousands of legs, although some may have as many as 700 legs. Millipedes are extremely flexible because they don’t have bones in their body, they have an exoskeleton made of keratin (like our nails) composed of many individual segments, with two pairs of legs per segment, that allow them to move in every direction.
Before making their much-awaited debut, the Science Center’s newly arrived fennec foxes were introduced with a pair of videos, one narrated by Alex and another by Louise that described the Science Center’s preparations for their arrival and how they are properly cared for by our knowledgeable and dedicated team of animal keepers.
It was nicely done. This was our first Virtual Keeper Chat since becoming members. The timing was perfect. My kids (9 years old and 6 years old) were engaged the entire hour.
Our fennec foxes, Nima and Cyprus, have a brand-new habitat designed to stimulate them while making them feel safe with rocks to climb on and dens to hide in. Caring for the foxes means cleaning, feeding and also training them to learn new behaviors which help them interact safely with the keepers while bonding with them. The keepers also have an enrichment program designed to engage the foxes in some of their natural behaviors, like placing their food in a tube to challenge the foxes to hunt for food like they would in the wild.
Alex and Louise concluded their presentations with a question-and-answer segment while Cyprus sprang and scampered in his habitat. As Cyprus entertained his visitors, our inquisitive Members learned that fennec foxes have adapted to the 130-degree heat in the North African deserts where they come from with furry feet that protect them from the hot sand, a beige coat that reflects the sun, big ears that allow the blood in their veins to cool down before returning to their body and by being crepuscular, meaning they are only active at dusk and dawn. Younger Members also discovered that fennec foxes weigh only a few pounds, jump as high as two feet, run as fast as a small dog and make a very high-pitched screeching sound.