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Published: Saturday, 5/25/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Crowds wild about Walkabout at zoo

Giant croc Baru makes debut

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Members of the public get their first view of Baru, a 17-foot crocodile, during the public opening of the Wild Walkabout at the Toledo Zoo. Members of the public get their first view of Baru, a 17-foot crocodile, during the public opening of the Wild Walkabout at the Toledo Zoo.
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Toledo’s newest reptilian resident has a hankering for a steak, and make it rare.

After going more than a month without eating the chickens — both brown and white — that his Toledo Zoo keepers had given him, they decided to offer the extremely large saltwater crocodile something else.

Apparently what Baru had been thinking while playing with the dead chickens, but not eating them, was that famous phrase from the 1980s fast-food commercial: Where’s the beef?

He has quickly eaten the three chuck-roast steaks that have been provided to him.

It’s really no surprise, given he was considered a nuisance in his native Australia because he was taking down cattle. However, the keepers haven’t given up on trying to make him into a poultry fan.

“Whole game is a lot better for him,” said R. Andrew Odum, Toledo Zoo assistant director of animal programs and curator of herpetology. “There’s a lot of calcium in the bones.”

During his exhibit’s opening day, he lurked just below the surface of the water, keeping a close eye on the enthralled crowd.

“How big is he?” asked one woman to one of the zoo’s interpretive staff members.

“He’s 17 feet long and about 1,500 pounds,” came the answer.

“That just ain’t right,” she said, shaking her head and walking away. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

A wallaby jumps across the foot path during Friday's opening of the Wild Walkabout at the Toledo Zoo. A wallaby jumps across the foot path during Friday's opening of the Wild Walkabout at the Toledo Zoo.
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While not cute and cuddly like the wallabies — the other big draw in the new Wild Walkabout Australian-themed zoo-wide exhibit that will be open through Labor Day — the crocodile was already making fans out of his visitors.

“I don’t want to leave yet!” said Olivia Welch, 4, of Toledo, who was at the zoo with her grandmother, Carol Wilkerson of Toledo. “I want to see him when he comes out of the water.”

Crowds of people flocked to the Toledo Zoo to see more than 50 species of Australian animals that are part of the Wild Walkabout exhibit.

The opening weekend kicked off at 10 a.m. with speeches by Jeff Sailer, the Zoo’s executive director and CEO, along with Lucas County Commissioners Tina Skeldon-Wozniak and Pete Gerken, Zoo board of directors President Mary Ellen Pisanelli, and retired Australian diplomat Lindsay Smith.

Local performance art group E:NFP concluded the ceremony with an Australian-themed performance.

Mr. Sailer cut the ceremonial opening day ribbon with a giant pair of crocodile-shaped scissors — with blades in the shape of a crocodile’s jaws.

There was a steady line to see the wallabies and Baru, who traveled 30 hours from his native Australia.

Block Communications Inc., the parent company of The Blade, helped fund Baru’s journey and his new exhibit space within the Reptile House.

“He’s not showing any signs of stress so far,” said Val Hornyak, a lead keeper in the zoo’s herpetology department. “He’s really taking it all in stride.”

The Aviary was busy with visitors checking out the new double-wattled cassowaries and the two birds of paradise — both the lesser and superb varieties.

Wes Heywood, 6, was particularly interested in the birds, because he has put together 3-D models of both species.

Crowds flock to the Toledo Zoo to see more than 50 species of Australian animals that are part of the Wild Walkabout exhibit. The top draw on Friday was Baru, a 17-foot crocodile from Australia. Crowds flock to the Toledo Zoo to see more than 50 species of Australian animals that are part of the Wild Walkabout exhibit. The top draw on Friday was Baru, a 17-foot crocodile from Australia.
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“His grandmother is a birding enthusiast and has given him books and the models,” said Susie Heywood of Maumee.

Wes and his brother, Louis, 3, admired the cassowaries. As one strutted across the exhibit, Wes peered at it closely.

“The one in my book is a lot bigger,” he said.

The zoo’s pair are adolescents and have a lot more growing to do. They are currently about 50 pounds, which is only about half of their adult weight, Mr. Sailer said.

“That’s the neat thing about this exhibit,” Mr. Sailer said. “If you come out today and see them, you can come back in a month and see how much they have grown.”

Besides Baru, featured reptiles include a death adder, coastal taipan, and green tree python.

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066 or @TanyaIrwin.



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