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Published: Friday, 5/10/2013

BARU AT THE ZOO

Lack of appetite not concern for crocodile

Baru adjusting before public debut at zoo

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Baru, a 17-foot crocodile, will be featured in the Wild Walkabout exhibit at the Toledo Zoo. Baru, a 17-foot crocodile, will be featured in the Wild Walkabout exhibit at the Toledo Zoo.
TOLEDO ZOO Enlarge

Baru, the Toledo Zoo’s new 17-foot crocodile, has been here for more than a month, but hasn’t had a meal yet.

No need to be insulted — he’s not snubbing his giant nose at Toledo food. Crocodiles just don’t eat all that much. It’s not unusual for them to go eight months in the wild without eating, according to Jeff Sailer, Toledo Zoo executive director.

Since Baru’s arrival April 5 after a 30-hour-long trip from Australia, the zoo has been in contact with advisory groups made of crocodile experts and “hardcore crocodile biologists,” he said. “People have said not to start worrying for six months,” Mr. Sailer said.

Baru (pronounced Bah-roo) was brought to Toledo by Block Communications Inc., and his name is an indigenous Australian word for saltwater crocodile. He is the centerpiece of the zoowide Wild Walkabout Australian exhibit, which is to open May 24. The exhibit includes wallabies, dingoes, cassowaries, and some of Australia’s deadliest snakes.

From Day One, the saltwater crocodile, believed to be the biggest in captivity in the Western Hemisphere, has never acted stressed, Mr. Sailer said.

PHOTO GALLERY: see the photos of Baru's arrival last month from Australia

“And now he’s acting like it’s his home,” Mr. Sailer said of the 12,050-square-foot solarium in the Reptile House with an 18,000-gallon-pool that makes up Baru’s exhibit space. “He’s an absolutely beautiful animal.”

The 1,540-pound crocodile, who was considered a nuisance animal in his native Australia because of his propensity for killing and eating cattle, has been receptive to the dead chickens that his Toledo keepers have given him.

“He pulls the chickens under water and plays with them,” Mr. Sailer said. “He’s just not gotten really hungry yet.”

One downside of him not eating is that the zoo staff can’t begin training him. The plan is to teach him to go to a certain area in the exhibit to get his food.

Judging by his arrival weight, he may have had some really good meals in Australia right before his trip, which might be contributing to his lack of appetite, Mr. Sailer said.

“The Australians definitely added some weight on him,” he said. “He arrived bigger than he was in December when we went to visit him.”

Crocodiles, by nature, have large energy reserves, Mr. Sailer said. Even though he was taking down cattle in the wild, after such episodes he wouldn’t eat again for many months.

“We’re talking about a 17-foot-long apex [top-level] predator,” Mr. Sailer said. “There’s not a lot that will frighten him except another large crocodile.”

Although he doesn’t go on public exhibit for two more weeks, the zoo has been slowly introducing him to more zoo staff members so he gets used to seeing people watch him. The glass wall of his cage was originally covered almost completely with brown paper, and staff members have slowly been removing it so Baru can see more and more of the people walking by.

“He is definitely aware of us when we are looking through the glass,” Mr. Sailer said. “He’s very curious.”

The cost of bringing the crocodile to Toledo totaled $90,000 and included permits, hiring specially trained handlers who served as escorts, building a special crate, and air transportation.

The cost of renovating the solarium in the Reptile House totaled $900,000 and is being paid for with money the zoo had budgeted for seasonal exhibits, some of which is tax-levy money, earned revenue from the operating fund, and private contributions.

The largest single private gift was a $150,000 donation from Block Communications Inc., the parent company of The Blade, as well as an additional in-kind donation consisting of free advertising in The Blade and on Buckeye CableSystem channels.

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



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