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Published: Friday, 8/30/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Zoo’s wildly successful Walkabout to end soon

Baru and most featured critters to stay

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Although the Toledo Zoo’s incredibly popular Wild Walkabout exhibit concludes Monday, Baru — the zoo’s 17-foot Australian saltwater crocodile — will remain here. Although the Toledo Zoo’s incredibly popular Wild Walkabout exhibit concludes Monday, Baru — the zoo’s 17-foot Australian saltwater crocodile — will remain here.
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The wallabies at the Toledo Zoo are packing their bags — or maybe it’s their pouches — and are heading back to their private owner in Indiana.

After a summer of down-under fun, the Australian-themed Wild Walkabout exhibit is drawing to a close. But zoo fans will be happy to hear most of the featured animals will be sticking around after Monday, the exhibit’s last day before it closes. Baru, the 17-foot-long crocodile from Australia, will continue to enthrall visitors both young and old.

The wallaby walk-through exhibit was a huge hit and two of the younger marsupials will remain at the zoo in the zoo’s education program, said Andi Norman, the zoo’s director of marketing and public relations.

Related story: Popular polar bear born in Toledo dies.

“We’ll be keeping RJ, who is about 6 months old, and Willa, who is about 1 year old,” she said. “They will be companions for one another but not a breeding pair at this time. They are being hand-reared as education animals, lead and harness-trained for programs. At this point, they are to be housed in our Education Animal Center [off-exhibit] with our other education animals.”

The wallaby exhibit space will be renovated for the cassowaries, which were also part of the Wild Walkabout, she said.

The exhibit was a hit with the public. The zoo had 418,597 visitors from May 24 through Sunday this year compared with 379,630 visitors during the same period in 2012.

The zoo will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Labor Day.

Next year’s big exhibit will be the opening of a penguin exhibit, which is under construction adjacent to the aquarium.

The renovated aquarium is on track to reopen in 2015.

Kelly Layton and her family, from Dundee, hadn’t visited the zoo all summer.

“But we really wanted to get here to see this exhibit before it closed,” said Mrs. Layton, who was there Wednesday with her children Jarrod, 14; Julia, 11, and Ethan, 8.

The wallabies seemed to gravitate to Jarrod, who is an animal lover, according to his mother. As he walked through the exhibit, they came right up to him and practically dared him to touch them.

One Australian animal no one is going to touch is Baru.

The gigantic saltwater crocodile is still eating only beef and remains a reluctant feeder, said R. Andrew Odum, Toledo Zoo assistant director of animal programs and curator of herpetology.

On Thursday, he was offered a large piece of chuck roast by Mr. Odum, who dangled the meat over the exhibit. But Baru spit it out without chewing it, like a fussy child. He has also been known to reject eye of round, another cut of beef. Chicken is regularly rejected.

“He eats about every two weeks, but we feed him two or three times a week,” Mr. Odum said. “He’s still getting acclimated and is functioning as if he was in Australia, where it is winter. It will take him a year to a year and half to settle in completely.”

One Toledo resident who has gotten to know Baru extremely well is Jim Kinnear, a veteran zoo volunteer who regularly spends six or seven hours a day, two to three days per week, hanging out with the crocodile.

He observed that Baru seems to like children, especially those dressed in red. Baru already has gently knocked into the glass at the exhibit’s edge to get closer to a little girl dressed in red, Mr. Kinnear said.

“He is a magnificent creature,” Mr. Kinnear said. “I have become quite fond of him.”

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



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