Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Cincinnati Zoo Nanny Blakely Retires
We’ve lost a chum at the Cincinnati Zoo. After six years of duty as the zoo’s nanny for a wide variety of baby animals, Australian Shepherd Blakely is retiring. Blakely was recruited for his job when zoo staff visited a local dog shelter to find a dog who would be a gentle caretaker for other animals. Only eight months old at the time, Blakely fit the bill from the start.
The zoo’s executive director Thane Maynard explains: “When mom can’t take care of them, they need all the help they can get. In essence, Blakely is a nursery worker, helping interact and play with baby animals. It’s cute and fun, and yet in terms of those babies growing up, that socialization is an important thing.”
Blakely’s first charge was a tiny cheetah named Savanna. When Savanna’s brother died, her mother ignored her, and zookeepers put her in the nursery with Blakely. Blakely responded immediately in a nurturing way, letting Savanna climb all over him, snuggle, and play together.
When babies don’t know how to eat, Blakely dips his snout into a bowl of milk and lets the baby lick the milk off of his fur. As the babies get old enough to eat from a food bowl, Blakely teaches them to eat by going to the bowl first, leading the baby to run to it before their big competitor eats up the food. In his time at the zoo Blakely has taken care of newborns from numerous species: a skunk, cheetahs, a bat-eared fox, a warthog, a takin, an aardvark, brother wallabies, and a baby ocelot.
Because they were ignored by their mother, Blakely most recently has been taking care of the zoo’s three Malayan tiger cubs: Chira, Batari, and Izzy. Dawn Strasser, head of the nursery staff, explains: “Blakely is the adult in the room. He teaches them proper tiger etiquette by checking them when they’re getting too rough or aggressive. This is something that their human surrogates can’t do.” As the cubs have grown larger, they’ve outgrown the nursery and their nanny, moving to the Night Hunters building.
When Blakely’s not on duty, he frequently goes for a walk around the zoo with a staff member, and he’s just as friendly to little kids as he is to the zoo animals. Last year the City of Cincinnati proclaimed October 19 to be Blakely Day in the city. In retirement Blakely will go to live on a farm with nursery head, Dawn Strasser. However, if the occasion arises, he may be called back into nursery duty.