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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Holiday Guide

Kyllikki and her mom, Rosie, are two of three generations of reindeer living at the zoo. (PHOTO: Mike Nepper, Milwaukee County Zoo)

In Holiday Guide

Here, mamma and daughter enjoy a little snack together. (PHOTO: Mike Nepper, Milwaukee County Zoo)

Zoo reindeer celebrate holidays, too


Although most of us likely have red noses at this time of year, none of the reindeer at Milwaukee County Zoo boasts such a feature.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth bundling up and braving the cold this holiday season to visit the distant relatives of Santa's sled-team.

Zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Diliberti says you won't have to jockey for space to see these furry Christmas faves.

"I would guess a few extra visitors might brave the cold to see the reindeer at the holidays, but there simply are not a lot of visitors out here at this time of year," she says.

"The Zoological Society's Education Department does offer reindeer classes during this time of year, and the classes visit the barn to see these animals up close most days in December."

Bet you didn't know that Milwaukee County Zoo boasts three generations of the same reindeer family. Grandma Rosie is 6 years old and Diliberti says she and her 3-year-old daughter Kyllikki are calm and friendly to people.

However Kyllikki's 2-year-old son Edan is, in her words, "is a bit rambunctious, and overly-friendly -- to the point zookeepers do not go into the exhibit with him."

That seems likely due to the fact that Edan was hand-raised by humans due to the fact that Kyllikki -- whose name is a Celtic word meaning "woman of strength" -- was so young when she became a mom.

Because this is America, even the reindeer exhibit is something of a melting pot, it seems. Edan, you see, is one-quarter caribou on his father's side.

"It may be a bit unusual for some species to have multiple generations living at the same zoo," says Diliberti, "as offspring are often sent to other facilities. All of our reindeer will be staying here, and are receiving birth control implants to prevent inbreeding."

Here are some factoids about reindeer in general and about the reindeer at Milwaukee County Zoo:

  • Rosie, Kyllikki and Edan love fresh leaves in summer and beet pulp as a treat.
  • Reindeer hooves click when they walk so the herd can stay together in blinding, blowing snow on the tundra where they live in the wild.
  • Male and female reindeer and caribou grow antlers each spring, shed their velvet in autumn and lose their antlers in the winter in order to grow a larger pair each year.
  • Reindeer are the only members of the deer family in which the females grow antlers.

Although reindeer are famous for helping Santa deliver presents around the word, the animals at the zoo also get little gifts for the holidays.

"Next weekend, the Zoo Pride volunteer enrichment committee will be wrapping Christmas boxes for the animals," says Diliberti.

"They decorate these boxes with wrapping paper, and leave an opening where the zookeepers can put each animals' favorite treat inside. The animals then have to work to get the treats and enjoy "opening," carrying, shredding, eating, etc. the packages."

If you want to get in on the act, the zoo hosts its second annual Giving Tree in the U.S. Bank Gathering Place. A special tree is decorated with ornaments that include enrichment gift requests from the animals. Visitors choose an ornament and then buy the git.

Last year, the Giving Tree led to more than $1,300 in enrichment and supplies being donated.

For more information on the Giving Tree, including a list of requested items, visit the Zoo Web site or call (414) 256-5466.


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