Meet Akron Zoo’s Newest Animals

By Aja Hannah, photos by Ilenia Pezzaniti

Seven critically endangered animals will open Akron Zoo’s Wild Asia on May 29. Guests will get to meet Sumatran tigers, Eko and Diburu; red panda sisters Coco, Lulu and Penny; and white-cheeked gibbons Milo and Parker. 

Eko is a big, lazy boy from the Oklahoma Zoo. This 4-year-old Sumatran tiger likes to lay in the sun, lounge in his pool and sometimes spray people with urine when he gets annoyed with the attention. He is kept separate from the female Diburu because tigers are usually solitary animals. Diburu, a 3-year-old from the San Diego Zoo, likes to use the keeper stairs to get to her loft. She’s a skinny lady and very curious. She likes to watch the people going by and the animals in the other exhibits. 

Marketing and PR Manager Elena Bell did mention that they have breeding recommendations for the tigers so there may be cubs in the future. 

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The red panda sisters, born in the Kansas City Zoo, are about 1.5 years old. They are cute burgundy fluff-balls about the size of baby black-and-white pandas. They are definitely more graceful than traditional baby pandas. They like to climb branches in their exhibit and eat bamboo and sit with their fuzzy butt facing you much like a corgi would. Because their usual habitat in the Eastern Himalayas is much cooler than summers in Akron, they even have an air-conditioned alcove so they can strip bamboo at their leisure. 

While the public’s focus is on the red pandas, Bell believes the gibbons may be the underdog that the public grows to love. A gibbon is a lesser species of ape. As requested by the public, the gibbons are the much-anticipated primates that have been added to the zoo. Milo and Parker are also a bonded pair with a large exhibit. They met in October 2017 in Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and they came to Akron Zoo together. 

They can also grow their family. Their towering exhibit is certainly large enough for it. Right now, these two are super excited to settle in and swing around on the ropes. Parker, an inquisitive lady, likes to sit up on the roof and keep a lookout while Milo is a show-off for visitors. The gibbon exhibit has multiple viewing areas with large windows. Viewing areas cover several stories into the air with a treehouse structure at the very top. There is an indoor section of the exhibit as well as a slide at the very top for kids to go through. 

Wild Asia has that new smell too and there are meticulous, special touches everywhere. Tiny decals were hand-placed on the windows of the viewing areas to stop birds from slamming into them. The tiger and gibbon exhibits have special double doors that almost open into the exhibit. They are called training walls and they can be used for educational programming. The director of Red Panda Network, Ang Phuri Sherpa, visited the Akron Zoo from Nepal and consulted on the Wild Asia elements. A handwoven bamboo sunshade from Shanti Farms hangs in the red panda exhibit. On opening day, live entertainment will feature the traditions of Burmese, Nepali, Mon and Hmong cultures from the local Asian American community.

Tickets to the member-only preview event have already sold out. Wild Asia is the second of a two-part $17 million capital project, the largest expansion for Akron Zoo to date. Planning began in 2014 and the first part, Landon & Cynthia Knight Pride of Africa, was opened in 2019. Wild Asia was slated to open in 2020 and — as anyone can guess — the pandemic brought it to a halt. 

As a special note, the tigers and primates are susceptible to COVID-19. These species are all classified as critically endangered and facing habitat loss in the wild. People are destroying their homes for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in food, drinks and hygiene products. At Milo and Parker’s old home, a free app was created so you can scan barcodes of products before you buy it and the app will tell you if the palm oil in your product is sustainable. It’s called Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping App.

Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.

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