News Column

Moe the sea lion enjoying golden years at Aquaticus

May 30, 2014

By Matt Patterson, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City



May 30--It's been seven years since Moe the Sea Lion last took part in one of the Oklahoma City Zoo's aquatic presentations, but the California sea lion remains one of the most beloved animals in the zoo's care.

Moe turned 28 this week, making him an elder statesman among sea lions. They typically live 15 to 20 years either in the wild or at zoos. Moe has a touch of arthritis in his hip and cataracts in both eyes, but his overall health remains strong.

Moe's birthday will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Pinneped pool at Aquaticus. There will be a meet and greet with trainers, as well as birthday treats, contests and prizes.

As Moe glides through the water at Aquaticus, it's hard to see how arthritis has slowed him down. It's only when he moves on dry land that he's a little slower than the rest. But these are his golden years, and he's getting the most out of them. He was born at the Tulsa Zoo and was moved to Oklahoma City not long after. He spent nearly two decades as part of the zoo's presentations.

"He's just a really cool animal," Marine Mammal Supervisor Heather Down said. "One of our curators here has worked with him for most of his life, so it's cool to hear the stories about his days of stardom. She'll come out here and ask him to do stuff that we haven't asked him to do, and things he hasn't done in years, and he remembers it."

Director of Marketing Tara Henson has worked at the zoo for 23 years. She said Moe was and is a favorite.

He has a special place in a lot of people's hearts who have grown up here and visited the zoo," Henson said. "Even though he's a wild animal he feels like family. A lot of people have fond memories of Moe and some of the older animals like Judy the elephant and Kathy the gorilla. Moe has been an awesome ambassador for his species."

Moe eats about 20 pounds of fish every day. His weight has been tracked for 28 years and put onto a spreadsheet. The goal is to make sure he isn't getting too heavy or to thin. Moe weighs about 500 pounds, depending on the time of year it is. His teeth are still a healthy black, caused by dark saliva that stains them over time. His time is filled with enrichment activities.

"He responds to a lot of verbal and tactile communication," animal care technician Christina Caporali said.

"Our job is to make sure he doesn't get frustrated with us and we maintain a clear line of communication."

That communication has a purpose. Moe is currently brushing up on holding his flippers up for X-rays during his annual physical.

He has also been conditioned to allow blood to be drawn.

"It might be cool for guests to see him lift his flipper up but for us we're checking out his underside," Down said. "A lot of things that look neat are mostly to serve a purpose.

Keepers build Moe a tower of frozen fish and other items to play with. He takes one of the fish and gingerly works his way back into the water. A small crowd gathers to watch what is a part of his daily life these days.

"Every animal is different," Down said. "Parents might have one kid who is an angel and another that isn't. Part of it is genetics, but a lot of it is based on a strong training program. He's had that all his life. He's a pretty impressive example of what those genes and good human care can do for animals."

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(c)2014 The Oklahoman

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Source: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)


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