They grow up so fast. A six-week-old takin calf – described by zookeepers as “playful” and “spunky” – is growing by the day as keepers at the San Diego Zoo feed her bottles and the herd looks after her.
Hsi Hsi – pronounced “Cee-Cee” – was born at the San Diego Zoo on May 22 to first-time mother, Duli. After the birth, San Diego Zoo Senior Keeper Joanne Mills said Duli wasn’t feeling well. Hsi Hsi wasn’t nursing, so Mills said zookeepers stepped in to bottle-feed the baby animal.
Zookeepers began bottle-feeding the calf several times each day and, like a well-fed baby, she sprouted.
Mills said Hsi Hsi – who weighed 12 pounds at birth – is now closer to 50 pounds. She is bottle-fed three times a day and, while she’s often sleepy like a human baby, she perks right up for her bottle.
“She’s very eager to eat that bottle,” said Mills.
At her current feeding pace, the San Diego Zoo said the calf is gaining an average of 500 grams in weight every day – and almost seven pounds per week.
Mills said the bottle-feedings for Hsi Hsi will likely continue until September, when she’s 13 or 14 weeks old, though she may wean early, as every calf is different.
As she grows, Hsi Hsi is also starting to sample solid foods, including pellets, hay and browse.
“She loves to lick the salt box,” Mills added. “And she loves water, too.”
Though fed by keepers, the calf remains with her herd. Her two aunties, Mei and Eve, are constantly looking after the newborn, teaching her social skills that will help her down the road.
Mills said Hsi Hsi can often be seen following Mei and Eve around their habitat, or sleeping next to her mother or aunties. Sometimes, her aunties will nudge her toward keepers when they spot a bottle being brought to the calf.
Hsi Hsi’s name means “playful monkey” in Chinese and Mills said the calf certainly lives up to her name.
“She very playful; very spunky,” the keeper said. “She loves to head-butt her browse, the rocks and the walls of her enclosure – and yes, even her aunties from time to time.”
The calf is also a very agile climber and enjoys standing in the water in her enclosure and soaking her hooves.
“She’s doing all of the behaviors the adult takins do, just in a little package,” Mills explained.
Mills said keepers have loved every minute of watching Hsi Hsi grow in the last few weeks.
“She’s the cutest baby ever,” Mills said, smiling proudly. “She’s growing up so fast.”
The San Diego Zoo said takins are native to the Sichuan province in China and are listed as vulnerable in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) status Appendix II, due to overhunting and habitat loss.
Baby takins are born with a coat that is darker than the adults and have a distinctive white patch of fur above the forehead that resembles a little unibrow. As they get older, their fur lightens. Takins are known for their climbing skills, aided by their split hooves, which helps them move around in rocky habitats.
The birth of Hsi Hsi marks the 67th takin born at the San Diego Zoo, which has the most successful breeding program of Sichuan takins in the United States. The San Diego Zoo was also the first zoo to exhibit Sichuan takins to the public.
Today, visitors can admire the zoo’s takin herd in the Panda Trek area. It’s fitting that the takins live next to the pandas at the San Diego Zoo, as the animals share the same habitat in China.