Pinocchio’s zoo debut nothing short of remarkable

Nearly 4,500 people visited Salisbury Zoo on Saturday to see Pinocchio, the Andean bear who was formally introduced to the public last week. Pinocchio, who was born in 2013, had been quarantined at the zoo since traveling from Ecuador and arriving in Salisbury in November.

Nearly 4,500 people flocked to the Salisbury Zoo to see Pinocchio, the Andean bear who loves honey, when he was formally introduced to the public last week.

“He seemed remarkably calm. We were a little afraid with so many people here that he might be intimidated because he had never been around that many people before, but he handled it perfectly fine,” Zoo Director Ralph Piland said about Saturday’s event.

Pinocchio, who was born in 2013, had been quarantined at the zoo since traveling from Ecuador and arriving in Salisbury in November. After having been illegally taken from the wild, he was rescued by the Ministry of the Environment in Ecuador.

At the party in his honor last weekend, the official head count was 4,410, a number Piland called “astronomical for this time of year.”

Last year, 6,891 visitors went to the zoo during the month of January, he said.

“We had some cake and cupcakes for people but not enough to go around. We had no idea that we would have a crowd that large. It’s wonderful. We’re really overwhelmed by that, but in retrospect we wish we could have prepared for a bigger crowd,” he said.

Pinocchio, a big male bear described by Piland as more plodding than mischievous, as his predecessor Alba was, showed interested in exploring the exhibits.

The plan is for him to mate with the zoo’s 7-year-old beat Chaska, who gave birth to Alba a couple of years ago, delighting the public, who snapped photos of the cub and laughed as she climbed and tumbled.

Pinocchio and Chaska have seen each other from a distance and vocalized to each other.

Because Pinocchio is particularly fond of honey, zookeepers squirt a diluted mix of the rich sweetener in his mouth, as a reward while training him.

“He is happy to oblige and do the behaviors they want when they’ve got that to offer him,” Piland said, laughing.

Pinocchio is very people focused and has been easy to train to go through certain doors. He complies when it’s  necessary to look in his mouth and inspect his teeth and examine his paws.

Pinocchio demonstrates some tree-climbing agility during his debut on Saturday.

Born in the wild and rescued by the Ministry of Environment, Pinocchio is much closer to Chaska’s age than was Gritto, who fathered Alba while in his mid-20s, a success because Gritto had valuable genetics.

Gritto died shortly after Alba was born. Years ago, the zoo had a bear named Poopsie, who lived to be 37, setting a new record for longevity, Piland said.

Local zookeepers receive updates about Alba, who is quite the diva at the her new home in the San Diego Zoo.

“She made the transition very well,” Piland said.

“They will pair her with a male bear in hopes she will give birth,” he said.


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