Whether it’s a relative, friend, pet or Zoo animal, the final goodbye is always heartbreaking. Earlier this week, we said farewell to two of our most beloved ambassador animals: Rufus the naked mole-rat and Bosc the savannah monitor.
In 2016, Rufus, who was roughly 20 years old, began developing slow-to-heal skin lesions and last summer, her keepers noticed a steady decline in her weight. Despite being offered more food, the trend continued.
Treatment options are more limited for rodents for a number of reasons. Because of their small size, blood draws are extremely difficult and X-rays do not provide detailed imagery. Antibiotics and other medications can create additional issues in the digestive tract.
Naked mole-rats have a complicated social structure not unlike those of bees and ants: a queen “rules” over dozens, sometimes hundreds, of workers who collect food, dig tunnels and defend the colony from predators. In 2007, Rufus unsuccessfully challenged her queen and was consequently “kicked out” of the group. When our colony was relocated to another Zoo later that year, Rufus remained to represent her species in education programs. She quickly became something of a celebrity in what would eventually be known as the Wildlife Detective Training Academy (WDTA).
“For a social creature who was kicked out of her colony and lived for years in isolation, Rufus surpassed everyone’s expectations,” says Logan, one of her keepers. “She put herself right to work in her new home, keeping busy creating new tunnels and foraging for food like nothing had happened. Many concerned guests approached me to ask if she was sick due to her habit of sleeping sprawled out on her back. Once they were assured she was fine, they would start asking questions, and before long, I would realize I’d spent 10 minutes telling them all the amazing things about what I believe is the most amazing species in the WDTA! As a fighter and an inspiration, we will miss Rufus and work to keep her spirit of never giving up alive.”
Bosc was reaching the average life expectancy for his species and in 2015, he developed age-related conditions such as cataracts and arthritis. These conditions worsened in recent years and in the last week of his life, Bosc showed little interest in food.
Bosc arrived in 2010. When not lounging in the WDTA, he was often seen being handled by volunteers in front of the Zoo.
“He was an amazing reptile,” adds Logan. “His calm demeanor and impressive size always left guests amazed and inspired. Bosc was an amazing ambassador not only for his species, but for all reptiles that are seen as unblinking eating machines and not the intelligent, magnificent creatures they are.
“We are indebted to these animals for their impact on us as keepers and opening our guests’ eyes to the value of the animal kingdom’s less-appreciated species. Though we’re devastated they’re gone, we take great comfort in the knowledge that Rufus and Bosc will live on forever in the hearts of everyone they touched.”