Meet the Animals

NOVA Wild brings nature up close and personal
Children feeding a miniature donkey carrots at the zoo.


Range: Historically ranging throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa and extending eastward into the Middle East and to central India, the cheetah is now distributed mainly in small, fragmented populations in central Iran and southern, eastern and northwestern Africa.

Facts: Cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 70 mph and they have a few adaptations to allow them to be able to reach that top speed quickly. Cheetahs have enlarged nostrils and extensive, air-filled sinuses. While running, a cheetah’s specially adapted respiratory system allows it to go from a normal rate of 60 breaths per minute to 150 breaths per minute. Cheetahs also possess an enlarged heart, oversized liver, adrenals, bronchi, and lungs, and large arteries. These adaptations are necessary for an animal that relies on a quick burst of speed to capture prey.

Just like your fingerprint, every cheetah’s spot pattern is unique to them! This spotted coat serves as camouflage by offsetting shadows in the gray-hued grasses in their natural habitat.

Red River Hog

Range: Red River hogs live in rainforests, wet dense savannas, and forested valleys, and near rivers, lakes and marshes in Africa. Their distribution ranges from the Congo area and Gambia to the eastern Congo, southwards to the Kasai and the Congo River.

Facts: Foraging mostly at night, red river hogs are not particular about what they eat. They are omnivorous and will eat anything from seeds to fruit to carrion. They have also been spotted following chimpanzees in search of dropped fruit, and will consume elephant dung in order to get to undigested seeds.

Red river hogs get their name from the red coat and tendency to often wallow in rivers and streams, but they are also callled “tufted pigs” due to their long white whiskers and white hair on their ears.

Silvery Cheeked Hornbill

Range: Silvery Cheeked Hornbills are found in the forests of East Africa from Ethiopia to South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Facts: These birds participate in a nesting strategy that is truly unique to hornbills. The female will seal herself into a tree cavity with her brood. She will leave a slit in the opening to the cavity that is only large enough for the male’s bill and she will depend on him as her sole source of food until her chicks are ready to fledge.

Hornbill beaks are comprised of honeycombed bone with a thin layer of overlaying keratin. This means that in spite of looking very heavy, they are actually quite lightweight.

Red Ruffed Lemur

Range: Red Ruffed Lemurs are found in the North Eastern part of Madagascar

Red Ruffed Lemurs use a number of alarm calls to warn other group members about predators.

Red Ruffed Lemurs are one of the few primate species that has litters of young. The female will have around three to six offspring that stay in a nest while the adults search for food. The female will return to the nest to nurse her young.

Brown Lemur

Range: Brown lemurs have two separate large populations, one across dry forests in the north-west and the other in lowland and montane rainforests of eastern Madagascar.

Facts: Brown lemurs are cathemeral, meaning they are active both during the day and at night throughout the year.

Diet consists primarily of fruits, leaves, and flowers with occasional nectar and bark. They consume more than 100 species of plant foods, though 15 comprise the bulk of the diet.

Cotton Top Tamarin

Range: Cotton top tamarins are found in a small area of northwest Colombia in a range bound by the Cauca and Magdalena Rivers and the Atlantic coast.

Facts: Tamarins are highly important seed dispersers in tropical ecosystems. They ingest and void seeds larger than those consumed by much larger species of primates. These voided seeds show high germination success, but there may be another benefit to this seed-swallowing behavior. One function of swallowing such disproportionately large seeds may be to mechanically expel intestinal parasites from their digestive tract.

Cotton top tamarins like to sleep in! They sleep past dawn and then start traveling along established routes to forage for food. This pattern allows them to travel and eat during times many of their predators are sleeping.

White Faced Capuchin

Range: White-faced Capuchins live in Central and South America. There they inhabit the tropical forests of Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

Facts: White-faced Capuchins communicate with one another using chirps, barks, and whistles. They will also bark and cough to alert each other of a predator in the area.

These monkeys have what’s known as a prehensile tail. This means that the monkey can grab tree branches and other objects using its tail.

Squirrel Monkey

Range: Squirrel Monkeys are found in parts of Central and South America. They inhabit the countries of Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil

Facts: Squirrel monkeys have been observed interacting with Cebus monkeys. These interactions are peaceful and the squirrel monkeys benefit from the predator alarm calls the Cebus monkeys make. They also use the Cebus monkey’s knowledge of areas to help them find new food sources.

Squirrel monkeys have the largest brain to body mass ratio of all primates. It is twice the proportion of a human.

Squirrel monkeys live in large groups of 40-50 individuals, but these groups can reach up to 500 individuals! These troops usually contain sub-groups of adult males, pregnant females, females with their young, and groups of young Squirrel Monkeys. They sleep together at night, but will break up into these sub-groups during the day to forage.


Range: Tayra can be found in both Central and South American neo-tropical forests and can range from inland of Northern Argentina to Mexico.

Facts: Tayra are both arboreal and terrestrial and their locomotion consists of erratic bouncing movements.

Tayra are omnivorous and will eat almost anything they can find, but they do have a preference for spiny rats.

Tayra were once kept as pets and used for rodent control by the indigenous people of the area.

Mountain Coati

Range: The Mountain Coati is native to Central and South America, and parts of the southwestern US. This ranges from the Andes of western Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, northern Peru, and through central America going up into the states bordering Mexico.

Facts: A coatimundi’s double jointed ankles rotate 180 degrees, enabling it to climb down a tree head first.

According to The Encyclopedia of Mammals, coati is not short for “coatimundi.” Females and their young form bands of 20 individuals or more, while adult males are solitary. This difference in social structure (and males being larger than females) confused biologists, who initially described the solitary males as a separate species. The use of “coatimundi,” meaning “lone coati” for males reflects this error. Now, only lone males are sometimes called coatimundi, although they are coatis, too.

Female coatis possess a larger frontal cortical volume than their male counterparts due to their expanded, lifelong social ties


Range: Budgerigar’s are distributed throughout drier parts of Australia.


The color of the budgerigar’s cere (the area containing the nostrils) differs between the sexes, being royal blue in males, pale brown to white (nonbreeding) or brown (breeding) in females, and pink in immatures of both sexes. Some females only develop a brown cere during breeding season which later returns to normal.

Budgerigars in the wild are not only smaller than captive bred budgies, but are also only found in their natural green and yellow coloring. All other colors were bred in captivity.

Indian Peafowl

Range: Indian peafowl in habitat forested areas through eastern Pakistan through India, and south from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka.

Facts: Males and females are easily distinguished from one another. The males are a deep blue and have a beautiful 5-foot train of tail feathers while females have short tail feathers and more neutral coloring. Males are called peacocks, females are called peahens, and offspring are called peachicks. Together they are called peafowl.

Peafowl are usually solitary in the wild, only coming together for breeding.

Peafowl are very loud and have six alarm calls that both males and females make. The males have an additional seven they emit during territorial disputes.


Range: Emu are found primarily in Australia, but also in New Guinea, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and the Philippines.

Facts: Emus live in small groups where the males will incubate up to 25 eggs laid by several females. During the 54-60 day incubation the male will not eat, drink, or defecate. Males become very aggressive once the chicks are hatched. They will chase away females and attack anything that comes close to their nest. The male will stay with the chicks for about 5 to 7 months.

Emus have a prehistoric-like claw on the tip of their small wings.

Emus will travel hundreds of miles to find food and water sources.

Greater Rhea

Range: The greater rhea is found in southeastern South America, including Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina, where it lives in grassland and semi-arid scrubland.

Facts: Rheas have unusually long wings for flightless birds. They use their wings like a rudder balance while running and to dodge predators using a zig zag like running pattern.The greater rhea is a silent bird except during mating season, when they make low booming noises, and as chicks, when they give a firework-like whistle.

Three Banded Armadillo

Range: Three-banded armadillos can be found in eastern Bolivia, southwestern Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Facts: The hard carapace covering their bodies develops from the skin and is composed of strong, bony plates, called scutes.

They use their well-developed sense of hearing and smell to detect both predators and prey. In the wild they feed primarily on ants and termites, which they obtain using their powerful forelegs and claws.


Range: The llamas’ native range is the Andes Mountains of South America, primarily Peru and Bolivia, but none are found in the wild as they were domesticated from wild guanacos.

Facts: Llamas’ blood contains a high amount of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body, which enables them to survive at high elevation with low levels of oxygen.

Female llamas are called either “dams” or “hembras.” Males are called “studs” or “machos.” Castrated males are known as “geldings.”

Llamas communicate with a variety of humming sounds.

American Bison

Range: Herds can be found in parts of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario and Saskatchewan in Canada, as well as Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, and Alaska.

Facts: Bison were once widespread from Alaska to northern Mexico, but the current range occupied by conservation herds has diminished to one percent of its original status.

Bison are usually found in groups arranged by sex, age, season, and habitat. Both cows and bulls live in a dominance hierarchy in these groups, which is established early in life.

Bison wallow in the dust and mud to keep cool and to soothe insect bites.

Asian Water Buffalo

Range: Native to parts of Asia including Nepal, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Bhutan. Domesticated water buffalo can be found widespread throughout most of Asia.

Facts: They have wide splayed hooves to prevent them from sinking too deeply in the mud and allow them to move about in wetlands and swamps.

Young female water buffalo will stay with their mother’s herd for the duration of their lives whereas young bulls will create bachelor herds after 3 years.

The remaining population of wild water buffalo totals less than 4,000. A population decline of at least 50% over the last three generations and is projected to continue.

Fallow Deer

Range: Originally native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Asia Minor, this species has since been introduced to other continents across the globe.

Facts: Fallow deer are the most widely kept deer and are now found on every continent around the globe.

Fallow deer are the sole survivors of the Megacerines, a diverse deer lineage that was widespread and abundant early in the Ice Ages.

Sika Deer

Range: Sika deer are native to much of East Asia.

Facts: Sika deer are excellent swimmers and will readily enter the water in order to escape from predators or for other reasons.

They are also highly vocal animals, with over 10 different individual sounds.

Miniature Donkey

Range: Miniature donkeys are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia and were first imported into the United States in 1929.

Facts: The donkey was first domesticated about six thousand years ago.

A donkey’s long ears have an excellent blood supply, which is a desert adaptation for cooling the body.

Donkeys have both monocular and binocular vision, which allows them to see two fields of vision at once (monocular) or to focus on the same thing with both eyes at the same time (binocular). There is a blind spot directly in front of the donkey and one directly behind.


Range: The primary homeland of the Watusi are Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

Facts: The horns on the watusi exist for one main purpose….body temperature regulation. The horns are mostly hollow, but have a plethora of blood vessels circulating through them that aid in dispersing heat.

Watusi’s horns can span up to eight feet in length and grow throughout their entire lives. They can stand up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 1600 pounds!

Pygmy Goat

Range: Pygmy goats originated in West Africa, but is now a domesticated popular breed found around the world.

Facts: Pygmy goats most commonly have twins, but they can have singletons, triplets, or even quadruplets.

Both male and female pygmy goats can have horns.

The first pygmy goats were brought to the United States in the 1950s to exhibit in zoos.

Pygmy goats were domesticated 8,500 years ago.

Miniature Zebu

Range: Miniature Zebu originated in Southern India.

Facts: Miniature Zebu are also called Nadudana which is a hindi word meaning small cow. They are one of the smallest cattle species in the world.

Miniature Zebu were first brought to the US in the 1920’s to be exhibited in zoos.

They also have a large hump on their shoulders that increases in size with age. This hump is made up of muscle and an enlarged vertebrae in between the shoulder blades.

Kunekune Pig

Range: Kunekune pigs originated in New Zealand.

Facts: Kunekune means “fat and round” in Maori.

Kunekune pigs were almost extinct by the early 1970s. Some wildlife biologists gathered up the 17 pigs that were left on the island and began a breeding program in the attempt to save the breed. The captive breeding programs were successful and today many people around the world breed kunekune pigs.

Holland Lop Rabbit

Range: Holland lop rabbits originated in the Netherlands.

Facts: The Holland lop is one of the smallest breeds of rabbits and is one of the most popular rabbit breeds in the United States.

In the 1950s a Dutch breeder named Adriann de Cock created the breed by combining three different rabbit breeds.

Bennett’s Wallaby

Range: Originally from Eastern Australia and Tasmania, this species has been introduced to New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, and Germany.

Facts: Bennett’s Wallabies are mainly solitary, but will group together when there is an abundance of resources. When they come together, they create a social hierarchy similar to other species of wallabies.

Bennett’s Wallabies are mostly nocturnal.

Bennett’s Wallabies are not very vocal, tending to use actions and body language to communicate, but they will growl, chatter, and hiss if provoked. They cool off by licking their paws and forearms when they are hot.

Red Kangaroo

Range: Red Kangaroos range throughout western and central Australia.

Facts: Red Kangaroos are the largest species of kangaroo. A mother kangaroo can produce milk of two different types to feed two different babies at the same time. One for young that has emerged from the pouch but is still nursing and one for a newborn. The females have the unique ability to delay the birth of their baby until their previous Joey has left the pouch. This is called embryonic diapause. When joeys are born, they are the size of a jelly bean!