tampabay.com

Our senior class

We're home to the famously flippered and furry, the growling and chirping. Get to know the retiring lives of these beasts unburdened.

By Dalia Wheatt
Published August 10, 2006


They have a combined age of about 395. Their resumes include Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, print and TV ads and the silver screen. But you won't find their profiles in Life, and they don't rank among Barbara Walters' 10 most fascinating people. In fact, they're not people at all.

Some of the Tampa Bay area's longest-living, most accomplished residents are members of the animal kingdom.

Perhaps you've strolled past their cages, but do you know their stories? Herman the chimpanzee, a fixture at Lowry Park Zoo since the '60s, lived in relative oblivion. But when a fight with another male chimp ended Herman's life at age 42 in June, it was front-page news. Forty two! How long do chimps usually live, anyway?

We wanted to know. We also wanted to know what Cheetah's been up to since those Tarzan flicks, and what type of cake Mo the sea turtle will enjoy on his 43rd birthday next month. So we asked their representatives.

As they live out their golden years, let's salute some of the senior citizens likely to be forgotten by Willard Scott.

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Panji, 27

SLOTH BEAR

Average life expectancy: Early 30s

Find her at: Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa

Past life: Panji lived at Sunset Zoo in Topeka, Kan., before coming to Tampa eight years ago. She's the oldest living female sloth bear on record, said Pamela Noel, assistant curator of the zoo's Asian domain.

Mate: Buddy, who lives in same exhibit with her.

Offspring: "The oldest breeding age is about 24, so she's past her prime as far as that's concerned," Noel said.

Daily diet: A few pounds of omnivore biscuits, oranges, apples, bananas, crickets and mealworms.

Favorite treats: Peaches and pears.

Oh, behave: Sloth bears are nocturnal, so during the day groggy Panji lounges toward the back of the exhibit. When she's feeling frisky, she sucks flies and other bugs from the air.

In case you're ever on Jeopardy!: Because they hang upside-down from trees, sloth bears originally were classified in the sloth family.


* * *

Cirrus, 19

GOLDEN LION TAMARIN

Average life expectancy: 15 years

Find him at: Lowry Park Zoo

Past life: Cirrus came from a children's zoo in Lincoln, Neb., in 1992.

Mate: Golden lion tamarins are monogamous, and Cirrus' better half was an older female. When she passed away, Cirrus became roommates with Casey, a tamarin widow of a different species.

Daily diet: Canned marmoset diet, banana and two additional fruits: either apple, grape or melon. For protein Cirrus noshes on mealworms, waxworms, crickets and lizards.

Favorite treats: Grapes, marshmallows, gummy bears and honey. Sweets replicate the saplike substance he'd get from the forests of his native Brazil.

Oh, behave: "He is pretty spunky. He's kind of standoffish from the keepers, but his normal routine is he'll pop his head out of the box in the morning when we go in and just sort of chirp at us a little bit. They have these little bird noises," said Angela Belcher, assistant curator of primates at the zoo.

In case you're ever on Jeopardy!: A golden lion tamarin's chirping sound psychs out birds of prey.

* * *

Fifty-four and Thirteen, 48+

FEMALE CHILEAN FLAMINGOS

Average life expectancy: 70 years

Find them at: Sunken Gardens, 1825 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg

Their names refer to: The band numbers around their ankles, assigned by the gardens' original owners, the Turner family, in the 1950s. They've lived at the gardens all their lives.

Oh, behave: "Fifty-four and Thirteen tend to be very jealous of one another because they're both very gregarious," said Bill O'Grady, supervisor of educational programming at Sunken Gardens.

Daily diet: The gardens' seven flamingos share a helping of Mazuri brand flamingo chow, which contains grains and ground shrimp. "We give them 3 cups of wet and 3 cups of dry mixed in, but they never finish it all," O'Grady said. Guess that's what it means to eat like a bird.

Mates: "They're very frisky in the spring, that's for sure. A lot of courting going on, but that's the extent of it," O'Grady said.

In case you're ever on Jeopardy!: What looks like a flamingo's knee is actually its ankle.

* * * 

Buffy, 20

SIBERIAN-BENGAL MIXED CIRCUS TIGER

Average life expectancy: 10 years

Find him at: Big Cat Rescue, 12802 Easy St., Tampa

Past life: Buffy performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and retired to Big Cat Rescue, then known as Wildlife on Easy Street, five years ago.

Oh, behave: "Other tigers are kind of stuck up; they only say hi to people they know. But Buffy's the friendliest guy in the world. He will say hi to everyone," said Scott Lope, director of operations at Big Cat Rescue.

Daily diet: 10 pounds of chicken, beef and ground zoo diet. "It looks like pate," Lope said.

Favorite treat: A bloodsicle - a bucket of frozen blood, water and beef.

Mate: "Tigers are solitary in the wild, so they're pretty cool with being by themselves," Lope said.

Contact Dalia Wheatt at mailto:dwheatt@sptimes.com.%3C/p%3E%3Cp%3EPanama

* * * 

Panama 30+

ATLANTIC BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN

Average life expectancy: 30 to 50 years

Find her at: Clearwater Marine Aquarium, 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater

Her name refers to: Panama City, where she was found stranded. She was then taken to Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, and she came to Clearwater in 2001.

Formerly known as: Grannie, because of her age.

Oh, behave: "Panama is an animal that really loves a lot of the enrichment items. In the wild, she'd probably be playing with things like fish and sponges and corals and rocks and seaweed and all that kind of good stuff," said Abigale Stone, marine mammal trainer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. At the aquarium, she plays with bubbles and ice toys. For added social enrichment, she periodically switches tank mates.

Model student: Panama's trainers teach her to breach, jump and beach on platforms, but she often does these tricks on her own in between training sessions.

Daily diet: About 25 pounds of herring, squid, silversides and sardines.

* * * 

Mo, 42

LOGGERHEAD SEA TURTLE

Average life expectancy: 30 to 50 years

Find him at: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Past life: Mo was found as a hatchling and taken to Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach. He came to Clearwater Marine Aquarium in the mid 1980s.

Daily diet: About 4 pounds of squid and fish.

Favorite treats: Live crabs and a very special birthday cake. "On his birthday coming up in September, he gets an ice cake. We take a bucket, fill it with water and then put squid on top. And we usually spell out his age," said Joe Malo, the aquarium's director of education and outreach. "We throw that in and we sing Happy Birthday, and he chews through the ice to get at the squid."

On the disabled list: The aquarium is a rehab center, but Mo's a permanent resident because of a spinal defect that makes him buoyant. He can't stay submerged, which prevents him from feeding, dodging predators and sleeping on the sea floor.

In case you're ever on Jeopardy!: Male sea turtles have much longer tails than females. That's where their sex organs are.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

* * * 

Cheetah, upper 70s

CHIMPANZEE

Average life expectancy: 25 to 35 years in the wild; 40 to 45 in captivity

Find him at: Suncoast Primate Sanctuary, 4600 Alt. U.S. 19, Palm Harbor

Past life: Yes, he's that Cheetah - the one who starred with Hollywood's most famous Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, in the 1930s and '40s films. Cheetah shared the role with several other chimp actors, blazing the trail for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen to take turns as Michelle on Full House years later. He has lived at the sanctuary about three decades.

Daily diet: A medley of apples, grapes, Popsicles, oatmeal sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches and, of course, bananas.

Celebrity artist: Cheetah's finger paintings are the most lucrative of any primate artist at the sanctuary. To commission a work, contact Suncoast Primate Sanctuary Foundation.

In case you're ever on Jeopardy!: One human year equals 11/4 years to a chimpanzee, so in chimp years, Cheetah's in his mid 90s.

Sources: outreach coordinator Debbie Cobb and great ape coordinator Pam Gilbert, both of Suncoast Primate Sanctuary Foundation suncoastprimates.org

* * * 

Lucifer, 46

NILE HIPPOPOTAMUS

Average life expectancy:

His father lived to be 53.

Find him at: Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, 4150 S Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa

Past life: Lu was born at the San Diego Zoo in 1960 and went on to become a movie star with the Ivan Tors Animal Actors troupe. His acting credits include the 1960s TV series Daktari and Cowboy in Africa. He came to Homosassa in the mid '60s.

Oh, behave: "He's always been a star," said Susan Lowe, wildlife care supervisor at Homosassa Springs. "He's a typical animal like Mr. Ed that'll steal the show."

Daily diet: 15 pounds of alfalfa hay and 20 pounds of herbivore diet, plus melons, apples, sweet potatoes and corn on the cob.

Favorite treat: Birthday cake. The students of Homosassa Elementary School help him celebrate with cupcakes, cookies and a colorful birthday cake. Yep, Lu's keepers let him splurge on cake until he's blue in the tongue.

In case you're ever on Jeopardy!: The hippo's closest relative is the whale, Lowe said. For the record, Lu weighs between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds.

 

THE LIFESPAN OF YOUR CODGER

Cockatoo, up to 70 years
Lovebird, 15 to 30
Poodle, 15 to 18
Rabbit, 5 to 15
Indoor cat, 12 to 18
Great Dane, 7 to 10
Guinea pig, 5 to 7
Frog, 4 to 15
Outdoor cat, 4 to 5
Hamster or gerbil, 3