Animal UpdatesLuther is Living His Best Life

April 14, 2020

While we are all still adapting to our new lifestyles, Luther has adapted to his quite as well, and we must admit it looks pretty fun compared to what some of us are doing at home!

Luther is the Virginia Zoo’s first-ever Malayan tapir calf, who was born to mom, Haddie, and dad, Rosco, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (earning his fabulous name). He weighed just over 15 pounds at birth and spent the first few weeks of life nursing on mom, napping, exploring his indoor den and acclimating to his Keepers. Now, at three months old, this little watermelon has nearly quadrupled in size and personality!

Like all tapir calves, when Luther was born his coat pattern resembled a watermelon, but as he’s grown older, his species’ signature white back is starting to become a little prevalent and his stripes will slowly fade away. At around six months, his stripes should disappear completely (but don’t worry, he’ll still be as cute as ever).

Luther is growing bigger daily and now weighs as much as a golden retriever, however, his legs are a bit shorter. Keepers have been working to train him to voluntarily step on a scale so they can track his weight. They say his taste buds continuously change as he preferred fruits a month ago, and he seems to prefer the crunchiest foods and is using his healthy set of chompers. Luther’s favorite foods are currently sweet potatoes and carrots, but he’s also eating hay, alfalfa and grain, just like mom!

Besides training with Keepers, Luther is also learning how to display a significant tapir behavior – swimming! Tapirs are excellent swimmers, and often use bodies of water to escape potential danger or to clean themselves.

Keepers began desensitizing Luther to swimming by introducing a small, shallow pool filled with warm water. He was given access to this on pool multiple occasions across a span of a few weeks. Initially, he enjoyed the pool as a giant watering bowl, but then began stepping into and wallowing in it. After Keepers felt he was well-acclimated to the shallow pool, they introduced him to the deeper built-in pool in his indoor exhibit.

The Keepers relied on mom to help guide Luther into the pool to swim with her, however, she ended up only putting her front feet in! Eventually, Luther began testing the pool out for himself; he would submerge his feet on the steps but never actually take a dip. Finally one day, Luther left the steps and went for a swim! He got out of the pool just as quickly as he went in, and Keepers could tell he was excited but scared at this new experience. Keepers were on watch to ensure that Luther’s first swimming experience went smoothly and safely, and because who wouldn’t want to witness that act of cuteness?

Once Luther acclimates to swimming on a regular basis and the weather becomes consistently warmer, Keepers are planning to introduce him to his outdoor exhibit. Don’t worry, we promise to capture his outdoor explorations! As for meeting dad, Rosco, Keepers are waiting for Luther to grow bigger and become more comfortable in the new situations and environments he is and will be exposed to; they both can hear and smell each other indoors, but have not officially met face to face.

While you can’t see Luther in person just yet, we hope you fulfill your little fix of tapir time with these photos and videos.