The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is growing, one pint-sized bovine at a time. Southwest Florida’s premiere fauna-viewing destination has increased its exhibitory offerings, this time adding a new species altogether: a pair of miniature zebus.
The inclusion of the miniature zebus to the zoo’s collection has a multipronged effect: These animals help shine a light on the great diversity of the animal life we share this planet with while introducing people to a living, breathing history lesson. The miniature zebu is a domesticated cattle breed descending from zebu, a species originating from the Indian subcontinent, and has long held a unique role in human history and the cultural development of the region. As one of the world’s oldest breeds of cattle, first domesticated around 6,000 years ago, zebus are not just considered sacred in India, but also played an important part in the development and evolution of human society. Not known for their milk or meat production, zebus are primarily draft animals and were an essential part of farming in the Indus Valley and Indus Plain, lending their brawn to plowing. This use eventually led to the progression of technological advancements and large-scale crop production, like the cultivation of cotton and the development of irrigation as early as 4500 BCE.
The miniature zebu is a dwarfed version of the great Indian beasts of burden, and for the Naples Zoo, a pocket-sized ambassador for their brethren outside the Paradise Coast. “Our goal is to connect guests with nature in its many forms,” says Tim Tetzlaff, director of conservation and communications for the zoo. “Naples Zoo's collection plan is designed to mix endangered species like the Malagasy fosas and Malayan tigers with other species that will delight our guests with both their familiarity (like zebras and monkeys) as well as our planet's great diversity, like these new zebus and species like the crazily camouflaged Tonkin bug-eyed frogs or muntjac deer that bark and eat meat.”
Compared to the cattle most of us see grazing while we're flying by on I-75, which usually range in the 1,250 to 1,800-pound territory, miniature zebus more likely resemble a calf then a full-grown adult. And their appearance is also quite different, with a large hump on the shoulders, droopy ears and a relatively large dewlap (an elongated flap of skin that hangs beneath the jaw and neck). The hump, much like a camel’s, helps zebus endure long periods of food and water shortages, making them an ideal species for the tropics. The term pint-sized really is appropriate when discussing miniature zebus. Reaching a maximum height of just 42 inches (measured at the point just behind hump on their back) and weighing as little as 300 pounds (though some bulls pack it in at 600 pounds), these tiny oxen are ideal for regions that are tight on space and have limited resources. And the young zebus at the Naples Zoo, born in the spring of 2012, are even more compact:
“The male, Hasani—Swahili for handsome, is about 32 inches high at the shoulder. The female, Subira—Swahili for patience, is about 36 inches high at the shoulder,” says Tetzlaff. The potential of Hasani and Subira becoming a breeding pair is still yet to be known, but for now, the miniature zebus, the first of their kind to be on exhibit at the Naples Zoo, give visitors a chance to see some of the cutest cattle in the bovinae subfamily. The experience they bring is why, Tetzlaff says, the zoo presents animals like the zebu—“that emotional connection to nature is crucial for all of us.”
1590 Goodlette Road
Naples, FL 34102