Wednesday was a great day to be a coatimundi. For years, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge’s sole coati, Flip, has been dwelling in a concrete habitat behind the gift shop in the old compound area, bringing smiles to the faces of every visitor to the refuge.
But that changed Wednesday, when Flip was moved into her own grassy habitat for the first time. The area, next to the main office and adjacent to the Siberian and Bengal suites, has fencing that goes a foot into the ground, to prevent her digging out.
“We used to give her tubsful of dirt to dig in, earthworms to find, in her old enclosure,” says Curator Emily McCormack. “Coatis love to dig for worms. Now she can do it for real.”
Coatis are cousins to the raccoon family and are native to South America, Central America, and south-western North America. They are omnivores, eating both meat and plants. In the wild, they eat fruits, berries, insects, birds, eggs, lizards, and even snakes and small mammals like mice and squirrels. They use their long, probe-like nose for searching through leaves, crevices, and holes to find their favorite foods. The long claws on their feet are good for tearing apart rotting logs.
“In 2009, we received an email from a man representing a facility formally open to the public in Branson,” McCormack says. “Because of some problems, they had to part with seven big cats, a black bear, and a coatimundi – Flip — to be eligible to reopen to the public. So she came to us. In Branson, she was forced to exist in what was intended as a reptile habitat, concrete and glass. We were glad to get her out of there, and we’re even happier now to give her her own big grassy habitat.”
Flip seems to agree.
As Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge continues to change and grow, different habitat spaces open and the big cats are moved around. When possible, they share spaces together. So recently, TCWR staff introduced Sheba, a cougar who came here in 2007 and has been on concrete ever since, into the habitat shared by Suli and Luna, who are both older females who have been sharing the same space for quite some time.
“They all came in as single females, but we’ve been really successful with cougar introductions,” said TCWR Curator Emily McCormack. “Suli has always been the dominant one between her and Luna, so we were interested in how Sheba would relate to her.”
McCormack says on introduction, Suli immediately approached Sheba. “They ‘talked,’” she said. “Ears back, hissing, some batting at each other with their paws – they were all de-clawed before they came to Turpentine Creek, otherwise we wouldn’t put them together. Then Luna came over and it was the same story. They met and eventually all went back to their dens. Interestingly, though, Sheba, the new girl, is now the dominant one. The others kow-towed to her.”
Meanwhile, across the refuge, two African Servals have been playing meet ‘n greet. Bowden, a male Serval from St. Louis who has been at Turpentine Creek since 2001, has been getting to know the newest arrival, Pickles, a female who was recently brought to the refuge from Prairie Grove, Arkansas.
“So far Bowden and Pickles have been on two ‘dates,’” McCormack said. “We are getting them used to each other, so we put Pickles in her big pet carrier up alongside Bowden’s cage, to see how they’d react. They both hissed at each other, as usual, but then Bowden looked like he wanted to play. Pickles sort of looked past him and seemed to be paying more attention to all Bowden’s toys than to Bowden himself! She has a great personality. They both seemed very comfortable.
McCormack said their second ‘date’ went as well as well as the first, if not better. “Bowden walked right over to Pickles’ cage to say hi. They didn’t even have their ears back. They just laid down by each other chillin’ out.”
She says the two Servals will start sharing the same habitat within a few days.