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A ground squirrel at the San Diego Zoo. Markus Jöbstl via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
A ground squirrel at the San Diego Zoo. Markus Jöbstl via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

15 Animals You’d Be Surprised to Find in Zoos

A ground squirrel at the San Diego Zoo. Markus Jöbstl via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
A ground squirrel at the San Diego Zoo. Markus Jöbstl via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Pandas, jaguars, white tigers: These are the kinds of exotic species we expect to see at zoos. But salmon? Guinea pigs? Why would a zoo choose to house such garden-variety animals?

The answer lies in the evolution of zoos themselves. What began as a way for rich people to collect and showcase wild animals has grown into a vehicle for conservationism and education. And what better way to attract visitors—and commit them to your cause—than through animals they already feel a kinship to, and which are safe enough to see up close?

Here, then, are 15 animals you might be surprised to find in a zoo.

1. DONKEY

Flash the donkey. Cliff via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

One of the easiest ways visitors can forge connections with animals is through children’s zoos, where young visitors can interact with domestic species such as the four male miniature Mediterranean donkeys that live on the Kids’ Farm at the National Zoo, in Washington, D.C (just across from their "Giant Pizza Playground"—they definitely know how to cater to the kids!). Children can actually pet these four-legged furry friends, all of which are around 14 years old and sport names like Giuseppe and Flash.

2. COW

Like children’s zoos, family farms allow children to experience domestic animals up close, while also giving the kids a lesson on where their food comes from. Visitors to Minnesota Zoo’s Wells Fargo Family Farm in Apple Valley, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis, can learn all about milk production thanks to the farm’s small herd of cows, which includes this Jersey milking cow named Olivia. Visitors can watch Olivia and her fellow bovines being milked throughout the day; they can also pet the cows from outside their stalls while they’re eating.

3. HOUSE FLY

Mammals aren’t a zoo's only big draw—insectariums, which house insects and arthropods, are also popular attractions at many animal parks. The Monsanto Insectarium at the Saint Louis Zoo offers visitors a look at more than 100 bugs, including butterflies, dragonflies, and the common house fly!

4. ANT

For some zoos, their bug collection can actually be the main event. The ZSL London Zoo offers kids the chance to stay overnight in its BUG House with its BedBUGS Sleepovers events. A big highlight of the evening? Seeing these small brown leafcutter ants walking back and forth along ropes, carrying leaves up to 50 times their own body weight.

5. SALMON

Recent design trends have seen zoos grouping animals by geographic location as opposed to species, and developing large, open spaces in which they can live as they do in the wild. The Oregon Zoo in Portland has devoted one such exhibit, Eagle Canyon, to two of the region’s most iconic animals: the bald eagle and the coho salmon. Like its exhibit-mate, the coho salmon is listed as a threatened species in some areas, thanks to overfishing and logging, making its inclusion in the Oregon Zoo all the more important.

6. GROUND SQUIRREL

Sometimes a zoo’s inhabitants can aid in the conservation of another species altogether. Staffers at the San Diego Zoo and its parent company, San Diego Zoo Global, have been experimenting with the relationship between burrowing owls, now at risk, and California ground squirrels. Noticing that the owls sometimes nested in vacated ground squirrel burrows, the zoo released 350 of its squirrels into the surrounding areas, as part of a long-term plan to rebuild the local owl population.

7. HONEY BEE

Why keep this ubiquitous pollinator at a zoo when you could easily see it in your backyard? Because bee colonies are on the decline, thanks to pesticides, global warming and a strange phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. The new hives established and maintained at the Cincinnati Zoo push back against this alarming trend. They even have their own beekeepers—made up of zoo staff and volunteers—called Pollen Nation.

8. RACCOON

Although their inclusion at the Greater Vancouver Zoo isn't as exotic as the Eurasian Lynx or the Sugar Glider that also live there, the raccoons housed at the zoo illustrate a major service modern zoos provide: sanctuary for animals in need. These particular raccoons were originally orphans, and were adopted by the GV Zoo from another facility that lacked the room to keep them.

9. SWAN

The trumpeter swan is one of nature’s best comeback stories: Hunted to the verge of extinction in the 1930s, it gained protected status and has since regrown its population to healthy levels. With its habitats now under threat thanks to the destruction of the wetlands, parks like the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore play an important part in preserving this graceful creature once again. Five trumpeter babies—the zoo’s first—just hatched this past May; once they’re a year old, they’ll be released into the wilds of Iowa, which has been rebuilding its swan population for the past two decades.

10. PRAIRIE DOG

Visitors to New York's Bronx Zoo can’t pet or feed the Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs on display in its Children’s Zoo, but thanks to an ingenious exhibit, they can still view them up close and personal. Tunnels pass under the exhibit and end in glass tubes that pop up throughout the prairie dogs’ burrows. Wide enough to fit two or three young zoogoers, the tubes allow kids a rodents’-eye view of the animals in their natural habitat.

11. CHICKEN

It’s not just kids who can learn things at children’s zoos. Aspiring urban farmers can attend zookeeper talks on owning and raising chickens at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Not to be left out, younger visitors can hand-feed these farmyard favorites in the zoo’s My Big Backyard exhibit.

12. TILAPIA

One of the more common fish to end up in your local supermarket, tilapia are a highly valued member of the Calgary Zoo’s ecosystem. The zoo populates its indoor hippo tank—the largest in North America—with these fish, which are often found swimming around the aquatic mammals in their natural African habitat. In captivity, the tilapia act as natural tank cleaners by feeding on the hippos' waste.

13. PIGEON

Homesick urban tourists may well be cheered by the domestic pigeons housed at the Zoo Vienna in Austria. Although the birds congregate in coops rather than on, say, public monuments, visitors can still get their birdwatching fix via the public pigeon feedings the zoo offers every morning.

14. COCKROACH

A giant burrowing cockroach—large cousin to those nasty bugs you’ve seen skittering across the kitchen—makes for part of the Backyard to Bush exhibit featured at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. The exhibit’s purpose is to educate children on all the animals—creepy and crawly as well as furry and cuddly—they might come across in everyday life.

15. GUINEA PIG

These rodents, which make popular pets back in the States, provide Japan’s Nagasaki Bio Park with one of its best attractions. When it's time for the guinea pigs to retire from the petting zoo to their private nest, zoo staffers lay down a wooden bridge that allows the fluffy animals to walk home. Visitors can catch this guinea pig commute every afternoon.

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Smart Shopping
25 Dapper Outfit Choices for Fashionable Pets
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Lavishing your furry friends with adorable attire is a benefit of pet ownership that they don't mention on the adoption forms. Whether you prefer practical clothing like sweaters and jackets or statement pieces like bow ties and tutus, these dapper duds are perfect for a howl-iday or "gotcha day" gift, or simply for saying, "Who's the cutest little pupper in pajamas? You are!"

1. CASHMERE DOG SWEATER; FROM $165

dog in sweater
Canine Styles

This classic cable-knit cashmere sweater is a sophisticated look for Fido or Finn. Get it from Canine Styles, a luxury dog emporium in New York City that has plenty of posh and preppy outfits.

Find It: Canine Styles

2. TOGGLE DOG COAT; $85

dog in coat
Canine Styles

This toggle coat (available in orange, navy, and tan) is as fashionable as it is warm. Made of Melton wool, it has Velcro closures to make getting dressed easy. It's great for long walks in the country.

Find It: Canine Styles

3. DOG TUXEDO; FROM $90

Dog in tuxedo
Etsy

This satin tuxedo is perfect for the canine members of your wedding party, though it will brighten up any other occasion as well. The custom, handmade outfit comes complete with a snappy bow tie.

Find It: Etsy

4. DOG BELLE DRESS; FROM $45

Dog Belle Dress
Etsy

The queen of your castle can feel like a Disney princess in her very own version of Belle's iconic yellow dress from Beauty and the Beast. This ball gown is made from yellow crepe satin with chiffon overlay on the bodice and features hand-painted gold detailing on the skirt. Enchanted rose not included.

Find It: Etsy

5. POODLE SKIRT OUTFIT FOR DOGS; $26

Rubies Pink Fifties Girl Pet Costume
Amazon

What if you could buy a 1950s poodle skirt for your poodle? This retro dress is comprised of a pink poodle skirt, striped bodice, and sequined belt, and comes with a bow headband.

Find It: Amazon

6. RIBBED CROCHET BUNNY SWEATER; $25

bunny in a sweater
Etsy

Your snuggle-bunny will look like a little fancy-pants in this ribbed crochet sweater. Choose from seven colors, including this dashing deep red.

Find It: Etsy

7. BESPOKE MONOGRAM DOG SWEATER; FROM $155

Dog in sweater
Ruby Rufus

Bespoke clothing isn't just for humans: British luxury dog clothing brand Ruby Rufus will make your pooch a custom monogram sweater made with 100 percent Italian cashmere. You can even order it in your dog's favorite color.

Find It: Ruby Rufus

8. HOT PINK DOG TUTU; $17

Dog in hot pink tutu
Etsy

Tutus look absolutely adorable on tiny humans and animals alike. If your pooch wants to get in touch with its inner ballerina, then grab this hot pink number from Etsy. Rave reviews are a sure thing.

Find It: Etsy

9. PINK DOG POLO SHIRT; $35

Dog Pink Polo Shirt
Canine Styles

This pink polo shirt is perfect for your preppy fur baby. It features not one but a veritable multitude of crocodiles. They'll be the most dapper dog at the country club.

Find It: Canine Styles

10. DOG BARN COAT WITH BROWN CORDUROY COLLAR; $85

Dog in barn coat
Canine Styles

When it's time for a walk, your dog will look effortlessly chic in this fancy barn coat. It comes in navy, cranberry, orange, hot pink, and loden and features convenient pockets for anyone with opposable thumbs.

Find It: Canine Styles

11. WHITE PET NECK RUFF; $26

Pet Neck Ruff
Etsy

Your canine or kitty will look like their painting belongs in London's National Portrait Gallery with this Elizabethan neck ruff.

Find It: Etsy

12. CHICKEN SWEATER; $25

chicken wearing sweater
Etsy

Chickens can get cold when they're strutting around outside. A sweater (well, more like sweater vest) for your bird can also help prevent feather picking during molting season. Or, it can simply keep them warm while they stare pensively across a snowy landscape.

Find It: Etsy

13. PET CIRCLE SCARF; $15

dog in scarf
Etsy

An infinity scarf is a perfect burst of color on a dreary early morning walk. The proprietor of Mitten Made on Etsy originally designed this wool snood for her miniature Dachshund to help keep her warm during the long, cold winters in Michigan.

Find It: Etsy

14. FAB DOG TRAVEL RAINCOAT; FROM $18

Fab Dog Travel Raincoat
Chewy

This timeless yellow rain slicker will look great on any puppy when it's raining cats and dogs. It's made of 100 percent waterproof nylon shell that keeps fur dry. Bonus: It's perfect for an It Halloween costume.

Find It: Chewy

15. LACE CAT OR DOG COLLAR; FROM $10

cat in lace collar
Etsy

This handmade, white lace collar is a must-have for fancy felines. It's also embellished with a large rhinestone.

Find It: Etsy

16. FITWARM PENGUIN PAJAMAS FOR DOGS; FROM $10

Fitwarm Cute Penguin Xmas Dog Pajamas
Amazon

Keep your pupper warm on cold winter nights with these penguin PJs. They're great for doggie sleepovers or lazy weekends on the couch watching Netflix.

Find It: Amazon

17. PLAID CASHMERE DOG COAT; FROM $225

dog in plaid coat
Canine Styles

Your dog will look like a proper gentleman in this smart plaid peacoat. This fine garment is made of cashmere with a faux fur lining and leather buttons, and is a perfect shield against chill and fog.

Find It: Canine Styles

18. SATIN PET BOW TIE; FROM $8

Satin Bow Tie for Dog
Etsy

This satin doggie bow tie is perfect for any occasion. It comes in several colors and features a Velcro fastener that makes it easy to attach to a collar. Plus, 10 percent of every sale goes to charity: specifically to SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Feeding Pets of the Homeless.

Find It: Etsy

19. RED DOG DRESS; FROM $34

dog in dress
Etsy

Your good boy or girl will look red carpet-ready in this elegant gown. The voluminous tulle skirt is to die for, and each bow is embellished with beads. Custom orders are also available.

Find It: Etsy

20. DOG TIE; FROM $13

Dog tie
Etsy

Your pooch will be ready to stun at any black tie event. This tie is designed like a collar, making it easy to dress your four-legged friend. This Etsy store gives back: 10 perfect of all sales are donated to an animal protection association.

Find It: Etsy

21. NAUTICAL DOG DRESS WITH MATCHING LEASH; $20

Dog sailor dress
BaxterBoo

Perfect for a day on the town or setting sail in a schooner, this is the sailor outfit you never knew your best furry friend needed. This vintage throwback also comes with a matching leash.

Find It: BaxterBoo

22. TARTAN FLANNEL PET BOW TIE; $5.50

tartan pet bow tie
Etsy

Your dog or cat will turn heads in this flannel tartan bow tie. It has a convenient elastic loop that slides over your pup's collar.

Find It: Etsy

23. PUCCI DOG SHIRT; $23

dog in Pucci dog shirt
Etsy

Only the fanciest dogs wear, err, Pucci. Grab this punny "designer" t-shirt for your pup. This high-quality cotton statement piece is perfect for small breeds.

Find It: Etsy

24. PINK POLKA DOT AND LACE DOG HARNESS DRESS; $20

Pink Polka Dot and Lace Designer Dog Harness Dress
BaxterBoo

This feminine pink polka dot dress is simply adorable. It features a convenient built-in harness and comes with a matching leash.

Find It: BaxterBoo

25. PET SWEATER VEST; $6

pet sweater vest
Amazon

Your dog or cat will look like an erudite Oxford professor in this sweater vest. Note that the button on the pocket is shaped like a bone.

Find It: Amazon

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Animals
Switzerland Just Made It Illegal to Boil Live Lobsters
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No, lobsters don’t scream when you toss them into a pot of boiling water, but as far as the Swiss government is concerned, they can still feel pain. The path most lobsters take to the dinner plate is supposedly so inhumane that Switzerland has banned boiling lobsters alive unless they are stunned first, The Guardian reports.

The new law is based on assertions from animal rights advocates and some scientists that crustaceans like lobsters have complex nervous systems, making death by boiling incredibly painful. If chefs want to include lobster on their menus, they’re now required to knock them out before preparing them. Acceptable stunning methods under Swiss law include electric shock and the “mechanical destruction” of the lobster’s brain (i.e. stabbing it in the head).

The government has also outlawed the transportation of live lobsters on ice or in icy water. The animals should instead be kept in containers that are as close to their natural environment as possible until they’re ready for the pot.

Proponents of animal rights are happy with the decision, but others, including some scientists, are skeptical. The data still isn’t clear as to whether or not lobsters feel pain, at least in the way people think of it. Bob Bayer, head of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, told Mental Floss in 2014 that lobsters “sense their environment, but don’t have the intellectual hardware to process pain.”

If you live in a place where boiling lobsters is legal, but still have ethical concerns over eating them, try tossing your lobster in the freezer before giving it a hot water bath. Chilling it puts it to sleep and is less messy than butchering it while it’s still alive.

[h/t The Guardian]

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