It’s hard to narrow down the cutest of the animals at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, but here we give it a try:
African painted dog
What’s cuter than one puppy? How about 11 puppies?
Binder Park Zoo welcomed a litter of African painted dog puppies last November. While they have grown up into gangly adolescents, they still have their puppy energy. In the cool parts of the day you can watch them chase and wrestle.
Ever hear the saying, “When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” That’s especially true for animal groups led by alpha females. Momma Ghost is leader of the Binder Park pack. Painted dogs are very social animals and all members of the pack help raise the puppies.
African painted dogs are endangered in Eastern Africa. They’re often mistaken for hyenas, but hyenas are more closely related to cats.
Aldabra giant tortoise
The oldest zoo resident is Al, the Aldabra giant tortoise. He’s been at the zoo since 1984 and they estimate his age to be around 80. They aren’t kidding around about the “giant” part. Al is 550 pounds.
Don’t let the shell fool you — Al isn’t one to hide. The sociable reptile isn’t fast, but he likes bananas and getting neck scratches from zookeepers.
Weird fact: giant tortoises can drink water through their nostrils.
Black-and-white ruffed lemur
They come from the island of Madagascar, where they use their long snouts and tongues to get nectar from flowers. The lemurs are important pollinators — but they’re definitely more cuddly than a bee.
Blue poison dart frog
The frogs have suction-cup toes which allow them to climb surfaces, a handy skill for an amphibian that is only one inch big.
According to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo website, the frogs got their name because hunters use the poison from their skin on darts used to stun other animals.
As cute as they are, one of the threats to the frogs is the illegal pet trade. If you want to take one home, make sure it was legally raised in captivity.
Chinese red panda
With their fuzzy faces, fluffy tails and cute whiskery noses, the Chinese red panda looks like a plush toy come to life.
They love to sleep in trees, so you’ll usually find Tushar hanging out on the branches in his exhibit at Binder Park Zoo.
Tushar can be a little bit of a grumpy old guy, but who wouldn’t be when all these humans show up during bedtime? Red pandas are nocturnal in the wild.
Linne’s two-toed sloth
Red pandas aren’t the only animals who like to sleep while perilously perched above the ground.
Linne’s two-toed sloth hangs out upside down — sleeping, eating and generally being adorable (although they use the bathroom on the ground). Sloths are also surprisingly good swimmers.
Binder Park has two sloths, Chip and Thea. You might get to meet Chip if you ever get a visit from the zoomobile. Otherwise, the sloth habitat is in the Discovery Center, which is near the entrance of the zoo.
The youngest giraffe is Kijana, who was born on May 23, 2017. She was six feet tall when she was born, but you’ll easily spot her because she’s still the smallest giraffe on the savannah.
Zookeepers waited a long time to watch Kijana be born — giraffe pregnancy lasts 15 months — but mom Makena wanted some privacy. Everyone was surprised one morning to find Kijana had arrived and was doing well.
Kijana’s best friend is her older brother, Hulka, who was born in 2014.
But Raj is much, much bigger. Snow leopards range from 100 to 125 pounds. While his extra-thick fur and large paws makes him look fluffy and cute, Raj is a lean, mean carnivore machine. So hugs are not recommended.
Michigan winter doesn’t bother Raj, who loves to play in the snow. His wide feet allow him to walk across deep snowdrifts, like snowshoes.
Snow leopards are endangered because of hunters who want their pelts. But no coat is as beautiful as a living snow leopard like Raj.
*This article was written by freelance writer, Annie Kelley.
*Photos provided by Binder Park Zoo.