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:
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.
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 awake at dawn and dusk in the wild.
Bring some extra cash to buy lettuce and then lean over the rail to entice the tower of giraffes over for a snack (a group of giraffes is called a “tower,” according to National Geographic Kids). 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.
The three elegant cheetahs at Binder Park Zoo are sisters: Katie, Madison and Mohini. Early in the morning is the best time to see them. They like to start the day by pacing close to the boardwalk, trying to figure out how to get a zebra breakfast. When that doesn’t work, they get a little exercise by stalking each other and running along the edge of their habitat. If it’s Sunday, they get a special treat of bones. After all of that activity, they like to nap. It can be difficult to spot them sleeping among the foliage because their distinctive spots are more than stylish — the pattern is great camouflage.
Raj the snow leopard has a lot in common with your cats at home. He likes to jump and play and wrap himself up with his long tail. But Raj is much, much bigger than a house cat. Snow leopards range from 100 to 125 pounds. While his extra-thick fur and large paws make 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.