By Erika Allen
Senior Marine Mammal Trainer
Change is sometimes difficult, but it can also be extremely important. That is especially true for the recent changes to our marine mammal family here at the Indianapolis Zoo.
This November, we said goodbye-for-now to our two walrus, Pakak and Aurora, as they made their way to new homes. Their moves are part of a bigger plan for walrus. With only 14 walrus living in four zoos and aquariums in the United States, we all work together as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. In the best interest of the species, these moves were recommended to encourage breeding within the small population of walrus in human care.
Since Pakak is still young, he was moved to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium to be reunited with the young male he was rehabilitated with in Alaska following his rescue. Aurora, meanwhile, moved to SeaWorld Orlando to have the opportunity to breed with their adult male.
Traveling with a walrus takes a lot of time and planning to ensure they arrive happy and healthy at their destination. Both Pakak and Aurora were accompanied by staff — including myself — throughout their entire journey and the familiar faces of their Indianapolis trainers were there to welcome our walrus in their new homes. We spent a week helping them acclimate to their new environments and teaching their new caretakers all about them.
It has been a wonderful experience watching both walrus as they interact with their new friends, both human and animal. It’s also great to know they will be well cared for by their new caretakers and loved by a whole new audience of zoo visitors.
As a part of this transition, we’re excited to welcome two young walrus calves from SeaWorld named Ginger and Aku and provide them an excellent home here.
Ginger was the first successful walrus birth at SeaWorld Orlando and is now 2 years old. She weighs just over 700 pounds and is reddish in coloration with short vibrissae. She has a spunky personality and a close relationship with Aku. She is also known for forming bonds with her trainers and we hope to encourage this as we get to know her better.
Aku is also 2 years old, but he was rescued near Nome, Alaska, as a very young calf. His name means “stern of a boat” and describes where he was found on a gold mining barge. After his rehabilitation, he was sent to be a companion for Ginger and the two have been close ever since. Aku is over 800 pounds and currently has shorter tusks than Ginger. He is also missing his right eye due to an injury he sustained shortly after his rescue. Aku is a bit more laid back and is very attentive to his trainers.
We can’t wait to get to know our new young walrus better and share their growth with you over the coming years. We already know they will be excellent ambassadors for their species, inspiring future generations of walrus lovers.
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