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Lions, Tigers, and Bears Oh My!

Western Union Elementary first graders recently visited the exciting and exhilarating Columbia Riverbanks Zoo!  Students were roaring and raring to go out and explore the actual habitats of the animals they had been learning about.  

Once at the zoo, students took off in their groups to see the exhibits they were the most curious about first.  The exhibits included animals from a variety of  habitats and regions including the African Plains, Australia, the deserts and oceans.  

Here are some of the facts that students learned about giraffes, tortoises, Komodo Dragons, Koalas, Siberian Tigers, Red Kangaroos, and African Lions,  courtesy of the Columbia Riverbanks Zoo.  


Giraffes are the tallest living land animals—males, or bulls, can reach up to 19 feet high. With long legs, long necks and tongues that measure 18 inches, giraffes can pull leaves off the thorny acacia tree, one of the dietary staples of these giant browsers of the African plains. Ironically, giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks (seven) as people do—just larger! And while their legs may appear similar to those of horses, giraffes can only walk or run, not trot

Giraffes communicate by grunts, snorts and soft whistles; calves will also bleat. In addition, giraffes will call to each other infra-sonically, making noises too low for human ears to detect

Galapagos tortoises

Galapagos tortoises are the largest of the tortoises, weighing up to 900 pounds. When sailors first visited the Galapagos Islands in the 17th century, there were 13 different subspecies of Galapagos tortoises. Unfortunately, several of these are now extinct.

Komodo Dragons

Komodo dragons are the world’s largest living lizards Male dragons have been known to reach lengths of 10 feet and weigh more than 200 pounds. The largest Komodo on record weighed 366 pounds.

Komodo dragons, as well as other species of monitor lizards, are highly alert, complex and diverse in their behaviors and are considered very intelligent. Captive dragons commonly demonstrate exploratory and play-like behavior and can become quite docile, allowing frequent close contact with their care givers


Although bear-like in appearance, koalas are not bears but tree-dwelling marsupials related to the kangaroo and wombat. Marsupials are mammals that carry their young in a pouch. Females give birth to one koala joey at a time. After a short gestation period of 34-36 days, the joey moves into the pouch where it remains for several months. A young joey will continue to stay with the mother after it exits the pouch, clinging to her back for nearly a year or until another joey is born and moves to the pouch.

Adult koalas reach up to 30 pounds and are covered in thick wooly fur that protects from heat, cold and rain. The coat is ash-gray to brown in color with patches of white on the chest and neck, inside the arms and legs, and inside the ears. Distinguishing characteristics of koalas include their large, flat, black noses and pear-shaped bodies. 

These mostly nocturnal animals spend 18-20 hours a day resting and sleeping. Their diet is quite specialized, consisting exclusively of the leaves of the eucalyptus tree. They primarily get their moisture from eating these leaves rather than from drinking.

Red Kangaroos

Red kangaroos live in mobs on the plains of Australia and feed on grasses and plants. Accustomed to dry conditions, they can go for long periods without drinking, gaining moisture from the plants they consume. These marsupials are mostly nocturnal but cope with the heat during the day by licking their wrists.

African Lions

African lions are the largest and most powerful of the African carnivores. Male lions have tawny manes, which gradually grow darker with age; female lions do not have manes. The lion’s mane makes it appear larger and more impressive. Manes are thought to assist the male in attracting females at mating time as well as frightening off rival males. Cubs are camouflaged with a slightly spotted coat at birth and gradually turn a tawny color by the end of their first year.

The five living subspecies of tigers are found in forests, swamps and grasslands of eastern Asia. Amur tigers range through eastern Russia, Manchuria and Korea.Amur, or Siberian, tigers are the largest living cat. Males weigh 180-306 kg (396-673 pounds) and females weigh 100-167 kg (220-367 pounds). They are orange and white with black stripes which help them blend into tall grasses or forest undergrowth. Females have two to four cubs in a litter after a 105-day gestation and the young typically stay with her for two to three years. They eat deer, pigs, antelope, buffalo and a variety of small mammals and birds.

Source-Columbia Riverbanks Zoo Fact Sheets at http://www.riverbanks.org/animals/

Visit the Columbia Riverbanks Zoo to learn more!  

If you would like to learn more about each one of these animals or others, go to the Columbia Riverbanks Zoo at http://www.riverbanks.org/animals


Written by: Tabitha Rogers, 1st Grade Teacher
Posted: May 08, 2015 by Carrie Johnson

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