Partly Cloudy

About The Zoo

Virginia Zoo Mammals

Meet some of the popular mammals living at the Virginia Zoo. In addition to these favorites, we have lots more mammals, too, so come see us soon. For information about special Behind the Scenes tours, click here.

African Elephants (South African Bush Elephant)

LisaBoth female, the Virginia Zoo’s two elephants can be easily identified. Lisa's tusks are symmetrical and she also is the hairier of the two. Cita, who was born in 1968 and is one of the Zoo’s oldest animals, is the smaller of the two and her tusks are asymmetrical. Lisa has lived at the Virginia Zoo for most of her life. Cita is a movie star – having appeared in films including “The Color Purple,” “Sheena Queen of the Jungle,” and “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” Both elephants like to paint and their artwork is auctioned at Zoo events. Paintings also can be acquired through Behind the Scenes Tours.

Elephants are the world’s largest living land mammals, and are best known for their enormous size, social behavior and longevity. Their trunks, which are unique among mammals, enable elephants to manipulate tiny objects or tear down large tree limbs. Their wide, padded feet allow elephants to walk quietly, despite their size. Large, flappable ears, act as built-in fans, enabling the animals to cool off. African elephants live in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. They live wherever they can find plenty of food and water with minimal interference from people.

People wishing to learn more about elephant conservation or make a donation should visit the International Elephant Foundation at http://www.elephantconservation.org.

African Lion

lionOur male lion, Mramba weighs 364 pounds, and has a laid back nature. Zola, the Zoo’s female lion, is Mramba’s mate. She weighs 344 pounds, is quick tempered and likes playing with balls and cones. Our lions are very vocal, and their roars can be heard across the Zoo. On May 2, 2009, we added four new cubs to our pride, when Zola had three males and one female cub.

African lions are found throughout the south Sahara desert and in parts of southern and eastern Africa. Lions are the only truly social cat species, and the only cats that live in large family groups. They spend their lives clustered into groups called prides, which consist of a single dominant male and several closely related females. Females hunt as a team to kill a communal meal. Males eat first, then the females, and finally the cubs. The male lion’s mane serves as form of intimidation by making him seem larger, and it also protects his throat from enemies. A lion is a “digitigrade” or toe walker – that means his heel does not touch the ground.

Asian Small-Clawed Otter

Five OttersWe have six Asian small-clawed otters who love to play follow-the-leader around their habitat. The habit features an underwater viewing area through which visitors can watch the otters swim.

The Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest of the 13 species of otters found throughout the world. They are generally no more than two feet long and weigh less than 10 pounds. The hind feet are fully webbed, while the front are only partially webbed, giving them the kind of flexibility found in “hands” rather than feet. These otters are carnivorous, eating mostly mollusks and crustaceans, but also frogs, fish and eggs. Asian small-clawed otters can be found in freshwater streams and rivers in southern India, China and the Philippines, and throughout Southeast Asia, but populations are declining due to habitat destruction, pollution and hunting.

Asiatic Black Bear

Thai (Virginia Zoo photo by David Totten)Also known as "moon bears," because of the patch of white fur on their chest resembles a crescent moon. The Virginia Zoo has two Asiatic black bear brothers, Chai and Thai. Very active, they like to wrestle and can frequently be seen tearing up bamboo in their habitat. Chai is the bigger of the two, weighing in at around 450 pounds.

Moon bears are omnivorous and can be found throughout Southern Asia, Korea and northeastern China. Though similar in size to North American black bears, Asiatic black bears have a thicker mane of fur around their neck.


Rungus (Virginia Zoo photo by Kelsey Essmann Bethune)Rungus, a male binturong, and Mercedes and Suzy, who are female, can often be seen lounging about their habitat in the Asia - Trail of the Tiger exhibit. They have a unique scent that some say smells like buttered popcorn, while others say it smells more like Fritos.

Sometimes called Asian bearcats, binturongs are not related to bears or cats; some people just thought they looked like a combination of the two animals. They are arboreal, and about half of their four to six foot body length is a long prehensile tail they use to help them climb through the trees. In the wild, they can be found in the upper tree canopy in rainforests in China, Inonesia, the Philippines and India. Binturong are omnivorous, eating fruit, leaves, small mammals, birds, invertebrates, carrion and eggs.


bongoThe bongo is the largest and heaviest forest antelope. The bright chestnut color of its coat becomes darker with age until old males are almost black. The body is highlighted with 12 to 14 narrow white stripes on the shoulders, flanks and hindquarters. The large ears are believed to sharpen hearing, and the distinctive coloration may help bongos identify one another in their dark forest habitats. Both males and females have spiraled horns. Bongos are found in rain forest with dense undergrowth in the Lowland Rain Forest of West Africa and the Congo Basin to the Central African Republic and Southern Sudan. They are timid and easily frightened. They will move away after a scare, running at considerable speed, even through dense undergrowth.

Malayan Tapir

Rimba (Virginia Zoo photo by David Totten)Visitors to the Zoo often think our tapirs look like giant anteaters, or that they must be related to elephants, because of their prehensile nose. In fact, Tapirs are among the most primitive herbivores, dating back 20 million years and are most closely related to the horse and rhinoceros. In Thailand, tapirs are called "P'som-sett," meaning "mixture is finished," which refers to the local belief that tapirs were created from the leftover parts of other animals.

Our two tapirs, our male Rimba and our female Annie, enjoy bananas and taking a dip in their habitat's small pond. Rimba was born in the Singapore Zoo and is very active for a tapir, often jogging laps around his habitat or chasing Annie.

In the wild, tapirs can be found in the dense rainforests of Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia. They are herbivores, eating grasses, aquatic vegetation, leaves, buds, soft twigs and fruits of low shrubs. Excellent swimmers and divers, tapirs often breathe with their snouts poked above the water surface like a snorkel. Tapirs are endangered and their numbers are decreasing due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Large scale deforestation, including illegal logging and the growth of palm oil plantations, is a major factor in the loss of their habitat.

Malayan Tiger

Malayan tiger (Virginia Zoo photo by Kelsey Essmann Bethune)Kadar and Tahan, our two male Malayan tigers, are brothers. Though obviously much larger and more dangerous, they exhibit many of the same qualities found in house cats, lounging in the sun, stalking potential prey and playing with toys. Among their favorite toys are pumpkins.

Malayan tigers are endangered and recent counts showed there may be as few as 600 in the wild. It is perhaps the smallest subspecies of tiger, with an average weight of nearly 300 pounds for adult males and just over 200 pounds for females. In the wild, Malayan tigers mainly prey on deer and wild boar. They are found in the tropical forests of the southern and central Malay Peninsula.


SquiggyThe Zoo's mandrills are opportunists that will eat whatever they find. They stuff food into cheek pouches to save for later. Their favorite breakfast is cereal, but they also love playing with phonebooks stuffed with peanut butter.

Their home range is in Africa from Cameroon to Guinea. They live in rain forests with little ground cover. Mandrills spend most of their day on the ground, and only go into the trees to sleep or escape danger. In the wild, our group would be all females with one dominant male. Additional males would follow the group and challenge the leader. If they win, they can take over the pack. If they lose, they move back with the followers. Mandrills are very shy and like to turn their backs to you. But if they like you, they will smile and smack their lips.

Masai Giraffe

Giraffes are the tallest land mammals, and that height allows them to see danger sooner than smaller animals.  They also have excellent eyesight. They frequently are the first to start running when they sense danger is near, which is a signal to other animals nearby. Like most mammals, the giraffe has seven neck vertebrae. However, each can be over 10 inches long. Their tongues are over 18 inches long, and they are blue. The color helps prevent the tongue from being sunburned when they use it to pluck leaves from trees.


SchnitzSchnitz, a male orangutan, and Pepper, a female, were actually playmates when very young, but spent some time apart at separate zoos before being reunited in 1995. They have been together since and came to the Virginia Zoo together in 2011. Both were zoo born and the outdoor habitat at the Virginia Zoo will be their first outdoor habitat.

Male orangutans can weigh as much as 300 pounds and stand up to five feet tall, while females are generally less than half that weight and stand about four feet tall. As males mature, they develop pronounced cheek pads of fatty tissue and acquire broad jowls and long beards. An orangutan's arms can be more than six feet long, while the legs are 30 to 50 percent shorter. This body type suits an animal that spends most of its time swinging from branch to branch; a movement known as brachiating. They are omnivorous, eating fruit, young shoots, bark and insects.

Orangutans once ranged throughout Southeast Asia and into southern China, and were found on the island of Java and in southern Sumatra. Orangutans are now found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra with the Sumatran species limited to the northern part of the island. Sumatran orangutans are fragmented into nine separate populations, all of which are located in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. Bornean orangutans are much more widely distributed and are found in Kalimantan, Sabah and Sarawak. Their habitats include lowland and hilly tropical rain forests, mangrove and coastal peat swamp forests, and mountain forests.

Red Panda

Oscar (Virginia Zoo photo by Winfield Danielson)Oscar took up residence at the Virginia Zoo in the spring of 2008 and can frequently be spotted exploring the trees and logs in his exhibit. Missy joined Oscar in 2011.

Red pandas, which resemble raccoons, are about 42 inches long with a long, bushy tail. Their soft, dense fur covers their entire body – even the soles of their feet. Red pandas use their long, bushy tails to help them balance when they are in the trees.  They also cover themselves with their tails to keep warm in the winter. Red pandas live in the cool temperate bamboo forests in Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China, the Himalayas and in Myanmar. They share part of their range with giant pandas.  Red pandas eat bamboo leaves, berries, blossoms, and bird eggs. Red pandas are endangered due to habitat loss. There are
fewer than 2,500 adult red pandas in the wild.


BaliThe siamang is the largest member of the gibbon family. Like other primates, siamangs have four long fingers and a smaller opposable thumb. Their feet have five toes with an opposable big toe. Their arms are longer than their legs. Siamang are distinctive from other gibbons for two reasons: 1) Two digits on each foot are partially joined by a membrane and 2) A large gular sac which can be inflated to the size of its head, allowing the siamang to make loud resonating calls or songs.

We have two siamangs, a male Bali and a female Hitam. They are acrobatic and agile, and can be seen leaping with confidence across formidable gaps between ropes or branches on Siamang Island, their outdoor habitat, or in their indoor playroom.

Siamangs range through Southeast Asia and are found in some numbers on the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. They are arboreal, preferring the middle canopy level, but will travel from tree tops to low bushes while feeding. Like other primates, they are omnivores; though roughly half of their diet consists of leaves, siamangs also eat fruit, insects, nuts, small animals, birds and birds' eggs. They are endangered and their numbers are declining as humans invade their habitat, often killing the mothers while capturing the young for a lucrative pet market.

Slender-Tailed Meerkats

MeerkatSlate, a male, and Pat, a female, weigh about two pounds each and are very territorial. They are enthusiastic diggers, and their exhibit features extensive tunnels. Their other favorite pastime is to bask in the sun. Their favorite food is meal worms.

Meerkats live in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. They live in grass-lined burrows that they share with ground squirrels and yellow mongooses.  However, they are very territorial with other meerkats and will fiercly defend their homes from other meerkat gangs also known as mobs. They are close knit with their own mob, and live in extended family structures. Security is an important concern, so they stand sentry and send out emergency calls to each other.

Squirrel Monkey

monkeyThis gang is curious and playful, swinging from the vines in their exhibit like professional trapeze artists. They weight between one and one and one-half pounds and are fascinated by mirrors. They also love marigolds and eating bananas.

In the wild, squirrel monkeys live in big groups that include more than one male and lots of youngsters. Mothers carry the babies around on their backs. Their home range is east of the Andes from Columbia and northern Peru to northeastern Brazil. They live in forests and in cultivated areas, usually along rivers and streams. Squirrel monkeys’ tails are the same length or longer than the length of their bodies.

They find safety in numbers by feeding in large groups that are too great for the larger monkeys to chase from the trees.

White-Cheeked Gibbon

Dexter (Virginia Zoo photo by David Totten)We have two white-cheeked gibbons, Dexter, a male, and Asia, a female. Asia loves getting back scratches from her keepers. Dexter enjoys snacking on crickets and teasing the Asian small-clawed otters, with whom he shares his outdoor habitat.

Male and female white-cheeked gibbons are so strikingly different in color that they look like different species. Females have white fur, with a tiny patch of black on top of their head. Males are all black except for white patches on their cheeks. When baby gibbons are born, their fur is white like their mom’s (an effective form of camouflage), but they turn all black by one year of age. Then, as they become young adults, females turn white again, while males remain black. Adults are 18 to 25 inches tall and weigh about 12 to 20 pounds.

White-cheeked gibbons are frugivores, eating eat mostly ripe fruits, but they also eat leaves and occasionally small invertebrates. In the wild they occupy the upper canopy of tropical rainforests and monsoon forests in Laos, Vietnam and southern China. White-cheeked gibbons are listed as Critically Endangered due to hunting and habitat loss.

White Rhino

rhinoBorn in 1968, Alfred is one of the oldest animals at the Virginia Zoo.  Alfred weighs 4,200 pounds and loves to play with toys like a large ball and barrel. He also enjoys wallowing in the mud. Alfred eats approximately 20 pounds of grain and 2 bales of hay per day. 

White rhinos are highly endangered, with less than 3,000 living in the wild. Their horn is made of keratin, a fibrous protein that makes up human hair and nails. Rhinos have poor vision, but a very keen sense of smell. The white rhino is more placid and sociable than other types of rhinos. As the second largest land animal, typically a rhino yields only to an elephant.

More Mammals

Click here for a list of the mammals that live at the Virginia Zoo.



Site Map Contact Us Plan Your Visit