Not just another pretty face

Wart hog brothers make fine first impression at zoo

May 26, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Zoo plans to put on a new face this weekend, wart hogs and all.

Tomorrow, zoo officials are slated to unveil a new wart hog exhibit for the first time in nearly 50 years. Brother wart hogs Frasier and Niles will make themselves at home under the trees and in the dry riverbed near the antelopes and gazelles.

Far from their natural home south of the Sahara Desert, they'll be on display with a white baby camel named Lucky, born at the zoo May 2.

Since the wart hogs arrived last month, horticulture and maintenance workers have been building a lush 1-acre habitat to resemble an African jungle.

The animals are making a good first impression. "Frankly, when you look at them, they're endearing and engaging," says Roger Birkel, the zoo's executive director. "You just fall in love. You can't believe the impact they're already having."

As late as Wednesday, keepers had not decided which was Niles and which was Frasier, names zoo staffers selected from the television sitcom "Frasier" about two brothers, starring Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce.

On indefinite loan from California's Living Desert Zoo, where they were born, the wart hogs "came to us nameless," says Gil Myers, a zoo keeper. The brothers are 2 years old and each weighs about 230 pounds.

The creatures should reach an adult weight of 350 pounds. Their expected lifetime is between 12 and 15 years in captivity, zoo keepers said. Myers has visited the Philadelphia Zoo's wart hog exhibit to observe the animals; the National Zoo in Washington does not have any.

The brothers are eating well in their quarantined enclosure, consuming about 5 pounds of produce -- apples, bananas, carrots -- and 3 pounds of grain every day.

Like other swine, they communicate in grunts, snorts and squeals. In the wild, they would fight predators, such as lions, hyenas and cheetahs, with their tusks.

This week, keepers were starting to reach a conclusion about the pair. "One is a lot more bold than the other, more of a Frasier," Myers says.

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