2019 “VISITING WITH ANIMALS” Calendar – June Story


06 Groundhogs June

A pair of impish young groundhogs in the warthog exhibit at the Toronto Zoo



Groundhogs calendar 01

The runner-up shot

On a warm and beautiful last day of May in 2018, I was walking around the Savanna at the Zoo with a couple of friends when we stopped at the warthog exhibit. If memory serves, I had not yet caught a glimpse of the plump porkies that spring, and that day would be no different. However, as we stood at the railing quietly gazing into the enclosure I caught sight of some activity just below us at the very front edge of the exhibit. Two young groundhog pups were emerging from a den about 20 feet away and, encouraged by the calm surrounding the area, began to explore a few feet away from the opening itself. I searched the domain for any sign of a mom, and finally spotted her at the back of the exhibit, foraging but also keeping a wary eye on any potential issues up in the area of her home.


Groundhogs 01

The braver of the two siblings

They did not emerge simultaneously from the den; rather, one came into view, ventured out to nibble on some tasty flowers, and was then followed by its sibling. The photo I used for June was not taken right away – I used one from a bit later in the entertainment when they had returned to the den and re-emerged together. The two displayed some pretty well-defined characteristics for such young animals: one was clearly the braver of the twins, while the other – perhaps jealous of its sibling’s courage – was substantially more of a brat.


While the first pup was calmly investigating the yummy plants, the second one came into view


Groundhogs 02


rushed up behind its twin to grab it by the shoulder


Groundhogs 03


which naturally resulted in a brief wrestling match between the two.


Groundhogs 04


Groundhogs 05

About to run for cover

Because we were laughing like idiots at the show, we attracted a small crowd to the railing. When it became a bit too crowded and noisy for the youngsters, they separated and fled back underground for a short period. At the same time, we noticed the mom had worked her way closer and was moving from one tree trunk to another, keeping slightly out of sight but clearly ready to react immediately had anything gotten out of hand. When the babes finally did reappear, they must have sensed that the hammer was about to fall, because they did not come completely out of the den a second time, preferring instead to watch the funny-looking creatures staring back at them for as long as they could. And they almost overstayed their welcomes, because…


Groundhogs 10

Cheese it! It’s the COPS!!


Groundhogs 11

The voice of authority

very stern-looking mom burst onto the scene and the pups spun around and immediately disappeared. She stood outside the den chattering at them for a moment, then turned to chatter at us, before heading into the dark space behind them, probably to chew them out some more. We waited a short while to see what would happen next; what did happen was mom came back out and moved off to continue foraging, but there was absolutely no further sign of the babies forthcoming. Groundhogs? More like grounded hogs, am I right? Am I right? Hello?

…. I’ll show myself out. In a few moments.

There are groundhogs all over the Zoo, all through the year. I have seen them in with the hippos, giraffes, rhinos, Watusi, lions (!) – virtually any animal that has a grassy outside exhibit will have a cute furry rodent drop by to visit a few times each summer. Here is one that was cheeky enough to climb up into the feeder for the greater kudu:


Groundhog 1


This was one I spotted just a couple of weeks ago on my first visit to the white rhinos this year, hanging around the enclosure and amusing Tony:




These are all adorable, of course, but my current favourite doesn’t live at the Toronto Zoo. Rather, she is a Program Animal at Soper Creek Wildlife Rescue, where I also Volunteer. Here is “Alan.”


Allan 04

Alan at Soper Creek


Allan 02

Allan looking for treats

Alan is adorable: cuddly, plump, fluffy, cute, and every bit as soft as she looks. (Yes, Alan is a girl. Here’s a brief history.) She’s a favourite of everyone at Soper, and she loves to be held on a lap and stroked. I have just started to do clicker training with several of the Program Animals at Soper; Alan not only has a bit of a head start since she’s already so precocious, but she’s a pretty fast learner, too. I’ll likely have to devote a little more of my time to the various foxes, who will take a lot longer to get used to me, but I’ll be sure not to neglect Alan along the way.

Here are a couple of short videos I shot of Alan this week, which were requested by my boss. Watch for the brief cameo by “Kevin” the pigeon – also a girl – in the second one.







Now, for those of you who don’t get the “Alan” thing, here is an old BBC clip which, although it contains a marmot (but that’s just splitting…erm…rodents), should explain everything.



I’ve been promised the next groundhog will be named “Steve.” Hopefully she’s a girl, too!

That’s it for June. Next month: the third of three photos that made my calendar extremely popular with the good folks who work in the African Rainforest Pavilion. Hope to see you back here then!