2019 “VISITING WITH ANIMALS” Calendar – November Story


11 Himalayan tahr November

The stunning winter coat of a Himalayan tahr


Ok. I need to take the hits for a few errors on this month’s page, right off the bat. First of all, the name of this species is “tahr,” not “tar.” I’ve no idea why I didn’t look this up before I added it to the actual photo, but here we are. Secondly, this tahr’s name is “Gui,” not “Guy.” As is “guitar.” Except, the “Gui” is spelled with an “i,” even though there’s an “h” in “tahr,” so… Huh. Anyhow… I saw these errors far, far too late to do anything about it last year. I discovered both of them at the same time, which was a bit of a gut punch. “Oh, well,” I said to whomever was with me then (I truly forget who I was talking to), “at least I spelled the toughest word correctly!” “Are you sure?” was the reply. “Aren’t there three ‘a’s in ‘Himalayan?” (If this were a post on some other social media sites, I’d insert a .gif of a facepalm, or someone sobbing, or whatever here. You’ll just have to imagine it for yourselves.) So I was a perfectly imperfect oh-for-three for this month’s caption. As far as I can tell I got all of the errors out of the way at once, so I guess that’s something. Right? …right? (I don’t think the fact that this was the only photo this year that was not shot in 2018 and it was taken from an… unusual vantage point had anything to do with it, but maybe it was just karmic payback…) All right. I’m sorry for the errors. At least I’ll be able to tell if anyone copied my design!

Now, down to business.


baby tahr

Baby tahr at Toronto Zoo in 2007

It wasn’t that long ago that one could see the Himalayan tahrs at the Toronto Zoo all year round as there was foot access to the path that runs past their enclosure. Nowadays, these cute ungulates are only really visible from the Zoomobile (at the very beginning of the route) which doesn’t run through the winter. When these mountain goats are at the top of their hilly structure, one can catch a glimpse of them from the bridge that runs over the Zoomobile path en route to the greater one-horned rhino pavilion; on occasion, a keen observer might be able to spot them from the main courtyard or even the TTC bus loop outside of the main gates. Their exhibit is located directly behind the GOH rhino house and a Keeper doing the “rhino rotation” will also tend to the tahr as part of their duties that day. We are hearing of the imminent arrival of some winterized Zoomos, however, so hopefully there won’t be the big gap in viewings. I truly want this to happen, because just look at how spectacular their winter coats are! They are truly magnificent beasts in the cold weather and it’s a shame to not be able to see them more often than we can currently. But how did I manage to get such a wonderful photo, you might ask? Well, the answer is simple but will require a bit of an explanation as well.


20190416033351445HimilayanTahr (1)

Tahr with a summer coat

The photo at the right is from the website for the Toronto Zoo. (If you click on it, it will take you to their description of the animal. It’s worth a look!) Note that this is the way most people will see the Himalayan tahr if they are on the Zoomobile: thin coat and usually on top of their mountain – when they are not cooling off in their tunnel. I have searched through my entire photo collection for a shot similar to the one here; if I have ever taken one of them from the Zoomo, I certainly haven’t labelled it. But any shot of mine wouldn’t look remarkably different in any event. Frankly, the east Caucasian turs look better to me in their warm-weather attire. But come mid-fall when the long fur starts to appear and their colours change, it’s a magnificent sight. So one December day, about four years ago, I was very excited to visit the tahrs as part of my Keeper for a Day routine (I split the day between Indo and a pregnant Ashakiran, and African Savanna with the penguins). I took several shots but was warned against posting them anywhere on social media, as that was the policy at that time. But with the incoming of a new CEO last fall, things opened up considerably in that area, and we are now allowed to post behind-the-scenes photos, provided only that they do not put the Zoo in an unfavourable light, or could pose any danger to security or animal welfare. As a result of that New World Order, I decided to finally use this month’s photo of Gui that I had been keeping around for just such a possibility. I have a few others I cannot post (fencing and other reasons), but also some more that I can and so I’ll tack them on here. (Fair warning: if I find out otherwise, I will have to come back and delete these… I’ll give you all an update if that happens and write about… well, I’ll decide that should the issue arise.)


Tar KFAD 07

The other three tahr lads

This shot at left shows the other three male tahrs: Mitch, Carter, and Curt (Gui was, as you have already seen, on the mountain), although I have to admit I can’t tell you who’s who at this moment. I like this shot because it really shows off their coats from several angles. Believe me, when I walked back there that day I was blown away by how amazing these animals looked, having not seen them before in this “state,” to the best of my knowledge. I did not go in with the lads (the shots I took of them were through the fence that separates them from the girls) but because I was on foot I was able to grab excellent photos just the same. The two females, Bev and Molly, were in a smaller enclosure and were much more approachable. I had a chance to get much closer to them, Molly in particular, and they were sweet and soft. It was really quite unforgettable. I have a couple of lovely shots of my interactions with Molly that I would love to post here, but I think that might be just a little too much pushing of the envelope right now. Maybe someday down the road.


Tar KFAD 09

Handsome lad

My memory is fuzzy from that day, but I really think this is Carter in this photo. Isn’t this coat just amazing? I honestly think it’s just about the most beautiful winter coat of any animal in the Zoo. They also have really interesting horns, which curve up and then away to prevent serious injury during ritual headbutting. They are sexually dimorphic, meaning the females look different from the males, being smaller (about half the weight) with smaller horns and fur that is lighter in colour and weight. Their hooves have a hard rim of keratin (remember your readings about the rhinos?) surrounding a spongey centre, and they secrete a substance from hoof glands which enables a wandering member to locate and follow the herd, even on the rocky terrain of the mountains. They are excellent climbers and amazing jumpers from a stand-still (I have witnessed this from the Zoomo when a couple of them became startled by a piece of construction equipment earlier this year; it’s actually almost surreal). Check out their Wikipedia page for a lot more info on this beautiful species.


Tar KFAD 03

Another of the males

I really don’t have a lot more I can tell or show you; all of my photos of the tahrs were taken on the same day in December of 2015. Once the year-round Zoomobile starts running, I will endeavour to grab more shots of their magnificent coats; for one thing, I can’t even imagine how gorgeous they must look in the snow. There is one more shot from that day that I am dying to share, but because of the location I took it in, I am loath to do so without specific permission. If I ever receive the go-ahead, I will make a separate blog piece just around it. Do watch for that, but don’t be disappointed if it never comes to fruition. Just drop ’round my place sometime and I will show it to you in person where it’s safe!


Next year’s calendars are printed and ready for purchase! I made some tough calls on the photos and a lot of the perennial “favourites” didn’t make it in for 2020; part of that was because I am running out of tidbits for the blogs if I repeat animals too frequently. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the choices and some of them I have never even considered featuring before. Many of them, in fact, were taken in the week or two before I created the calendar as some of the animals were that new to the Zoo!

You can order them from this website or drop me a line if you want to pick yours up in person. I’ll have them at the Zoo every day I am there between now and the end of 2019, for sure.

As always, thanks for reading along and see you next month for the final blog piece for 2019 and I think you’re in for a photo collage treat. See you then!!