Bottle-feeding four-legged infants is second nature for Diana Weinhardt.
Weinhardt, 54, is curator of the Minnesota Zoo’s Northern Trail, home to leopards, bears, tigers, bison, antelope, gazelles, moose and more. But she’s better known as the “animal mama.”
While caring for a newborn moose calf abandoned by its mother this year, Weinhardt went a step beyond bottle feeding. She scavenged the zoo’s Apple Valley grounds for all the willow branches that could be spared. Then she asked nearby churches and schools for any willow on their properties, anything to help Mac — she’d already named him — survive on its natural diet.
That’s what mothers do.
“Hey, c’mere, buddy,” she calls to an almost 3-year-old Mac, who lopes across his enclosure for a treat of apples and celery. This is Weinhardt’s 10th spring here after similar stints at zoos in her native Chicago and Houston and a wildlife facility in Alaska.
“The higher you get in the zoo field, you have more desk time than animal time, so any time with animals is a good day,” says Weinhardt, who has a degree in animal science. “And I really like teaching younger staff how to manage the babies.”
Weinhardt is particularly attached to Sundari, an Amur tiger she mothered five years ago when its mother lacked those instincts.
But she nurtures all the species under her care, making sure the animals have a chance at a good start. Her extra effort with Mac was born from concerns about digestive problems that can surface in zoo-raised moose.
“I wanted to keep him on a milk and browse diet — on a mother-raised diet — for as long as possible before moving to dry grain. We’ll see if it makes a difference. We’re always learning.”
This spring may see babies among the bison, the Asian wild horses, the camels, maybe the reindeer, and the takin, a large Chinese goat.
“And, of course, we’re always hopeful for tiger cubs!”