With a flourish of spotted brown and black fur, the Buffalo Zoo introduced its playful new baby Brazilian ocelot to the public Sunday, announcing the new cat's name would be Nico.
The little male kitten, who was born Nov. 17 to mother Ayla, was named following an online vote by the zoo's 60,000 social media followers, who overwhelmingly selected their choice from among four options proposed by knowledgeable zookeepers, said zoo spokesman Todd Geise.
Nearly 60 percent of 8,143 votes actually cast went for Nico. The other choices were Javiar, Pablo and Tacito, which came in a distant second with 18.5 percent of votes. All four name options were selected because they are "representative" of the "Hispanic culture" in the cats' native habitat in Brazil.
The zoo has followed a similar model in the past of seeking public input when naming new baby animals, but Geise cited a record-high number of votes in this recent effort. "That's impressive," he said. "Thank you to all who voted."
Geise said the little cats are native to both South America and the Southwest and South Central United States, particularly Texas and Arkansas. The South American population remains "fairly strong," he said, but the U.S. tally has fallen significantly, and now numbers less than 100 in the two states. While it's not clear yet if the decline will continue, he said, "we're really thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the continuous breeding of the ocelot," through the Species Survival Plan managed by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums.
"Everyone's efforts at conservation are exceptionally important," he added.
Nico was initially rather shy Sunday morning, as more than 30 people gathered for the announcement and waited eagerly for him to show his adorable furry face. Disappointment quickly turned to delight, as first Ayla came out to survey the scene and make sure it was safe, before Nico emerged from the cats' indoor room.
He clambered over tree limbs, branches and rocks, and crawled through holes, licking and chewing at the wood as he explored his surroundings. As onloookers snapped photos, he rolled around, curled up, and scampered around, occasionally losing his balance.
— John Hickey (@jhickeyBN) January 22, 2017
"He’s very curious, almost a little mischievous," Geise said. "Like most cats who use their tail for balance, he’s still trying to figure that out, so he’s falling off things."
Here are some other quick facts about this kitten and ocelots, according to the zoo:
- The kitten's parents are 12-year-old Pedro and 6-year-old Ayla, who also had a kitten in 2013.
- Caretakers determined the kitten was male during a routine exam when it was 6 weeks old.
- Ocelot kittens all have baby-blue eyes that become a darker yellow as they get older.
- The kitten "is very curious and enjoys exploring his new habitat," the zoo said in a news release.
- The kitten's public debut will be inside the ocelot habitat in the zoo's Rainforest Falls exhibit.
More than 4,000 people visited the zoo on Saturday, Geise said, adding that he was "hoping it'll be a banner day again today." Admission is just $5 for all of January and February.
Meanwhile, Geise announced that polar bears Luna and Sakari will have their first date in February.