Oregon Zoo animals vie for Mom of the Year

Keepers seek public’s help in choosing between monkey, otter and elephant moms

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photoTilly, a North American river otter, gives her young pup Mo a swimming lesson at the Oregon Zoo. Visitors can now see the mom-and-pup pair in the zoo’s Cascade Stream and Pond habitat most mornings between 9:30 and noon.

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PORTLAND — The Oregon Zoo will be name its 2013 Zoo Mother of the Year next week, and the public is invited to help choose the winner. Keepers have narrowed the field to three top-notch moms and are asking people to vote for their favorite on the zoo’s website: www.oregonzoo.org.

This year’s finalists are a De Brazza’s monkey named Brooke, a North American river otter named Tilly and an Asian elephant named Rose-Tu. Online votes will be accepted through noon Thursday. The zoo will announce its 2013 Mother of the Year at 10:30 a.m May 10.

As voting gets under way, keepers have been debating the merits of the three zoo moms, promoting their favorite candidates, enjoying some good-natured rivalries — and, it must be said, engaging in a bit of smack talk.

Brooke, a 22-year-old De Brazza’s monkey, has been keeping her 2-month-old so close that the zoo’s animal-care staff only recently determined the baby’s gender. (It’s a boy.) “He was attached to Brooke’s belly 24/7 for about a month,” said Asaba Mukobi, the zoo’s senior primate keeper.

Late-night keepers first saw the new arrival around 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 24. They have named him Augustus in honor of his father, Gus, who died last month.

North American river otter Tilly is a first-time mom, but keepers say she’s been doing all the right things for her 3-month-old pup, Mo, born Jan. 28. Tilly was just a month older than Mo is now when she was found — orphaned, injured and malnourished — near Johnson Creek in 2009. Fortunately, she’s taken to motherhood like … well, like an otter to water. “Young river otters are very dependent on their moms,” said Julie Christie, the zoo’s senior North America keeper. “Sometimes it’s a month before babies even open their eyes, and Tilly has been very nurturing.” Surprisingly, swimming does not come naturally to river otters.

For much of 2012, the biggest developing story here was the baby growing inside Rose-Tu. In 2008, keepers had to work around the clock for a week to help foster a close bond between the Asian elephant and her first calf, Samudra. But this time, they say, Rose’s maternal nature took over right away. On Nov. 30 — after 22 months of pregnancy — she delivered a healthy, 300-pound female calf. The youngster was named Lily in a public vote, and is proving a boisterous addition to the zoo’s elephant herd. “I love seeing the way visitors respond to Lily’s energy and spirit,” said zoo elephant curator Bob Lee. “When people connect with Lily and see the bond between Rose-Tu and her calf, it brings home what we’re doing every day to make a good life for elephants.”

For more information about the zoo, visit www.oregonzoo.org or call 503-226-1561.

To see a video showing the three finalists and their babies, visit bit.ly/ZooMoms.