Sanctuary Asia, opening soon at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, will create a vast, multipurpose environment where endangered animals from the Asian continent can thrive while receiving world-class animal care. Prior to the opening, we will periodically preview a new species or feature coming to the habitat. We previously profiled the cassowary, now it's time to meet the tanuki (also known as raccoon dogs).
In the wild, the native range of the tanuki extends from northern Indonesia through the eastern provinces of China and the Korean Peninsula to the south-east corner of Russia and Mongolia. The species was introduced in the mid-20th Century to European parts of the former Soviet Union and since then has become widespread in northern and eastern Europe, thriving in a landscape which is a mosaic of moist forests with abundant undergrowth, damp meadows and gardens.
In Japan, myths and legends surrounding the tanuki are myriad and anthropomorphized statues of tanuki are commonplace. Folklore holds that the species are tricksters and shapeshifters, but not malicious.
Tanuki are often found near water and during autumn they are more or less dependent on fruits and berries, which affect their habitat selection. Although subject to some possible localized declines, there is no evidence to suggest that the species is at risk of extinction, and is listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation Nature (ICUN). However, the species is hunted for its fur in some areas.
In addition to tanuki, Sanctuary Asia will be home to red pandas, Asian rhinos, langurs, Komodo dragons and will also add 3.5 acres to the Asian elephant herd’s existing 4.5-acre habitat. A major feature of the new habitat will be a two-story building with vast windows seamlessly uniting animal habitats to create a highly visual and memorable experience. The views will include the elephant, rhino and Komodo dragon habitats.
Sanctuary Asia will provide daily food service and a facility designed for after-hours special events, including weddings. A water zone will give children a splash area to experience in the summer. The landscape design will include plantings native to Oklahoma, but will resemble lush Asian themes. Funding for the 6.6-acre expansion was secured through the Zoo’s 1/8-of-a-cent sales tax accrual, approved by Oklahoma City citizens in 1990. The $22 million project was outlined as Phase II in the Zoo’s master plan in 2010.
Photo credit: 663highland (creative commons)