Meet Dr. Tom!

Doctor Tom Colville has his dream job. He is the attending veterinarian at the Red River Zoo. “I do my best to keep our animals healthy. That includes preventive procedures like administering vaccinations, examining animals that are ill or injured, treating the animals the best we can with what’s available to us, and keeping records on what we do medically so we can learn from past events,” says Dr. Tom, as the staff calls him.

Dr. Tom has always loved working with all kinds of animals. He started his veterinary career working in private practices in Louisiana and Virginia. While practicing in Virginia, he volunteered at the National Zoo.  “It was great fun for me. I got to work with a variety of animals at the zoo. And I would always welcome different species of animals in my practice, not just dogs and cats.” He dreamed of someday having a job like Marlin Perkins’ from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Marlin and his assistant would go around the world and work with exotic animals in exotic places. Since Dr. Tom couldn’t do that, working at the Red River Zoo has become the next best thing. Animals from around the world have come to him.

After working in private practice for five years, he and his wife, Dr. Joann Colville, moved to North Dakota and started the Veterinary Technology program at North Dakota State University (NDSU). As a veterinarian, solving the mystery of what was wrong with an animal and teaching owners how to care for their pets were two of his favorite things. Teaching at the University was a way to mesh solving mysteries and teaching into one profession. Since it was a clinical program, he was able to remain hands-on with the animals. He worked at NDSU for more than 30 years before retiring in early 2011.

Dr. Tom got involved with the Zoo while he was at NDSU. The Veterinary Technology program established a close professional relationship with the Zoo through veterinary technologist Amy Ellwein, who was a charter member of the zoo, and a fellow teacher in the program. Dr. Tom helped with many different Zoo medical procedures, like neutering the wolves, as a way to give his students real-life zoo animal experience. After he retired from NDSU he continued his relationship with the Zoo on an as-needed basis. During an accreditation visit, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) thought it would be advisable for the Zoo to have a staff veterinarian. Dr. Tom had been retired for a few months when he accepted the position as the Red River Zoo attending veterinarian under one condition; he would do it as a volunteer.

“I have the coolest job at the zoo because I get to work with all the animals. Keepers get to work with certain groups of animals. I get to work with all the animals at the zoo.  That’s my bliss,” says Dr. Tom. He strives to create a relationship with the animals, so when it comes time for a medical procedure, they feel more comfortable with him around and not frightened of a stranger.

Another important part of his job is working with the Zookeepers in training the animals. Training is important for animal enrichment. It stimulates the animals’ minds to help keep them happy and healthy. It is also important when it comes to medical procedures. Through training, a large animal, for example a camel, is taught to position itself correctly so its vaccinations can be administered with little or no stress to the animal and a safe environment for the personnel involved in the procedure.

Dr. Tom encourages young people interested in veterinary medicine and zoology to get experience anyway they can. Job shadow, intern, volunteer, and do whatever it takes to get involved. For younger people, Dr. Tom thinks very highly of the Red River Zoo’s camps and Junior Zookeeper program. “I think our Junior Zookeeper programs and our camps are great for kids to try things out,” says Dr. Tom. He believes children who are involved in zoo camps will have a bigger appreciation for Zoos and conservation, and nature in general.



What is Animal Enrichment?

Do monkeys like to read phonebooks? Do wolves normally hunt for ice cubes? Many guests ask, “What is that ‘junk’ in the exhibits?”  That’s not junk, that is animal enrichment! Animal enrichment comes in many different forms, shapes and sizes.

Animal enrichment is a process Zoo Keepers use to ensure the animals are happy and healthy. This involves stimulating and exercising their minds as well as their muscles. This can include-prey location, hunting, problem solving, exercising or playing- which are all important activities.

You may see boxes or structures in different exhibits. Some might be large and others will be small. Many of these containers have treats for the animals inside. They not only have to exercise their bodies to get the treats inside, but they also have to give their minds a workout.

In the South American exhibit for example, you might see different puzzles with obstacles made out of upcycled materials that a lot of guests might consider “junk or trash.” The White-Faced Sakis do not like to read phonebooks, but they do like to flip through the pages and search for treats.  Gray Wolves do not typically search for ice cube treats, but they do like to find ways to melt it faster so they can eat the frozen goodies inside. They are a special treat on a warm day.

Enrichment can be very complex and involve in-depth problem solving skills. Other forms involve simple things like adding a log, or a rock in their exhibit so there is always something new in their environment. It is important to make changes to the exhibits so animals do not see the same thing, or walk the same path every day. Even changing the look of their exhibit can add visual enrichment. Animal enrichment is also meshed in with training.

Target training is a form of animal enrichment. All Red River Zoo animals are given the choice to participate. During training, an animal is encouraged to touch the pointer with their nose. After they execute the touch, a whistle is blown and they receive a treat. This is a way to communicate body positioning. After animals have mastered that step, Zoo Keepers can build upon the training for more complex behaviors.  For example, if a camel was going to be given a vaccination, we would use this training to have them back up and position correctly to get the injection.

This type of animal enrichment is very important and is used often with many different Red River Zoo animals. Not only is it a way to exercise their minds and bodies, but enrichment is fun!

Animal Enrichment is essential for happy and healthy animals. Accredited Zoos and Aquariums like the Red River Zoo strive to keep all our animals healthy and have them participate in animal enrichment. When you visit the different exhibits at the Red River Zoo, see if you can point out a form of animal enrichment. Did something in the exhibits change? Are the animals working on a “special project”?  So next time you see that “junk” see if you can find what the animals are working on and how it keeps them healthy.

Volunteering for more then 15 years

Is your New’s Years resolution to get more involved in your community? The Red River Zoo is the place for you! This week’s blog post is about a very dedicated Zoo volunteer.

Wendy Trottier has been volunteering at the Red River Zoo since it opened, over fifteen years ago! Through the years, she has worked in almost all areas of the Zoo including, animal-care, diet preparation, education as a docent, and guest services.

Wendy, an animal lover and a true conservation enthusiast, loved the idea of a zoo in her community .As soon as the volunteer program was established, she was one of the first to sign up. On her first day of volunteering, she worked in the goat exhibit. “I got to work with the kids and the kids…my children called me the goat lady,” Wendy said with a chuckle.

“My true passion was the Junior Zoo Keeper program,” said Wendy. Wendy served for almost nine years as the coordinator of what was first called the Critter Club and then turned into the Junior. Zookeeper program. Wendy loved this program because she was eager to mix her passion for animals and wildlife with her love of influencing children. Wendy thought the program was important because kids not only could learn about animals and conservation, but it also taught children to learn respect for people and animals. She believed the program encouraged leadership skills and confidence.

While working with the Junior. Zoo Keeper program, Wendy helped the children plan and organize a conservation carnival. This taught the children to plan and to teach others about conservation. They made posters that read, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” and designed games that taught others to recycle. Another initiative she created with the Junior Zoo Keepers was to create “Show and Tails.” The Junior Zoo Keepers would read a story about the animals in the Zoo to guests.

Wendy worked nights and volunteered at the Zoo during the day until she suffered some health problems in 2008. At this same time she resigned from the Junior Zoo Keeper program .Wendy still remembers all of her Junior Zoo keepers and is always happy to see them in the community. Despite having retired, Wendy now volunteers at special events and helps with the outreach animals. Wendy has grown with the Zoo and is looking forward to being a part of the Zoo’s future..

Without dedicated and supportive volunteers like Wendy, the Red River Zoo could not operate. Last year alone, more than 6,000 volunteer hours were donated. There are many different areas around the Zoo that could use volunteer help including animal diet preparation, maintenance, landscaping, education, acting as a docent, events planning and staffing, and many others. Whether it is an individual or a service group that can give one afternoon or commit to longer projects like a special committee, we have a place for you. For more information contact Debbie Dudley at


Creature Feature: Six-Banded Armadillo

Six-Banded Armadillos are mammals. They are known for their pointed and flattened head. Large protective plates arranged in a distinctive pattern run down their head and back. Armadillos have 6-7 movable bands on their back and very developed claws them dig in the dirt.
They are omnivores. The majority of their diet, more than 90 percent, comes from eating plants. They love to eat different fruits and leaves, but also eat carrion (meat from deceased animals), vertebrates (animals with a spinal columns), and bugs like ants and termites.
Many people think they have seen an armadillo like Rollo the Red River Zoo Armadillo in Texas or in other southern states. What they are actually encountering are relatives. Six-banded armadillos are only found in the grasslands and savannahs of South America. Six –banded armadillos can be found east of the Andes Mountains from the Amazon in Brazil to Central Argentina and Uruguay.
They are mature enough to breed when they reach nine months old. After 60-64 days of being pregnant, a female can give birth to one to three babies. At first they are very small. In only one month they become four times their birth weight. They are born with their eyes closed which open in about 22 days after they are born. When they do not have young to care for, armadillos are solitary animals.

Did you know…
• Armadillos have a great sense of smell.
• Armadillos are really good at swimming. Fat is stored under their skin and they can swallow a large amount of air, and because of this, they can stay afloat. They have been known to hold their breath for more than five minutes!
• If there are a group of armadillos together, the group is called a “Fez.”
• Six-banded armadillos are diurnal unlike other species of armadillos. This means they are active during the day and like to sleep at night.
• Six-banded armadillos live on the land, but when threatened, they find shelter in their burros or curl up to protect their soft undersides.
• Six-banded armadillos give off a special odor. They have special scent glands located in the backs of their tails.
• They are great at digging. They use their front claws and push the dirt underneath their bodies, and they use their hind claws to push the dirt behind them.

Six-Banded Armadillos at the Red River Zoo
• The Red River Zoo is the home of Rolo the six-banded armadillo.
• His habitat is located in the South American Exhibit in the entrance building. He lives with two White-Faced Sakis and a sloth.
• Rolo’s favorite food is the avocado.

Come check out Rolo and all the other animals at the Red River Zoo! The Zoo is open 10 am to 5 pm every Saturday and Sunday this winter!

Come see what’s new at your Zoo!


Deer at the Red River Zoo

With the Thanksgiving feast now in the past, it is time to look forward to the holiday season! One great holiday story explains how Santa travels the entire globe. He delivers presents to every child by a magical slay powered by strong and enchanted reindeer. The Red River Zoo may not have reindeer, but White-tailed Deer and Mule Deer and be found roaming in our prairie exhibit.  Why Santa picked reindeer, we’re not sure. Here are some great facts about the deer found at your Zoo.

White-tailed Deer:

White-tailed Deer can be found in southern Canada and most of the continental United States. They are mammals that grow to be up to 86 inches tall and can weigh more than 300 pounds. Now that it is winter, their coats are gray-white and males have shed their antlers.

White-tailed Deer live in wooded areas and are crepuscular creatures. This means they are active at twilight, right as the sun is rising and setting. Bucks (male deer) may live in groups of 3 or 4. If a doe (female deer) does not have fawns, she will live a solitary lifestyle, meaning she will live by herself. It is common for does to live in families with their fawns (babies).

Does will give live birth of one to three fawns after six months of gestation. The fawns will have white spots all over their coats which act as a natural camouflage and help them hide from predators.

When a deer feels they are in danger, they will stomp around and perform grunting, wheezing, and bleating noises to alert others that danger is near. Deer are excellent runners. They can reach up to 35 miles per hour while running.  A Doe will “flag” her white tail so her fawns know how to follow her while fleeing from danger. Bucks will use their antlers as weapons to fight off predators.  Predators of the White-tailed Deer are humans, wolves, and mountain lions.

Mule Deer:

Mule Deer can be found throughout western North America. The Red River Zoo is also home to one female Mule Deer. They are named after their large, independently moving “mule-like” ears that are three-fourths the length of their heads! Their foreheads are a distinct black and their faces are light gray. They have a brownish-gray coat with a white patch on their rump. Their white tails have a black tip.

The antlers of Mule Deer look a bit differently than White-tailed Deer.  Mule Deer bucks have antlers that have main beams that stretch outward and upward. They fork once, and then fork again. They will have an average of 8 to 10 total points.  This species of deer often do not include brow tines on their antlers (the first division of their antlers from their heads).

Unlike Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer have multiple antler tines. They stretch outward and forward from their bases.  Their brow tines are almost always prominent.


We are unsure why Santa decided to use magical reindeer instead of magical Mule or White-tailed Deer, maybe we will never know. Santa Claus will be making a guest appearance at the Red River Zoo for Jaws, Paws and Lunch with Santa Claus this Saturday, December 6th and the following Saturday, December 13th. Tickets include Lunch from Noodles and Company, professional Santa Magic Photographs and lots of holiday fun! Tickets are on sale now, but they are selling fast! If you would like to purchase tickets to this magical event call 701.277.9240 or go to  This Holiday event is sponsored by Sanford Children’s Hospital, Noodles and Company and Santa Magic.

Come see what’s new at your Zoo!


Creature Feature: Sichuan Takin

Some people think they look like a cross between a moose and a wildebeest, others think they look like a combination of a bear and a bison but, that is a Takin! (The name rhymes with rockin’) Takin are closely related to sheep and goats and are considered a goat antelope. They have a thick golden coat that covers their large body. Takin can be over four feet tall and weigh more than 700 pounds. They have long 20 inch horns with thick and curve around their head.  They have four short legs with two-toed hooves.

Takin are herbivores. They get all their energy from eating plants. Bamboo, grass, leaves and buds are some of their favorites.

There are four different kinds of Takin. Sichuan Takin, can only be found in the Western forested regions and bamboo groves of China and bordering mountainous regions. Sometimes they share their habitat with the giant panda. Takin are great climbers with strong legs that help them live in the mountains with an elevation of 6,400 feet! They are very agile even with their large size, they leap from rock to rock on rough slopes.  Takin migrate to higher elevations in the summer and come back to lower regions in the winter.

Sichuan Takin live in a large herd that sometimes includes more than 200 Takin! Older males like to live in much smaller groups or by themselves. Their mating season is in July and August. Females will give birth to one calf seven or eight months later.

Did you know…?

  • Female Takin usually weight around 500 pounds and the males can weigh up to 800 pounds.
  •  Are they sick, why are they coughing? They have few predators due to their large size, but when they do sense danger they let out a loud cough to warn others in their herd.
  • Takin have special adaptations to help them live in cold temperatures. They have a large sinus cavity that warms the cold air they breathe in. Their skin secretes oil to protect them from the damp fog that is common in their environment.
  • Takin have inspired many different stories in history. The beast in the classic Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast is based on the Takin. The legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece may also have been inspired by the Sichuan Takin’s golden fur coat.
  • Considered a national treasure in China, Takin have the highest level of legal protection. However, they are still endangered because of over-hunting and habitat destruction.

Sichuan Takin at the Red River Zoo

  • Two female and one male Sichuan Takin live at the Red River Zoo. Their exhibit is located along Takin Ridge behind the carousel pavilion.
  • The Red River Zoo’s Sichuan Takin are a part of Species Survival Plan (SSP).

Come see the Red River Zoo at the MSUM Production of the Jungle Book

The Red River Zoo is back on blog! After a short break during the summer season, the Red River Zoo’s will now be updated weekly with new and excited posts that focus on the Zoo’s mission, new happenings, and different topics about animals and conservation. This is a special Monday blog, but make sure to look for a new blog posting every Sunday!

The Red River Zoo and the Minnesota State University Moorhead’s theatre department have partnered together for the production of the Jungle Book.  The production is described as “an extraordinary adventure with Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the jungle. With the help of his friends — the bear, Baloo, the panther, Bagheera and the python, Kaa — Mowgli is learning to survive as they teach him about Jungle Law.”

This production designed especially for children, goes along with the Zoo’s mission to educate others about wild animals. Both the Zoo and the play, influences kids and encourages them to fall in love with nature and wildlife. As a cultural institution that encourages the arts, partnering with MSUMS’s theatre department was a perfect fit for the Zoo.

The Zoo’s very own Education Director, Erica Prokryn and a team of dedicated volunteers will be accompanying outreach animals after the 1 pm production and before the 4 pm production at Hansen Theatre. If you would like to purchase a ticket, please go to or call 218-477-2271.

To follow the Jungle Book production, next weekend’s Zoo keeper chats will have unique Jungle Book theme. The Zoo is now open for winter every Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Come visit our cold climate species from the many indoor viewing areas at the Zoo.

Jungle Themed Keeper Chats- Saturday, November 22:


1:00-White Faced-Sakis Monkeys

2:00-Gray Wolves

3:30-Bactrian Camels


Sunday, November 23 Keeper Chats:

11:30-Marsh Ducks

1:00-White Faced-Saki Monkeys

2:00-Bald and Golden Eagles

3:30-Sichuan Takin


Come see what’s new at YOUR Zoo!

Don’t End Earth Week!

What a great Earth Week! Party for the planet was a huge hit, tons of kids from all over our community came to check out the Red River Zoo and learn all about conservation. Who knew you could make an origami passenger pigeon? For those of you who could attend Dr. Stanley A. Temple’s lecture, did you get scientific goose bumps learning about de-extinction?

Earth Week is a great way to celebrate our earth and a great reminder to respect all of our natural resources. It is important to remember to be cautious in keeping our planet clean even after Earth Week. You can make simple changes to your lifestyle that will leave you happy and the planet healthier! Here are 11 ways you can make a difference:

  1. Bike/skate/walk to work or school!  If you must drive, use cruise control. By doing so, you could get better gas millage by 15%.
  2. Buy a reusable water bottle and refill it in the sink to save on water and plastic consumption. An estimated 90% of plastic bottles are not recycled.
  3. Turn the lights off when you leave the room. Go the extra mile and completely shut down your computer every night.
  4. A lot of energy is wasted when drying your clothes. If you hang dry your clothes, not only is it greener, but it adds to the lifespan of your wardrobe.
  5. Always recycle. Newspapers and magazines can be donated to schools for arts and crafts, and by recycling aluminum cans you can even make some extra cash.
  6. Save gift bags, bows, and tissue paper for new gifts. Don’t use wrapping paper. Use old fabric, newspaper or let you child draw or stamp on a paper bag. This adds a sentimental touch to your gift!
  7. Plan to shower and not bathe. To save even more water, shower a little faster. By ending your shower two minutes sooner you can save up to ten gallons of water.
  8. Use cotton swabs with a paperboard spindle. According to www.50waystohelp, “If 10 % of U.S. households switched to a paperboard spindle, the petroleum energy saved per year would be equivalent to over 150,000 gallons of gasoline.”
  9. Don’t waste a straw or a stir stick when you are making your morning coffee. Put in your sugar and cream first then you won’t have to waste a stick to stir. By doing this the some of the 138 billion straws and stirrers that are throw away each year can be decreased!
  10. Shop locally. This is good for your community but also saves on gasoline that is used when transporting goods from one location to the other.
  11. Plan to visit your Red River Zoo and stay connected on how you can spread the word about conservation and endangered species!

Celebrate Earth Day with the Red River Zoo!

The snow has melted and spring has arrived in perfect timing for Earth Day! Earth Day is a wonderful way to celebrate our planet and to teach others all about conservation! Lucky for you, the Red River Zoo has two upcoming Earth Day events.

The Red River Zoo is celebrating Earth Day and the kick-off of the summer season with Party for the Planet! This Saturday, children and adults can enjoy the Zoo and participate in different activities and crafts that are centered on going green! The carousel pavilion will host local organizations booths with fun-interactive activities.  Don’t forget to check out the newly renovated Education Building where you can make your own Passenger Pigeon craft to take home. For an additional treat, there will be Keeper talks and animal encounters throughout the day.

Children get in FREE with tickets form Gate City Bank. You can pick up your free tickets at any of their Fargo, West Fargo, or Moorhead locations.  This will be the last day of winter Zoo hours. Check out the Red River Zoo between 10 am and 5 pm for your Earth Day celebration!

For a pre-Party for the Planet event, Dr. Stanley A Temple, a renowned wildlife ecologist from the University of Wisconsin- Madison will be giving a guest lecture on the passenger pigeon.  The once most abundant bird in North America became extinct in 1914.  After 100 years of extinction, it may be possible to bring the passenger pigeon back through a process known as  “de-extinction.”

To learn more about this process and what it means for the future make sure to attend this lecture on Friday, April 25th at 6:30 pm in the Festival Concert Hall at NDSU.  This Lecture is free and open for the public.

Make sure you plan to celebrate with the Red River Zoo and attend Dr. Temple’s presentation and participate during Party for the Planet! If you have any questions you can go to or call 701.377.9240 for more information.

Come see what’s new at your Zoo!

Happy Birthday Red River Zoo!

This year the Red River Zoo turns 15 years old! In 15 short years, the Red River Zoo has transformed into a living museum that is loved by many. The Red River Zoological Society was formed in 1993 after planning and dreaming of a wildlife park by enthusiasts around our community. These progressive thinkers worked hard to recruit other members and dedicated volunteers. In 1995, the community voted on a sales tax initiative that would, in part, fund construction and development of a wildlife park. This measure was defeated in the poll.

After a survey, the Zoological Society found that many people were supportive of a wildlife park in Fargo/Moorhead, but they didn’t support the vote, as it contained many other items as well. The determined Board and society members regrouped and turned to their alternative plan, developing a 100-year-lease with the Fargo Park District. Construction started in 1996 after many private and cooperate donations were received.

The Red River Zoo is now located on 33 acres of what used to be the George Anderson Family’s Red River Ranch. Before renovations, the site consisted of only seven trees and a few old farm buildings. Several buildings were modified to fit the needs of the new zoo.

The Red River Zoo first opened their doors in 1999. Then, the Zoo included the barnyard, aviary, prairie dogs, porcupines, red pandas, duck marsh, deer, meerkats, and an entrance building with reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Since then, many large exhibits have been added including the Trapper’s Cabin with grey wolves, Takin Ridge, the Shelly Ellig Entrance Building and South American Exhibit, Wings of the Orient Asian Aviary, and the newest addition to the Zoo, the North American River Otter exhibit. The landscape has been transformed into a beautiful and enchanted zoological park. Today, the Red River Zoo is home to more than 89 species and 600 specimens.

The Red River Zoo receives national and international recognition as a leading breeder for some of the world’s rarest cold climate species. Our Zoo is an active participant in several Species Survival Plans, including: Chinese Red Pandas, Sichuan Takins, White Naped Cranes, White Face Sakis and North American Porcupines. Over one-quarter of the Chinese Red Pandas in North American Zoo were born at our Zoo! Our Zoo has strived to fulfill our mission of advancing public education on the need for wildlife conservation and preservation. We connect people with nature!

The Red River Zoo is operated solely through admissions fees, memberships, philanthropic gifts, and miscellaneous earned revenue. The Red River is Zoo is part of the 7% of AZA Zoos that do not receive tax or subsidized funding. The Zoo has been so successful in part due to the tremendous help of volunteers. Last year volunteers generously donated over 6,000 hours of their time.

Having a Zoo in our community was just a dream until a few dedicated individuals who saw the Zoo’s vision stepped forward and made the Red River Zoo happen. Now, your Zoo has transformed into a true gem in our community and has become a leading tourism destination in the Fargo/Moorhead area.

The Zoo will be celebrate their 15th birthday this year. Stay connected to receive updates on how you can celebrate! The Zoo exists because dedicated conservationists worked together to create a Zoo that would influence the entire community 15 years ago. If you would like to get involved to help us with our mission, there is always a need for dedicated volunteers! If you would like to volunteer please call 701.277.9240 ext. 310 or email If you would like to make a donation, please call 701.277.9240 ext. 301. The Zoo will be open every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm now until the end of April. Come stop by and wish the Zoo a happy birthday!


Come see what’s new at your Zoo!