How Milwaukee County Zoo animals get their names

Trish Khan, Milwaukee County Zoo He worked as the zoo’s curator of primates and small mammals for more than 30 years, during which time the ways in which animals were named changed.

“It was a hard and fast rule that whoever found the baby in the morning got the naming rights,” Khan said, laughing. “That’s why a lot of the older animals have names like Tommy (the zoo’s orangutan) because the person who found them named them after themselves and got bragging rights.”

Tommy, an orangutan at the Milwaukee County Zoo, drinks juice from a cloth in May 2018.

It has also been popular over the years to name animals according to a theme, Khan said. There’s Baja Blast and Baja Splash, two Baja blue rock lizards named after the popular soft drinks. Khan remembers the ferret named after the Golden Girls.

Respected names represent the story behind the animals

But such naming conventions are becoming less common as zoos are “moving more toward names that have significance either around an animal conservation message or that represent the animal in a dignified way,” Khan said.

For the primates she works with, this has translated into giving animals names in the languages ​​common to the regions their species is from.

For example, the zoo’s spider monkeys — Hieu Hieu, Chimal and Momos — are named after cities in Guatemala, and the zoo’s first bonobos are named after two major rivers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Maringa and Lomaco. When new bonobos are born at the zoo these days, their names are written in one of the three languages ​​spoken in Congo: Swahili, Lingala, or French.

Milwaukee zookeepers also add some meaningful quirks to the animals’ names. Since 2000, bonobo babies have been given names that begin with later letters of the alphabet — “A” for a baby born in 2000, “B” for 2001, and so on.

Milwaukee County Zoo keeper Stacey Whitaker touches a bonobo named Zumi.  A bonobo next to a zombie named Noel.

“This is useful to me because when people ask me how old a bonobo is, I can count on my fingers,” Khan said, laughing.

Names often have greater importance in zookeepers’ relationships with animals. For example, the bonobo Kituku – which means “beauty” in Lingala – is very beautiful according to Khan, and another bonobo, Zumi, is named after the Lingala word for 10 because, according to Khan, she is “definitely a 10”.

Even when the zoo opens up naming rights to the public in social media contests — that’s how Pepper’s gentoo penguin and Leilani’s Bactrian camel got their names — animal care staff choose which options visitors can vote from.

These intentional naming techniques reflect a desire to respect the animals in their care and help zoo visitors connect with and empathize with the animals as they learn more about where they come from and the importance of preserving their habitats.

“We want people to see the intelligence and beauty of animals, connect with them and want to make a deeper connection,” Khan said. “Names are important; they help define what we think about these animals, and they follow them throughout their lives.

More than 2000 animals live here At the Milwaukee County Zoo. Here are the names of some of them.

Brittany is one of three elephants who live at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Animals in Africa Adventure

  • Hippos: Happy and Patti
  • Giraffes: Marley, Ziggy, Maya and Kennedy
  • The elephants: Bill, Brittany and Ruth
  • Greater Kudu: Chola, Imani and Hosni
Olive, a 15.2-foot-long green anaconda, is the longest snake ever to live at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Animals at the Aquarium and Reptile Center

  • Blue Iguana in Grand Cayman: digger
  • Blue rock lizards in Baja: Baja Blast and Baja Splash
  • Green anaconda: olive
  • Ornate box turtle: standard
Leilani, a Bactrian camel, was born to her mother AJ at the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2021.

Animals in Camel Yard

  • Bacterial sentences: Leilani, AJ (Addie Jane) and Stan
Natasha, an 11-year-old female Amur tiger, arrived at the Milwaukee County Zoo in November 2023.

Animals in Florence Milla Borchert The country of big cats

  • Snow leopards: Chotu and Oriya
  • Amur tigers: Natasha, Cash and Tula
Pepper, a gentoo penguin, hatched at the Milwaukee County Zoo in December 2022.

Animals in the Clan by Herb and Nada Mahler

Gentoo penguins: Pepper, Oscar and Fiona

Myra, a harbor seal, will arrive at the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2023.

Animals in North America Exhibition

grizzly bears: Rooney, Boseman, Chinook and Brian

Port seals: Mira, Leah, Cosette and Ringo

Badger: Oscar

brown bear: Boris

Nelson, a 14-year-old Norwegian horse, arrived at the Milwaukee County Zoo in July 2023.

Animals on the Northwest Mutual Family Farm

Different types of livestock: Trinity, Martini, Sadie, Brandy, Miley, Billy, Harper and Clove

Miniature Mediterranean donkey: Giuseppe

Norwegian Fjord Horse: Nelson

Topaz, a 31-year-old black-handed spider monkey, will arrive at the Milwaukee County Zoo in November 2023.

Animal Gallery of the World’s Primates

uncivilized human beings: Tommy and Alex (Alexandra)

De Braza’s monkeys: Herry, Holly and Hugo

Japanese macaques: Emi, Sora, and Tomaru

Black-handed spider monkeys: Topaz, Hui Hui, Shemal and Momos

There are two dwarf slow lorises in the Small Mammal Building at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  Their names are Henderson and Shantou.

Animals in the Small Mammals Building

  • Grasping-tailed porcupine: Guillermo
  • Dwarf slow lorises: Henderson and Shantou
The Milwaukee County Zoo's river otter, Clover, cradles a litter of newborn pups.

Animals at the Otter Passage exhibit

  • North American river otters: Emerald, clover, shamrock and larch
Meet Dear, the Milwaukee County Zoo's latest release Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Dear means precious treasure and the 20-year-old male came from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Stearns Monkeys Family Gallery Animals in Africa

Western lowland gorillas: Ndami, dear, dotti, hodari and maji maji

bonobo: Zumi, Kitoku, and Noki Noki

Did we miss any of your favorite Milwaukee County Zoo animals? Email me at amy.schwabe@jrn.com to tell me their names and why you love them.

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