November 18, 2022 – On Saturday, Nov. 12, the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo staff and students said goodbye to longtime resident, Squirt, the guanaco. After monitoring a rapid downturn in his health, staff and UF vets decided to humanely euthanize him. More than 30 zookeepers huddled over Squirt to say their goodbyes with misty eyes. He touched so many hearts and taught hundreds of zookeepers over his nearly 21 years living at the zoo.
On January 11, 2002, a little chulengo (baby guanaco) was born. Sadly, his mother died shortly after, so zookeepers swept in to raise him. Shawntal Abram, now a professor in the Zoo Animal Technology program (ZATP), remembers Squirt being the first zoo animal she ever had the opportunity to bottle feed as a student. Later, as assistant curator, she supervised students that trained him. Many of the staff and instructors at the zoo are graduates of the ZATP. Squirt helped them gain confidence working with large animals with lots of personality, and later they saw him as a fellow teacher. He taught students to read body language, as guanacos are quite expressive, using their posture, ears, and tails to show their intentions. As he aged and began to show signs of joint discomfort, students learned how to provide daily pain medications to a large herbivore.
Over 20 years, Squirt shared his home with many types of animals, from rheas to red-foot tortoises. Many years ago, a rescued iguana took up residence across the path from him. Staff and students got quite a chuckle from watching him huff ad puff at his new green neighbor. Zookeepers especially loved to create unique enrichments for him, since he would readily interact with them and devour all the leafy bits. Most zookeepers fondly remember Squirt living up to his name and spitting up to 6 feet of carrot confetti saliva at them.
Squirt will be remembered by so many students and guests. Next time you visit the zoo, make sure to stop and chat with keepers to learn about all their amazing animal teachers.