Baby jaguar from Wildlife World makes TV debut on 'GMAZ'

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by Catherine Holland

GMAZ interview by Tess Rafols and Ryan O'Donnell

Posted on September 24, 2012 at 12:50 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 24 at 1:03 PM

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PHOENIX -- At just 7 weeks old, Fitz is already a local star, stealing the hearts of everybody who works at 3TV.

Dr. Grey Stafford of Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium brought the little guy to the 3TV studio for his television debut Saturday morning.

Although Fitz, named for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, spent most of his time guzzling a bottle -- rather messily -- he effortlessly charmed Tess Rafols and Ryan O'Donnell.

Fitz is just a little guy now, but when he grows up, he'll weigh about 200 pounds. Jaguars are the third-largest cats in the world, right behind lion and tigers. Fitz and his brethren are the largest cats in the Western hemisphere.

"They very stocky, very well-built, powerful creatures," Stafford said. "Their jaws are so strong they can actually crush the skull of their prey victims."

Of course, right now, the only thing Fitz is crushing is his bottle. He's only starting to learn to eat meat. Skull crushing is still a ways off.

Jaguars are generally tawny with black spots, like Fitz' daddy, who, along with mom, is on display at WWZ&A. If you look closely at Fitz, you can see his spots. Melanistic (black on black) jaguars like Fitz are commonly called black panthers, but they are not a separate species and are actually relatively common in the wild.

Even though Fitz' parents are at WWZ&A, Stafford and his team are hand-raising the little cat, who is the first jaguar born at the zoo in more than a decade.

"By raising our large predators, it prepares for a life being cared for human beings and being on display in front of the public," Stafford explained.

Even though Fitz is being hand-raised by humans, he is not -- and never will be -- a pet.

"I know he's cute and cuddly right now, folks, but he has got some serious claws and teeth," Stafford said, explaining that conditioning Fitz to trust humans will make it easier and safer for keepers to care for him down the road.

Fitz is on display in Wildlife World's Baby Animal Nursery. His room is next door to the baby tapir, which would normally be his prey if they weren't safely separated. Stafford says Fitz will be in the nursery for several more weeks and then moved to a larger outdoor enclosure before the nights get too cold.

Fitz is one of three new additions to WWZ&A. The zoo also welcomed a baby tapir (Fitz's almost roommate) and a giraffe, both of which, like Fitz, were born in August.

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, AZ. It's open seven days a week, 365 days a year, including all holidays.

 Zoo exhibits are open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (last zoo admission is at 5 p.m.)  Aquarium exhibits are open from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Daytime admission includes access to the zoo and aquarium.

For more information, call 623 935-WILD (9453) or visit us on Facebook and www.WildlifeWorld.com.

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