Our first colony of naked mole-rats came to the San Diego Zoo from the Philadelphia Zoo in 1992. Since naked mole-rats feel most comfortable in small tunnels, we copied that setting in the Zoo’s Children’s Zoo, using a series of Plexiglass tubes and boxes filled with wood shavings. The clear tubes allow our guests to see what the busy mole-rats are doing. We even have tiny signs on them that show guests which box is a feeding chamber, a nesting chamber, and yes, even a toilet chamber! We also play the radio constantly; the music covers loud or strange noises and helps keep them calm.
When we first placed our mole-rats in their new home, we observed them carefully to see how they would adjust to their Plexiglass environment. At first the colony dynamics seemed haphazard, and all of the individuals appeared easily confused with one another. However, it took only a couple of days to see almost ritualistic behaviors start to take place and to be able to identify the main players.
We like to keep our current colony numbers at around 40 members, sending additional animals to other zoos as needed. They are currently off exhibit while a new home is built for them in our Children's Zoo.
Fortunately, naked mole-rat populations are in no immediate danger. They live in areas where there is little human development, so they are relatively undisturbed. Naked mole-rats living in Kenya’s national park system are protected. Let’s hope it stays this way for all the populations of this fascinating little creature!