Rogue the reindeer is ready to take the reins

December 20, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

Rogue, Cougar Mountain Zoo’s 5-month-old reindeer, looks through a window checking out visitors to Santa’s house during the Reindeer Festival this month. By Greg Farrar

He may be only 5 months old, but he already weighs 84 pounds and is about three and half feet tall at his shoulders.

Especially as this is the holiday time of year, he has made numerous personal appearances at Christmas tree lightings and similar events, said Robyn Barfoot, general curator of the Cougar Mountain Zoological Park.

The toddler in question, however, probably is not going to be caught sitting on Santa’s lap.

Instead, Rogue the reindeer already is harness trained and ready to help pull Santa’s sleigh, Barfoot said.

“Santa likes to refer to him as ‘Blitzen,’” Barfoot added.

Rogue even already has his own Christmas song. The private Cougar Mountain Academy is near the zoo. Teachers and children there have come up with a version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” using Rogue’s name, Barfoot said.

Incidentally, Rogue was named in honor of the Issaquah Brewhouse and its Rogue Ales. The restaurant and brewery is a zoo sponsor, Barfoot said.

If you go

2011 Issaquah Reindeer Festival

  • 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Dec. 23
  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 26-30
  • Cougar Mountain Zoo
  • 19525 S.E. 54th St.
  • Tickets are available at the door — general admission, $12.50; seniors, $11.50; children under 12, $10.50.
  • www.cougarmountainzoo.org

The arrival of Rogue, the newest addition to the zoo’s herd of reindeer, was “somewhat of a surprise,” she said.

Rogue’s mother is an older deer, one zoo staff believed probably was past breeding age. While Rogue was healthy at birth, his mother was unable to produce milk to feed him. As a result, zoo staff members took on the responsibility of hand-feeding young Rogue. During Rogue’s early days, someone had to be on call around the clock, said Sasha Puskar, a senior keeper at the zoo.

“It was time-consuming,” Puskar said of the process, adding it provided Rogue not only with food, but also stimulation and enrichment.

Balls and different natural toys were used to help entertain and educate Rogue during his youngest days.

“Now we’ve just got this healthy reindeer,” Barfoot said. “We expect him to grow to be a pretty big bull.”

Rogue eventually could weigh as much as 325 to 350 pounds. Officials are convinced Rogue will be a good-sized reindeer as he already is developing pretty rapidly, Barfoot said.

Rogue is the first reindeer born at the zoo in some time. Cougar Mountain stopped breeding reindeer, Barfoot said, as its reindeer population was at what she called a comfortable level. That has changed as the zoo’s animals naturally have grown older. The zoo has obtained a young male and Rogue is the first of what officials hope will be a number of new reindeer.

The zoo is presently in the midst of its annual Reindeer Festival, featuring Rogue, of course, but also adult reindeer, visits with Santa and other attractions. But the reindeer are really a year-round attraction, according to Barfoot, who added the animal’s coats change dramatically with the seasons.

For example, in late summer, the reindeer sport a chocolate-brown color with white beards.

“It’s so beautiful,” Barfoot said.

Learn more about the zoo and its programs at www.cougarmountainzoo.org.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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