Kahuna, a fruit bat at the Oakland Zoo, has a face only a mother could love. And boy does she ever.
When animal keeper Andrea Dougall of Montclair feeds Kahuna grape juice out of a syringe, she sits patiently on her knees as he slurps. Except for the fact that he's hanging upside down on a rope, Kahuna looks like a baby suckling a bottle.
The 28-year-old Dougall gives that same kind of loving attention to all 30 of the Island and Malayan flying foxes that reside at the zoo. She knows each one by name.
"The first time I saw the bats, I thought they were the coolest thing ever," she said during a recent interview at the zoo.
The Sunnyvale native started working at the zoo more than three years ago after stints at Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo and the San Francisco Zoo, where she had volunteered every summer since she was 12. She knew early on that her occupation would be a bit different from most of her classmates.
"I was one of those weird teenagers who liked learning — it set me apart from the other people I knew," she said. "I felt much more connected with other people who work with animals."
Dougall graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in biology and learned a lot about husbandry at the San Francisco Zoo before arriving at the Oakland Zoo. She has worked with every class of animal, including invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals.
Dougall, who has two cats, Shane and Ashley,
She laughs as she remembers a tortoise that sprayed her with water once by stepping into the stream of a hose she was using. Dougall said a zoo visitor who watched the silly scene unfold told her, "I don't think I've ever seen a tortoise laugh before."
The bats, which are a major draw for the Children's Zoo, also teem with individuality. They fly around their 50-foot-high enclosure at night, but during the day can be seen just hanging out, occasionally opening their vast wings, which can span up to 6 feet.
Dougall said some are shy and fearful, while others are social and like to follow her around while she feeds the group. One time, after she finished feeding one of the bats, he grabbed her shirt and pulled her toward him.
"He just wanted a little bit more," she said. "It was hilarious."
Some of the bats like sniffing her hair because they think it smells of fruit, which is a main staple of their vegetarian diet. They occasionally put their noses to her scalp.
Because the bats growl, flap their wings and scratch when feeling territorial, Dougall has suffered a few scratches. But she said those incidents are rare and she has been vaccinated for rabies.
The bats, all males from the Lubee Bat Conservancy in Gainseville, Fla., are native to Vietnam, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. Like their parents, they were all born in captivity. They range in age from 8 to 16 years and will live to be between 20 and 30 years old in captivity.
Dougall said it takes about five hours each day to care for the bats, which can eat half of their weight, or about a pound, of food per day. They are especially fond of red bell peppers and juicy fruits. They suck the juice out of fruits and vegetables, then spit out a dehydrated pellet of whatever is left.
It took Dougall six months to learn all of their names. Unique physical characteristics — such as a torn ear, bend in the wing or shape of their face — help her tell them apart.
Taking the time to learn all of their names is the kind of dedication that makes Dougall a natural animal keeper, said supervisor Margaret Rousser.
"She is really passionate about her work because animals are not one of those 9-to-5 kind of jobs," Rousser said. "Sometimes, you have to stay late if an animal gets sick."
Rousser said Dougall also has the right personality to work with the gregarious otters.
"Andrea is a very upbeat person," Rousser said. "Her personality almost matches the otters because they are so playful."
Dougall can be more interactive with the otters because they move around. But caring for bats requires a much more steady and patient — well, motherly — affection.
"I was in love the first time I saw them," she said.