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If you’ve been to the zoo recently, you may have noticed that our male elk is the only one on exhibit in our Big Sky Country. If you’ve looked closely, you may also have noticed that our female elk are in the back section of the exhibit. As fall approaches, our bull elk, Nubs, sheds the velvet off of his antlers. This indicates that his antlers have stopped growing and that he is preparing for the breeding season. Nubs goes through certain hormone changes that make him slightly more aggressive towards the keepers here at ZooAmerica. Because of his large size (over 600 pounds), antlers, and more aggressive behavior, the two females are separated into another section of the exhibit until the end of the mating season for safety purposes.
Elk are the second largest members of the family Cervidae, which includes our native white-tailed deer, moose, and reindeer or caribou. Members of the family Cervidae have a four chambered stomach. All but one species of deer have antlers. Antlers are grown and shed once a year and consist of bone. They are usually used in mating competitions by males. The only species of deer in which females have antlers are the reindeer, which can be seen at Hershey Park during our Christmas Candylane event on select days between November 13 and December 31.
During the winter our elk will be separated for their own safety, but will still be able to see and communicate with one another through their fence. In the early days of spring, Nubs will loose his antlers. This usually signals the end of his breeding period, and we can safely reintroduce our two female elk back into the exhibit with him.
I hope this has cleared up any questions you may have had about our elk. Please feel free to drop us a comment if there is anything else you would like to know.
Our newest species made its grand premiere on Thursday, September 17. Now on exhibit in the Great Southwest Building is a small, 2 1/2 pound Black-footed Ferret, also known as a BFF.
This is a very important animal to us since black-footed ferrets were believed to be extinct in 1979. In 1981, a Wyoming sheepdog brought a black-footed ferret back to his owners and they turned it over to the Fish and Wildlife Service since they were unsure of what it was. They recognized it and began a search for any remaining ferrets. They located 120 in Meeteetsee, Wyoming. Due to disease, within a short period of time, only 18 remained in the wild. In attempts to save the species, they brought all 18 into captivity to begin a breeding program. Now there are multiple breeding programs all over the country and many ferrets have been released into the wild. Currently, there are about 1,000 ferrets living in the wild because of captive breeding programs. Approximately half of all kits born in captivity are released. The other half is taken into the breeding program to guarantee the program’s continued success and genetic diversity and the future of the species.
ZooAmerica has two male ferrets living at the zoo, Godzilla and Joker, but you will not see them both at the same time. Black-footed ferrets tend to be stressed by other ferrets which can lead to health problems, so we rotate them on exhibit by themselves. While one is on exhibit, the other one tends to be in the back taking a nap!
When you come to visit the ferrets, you will notice that their exhibit looks like a prairie dog town. That is because ferrets rely on prairie dogs for homes and food. 90% of their diet in the wild is prairie dogs. One of the reasons for the population decline is because of the massive prairie dog poisoning out west. Farmers tend to feel that prairie dogs are a nuisance to their croplands which is why so many were poisoned. Without prairie dogs, the black-footed ferret was out of a home and a meal, so many began to die off.
The efforts of Fish and Wildlife and many zoos and conservation centers have truly rescued the species from extinction. We are proud to display these new animals to educate the public on the great strides they have made.
Erik, one of our naturalists, wanted to post a blog about the zoo’s honeybees which often went unnoticed until the recent addition of a graphic to direct attention to the interesting colony:
ZooAmerica has been buzzing with excitement over our newly recognized honeybee colony. In the Eastern Woodlands section of the zoo, between our bobcat and great horned owl exhibit, a honeybee colony has peacefully existed alongside our animals for more than 20 years. We are proud to have these bees at ZooAmerica since it has become rare to find such a well established, wild honeybee colony. This colony could contain as many as 50,000 individuals, if not more! Do not bee alarmed! This thriving mass of bees has never shown signs of aggression towards humans. In fact, honeybees are usually not aggressive towards humans unless they are in danger.
However, honeybees are in danger. Honeybee colonies have declined considerably worldwide in recent years. Scientists are currently researching the exact causes of the decline but it is thought that a disease known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) and various pesticides and parasites are responsible. In the past year alone, honeybee colonies have declined approximately 29 percent and in the past decade, more than 90 percent of all wild honeybee colonies have been wiped out.
Honeybees are essential to our environment by serving as pollinators to many fruits, vegetables and other flowering plants. Some of these include apples, almonds, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, sunflowers and even cotton, to name a few. In fact honeybees pollinate about 90 percent our flowering crops and are thought to be responsible for 80 percent of that pollination. Honeybees are mostly popular for creation of honey and beeswax.
So the next time you visit ZooAmerica, don’t forget to look for our busy friends and take the time to appreciate what all the buzz is about!