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One of ZooAmerica’s most endangered species is the thick-billed parrot.  We’ve had a breeding program here for them for a long time, but the last time we had babies was over 6 years ago.  This morning, I saw one of our pairs, “Sunny and Share,” mating, which I have never witnessed before.  Sunny and Share were paired together by the Thick-Billed Parrot Species Suvival Plan, because genetically, they are a perfect pair.  They’ve been at our zoo for 6 years without breeding ever witnessed between them.  It still does not guarantee that we will have chicks this year, but it definitely increases our chances! 

They are a bit early- typical nesting season for these parrots is late summer into early fall.  We’ll keep you updated if eggs appear, so keep your fingers crossed!

And for those of you wondering about whatever happened to those roadrunner eggs…unfortunately, the parents broke the eggs.  Sometimes when roadrunners are first time parents, they have a tendency to do that.  There was one egg left unbroken, but they never sat on it regularly, so it never hatched.  They may have one more clutch of eggs this spring, so we will let them try again!  If they have 3 eggs, we may take 2 and incubate them, and let them incubate one on their own.  It’s always best to let the roadrunners try to raise them- hopefully they’ll get it right next time.

We found a roadrunner egg laying in the garden this morning.  Unfortunately, she did not lay it in her nest so we moved it for her!  They had begun to work on their nest- there were some feathers and pine needles in it.  After putting her one egg in the nest, I surrounded it with small twigs, feathers, snakeskins, and grasses.  The female roadrunner then promptly went over to the nest and began to rearrange it to her liking.  Out flew branches and then she moved some of the feathers and grasses.  Then the male came over and also began to help reorganize the nest.  She sat down on her egg and the male stood guard on the tree. 

I visited later to find that the male was chasing the quail away from their nesting site and then jumping and pulling twigs off a shrub near the nest.  Now that the first egg has been laid, the female or male should constantly be incubating the eggs.  Every two days, the female could lay one more until there are 3-6 eggs.  We will keep an eye on them and keep you updated!

Last year, we acquired a new female roadrunner to be paired with our male in the Desert garden in the Great Southwest building.  We were hoping for baby roadrunners one day, but were worried that would never happen with this pair.  The reason for that was because the female roadrunner was hand-raised by her keepers and seemed to relate better to people than to her roadrunner friend. 

Over the past month, we’ve watched the male roadrunner present her with gifts through a very elaborate process.  First, he will pursue her while wagging his tail back and forth and bowing his head towards her.  He will offer her gifts of food or nesting materials.  The female has not been very receptive of his courtship until this past Monday.  We saw the pair mate for the first time, and are now keeping our fingers crossed for some fertile eggs! 

The male roadrunner has been attempting to build a nest in one of the trees in the garden with little luck.  Today, we helped him out by placing some wire mesh in the tree he likes to catch all his building materials.  This way, he has a nice base for the nest.  Each day we will give the roadrunners new materials to build their nest with such as feathers, snakeskins, small sticks, grasses and hay.  The garden has been buzzing with vocalizations from the roadrunners as they go through this courtship period.  You’ll have to stop in and see if you can catch a glimpse of the roadrunners preparing their nest!

Our staff had a great opportunity today to listen to a staff member from the US Fish and Wildlife’s National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado.  Heather was visiting the east for work, and stopped before heading back at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown and here at ZooAmerica.  While she was here, she checked out our new black-footed ferret exhibit and toured our zoo.  She then did a presentation for our staff about the history and future of the black-footed ferrets. 

We learned a lot about the breeding efforts to increase the ferret population and their release plans.  Did you know that before a ferret can be released back into the wild, first they need a little test run?  The Conservation Center has fenced in prairie dog towns to let the ferrets try out before being exposed to the wild.  They are protected in there from predators and are given the chance to catch live prey (prairie dogs).  After all, if they can’t catch a prairie dog in an enclosed area, they probably wouldn’t do so well in the wild since prairie dogs are 90% of their diet!

It was great for our staff to learn so much about all the conservation efforts that have been made to save the black-footed ferret.  Now we can take all we learned and educate our guests about the importance of our animals.  Hope you’ll stop in to check out these crazy little creatures!

As we have been hit by the first winter storm of the year, the zoo closed today because of the snowy and potentially dangerous conditions.  We are still here, though, since the animals still need to eat!  The days when the paths are filled with guests watching and enjoying the animals are always wonderful, but days like today are also a treat. 

At 7:30am, Ann (another keeper) and I took a walk through the falling snow to check out all the animals.  The fresh snow was beautiful on the trees and the animals!  I snapped a few pictures with my phone to share here, sorry the quality isn’t as great. 

The deer and the bison were perfectly content in the snow, standing and watching us with snow covered fur.  The male snowy owl (Hoover) was hard to find at first since he perfectly matched the ground.  We watched as he and the female began to run along the ground.  We don’t often see many interactions between the two snowy owls, so we had to stop and watch for awhile!  There was some head bobbing and raising of their wings toward each other before Hoover ran away from her.  (We are crossing our fingers for baby snowy owls in the future!)

The peregrine falcon was shaking the snow from her feathers and the wolves were jumping around.  All of the animals are so well equipped for this weather– they’re lucky they don’t have to spend 15 minutes getting bundled up before heading out to play!

As our walk was ending and we headed our separate ways to go begin feeding the animals, we saw the bison galloping together.  Now it’s time to turn the Christmas music up and start taking care of the animals on this snowy, yet beautiful day!

When I walked into the lizard community exhibit in the Great Southwest building on Nov. 22, I noticed movements everywhere!  Our adult female blue spiny lizard had 12 babies overnight.  Blue spiny lizards are one type of lizard that has live young.  As they are born, they come out in a little ball and then quickly uncurl and begin to run!

I had the difficult task of trying to catch these quick, tiny lizards.  Now, in the lizard community, we have two spiny lizards, a chuckwalla, and 5 gila monsters (venomous)–lots of things to look out for!  Not to mention all the trees and branches in the way as I’m trying to catch a lizard that is less than 2 inches long and incredibly quick.  They need to be quick because if they were out in the wild there would be many animals that would love a baby spiny lizard as a snack. 

As the hunt continued to catch all the babies, many of them would jump on the back of a gila monster.  One was even sitting on top of a gila’s head!  I had to keep myself from picking them up when they’re that close to a mouth full of venomous drool.    I ended up catching 9 that morning, and then two other staff members caught the remaining 3 in the afternoon. 

There are a few different reasons we must catch all the babies:  first, sometimes other lizards can get hungry and may think the small spinies look tasty.  Also because the exhibit is very big and it would be hard to keep a close eye on them to make sure they are all eating and growing up the way they should.  It’s also helpful because we have to get into their exhibit at least once or twice a day, and 12 little babies running around are easy to step on!  Right now they are in an aquarium together in the back of the Great Southwest building under a special light that will help them to grow strong bones.  Take a look!

No, this baby does not have an extra tail–they just like to sit on top of each other!

6 new bats have been added to our vampire bat colony in the Great Southwest Building, bringing our grand total to 15 bats!  With the additions, there has been a lot more activity in the exhibit.  Bats can be seen in a large clump roosting at the top of the exhibit, flying around, and hopping from bowl to bowl of blood.  These bats are very social and spend much of their days grooming each other and interacting with one another.  There are now three small bowls of cow’s blood in the exhibit each day for them to feed out of.  There are many shallow bowls so that baby bats do not fall and drown in the blood as they are growing up.  More bowls also allow for everyone to eat at once.  If there was just one bowl of blood, the dominant bat might not allow everyone to feed until he is all done.

Be sure to stop by and check out all the new activity going on in the Great Southwest Building!

Flashlight beams are the first thing to catch your eye as you walk into the darkness of the zoo for Creatures of the Night.  There are three weekends a year that allow the public to come in at night and check out the animals at their most active times.  All kinds of new attractions have been added this year as the zoo staff gets creative with featuring the night life of North America.

The biggest addition can be seen from above the zoo.  The Kissing Tower is really the best place to head to check this sight out.  1000 feet of glowing orange lights make up a re-creation of a spider.  Over 2000 years ago, a civilization etched images of spiders on the Nazca plains.  No one truly knows why it was done, which just adds to the mystery!  Any day you come to the zoo, you can see the large spider etched into the open field next to the prairie dogs.  Tonight, we are excited to see it all lit up and glowing from afar!

Many of our animals are now working on their painting skills which can be watched in our new education room every evening of Creatures.  Our skunk (Chanel) and hog-nosed snake (Mingo) are our most accomplished painters.  And if you really enjoy watching them tramp through the paint and paper, you can take some of the paintings home with you!  There are now paintings with a picture and biography of our little artists available in the gift shop.

Another addition is the display of fluorescent minerals in the bear den.  In the Great Southwest building we have added an all venomous table.  There we feature the only two venomous lizards in the world: a close-up look at the gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard.  We also display a scorpion glowing under a blacklight.

The bone table has been updated with a wide variety of animal bones, some which have come from some animals that have passed away at the zoo.  It is their own way of continuing to educate people even once they have gone.

Guests are also able to touch a reptile-most typically a snake and an alligator each night, head over to the wolf talks to warm up next to the fire, learn about and get close to some animals during the animal program: Truth or Tail, and watch the skunks romp around in the leaves in the bear den.  The kids (and adults) can help to light up the creek by decorating a paper bag to create a luminary.  And check out the Scatty Shack for things that go plop in the night!

Creatures of the Night is one of our favorite events each year, come by and check out our last weekend!

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.

Brandon

Ferret close-up

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.

Ferret coming out of hole

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! 

Ferret peering out of prairie dog hole

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.

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