As many of you know, today has been a very difficult day at ZooAmerica. First and foremost, the Zoo staff cares deeply about the safety and well-being of the animals in their care, and truly considers them members of their extended families.

Today the Zoo experienced unprecedented flooding, more than we experienced with Hurricane Ivan or any other severe weather event in the company’s memory.

The Zoo team began flood preparation two days ago by moving all animals to higher ground.  Recognizing the likelihood of serious flooding, the team activated our animal evacuation plan at noon today to ensure that the animals were out of harm’s way.  This plan has been in place and effective in all other weather-related emergencies that the Zoo has experienced.

Unfortunately, no one could anticipate a weather event that went from inches of rain to feet of flooding in a matter of a few short minutes. While we were able to ensure the safety of the vast majority of the animals in the Zoo, flood waters rose too quickly in the area occupied by two of the Zoo’s bison and we were not able to rescue them.

Faced with the prospect of watching the extended suffering of the bison and their eventual death due to drowning, the Zoo staff chose the most humane path possible and euthanized the bison. 

This is a very sad day for us, as we’ve built strong bonds with all the animals in our care.  We can tell you that each of us feels this loss very deeply.

 

 
 
Our two chicks at 4 weeks of age

Did you know that parrots live in North America?  Most people view parrots as exotic birds that like warm weather and only live in the jungles.  Thick-billed parrots and the Carolina parakeet are the two species of parrots native to the United States.  The Carolina parakeet was declared extinct in 1939 and the thick-billed parrots are also in grave danger of becoming extinct in the future.  Zoos are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen, and our two new chicks are a step in the right direction!

Thick-billed parrots were once found in the pine forests of southern Arizona and New Mexico but are now limited to northwestern Mexico. It is estimated that today only 1,000 to 4,000 thick-billed parrots exist in the wild due to loss of habitat from commercial logging.

Right now, there are about 91 thick-billed parrots in captivity at 19 different zoos.  ZooAmerica is the only zoo inPennsylvania where you can see these beautiful birds.  All of the captive parrots are involved in a breeding program, called a Species Survival Program (SSP).  We have had a thick-billed parrot exhibit at ZooAmerica since 1989.  The first chicks to hatch here came in 2001.  Two were hatched- one stayed at our zoo and the other went to another zoo to breed.  The female that stayed at our zoo is named Paula, and she is the proud mother of our 2 chicks that hatched in June.

Paula and Sunny are the parents of the two chicks.  The eggs were laid in late May, in a nest box in their exhibit.  The two parents guarded their eggs and in about 28 days, the first egg hatched on June 28.  The second egg hatched on June 30.  Paula and Sunny have been excellent parents- guarding their chicks and regurgitating food to them every day.

Today, the chick that hatched on June 28th, fledged (flew) from the nest box.  The chick had been poking his head out of the nest box for over a week, teasing us.  We kept waiting for his first flight, and tonight he was sitting out on a high perch.  The second chick is still keeping watch from the nest box, but could fledge as early as tomorrow. 

When you visit the zoo, you’ll be able to tell the adults from the chicks for an entire year because of the chicks’ white beak.  After a year, the beak will darken to pure black.  The parents will assist the chicks for at least 7 months, sometimes a year or more.  The chicks will live at our zoo for 4-5 years before it is determined if they should go elsewhere to breed. 

With the addition of the 2 chicks, we now hold 6 thick-billed parrots at ZooAmerica.  These 6 birds are quite noisy- you can even hear some of their calls up to 2 miles away. Be sure to visit soon to catch a glimpse and get an earful of our newly expanded flock!

The chick is 3 weeks old here- are you able to see the large lump below the throat? It is called a crop, which is a muscular pouch where they store food. A large crop like this shows us that the parents are feeding them well.

 

This 4 week old chick is being weighed to be sure the parents are feeding him/her properly.

 

After being weighed, we attached a silver band with a number on a leg so we can keep track of each individual chick.

 

For 3 months, this is mostly what we saw when we went to feed the birds- watchful eyes of the parents!

 

In 2008, one of the oak trees on the patio at the snack bar had died and needed to be removed.  Instead of removing the tree, one of the naturalists on staff thought the tree could be utilized as a sculpture.  A local chainsaw artist (Phil Yordy) was located, and got to work.  He produced a beautiful work of art and featured many of ZooAmerica’s animals including a lynx, eagle, otter, wolf, bear, and owl. 

Now, in 2011, another tree carving is being completed to be displayed in the Big Sky area of the zoo, between the prairie dogs and mountain lions.  The carving will be of a mountain lion climbing down a rocky ledge to attempt to catch a rabbit below.  Phil Yordy has been busy at work completing his newest work of art.  Zoo visitors can watch the carving in action on their visits beginning again on Monday, June 20 from 10am-2pm.  Phil has been working on this for the last two weeks and it is now in need of finishing touches and then coats of lacquer to keep it from breaking down in the sun.

One of Phil’s bear carvings will guide you to the carving once you’re in the zoo:

The tree being used in this new carving is a spruce that came from Tremont High School.  The tree had died and was being removed anyway.  A front-end loader had to be used to get this 5,000 pound trunk on zoo property.  Once it is completed, it will be moved into the public area where people can stand next to it for a great photo.

This tree carving will be the first in a series.  There will be one carving for each of the geographical areas represented at the zoo.

Today was a busy day at the zoo- if you couldn’t visit this weekend, here are a few things you missed!

Baby prairie dogs have been popping up from many different holes.  So far, the head count is 12 new babies.  Considering how many holes there are in the exhibit, it’s very difficult to get an accurate count sometimes.  Zookeepers walking by the exhibit try to count each day, and then we compare numbers.  It’s not the most scientific way of keeping track of the animals, but it allows them to interact and live as if they were a wild colony.  It’s a good thing the exhibit is so large since most families spend some extra time watching them play.

Today was a very warm afternoon, and often in the hot weather, animals retreat to shady areas to stay cool.  The zoo tries to provide different viewing areas for many of the exhibits, in hopes that you get a good look at each one.  Today, at one particular exhibit, at first glance, it looked empty.  Can you find the animal laying down in the next picture?

 

If you could not find the animal, look for gray fur and a darker ear, lying down in the grasses.  That’s Sioux, one of our female wolves.  Just a minute later, she perked her head up for the next picture.  That’s why it’s always a good idea to stick around at the exhibits for more than just a minute!

In the Southern Swamps building, people kept trying to figure out if the crocodile was real.  She was sitting right up against the glass, with her mouth gaping open.  Upon closer examination, guests would discover that you could see her breathing if you looked under her throat. 

The eagle was out in the middle of the exhibit, as usual- but who can pass up a picture of our nation’s symbol?

 

Hope you all enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend!

It just snowed, schools have been closed for the day- now, what should you do with the kids? Well, why not take them to the zoo for a snow day!  The staff at ZooAmerica works hard to get the zoo open each day. We come in early and grab shovels, snow blowers, and ice melt.  Everyone gets to work clearing off all of the paths so you can view the animals.  Our maintenance men, Marino and Rich, do the bulk of the work; without them, we wouldn’t get open.  Sometimes Mother Nature forces us to close for the day or get a later start, but most snow days are great zoo days!  Patrick took lots of pictures out in the zoo, so even if you were cozy in bed, here’s what the animals were up to…

 The otters use their pool no matter what; their thick layers of fur keep them insulated.

A yawn before beginning lots of play in the snow.

Woody, the lynx, is built for this type of weather. Check out his big paws when you come into the zoo- he doesn’t need any snowshoes.

While the snow makes most of the animals easier to see, it does make it a challenge at times to find our residents who normally live in this type of environment.  The snowy owls are built for this time of year and do very well outside.  It can be especially difficult to find our male snowy owl, Hoover, because he is almost pure white, while the female has black spots all over her body. 

 

The zoo is often quiet this time of year and the animals are out and visible.  Be sure to stop by and enjoy the beauty and peaceful atmosphere of ZooAmerica.

        Walking through our Southern Swamps building, you may have noticed a few changes.  For starters, some of our largest residents are missing!  Well folks, I can assure you that they are not missing but simply enjoying a relaxing retirement under the Florida sun.  Our two large American Alligators, Astro and Dino; our American Crocodile, Croc; and an education Alligator, Igor, had gotten too large for their exhibits and it was decided that they needed to be moved.  Last October, the crocodilians undertook a journey down south to St. Augustine Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida to go onto exhibit with their alligators and crocodiles.  Both of the Alligators were placed into the large exhibit with several other gators and Croc received a new area to be shared with his new partner.  St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm decided the crocodile would be their new male for breeding since he was such a good looking animal!  All are reported to be doing very well and settling into their new surroundings. 
            ZooAmerica’s two remaining alligators (Victor and Zorro) from our education department were moved to exhibit in the Southern Swamps building.  The education alligators were moved because they were a bit too big for the education area and getting larger and more feisty for us to hold!

           While in Florida, our curator, Dale Snyder, picked up three new baby alligators for our education department. They are only 10 inches long and enjoying their new home.  All three gators are fitting in very nicely and have already been used for a few programs. We have many things planned for these new members of our education team. 

One of our newest baby alligators in their pool

            When alligators are first hatched, they are only 6 inches long and are very vulnerable.  Once emerged from their eggs, they make their way down to the water where their protective mother is waiting to scoop them up into her mouth.  The mother will protect the babies from many predators such as birds, larger fish and even other alligators.  While they grow, their diet consists of several items including small fish, insects, bits of meat and worms.  Despite being small at hatch, these ferocious little hunters grow up very quickly and are soon the kings of the swamp.  A single alligator can reach anywhere from 14 feet to 18 feet long but will never stop growing.  They can bite down with over 2,000 pounds of force! 
            So the next time you are at the zoo, be sure to check out Victor and Zorro on exhibit.  Also be on the look out for our newest alligators during our special events or anytime ZooAmerica is in your area!

(article & photograph submitted by Patrick Miller, one of our educators at ZooAmerica)

After the addition of our newest animal, the ocelots, there have been some questions about the geographical regions of our zoo. I hope to clear up any confusion concerning some of the more recent additions to the Great Southwest building. Within the last two years, we have changed the names of the two buildings in the zoo to suit our expanding animal collection. The Everglades building became the Southern Swamps and the Cactus Community became the Great Southwest.

The Great Southwest now includes animals from the southwest regions of North America, including southern prairies, desert and scrub regions stretching down into parts of Mexico. The area does overlap with Big Sky country, one of ZooAmerica’s outdoor areas. For example, the prairie dogs are exhibited near the bison, while the black-footed ferret which live in prairie dog towns reside within the Great Southwest building.  The reason we cannot keep them all together outside is because we are required by Fish and Wildlife to exhibit the ferrets inside. They need a more controlled environment since we receive older individuals.  Historically, the black-footed ferret ranged on the Great Plains from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Now they live on more than 18 different release sites including Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico because of zoo and Fish & Wildlife efforts.  The swift fox is native to the Great Plains as southern as central Texas.

The swift fox exhibit was added two years ago and the black-footed ferret exhibit opened last year. Both of these species are endangered in North America and each species has its own “Species Survival Plan” (SSP). The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has these plans for endangered animals that need to breed in captivity following the best genetic pairings.  Individual animals are paired and then recommended for breeding based on the need in the wild.  Many swift fox have been released because of their SSP and the only reason black-footed ferrets are still around is because of captive breeding. 

Ocelots are another animal that belongs to an SSP and their numbers are severely dwindling in the United States. Researchers believe there are less than 40 left in Texas, mainly because of roads breaking up their large ranges.  Ocelots are also found in the rainforests of Central and South America as well, and are not considered to be endangered there.  The habitats that ocelots thrive in are mangrove forests and coastal marshes, savanna grasslands and pastures, thorn scrub, and tropical rainforests of all types. The main characteristic of ocelot habitat is thick brush.  They thrive in seclusion.  The new exhibit in the Great Southwest building was designed to be a snapshot from a riparian zone in the Rio Grande area where there is thick vegetation and much water.  That is why there are many plants in the exhibit and a running waterfall.  The ocelot’s favorite places to sit are under one of the trees and also in a cave like area underneath the rock work.  They splash around a lot in the pool (mostly overnight) and enjoy fishing when we stock the pool with live fish. All the plants that are represented can be found in this area as well (with the exception of one large bamboo which is an invasive plant).  This exhibit was designed to fit the Southwest area of North America and to demonstrate the diversity that can be found on this continent.  ZooAmerica strives to stay strong in the North American theme, which is why we are excited to display an animal that seems so exotic, but does indeed live in North America.  We hope that with the addition of the ocelots, we can continue to educate the public about their importance in North America.  We would like to support a current plan that will release 4 ocelots into the wild to increase genetic diversity of a currently small population.

We ask for your continued support as we grow our collection to include animals of concern that need our help in North America.  We’re thrilled to continue to educate children and adults every day on the wonders of North American wildlife.

ZooAmerica’s newest species has been in quarantine since May 26 and they are about to head into their new exhibit next week.  We will not reveal what the new species is until July 2 or 3, but here’s a bit of background on them.  These two brothers have arrived from the San Francisco Zoological Society and are both 1 year old.  They are a very secretive species- rarely seen in the wild.  There is a small population living in southern Texas, but most live in the rainforests of South America.  They are extremely endangered and there is currently a US Recovery Plan to help them make a comeback.  ZooAmerica hopes to aid in relocation efforts of this species into the wild with the help of zoo guests.  These animals will assist us in teaching the public about their important role in the ecosystem.  These beautiful creatures pack a pungent odor- it’s been said they smell so strongly so the rains of their habitat won’t wash away their scent.

If you have visited ZooAmerica recently, you would have noticed an area under construction in the Great Southwest building.  Rock ledges and steps, along with a waterfall cascading into three small pools has been created just for these special animals.  They will occupy the largest area in the nocturnal wing since they will be the largest animal in the Great Southwest building.  These two boys eat more in one night than all the other animals in the building!

We are eagerly awaiting the exhibit opening next week- we hope you can make it!

The baby prairie dogs have finally emerged from their underground nurseries and are up playing in the bright sun!  So far 7-10 have been spotted, and as the days and weeks go by, the number is sure to increase!  You can normally tell which groups of babies are which from size differences and what holes they stick around.  Right now there’s at least 2 different groups of young ones including some really tiny ones just seen today. 

The female roadrunner laid her second clutch of eggs for the end of spring season.  She and the male broke the first two eggs again, but the third egg is showing some promise.  The male has been hard at work on the nest, and the female laid the egg in the nest- step #1!  She’s also been sitting on the egg a lot and the male is also taking turns.  Today I threw in some crickets in the afternoon and the male ran over and got one.  He carried it in his beak up into the nest to give to the female.  There are lots of good signs so far, but there’s still a long way to go to see if they will be first time parents this year.  Other zoological facilites that breed roadrunners informed us that the first year of egg laying isn’t always successful.  Often if the parents don’t break the eggs and the chicks actually hatch out, there could be problems with how the parents take care of the baby.  We’ll continue to keep a close eye on the parents and the egg.  If the egg hatches and the baby is successfully raised, it will be leaving the parents when it’s old enough to join the education dept.  Then, even more people will be able to get a closer look and more education about these fast and interesting birds.

Today ZooAmerica celebrates Founder’s Day in honor of the 100th anniversary of a zoo in Hershey.  There are pony rides, food deals, animal enrichment and talks, and a history talk.  The animal species being concentrated on today are the founding members of Milton Hershey’s first zoo including the elk, prairie dogs, and the bears.  There’s a barbershop quartet strolling around the zoo singing- everything combined has created a very fun atmosphere even with the occasional bursts of rain.

Johnny and June have been on exhibit for just 4 days now- our new 7 month old white-tailed deer.  They join the single older doe and 3 turkeys.  They came to us from a breeder in Cumberland County and spent their first 30 days in quarantine getting tests done and fecals taken to make sure they’re good and healthy.  Johnny has little nubs for antlers already and weighs in around 72 pounds.  June is very small with the faintest hint of her fawn spots and is only 40 pounds. 

When they were released onto the exhibit on Thursday, they were a bit skittish, but explored and found the adult doe.  They went over and tried to nurse from her, which she did not allow.  The buck followed the turkey a bit, which was ironic since our male turkey used to spend a good portion of his day chasing the other deer. 

The deer exhibit is right next to the bear exhibit, which had great potential to scare the deer once they saw the bears for the first time.  When the deer saw them, they were carefully watching them but did not seem overly stressed.  Today is the first day I’ve seen all three deer down in the same area- they’re all acclimating to each other and the exhibit quite well!  They are even getting used to the monorail train traveling above their exhibit and enjoying treats of apples, banana peels and peaches.

 Pictures will be posted soon!

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