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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.