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September 26, 2011 is a very significant day for animal conservation.  This coming Monday marks the 30th Anniversary of Black-footed Ferrets being rediscovered in the wild.  This Sunday, at ZooAmerica, we will be having our own celebration to mark the occasion!

In 1979, biologists considered the black-footed ferret to be extinct.  Then, in 1981, a ranch dog in Wyoming brought a dead ferret home to his owners.  The ranchers took the carcass to a taxidermist who identified it as a black-footed ferret.  The taxidermist contacted wildlife authorities who then surveyed the area to discover the last remaining population of ferrets.  The remaining ferrets were brought into captivity to attempt to breed them for future release.  Over 7,000 kits have been born at breeding facilities since the rediscovery and 1,000 black-footed ferrets are estimated to now live in the wild. 

A black-footed ferret being released into the wild. Photo Credit: K. Tamkun/USFWS

ZooAmerica houses 2 male black-footed ferrets that were given to us from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, VA.  Both of the ferrets are retired breeders.  The ferrets are rotated on exhibit because black-footed ferrets are solitary animals.  Be sure to look for one of our ferrets (either Godzilla or Yum!) when you visit the Great Southwest building in the zoo.

When you come to the zoo on Sunday, there will be many opportunities to learn more about the black-footed ferrets.  We will have enrichment activities for both of our ferrets at 10:30am and 2:30pm.  This is a great opportunity for guests to see natural behaviors of these animals, provoked by items we introduce (different scents, animal fur or snakeskins, insects, etc).  There will also be 2 presentations in our education room about the efforts put forth by many scientists to successfully breed this animal.  There will be craft areas and an informational table where you can see and touch artifacts from the ferrets, along with getting a close-up look at a domestic ferret- a cousin of the black-footed ferret.  Besides learning about these fascinating weasels, guests will have the opportunity to help the effort by donating money to the Black-footed Ferret Species Survival Plan which helps to fund captive breeding and field research. 

A sleepy captive bred ferret kit. Photo credit: K. Tamkun/USFWS

The staff at ZooAmerica is excited for this special event- we hope you can join us on Sunday to support black-footed ferret conservation!  Remember to bring your best friend with you for a special admission coupon:

The characteristic ferret dance- we often see this on exhibit when they get excited! Photo Credit: M. Lockhart/USFWS

For more information about black-footed ferrets, check out


ZooAmerica would like to thank the public for such an incredible response of support and concern during this difficult time.  Each day since the flood, staff from the Zoo, Hershey Nursery, and HersheyPark have been rigorously working to clean up and repair damage.  While much has been accomplished, there is still much to do.  We will let you know as soon as we are ready to open our doors again.  Since you are unable to stop in to see how our animals are doing, we snapped a few pictures this afternoon.  The sun is shining, and many of the animals are out lounging and enjoying nicer weather.

Unaffected by the noise of construction, Roy takes a nap on his favorite high branch.


Sally the bear resting in her den on exhibit


Our three deer laying in the grassy shade.

Patrick holding Louie, our green iguana. She typically resides in the Zoo Outpost shop in the Park, but lives at the Zoo when the Park is closed.


Prairie dog up and at attention

 The wolf exhibit was badly damaged by the flood.  All four wolves were safe and secure in their holding areas during the flood.  The wolves will remain off exhibit until the exhibit fence is repaired.  For now, all of the wolves have access to kennels and exercise yards.  Here are a few pictures of them out in their yards since the flood.

Custer, our 4 year old male wolf


Kara, one of our female wolves

Sioux (4 year old female) is towards the back, while Dakota (alpha male) is up front checking out the camera

Sioux (4 year old female) is towards the back, while Dakota (alpha male) is up front checking out the camera.


A closer look at Sioux


We very much appreciate many of your wishes, thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. We realize that just like our staff, many people are emotionally connected to every member of our Zoo family. Because of that connection, we fully understand why some have questions regarding what happened to our bison.

For those who didn’t have a chance to view it, last evening we did post on this page describing what happened.**

We’d like to try and answer questions that some have raised and give as much correct information as possible. While we don’t think this will lessen the feeling of loss that we’re all experiencing, we do hope it will create a common understanding around what happened.

Question: Has a bison at ZooAmerica ever drowned or been euthanized in the past?
Answer: We’ve never lost or euthanized a bison, or any large animal, due to flooding at any time – even including the flooding that occurred during hurricanes that have struck Hershey. Suggestions that bison were lost during Hurricane Ivan are incorrect.

Q: Are there any other animals that have perished from the flooding?
A: There have been no other losses reported at this time. Reports that our wolves passes away are incorrect. All of the wolves were relocated to the highest portion of their enclosure during the storm. All four wolves are fine and the flood waters have currently receded from their enclosure.

Q: Did you have a plan in place and did you feel that it was effective?
A: We do have a flood response plan, which we began implementing on Monday. Based on our past experience and during other milestone storms, our plan to first remove animals to higher ground and then, if necessary, relocate the animals has always been effective in securing their safety.
This, however, was truly unprecedented flooding. Such unforeseen acts of nature are difficult to plan for – as all public and private entities within Derry Township discovered.

Q: Why didn’t you tranquilize and move the larger animals earlier in the week?
A: Tranquilizing and moving large animals is stressful on them – and we only do it when absolutely necessary, not in the instance of every flood warning. Based on more than three decades of experience, the practice of moving the animals to higher ground would have given us enough time to tranquilize the bison and relocate them, should flooding become severe. But, again, the speed and ferocity of this storm was unlike any we’ve ever encountered. When the bison enclosure flooded so quickly, tranquilizing them become impossible, for once they were tranquilized they would have immediately been submerged in the flood water and drown.

Q: Were the bison moved to higher ground?
A: Yes. They were moved to the highest ground within their enclosure earlier in the week.

Q: Why did you wait to close until noon on Wednesday?
A: The fact that we were open to the public did not alter or impede our animals’ safety. Animal relocation did not begin once we were closed; it had been ongoing throughout the week. The safety of our animals, employees and guests is our top priority. It always has been and always will be. We were working to ensure that our animals are in a safe conditions, according to the plan we have in place, throughout the week.

As we said last evening, this has been a very emotional and trying time for those at the Zoo – both our animals and employees. While we are all saddened by the loss of the bison, we must acknowledge the heroic efforts of the Zoo staff – some of whom have been working without sleep on behalf of the animals. Many willingly put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect and rescue the animals in their care (even rescuing wild animals that were in distress at the same time). We are extremely proud of the efforts of the Zoo staff, and share this loss with them.

** Hersheypark’s correction to last evening’s post: A single bison was euthanized after unsuccessful attempts to rescue the first bison resulted in that bison drowning.

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!