Welcome to the World. Welcome to our Zoo.

The February newsletter discussed the Species Survival Plan (SSP) established by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in 1981. The program was created to help ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums that were threatened, endangered, or otherwise in danger of extinction in the wild. Forty-nine of the species at Miller Park Zoo are covered by the SSP. Zoo staff work with the AZA to coordinate all breeding matches for those animals.

The breeding matches for animals not covered by the SSP are determined by the zoo staff. This is a very involved process. Considerations include genetics, available space, and the future home. In some species both the mother and father care for the young. In others, the mother alone provides the care. If the parents have to be separated, consideration is given to the space needed if they successfully breed.

There are several forums used to locate possible animals for breeding. Breeding season for the animals at our zoo vary. Some animals like the tamarins and wallabies can breed throughout the year. Other animals, like the wolves and red pandas have specific seasons (Dec to April and Nov to April respectively). Interestingly, animals that have specific seasons in the southern hemisphere can adapt that season to a northern hemisphere environment. Because the timing of breeding is determined by the light, temperature, and weather, animals slowly adjust to the season where they live.

Not all breeding plans succeed. Some animals simply don’t like each other. Sometimes breeding occurs, but no young are produced. When an animal is old enough to breed, it is common for the first few seasons to be unsuccessful. If offspring are born, the mother may reject it. Even if not rejected, sometimes the mother cannot care for the offspring either due to her own difficulties or the newborn may show special needs. If there is a reason parents and newborns cannot be together, keepers may intervene and raise the baby. This happened with the snow leopards born at Miller Park in 2020. The two cubs were hand fed and cared for.

To manage animal populations, zoo animals may be neutered or given birth control to prevent unplanned births. Studies have found that some species cannot take birth control repeatedly. Some hoof stock animals can only be on birth control one or 2 seasons. After that, they are not given it since there is a chance future conception could be compromised.

Another consideration is the life expectancy of the animal. This varies widely. It is not uncommon for an animal to live twice as long in a zoo as it would in the wild. For example, lions that live 10 years in the wild can live 20 years in a zoo. Medical care, healthy diets, and lack of predators all contribute to this. Before deciding to allow animals to breed, consideration is given to where the offspring will be placed. The decision to add an animal is a commitment to care for life.

Plans can change at any minute. It is a giant balancing act to manage timing, availability of animals, placements for animals, and the many other considerations. Details such as how and when an animal can be transported from another zoo are considered. If the animal has to be moved by plane, there are strict temperature requirements. If the temperature is one degree outside of the range where carriers will transport, the flight is off.

The oldest animals at our zoo are two 41 year old Ball Pythons born in 1983 at a private facility. They were donated to the Lincoln Park Zoo when they were a year old. In 2005, they came to the Miller Park zoo.

Currently zoo staff are hoping to see a lot of breed our De Brazza’s monkeys, red pandas, otters, giant anteaters, wallaroos, red wolves, and swan geese.

When a new animal arrives, whether it is born at the zoo or relocated here, it can seem like it suddenly appeared. It didn’t. It has a backstory that required many people, much planning, and coordination. These animals may not come through Ellis Island, but like many of our ancestors they have had a complicated journey.