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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Zoo Review Updates

This month’s Zoo Review is going to be a little different.  Instead of reviewing a new zoo or aquarium, I’m going to be giving a few quick updates on some of those that I’ve already highlighted.  Two years back, when I reviewed the book America’s Best Zoos, I commented on how quickly the reviews went out of date.  The zoo and aquarium world is a dynamic one, and facilities are constantly changing their collections and updating their facilities to provide the best animal care.

This list is biased towards the East Coast facilities, since those are the ones that I visit the most often.

At the Beardsley Zoo, construction of the Pampas Plains exhibit continues, and giant anteaters have been added.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s flagship Bronx Zoo has opened up a new Komodo dragon exhibit.  The zoo has also taken the first steps towards becoming the fifth American zoo to display giant pandas.

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium made waves this year with its announcement that it was leaving the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a move it made in protest of AZA’s opposition to their elephant program.  The news overshadowed what otherwise would have been the major news for the year, the opening of the first major new exhibit area in years. The Islands is a series of waterfalls, pools, and yards for animals of Indonesia and the Philippines.  Along the trail are clouded leopards, siamangs, Philippine crocodiles, and Visayan warty pigs.

On the other side of town, the National Aviary has also been busy.  The new Canary’s Call exhibit alludes to the historic use of canaries to warn coal miners of danger in the mines.  In this case, the fate of endangered birds serves as a warning to us about the state of our environment.  Ironically, the stars of the exhibit hall aren’t birds; they are the Malayan flying foxes, the second species of mammal on display at the otherwise birds-only facility.  At the time of my last visit, the Andean condor exhibit was getting a renovation, and a new exhibit was being constructed for Ragianna birds-of-paradise in the Wetlands exhibit hall.

Philadelphia Zoo continues to expand its Zoo 360 series of elevated tunnels.

Elmwood Park Zoo broke ground on a new habitat complex for Neotropical cats.  The jaguars will receive a new exhibit, while new enclosures will be added for ocelot and jaguarondi.

The big news at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has been the construction of a new exhibit for the zoo’s flagship species, the African penguin, at the entrance of the zoo’s African Journey trail.  Resembling a South African fish plant, Penguin Coast is designed to house up to 100 of the black and white birds, doubling the size of Baltimore’s colony.  Special features of the new habitat include underwater viewing and a special classroom for education programs.  Nearby, a long-vacant exhibit has been refurbished for American flamingos.

Across town, the National Aquarium in Baltimore opened a new touch-tank exhibit.  Besides the usual suspects (horseshoe crabs, shells, etc), it caught my eye for being the first place I’ve ever seen visitors interacting with jellyfish in a touch tank setting.

Baltimore added, but Washington subtracted.  To my intense disappointed, the Smithsonian National Zoo closed its unique, one-of-a-kind Invertebrate House.  In celebration of the zoo’s 125th birthday, a new habitat for American bison was added off the main pathway.  Plans have recently been announced that call for the Bird House to undergo a massive renovation; when it opens, it will be built around the theme of avian migration.  I’m not sure what that means for the many bird species – such as kori bustard and Micronesian kingfisher – that the zoo has a long record of success with, but which don’t go along with that theme.

Virginia Zoo renovated its Australian area, offering visitors a chance to walk among kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, and emus.  The zoo recently announced that it will be transferring its African elephants to Zoo Miami.

The Newport Aquarium welcomed back mammals with the return of Asian small-clawed otters.  The otters are on display in the gallery that, at the time of my last visit, was being used for an exhibition of turtles and tortoises.

Cincinnati Zoo lost its distinction of being the only zoo in the country to exhibit a Sumatran rhinoceros with the transfer of their last male, Harapan, to Indonesia in a last-ditch effort to save the species.

The Lincoln Park Zoo was shuttering its penguin building at the time of my last visit.  The site was converted into the new Regenstein Macaque Forest, home to a family group of Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys.  The exhibit has been built along similar lines to the zoo’s African ape exhibits, with a strong focus on behavioral research.  The zoo’s construction continues as the old bear dens are being replaced with a large new polar bear exhibit, as well as a new habitat for African penguins.

The Riverbanks Zoo & Garden unveiled new habitats for grizzly bears and North American river otters.  A new exhibit for seals and sea lions (complete with underwater viewing) is next.

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