ZOO COLUMN: Fall brings change at zoo
I am excited about the arrival of fall because of changes it brings in the weather, the slight slowing of pace here at the zoo and some fun news about this year's zoo babies. You'll also notice a change at our vehicle entrance gate starting today. Keep on reading to get ed-zoo-cated!
The trees and shrubs at the zoo are sporting their gorgeous fall colors, and the weather definitely has a more autumnal feel to it. The fall migration of birds is under way with a colorful variety of wild duck species arriving daily to take a welcome break on the zoo's ponds during their long trek south. Even our young Trumpeter swans have probably headed south for the winter. What, our animals migrate!?
In the case of our young swans, hatched this spring on the main duck pond, a southern migration is definitely in their future. Raised completely by their parents, the youngsters (both females, if you were wondering) were collected from the pond shortly before they would have fledged (learned to fly on their own). Our Animal Division staff conducted the requested pre-shipment tests, and the birds were flown by commercial air carrier to Oregon, where they were released into the wild on the Summer Lake Wildlife Management Area. The goal of the release project is to bolster small remnant populations of Trumpeters in eastern Oregon. It is hoped that the released birds will adopt a traditional migration pattern from their new home at Summer Lake, returning in the spring to that location or neighboring wetland areas, and in the process encourage a flock of non-migrating swans at the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to join them on their winter vacation. The swans at Malheur NWR currently do not migrate, and the difficult winter conditions they endure as a result have negatively impacted their ability to expand their population. Waterfowl, including ducks, geese and swans, typically return for breeding to the location from which they first learned to fly. So even though our cygnets hatched in Garden City, they first flew from the Oregon location, and it is there that they should return when they are ready to start a family of their own.
The project is a joint effort between The Trumpeter Swan Society (TTSS), the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all of whom would like to see the restoration of a healthy breeding population of Trumpeter swans in eastern Oregon. Ten to 15 young swans are released each year by TTSS, with a total of 51 birds having been released through 2012, and plans for releases into at least 2014 or 2015. Photos of the release of our swans can be found on the zoo's website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org. Before their release, the birds were banded to help identify them and to track their movements for the purpose of evaluating the success of the release program. We are excited to be able to support this exciting conservation project by providing vigorous young birds to help boost wild swan populations back to healthy levels.
In other baby news, our adorable red panda cubs have made a few short explorations into their yard, under the watchful eye of mom, Ember. Dubbed Blaze and Hamlet (the latter after his dad "Hammy") by the staff, these two fiery-looking furballs are still quite shy, and have taken to sitting in the doorway of their den, building up the courage to go outside. Keepers give them yard access when the weather is appropriate, so be sure to look for them in the new Red Panda exhibit in Wild Asia, between the camel yard and the plaza area on the west end. The two are working on their climbing skills, and, like some human babies I've known, are adjusting to the new feel of grass under their feet. As pandas are truly a cold-climate creature, we hope Mother Nature delivers some snow this winter so we can enjoy the antics of exuberant young panda cubs in fresh snow! I hope I don't regret putting that wish down on paper!
Last but not least, November will mark the onset of some new admission procedures at our vehicle entrance gate. We will be transitioning to a continually staffed gate at the Fourth Street vehicle entrance due to USDA regulations that prohibit open and unattended gates. While regular zoo hours will remain the same for pedestrians for the winter months (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), in an effort to conserve staff costs during our slow season, the vehicle gate now will open at 10 a.m. and close at 4 p.m., with admission fees in effect for non-members. Vehicles entering by 4 p.m. then will have an hour to enjoy the zoo before it closes at 5 p.m. Pedestrians visiting the zoo between 8 and 10 a.m. can enter as usual through the gates at Fourth or Fifth streets. While we expect this will require a little adjustment on the parts of both zoo staff and guests, it is a better alternative than eliminating vehicular traffic through the zoo. Additional changes, including an automatic vehicle exit gate at Fifth Street, will take place in the spring.
Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.