Spring is just around the corner, although some days our erratic Kansas weather can make it hard to tell whether spring is already upon us or months away. With spring come many changes. Our summer birds begin to return from their winter getaways. The color green flourishes in our surroundings. And, of course, who can forget all the new spring babies?
Last year we had a plethora of bouncing babies of many species. It started off with our three whimsical weasels, the otter pups. After that, we rejoiced in the arrival of our adorable addax calf, of which there are fewer than 300 left in the wild. Then our trumpeter swan pair successfully hatched their charming cygnets, which were released in late summer into the wilds of Oregon to help re-establish this species into its former range. Around the same time the swan cygnets were hatched, a miniscule monkey was born to the Goeldi's monkey parents. Then the summer brought us some humorous-looking hamerkop chicks. These chicks were followed shortly by two rambunctious red panda cubs. Each of these successful births at zoos are always a joyous occasion. Not only are the babies adorable, but each new life is evidence of our success in conserving species for the future, and this is one of the primary missions of all zoos in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
What will this coming year bring us? While we would enjoy allowing the animals to just continue producing babies, as an AZA facility we closely control reproduction in our animals. There is only so much space and resources to care for these animal ambassadors. If there is no room at our facility or another facility for the adult that the baby will grow into, we take measures to prevent offspring from being conceived. That is why some years will have more births than others. Many of the animals at Lee Richardson Zoo belong to the AZA's Species Survival Plan, or SSP. This is an initiative that is organized for each species to maximize genetic diversity among species and they help manage our animal populations responsibly. Each species has a studbook that lists all individuals and their life history. The studbook allows us to track reproduction, family relations, age and more for that species at all 200-plus AZA facilities. And, like all best made plans of mice and men, chance also plays a part. Perhaps the two animals from a suggested pairing don't hit it off. Perhaps one of the proposed breeding pair becomes ill or sterile. Perhaps the best pairing is in Kansas and New York, and logistics and favorable traveling weather have to allow for a transfer. Perhaps one pair goes above and beyond what is expected, producing two or three times the amount of offspring in a short period of time, thereby making their genes overrepresented in the populations. These things and many more can impact an SSP.
So what will the stork bring Lee Richardson Zoo in 2014? Only time will tell. We anticipate the birth of a Bactrian camel calf this spring and have a breeding recommendation from the SSP for lions, North American river otters, bearded barbets, burrowing owls and siamangs. We are doing everything we can from our end to encourage reproduction in the animals; offering proper diets, adjusting their environments as needed, proper introductions, etc. Now it is up to the animals, as we continue their proper care and let nature take its course. In the meantime, while you are crossing your fingers for more cubs, you can visit Lee Richardson Zoo's YouTube channel and look back at all of the waddles, crawls and splashes of the babies from last year.