Regardless of the season or weather, there is always a lot going on at the zoo. While our visitation is definitely higher during the warmer months of spring and summer, the pace never seems to slow down. Zoo staff stays busy with tasks ranging from animal care and educational programs to regulatory inspections and ongoing maintenance. As Valentine's Day nears, the Friends are planning for their upcoming year of events and offering some unique animal adoption packages for the animal lover in your life. Packages are available with or without a dozen roses, and allow you to select any animal in our collection for a very special price!

One project of great interest to the community is the construction of Cat Canyon. Harbin Construction is making steady progress, although the tasks currently under way are less obvious than when block walls were going up or dirt was being moved. The buildings are mostly complete with utilities installed and functioning. Thick windows currently are being installed in the viewing building. These will safely separate the cats from the people while providing a great viewing experience. Themed rocks and ponds completed several months ago feature heated rocks in the jaguar and puma exhibits adjacent to the window.

During cooler weather, we hope that the cats will be attracted to the warm surface of the rocks and hang out directly in front of the window. During warmer weather, our water-loving jaguars should enjoy a splash in their pool just feet from the viewing window. In addition, a smaller window in the puma yard will be framed to allow it to open, exposing a wire mesh through which keepers can train and interact with the cats, and allow the public to watch the training sessions and ask questions from a safe distance. The training helps to condition the animals to participate more willingly in their health and daily care, and can eliminate the need for anesthesia drugs to administer medication. This reduces the risks involved with anesthesia and saves money and keeper time.

The Cat Canyon exhibit fences also are seeing some action. Perimeter poles have been in place for a while but are now being cut to finished height and getting topped with special galvanized fittings to which the guy wires and mesh will be attached. Steel central poles recently were set in the two large yards and at the yard access gates to provide structural strength. Helical anchors to support the wooden poles and the weight of the roof mesh and side fences were drilled deep into the ground. The mesh top should be installed next week if all goes as planned, and cagework for inside the barns should arrive the following week.

While advancements are more subtle unless you visit often and pay close attention, I am happy to say the project is on schedule and going well. The contractors should finish their work in early spring, at which time zoo staff will move in to add irrigation, yard furniture, public fences, landscaping, feed chutes and more. Look for a grand opening in late summer or early fall, but feel free to watch our progress by visiting soon!

Another project our maintenance staff has been working on is the remodeling of the former macaque exhibit in Wild Asia to house our new red panda pair.

Since the opening of Wild Asia, we have exhibited red pandas in two circular yards just inside the moon gate. Their holding building was quite small and needed some expansion if we were going to be able to breed this species and house a larger family of these adorable yet rare animals. With the transfer of our last lion-tailed macaque back to her home institution, the St. Louis Zoo, we deliberated at length as to what species would be most appropriate to display in this available space. After considering other primates, small cats and other species, we had an "Aha" type moment and realized what a perfect spot it would be to give the new pandas more space inside and out. With the additional prospect of red panda cubs on the horizon, we also realized some modifications were necessary to make it work.

The existing mesh size in the exhibit was too big to contain the adults, let along young cub, but with the addition of four-foot-tall climb barriers and viewing windows around the base of the yard, we could prevent the little rascals from escaping. New perches, branching and other amenities have been added, and the happy couple has been introduced successfully. We can only hope the end result is a litter of panda cubs at some time in the next year or so. Meanwhile, zoo staff is working to complete the outside yard as other more urgent tasks divert their time and attention.

Plenty of other projects are in the works. We have a number of species that we would like to reproduce, and keepers pay special attention to many housing and environmental needs to make conditions just right for each couple. We believe we already may have some expectant moms, and are keeping a close eye on them to monitor or confirm pregnancy. Spring is just around the corner, and many species naturally aim for that time of year to bring their young into the world. We'll keep you posted as our projects move forward and our zoo family expands!

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