Zoo's animal community sees birth, death

·3 min read

Dec. 26—Like any community, the animal community at the ABQ BioPark Zoo experiences life cycle events, such as births, deaths, illness and the movement of residents in and out of the neighborhood. Here are some of the more notable events that occurred at the zoo in 2021 — the pleasant, and the not so pleasant:

The new year started out with the sad news that Azeo, the 19-year-old snow leopard, had died.

Azeo was prolific and left behind an impressive legacy, having sired 12 cubs with his former mate Kachina, and another two with his second mate Sarani. Azeo's offspring are now in zoos from Anchorage to Memphis.

January also saw Mexican gray wolves Kawi and Ryder and their seven pups transferred to a "wilding school" south of Mexico City, where they were to learn how to hunt and survive in the wild before being released into their native range in northern Mexico.

The BioPark Zoo has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1983 on Mexican wolf conservation in an attempt to reintroduce the endangered species to their native range while restoring the genetic diversity of the animals.

In a bit of creative swapping, the ABQ BioPark Zoo in March relinquished one Malayan tiger in exchange for another — the animal's brother. The zoo transferred tiger Penari to the Bronx Zoo, while Penari's litter mate, Bunga (pronounced "Boon-ya") came from the Dickerson Park Zoo in Missouri on the same day.

This move, and the move of other zoo animals, was coordinated as part of a Species Survival Plan overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and designed to help maintain sustainable and genetically diverse animal populations.

The critically endangered Malayan tiger is native to the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia.

In another shuffling of zoo residents, Marcus, a 35-year-old male western lowland gorilla and the dominant silverback at the zoo, where he has resided since 1987, was transferred in April to another zoo in the West. Taking his place was Kojo, a 19-year-old male from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered. They are native to a number of countries in central, western and equatorial Africa.

In June, a male siamang, Rue, was born to 30-year-old mother Johore and 32-year-old father Brian. The baby joined 4-year-old brother Eerie. Siamangs are an endangered species native to the tropical rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia.

In July, female hippopotamus Matilda was born. The pairing of 19-year-old mother Karen with 47-year-old father Moe. The pregnancy, however, was unexpected because Karen had been placed on birth control. Hippos, which are classified as vulnerable, are native to sub-Saharan Africa, with the largest populations found in Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa.

In early August, zoo veterinarians began seeing zoo primates become sick with the shigella bacteria, whose symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, loss of appetite and sometimes fever.

Over the following two months, four primates died: Huerfanita, a 48-year-old female western lowland gorilla, and siamangs Brian, Johore and baby Rue. Because siamangs are extremely social and vocal creatures who form long-term family bonds, Eerie, the zoo's sole remaining siamang, was moved to a new zoo to join another siamang group.

The October ribbon cutting for the new elevated Elephant Overlook deck signaled the completion of Phase 1 of the zoo's new Asia exhibit. Phase 2 of construction is ongoing and is expected to be completed by December 2022.

Thorn, a 3-year-old male elephant at the BioPark Zoo, died early Christmas Day from elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, which causes hemorrhagic disease. All elephants can carry EEHV in a latent state through their entire lives, and it is not known why the virus sometimes becomes active.

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