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Wildlife Wednesday: Water Buffalo are a New Species at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on October 21st, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


We are proud to announce that three water buffalo have been introduced to the Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Rose, Dorothy and Blanche are enjoying the comfort of the grassy fields and brush, which they share with the blackbuck, Eld’s deer, Sarus cranes, ruddy shelducks and bar-headed geese. One of our cast members came up with the names for the trio, and they seem to fit pretty well so far.

The three girls have developed into a close-knit group and like to follow each other everywhere they go. Guests might see them laying in a triangle with their backs to each other as they get used to their new home. This sitting position allows all three of them to be watching each side of the group while they continue to get acclimated to the space. This is a behavior that a lot of hoofed animals will use in the wild to keep an eye out for predators.

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Cast members working with the water buffalo are excited for the new species. Keeper Amy Burgess has worked with many different animals in her career, and even a few species of cattle. However, she’s never worked with water buffalo before a few months ago.

“It’s always exciting to work with something new and different,” Amy said.

To benefit this species, we made some changes to the exhibit specifically for them. The area where the water buffalo spend their time now includes a pool because water buffalo have fewer sweat glands than other species. They need to have access to be able to – at least occasionally – either sit or wallow in the water.

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Domestic and wild water buffalo prefer habitats of grasslands, forests and rivers. Especially during dry seasons, water buffalo will often retreat to water to stay comfortable.

One of the greatest threats to water buffalo in the wild is a loss of habitat. This, pressure from over-hunting and interbreeding between wild and domestic buffalo has resulted in an almost 50 percent decrease in population during the past 10 years. That makes it even more important that we’re able to share these wonderful animals with our Guests. Anyone can make a donation to the Disney Conservation Fund at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other locations throughout Walt Disney World Resort.

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At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, cast members continue to bond with Rose, Dorothy and Blanche. It’s been helpful to have a number of keepers working with the water buffalo so that we can give the best care to our animals.

“That’s one of things I like about [working] here,” Amy said. “We have people from different zoos and people that have worked on different teams here, and they’ll give suggestions from what they did working somewhere else, or with a different animal … we have a lot of strengths to draw from.”

Visit DisneyAnimals.com to learn more about some of the other animals you can find at Walt Disney World Resort.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Team Effort Saves Taveta Golden Weaver

posted on October 14th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Each week we share stories about the newest baby animals, updated conservation stories and new species being introduced to our animal areas around Walt Disney World Resort. This week, I want to tell you about the remarkable effort that saved one of our Taveta golden weavers, a bird native to Kenya and Tanzania.

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Late one evening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a Taveta golden weaver chick was attempting to fly when it was injured by a Hamerkop bird inside the aviary along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The young chick was in critical condition when a keeper brought the bird to the vet hospital at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The attack caused damage to the trachea, and the chick, who weighed only 15 grams, appeared to have a difficult time breathing.

“His trachea had basically started closing in on itself from all the inflammation so he couldn’t breathe,” said Veterinarian Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko. “The advantage of birds is that they also have air sacs in their body which help with flight, but are also an integral part of their respiratory system.”

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Dr. Natalie and a team of keepers and veterinarians knew they had to think fast to save the chick’s life. They thought of a minor procedure, usually performed on larger birds, that allows them to put a tube into a bird’s air sac so that the bird can breathe through the tube until the trachea is healed.

“We had to basically create a tube, so we took an IV catheter for a larger animal, snipped it, smoothed it, popped it in and sewed it in,” Dr. Natalie said. “Remarkably, it worked really, really well, and then we gave him medicine and supportive care. By the next day, his trachea had completely gone back to normal [so that] we were able to take the tube out. It was a really quick turn-around.”

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This is just one of the great examples of how our cast members work to take care of our animals every day. We can also use success stories like this to share knowledge with other animal-care facilities for future reference and use.

“A week or two later, the keepers said, ‘We can’t even tell which bird he is anymore!’ I had a lot of amazing technicians around me to keep the bird alive while we were trying to pull together what to do. It was just remarkable,” Dr. Natalie said.

Visit DisneyAnimals.com to learn about some of the animals you can find at Walt Disney World Resort.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Malosi at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on September 2nd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


We want to introduce you to one of the tigers you may see along the winding trails of Maharajah Jungle Trek—Meet Malosi!

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Malosi is our newest tiger at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While Malosi, a male Sumatran tiger, gets used to his new habitat, he may be exploring both onstage and backstage areas on Maharajah Jungle Trek. You may see this curious cat cooling off in the water or resting in the sun.

As you may remember when we introduced you to Sohni last year, Sumatran tigers are the smallest subspecies of tiger and are found only on the small island in Indonesia where this tiger gets its name. Males like Malosi stretch 6.5-to-nearly-8-feet long, and typically weigh only between 220 and 310 pounds. While this may seem like a big cat, the Sumatran tiger’s cousin, the Siberian tiger (or Amur tiger, as they are also known), weighs between 400 and 600 pounds!

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When you visit Malosi, Sohni and the other tigers here, keep these fun facts in mind:

  • Malosi and other tigers can see about as well as humans during the day, but when the sun goes down, their vision is six times more powerful than ours.
  • Can you wiggle your ears? Tigers sure can. Their ears turn independently of each other and in an arc up to 180 degrees, allowing them to pick up sounds from all different directions.
  • You may know tigers are pretty good swimmers despite the reputation of their domesticated cousins—the house cat. Tigers spend a lot of time in the water and even use water as a tool in hunting. They have been seen fishing in rivers and lakes.

Human impact has dramatically decreased Sumatran tiger numbers in the wild. They are critically endangered, with as few as 500 tigers left in the wild. Conservation organizations like those supported by the Disney Conservation Fund are working hard to make a difference. You can help tigers by donating to the Disney Conservation Fund at select merchandise and food and beverage locations on your next visit and don’t forget to say “hi” to our feline friends on Maharajah Jungle Trek.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Welcome our Baby Giraffe to the Savanna!

posted on August 26th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Big news for the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – our newest giraffe calves have ventured out onto the savanna for the first time. Mara, Milo and Lincoln are 3-, 4- and 5-months old, respectively, and are doing very well in their new home.

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Although on our savanna, the giraffe don’t have to be concerned with predators, we want to make sure they are old enough to follow their mothers and family, so our animal keepers keep them backstage until they are old enough to feel secure. In the wild, giraffe calves have to learn how to follow their mothers in case there is danger.

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Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, Masai giraffe are the amongst most populous in the wild at about 35,000, but sadly reports of increased poaching for their meat, hide and tails are leading to significant reductions. Two of the other subspecies are already critically endangered. When you see them on the savanna, note their spots – Masai giraffe have leafy, uneven spots. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, you will find reticulated giraffe that have smooth-edged spots.

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Giraffe are very curious, observant animals that like to survey their land very carefully. This makes “every day a new day” for giraffe. They will notice if there are any new additions to the savannah, including other animals or changes to the landscape. This is true in the wild as well; because giraffe are so tall and pay such close attention to their surroundings, other animals use them as safety indicators.

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The next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we hope you see Lincoln, Milo and Mara on the savanna at Kilimanjaro Safaris. They will probably be close to their moms, learning all they need to know to grow to adulthood.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrate Primate Day, Baby Gorillas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on August 19th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Tomorrow, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will celebrate Primate Day with a variety of activities at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Guests can experience what a day is like for a cotton-top tamarin and learn how chimpanzees use tools they find in the wild to make their lives easier. Guests can even interact with the keepers who care for our primates at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

If you are in need of a coffee break, you can continue the celebration at Discovery Island. Purchasing the Starbucks Flat White Latte at Creature Comforts helps support conservation programs for the cotton-top tamarin with every cup (and not just on Primate Day!).

Don’t forget to swing by our other primate friends throughout the park. There are siamangs and white-cheeked gibbons in Asia, mandrills on Kilimanjaro Safaris, cotton-top tamarins on Discovery Island and more.

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Celebrating Primate Day gives us a terrific opportunity to say happy birthday to our baby gorillas on Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The two youngsters are celebrating their first birthday, and to honor them, we thought we would look back at their first year of life.

Meet Cory. Cory is a master climber, and while he likes to stay close to his mother, Azizi, he spends lots of his free time exploring the tree tops and climbing in low-lying bamboo and vegetation. Before Cory was born, keepers used positive reinforcement training to help Azizi prepare for the responsibilities of motherhood. The team continued to work with Azizi on her parenting skills as Cory grew, and she blossomed into the gorilla mom we know today. Cory is now perfectly on track socially and intellectually, and he is thriving in his home.

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This is Flint. Flint is independent and tends to venture far away from his mother, Kashata. He seems to enjoy following his dad, alpha male Gino. Flint also likes to play “airplane” with his older sister, Lilly. Lilly will prop Flint on her feet and “fly” him up and down. You will often see him display a “play face” when she does this. He opens his mouth slightly, showing his teeth and displaying what looks like a large, toothy smile.

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Flint was born just a few weeks after Cory, and they love to wrestle and chase each other. They like to swing from bamboo and flip and climb on their toys and enrichment. They are both skilled foragers and like to taste all sorts of different foods—if the adults feel like sharing!

What does the future look like for these rambunctious little guys? They will continue to become more independent, exploring their habitat without their mothers and climbing even higher in the trees and bamboo around them. They will both begin to interact more with their dad Gino, and learn their social roles in the hierarchy of the group.

Visit Cory, Flint and their family on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail on your next visit and learn more about how Disney helps orphaned gorillas in Africa at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) at the Disney Conservation Fund website.

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Celebrating National Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on July 23rd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


This week is National Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week, and we are celebrating our keepers and aquarists with special activities to recognize their hard work and dedication. If you are visiting this week, be sure to tell them hello and thank you!

I could not be prouder of our tremendously talented team of cast members, who continue to impress with their expertise and compassion. They have dedicated their lives to caring for animals, and everything they do and learn here helps contribute to saving animals in the wild. The difference they are making is immeasurable.

Below are just a few of our dedicated cast members. We asked them to tell us about their favorite moments and why they enjoy their roles.

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‘In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.’ (by Baba Dioum) This quote is the definition of why I’m an animal keeper. My job is awesome because of the animals I get to work with, but my job also makes it possible for guests to learn about these animals and love them as much as I do.”
– Katie Lusnia

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“I am very lucky that my favorite moment as an animal keeper happens every day. I love when my animals are excited to see me, even though they are more likely excited to see the food in my hands. I also love their quiet munching once they have all been fed and are happily in the barn.”
– Chelsea Lynn

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“My favorite moments usually involve us being able to help out an animal that, in the wild, would not have survived. Most recently, we had a sand gazelle calf born with multiple issues. After a pretty rough few days and 24-hour care, this calf started to gain strength. After a couple weeks, she was basically fully recovered. Seeing your hard work result in the survival of animal, especially a young animal, is pretty awesome.“
– Matthew McHarness

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“We are involved in daily training, enrichment programs, assisting the veterinarians during procedures, sharing our knowledge with the guests as well as making memories for them during their visit.”
– Kelly Savage

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“I enjoy the interaction and observation of the many different species … I also find it very interesting working with the veterinary staff performing health assessments on many different species of animals.”
– Chad Spicer

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“I feel like we make a difference in the lives of the animals that we take care of. We form a relationship with every single animal that we take care of and that is very rewarding. Also, baby animals are super cute.”
– Danielle Boggs

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“After having helped with the endocrine research and care of the mother for more than two years, witnessing the birth of a giraffe calf was incredibly rewarding to me.”
– Gretchen Mueller

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“[I have] access to the best and most-advanced facilities for the care and development of the animals who roam our savannas. The animals … are truly the driving inspiration in what makes Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge a premiere resort… Being able to work with the Disney Conservation Fund is also a reward that may go unnoticed by some, but the keepers at Disney know that we are both igniting a passion in future generations and doing our best to preserve the natural wonders and animals better than anyone else.”
– Ashley Roth

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I enjoy being an aquarist because I have always been captivated by the ocean and everything that can be found in it … I also strive to provide educational moments for our guests so that they can learn about and respect our oceans, and hopefully help make changes that can benefit all of our planet’s ecosystems.
– Eric Grunthaner

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“When I first started, it was so cool to see the amazing relationships keepers have with their animals … The animals recognize me now and come over to say ‘Hi.’ That’s a favorite moment every day.”
– Erin O’Neill

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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Wheels at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on July 22nd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


In the past, I have shared with you many examples of the excellent care our team of professionals gives the animals you see at Walt Disney World Resort. We also help rehabilitate native wildlife, which includes birds, snakes, armadillos, manatees and more.

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Recently, we began caring for a native gopher tortoise. While we don’t know how he was injured, we believe he might have been hit by an automobile. Our veterinarians, veterinary technicians, hospital keepers, and wildlife interns have been working closely with this gopher tortoise during the past month.

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The tortoise sustained an injury to the back of his shell that also affected his back legs. After brainstorming different ideas to help him maneuver better, a suggestion was made about giving him wheels. But how?

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One of our veterinarians attached LEGO blocks with an animal-friendly epoxy resin reinforced with tape to the bottom of his shell. Within minutes, the tortoise we are now calling Wheels began walking across the hospital floor. It was a success!

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Hospital keepers Jennifer Holmes and Jen Hershey act as mentors to our Wildlife Hospital professional interns, Tori D’Amico and Brandon Waldron. They all continue to monitor Wheels to make sure he is comfortable and able to move around. The team expects Wheels to stay with them for a while as his health improves. Wheels’ wheels will be modified throughout his healing process to ensure the best fit. When the team feels confident that he is fully healed and able to be released into the wild, they will remove his wheels.

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The gopher tortoise is a protected species, native to the southeastern United States. These tortoises dig deep burrows that are sometimes filled in by land developments and construction. The gopher tortoise is also a keystone species because other animals, such as snakes and eastern indigos, also live in their burrows.

The next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Wheels at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in the on-stage procedure room!

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Rhino Kiama Makes Her Big Debut at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on June 2nd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Earlier this year, thousands of you voted to name our female baby rhino Kiama. She has been growing rapidly – gaining about three or four pounds a day – and now you can see her during your next adventure on Kilimanjaro Safaris!

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The young white rhino just stepped on to the savanna for the first time. Kiama weighs about 400 pounds, while her mom Kendi is closer to 4,000 pounds! Kendi was born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1999.

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Kiama stays close to her mom, and sometimes breaks away to play in the dirt or investigate different noises. Then, she playfully runs back to the safety of her mom. They are a joy to watch, and I hope you have the opportunity to see them exploring the savanna soon! You can help rhinos in the wild by purchasing only “wildlife-friendly” products and never buying products made from rhino horns. You also can support organizations like the Disney Conservation Fund and the International Rhino Foundation, which are both active in rhino research and conservation. Learn more about rhinos and other animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot at DisneyAnimals.com.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care

posted on March 25th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


I am honored to announce that Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge were granted official accreditation once again by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The AZA accredits only those zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards in animal management and care. Late last year, we hosted an AZA inspection team who assessed everything from the enrichment our animals receive (that stimulates their natural behaviors and provides them variety in their daily routines), to our veterinary program, our conservation and research and education programs, as well as our safety policies and procedures, security, physical facilities, guest services and the experience and quality of our staff. They look at everything from each part of the operation not only in animal care but from food and beverage to merchandise. It’s quite the process!

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After this review, the AZA Accreditation Commission deliberated and shared their decision to accredit Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge this past Sunday.

Being accredited allows us to create and continue to nurture our relationships with other accredited organizations to work toward a common goal of conservation and saving species.

Here are some of the wonderful and humbling comments AZA left with us:

  • “The level and commitment to animal care sets the gold standard for our community. Veterinary, nutrition, training, browse program and enrichment programs are state of the art.”
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  • “The keeper staff is professional, passionate and engaged.”
  • “Overall safety culture is extraordinarily strong across the organization, and staff training exceeds all expectations.”
  • “Disney’s Animal Kingdom staff has been successful in making conservation a key value of The Walt Disney Company. The current positive impact and future potential of this change cannot be overstated.”
  • “New interpretive programs, including Wilderness [Explorers] and Wild Africa Trek, add both breadth and depth to program offerings.”
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They also recognized the amazing amount of work going on with our upcoming expansion and praised our efforts to maintain a strong focus on animals, nature and conservation at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Renewing our accreditation also speaks to the importance we place on connecting kids and nature. Both the park and resort provide a quality experience to learn about animal and conservation in a fun, engaging environment.

Congratulations to the Cast of Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge once again.

Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care
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Wildlife Wednesday: Cotton-top Tamarins Are ‘On the Move’ at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on October 15th, 2014 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Disney’s Animal Kingdom is full of excitement, updates and changes! Even some of the animals are in on the excitement, including two cotton-top tamarins, Gemma and Draco, who just moved into a new home.

Gemma, a female tamarin, has been delighting guests at Rafiki’s Planet Watch since December 2000 where she was voted “best personality” by her keepers. In March 2011, she moved to Discovery Island to debut the remodeled tamarin island in front of the Tree of Life. This week she was joined by Draco for her second grand opening in a brand new exhibit which will bring their world even closer to guests. Draco, a male tamarin, has spent most of his life with his parents and five siblings in an indoor exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo. He joined us at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in August. His debut will mark the first time he has experienced an outdoor exhibit! He has already been observed chasing lizards in his backstage area.

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Since his arrival, Draco also has spent time becoming acquainted with his new mate, Gemma. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) identified the pair as potential mates within its Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP works to ensure long-term survival of species by helping AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums manage species’ genetic diversity through detailed records of individual animals. Through the efforts of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ SSP, more than 300 cotton-top tamarins are cooperatively managed in more than 80 U.S. zoos. Over the past few weeks, Gemma and Draco have shown great interest in each other, and we believe they will be happy and successful mates.

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While Gemma and Draco finish acclimating and comfortably settle into their new home over the next few weeks, their job as animal ambassadors is just beginning! The cotton-top tamarin is one of the most endangered primates in the world. A 2008 census conducted by our partners at Proyecto Tití in Colombia concluded that only 7,500 cotton-tops remained in the wild, and the population has been severely impacted by habitat destruction throughout its range in Colombia. This information prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Primate Specialist Group to recommend changing the classification of cotton-top tamarins from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2008. Since then, Proyecto Tití increased their public outreach and education programs, stopped the development of a proposed airport, and secured two new protected areas for cotton-top tamarins and other wildlife to live safely in Colombia. The impact of the work is beginning to pay off, as we find communities are embracing conservation efforts and the population of cotton-tops appears stable!

One outreach program has taught women to crochet using plastic bags like the ones we bring home from the grocery store. (What a great way to recycle and keep trash out of the forest!) They make beautiful, colorful tote bags called ‘eco-mochilas’. These unique and environmentally friendly totes are sold locally in Colombia, online, and at Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Purchasing an eco-mochila helps communities in Colombia earn money for their families and protect forests that the cotton-top tamarins call home.

Don’t miss next week’s Wildlife Wednesday post to see Gemma and Draco in their new home, learn more about cotton-top conservation work and how education programs beginning in younger generations are positively affecting communities in Colombia. Until then, check out the video below to see some of the conservation work Proyecto Tití has already accomplished!

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