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4 Animals You Can Only Find in Zoos

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People go to zoos to see the animals from exotic locales we couldn’t get to on our own. But some of these animals can’t be seen anywhere except zoos. These are the animals that are extinct in the wild, dependent on the keepers and zoo breeding programs for their very survival. Here are a few animals that you can only find in zoos, and two that have been re-released into the wild.

1. New Guinea Singing Dog

While scientists argue about this adorable canid’s taxonomic status, some even classifying them with domestic dogs, they do have a distinct genetic code and are unique from all other existing canines.

The first of these dogs to be studied was taken from New Guinea in 1897, but because they were largely considered feral dogs, not a special breed or species, little research was performed on the animals until much later. This delayed any protection of the dogs in the wild, although their numbers drastically declined in the twentieth century until there were no more left. There have not been any sightings of the animals in the wild since 1970. There are a number of the dogs in captivity in zoos around the world but, unfortunately, they have been largely inbred from a small genetic pool so it is unclear if the population can ever be restored.

[Image courtesy of whatadqr's Flickr stream.]

2. Pinta Island Tortoise

If you’re a regular Mental Floss reader, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard of Lonesome George, but just in case, here’s a quick recap of the world’s most lonely tortoise. The Pinta Island tortoises are one of the many subspecies of Galapagos tortoises, but what makes this specific breed so special is the fact that there is only one known to be in existence. That would be poor Lonesome George.

George was discovered on Pinta Island on December 1, 1971, after the island’s vegetation was destroyed by feral goats. He was rescued from the island and brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, where he would have plenty of food to munch on. George was penned with two females of other Galapagos subspecies, but while they have laid eggs, none have been fertile. George is estimated to be around 100 years old (reasonably young for a tortoise) and he’s very healthy, so he should be in his reproductive prime. Scientists are offering a reward of $10,000 for anyone who discovers a female Pinta Island tortoise who may help save the subspecies.

[Image courtesy of putneymark's Flickr stream.]

3. Kihansi Spray Toad

This toad’s natural habitat was limited to the spray zone of two waterfalls in Tanzania. The toads relied on the water spray to provide them with oxygen. After a dam was built upstream from the waterfalls, the spray was reduced by 90%, causing an immediate reduction in the toad population. To make matters worse, as conservationists tried to step in and help the toads by installing the world’s largest sprinkler system, they accidentally tracked in a deadly fungus, which decimated the toad population.

Fortunately, before the dam was built, some of the animals were put in captivity. Since the animals disappeared from the wild, the Toledo Zoo, the Bronx Zoo and the Chattanooga Zoo started captive breeding programs with their Kihansi spray toad populations. Until last year, these were the only places where the spray toads survived, but in 2010, 100 toads were flown from the Bronx and Toledo Zoos to Tanzania. While they are now back in their native land, there are still no plans to re-release them into their natural habitat, which is still impacted by the dam.

4. Micronesian Kingfisher

Like many island animals, the Micronesian kingfisher was perfectly adapted to its native habitat in Guam. But with one small change, its existence was suddenly changed forever. It all started in WWII, when brown tree snakes were introduced to the island. Guam never had any large native snakes and the birds had no defense mechanisms against the fast tree dweller.

As time wore on, the bird’s population began to drastically decline, but no one realized the snakes were to blame until 1983. By that time, it was too late to stop the snakes. Scientists captured the remaining 29 kingfishers on the island and put them in zoos with breeding programs. By 1988, there were no more wild kingfishers on Guam.

Since the animals were introduced to zoos, the population doubled to around 60. Unfortunately, the captive birds have showed aggression to one another, so the chicks have to be raised by zoo staff members to ensure their safety. Before scientists can hope to reintroduce the birds to the wild, they must better understand the bird’s nutritional needs and the reason for their aggression. All of these challenges mean it will probably be a long while before there are more Micronesian kingfishers in the wild.

[Image courtesy of coracii's Flickr stream.]

* * * * *

It’s not all doom and gloom for animals that have become extinct in the wild, though. While the term is often used interchangeably with “functionally extinct,” many of these animals do make a comeback thanks to captive breeding programs. Here are a few animals that were once extinct in the wild, but have since been reintroduced into their home territory.

Guam Rail

Like their islandmates the Micronesian kingfishers, the Guam rail evolved in the absence of any predatory snakes and were eradicated by the introduction of the brown tree snake. They were also removed from the wild around the same time as the kingfishers and entered into a breeding program. Unlike the kingfishers though, the rails did very well in their program. After 20 years, the population increased enough that the birds were able to be released back into the wild. Because the brown tree snakes made Guam unsuitable for the birds, they were instead released into the wild on the nearby island of Rota in the Northern Mariana Islands.

There are currently seventeen zoos participating in the Guam rail breeding program, working to further increase the viability of this highly endangered species.

California Condor

Condors naturally have a low birthing rate and a late age of sexual maturity, so when they started to fall victim to environmental hazards such as DDT and lead poisoning from eating animals killed with lead buckshot, they had a hard time building their numbers back up.  By 1987, there were only 22 condors left in the wild, all of which were captured for a captive breeding program.

Because the condors lay only one egg at a time and wait a long time between clutches, the zoologists involved took the first egg laid by the birds, incubated it, and raised the chick themselves. The birds would then lay a second fertile egg, meaning researchers could double the number of chicks born at the zoo.

The program was incredibly successful. Within only four years, researchers were able to release some of the birds back into the wild. The program has continued to produce birds in captivity, but the wild birds have started breeding on their own as well. Before being released, the birds are now trained to avoid power lines and wind turbines. California has also passed a law banning hunting with lead buckshot in the California condor's habitat to protect the birds from lead poisoning. There are currently 189 birds living in zoos and 192 in the wild—a far cry from the 22 individuals left when the breeding program began.

[Image courtesy of primatewrangler's Flickr stream.]

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Australia Zoo Is Taking Name Suggestions for Its Newborn White Koala
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Australia Zoo/Ben Beaden

A koala with striking white fur was recently born at the Australia Zoo in Queensland, and she already has an adoring fan base. Now all she needs is a name. As Mashable reports, the zoo is calling on the public for suggestions on what to call the exceptional joey.

The baby, who is one of several newborn koalas living at the zoo, climbed out of her mother’s pouch for the first time not too long ago. When she made her public debut, she revealed a coat of white fur rarely seen in her species. According to the zoo, the koala isn’t albino. Rather, she got her pale shade from a recessive gene inherited from her mother known as a “silvering gene.” Though the light coloration is currently the koala’s defining feature, there’s a good chance she’ll eventually grow out of it and take on the gray-and-white look that’s typical for her species.

For now, the Australia Zoo is celebrating the birth of its first-ever white koala joey by getting the public involved in the naming process. On the post announcing the zoo’s new arrival, commenters have so far suggested Pearl, Snowy, Luna, and Kao (from the Thai word for “white”) as names to match the baby’s immaculate appearance. There are also a few pop culture-related proposals, including Olaf after the character in Frozen and Daenerys in honor of Game of Thrones.

Instead of deciding the koala’s name by popular vote, the zoo will select the winner from their favorite submissions. And with nearly 5000 comments on the original Facebook post to choose from, the joey will hopefully have better luck than the animals named by the public before her. (The Koalay McKoala Face does have a certain ring to it.)

[h/t Mashable]

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9 Wild Facts About the Bronx Zoo
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Even if you’ve never set foot in New York, you almost certainly know of the Bronx Zoo. Opening its doors for the first time in 1899, this sprawling 250-acre wildlife reservation has over 4000 different animals and 650 species. Take a look at a few things you might not have known about one of the world’s most famous zoological retreats.

1. IT WAS CO-CREATED BY A TAXIDERMIST.

William Temple Hornaday was working as a taxidermist for the Smithsonian Institution when he noticed that the nation’s population of bison was shrinking. Eager to promote conservation efforts, Hornaday used his voice with the Smithsonian to spread the word about the threatened species. After a spat with the Institution, he was approached by the New York Zoological Society in 1896 to serve as director of the Bronx Zoo. In doing so, Hornaday helped bring the bison back from the brink of extinction by sending several of the Zoo's bison back out west in 1906. He remained with the zoo for 30 years.

2. IT ONCE HOUSED TASMANIAN TIGERS.

Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, were nearing extinction in the early 1900s, but the Bronx Zoo was able to acquire several for exhibition beginning in 1902. The first lived for six years; the next two, arriving in 1912 and 1916, lived only a short time in captivity before perishing. The zoo's last thylacine was secured in 1917. The species was thought to have died out in 1936, but in early 2017, several eyewitness accounts of the distinctive animals were reported in Australia. Zoologists are working to determine if the thylacine might still be alive.

3. THEY EXHIBITED A MAN.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In the most ignoble chapter in the zoo’s history, organizers opened an attraction in 1906 that featured a "Mbuti pygmy” or “bushman”—an African man named Ota Benga. Benga and other tribesmen had been brought to America by anthropologist Samuel Verner at the behest of organizers of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair so visitors could gawk at them in mock-up villages. When the fair was over, Verner brought Benga and others back to Africa: the two struck up a friendship, and Benga reportedly asked to come back to the States. Verner approached the Bronx Zoo with the prospect of Benga becoming a fixture: Hornaday agreed to let him live on and roam the grounds. Public outrage followed, and Benga was released after just two weeks to the care of an orphanage. He committed suicide in 1916.

4. THE ZOOKEEPERS HAD TO BE TOLD NOT TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE BEARS.

Too much children’s literature about cuddly bears may have proven disastrous for early zookeepers at the park. In 1919, Hornaday told the New York Tribune that he had to constantly warn his employees not to try and befriend the mammoth bears housed on the property. Two keepers ignored his advice; both had to be pried from the clutches of the bear and suffered “severe” injuries.

5. IT’S HOME TO A REMNANT OF THE ICE AGE.

Not all of the Zoo’s attractions are feathered or furred. The Rocking Stone sits near the World of Darkness exhibit and packs 30 dense tons into a formation standing 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The boulder was carried by glaciers in the last Ice Age. The “rocking” label came from the fact that the stone was so perfectly balanced that it could be moved with slight pressure. The Zoo, fearing someone might one day push it too far, eventually shored up the base to keep it on firmer footing.

6. THEY ONCE SAVED A SPECIES OF TOAD THAT WAS DECLARED EXTINCT.

The kihansi spray toad was in dire circumstances in 2009: A hydroelectric dam in Tanzania had dried up mists showering a five-acre area near Kihansi Gorge, the toad's only known micro-habitat, and the species was officially declared extinct in the wild. Fortunately, Tanzanian authorities had seen the situation coming and allowed the Bronx Zoo to come in and obtain 499 toads to bring back to America. A portion went to the Toledo Zoo; both facilities spent nearly a decade breeding them in a captive assurance population. The Zoos replicated their habitat while Tanzania created a gravity-operated misting system that would restore water. Roughly 100 toads were returned in 2010 as test cases; a full-scale reintroduction followed in 2012.

7. A COBRA ONCE ESCAPED (AND SIGNED ONTO TWITTER).

A photograph of an Egyptian cobra
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Animal escapes have been few and far between at the Zoo. One of the most publicized was the the disappearance of a 20-inch venomous Egyptian cobra in 2011. Zoo officials weren’t certain how the reptile broke out of her habitat, but felt confident she would remain in the building. She did, and was found after a week’s search. In the interim, someone on Twitter engaged 203,000 followers with the freed snake’s fictional exploits. It’s still tweeting.

8. IT SET AN ORIGAMI ELEPHANT WORLD RECORD.

In 2016, the Zoo was recognized by Guinness World Records as having the largest displayed collection of origami elephants in the world: 78,564. The display, which was briefly open to the public, was intended to draw attention to the plight of the creatures and their poaching rivals through their 96 Elephants campaign meant to stop the trafficking of ivory. The Zoo is down to just three live elephants, and has vowed not to acquire any more once they pass. On August 3, 2017, Zoo organizers plan to crush two tons of ivory in Central Park as part of the awareness campaign.

9. IT HAS PLANS FOR YOUR POOP.

A shovel is stuck in a pile of fertilizer
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With thousands of daily visitors, the Bronx Zoo could probably make use of its own sewage system. Instead, the park unveiled an eco-friendly restroom on park grounds in 2006 that captures human waste and diverts it into compost. The system, which uses only six ounces of water per flush, is estimated to save a million gallons of water a year.

Want to learn more about the Bronx Zoo? Catch The Zoo, a documentary series now airing on Animal Planet. New episodes premiere in February.

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