Chattanooga Zoo

Chattanooga Zoo Hatches Hellbender Eggs

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The Chattanooga Zoo is pleased to announce the successful hatching of a group of Hellbender eggs collected from the wild in East Tennessee. This is the first Hellbender hatching on Chattanooga Zoo grounds.

The Chattanooga Zoo has been working on Hellbender conservation on-site and infield since 2009. Due to catastrophic population collapse across the state, the Chattanooga Zoo teamed up with the Nashville Zoo’s Ectotherm department to collect eggs and begin setting up a head start program for east and middle Tennessee.

Working in partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, the Nashville Zoo, The University of Tennessee, and Lee University, the Zoo will rear this group of juvenile Hellbenders for several years, until they are mature enough to monitor in the wild. Once they reach maturity, they will be released into a suitable stream in East Tennessee where species sightings no longer occur.

Creating head start programs for this species will give each individual animal a better chance of survival. Because they will be larger when released into the wild, they are easier to study, either by traditional methods or radio transmitters, which is essential for gathering data.

“Without human intervention of field research, head start programs, habitat protect and restoration, and animal reintroductions, we will lose the species to extinction. Our Ectotherm department and partners work diligently to better understand these animals in efforts to save and protect them for years to come,” David Hedrick, Chattanooga Zoo Ectotherm Keeper III.

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4_12764396_10153257841245764_2773365435553700467_oPhoto Credits: Chattanooga Zoo

Formerly found in streams throughout middle and east Tennessee, Hellbenders have experienced a steep decline throughout the state over the past thirty years. Declining populations are due to degraded water quality, sedimentation, pollution, and habitat loss from dams and other developments. A decade of field research has recently verified only six remaining streams that have healthy, self-sustaining populations in Tennessee. The Chattanooga Zoo hopes, through conservation efforts, public education, and partnerships, to be able to help reverse this trend of population decline in Tennessee Hellbenders.

The Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), also known as the Hellbender Salamander, is a species of Giant Salamander endemic to eastern North America. A member of the Cryptobranchidae family, Hellbenders are the only members of the Cryptobranchus genus, and are joined only by one other genus of salamanders (Andrias, which contains the Japanese and Chinese Giant Salamanders) at the family level.

The Hellbender is the largest aquatic salamander in the United States and grows to an average size of 12-15 inches, but they can be as long as 29 inches. They are nocturnal and exist on a diet of: crayfish, small fish, tadpoles, toads, and water snakes. They absorb oxygen from the water through their skin and can be found slowly crawling across the bottoms of clear, silt-free mountain streams.

The species is classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Ozark Hellbender is particularly imperiled; drastic population declines were documented in the late 1980s and 1990s. It is listed as “Endangered” in Missouri and may soon be listed as Endangered federally.

Hellbenders are present in a number of Eastern US states, from southern New York to northern Georgia, including parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and even a small bit of Oklahoma and Kansas.

Vernacular names for the Hellbender include: snot otter, devil dog, mud-devil, grampus, Allegheny alligator, mud dog, water dog, and leverian water newt.

*The Chattanooga Zoo would like to express their gratitude for the financial assistance of local conservation partners in the effort to save the Hellbender: Terminal Brewhouse, and Mohawk Canoes.


Fennec Fox Sibs Make Debut

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A Fennec Fox couple, at the Chattanooga Zoo, are proud parents to two new kits! The boy and girl were welcomed, January 23rd, by first time mother, ‘Sophie’, and father, ‘Barkley’. 

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The yet-to-be-named kits, and their mother, are in perfect health and adjusting very well. The duo recently made their public debut and can now be seen, on exhibit, with their parents, at the Zoo.

Father of the kits, Barkley, was paired with Sophie through the Species Survival Plan (SSP) program, as a recommended breeding pair. Barkley arrived at the Chattanooga Zoo from the St. Louis Zoo in October 2014. The genetics that Sophie and Barkley hold are rare and highly valuable in the Zoo’s breeding pool. The breeding pair quickly became fond of each other, and they are now considered an SSP success story.

More awesome pics, below the fold!

Continue reading "Fennec Fox Sibs Make Debut" »


More Fennec Foxes For Your Friday?

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We figured no one would complain if we shared additional photos of Chattanooga Zoo's Fennec Fox kits, so here goes! Here is the pair when they were a bit younger, and getting into all kinds of mischief!

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Did you know that the Fennec Fox is ZooBorns' unofficial mascot? The Fennec Fox graces the cover of our original all ages book, ZooBorns (below). Take a tour of the book on Amazon and get it in time for the holidays. With interesting animal facts and background stories on the featured babies, ZooBorns (Hardcover, 160 pages) illustrates the connections between zoo births and conservation initiatives in the wild. 10% of revenue from ZooBorns' book sales goes directly to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Conservation Endowment Fund.

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Get it now on Amazon!


Fennec Fox Sisters are Animal Ambassadors at Chattanooga Zoo

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Two Fennec Fox sisters were born at Chattanooga Zoo in Tennessee! They have just been named Zahari, meaning blue in Arabic, and Zeiti, meaning green in Arabic. (To tell the sisters apart, they were each given a small spot of food coloring either blue or green on their backs.)

They were born on September 11, 2013 to first-time parents, mother Karoo and father Kalahari. The kits are incredibly active and are growing bigger by the day. They are very curious and playful and love to investigate new toys, sounds, and smells. When full grown, they will join the zoo’s animal ambassador and education programs, where they will play an important role in raising awareness about wildlife conservation.

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6 fennec foxPhoto credits: Chattanooga Zoo

Fennec Foxes (a ZooBorns favorite!) live in the deserts and semi-arid lands of northern Africa. Also called the Desert Fox, their most notable feature are their ears, which are enormous in proportion to their body size. An adult Fennec Fox measures about 16 inches (40 cm) in body length and has ears six inches (15 cm) long. These huge ears are used for cooling the body of excess heat and for locating prey, such as lizards, insects, and eggs, buried deep under the desert sand. Fennec Foxes are a species of Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation's Red List of Threatened Species. 


Orphaned Cougar Cubs Find a Home

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A pair of young Cougar cubs found orphaned and starving near Missoula, Montana briefly took up residence at the Oregon Zoo before being transferred to a new, permanent home at Tennessee's Chattanooga Zoo.

Oregon Zoo keeper Michelle Schireman described the 5-month-old siblings, one male and one female, as "intensely cute, but far from cuddly."

"The cubs are about as large as medium-sized dogs, with paws as big as bread plates," Schireman said. "Without a mother, young Cougars lack the skills and resources needed to survive on their own.  They started eating right away the first night they were here."

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Photo Credits:  Oregon Zoo

Montana wildlife officials said the pair had been seen around the Missoula area over a period of several weeks, occasionally attempting to raid poultry yards and with no mother in sight. They were eventually captured inside a chicken coop by local residents, who took them to Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) service.

Montana FWP officials quickly contacted Schireman, who serves as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' population manager for Cougars, and she worked to find them a home at the Chattanooga Zoo.

Wildlife officials don't know what happened to the cubs' mother, but the two were emaciated when they were first rescued, Schireman said. After two weeks at FWP, with good veterinary care and a steady food supply, they filled out quite a bit. The male cub now weighs 37 pounds and the female weighs 32.

Staff at the Chattanooga Zoo were excited to greet the newcomers.  "They have long history of excellent care and had a space all ready for these cubs," Schireman said.

Cougars — also known as mountain lions, pumas and (in Florida) panthers — live mostly in the western United States and Canada. They weigh from 75 to 150 pounds and have a carnivorous diet both in the wild and at the zoo. Females are either pregnant or raising cubs for the majority of their lives. After three months of gestation, two to three cubs are usually born in a litter and live with their mother for up to two years.

With the exception of the Florida panthers, cougars are not listed as endangered, but they do face many challenges in other parts of the country due to human encroachment and habitat destruction.


A Star Is Born in Chattanooga!

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Chattanooga Zoo is happy to announce the arrival of a tiny Snow Leopard cub. Born January 10th, the cub is growing quickly and currently weighs in at around 5 pounds. For some time, zoo keepers weren't even sure that mother Kasmir was pregnant, becuase captive Snow Leopard births are so rare this time of year. These rare Leopards are endangered in the wild, and institutions such as the Chattanooga Zoo play a vital role in building awareness of their plight and that of their threatened mountain habitat.

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Photo credits: Chattanooga Zoo