While the vast and varied African continent is home to myriad fascinating animals, Australia has its own charismatic fauna and a small selection can be encountered in the Australia Walkabout at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Imagine the otherworldly music of the didgeridoo as you amble through an enclosure where red-necked wallabies hop around freely and enchant with their sweet demeanor and faces. Representatives of the captivating marsupials, an infraclass of mammals, their young are born prematurely and develop while attached to their mother’s nipples, usually but not always inside an abdominal pouch. They remain “firmly attached to the milk-giving teats for a period corresponding roughly to the latter part of development of the fetus in the womb of a placental mammal” (according to an article on brittanica.com). As it happens, one of the females, Gidgee, has been pregnant since March 2021 with her joey (don’t you just love this name?) and I look forward to seeing it once it emerges.
The didgeridoo’s insistent song is exceeded only by the voluminous voices of 100-plus garrulous budgies inside an aviary they share with cockatiels and a princess parrot. The good mood they engender notwithstanding, the decibel level in that confined space can only be tolerated for short periods of time.
From Australia one is transported to the Asian Highlands and some of the world’s elusive felines. Two Pallas’ cats are not particularly camera-shy but seem to wear a curmudgeonly expression even when they are sleeping, They live next door to one gorgeous snow and two Amur leopards. Sadly, fewer than 100 of the latter survive in the wild, making them critically endangered, and the zoo hopes to breed them as parts of the Species Survival Plan (SSP).
I wonder how much trepidation exists about that plan in light of two heart-rending calamities that befell another iconic species at the zoo, the Amur tiger. It is estimated that fewer than 500 individuals of the endangered species survive in the wild (107 live in captivity in accredited zoos). In 2016, a female was killed by her mate during a breeding attempt, a shocking, unpredictable act also known to happen in the wild, but not anticipated in this setting, based on the pair’s previous interactions. The attempted in-vitro fertilization of another female Amur tiger earlier in 2021, done to prevent a repeat of the previous scenario, also ended in the prospective mother’s death from unclear medical reasons. The dismay and sadness that gripped everybody involved in trying to positively influence the fate of these tigers linger. Now the male, Chewy, is alone in his Himalayan-style habitat and watching him stride gracefully yet powerfully up hills, among trees, and across a creek is an experience not soon forgotten. With the zoo keepers, the veterinary staff, and all other people who care, we hope the Amur leopards and tigers will not fall off the precipice from which there is no return.
Besides local conservation efforts, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo supports numerous others. In addition to administering breeding programs, supporting research, and performing education, the zoo’s “Quarters for Conservation” initiative has raised $3 million since its implementation in 2008. At every visit, guests are given 3 tokens, each worth 25 cents, which can be allocated to one of several conservation projects including but not limited to Wyoming toads, black-footed ferrets, Panamanian frogs, African vultures, and African elephants and rhinos.
All threatened or endangered plant and animal species on earth will only have a future if we human animals finally decide that every living being deserves our full consideration, love, and support.
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To read my first post about the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, click here.
To read my second post about the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, click here.