Takes Pride In Its Current `Baby Boom`
October 27, 1986|By BUDDY NEVINS, Miami
At Metrozoo, the animals are breeding
like, ah, animals.
``We just put them together and they
go. It doesn`t take anything but compatibility,`` said Rick Barongi, curator of
The premiere South Dade County zoo is
in the midst of a baby boom. With a new bird hatchery and an especially fertile
mammal population, the zoo is alive with little ones.
There are babies to trade, babies to sell and babies to keep
and display. Zoo babies are big business.
A baby kudu, an African antelope, is
worth $10,000. A baby chimp fetches $7,000. A red-ruffed lemur gets $10,000 a
pair. A baby slender-horned gazelle, extinct in the wild, is $1,000.
``Our breeding program has been very successful,”
So successful that the female Bengal
tigers and European brown bears are on birth control. The male lions have had
``There are too many of those,`` said
This year, Metrozoo has had 110 mammal
births through mid-October. During all of last year, 90 mammals were born.
There already have been more than 200
birds born in the 6-month-old bird hatchery, with its ultramodern incubators
and its sparkling clean indoor pools for raising waterfowl.
``We`re cranking out a lot of birds,``
said Ron Johnson, curator of birds.
The chief breeding time for birds is in
the spring but since Florida is semitropical, some are always laying eggs.
Residents of the hatchery include a black-naped fruit dove and three East
African crowned cranes born this month, along with an Andean condor born in
Not content to leave breeding to
chance, Johnson encourages it by making the birds as comfortable as possible.
He recently acquired 30 new flamingos from Hialeah Park Race Track because
those birds breed better in larger groups.
Johnson also tricks birds into laying
more eggs. Condors, an extremely rare species, will usually raise one chick
every two years but by removing their egg, the condor will produce an egg once
As soon as eggs are laid, Johnson`s
staff places them in incubators that automatically rotate to duplicate a mother
bird`s turning of the egg. Eggs left in the nest could be damaged by other
birds or ignored by parents.
Once a bird is hatched, it is fed a customized
diet to approximate its wild food until it is large enough to be placed with
adults. Surplus birds are sold or traded to other zoos.
Some birds, such as condors, require
specialized treatment. Since condors will confuse human caretakers with their
parents, zookeepers have been feeding the chick using condor-shaped hand
puppets so the bird thinks it is being fed by its real parents.
Mammal babies usually require no
special care. Metrozoo doesn`t have a mammal nursery; unless a baby is sick or
ignored by mama, it is left with its parents.
If something is wrong, the baby is
taken care of by a veterinarian. Last week, a Malayan sun
bear that was being pushed away from its mother`s teat by its brother, and a
kudu born with a deformed shoulder, were being specially treated.
Eventually, the curators have to
decided whether to keep, trade or sell the babies. Many times they opt to trade
them for other animals that Metrozoo doesn`t have.
``We would rather trade than sell. That
way we end up getting new animals without having to go through the
complications that handling money creates for a government agency,`` said
Metrozoo, which is a part of Dade
County government, runs an account at many large zoos. For instance, if
Metrozoo gives a California zoo a $1,000 Malayan sun bear and a $1,000
slender-horned gazelle, that zoo owes the Dade zoo $2,000 worth of animals.
``We collect (the debt) when they have
something we want,`` Barongi said.
With its stepped up breeding program,
Metrozoo has a lot animals other zoos want.
The Dade County facility already has
logged the first captive U.S. breedings in five bird species: the grosbeak
starling, the greater coucal, the black- naped oriole, the yellow-billed stork
and the far-tufted barbet.
Malayan sun bears are only bred at
three or four zoos. Kudus are in demand worldwide.
One benefit is that many animals that
are becoming extinct in the wild can continue to flourish at Metrozoo.
``Our goal is to become captive
self-sustaining,`` Johnson said. ``We want populations that are self-sustaining
because we can no longer depend on the wild. The wild is disappearing.``