March 15, 2010

Rio Zoo Helping To Save Endangered Species

In an effort to save many endangered species in their country, Rio de Janeiro's zoo has been taking in a collection of animals in order to become a maternity ward for many of them that have never been born in captivity.

Among the rare animals that are finding refuge at the zoo: the black-collared anteater and the Ararajuba Golden Parakeet. These are just two of the many unique animals threatened by extinction.

The zoo is now home to more than 500 mammals, 900 reptiles, and 1,000 birds, consisting of a total of some 400 species from the Brazilian wild. "This is the first time species like the anteater or toucan birds with spotted beaks have reproduced," the zoo said.

The births prove that the animals here are comfortable and adapted to captivity, according to biologist Rodrigo Costa. Having animals reproduce and give birth successfully in captivity is no easy feat and a lot of patience is needed.

"For toucans, we studied how they adapted, what they ate, how they made their nest and the couple itself. We switched around males and females until they really got along," Costa explained in an interview with AFP. The pair then successfully gave birth to two chicks.

During the record-setting February summer, when temperatures reached 104 degrees and higher, Costa said he had to pierce the bird nests to aerate them. Other animals, such as bears and wolves, were fed ice cream and frozen fruit to keep them cool.

Of some of the most endangered species in the world, animals such as the Black-bearded Saki, yellow-breasted capuchin and scarlet ibis also have been birthed at the zoo. The yellow-breasted capuchin is considered one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world.

"These births in Rio are an important gain for preservation," explained another biologist, Anderson Mendes Augusto.

Experts estimate that about 300 of these monkeys remain in the wild in the northeastern state of Bahia. About 25 of them are found at the zoo, which wants to reintroduce the primates to their natural habitat. The operation is highly risky for animals born in captivity that are not likely candidates for making it independently in the wild.

The Rio zoo was opened in 1888 and is now based in the park of the former Portuguese imperial family's residence. The zoo is one of the most visited attractions in Brazil. The president of the zoo foundation, Monica Valerie Blum says the zoo gets 100,000 visitors per month.

The Brazilian forest that once covered all of Brazil's coast when it was discovered in 1500, is considered the richest and most diverse ecosystem on the planet, and once-home to many of the endangered animals that are now kept at the Rio zoo. But, at the current rate of deforestation and other threats, it could all disappear within 40 years.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia