11 June 2010

Tigers & Bears, Oh my!

Today was the opening day for the new Trader's Alley exhibit area at ZooAtlanta. Although there are other things I ought to be doing, and it was a wicked sticky hot day, I scooted down for a quick peak. The zoo was pretty full by the time I left at 11 AM.

As a bear fan, I am super excited about Xander and Sabah, the new Malayan sun bears. This pair does have a breeding recommendation, although Dr. Snyder stated during the press conference that they can be tricky to breed in captivity. Bless Dr. Snyder -- she's becoming a love expert on unromantic bears. She and her team have managed with Lun Lun and Yang Yang, so we'll hope that Sabah and Xander are easy compared to giant pandas. Sun bears are active and will require lots of enrichment. Of course, today all I got was a distant view of a shy Xander. There is a small black blob in the center of the photo at right. At least you can see what a nice space it is and where the overlook is located. Once the bears are accustomed to their new residence, I am sure they will venture about and treat us all to lots of playful bear behavior.

Also back in the zoo are Moby the elusive clouded leopard, and Chelsea and Kavi the Sumatran tigers. Chelsea was a little uncertain about how much her home has been changed while she was away. I'm sure she didn't sign up for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Eventually she was willing to come out, pad about on the fresh sod, and get close to the glass.
The new exhibit solves a problem the old one had -- viewing. The tigers used to go to a back corner of the exhibit and more or less hide from view. Moby will still be able to do some of that in his exhibit -- bonus points on your zoo bingo card if you see Moby. But the tigers and bears will have a harder time being shy. You'll notice the old viewing area, which has been cleaned up but is still familiar. But as you head up the trail connecting giant pandas with otters, you'll discover a "bamboo thicket" viewing area for tigers, a glass viewing area for both tigers and bears, and another "bamboo thicket" for viewing bears. If you go all the way up the hill, there is an enclosed overlook. It provides shade and fan air to visitors who can look down into both the bear and tiger exhibits. No matter where the animals want to be, you should be able to find a viewpoint that works.

Charismatic megafauna tend to get the headlines at the zoo, but the reptile and bird keepers are not afraid to be creative with their charges. ZooAtlanta has only 40 acres, and I think herpetology and birds will discover a way to fill every leftover crevice! As you go up to sun bears, be sure to look at the other side of the walk to see endangered tortoises. Some of these have surprisingly beautiful geometric patterns! And the ever clever bird keepers have inserted a bird habitat next to sun bears. Betelgeus and Zelda, a breeding pair of wreathed hornbills, have lived behind the scenes for years. Now they are out where you can enjoy their impressive size and bright colors.

For more information, you can read the zoo's own press release here.

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