The Cameron Park Zoo soon will welcome several new animals to the facility, helping to fill a void from the deaths of longtime zoo residents in recent years.
The zoo expects to receive a new male lion in January or February from the Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii.
Then, by early spring, two new giraffes will arrive at the facility — a male from the Santa Barbara Zoo in California and a female from the San Diego Zoo.
Both the lion and giraffe habitats at the zoo suffered the loss of iconic residents last year. Lion Sam Jack had to be euthanized in June because of advanced kidney disease, while giraffe Jeffrey died in July from complications related to arthritis.
In addition, the zoo in 2011 euthanized giraffe Julie because complications from a birth deformity in her ankle made it painful for her to walk or stand.
The zoo expects to transition the new animals in slowly with the existing ones in the collection, including lionesses Sheba and Shamsa and lone female giraffe Jenny, and exhibit them separately before allowing them to mingle together.
“Since they’re herd animals,
(Jenny) is probably going to be pretty stoked to see some new babies coming in,” said Terri Cox, the zoo’s curator for programs and exhibits. “She’ll probably be a comfort, more than likely, to the young ones.”
The zoo’s luck in getting quick replacements for the animals who died is because of recommendations from the international Species Survival Plan program.
The global organization makes breeding recommendations for animals in captivity to produce the healthiest offspring possible and advance the species.
“They know that every animal that goes into a zoo is going to die,” Cox said. “So, typically, we go to these meetings and we’ll say, ‘We have a couple elderly giraffes, we have an elderly lion and we’ll be looking to add new animals in the next couple years,’ so we’ll keep them posted and report any changes in our collection.”
As part of the organization’s recommendation, the two new giraffes will be of the Massai breed, instead of the reticulated giraffes the zoo historically has cared for.
General zoo curator Johnny Binder said the Massai species is in greater need of conservation work and breeding efforts to increase its numbers worldwide.
Binder said eventually the giraffe pair will breed, once the zoo is given clearance to allow the animals to mate from the Species Survival Plan.
The lion, who turns 1 year old this month, may be able to mate with Shamsa, the younger lioness, or another female lion from another zoo, based on breeding recommendations.
The zoo keeps female animals on birth control until they are approved to breed by the Species Survival Plan.
“Stud books are kept, bloodlines are kept so they genetically match the pairs together that are appropriate to perpetuate the species into the future with genetically pure bloodlines,” Binder said of the breeding decisions from the survival plan program. “There’s a species coordinator for all endangered species.”