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Category — Keeper’s Komments

Assisted Flamingo Chick Hatch

Wild Encounter program flamingos walking through the Zoo.

Wild Encounter program flamingos walking through the Zoo.

Everything in a flamingo’s world needs to be a social occasion!  Their lives are built around doing whatever everyone else is doing when everyone else is doing it.  This includes all aspects of their breeding cycle – from courtship displays all the way to building their mud nests to rearing their chicks.

After successfully hatching and fledging four chicks on exhibit this season, the Cincinnati Zoo’s greater flamingo flock started to become a little antsy.  Even those birds that were still incubating eggs were starting to spend more time off their nests…wanting to do what the majority was doing… and that was walking around.

Thus, we decided to pull the last three eggs under the parents to place in an incubator.  We then “candled” the eggs (placing them in front of a bright light) and found one was infertile, one was a late-term death, and the third contained a growing, active, vibrant embryo!  This egg was monitored for several days and seemed to be well on its way to hatching just fine.  On the morning of June 30, we found chick had “pipped” (broken through) his outer shell and was calling regularly.  (Parent birds and their chicks often “talk” to each other pre-hatch.)

After an incubation period of about 30 days, a flamingo egg usually takes 24-36 hours to hatch (from initial pip to total freedom from shell), so we were not too worried that not much progress had been made on the morning of July 1.  However, as the day went along with little change, we began to consider that we were not exactly sure what time it pipped (was it late 6-29 or early 6-30?) and that an assisted hatch might be in order.

I first pulled a little of the outer shell away from around the pip mark and determined chick was very dry and likely stuck.  What follows is a series of photos taken during the assisted hatch on the evening of July 1, 2014.

Below is a photo of the chick on Day 12!  It is currently being hand-reared with a slightly older flamingo.  These two are destined to join the group of four that takes part in the Wild Encounters programs marching around the zoo and greeting our guests on exhibit in Africa.    The more, the merrier with flamingos!

Flamingo chick - 12 days old.

Flamingo chick – 12 days old.


July 15, 2014   1 Comment

A Tale of Two Mantises

Praying Mantises, insects in the order Mantodea were so named because of the prayer-like posture of their folded front legs. In the eyes of their prey there’s nothing divine about mantises. There are more than 2,300 species of mantises worldwide and while they vary in size, shape and color they all have one thing in common, they are voracious predators. Cincinnatians can encounter two remarkable mantis species; the native Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and the introduced Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis).

The Carolina Mantis varies in color from light-green to medium-gray and is normally between 1-1/2″ and 2-1/2″ long. These mantises range from the eastern and central United States south through Central America and into northern South America. Carolina Mantis nymphs have the ability to alter their color to match their habitat each time they molt. Adult male Carolina Mantises are strong fliers and will actively stalk their prey. Adult female Carolina Mantises have shortened wings and are heavier bodied; they cannot fly so they lie in wait to ambush their prey.

Carolina Mantis

Carolina Mantis

The Chinese Mantis varies in color from light-green to brown and is normally between 3-1/4″ and 4-1/4″ long. Native to Eastern Asia the Chinese Mantis was allegedly introduced to the United States late in the 19th century to control agricultural pests. By most accounts the Chinese Mantis has done little to control pests despite having become established throughout most of the United States. In some areas the presence of the larger Chinese Mantis has negatively impacted the smaller Carolina Mantis.

Chinese Mantis

Chinese Mantis

Both Carolina and Chinese mantis hatchlings emerge from egg cases in spring and are so small they can be dispersed by strong winds. As the young mantises grow so too does their choice of prey; tiny fruit flies are replaced by increasingly larger flies, bees and moths. Adult Carolina Mantises can capture medium-sized butterflies while adult Chinese Mantises can capture hummingbirds. Both species will mate in late summer or early autumn, leaving their egg cases on the stems of shrubs or bushes. These egg cases will endure even the harshest winters to deliver the next generation the following spring.

Mantises are among the world’s most recognizable and beloved insects. Their grace and ferocity have inspired poets and martial artists. Children the world over have marveled at them in backyards and kept them as pets in quart jars. If you see a mantis this summer please take a few minutes to observe and appreciate one of Cincinnati’s most amazing insects.

Winton Ray / Curator of Invertebrates, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

July 1, 2014   1 Comment

John the Lion Meets His Match

Zoo guests may have noticed that John the lion has not been in his yard for the past couple of days. He’s been absent for a very good reason! On Wednesday, we opened the doors that separated John and Imani and introduced the male and female lions to each other for the first time!

John and Imani

John and Imani

This introduction has been a long time coming; several months of close monitoring and careful preparation have led up to this big moment for our young lions. For the last year, John and Imani have been living in separate enclosure areas. Typically John was housed in 2 indoor enclosures and had access to our exhibit yard. Imani was being housed in 3 indoor enclosures (across the hall from John), and had access to her own private play yard as well. Though the lions could see, hear and smell each other on a daily basis, they’d never met in the same space until now.


John looks at Imani.


In order to ensure a successful first meeting, keepers wanted to be sure that both lions were fully grown, sexually mature, and confident and comfortable in their new homes at the Cincinnati Zoo before the lions began to share a territory. Additionally, keepers had to plan an introduction timeline that would be conducive to the potential birth of cubs (since John and Imani are a recommended breeding pair within the African lion SSP). An SSP, or Species Survival Plan, allows different zoological facilities to cooperatively manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species populations. In order to receive a breeding recommendation for two animals, SSP coordinators assess the representation of each animal’s genes within the captive population. If the genes of both individuals are not overly represented among the captive population, and if there is a zoo with the space to house the offspring, then you get the “okay” to breed the pair.  Utilizing SSPs allows zoos to ensure that we are maintaining as much genetic variation as possible among captive populations, and also avoiding inbreeding and unwanted pregnancies.

With warmer weather on the horizon and both lions showing positive indicators that they were ready to meet, the keepers determined that the time was right to introduce John and Imani. Initially, both cats were a little shy and hesitant to say hello, but after a few minutes of awkward, sideways glances, John came through the door for a sniff.  Some grumbles, barks and swats ensued (perfectly normal and expected behaviors), and then both lions quickly settled down and even made some attempts at breeding!

The two have been spending time together behind the scenes ever since, and the keepers are absolutely thrilled with their progress. John and Imani will slowly be introduced to the exhibit yard together according to their comfort level. While John is perfectly at home in the exhibit yard, Imani has not been out there yet, so we will respect her need to move forward slowly. Her comfort level will likely dictate when our lions will be publicly on exhibit together, and we appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this transition period.

On behalf of our lions, and all the keepers and staff involved, thank you all for your support and well-wishes! Our zoo guests have been so great about accepting John into the Zoo family, and we can’t wait for you all to meet Imani and see our newly bonded pair out on exhibit together soon!


May 2, 2014   7 Comments