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Do You Know the Potto?

Everyone is familiar with primates like gorillas, monkeys and even lemurs, but not too many people know of the potto. So what’s a potto, you say? Pottos are prosimians, which are primitive primates, not as highly evolved as monkeys but sharing many of the same characteristics (fingernails and toenails, stereoscopic vision, forward facing eyes, etc.). Some other prosimians include lemurs, lorises, bushbabies, tarsiers and aye-ayes.

gabriel_fia

Gabriel the potto. Photo by Sophia Cifuentes

The Cincinnati Zoo is one of very few zoos around the world to exhibit pottos, not because they are endangered, but more because of their nocturnal way of life. Many zoos do not have a building like our Night Hunters exhibit in which the day / night light cycle is reversed. This allows us to exhibit nocturnal creatures under subdued blue lighting during the time our guests visit and then fill the exhibits with white lighting when our guests have left.

In early 2014, there were only 16 pottos in four zoos in the United States—Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo and Cincinnati Zoo, of course. We have maintained pottos in our collection since the mid-1960s when we first opened the former Nocturnal House. We have been one of the top breeders of these African primates and we currently have seven pottos at the Zoo. Recently, it became clear that if we wanted to keep these charismatic animals in U.S. zoo collections, then we needed to have a plan to maximize the potential of our small population with regards to breeding and to also recruit more zoos to commit to exhibiting them as the potto population grew.

Baby potto

Baby potto

The Mammal Curators of the zoos holding pottos were all on board with the desire to continue to work with this species. The pedigree information of the U.S. population of pottos was run through a computer software program that provided us with the best possible pairings from our small group in order to maximize genetic diversity. From that information it became clear that in order to achieve our goal, 12 of the 16 pottos needed to move in order to create the pairings recommended. We also needed one more facility to join us to provide the extra space needed to ultimately put together the seven potential breeding pairs indicated by our “computer dating” service. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska stepped up to become the fifth zoo in the U.S. to maintain pottos.

potto_gabriel

By mid-summer, the five zoos had committed to making the necessary moves to have all the transfers completed before cold weather might become an issue for transportation. Of the six animals we originally had here in Cincinnati, four have transferred to other zoos while five new pottos arrived. We now have three pairs as well as a young male who will serve as a companion animal to an aging bamboo lemur. The other zoos involved with pottos will either have one pair (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Henry Doorly Zoo) or two pairs (Franklin Park Zoo). The Milwaukee County Zoo, which is now holding a single young female potto, is attempting to import a young male potto from Africa, which will provide new genetics to our population as well as provide us with yet another pair of animals for breeding.

It has been very gratifying to see how well the five zoos have worked so quickly and cooperatively towards our common goal to maintain a healthy potto population. Though the potto may not be an endangered species, we would hate to lose this charismatic creature from our collections. Many Cincinnatians have met our potto, Gabriel, at the Zoo or at events around the city. I like to think that it’s because of this ambassador animal that more Cincinnatians know what a potto is than people in any other part of the country.

October 9, 2014   No Comments

An Experience like No Other: the Zoo Academy Story

Guest Blogger: Zoo Academy Senior, Sarah Franklin

To start off, my name is Sarah Franklin.  I’m a Zoo Academy student here at the Cincinnati Zoo, and I love every minute of it. The Zoo Academy is a branch of Hughes STEM High School, and is offered to anyone who attends.

Here’s a bit of my story on how I ended up here:

I was raised on a farm, not too far from Cincinnati, but in a small town that you’ve probably never heard of before. Growing up, my family and I had an array of animals on our farm. I used to love to go out with my father in the mornings or evenings to feed the animals. Any opportunity I had to go out with him, I’d jump right into my muck boots, (that came higher than my knees), throw on my coat or jacket, depending on the temperature, and run out right behind him. Some of my favorite memories from my hometown were right out on that farm with him.

Here I am as a toddler on my Dad's farm.

Here I am as a toddler on my Dad’s farm.

At about the age of fourteen when my dad got remarried, I had the opportunity to move to Cincinnati and change schools. I wasn’t particularly happy with my current school system, so I began to research about public schools in Cincinnati. During one of my searches, I came across Hughes High. They talked a lot about pathways on their website, and featured a pathway they called: (you guessed it) The Zoo Academy! I called up the next day to learn more about it, and actually spent time talking to Glen Schulte, who is now my current teacher. I fell in love the minute I learned about this amazing opportunity, and decided that this was where I wanted to start my new beginning. We packed up and moved soon after and that began my story here, at my favorite place on Earth.

In my Zoo Academy uniform

In my Zoo Academy uniform

The Cincinnati Zoo and Hughes High School have become second homes for me. I have had experiences here that I could experience nowhere else.  I became a strong leader within my school, and the biggest Big Red Athletics fan they’d ever seen. Actually, this year, (my SENIOR year), I was recorded as the first girl in Big Red history to score points for the Hughes Football team. I even did a radio interview about it. That was an experience within itself, and I am so fortunate to have been a part of that.

Here I am in my football gear with my littlest fan.

Here I am in my football gear with my littlest fan.

Here at the Zoo, I do daily work with the keepers, animals, and currently the wonderful staff within the Education Department. Some of my favorite animal encounters have been during these last two years, having the opportunity to work with animals that range from insects to elephants. One of my favorite experiences was working with the cougars this past fall while in the Night Hunters department at the Zoo. I also met the love of my life here at the Zoo, a hyacinth blue macaw named Azul at the Bird House. I’ve enjoyed every lab I’ve participated in, and learned so much from the staff here. It is really an experience that is like no other, because the Cincinnati Zoo is the only zoo in the country that allows high school students to participate in labs and work alongside keepers on a daily basis.

Here I am with the love of my life, Azul.

Here I am with the love of my life, Azul.

In the upcoming future I plan on attending the University of Cincinnati and continuing on my story here at the Cincinnati Zoo. I feel as though my experiences here at the Zoo aren’t ready to come to an end yet, so I hope I am able to continue on here after I graduate, whether it is as a volunteer or even a paid staff member. I love it here at the Zoo, and though this may not be where my career path ends, it is definitely a place that I would hope for it to begin. Thanks so much for reading my story!  If you ever see me around the Zoo, stop me and ask any questions you’d like!

Best Wishes, Sarah.

November 20, 2013   11 Comments

Under Construction: Night Hunters VIII

Time is going by so fast! The new Night Hunters exhibit will be open before you know it. Here are some pictures of the latest progress.

The new way in and out

New entry and exit to the building

You’ll walk under a trellis (yet to be built) and enter the exhibit building through [Read more →]

February 11, 2011   1 Comment