By Robin Sutker, Assistant Curator at the Brandywine Zoo
Summer is officially here! The trees have all leafed out, the goats finished shedding their winter coats, and the lemurs are enjoying prolonged sunning sessions in their new habitat. When visiting the Brandywine Zoo, you’ll see updated signage, a welcome return of volunteers, and a few new animals too. With the Madagascar habitat coming to life this past spring, we welcomed three species of lemurs, radiated tortoises, and helmeted guinea fowl. Now that summer weather has arrived, we are excited to share the recent expansion of three other mixed-species habitats.
Toco Toucan and Southern Pudu
In March and April, guests and Zoo staff alike have watched two former habitats near the barnyard merge into one: the new toucan and pudu habitat! The male toucan, Julio (a long-time resident of the Zoo), and his new female mate, Pablo, moved to their newly designed habitat at the end of April. The birds were paired by the toco toucan Species Survival Plan® (SSP), which works with zoos around the country to cooperatively manage animal populations in human care. Native to semi-open woodlands of eastern South America, the toco toucan is designated as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species but as with all species in the region are threatened by deforestation.
While the Brandywine Zoo has not bred toco toucans in the past, the pair appears to be thriving in their new space and displaying ideal bonding behaviors. Guests will see the birds working on their “cavity nest” box; it was initially filled with leaves, sticks, and the hole was covered over with cork for the birds to excavate as they would to a tree cavity. The male (whose beak and body are both larger than the females) can be seen feeding the female, standing guard around the nest box, and beak clapping with the female. Keepers are hopeful for toco toucan chicks in the future!
Once the toucans were settled into their new habitat, a mother-daughter pair of southern pudu joined the birds. The females, named Chloe and Clover (mother and daughter respectively), are from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Florida and were transferred to Brandywine upon the recommendation of the Southern pudu SSP®. Their arrival signifies another step towards the Our Zoo Reimagined Master Plan, as the species will eventually joining other South American animals at the front of the Zoo. Southern pudus are the second smallest deer species, only slightly larger than the northern pudu, and are native to the temperate forests and scrublands of southern Chile and Argentina. This pudu subspecies is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.
Snowy Egrets, Puna Teal, and White-faced Whistling Ducks
As the Zoo progresses towards the multi-year Master Plan, two other habitats welcomed new residents. The bald eagles and common ravens were joined by three snowy egrets in May, and the capybara and scarlet ibis habitat welcomed puna teal and white-faced whistling ducks that same month.
Snowy egrets are found throughout the Americas, including coastal Delaware. Once prized for their white plumage in women’s hats, wild populations have significantly rebounded since the establishment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Puna teal and white-faced whistling ducks have faced fewer threats in the past two centuries than snowy egrets, but will both likely see populations declines with the rapid degradation of their lake habitats due to urbanization. These two duck species are both dabblers, skimming the top of the water for seeds and vegetation. Both are native to South America, and the white-faced whistling duck also has populations in sub-Saharan Africa.
Fun Fact: white-faced whistling ducks are named for the bright white heads and the noise they make when communicating. Next time you’re at the Zoo, listen closely to their unique calls!