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Fertile ground at the Zoo

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 2, 2008 - The Grevy's zebra born at the St. Louis Zoo on Aug. 21 adds one more baby to the new arrivals this year, including a baby tree kangaroo that's just starting to peek out of his mama's pouch, five baby tigers and a baby giraffe.

In all, there are 12 new babies and two toddlers at the Zoo.

"There must be something in the water," says Martha Fischer, curator of mammals and ungulates, or hoofed animals.

But the baby boom at the Zoo isn't by chance, at least not totally.

The Zoo and others around the country follow a species survival plan, which specifies what animals should breed together and when.

Call them master matchmakers.

And many people transpose that experience of celebration they know from humon births onto animals, Fischer says, feeling excited for the changes. "Also," she says, "they're just so darn cute."

Grevy's Zebra

Born: August 21, 2008

Gestation: 13 months

Home: Red Rocks

A community called Kalama in northern Kenya is home to a Grevy's zebra named St. Louis. On August 21, the St. Louis Zoo named its new Grevy's zebra Kalama in return.

The two zoos partnered to try to save the most endangered of zebra species, according to Fischer. Kalama was the 32nd Grevy's zebra born at the Zoo.

The Grevy's zebra is the largest of all the breeds, but the plain zebra, with the widest stripes, is the most abundant, with about 700,000, Fischer says.

The mountain zebra, which live in South Africa, are endangered, with about 25,000 remaining.

But fewer than 2,000 Grevy's zebras live in the wild today, Fischer says.

So the birth of Kalama, the zebra, and the relationship with Kalama, the community, is significant. The community subsists off of livestock, but it has set aside 20 percent of land as a wildlife conservation.

And currently, Fischer says, it's a healthy habitat for Grevy's zebras.

Giraffe

Born: June 14

Gestation: 15 months

Home: Red Rocks

Jumo was born on June 14, weighed 143 pounds and was more than 6 feet tall. But he's got a lot farther to grow. Male giraffes will grow between 16 and 18 feet, according to the St. Louis Zoo.

Jumo's a reticulated giraffe, a sub species, Fischer says, that has a distinct coat pattern that looks like puzzle pieces side by side.

The reticulated giraffe is found only in the Horn of Africa.

Amur Leopard

Born: May 10, 2008

Gestation: About 100 days

Home: Big Cat Country

Sofiya was born with a still-born brother in May and was hand-reared for a while.

But on Aug. 15, she moved up into what Fischer calls a big girl habitat in Big Cat Country, where she may be seen between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. 

Currently, there are fewer than 40 Amur leopards in the wilds of Russia, according to the St. Louis Zoo, and 300 living in zoos.

Amur Tigers

Born: April 28, 2008

Gestation: Three and a half months

Home: Big Cat Country

Two boy tigers and three girl tigers added to the population of Amur tigers in April. There are fewer than 500 living in the wild in eastern Russia and northeast China, according to the St. Louis Zoo, and 300 in the species survival plan.

Earlier this month, the baby tigers made their first public appearance. They can be outside daily not from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Somali Wild Ass

Born: April 10, June 2, July 28, 2008

Gestation: 13 months

Home: Red Rocks

The three Somali wild ass couldn't have chosen a better neighborhood to be born into.

"They really are having a good time with the herd," Fischer says.

Wane, a female, was born first and now stands as tall as her mother. And she has playmates, Matara, a female born in June, and Hakim, a male born in July.

This is the first time Somali wild ass have been born at the St. Louis Zoo, and all three were born to first-time moms.

"But you wouldn't know it from watching it," Fischer says. "They are doing fantastic."

Somali wild ass are found in the desserts of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, according to the St. Louis Zoo. They are critically endangered, with less than 1,000 in northeastern Africa.

Matschie's Tree Kangaroo

Born: January 2008

Gestation: Carried in pouch for eight to 10 months

Home: Emerson Children's Zoo

Teptep was named after a village in Papua New Guinea, according to the St. Louis Zoo.

The Matschie's tree kangaroo are endangered and live in Papua New Guinea.

Recently, Teptep has been peeking out of his mother's pouch, but he'll remain there until he's about 10 months old.

Asian Elephants

Born: Maliha, Aug. 2, 2006, Jade, Feb. 25, 2007

Gestation: About 22 months

Home: River's Edge

At 2, Maliha weighs 1,300 pounds, Fischer says, and 18-month-old Jade weighs 830.

But the pair are toddlers in many ways.

"They are absolutely playful, a little goofy sometimes, very sharp but very short attention spans," Fischer says.

And like a 2-year-old, Maliha is displaying her independence, until something spooks her and she runs back under her mom's legs.

Kristen Hare is a freelance journalist. 

Kristen Hare

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