How Animals Get To The Milwaukee County Zoo | WUWM 89.7 FM

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People have a lot of questions when they come to the Milwaukee County Zoo. But perhaps the most important is this: How did all these animals get here?

This question can be interpreted in several ways: how does a zoo get permission to add a new animal, and how do animals physically get to Wisconsin?

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Flamingos standing outside the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Despite some common misconceptions, licensed zoos no longer take animals from the wild except in extraordinary circumstances. Nor can the zoo order a family of elephants or gorillas on a whim. There is an in-depth process and it starts with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, known as AZA.

“There are approximately 250 zoos across the country that are owned by AZA and are accredited,” said Jennifer Dilliberti of the Milwaukee County Zoo. “So when we are looking to move an animal to another zoo, it’s all based on species survival plans in that they look at all accredited zoos as one population, so when an animal has to move multiple times. , it is for genetic reasons. the reasons. “

This species survival plan, also known as the SSP, is key to knowing which animals should end up in Milwaukee or any other accredited zoo in the country. Patricia Khan, curator of primates and small mammals at the Milwaukee County Zoo, explained how these plans work.

“Species survival plans are made up of experts in the field of captive population. Everything from veterinary advisers and education advisers, but also behaviorists and people who really manage, for example gorillas,” said Khan. “And the SSP, every few years, will come up with a reproduction and transfer plan based on population viability, where the population is now and where they want the population to be five generations or 100 years from now.”

Japanese Macaques Milwaukee County Zoo

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A family of Japanese macaques socializing in their outdoor enclosure at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

One of the main goals is to create a group of genetically diverse animals in captivity to avoid inbreeding and keep their lines healthy. There are other things they take into account, such as the dynamics of the herd in each facility, an animal’s temperament and its natural life cycle.

“You move animals at certain ages,” Khan said. “You know, young females would naturally move around in the wild at a certain age and you try to stay within those limits. It plays a huge role in the decision to move animals. It’s not something you take on. the slight. “

Penguin Milwaukee County Zoo

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A penguin standing outside in its enclosure near the entrance to the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Once the association and the zoos determine which animal should come to Milwaukee, they need to determine how it will get here. You can’t exactly pack the gorillas in the family minivan, but it takes a family effort to get them comfortable with the trip.

“They work with this animal for, you know, sometimes months to maybe get them used to a crate, to familiarize them with the crate, they know who’s with them,” Dilliberti said. “Everything is planned well before their release.

Khan describes how it unfolded when a gorilla family was recently transferred from the Columbus Zoo to Milwaukee.

“We sent our keepers to Columbus a few days before the expedition so that these keepers could hang out with the keepers at the Columbus zoo, they could talk, and they could also hang out with the gorillas there, learn to to know them and the gorillas could also get to know them, “Khan said.” Then the transfer took place and everyone got together. So the animals were never left alone. All the animals could see each other on that transport, they were in the same truck, they could feel and see each other, but they also had their staff with them. “

People watching the monkeys Milwaukee County Zoo

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People watching spider monkeys explore their enclosure at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Like any family trip, there are different ways to get to the animals’ final destination. These gorillas arrived in Milwaukee by truck, but if an animal comes from further afield, it can come by air – by cargo and commercial flights, if necessary. The main goal is to keep them comfortable and ensure their safety every step of the way.

Reaching their new home in Milwaukee isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning. Over the next few weeks and months, they will discover their new home and their new family. It’s the start of their new life and the start of our journey with them to the Milwaukee County Zoo.


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