Long thought to belong to a family all its own, this unique-looking, rather nocturnal bird has been reclassified as a member of the heron family. Dwelling in mangrove swamps from Mexico down to Peru and Brazil, it uses its strange beak to advantage, consuming a broad range of small animals. It thrives and breeds well in captivity, including the DWA.
This bird was once extremely rare in captivity, but there are now more than 100 in collections around the world, almost all captive bred. This population is important as this species is endangered, with a wild population of less than 3,000 in the mountains of Colombia and Venezuela. Several have recently hatched at the DWA. The bizarre blue “helmet” is actually part of the skull.
While this bird is still considered fairly common, deforestation is reducing its habitat throughout its range, from Honduras to Ecuador. A particularly noisy toucan, its puppy-like yelps are heard all day in the DWA rainforest. This is another toucan targeted for breeding by the American Zoo community and nearly 40 are distributed among 20 participating collections. The DWA has been one of the few places to so far breed it in captivity.
Dwelling on the edges of forests, along rivers, and where trees are present in savannahs, this huge toucan is the only member of its family commonly found in open country. It inhabits an enormous range, all the way from the Guianas to Northern Argentina. It is the largest and best known of the toucan species and includes grunts in its vocalizations. Over 100 have been hatched in more than a dozen US collections (including the DWA), as part of a coordinated breeding program during the last quarter century.
For decades this beautiful South American bird has been bred in American zoos and is now established as a self-sustaining population of more than 500. Birds bred in the US have been sent around the world. The brilliant color is dependent upon diet, so zoo birds are provided food rich in carotenoids. It is the national bird of Trinidad.
Like the Green oropendola, this species comes from Northeastern South America. Its icy blue eyes contrast with its black feathers. The yellow tail feathers of oropendolas are prized by Native Americans for use in elaborate head dresses. Oropendolas prefer building their nests over water, and several can always be observed over the Orinoco crocodiles. Both Green and Crested oropendolas have bred at the DWA.
Forty years ago, this magnificent monkey appeared on its way to extinction, both in its native Atlantic Coastal Forest of Brazil and in zoos as well. The wild population fell to less than 600, and in zoos, the number of deaths exceeded births. Over the next decade, improvements were made in zoo management, so that from a low of around 75, a self-sustaining population, today numbering nearly 500 world-wide, has been established. Through the reintroduction of captive-bred animals and habitat preservation, there are more than 1,000 in the wild.
It might seem surprising that Vampire bats have the fewest number of teeth of any bat — only 20, most of them tiny. However the incisors and canines, that dominate their jaws, are superbly suited to slice through skin, giving their owner access to the blood that is its sole food. Found from Northern Mexico to Chile, they prey on a wide variety of sleeping mammals and birds, including occasional humans (who are often attacked through their toes). They do well in captivity, and most zoo specimens are captive-bred. Their DWA diet is cow’s blood.
While Sea otters can also weigh up to 100 pounds, Giant otters are definitely the longest members of the weasel family, reaching five-and-a-half feet in length. Found in noisy groups of up to eight, related animals along rivers in tropical South America, they are active only during the day time. Although they have the shortest fur of any otter, their hides have been traditionally valued, and the fur trade has led to their being listed as an endangered species. Until recently, it was a very rare animal in zoos, but increasing numbers are being bred in captivity.
This enormous relative of sloths and armadillos is found all the way from Honduras to Argentina, but has gone extinct in several parts of this range, and is considered vulnerable to extinction everywhere. More than 250 are maintained in more than 100 zoos around the world, where they breed frequently. True to its name, it rips apart the nests of ants and termites with its powerful claws, then gathers them into its toothless jaws with its long, muscular tongue. In zoos it is fed protein-rich diets prepared in blenders.