STAFF PICK: In the last five years, we've oohed and ahhed over fuzzy additions to the Reid Park Zoo family including a baby giraffe, a white-handed gibbon, an anteater and several species of threatened and endangered birds. The human forces behind the zoo's research and breeding programs seem more than happy to let the animals hog the spotlight: Asked to name a hero of the breeding program, the answer received was "the anteater." What followed was an articulate and enlightening account of these secretive South American creatures, which revealed that there are only 50 in captivity, and Reid Park is a leader in their research.
In fact, General Curator Michael Flint wrote the manual on the breeding and care of anteaters, and his model has been followed by zoos worldwide. He's also an active member of a taxon advisory group, made up of world-class scientists, who study and recommend conservation and breeding plans for bears in all forms around the world -- which means our own polar and spectacled bears (the latter being the only South American bear species) are in the very best of hands.
The zoo's mission statement is "to provide an accredited facility that encourages safe and rewarding experiences for people of all ages, exposes visitors to conservation and environmental information, and promotes knowledge and appreciation of animals and their habitats from around the world."
"In an ideal world, animals would only exist in natural habitats," says one zoo representative. "But with those habitats disappearing at such a rapid rate, zoos will become more and more vital." The Reid Park team works closely with zoos around the world to conserve species in captivity and in the wild, and under Flint, they're actively involved in more than a dozen species survival plans, including the research and breeding of animals you can visit right here at home. Flint's bear advisory group is one example where a pool of scientists studying a specific animal have banded together for the greater good. Three cheers! (Also see Best Outing, page 85; and Best Annual Festival, page 10.)