Kate and I continued our trip with a visit to Zoo Atlanta. Zoos and Aquariums are linked through an organization called the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). To become a member of AZA, each institution must complete a rigorous application and inanection process to achieve accreditation. In addition to AZA, many aspects of animal health, behavior, nutrition and general husbandry are related.
We had the good fortune of a tour with Zoo veterinarians Dr. Hayley Weston Murphy and Dr. Sam Rivera. Dr. Murphy is the chief veterinarian at Zoo Atlanta and among other areas of exotic animal expertise; she is one of the nations leading experts in gorilla health. She manages the National Gorilla Cardiac Database, and is a veterinary adviser for both the gorilla and baboon Species Survival Plan. Bostonians may remember her as the Veterinary Director for Zoo New England. Dr. Sam Rivera also has extensive clinical expertise with exotic animals, specializing in avian and reptile medicine. I met Dr. Rivera at a sea turtle workshop where he presented results for his ultrasound study on sea turtles. Dr. Rivera and Dr. Murphy were on call in case anything went wrong during the southern portion of our sea turtle transport. Thankfully it was smooth sailing and their services were not needed.
We started with a tour of the animal hospital and medical facilities and then headed down to the primate enclosures. We observed the animals in the gorilla habitat while our hosts described the complexities of primate care. Zoo Atlanta is committed to gorilla conservation and partners with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to help achieve it's mission. You may recall that the Hollywood movie Gorillas in the Mist (trailer) was based on Fossey's work.
A great ape indeed
The photo above is a male Western lowland gorilla. These gorillas are the largest primate species and can grow to upwards of 500 pounds. Gorilla's are endangered and at risk for many reasons. Habitat loss and the bushmeat trade seem to be high on the list of risks.
The Zoo has a fantastic Panda Cam on their website. I highly recommend it however, be forewarned it can be addicting. I'm running it now while I write and the cub just woke up and toppled off one of the tree limbs in the exhibit. He's already back up on the limb laying flat on his back rubbing his belly - good thing that's not completely adorable!
It's all in the lips. This black rhinoceros sleeps off the heat of the day at Zoo Atlanta. Black rhinos are currently listed as a critically endangered species. Black rhinos are distinguished from white rhinos primarily by their lips. The black rhino has a pointed prehensile lip while the white rhino is square lipped (just a little rhino trivia in case you end up on Jeopardy or Cash Cab).
The Zoo has an extensive enrichment program. Zoo Atlanta's commitment to conservation around the globe was obvious from our visit and a quick read of their web site. Touring Zoo Atlanta with these two veterinarians was truly a memorable treat and one we are not likely to soon forget.
The next and last stop on this trip will be at the Georgia Aquarium ...