Hundreds of new baby animals were born at the Oakland Zoo over the last few months in what biologists at the facility describe as one of the zoo’s biggest baby booms in many years. The zoo, a sanctuary for more than 660 native and exotic animals located at the far eastern end of Oakland, has recently become home to more than 200 newborn animals including a squirrel monkey, milk frogs and a giraffe, with a few more births expected in the coming weeks.
Zookeeper Dannielle Stith has spent the last few weeks observing 4-year-old Peepers, the squirrel monkey who delivered Pythagoras, her second offspring, on June 14. Peepers developed a life threatening infection that called for urgent surgery, prompting biologists to use a stuffed animal to entertain clingy Pythagoras (“Py” for short) while her mother went through a much-needed hysterectomy.
Peepers and Py have been the center of visitors’ attention at the zoo this week, as the mother leaps around her enclosure with Py attached to her back.
“In addition to Py, Peepers has a 2-year-old male who will go to her when he gets nervous, but otherwise he hangs out with the other boys,” Stith said as Peepers tucked herself away from the view of dozens of children who visited Oakland Zoo for the exhibit. “This is the first baby squirrel monkey born this year and we are expecting another one anytime now.”
It takes at least two months for baby squirrels to leave their mothers’ backs, Stith said, due to a psychological need to cling to fur. Peepers’ peers or “aunts” sometimes offer their backs to the baby to relieve the new mother.
The far eastern corner of the zoo, dubbed “Wild Australia” due to its rugged terrain, is home to the zoo’s collection of Australian species, and three baby wallaroos (known as joeys) born between November, 2011, and April, 2012, are beginning to stick their heads out of their mothers’ pouches and see their first daylight.
Lorraine Peters, a zookeeper in the African Savannah and Wild Australia section, said it takes nearly six months for joeys to start peeking out of their mothers’ pouches, and mother wallaroos can have up to three babies gestating at the same time, with one in the cloaca, another in the pouch and one outside.
“One of the remarkable things about wallaroos is that they can have three babies at the same time and they produce two different kinds of milk at the same time, nursing two babies,” Peters said. “We’ve had a total of seven wallaroos, and this is the first time we’ve had breeding going on here in nearly 10 years.”
The wallaroo is a close relative of the kangaroo, only smaller in size, Peters explained. The name wallaroo is a mix of the words “wallabee” and “kangaroo,” with wallabies being smaller and kangaroos being larger than wallaroos.
Also in the African Savanna section is new baby giraffe, nicknamed Maggi, a reticulated giraffe that was born in January.
The amphibian section of the zoo has received the most in new arrivals, with more than 200 milky frogs hatching over the last few months. Biologist Adam Fink explained that the name “milky frog” comes from the amphibian’s white color and the milky toxin it releases when it encounters a predator.
The reptile, invertebrate and amphibian section has been very demanding as keepers tend to the newly born babies, which are ignored by their mothers. “Reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates in general do not have much parental care, and we have to act like foster parents for them otherwise not many would survive,” Fink said, as he move to the toasty millipede section, which is kept at 75 degrees to keep the invertebrates warm.
“These guys are true ambassadors of their species,” he said of the over 100 newly born mini- millipedes, “and they play an important role in breaking down and cleaning up after all other animals, so we put a lot of effort into breeding them.”
As its animal population grows, the Oakland Zoo is completing a $10,8 million 17,000 square foot veterinary hospital, which the zoo’s senior marketing manager Nicky Mora said will be one of the largest animal veterinary centers in the state when complete. In the past, the zoo, which runs on an annual budget of $12 million, has had to share facilities with University of California, Davis for some of its veterinary requirements due to limited resources.
“In the future, this Veterinary Hospital will allow the Oakland Zoo Veterinary Department to expand its contributions in zoo veterinary science, education, and conservation,” Dr. Andrea Goodnight, an associate veterinarian at the Oakland Zoo said. “Our plans include further partnerships with the UC Davis Veterinary School, the California Condor Recovery Team, and many other veterinary specialists and students.”