AR-News: (OH - US) Baby animals bring in zoo crowds ("Hail the
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Sat May 1 16:24:38 EDT 2004
Baby Animals Bringing in Crowds at Zoos
By JOHN SEEWER
.c The Associated Press
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The mad dash starts as the baby African elephant saunters
into his enclosure to gnaw on twigs left behind by his zoo keepers.
Boys and girls reach into their bags for cameras, jostling to get a better
view. Shouting out ``Louie, Louie!'' in unison, they cheer as he steps closer.
For zoos, nothing draws a crowd like an adorable baby elephant or gorilla.
And at a time when public funding for zoos is limited, attracting more visitors
helps prop up the bottom line.
The 935-pound Louie, who will celebrate his first birthday Friday with a
sugar-free cake, has become the Toledo Zoo's biggest attraction.
He's on billboards and on sweat shirts that say ``He has his mother's nose.''
He's got his own DVD. When he was first shown to the public, there were
two-hour lines just to get a three-minute glimpse.
The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans started the ``Baby Boom'' marketing campaign
this spring to highlight its new arrivals - Satchmo, a rhinoceros born in
September, a baby anteater and two jaguar cubs.
``Baby animals are one of the best things you can have to bring people in -
depending on what it is,'' said Audubon Zoo spokeswoman Sarah Burnette.
A zoo babies celebration is one of the most popular events at the Cincinnati
Zoo, where pink and blue signs point the way to the newborns.
``We don't just stick to the cute and cuddly,'' said John Dinon, the zoo's
director of animal conservation. ``We've done it for insects and snakes.''
Dinon and other zoo leaders say animals are bred to save their species, and
that boosting attendance isn't their primary motivation.
The North Carolina Zoo plans a $6 million expansion for its elephant and
rhinoceros exhibit. It wants to put together the largest breeding herd of African
elephants in the nation.
Two years ago, the zoo's director, David Jones, said the best way to increase
attendance and revenue was to have a baby elephant. The larger herd also may
help replenish the aging number of captive African elephants.
``Sure we want more visitors, that's how we survive,'' said zoo spokesman Tom
Gillespie. ``But we're most concerned about the survival of the species.
They're in a crisis mode right now.''
Animal welfare groups estimate there are 400,000 to 650,000 African elephants
in the wild. While some countries say their numbers have grown in the past
decade, it's still much less than the 1970s when there were about 1.3 million
Gillespie noted that the zoo also is working to help save the shiner, a small
fish found along the North Carolina coast.
``Hardly anybody knows about that, and it's probably more endangered,'' he
The North Carolina Zoo, though, and other zoos that rely heavily on local and
state funding have been fighting to overcome cuts made in their budgets
because of dwindling tax revenues. That's forced zoos to look for money in other
ways, including increasing attendance.
All accredited zoos must follow species survival plans that are overseen by
the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Each plan manages the breeding of a
threatened or endangered species to ensure that zoos are maintaining a healthy
``There are those zoos out there that would love to breed their animals but
they've been told their animals aren't approved,'' said Jane Ballentine, a
spokeswoman for the AZA, based in Silver Spring, Md.
The Born Free Foundation, an international wildlife group based in England,
says zoos have largely been unsuccessful at breeding elephants and that their
intent is not conservation.
A year ago, it joined other animal rights organizations in an unsuccessful
attempt to stop the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park and Lowry Park Zoo in
Tampa, Fla., from importing seven African elephants from Swaziland.
``How many of those species have been returned to the wild?'' said Will
Travers, the organization's chief executive. ``I don't think any African elephants
have been returned to the wild. That to me is not about conservation. It's
Louie entered the spotlight at the Toledo Zoo when he became just the 38th
African elephant born in captivity in the United States.
Only about half survive through the first year. That's why the zoo's
marketing team waited a few months before putting Louie's face on billboards and
For the first month, keepers kept visitors out of sight, making sure that
Louie and his first-time mother bonded.
Like many zoos, Toledo had a contest to select his name. It received 8,000
suggestions in three weeks.
Now he's the star of ``Louie mania.''
Kathy Billington said that over the last year she has taken her
grandchildren, Morgan and Kevin, many times to see Louie.
``They love him,'' she said. ``It's been fun watching him grow up.''
On the Net:
Toledo Zoo: http://www.toledozoo.org
Audubon Zoo: http://www.auduboninstitute.org/zoo/
North Carolina Zoo: http://www.nczoo.org/
American Zoo Association: http://www.aza.org/
Born Free Foundation: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/bornfree.htm
04/29/04 03:15 EDT
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