Rio's zoo a maternity ward for endangered species
Rio De: Rio's zoo has been abuzz with activity in recent months, welcoming new arrivals to its collection of animals as it battles to try to save many of the nation's endangered species.
Among its rare residents are the black-collared anteater, the Ararajuba Golden Parakeet and the yellow-breasted capuchin -- just some examples of Brazil's rich and colorful wildlife threatened by extinction.
Now to ensure their survival, the Rio de Janeiro zoo has morphed into a maternity ward of sorts, with some of these animals being born in captivity for the first time.
In the heart of the historical Sao Cristovao neighborhood, close to Rio's open-air football stadium of Maracan, the zoo is home to over 500 mammals, 900 reptiles and 1,000 birds representing 400 species from the Brazilian ecosystem.
"This is the first time species like the anteater or toucan birds with spotted beaks have reproduced. These births prove thatthese species are well adapted to captivity," biologist Rodrigo Costa said with delight.
He noted that the Tamuanda-Mirim anteater faces extinction in Rio state, as it is originally from the Atlantic Forest.
This humid tropical forest, which covered Brazil’s entire coast when it was discovered in 1500, is considered the richest, most diverse ecosystem in the world. But the forest will disappear within 40 years if it continues to be destroyed at the current pace.
Having animals reproduce and successfully give birth in captivity is no easy task and requires much patience.
"For toucans, we studied how they adapted, what they ate, how they made their nest and the couple itself. We switched around males and females until they really got along," Costa explained. The successful couples are the proud parents of two little ones.
When temperatures peaked at over 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) during the southern hemisphere's record-breaking February summer, he had to pierce bird nests to aerate them, he said.
Bears and wolves were fed frozen fruit and ice creams.
Among the hundred or so newborns from endangered species at the zoo are the scarlet ibis, the little Ararajuba Golden Parakeet and the Cuxiu primates of the Amazon (Black-bearded Saki or Chiropotes satanas), whose black beards give them a devilish look.
The yellow-breasted capuchin (Golden-bellied Capuchin or Cebus apella xanthosternos) is among the 25 most endangered primate species in the world.
"These births in Rio are an important gain for preservation," explained another biologist, Anderson Mendes Augusto.
Experts estimate that about 300 of these monkeys remain in the wild in the northeastern state of Bahia.
Around 25 of them are now held at the zoo, which is planning to reintroduce the primates to their natural habitat, an operation fraught with risk for animals born in captivity and not well adapted to the trials of surviving independently in the wild.
Opened in 1888, the Rio zoo is Brazil's oldest. It is now based in the park of the former Portuguese imperial family's residence.
The president of the Rio zoo foundation, Monica Valeria Blum, calls it the "most visited site" in Rio, ahead even of the Christ the Redeemer statue at the peak of the Corcovado Mountain, boasting some 100,000 visitors per month.