January 24, 2019

Animal care is at the heart of what we do every day at the Zoo. Our staff is so busy that when a year concludes, it seems to have flown by so quickly. Now that 2018 is over, it’s a good time to look back and smile at our hard work. Our curators and zoological managers from each animal unit selected their favorite 2018 accomplishment for animal care.

Children's Zoo

The new pollinator play space at the Children’s Zoo  gives all of us something to be proud of! An important goal of the Children’s Zoo is to provide children and their caregivers a safe place to play and explore, while learning about animals at the same time. This new nature play space checks every box: play opportunities; the chance to learn about native Missouri pollinators such as birds, bees and butterflies; and gentle animals to see and touch under the guidance of our friendly staff. Children can plant artificial flowers in the accessible garden beds, pose as a butterfly in the colorful photo op, and watch birds at the feeders or bugs on the native flowers. Box turtles are on view, and staff is often present with snakes or owls in hand to discuss the importance of these native species. This new play space is our significant achievement for 2018: come check it out!

- Alice Seyfried, Curator of the Children’s Zoo


My proudest accomplishment this year was working with bird staff to come up with safe ways to be able to leave our tropical bird species outside longer.

Here in the Midwest, temperatures can fluctuate pretty significantly in the matter of hours in the fall and spring. One day, we can have temperatures in the 60s, the next day, down to 40, then back up to 70. In the past, we had always brought these birds in to their winter quarters by mid-October. Once the birds were moved inside, they would not go back out until spring, which means they’d miss out on the last of our beautiful days.

This past year, however, we wanted to give the birds more choices in order to safely enjoy our fall weather and the last of the warm sunshine before winter set in. Staff came up with novel ways to offer heat, windbreaks and barn access so that the birds could make the choice to come in or stay outside longer. This lengthened their time outside by a full month, and for some species, even longer.  

-Anne Tieber, Curator of Birds


The year 2018 has been a special one for the Zoo’s carnivore team. Being part of the remarkable birth of eight cheetah cubs, plus watching mom, Bingwa, rear all eight cubs on her own has been an extremely rewarding experience for myself and the carnivore unit. Bingwa has shown exemplary care of her large family of cubs since their birth. She has taught them to eat solid foods and how to play and chase, and she’s helped them develop skills that will be needed when they reach adulthood. She truly continues to live up to her name Bingwa, which in African Swahili means “Champion.”

- Steve Bircher, Curator of Mammals/Carnivores


In the Primate Unit, 2018 exemplified teamwork as a key to excellent animal care.

At Jungle of the Apes, we welcomed a male chimpanzee, Kijana, from the Little Rock Zoo. Integrating a chimp is not easy and presents numerous challenges. Our team spent months learning about Kijana to develop a plan for his introduction. But these plans must be fluid, and they are modified continually based on the behavior of the animals. The experience and teamwork of our team—along with nine amazing chimpanzees—resulted in a successful integration of Kijana into our chimp family.

The Primate House had its own unique challenge with the birth of mongoose lemur Princess Buttercup. Mother Dahlia cared for the baby, but she did not successfully nurse her. This meant that the team fed Princess Buttercup her formula 24 hours a day for months, until she was fully weaned. The result is the first successful mongoose lemur baby at the Saint Louis Zoo and for the conservation of this critically endangered species.

-Heidi Hellmuth, Curator of Primates


In 2018, we hatched roughly 100 of the rare David Bowie spiders (pictured below.) Yes, you read that correctly. German scientist Peter Jäger named this species after singer David Bowie in a nod to his music and eclectic appearance. These large and showy huntsman spiders were first described to science only 10 years ago. Very few institutions are working with them, and baseline data gained from our population will contribute to conservation of this and similar species.

We were also thrilled to announce the hatching of 36 dragon-headed katydid. This large omnivorous katydid lay their eggs in the trunks of growing banana plants. This marks the first time they have reproduced at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Last but not least, we had some significant firsts for beetle emergence. Seven adult elephant beetles and just under 10 adult metallic pincher beetles emerged at the Monsanto Insectarium. These beetles required significant attention from our staff during their long larval stage, before they emerged as adults. The information we learned about their needs and requirements can tell us a lot about the needs in the wild for these little-known species.

-Bob Merz, Zoological Manager of Invertebrates

In addition to educating our guests through displays, we celebrated World Turtle Day, Tomistoma Day, Salamander Saturday, World Frog Day and World Snake Day. We provided our guests with extra information and educational opportunities to promote species conservation.

Seven Armenian vipers were born as part the department’s WildCare Western Asia Center, and the Herpetarium  also successfully reproduced Dwarf Caiman, Long-nosed vipers, Horned Pit Vipers and the first captive breeding of the Tokara Habu in the United States.

But the most notable accomplishment of 2018 has been the hatching second-generation Ozark hellbenders. This historic achievement not only great news for the continued propagation of this species at the Zoo, but also the capability of released individuals to successfully breed and repopulate in wild rivers.

-Lauren Augustine, Curator of Herpetology

Nutrition Center

The Saint Louis Zoo is dedicated to providing animals with nutritious diets. One of the ways the Zoo provides a fresh diet to the animals is through a partnership with Ameren Missouri. Ameren Missouri regularly prunes trees that threaten power lines, and its team delivers those leafy tree branches to the Zoo for us to feed to the animals. Browse is an important food source for many of our animals, including giraffes, gorillas, elephants, black rhinoceros, colobus monkeys, gazelles and tree kangaroos. In the summer of 2018, Ameren Missouri brought us deliveries twice each week, bringing one or three loads of browse each day. Each load weighed approximately 1,200 lbs. That means we were able to feed (or freeze for later) 2.4 tons of browse each week! Over six months, we received over 45 tons of browse. We are proud of meeting this critical need for the animals and growing this collaborative partnership with Ameren Missouri.

 - Deb Schmidt, Ph.D., William R. Orthwein, Jr. Family Animal Nutritionist

Ungulates and Elephants

In 2018, our proudest moment in the Red Rocks area was celebrating the birth of the 200th Speke’s gazelle born at the Saint Louis Zoo! Our Zoo has had a long, successful history of conserving this endangered gazelle, which is found only in Somalia. In 1964, our Zoo celebrated the first birth of this species in all of North America. Since then, we have been deeply dedicated to the care and preservation of this small and fragile gazelle. Our animal care team has honed the specialized skills required for this species over the years, and it has paid off—we have had Speke’s gazelle births every year since 1971. The Zoo has had more Speke’s gazelle births than any other zoo worldwide, with 100 calves born since 2001, including eight calves born just in 2018 alone! We celebrated the first-ever Speke’s Gazelle Day on July 19, the 200th day of 2018. Through social media, our community had an opportunity to help name the 200th-born calf, and selected the name Lincoln, which is in line with the theme used when naming the 100th-born Speke’s gazelle, Penny.

The Saint Louis Zoo is a leader in elephant care and welfare.  In 2018, the Zoo and its River’s Edge elephant care team joined the collaborative AZA Elephant Welfare Initiative at the highest level as an Institutional Partner. This Initiative is the result of a successful collaboration between the AZA elephant community and the AWARE Institute that began in 2012 when 68 accredited North American zoos collaborated with independent researchers to complete the most complex, non-invasive animal welfare study ever undertaken in zoos or in the wild. The results of this study led to the development of the Elephant Welfare Initiative, a science-based online framework that allows zoos to track, assess and enhance elephant welfare.  Through this effort, the Saint Louis Zoo and other Elephant Welfare Initiative partners have taken a tremendous step in the right direction for the future of science-based zoo animal welfare assessment and enhancement.  The processes, tools and software being developed through this Initiative will not only enhance elephant welfare, but also will pave the way for other welfare innovations for other species/taxa in the future. 

- Martha Fischer, Curator of Mammals/Ungulates and Elephants