Tucson is a popular tourist destination for lots of reasons – but travelers often return here because of the warm welcome they receive from Tucsonans .  This open welcome is extended every day the Reid Park Zoo, where the staff is welcoming to all, and especially mindful of guests of all ages who may have special needs.  Research has shown the many benefits of visiting a zoo and interacting with animals, and The Reid Park Zoo meets all ADA guidelines and goes above and beyond  to offer these benefits to one and all.   

For example, if  you don’t like big crowds, they can advise you of the best times to visit.  There are stroller and wheelchair rentals.   The Zoo allows trained service animals to accompany you on the grounds (except inside the aviaries, where lots of birds are just walking around), and the website even has a map to identify areas where the sensory experiences (sounds, smells, and so on) might be a bit more intense.

A magical night

But every other year, there is a magical night at the Reid Park Zoo, only open to special children, (those who are differently-abled or have special healthcare needs) and their families.  DreamNight is a free event where everyone can enjoy the Zoo without concern for social stigma, the overstimulation of larger crowds, or worries about accessibility issues.   And don’t worry – these V.I.P. children and their families never need to miss the annual event – The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum also embraces the joy and importance of this wonderful evening and hosts it on alternating years with the Zoo.   Read on to learn about the many special activities and presentations planned for the Zoo’s 2021 event. 

The Origins of DreamNight

Tucson is a wonderful fit for these DreamNight evenings, but can’t claim credit for coming up with the idea.   We have the Rotterdam Zoo, in the Netherlands, to thank for this wonderful tradition.  The first DreamNight was organized for the Rotterdam Zoo in 1996, starting out to serve children from just one specific hospital who were fighting childhood cancer.   Since then, the inclusiveness, imagination and activities offered during this event have grown exponentially as it has been adopted by more than 300 zoos in 35 different countries!    But the warmth of the reception, the interaction with keepers, animals, and volunteers, and the opportunity to experience a zoo in a fun and carefree atmosphere is central to  DreamNights all over the world.

The good people at the Rotterdam Zoo have a special hope – that all zoos and aquariums around the world will decide to reach out to their communities by hosting their own DreamNights.

 What’s Happening: DreamNight 2021 at the Reid Park Zoo

  • This year’s DreamNight is upon us!  The fun will begin for families in the parking lot, where members of the Fire Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department will have their vehicles – and even a K-9 unit – to show families and answer questions.   In the front plaza of the Zoo, children and their families can meet the Arizona Ghostbusters – a nonprofit that spreads fun and goodwill, complete with Ghostbuster Uniforms, Vehicles, and of course lots of information about slime!
  • The evening is all about creating magic and enjoyment for everyone, and the Zoo’s staff and volunteers truly cherish the opportunity to be a part of it.   It’s a wonderful time to be in the Zoo, because in the calm of the early evening, the animals often exhibit behaviors that guests might not be able to observe during the day.  Zoo keepers and volunteers will be providing special information about the animals, with presentations about the Alligator, the Jaguar, the Rhinos, the Giraffes, the Lions, and of course the beloved African Elephant herd.   
  • There is truly something planned to delight every child.     As families meander through the Zoo, marveling at the animals, they’ll also encounter some other special guests, like members of our own professional ice hockey team, the Tucson Roadrunners.  If fairy tales or seafaring adventures are more to their taste, they can interact with various princesses from Tucson Ever After and the Magic Glam Princesses, or a group of Bleed’n Heart Cove Pirates, or even Mermaid Odette.  As the sun sets, the twinkling lights throughout the grounds will add even more magic to the evening.
  • If special activities are in order, families can enter the central Event Garden, where children can play lawn games, get glitter tattoos, experience science fun from the UA’s Flandrau Science Center, and even meet some special Star Wars characters.  

The Reid Park Zoo is carrying on a wonderful tradition begun 25 years ago in faraway Rottterdam – and a group of very special children (not to mention some excited adults)  in Tucson can’t wait to be a part of it! 

The Reid Park Zoo Expansion website is not produced by the Zoo. We’re a group of concerned Tucsonans who enthusiastically support the Zoo and want you to know more about the Zoo’s value to our community, and especially the amazing animals that the RPZ works to save every day.

Let’s celebrate a relatively unknown, adorable, and appealing animal that nobody wants for a pet!    Because the Southern Tamandua truly defies description, please just click here to see some images.     How about that winsome face?   How about that handsome vest?  How about that little snout with the same circumference as a pencil?    Granted, the posture is a little odd, but really these creatures are built for life in the trees, which is why most people have never seen one.  

It’s an anteater, but….

The Southern Tamandua  (pronounced “ta –man-doo-wah”) is also called the Lesser Anteater, and they share many habits and qualities with their much larger relatives, the Giant Anteaters.  For example, both love to eat ants and termites (though tamanduas only eat about 9,000 per day, not 30,000 like their giant cousins), they have amazing sticky, barbed tongues and specialized digestion to eat those little arthropods,  they have formidable claws on their front feet, and both varieties of anteater have multi-purpose tails.   Both are also found in tropical and subtropical areas of South America.   

The most striking difference between a  Southern Tamandua and a Giant Anteater is size:   the tamandua can grow to about 2.9 feet in length and only weighs up to 18 pounds or so, while Giant Anteaters can grow up to 8 feet and 150 pounds.  Like other anteaters, tamanduas walk on their wrists with the claws facing inward, so as not to impede locomotion or unintentionally stab something.  And for both creatures, the claws’ main function is to dig into ant or termite mounds or into tree bark in search of food.

 The tails of these two relatives are also distinct.   When you picture an anteater, you probably think of a bushy tail that can be used for balance, to wrap around as a blanket, and as an important part of camouflage.    The tamanduas’ tails are really different – they are prehensile and play a big role in helping them climb and stabilizing their positions in trees.  They are covered with short fur on top, but none on the tips or underneath.  They are also used for balance on the ground,  especially when a tamandua needs to wave her frightening, 16-inch center front claws at a predator.    The tamandua is pretty ungainly on the ground, so when confronted by an enemy, running away is not an option, although a quick escape up into the trees might do the trick.  But they do have….

A secret Weapon!

Move over, skunks!   One of the tamanduas’ best defenses against predators like jaguars, margays, and cougars can deter them from quite a distance – a distinctive and distinctively foul odor!   When feeling threatened, or marking territory, these solitary creatures can use their specially-equipped anal glands to emit this most unforgettable aroma, reminding all comers that approaching them is not a pleasant experience.   After all, tamanduas just want to be left alone to forage and rest about 8 hours a day, mostly up in the trees, and to sleep the rest of the time.  Those 9,000 ants don’t provide energy to do much else.    Most tamanduas are nocturnal, maybe because they are often surrounded by swarms of flies and mosquitos during the day (could it be due to the secret weapon?) and prefer to forage under better circumstances at night.

Human/Tamandua Interaction

Well, there’s not much!   In the Amazon, some indigenous people sometimes bring tamanduas to their dwellings in order to control ants and termites.   And they are sometimes hunted for the tendons in their tails, which are used to make rope.  Luckily, the IUCN categorizes them as being of least concern – they are not in danger due to the illegal pet trade, perhaps because they’re not often seen up in the trees, or even in zoos.   

However, many U.S. zoos do have tamanduas, but usually behind the scenes.   This is the case at the Reid Park Zoo, where Southern Tamanduas (they have 3 at present) are considered Ambassador Animals, and occasionally make an appearance on the grounds and participate in educational programs in the community.    If you’re lucky you may get to see one – but whatever you do, don’t get too close or startle him (you do not want to experience the secret weapon)!    In fact, the Reid Park Zoo is especially good at tamandua care and husbandry – so far, they have been able to send 7 offspring to other zoos in the U.S., and right now one youngster is still living with his mother in Tucson!

(The Reid Park Zoo Expansion website is not produced by the Zoo! We’re a group of concerned Tucsonans who want you to know about the current and future animals that our Zoo is working to save, and the value in interacting with nature)

Well, it may not be one of those questions that keeps you awake at night, but if you’ve ever been to a zoo with a large, scaly, toothy,  primitive-looking,  grinning aquatic creature that may not move a muscle, you may have wondered whether it was an alligator or a crocodile.  These two are frequently confused, but really are separate species, and have been for the last 70 million years or so.   And one deserves their shared fearsome reputation way more than the other!


According to the Crocodile Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 24 distinct species of crocodilians living on earth, and they’re classified into three families:   the Alligatoridae, the Crocodylidae (also called “true crocodiles”), and the Gavialidae, which only include two species, Gharials and Tomistoma.  The Alligatoridae family includes Caimans, too, and there are really only two types of actual alligators, the American Alligator and the Chinese Alligator.  The Crocodylidae is a much bigger family, because these creatures live all over the world – there are 14 distinct species.  

Back to the question!   Alligator or Crocodile?

First of all, there are some well-known differences between these species.  If you see one in the wild, you can probably identify it just based on your own location – Alligators live in the southeastern U.S. and in eastern China; Crocodiles live in Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, North America (one teeny area), South America, and Central America.   And if you’re near salt water, then it’s most likely a Crocodile.   

Unless you happen to be in Dade or Monroe Counties in Florida, or in the Florida Keys, where the American Alligator and the American Crocodile coexist, pretty peacefully in general.  In fact, this is the only area in the world where the two species comingle, but they never breed because they are too genetically different.       

Let’s say you see an American Alligator and an American Crocodile side by side (from a safe distance, of course):   there are a few sure-fire ways to tell them apart.

Head shape:   Alligators have a u-shaped nose.   Crocodiles’ heads are shaped like a long-skinny V.  If you have great binoculars or a zoom lens, you may also be able to see their

Teeth:   When alligators close their jaws, their upper teeth are visible outside their mouths.   When crocodiles do the same, you can see both the upper and lower teeth outside their jaws.   Now, if the light is good, you may be able to see different

Color:  Alligators are usually dark gray – and Crocodiles are mostly light tan or olive color.   But this is affected by their environment, since concealment is an important hunting and survival strategy for them.

General Differences

Size:   Though the two species are similar in size in South Florida, in general crocodiles are larger, growing to about 19 feet, while alligators can reach around 14 feet in length. Record weight for a crocodile is 2,000 pounds, and for an alligator, only half that.    Again, a lot depends on the environments in which they live.

Speed:   Because of their long, muscular tails, both are quick and efficient swimmers.   Alligators can reach about 20 mph in the water, while crocodiles have been clocked at a maximum of 9 mph.  On land, both can “sprint” for a short time, but again the Alligator wins the race, barely:  gators can run about 11 miles per hour, while the consistent crocs run like they swim, at 9 mph.

Strength:  Since crocodiles (especially huge ones like those in Africa and Australia) are so big, they definitely are stronger than alligators.   A good measure of this is the “bite force” of the two species.  The record psi (pounds per square inch) bite force for a croc is 3,700 pounds.   The Alligator record is 2,900 psi – but you wouldn’t want to be in range of either of those sets of jaws!  Which brings us to the matter of…..

Aggression:   We know that both alligators and crocodiles have a reputation as fierce predators and scary, aggressive creatures that would love to hunt you down.    The truth is that Crocodiles are far more dangerous to humans than their smaller cousins the alligators.   In fact, most American Alligators would prefer to be as far from humans as possible – they might only attack a human if they mistook one of us for prey, or if they were defending a nest or their young.  The best advice is to give them space!   

Crocodiles, especially Australian saltwater varieties and the infamous Nile Crocodile, are more aggressive  – and as they are so large with those scary, powerful jaws, are much more to be feared by humans.   In fact, there’s actually a website called CrocBITE which keeps a database of crocodilian attacks worldwide, and they have found definitively that the Nile Crocodile is the one we should give the MOST space.      

But this is good advice for any kind of encounter with a wild animal!  Whether you happen upon a rattlesnake here in the desert, a bear in the mountains, or a gator or croc in the wetlands, the best advice is to calmly steer clear and respect the animal’s territory and space.   


So come to the Reid Park Zoo and meet their American Alligator –  but when the Reid Park Zoo expansion opens and you rush to see the Komodo Dragon, please keep in mind that he is not as closely related to the alligator as you think!    Read on if you’d like to know why crocodilians are more closely related to birds than to lizards………

The Very Beginning – The Archosaurs

Common sense tells us that two types of reptiles, such as alligators and crocodiles, that look so similar, surely have a common ancestor, and they do.   Surprisingly, this is also a common ancestor of BIRDS, so that same common sense will fail you if you assume that the alligator or crocodile you’re wondering about is just a giant aquatic lizard.  

Though crocodilians ARE reptiles, they are much more closely related, genomically speaking, to birds.    Oh, and to the delight of children especially, who can guess this without being told, they are also closely related to dinosaurs, which may account for their uniquely primordial charm.  Reptiles evolved from amphibians approximately 320 million years ago, and mammals and birds evolved from reptiles about 120-180 million years later.

Archosaurs, also called “The Ruling Reptiles,” exist in the fossil record from the early Triassic period, 245 million years ago.  They were classified by scientists in part because of their unique skull structures (with teeth in sockets and room for lots of jaw musculature).  The best-known Archosaurs were the dinosaurs, of course, some of whom had beaks and could fly.    When the late Cretaceous period ended, about 65 million years ago, most of the dinosaurs and some of the crocodilians disappeared, and it’s around this time that alligators and crocodiles had an evolutionary parting of the ways.  But it’s fair to say that today’s birds and crocodilians are not “living fossils,” as they’re often called,  but living Archosaurs.


 What do you think of when conservation comes to mind?  Is it merely a pleasant but abstract concept, or is it something that you do externally such as attending your Zoo and participating in the giraffe feed? Is it something you do daily at a more personal level, such as using less single-use plastic or recycling your bottles and towel rolls, taking shorter showers, or carpooling to work?  If your conservation actions in the larger community and in aspects of your personal life overlap, then you’re taking a step in a common,  meaningful, and impactful direction.

Start At the Zoo

The issue of conservation is complex and it permeates everything we do.   Every day and every action at The Reid Park Zoo is designed to educate the public by exhibiting concrete conservation measures.  As  members of an AZA-certified zoo ,  the staff at Tucson’s Zoo realizes that all animals in their care (those visible to you in their  habitats, as well as the ones behind the scenes who sometimes appear with an educator on Zoo grounds or travel out into the community to delight Tucsonans and advocate for conservation)  are ambassadors for their species.  These animal ambassadors enable staff to not only study animal behavior; they also allow their caretakers and the public to study them in order to bolster animal diversity and preserve the ecosystems they are part of. 

In addition to supporting conservation funds, your zoo experience envelops you in the ‘4R’ concepts of Reduce Reuse, Refuse, and Recycle. ‘Reduce’ the amount of waste you generate; ‘Reuse’ as many recyclable products as possible; ‘Refuse’ the usage of single-use products such as plastic straws; and ‘Recycle’ items that are eligible for recycling

 Phone Apps

 There are apps that can be downloaded to your smart phone to support conservation measures endorsed by Reid Park Zoo such as Seafood Watch, which allows you to learn about sustainable fishing practices and support these in your own shopping.    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has created an app to help you learn about and support sustainable palm oil practices by identifying the source of palm oil used in commonly- purchased grocery items.   About palm oil – it seems to be everywhere, but it has an outsized impact on wildlife conservation when it’s not produced sustainably.    Specifically, orangutans are a vulnerable species because of unsustainable palm oil practices, but they’re not the only ones.   Palm oil agricultural practices (and habitat loss) are central to the plight of tigers, who are critically endangered.

 Conservation Guests

 Reid Park Zoo has been lucky to host conservation enthusiasts such as Dr. Laurie Marker of ‘The Cheetah Conservation Fund ; Joel Sartori , an avid photographer whose ‘Photo Ark’ project is seeking to document the world’s animals in an attempt to foster awe and support for animal diversification; and The Anteaters and Highways project  run by Dr. Arnaud Desbiez , a project which  gets financial support from  the Reid Park Zoo.    By the way, on Dr. Desbiez’s more recent visit to Tucson’s zoo, where he offered presentations about his amazing project in Brazil, he noted how large and well-fed the Zoo’s Giant Anteaters are; this is great news, because this pair has a breeding recommendation and are being slowly re-introduced to one another this very summer!      

These are only a few of the in situ conservation projects and professionals that our Zoo supports.  You can see a more comprehensive list of the Reid Park Zoo’s conservation partners on their website (https://reidparkzoo.org/conservation/partners/).    And when the Reid Park Zoo expansion is complete, they will be actively engaged in more such projects, particularly on behalf of two critically endangered species, the Malayan Tigers and Rodrigues Fruit Bats.  Through their own research and close care, they will also be supporting threatened species such as Siamang Gibbons, Red Pandas, and Komodo Dragons.  

Personal Conservation

For a list of 50 Personal conservation measures, please check out this site .  Evidence shows that conservation permeates everything we do. No effort is too small to make a difference!  

Want to help?   Visit the Reid Park Zoo, or another AZA-accredited institution – a portion of your admission will be supporting conservation, every time.  By the way, it’s important to determine whether a zoo or aquarium has earned AZA accreditation, because only about 10% of zoos and aquariums in the U.S. meet the high standards to earn this designation.   You want to be sure you’re supporting only the best in animal care and commitment to conservation.

 At home, learn about and begin to practice the 4Rs!  Load an app or two on your phone.  If you can, send a donation to a conservation organization – there are so many established and reputable ones – that work to safeguard a species or an environment that you care about.    

Readers of that beloved classic book, Ring of Bright Water, all agree that there is no animal cuter, more active, or more fun to watch than the otter!  So do many visitors to the Reid Park Zoo. Comfortable on land and in the water, otters are superb acrobats. Visit the Zoo and you will see them bat balls and other toys around their pool and dive for toys, food, and just for the joy of it.   Sometimes their play looks like water ballet! 

Six continents are in luck

Otters live on all of the earth’s continents except Antarctica. Fish are their favorite food, although many species of otter also eat crustaceans (such as crabs) and frogs and even insects. Their typically sharp eyesight helps them to see prey, even when it is well camouflaged. They need to eat about 10% of their body weight each day. For an adult human, that would be equal to eating about 15 pounds of food a day!  Maybe if we were as active as these creatures, that might be a reasonable diet for us.

Rivers, oceans, otters

The thirteen species of otters are of two main types: river otters and sea otters. River otters, as you might guess, live in and around rivers and lakes. Sea otters, which generally are larger, live on ocean beaches and hunt for food in the ocean and in tide pools. Within each of these two categories, there are many different species. All are sleek and acrobatic and immensely curious, both on land and in the water. African spotted-necked otters, the species you can see at Reid Park Zoo, are river otters. They are found in the wild in lakes and larger rivers in a large portion of central and west Africa. 

In the mood for a romp?

Otters are so playful that a family of otters is sometimes called a “romp.” That name alone sounds like fun, doesn’t it? And in the water, a group of otters may be called a “raft” because they look like they are stuck to each other. Being very social creatures, some otter species live in groups of up to 20 individuals. How do they communicate with each other?  Mainly by using lots of different kinds of vocalizations, including chirps and whistles and growls. Different calls can warn other otters of danger or send a reassurance of safety. In one fascinating study of giant river otters, each otter family was shown to have its own “language” of vocalizations with different, distinct meanings. 

Great swimmers, and problem solvers too

Otters all have long, sleek bodies that taper into thick, muscular tails. They range from 2 to almost 6 feet long. They typically have short legs and webbed feet – the better to swim with – and those feet are tipped by sharp claws that help them to tear open their food. They will even use stones to crack open shellfish – sometimes cracking them on their chests while swimming on their backs! 

Otters’ fur is well adapted for life in the water. An under-layer, called “underfur,” is thick and soft to provide insulation, and an outer layer, made of longer “guard” hairs, helps to trap a thin layer of warm, dry air around the animals as they swim. Otters have to eat a lot to stay warm, so they may hunt for many hours each day. Keeping their skin dry not only keeps them warm, but also helps their skin to stay healthy. Large river otters have other interesting adaptations: their slit-like nostrils and ears can be closed when they swim, to keep the water out.

Family Life

A mother otter typically gives birth after two to three months of pregnancy, and the newborn pups stay in the nest, called a “holt,” for just a month or two before starting to explore every nook and cranny of their immediate surroundings.   By about two months, they start to swim, and when they are about one year old, they may leave their family to explore more broadly. Otters typically live to about 8 to 16 years old, depending on the particular species, but the oldest living river otter on record was 27 years old!  

Though her exact date of birth is unknown, Pfeiffer, the Reid Park Zoo’s female otter, is believed to be about 20 now!  If you don’t see her in the habitat with the young whippersnapper Hasani, who’s only 9, it’s probably because she’s receiving close “senior animal” monitoring in the Zoo’s state-of-the-art Health Center.  Also in the Health Center, Pfeiffer may see a few animals waiting patiently for their new homes in the Reid Park Zoo expansion, because all animals new to the Zoo undergo a period of intense medical evaluation before being released into their new homes.


Pollution and other loss of their natural habitats is forcing otters into smaller and smaller areas in the wild. Some otter species are now listed as endangered. The otters at Reid Park Zoo, African spotted-necked otters, are a species whose numbers in the wild are declining, in part because of degradation and loss of their habitats, and in part because this species has been hunted for its fur. IUCN now classifies African spotted-necked otters as “Near Threatened.”  Recent changes in IUCN designations for other species (think African Savanna Elephants) remind us that a “near threatened” designation can quickly change to a more worrisome category like “vulnerable,” so conservationists are keeping a close eye on the otters’ welfare, both in the wild and in human care.

Almost all of the animal spotlights on this site mention the IUCN and the conservation status of the animals in the Reid Park Zoo.   But what exactly does “conservation status” mean?  Read on to find out!

But First – A Pop Quiz

What do African Elephants, Asian Fishing Cats, Baird’s Tapir, Sloth Bears, Komodo Dragons, Red Pandas, Siamangs, African Elephants, Galapagos Tortoises, Lar Gibbons, Malayan Tigers, African Wild Dogs, Giant Anteaters, Poison Frogs, Lion-Tailed Macaques, Lions, Speke’s Gazelle, Ring-Tailed and Black and White Ruffed Lemurs, Rodrigues Fruit Bats, and Reticulated Giraffes all have in common?

  1.  Members of these species are already, or will soon be, in the care of the Reid Park Zoo
  2.  All are threatened in the wild and need our help
  3. Both  1 and 2

Very good!  

What do Asian Fishing Cats, Sloth Bears, Giant Anteaters, Komodo Dragons, African Lions, and Reticulated Giraffes have in common?

  1. They each have four legs
  2. They are classified as Vulnerable in the wild and need our help so they don’t become endangered
  3. Both 1 and 2

Next :   What do African Elephants, Baird’s Tapir, Poison Frogs, Red Pandas, Siamang Gibbons, Lar Gibbons, African Wild Dogs, Ring-Tailed Lemurs,  Lion-tailed Macaques, and Speke’s Gazelle have in common?

  1.  All of them either come from the Americas, Africa, or Asia
  2. All of them are Endangered in the wild and need our help
  3. Both 1 and 2

Finally, what could Malayan Tigers, Rodrigues Fruit Bats, Black and White Ruffed Lemurs, and Galapagos Tortoises possibly have in common?

  1.  All four species are fascinating and crucial to their own ecosystems
  2. All four  are Critically Endangered in the wild and will be extinct if we don’t do something soon
  3. Both 1 and 2

How did you do?  Don’t you love multiple choice tests where the answers are always “3”?   The quiz may be easy, but its purpose is completely serious.   The Reid Park Zoo is not large as zoos go, but as you can see, the amazing staff there cares for many, many species which are now threatened in the wild.

Who informs zoos and conservationists? 

But who makes the determination?   The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is an organization based in Switzerland, and it is the largest and oldest global conservation network in the world.    The IUCN is respected and consulted by government agencies around the world, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) related to conservation, the media, educational institutions, of course zoos and aquariums, and even the business community.   Its signature accomplishment is the IUCN Red List, which has to date determined the conservation status of 134,425 species.  More than 35,000 of those assessed have fallen into the” threatened” category, which means they have been designated as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered.

Three levels of threat

What exactly do those labels mean to a species?  Well, in order for a species, say the Malayan Tiger, to be considered Critically Endangered, its numbers in the wild must have plummeted (over the last 10 years or over the last three generations) precipitously, from 80 to 90%.  A species designated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN is “considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.”

 The other two designations, Endangered and Vulnerable, are a sort of step-down from Critically Endangered status – but just a small one.  In simple terms, an Endangered species is on the brink of becoming Critically Endangered if its circumstances in the wild don’t change;  likewise, a Vulnerable species is just about to become Endangered, again if humans don’t intervene to protect habitat, limit poaching and the illegal pet trade, and do our best to mitigate climate change.  

Just this summer (the week of June 20, 2021) the unwelcome news arrived that the IUCN has downgraded the status of African Savanna Elephants, like the herd at our own zoo, from Vulnerable to Endangered.  That makes the continued health of Penzi and Nandi, the two young elephants born at the Reid Park Zoo, of even greater concern.  Luckily the animal care staff monitors these two, and all the other residents of the Zoo, with extraordinarily close attention to their physical health and well being in general.  But the IUCN sometimes has good news – for example, the Giant Panda was actually upgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable on the Red List in 2016 – a testament to the power of awareness and effective conservation initiatives.

The IUCN’s latest conclusion is that approximately 28% of the species they have assessed (and this includes amphibians, mammals, birds, conifers, sharks and rays, reef corals, and crustaceans) are now threatened with extinction.   The role of SSPs (Species Survival Plans) and SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) programs is especially critical for such species in AZA-accredited zoos such as the Reid Park Zoo.  

Zoos are important

The Reid Park Zoo expansion will be protecting not only the Critically Endangered Malayan Tiger, but also the lesser-known but equally endangered Rodrigues Fruit Bat.  The Zoo would not be able to house and breed these species without the new, specialized habitats planned for them.  Likewise, The Pathway to Asia expansion  will also welcome and protect Red Pandas, Komodo Dragons, Asian Fishing Cats, and  Siamangs –  and the humans at the Zoo will do all they can to prevent these species from facing extinction.    

They can’t succeed without you

This includes you!     Members of the public can help by going to reputable zoos and aquariums; every AZA -accredited institution has made a practical and also financial commitment to support conservation initiatives on zoo grounds and also in the wild.   So if you visit a wonderful zoo, say The Reid Park Zoo, you’ll enjoy yourself, get some exercise and fresh air, and see countless amazing creatures.  Importantly, though, you’ll also be able to learn about conservation initiatives to protect and save them and their ecosystems, including what all of us can do to mitigate climate change, the biggest threat of all.  And because of the interconnectedness of everything and everyone on this incredibly biodiverse planet, helping save animals and their environments also means you’re working to benefit humans.

 So go to the zoo, love the animals, and join the good work of saving them (and us)!

Finding Serenity with the Black-Necked Swans

Tucked away in a quiet corner along the South American pathway of Reid Park Zoo are two of the most serene birds in Tucson: the lovely, black-necked swans, Delilah and Barbara. These two female companions share a tranquil grotto-type space just past the Andean Bear habitat near the entrance to the Pacu Fish and Diorama Cave where you can take a peek at some South American animal habitats in miniature, another delightful surprise in this area.

10-year-old Delilah and 3-year-old Barbara are graceful swimmers and spend most of their time in the water. Native to the wetlands of southern Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, Black-Necked Swans are the largest waterfowl in South America. Their bodies are completely white except for a striking black neck and head with a bright red knob where the beak meets the head. Like most swans, they mate for life. Throughout the day at Reid Park Zoo they can be seen either in or out of the water, nibbling on a diet of “spring mix” (baby mixed green lettuces) and nutritional waterfowl chow. For enrichment, they feast on crickets, wax worms, meal worms, whole-leaf lettuce heads, and grapes. Although our female swans are companions and not a breeding pair, they may often display nesting behaviors, such as gathering material for building nests and sitting on eggs, but any eggs produced are unfertilized and will not hatch.   

Finding serenity with the locals

This spot is one of the most enchanting and tranquil areas of the zoo. If you sit on the bench opposite the swan’s grotto, you may see and hear some of Tucson’s native birds, Mexican or great-tailed grackles, sparrows, and black-crowned night herons, nesting in the bamboo trees overhead. Just in front of the swan’s pool is a small grouping of banana plants; if you’re lucky, you might spot a reddish-purple, pod-shaped flower dangling from a stem just below a whorl of tiny bananas. Higher up in the tree canopy, branches of the South American pink floss-silk trees shade the entire area. The thorny trunks are spectacular year round, but these trees are best appreciated during the fall (September and October) when the canopy explodes in a spectacular display of pink and white funnel-shaped flowers that look like a cross between a stargazer lily and a pink cymbidium orchid. Our local bat, bird, and insect pollinators love them. 

Adding to this green reverie are the sounds of small waterfalls splashing nearby that keep the area and its inhabitants cool, one to the left of the swan’s grotto, one in the nearby Andean bear habitat, and one in the corner of the giant anteater habitat. The pools in this area are also home to many wild mallards and pintails who share the zoo animals’ water, shade, and food. Quite recently, my family observed the swans Delilah and Barbara swimming quite contentedly with a pair of mallard hybrids who were carefully shepherding four fuzzy juveniles. Their little impromptu swimming ballet was mesmerizing.  

The gifts of nature

This is a great spot in the zoo to relax, breathe deeply, and just soak in the tranquility of nature. Listening to the medley of birdsong in the morning is ideal—more benches await you in the South American Aviary nearby—but a visit any time of the day would be a boost to your mental and physical well-being. I’ve even stopped by for a few minutes on the way to my workplace. 

We’re so fortunate that another area of tranquil space will be coming soon with theReaid Park Zoo expansion’s Pathway to Asia, where you’ll be able to immerse yourself in even more birdsong inside the Wings of Wonder Aviary. Inside WOW you’ll be able to sit, observe, and even offer food to the beautiful birds of Asia.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find time to take a stroll along the South America pathway to visit the Black-Necked Swans in their grotto, walk among the trees, listen to the sounds of the water, and watch the wildlife swimming in the pools and streams. It’s a wonderful way to de-stress, and Delilah and Barbara are always willing to share the shade!

You can’t ignore a creature so flamboyant

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter the Reid Park Zoo is the new Flamingo Lagoon.  It’s the most recently completed habitat of the Reid Park Zoo expansion, and it’s right up front next to the carousel.  There you’ll find a lovely “flamboyance” of Chilean Flamingos, numbering around 27. Something always seems to be going on with this group.      You’ll see them dunking their heads in the water, flapping their wings, standing perfectly still on one leg and dozing,  preening, stiffly walking through the pools or on the grass, and even sometimes marching with great precision in mini-troops.  

They really are referred to as a flamboyance, a great description considering their beautiful pink, white, and black feathers, their distinctive black and white bills, their sinuous necks, their impressive (up to 5-foot) wingspans, and their long, thin legs that seem to bend the wrong way.  And you’ll also hear them honking, much more quietly “gabbing,” and sometimes even the flamingo version of growling.    Sometimes these sociable birds seem intensely aware of the others in the group, and sometimes an individual will sleep soundly in the midst of non-stop activity from the others. 

Where they live and what they eat

Chilean Flamingos are one of the largest of the six types of flamingos, and they come to us from South America (Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil).  There are two other South American species, Andean and Puna Flamingos.    You can find Greater and Lesser Flamingos in Africa, Greaters in the Middle East, and Caribbean Flamingos in Mexico, the Caribbean and just into northern South America.   Of course flamingos are popular and have even been introduced into Germany and The Netherlands.   And a cave painting depicting a flamingo, which is dated to about 5,000 years ago, was found in Spain!   

Chilean Flamingos live in shallow water – lakes or lagoons with brackish and alkaline waters, which have two advantages.  The flamingos’ preferred diet of algae, diatoms (a sort of super algae that does all kinds of good for biodiversity wherever it occurs), and small crustaceans thrive in these waters.   And other animals have no interest in drinking that kind of water, so flamingos don’t have to worry about predators or even competition for their favorite foods.  

Their interesting trough-shaped bills not only have dramatic black and white color on the outside, they have comb-like structures called lamellae inside.   And to obtain their food, they just need to submerge their bill in the water, turn it upside down, and sweep their heads from side to side.   Their muscular tongues take care of the suction needed to bring the goody-filled water into their bills, where the edible parts are trapped in the lamellae.  And then the tongue obligingly expels all the extra water.  These fairly light birds actually eat about 10% of their body weight in teeny-tiny bits each day!

Little ones

Flamingos live in all sorts of groups – sometimes up to 30,000.   But in order to breed, the size of the flamboyance must be between 15-18 birds.   A pair of Chilean Flamingos mate for life, and they are definitely committed to equal opportunity parenting.   First, the nest, which is really a mud mound, is constructed by both the male and female.  It looks like a sort of small volcano, surrounded by a handy moat, and is about 12 inches in diameter and 15 inches high.  This design is important to shield the egg from sudden flooding.  The nest also has a concave top to cradle a single egg.  Both parents incubate the egg for about 26 – 31 days until hatching, and often the entire flamboyance will protect it, especially from raptors in the area.  

When it first hatches, the chick is about the size of a fuzzy little gray tennis ball with a pink beak and pink puffy legs.    Both parents feed the young one  “crop milk,” which comes from the adults’ upper digestive tracts.  But at only a week old the chick can begin to practice the required feeding movement in the water, and they can also run quickly.   In huge groups, parents can always find their own chick, and he or she can find Mom and Dad, just by their individual calls!  And the devoted parents will continue feeding their hatchling for 65-70 days, until the little tyke’s bill has grown into the adult shape and is completely suited to the unique flamingo fishing technique.

So visit the Reid Park Zoo…..and look closely at the Flamingo Lagoon.   Some of the members of the flamboyance there were hatched at the Zoo and have reached “adulthood”  – so there’s a good chance we may see some mud nests under construction sometime soon!

Time for some FAQs

Question 1:  Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

Nobody is sure.   Scientists first speculated that the flamingos tucked in a leg to keep it warm, but the theory makes no sense since flamingos do very well in hot climates where they almost never need to warm themselves up.  Researchers can only speculate that this one-legged position must be comfortable for them.

Question 2:  What’s up with those backward-bending knees?

Trick question!    Those knobby pink protuberances you can see about halfway up their very thin legs are really their ankles!   They do have knees, but they’re not visible to us – they’re very near the body and hidden by feathers.  If you think about your own ankles, it’s clear that they can bend your foot either up or down – but knees can’t do the same for your lower legs.      Flamingos’ long, thin legs, by the way, allow them to wade into deeper waters than most birds in order to find food.

Question 3:   Why are they called “Flamingos?”

It’s about the vivid coloration.  Flamingo comes from the Latin, flamma, as in “flame.”   Also, it’s much easier to remember than the Chilean Flamingos’ official scientific name, which is Phoenicopterus chilensis.

Question 4:   Which animal has more cervical vertebrae (or neck bones, as we non-scientific types call them), a giraffe or a flamingo?  (O.K. –  not FREQUENTLY asked, but still a fun question)   

Both animals have extremely long, flexible necks that are perfectly suited for their unique styles of feeding.  It might be reasonable to think that the neck on an 18-foot creature ought to have more bones than the neck of a 4-foot bird.  But all mammals, including you and me, or the tiniest mouse, or a huge rhinoceros, or even a giraffe have the same number of cervical vertebrae, only seven.   The difference comes in the size of each vertebra.  On the other hand, Chilean Flamingos have 19 elongated vertebrae in their necks, allowing them to specialize the position of their necks for feeding, dancing, marching,  flying, and tucking their head and much of their neck away neatly under a wing.

Question 5:  Why do people put plastic flamingos in their front yards?   And sometimes even dress them up in seasonal decorations like Santa hats?

No one can say.

Black on white are they? 

Or maybe it’s white on black. 

But why have those stripes anyway? 

 The zebra:   A kind of “horse,” yes, but a horse of a very different stripe! 

Zebras are hooved mammals, members of the greater equine family that also includes horses and donkeys. They resemble horses, but they are stockier, closer to donkeys. And of course, unlike horses or donkeys, zebras are covered with those dazzling black and white stripes.

Three different species

The three species of zebras – Grevy’s zebras, plains zebras, and mountain zebras – differ in size and coloration. Grevy’s, the kind at the Reid Park Zoo, are the largest, at about 900 pounds, 5 feet tall at the shoulder, and 8 feet long. Plains and mountain zebras are 1-2 feet shorter and about 200 pounds lighter. Within each zebra species, males and females are about the same size. 

How about those stripes?

Like fingerprints in humans, no two zebras have the same pattern of stripes. But does a zebra have black stripes on white fur or white stripes on black fur? The fact that a zebra’s fur is white in regions that don’t have stripes (often, the belly and parts of the legs) makes many people say that the pattern is black stripes on white fur. But under those stripes in its fur, a zebra’s skin is all black, and that makes other people say that the pattern is white stripes on black. What do you think? 

Grevy’s, plains, and mountain zebras wear their stripes in different ways. They all have a dark dorsal stripe that extends from forehead to tail. Beyond that, Grevy’s zebras’ stripes are the narrowest of the three; they are all black and white, and they extend over the zebra’s head, neck, back and sides, and legs down to the hooves. A mountain zebra has vertical stripes on its neck and torso, but wider and fewer stripes on its haunches and rump. Many plains zebras have “shadow” stripes: dark and white stripes where their dark stripes alternate color between black and brown.

The enduring mystery

Don’t you wonder why zebras have stripes, though? Maybe you learned an answer from the children’s book, “How the Zebra Got Its Stripes.” The San people of the Kalahari Desert and the Bush People of Kenya tell an ancient story about a long-ago fight between a baboon and an all-white zebra, with the zebra ending up getting scorched by a fire in a striped pattern. (The same story explains why baboons have no hair on their rumps!) 

Scientists have wondered about zebra stripes for years, too. An early idea was that the stripes help to camouflage the animals, particularly in a herd, where the stripes might make it harder for a predator to pick out individual animals to attack. Maybe this is why a herd of zebras is called a “dazzle!” Apparently, if you paint vertical stripes on a wall, zebras will tend to stand next to it, so the zebras themselves might vote for this “camouflage” hypothesis. But scientists have found that predators like lions and hyenas can only see a zebra’s stripes when they are less than 10-20 feet away, so stripes probably wouldn’t make zebras less visible to predators that were farther away. 

Another idea – that the unique patterns of different individuals could help other members of their herd to tell them apart – might be right, but we know that other species of social animals can distinguish individuals in their herd without any of them having stripes. The stripes could function as a “name tag,” but it is not clear whether that function would drive the evolution of something as unusual as the zebra’s stripes. 

Some recent experiments with flies, zebras, and horses wearing black-and-white-striped covers support a stranger hypothesis: that the stripes on a zebra create an optical illusion that makes it difficult for flies to gauge distance and land properly on the zebra’s hide. If flies can’t land, they can’t bite the zebra, so maybe the stripes are a novel kind of insect repellant.   Whatever hypothesis you favor, it is clear that the debate about the zebra’s stripes is not over yet! 


Zebras are African animals, but the original ancestors of zebras, horses, and donkeys first arose in North America about 4 million years ago, then spread to Europe and Asia. The zebra lineage separated from the others and spread into Africa about 2-2½ million years ago. 

Zebras live in savannahs, grasslands, shrublands, and some woodlands. Wild Grevy’s zebras are now found only in protected game reserves in east Africa, mainly in Kenya. Plains zebras are much more abundant than Grevy’s, and they are found in wide areas of eastern and southern Africa. Mountain zebras are between the others in numbers and they are found mainly in southwestern Africa and in several scattered locations in South Africa. 

Going where the grass is greener

Zebras in east Africa participate in what is called the Great Migration – a seasonal movement of millions of wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras and antelopes between their winter range in Kenya and their summer calving grounds in Tanzania, over 100 miles away. Mountain zebras in southwestern Africa seasonally migrate even greater distances. These migrations are a natural result of seasonal changes in rainfall and vegetation – the animals go to where the grass is green! 

It’s all about grazing

Zebras mostly graze on grass, but also will eat leaves, stems, and the bark of bushes. During the Great Migration with wildebeest and antelopes, the zebras often get to new pastures first. Rather than eating the grass down to its roots, though, the zebras bite off just the tops of the grasses, leaving plenty of food for the wildebeest and antelopes that “get to the table” after them. When not migrating, zebras spend more than half of their day grazing. 

Rambling Females

The different species of zebras have different social structures. Grevy’s zebras form herds whose membership is loose and changeable. Males usually establish territorial domains, and females roam through them, from one male’s domain to another’s. In contrast, plains and mountain zebras form into more stable herds, with one dominant male (the stallion) and several females (mares) and foals. All zebra species also form some all-male “bachelor” herds. 


After a gestation of about 13 months, a pregnant zebra gives birth to a single foal. Foals stand and walk within minutes after birth. Foals’ stripes are brown and white at birth and darken to black and white with age. Grevy’s foals stay with their mother until they mature, and then leave the group. Zebras are preyed upon by lions, leopards, wild dogs, and hyenas. When they cannot outrun a predator (their top speed is about 40 mph!), they defend themselves with powerful kicks of their extremely hard hooves. Grevy’s zebras live for 20-25 years in the wild and for 25-30 years in human care in. 


Grevy’s zebras are listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with fewer than 2,000 of them left in the wild.    Plains zebras are much more abundant (150,000-250,000 in the wild), so the IUCN classifies them as Near Threatened, but their numbers are declining. Mountain zebras are classified as Vulnerable, but the good news is that their numbers are estimated to be increasing! 

Stripes in Tucson

Advisory:  a real groaner of a pun is coming up!

The Reid Park Zoo currently has two Grevy’s zebras, a male and a female that are named Ben and Anna. Together, they are “Ben-Anna” – like the yellow fruit you peel to eat, get it? 

As part of the Species Survival Plan established for Grevy’s zebras by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the RPZ is allowing Ben and Anna to breed, in the hope that they will produce offspring and maintain diversity in the gene pool of Grevy’s zebras in human care. In fact, on July 4, 2020, Anna gave birth to a male foal, which was very exciting. Sadly, though, the new foal died suddenly a few days after birth, as regularly happens in the wild, in this case probably from a spinal injury. Zoo visitors and the Zoo’s staff hope that Anna will birth a new foal in the future. Zebras’ 13-month gestation will allow plenty of warning for everyone to think about possible names for a new zebra foal! 

And once the Reid Park Zoo expansion opens, you might be interested to compare the striping pattern on zebras with the stripes on another beautiful and threatened species, the Malayan tigers!  Whichever patterns you prefer, you’ll be helping the species just by visiting the Zoo. 

Monsoon Diversions: A Primate Primer

As the heat and monsoon rains of the desert southwest force us indoors, I thought it might be a good time to dust off that old black and white Composition notebook (you know the one) and reminisce about your early school days. I’d like you to revisit Biology class, when you were first introduced to some of the longest lists in the world, those of the animal, vegetable, and mineral variety. To keep it manageable, let’s just focus on the animals and one Order in particular, the Primates. 

A master list maker classifies…everything on the planet 

Classifying animals has never been an easy task. Carl Linnaeus didn’t attempt his first comprehensive list of animals until the 10th edition of Systema Naturae (1758), his encyclopedic catalog of everything on the planet. To make the list more manageable, Linnaeus and the scientists who came after him divided the Primates into two suborders based on their morphology (size, shape, color, and structure): The Prosimians and the Anthropoids/aka Simians. Think of the Prosimians as pre-Simians (before Apes) on the evolutionary time scale.

Modern DNA technology has shaken things up since then, and distinguishing one species from another remains an ongoing process. In the 21st century, because we can study an organism’s DNA or genome, classification is based on evolutionary history, or phylogeny. In biology, the term phylogenesis means how a species develops and diversifies and how species are related by common ancestors.  

While we may quibble with the content of Linnaeus’ lists, we can be grateful for his idea about naming things. He formalized a standard binomial nomenclature, the two-name system of identifying organisms. The first name, the generic part, identifies the genus, and the second name, the specific part, identifies the species. Unless you’re a biologist, you don’t need to memorize these names; it’s just comforting to know that a standardized system for naming exists.

It’s all down to noses 

Even if you’re not an evolutionary biologist, there are some simple ways you can classify Primates. A good place to start is to identify the continents where these animals live in the wild. You’ll find that Apes live in Africa and Asia, Prosimians in Africa and Asia, and Monkeys in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Exception: A single species of Monkey, the Barbary Macaque, lives in Gibraltar, so technically, Europe. 

Linnaeus differentiated the two Primate suborders based on the structure of their noses.  It’s a good bet the noses aren’t the FIRST things you’ve noticed when seeing a primate, but they will be from now on.

 Create your own handy reference for the next time you visit the zoo.  On a sheet of paper (or mentally), draw a large circle,  and then draw a straight line down from the top to the bottom dividing the circle in half. Each Primate suborder gets half a circle. 

  Here’s a quick glossary.   To describe all these noses in scientific terms, Linnaeus turned to the Greeks. 

Strepsis, a turning around (like a squiggly comma)

Haplo, onefold, single, simple

Platu (Platy), flat or broad (like a plate)

Kata (Cata), down

These prefixes are all attached to the infix Rhin (Rhine), meaning nose

Now that you’re in the know, label one side of the circle Strepsirhines to represent the primitive Prosimians. These species have a wet or moist rhinarium (tip of nose) just like your dog or cat, are heavily reliant on their sense of smell, and are primarily nocturnal. They live in Africa and Asia and include:

  • Lemurs, who live only on the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa and nowhere else in the world
  • Lorises, who live in Asia
  • Loris-related animals, Galagos (Bushbabies) and Pottos, who live in Africa

Label the other side of the circle Haplorhines to represent the Anthropoids/aka Simians. These species have a dry or simple nose (lack of a rhinarium), rely heavily on vision, and are primarily diurnal. They live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and include:

  • Tarsiers, quirky creatures who live only in Asia and share some characteristics with both suborders. Because they are a dry-nosed species, we list them here. 
  • Monkeys and Apes, a huge group of dry-nosed species which are further differentiated by the shape of their nose and orientation of their nostrils. On your drawing, divide the Haplorhine space into two parts and add two more labels. 
  • Platyrrhines, Monkeys who live only in Latin America (Mexico, Central America, and South America). They have a dry or simple nose that is flat with outward-facing nostrils. For Platyrrhine Monkeys, visualize a Common Squirrel Monkey, a Capuchin, or a Marmoset.
  • Catarrhines, represented by two superfamilies of Monkeys and Apes, who live in Africa and Asia except for that single exception, the Barbary Macaque living in Gibraltar. They have a dry or simple nose that is narrow with downward- or forward-facing nostrils. For Catarrhine Monkeys, visualize a Baboon, a Macaque, or a Mandrill. For Catarrhine Apes, visualize a Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Gibbon, or Orangutan. 

If you examine a Primate’s nose and ask yourself these questions—1) does the species have a wet nose/rhinarium or a dry nose?  and 2) if dry, are the nostrils flat and outward-facing or narrow and downward- or forward-facing?  You are well on your way to classifying these animals. 

Would you like to test those classification skills??   Well, there’s a perfect opportunity right in the heart of Tucson.

Visiting Primates at Reid Park Zoo!

If you’d like to spend a great morning outside in nature, I encourage you to stop by the Reid Park Zoo and visit the Primates who live there. Just inside the front plaza area, you can begin your tour by navigating counterclockwise through the areas representing Asia, South America, and Africa. Each Primate’s official conservation status, as determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature ,is provided.

Lar Gibbon, Endangered, a Lesser Ape species from Southeast Asia

LOCATION: From the Chilean Flamingo lagoon, follow the main path between the carousel on the left and the Flamingo house on the right. 

Meet 48-year old Billy, Reid Park Zoo’s geriatric Lar gibbon. Famous for his morning territorial song. Eats fruit (loves bananas), nutritional primate biscuits, plant material, occasionally insects or even a small bird. Known for his brachiating skills, swinging hand over hand from ropes in his habitat. Sometimes seen sleeping in a sitting position with his hands resting on his knees.

Common Squirrel Monkey, Least Concern (but exploited), a Monkey species from South America

LOCATION: Continue south a few steps, then turn right towards the South America Loop. Turn left and pass the Jaguar habitat.

Presenting  7-year-old females Glitter and Sparkles and 4-year-old male Parker, the zoo’s young troop of squirrel monkeys. Fast-moving, extremely playful. Eat insects, small vertebrates, fruit, nectar, and flowers. Enjoy foraging and figuring out food puzzles. Reid Park Zoo supports the Species Survival Plan. 

Ring-Tailed Lemur, Endangered, a Lemur species from Madagascar off the coast of Africa

LOCATION: Find your way back to the main path. Continue south up the hill and around the corner, bearing right at the Otter habitat, and make your way just a few feet past the Lion pavilion, the roofed structure with bench seating. 

You’ll be delighted to see 9-year-old brothers Oak, Elm, and Linden who came to Tucson from Saint Catherine’s Island, a sanctuary for endangered and near-extinct animals and birds off the coast of Georgia. Most terrestrial of all Lemur species but enjoy climbing ropes and trees in their habitat. Often seen walking with tails erect or perched on platforms with tails hanging down. Eat fruit, nutritional primate biscuits, seeds, nectar, and leafy greens. When cold, cuddle together in one big Lemur ball. Reid Park Zoo supports the Species Survival Plan.   

Lion-Tailed Macaque, Endangered, a Monkey species from India in Asia

LOCATION: Go south towards the Pollinator Garden, then right to the Conservation Learning Center building.

You may need to look up to meet geriatric Macaques Hadji, a 29-year-old male, and Baniece “Beanie,” a 33-year-old female, both born at Reid Park Zoo. If not moving through the lower branches of their trees or on the ground foraging, may be perched up high above you. Eat fruit, seeds, leaves, nutritional primate biscuits, lizards, and insects. Enjoy popsicles or chewing on ice cubes during the hot Tucson summer. 

One more species you can visit now  – and soon we’ll also have the Siamang Gibbons in the Reid Park Zoo expansion….and you won’t want to miss them!   But it’s time to mention the

Black and White Ruffed Lemur, Critically Endangered, a Lemur species from Madagascar off the coast of Africa

LOCATION: Go to the east side of the zoo, near the Alligator and African Wild Dog habitats.

Meet 8-year-old female Tallie and 16-year-old male Junior, a very athletic pair of primarily arboreal Lemurs. Enjoy climbing and hanging from the branches and ropes in their habitat. Tallie has orange eyes. Loud vocalizations when annoyed or startled, sometimes audible from the parking lot. Eat fruit, leaves, seeds, and nectar. Often seen doing what can only be described as Lemur yoga poses. Reid Park Zoo supports the Species Survival Plan. 

Hope for them and for us

The conservation status for most of these species is grim. About a third of all Lemurs are Critically Endangered—one step from Extinction—and the remaining two-thirds are Endangered and threatened with extinction. In mainland Africa, 53% of all Primate species are under threat. 

At the heart of this crisis is a dire need for alternative, sustainable livelihoods to replace the current reliance on deforestation and unsustainable use of wildlife. Humans need to drastically change their relationship to other primates. 

What’s in it for us? A 2020 article in the Smithsonian Magazine confirmed that people living in awe of nature—having that feeling of “being small in the face of nature”—felt more generous and kinder. Experiencing that same sense of awe is also thought to boost the immune system and sense of creativity.  

By visiting the zoo, you’re helping these incredible primates and other species come back from the brink of extinction. A portion of your admission supports the scientists and conservation organizations working with these species in the wild. 

Think about it

The Primates at Reid Park Zoo representing their cousins in the wild are the face of nature. With the planet’s human population now more than 7 1/2 billion, we vastly outnumber them. When you meet them, appreciate their wildness and experience that sense of awe. Think about your own use of our planet’s resources, how you shop, how you travel, and what you eat. Reflect on how your habits affect the lives of your fellow humans and your fellow Primates. 

You can take action

Humans are a resourceful species, and there is a lot we can do to support our fellow Primates. 

  • Take a stand against the illegal pet trade
  • Stop watching videos or films that feature wild animal “selfies” or “domesticated” exotic animals
  • Practice the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Repurpose, Recycle, and Reuse
  • Shop sustainably: Use reliable Eco Apps and look for Eco/Green symbols or labels to guide you, such as Sustainable Palm Oil, Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, Seafood Watch, and Forest Stewardship Council
  • Reduce your carbon footprint by ridesharing, cycling, and walking when you can
  • Reduce your carbon footprint by supporting local makers, crafts people, ranchers, and farmers 

When we change our lives, we’ll change their lives. 

On behalf of their counterparts in the wild, all the Primates at Reid Park Zoo—the spry senior, Billy, the energetic youngsters, Glitter, Sparkles, and Parker, the playful brothers, Oak, Elm, and Linden, the nimble seniors, Hadji and Beanie, and the spunky couple, Tallie and Junior—thank you!