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Louisville Zoo, Part Three

The Louisville Zoo is a leader in animal preservation. Steven R. Taylor, assistant director of conservation, education, and collections, said the zoo is part of the Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Among the endangered species at the zoo is the Western Lowland gorilla, and the zoo’s 4-acre Gorilla Forest is home to 10 of them.

“Gorillas are considered to be critically endangered,” Taylor said. “The Western Lowland gorilla, which is the type that you’ll see here at the zoo, there’s probably more of them than maybe the other types of gorillas. There’s maybe 100,000.” Their relatively plentiful numbers, he said, are due to the fact that it’s hard for people to get to parts of west central Africa where the gorillas make their home. They are still considered to be critically endangered.

Most zoo gorillas today were born in captivity. The Louisville Zoo’s newest gorilla is Kindi, who was born on March 14, 2016, via Caesarean section. Kindi’s mother died the next day from complications. “So around the clock care started at that point,” he said. In August 2016, the zoo introduced Kindi to one of the adult females in the group, Kweli, who acts as her surrogate mother.

Black-footed Ferret Program

The black-footed ferret is another animal the zoo is helping to save from extinction. Since 1990, the zoo has produced over 1,000 kits (baby ferrets) and provided more than 700 ferrets for reintroduction to their native American Plains habitat.

The black-footed ferret is one of the rarest animals in North America, said Guy Graves, zookeeper and Conservation Center manager. The animal had been declared extinct until a small population was discovered in Wyoming in 1987.

The adult ferret is 18-24 inches long (including tail) and weighs 1.5 to 3 pounds. They look similar to domesticated ferrets, but these ferrets live out west and feed on prairie dogs. “If you’ve ever seen a prairie dog, it’s actually quite a bit bigger than they are,” he said.

Graves said the zoo keeps the kits in a quarantine facility. “These guys are susceptible to certain diseases such as canine distemper, and if [a visitor) is bringing it into the building, you’d most likely bring it in on the bottom of your shoes. That’s why you take off your shoes.”

Ferrets are born in the spring, and when they are about 9 months old, they would typically be on their own in the wild. At that point, the Louisville Zoo sends them to a ferret conservation facility out west, which releases them into the wild after about a month.

“It’s kind of a boot camp. Because they basically are exposed to prairie dogs to make sure they’re able to kill, and then they’re released,” he said. Taylor said the black-footed ferret program is the zoo’s flagship conservation program.

Watch Part Two of Kentucky Life’s Louisville Zoo series here.

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2211, which originally aired on February 25, 2017. Watch the full episode.