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Franklin Park Zoo celebrates spring baby boom


Spring in New England means chirping songbirds and flowers blooming. At the Zoo, another sure sign of spring is the arrival of new furry and feathered faces.

On April 24, there was much excitement as a tiny wattled crane chick hatched, marking the first time this species has ever hatched at Franklin Park Zoo. The chick appears healthy, strong and curious, exploring the outdoor habitat alongside its parents. At a routine check-up on May 4, the hatchling weighed just under 10 ounces. First-time parents Hansel and Zoolander have taken to parenthood very well; they were recently seen by staff shielding the chick from the spring showers.

The arrival of the chick represents years of dedicated work and understanding of this species, which can be challenging to breed in human care due to small clutch sizes and an irregular breeding cycle. Frederick Beall, a crane expert and retired longtime former General Curator at Zoo New England, provided his guidance and expertise, which assisted the staff greatly in preparing for and welcoming the wattled crane chick.

“We couldn’t be happier about the successful hatch,” said John Linehan, President and CEO of Zoo New England. “Wattled cranes are a magnificent species and we’re excited for the opportunity for our guests to watch the chick grow.”

Growing up to nearly 6 feet tall, the wattled crane is the largest of all African cranes. Wattled cranes are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species due to human activity like hunting, loss of wetlands, drought, pesticides and climate change.

Zoo New England’s Franklin Park Zoo, which has been home to wattled cranes since 1993, participates in the Wattled Crane Species Survival Plan. By sharing research and knowledge, participating institutions work together to establish guidelines that best ensure the health of captive populations, and with success, the survival of endangered species. The birth was a recommended breeding between the male and female.

A day after the wattled crane chick hatched, prairie dog pups made their exhibit debut at the prairie dog habitat within Nature’s Neighborhoods. Currently, guests can see five small new furry faces in the growing colony.

It’s a sure sign that spring has officially arrived when the tiny pups begin emerging from their burrows, which extend about 12 feet underground. The first pup was seen on April 25, and the care team has been closely monitoring the pups to ensure a smooth transition from their underground home to the world above.

The pups’ birth date is estimated to have been around March 15. Pups are born blind and hairless, and do not make an appearance outside of the burrow until they are about six weeks old. The pups can now be seen exploring the prairie dog habitat alongside the adults. Both male and female prairie dogs help raise the young. Because the pups are born underground, the care team will not know how many pups were born this season until they all leave the burrows, which should happen by the end of May.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are not actually dogs at all. They are small, stout, tan rodents with a lightly white or buff-white belly. They have short black tails, small ears, dark eyes and long claws used for digging.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are found in short-grass prairie habitats of western North America, from southern Saskatchewan down to northern Mexico. They form complex, widespread underground burrow systems, and avoid areas of heavy brush or tall grass due to reduced visibility. Prairie dogs live in what are called towns or colonies. These colonies are further divided into territorial neighborhoods called wards. Within the wards are coteries, which are family groups comprised of a male, one to four females and offspring under two years old.