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Baby animals abound at Franklin Park Zoo

It’s a sure sign of spring: flowers are blooming, grass is greening and baby animals are drawing “oohs” and “awws” throughout Franklin Park Zoo. The three new arrivals—a Hartmann’s mountain zebra, a yellow-billed stork and a wattled crane—are each important for the future success of each species as well as testament to the Zoo’s expert care. And to hear guests gush, it is clear they are a visitor highlight too!

Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra
A first at Franklin Park Zoo

A Hartmann’s mountain zebra arrived in the wee hours of April 24, the first of this zebra species to be born at Franklin Park Zoo. While it is completely normal for zebra foals to be born at night, the animal care team was still delightfully surprised to find the foal up and walking with its mother that morning. This is the first foal born to Khumalo, 5 years old, and Khomas, 6 years old.

“We are thrilled to welcome this foal to our Serengeti Crossing as it’s an exciting first for the Zoo,” said Assistant Curator Chris Bartos. “The care team has been observing the foal eagerly nursing and sprinting about the large outdoor spaces behind the scenes. As a first-time mother, Khumalo has been very attentive and we’re pleased to see the pair interacting normally with the other zebras in the habitat.”

Zoo veterinarians followed up with a routine exam on April 25. While the animal care team helped hold the foal, veterinarians conducted a physical exam, took blood samples for routine testing, and weighed the male foal, who weighs 69 pounds.

Hartmann’s mountain zebras are a hardy species from harsh, rocky areas in Namibia, Angola and South Africa. Hard, pointed hooves help them navigate the mountainous terrain in search of food and water. They typically form small groups, or harems, consisting of a male and up to three females and their offspring. Because the species is susceptible to drought in their harsh habitat, Hartmann's mountain zebra is listed as vulnerable.

Khomas and Khumalo arrived at Franklin Park Zoo in 2020 on a breeding recommendation. Zoey is the third adult mountain zebra in the habitat. The group will stay together and may be seen in the Serengeti Crossing habitat. While the foal adapts to the expansive outdoor habitat and the other species that share it, it’s possible that he may not be seen every day just yet.

Yellow-Billed Stork

Another species first at Franklin Park Zoo

A yellow-billed stork chick is taking its first flights around the Tropical Forest this week. The chick hatched February 19, the first of this species to ever hatch at Franklin Park Zoo. Staff first saw it fledge from its nest 30-feet off the ground on Sunday, April 21.

Not only is this the first hatch for this species at Zoo New England, it is the first chick for yellow-billed stork parents Lady Caitlin and Pirate Blackband. The pair built their nest above the saddle-billed stork and anteater habitats. For the first three weeks, the parents brought food to the nest and attentively tended to chick, which is typical behavior for this species. With impressive 5-foot wingspans, these birds are the largest free-flight birds inside the Tropical Forest Pavilion.

“We’re incredibly excited to share the news about this yellow-billed stork chick, who has been growing up quickly and is quite visible in the nest,” said John Linehan, Zoo New England President and CEO. “With each new birth or hatch, we have the opportunity to further connect people of all ages to the wonders of the natural world, and the importance of preserving biodiversity for a healthy planet for us all.”

Yellow-billed stork chicks typically fledge, or leave the nest, between 50 and 55 days. After leaving the nest for the first time, chicks often return to be fed by their parents for another few weeks.

The yellow-billed stork is named for its bright yellow bill, which makes for a colorful contrast with the stork’s orangish, reddish face. In the wild, yellow-billed storks can be found in the wetlands south of the Sahara to northern South Africa, and are also found in western Madagascar. The bill is long and narrow, allowing the stork to catch almost all of its food in the water. Storks have a special technique of stirring the water with one foot to disturb and flush out prey. They then poke their heads in the water and snap their bills, catching small prey like fish, insects, frogs and crustaceans.

Wattled Crane Chick

Second successful hatch for pair at Franklin Park Zoo

Meanwhile, a fluffy, brown wattled crane chick is toddling after its parents in their outdoor habitat at Franklin Park Zoo. The chick hatched on April 10 as both guests and staff quietly looked on in awe. The hatchling appears healthy and strong, weighing 267g at its routine check-up on April 18. Parents Hansel and Zoolander are dutifully taking turns doting on their new chick, demonstrating how to forage and providing a warm spot to rest under their protective wings.

This is the second hatch for the pair, which is a testament to the dedication and expertise of the animal care staff. Wattled cranes can be especially challenging to breed in human care due to small clutch sizes and an irregular breeding cycle.

“We are delighted about another successful hatch,” said John Linehan, President and CEO of Zoo New England. “Wattled cranes are a magnificent species and we hope the young one’s presence will inspire our guests to join us in safeguarding their habitats.”

While the chick is small and fluffy now, it will grow up to be nearly 5-feet tall in a matter of months. The wattled crane is the largest of all African cranes. The species is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) 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 among participating institutions, the goal is to establish guidelines that best ensure the health of populations in human care, and with success, the survival of vulnerable species. This hatch was a recommended breeding between Zoolander and Hansel. Their first chick was successfully reared in 2023 and is now living with other cranes at another institution.