Welcome To Texas: Fort Worth Zoo

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The Fort Worth Zoo has gotten a lot of attention lately for some of its adorable babies, but there’s a lot about the zoo that you may not know. From its more-than-a-century old history to its world-renowned breeding programs, the zoo has a lot to brag about.

Since his birth last December, Gus has been one of the star attractions at the Fort Worth Zoo. He is the first western lowland gorilla ever born there. “The public is just having a ball,” said Fort Worth Zoo director of communications Alexis Wilson. “We have people coming out on a weekly basis to see what Gus is doing now.”

And the zoo boasts a lot more than just adorable baby gorillas. The Fort Worth Zoo first opened its doors in 1909 when a traveling circus put down stakes near Forest Park. It had one lion, two bear cubs, an alligator, a peacock, a crocodile and a couple of rabbits. The zoo was destroyed a few months later by a great flood, but reopened the following year on the other side of the Trinity River — and it’s been there ever since.

“This zoo that you’re in today,” said Wilson, “has been operating since 1910, and that’s longer than any other zoo in its current site has been operating.”

One hundred and six years later, it’s grown vastly in size and vision — with breeding and species conservation among its primary goals. The rapidly declining horned lizard (horned frog) population being a perfect example.

“At Texas Wild!, one of the signature projects was to study how these animals… why they were disappearing? How they could reproduce in managed situations like we have, and then how we could take those animals and reintroduce them to the wild. And this was the first zoo in the country to figure out how to do that.”

And there a lot of other “firsts” at the Fort Worth Zoo of which North Texans may not be aware.

It’s the only place in the country to house all four great ape species: gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and orangutan.

The three adult lions were brought over from a zoo in Africa and are now offering Fort Worth and other zoos a new genetic pool in which to breed. “These animals are not related to any other animal in any zoo in the country, and so they brought great hope for this species that is facing great threats, that we may one day have to reintroduce back into the wild,” said Wilson.

And it’s the only place in the state where you can see an entire lion pride together — instead of having the male housed separately. “Since our male came in with two females, he knew every member of the pride to start with. We thought, you know we’re going to try something different. We’re going to leave him there, and it’s been magnificent to watch,” said Wilson.

The zoo’s newest showcase is its award-winning, 30,000 square foot Museum of Living Art, or MOLA. It houses thousands of reptiles and amphibians, including the critically endangered gharial crocodile. They’ve never before been bred in captivity, but there are high hopes here. “We have an egg watch going on over in MOLA,” said Wilson. “It will happen, and when it does, it will be an international story because it’s never happened before.”

Just another first for a zoo proving that it’s worthy of international fame.

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