Baby animals abound at Sedgwick County Zoo, Tanganyika Wildlife Park

07/28/2010 12:00 AM

07/29/2010 3:22 PM

Despite the sweltering heat, energetic lemurs leap about left and right, ducklings swim close behind their mother, chimpanzees swing excitedly, meerkats scurry in dizzying circles, and young joeys peek from inside their mothers' pouches.

It's baby-palooza at Kansas zoos.

Sedgwick County Zoo and Tanganyika Wildlife Park house numerous baby animals, some of which were born just a few weeks ago.

The latest addition at the Sedgwick County Zoo is Mabusu, a tiny chimpanzee born in early July. It is difficult to see Mabusu up close as he is usually clutching his mother, Audra, high in the posts of the exhibit.

Zookeeper Devin Bailey said Mabusu was the first chimpanzee born at the zoo since 2005.

"We follow something called the species survival plan," Bailey said. "We have to have permission from AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) before we breed them, so it's not that often."

Other babies roam the exhibits. From tiny but alert meerkats to bulky tapirs, fuzzy ducklings to spotted yak calves, the babies all seem ready to amaze the public.

Some hesitant babies have to be lured into their exhibits, like the Baird's tapirs, large pig-like animals with short snouts, native to South and Central America. Zookeepers take chunks of fresh watermelon and entice the tapirs until they slowly saunter inside.

The baby wallaby tests the camera's swiftness and hops in and out of the tall grass.

The wallaroos, stemming from the same family but slightly smaller than kangaroos and wallabies, pose a different challenge. Tucked deep inside the mother's pouch, the baby doesn't seem to want to peek out and say hello.

"Usually all you can see is an ear sticking out," said Christan Baumer, the zoo's marketing manager.

Baumer said the best way to see the babies is to walk slowly through the exhibit.

"I tell my kids that it's like an 'I Spy' game," she said. "You have to be really slow and quiet."

Amid the lowlands of south-central Kansas, Tanganyika welcomed a rare cat into its park. The park's Amur leopard gave birth to a cub in late June. Native to temperate forests and parts of China, Korea and the Russian Far East, this Amur leopard can grow to be 100 pounds in adulthood.

Assistant director Matt Fouts said only about 30 of this critically endangered species are left in the wild today.

Fouts said the park's mission is to breed endangered species like the Amur leopard. The park is a member of the Zoological Association of America, in which no permission is needed for breeding.

"We usually have from about 20 to 50 baby animals a year," Fouts said.

The Amur, snow, and clouded leopards currently romp around in the nursery until weather conditions improve and the park can raise sufficient funds for new exhibits.

Riley, a young black-footed penguin, also waddles in the baby nursery. His small tuft of down feathers in the back of his neck shows that he is still too young to stay in the outside exhibit.

"Riley is our ambassador, for weddings or other events," Fouts said. Depending on the gender, the penguins serve as either the ring bearers or the flower girls in weddings held at the park.

The safari feel of the park allows visitors to closely interact with the animals. Parkgoers can feed giraffes, lemurs and other animals.

"People love feeding the giraffes," Fouts said.

The baby ring-tailed lemur at the Lemur Island exhibit struts his tail for visitors. The furry black-and-white baby animal hops from rock to rock and even strolls down the sidewalk. Shyness is not a trait of these friendly creatures.

Fouts described the experience of seeing young wildlife at Tanganyika.

"When people come out here and see the babies, they don't realize how precious they are," Fouts said. "These animals are incredibly rare. It's a wonder to be able to see them up close."

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