CHIPPEWA FALLS — Spring has brought several newborn animals to the Irvine Park zoo, as a bison, a Watusi cow, two maras, two coatimundi and a lemur all have added this year.
“We get a lot of comments,” said head zookeeper Jennifer London. “Everyone is just thrilled at seeing them. It’s pretty sweet, because we typically don’t get to keep them.”
The new tan-colored male bison brings the number of bison in the park up to eight, and it’s the second consecutive spring that a newborn has survived.
“He appears to be in really good shape,” London said.
Each spring, seasonal animals are brought to the penned-in fields. In the past, that has meant zebras and ox. This year, four antelope and five Watusi (African) cows, with the long horns, arrived last week. That includes the newborn calf.
“It came with them,” London said. “She’s tiny; she must have just been born before coming here.”
The lemur is still skittish; it won’t feed directly from London’s hand, but will take the food from its mother.
“The (newborn) maras are really friendly,” London said. “They’ve warmed up to us.”
The barn animals returned last week as well, and two newborn sheep have joined their mother, London added.
While park officials are happy to add new animals, there were losses over the winter, as the Asian fishing cat and one of the two monkeys died. The fishing cat exhibit remains empty at this time.
The bison population has slowly been growing again. A virus wiped out nearly half the Irvine Park herd between September and October 2013, with four of the nine animals dying from Malignant Catarrhal Fever, which causes an inflammation of the mucus membranes and has no cure. It was apparently transmitted to the bison by desert sheep that arrived in the park at the end of May 2013. Once the sheep were identified as carriers of the disease, they were immediately removed from the park, but it was too late to stop the deaths of four bison. Newborn bison don’t always survive — one that was born in June 2016 died a couple days later.
In general, newborn animals are shipped out of the park as soon as they are able to part from their mother, particularly if they are males. This is because the adult males often become territorial and aggressive. For instance, the two bison born in spring 2016 were later removed.
According to city records, the bison pasture was added to Irvine Park in the 1920s.