Written By: Scarlett Rockhold, Communications Manager at Zoo Knoxville

Christmas came early on December 21st with the birth of two lion cubs. When African lion Amara began showing signs of labor, her care team noticed she was in distress and the delivery was not progressing as it should. The vet staff from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine was called in to intervene and an emergency c-section was performed. Thanks to the quick action the lives of Amara and two of her cubs were saved.

African lions are a vulnerable species and their population in the wild is steadily decreasing. It is the job of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to maintain a healthy genetic population in order to prevent their extinction. Now zoo staff had an important decision to be make; do they raise the cubs or let Amara attempt to nurse them?

In an ideal situation, the cubs would be returned to Amara to raise, but she had just undergone major surgery. How would the cubs nurse around her incision? When she came out of anesthesia would she be disoriented and inadvertently hurt the cubs? All these factors, combined with her inexperience as a mother, did not provide the best opportunity for the cubs to get the nutrition and care they would need to thrive.

The survival of these two cubs is important. They will contribute new genetics to ensure the health of the population for the future. Hand raising the cubs would be the best way for the cubs to thrive, so that was the decision that was reached.

Much like raising a newborn baby, lion cubs require round-the-clock care. The cubs require bottle feedings every two hours in the first few weeks. This means staff members in charge of their care are sacrificing a lot of sleep to ensure these cubs stay healthy. It’s all worth it to see these cubs gaining strength and developing their personalities.

We are happy to report that the cubs are in fact thriving thanks to the dedication of the carnivore team here at Zoo Knoxville. They are weighed everyday to guarantee steady weight gain and the vet staff checks in on them each week.

While the cubs currently have a dedicated room in the clinic, they will eventually join the other lions in the Valley of the Kings courtyard. Once the courtyard is baby-proofed, that is! Before the cubs can be transferred, the courtyard must be safe for these little ones. Just like with human babies, keepers will make sure the area is set up to accommodate little lions, such as making sure the water troughs are not too deep for them and the climbing platforms are at safe heights.

As the cubs continue to grow, the carnivore team will determine if the best course of action is to introduce them to the pride with Amara and their father Uppepo. Until then, Zoo staff will continue their dedication to making sure these cubs thrive. We will be sure to update on when they will be making their pubic debut!

Written By: Scarlett Rockhold, Communications Manager at Zoo Knoxville

Arya is a strikingly beautiful and beloved Malayan tiger that has called Zoo Knoxville home for almost five years. Since her arrival she quickly became a favorite among zoo staff and guests. With less than 300 Malayan tigers in the wild, Arya would play an important role in the conservation of her species, so her arrival here at Zoo Knoxville represented the beginning of a very critical process. 

Because of the rapid decline in the Malayan tiger population in the wild, it is important for Malayan tigers in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to maintain a genetically diverse population. During Arya’s time at Zoo Knoxville, Petty Grieve, curator for Asian Trek and her team have worked diligently studying and caring for Arya to make sure she has an opportunity to be a successful mother.  

Introducing female with male tigers is all about timing. Tigers are solitary animals except when it comes time to breed, so while Petty and her staff did everything they could to create chemistry, the choice ultimately belonged to the tigers themselves, Arya, Bashir, and Tanvir. And in this case, it simply wasn’t there.  

Not only is it important for Arya to breed to maintain the declining Malayan tiger population, but a pregnancy can have reproductive health benefits, too. So, what happens next?

Arya will soon be departing Zoo Knoxville and will make her home at another AZA accredited zoo, where she will be introduced to another potential mate. This move will give her the best opportunity to contribute to the preservation of her species. 

Leading up to her departure our Zoo Knoxville staff has taken extensive measures to ensure a smooth transition. When the decision was made to send Arya to her new home, Petty and her team started preparation. They have been in touch with the team that will be taking over Arya’s care to talk about her preferences when it comes to enrichment, diet and behaviors.

As a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Zoo Knoxville is part of the largest conservation movement on the planet. In order to continue the important work being done, Zoo Knoxville will continue to parter with our AZA colleagues across the country to save animals from extinction. We are honored to have played a role in Arya’s journey and the mission to preserve the Malayan tiger population!

Written By: Scarlett Rockhold, Communications Manager at Zoo Knoxville

In honor of World Gorilla Day, I’m excited to share with you ways that you can get involved in the fight to save gorillas. Before learning about what you can do to help save this critically endangered species, it is important to first learn how they became so endangered. 

One of the greatest risks to the gorilla species is loss of habitat, and this is largely due to the public’s demand on everyday products. There are several highly used materials found in the regions that gorillas call home. For instance, minerals used to create electronic devices including your cell phone, can be  found in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo is home to several species of gorillas, including the Western Lowland Gorilla that can be found right here at Zoo Knoxville. The mining for these minerals has caused massive destruction to their habitat. Palm oil is another popular substance found in nearby regions and used in an exorbitant amount of products. The production of this too has caused drastic deforestation to the African forests that gorillas inhabit. 

The good news is there is important work being done to proactively save gorillas, and you can be a direct part in making a difference. Below are 4 practical ways you can help:


1. Recycle your electronic devices

Here at Zoo Knoxville, we make it easy for you to recycle your old electronic devices. All you have to do is drop off your devices to one of our two designated areas. One of our drop off sites is in the Ranger Station located near the ticket window, and the other is located at our Gorilla Valley Courtyard. Eligible devices include cell phones, tablets, and MP3 players. By recycling these electronics, the need to mine for the materials within them is reduced. We’ve all had old devices lying around and often wonder what to do with them. How great is it that by simply dropping it off at the Zoo, your unused device can contribute to the fight to save the gorillas? Just make sure to restore to factory settings beforehand!


2. Look for sustainable, Eco-friendly options when shopping for products that contain palm oil

Palm oil can be found in many products we use each day. These products include: soaps, cosmetics, margarine, ice cream, shampoo, cookies, and so much more. Palm oil plants not only cause deforestation, but they also cause pollution due to burning of the forests and fertilizers used etc. Zoo Knoxville has joined almost 100 signatories from around the world in a statement committing to drive the palm oil industry in the right direction. There are many companies dedicated to obtaining palm oil in a more eco friendly way and just by shopping for these sustainable options you can also join us in this mission. If you’d like an aid in helping you shop more sustainably, click here to learn more about Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s app created to help you do just that!


3. Become a member or visit an AZA accredited zoo

Because gorillas have become endangered and are losing their home in the wild, it is important for Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to take part in the Species Survival Plan. This plan allows these accredited Zoos like Zoo Knoxville to not only provide a safe home and care for animals in Zoos, but it also allows them to maintain a healthy genetic population. By becoming a Zoo member, you become a Zoo Keeper yourself and join Zoo Knoxville in continuing our critical conservation work not only pertaining to our Western Lowland Gorillas but all of the animals in our care. To Learn more about the Species Survival Plan and the SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) programs, visit aza.org. 


4. Become an Ambassador 

In addition to providing wildly fun experiences for our guests, Zoo Knoxville also has a mission to educate and inspire, but it doesn’t have to end with us. Now that you know more about what is happening in the world of gorillas, you can share the information with your friends and family to inspire them to take action as well. It’s hard to imagine contributing to the species saving efforts of animals with habitats on the other side of the world, but there are practical ways that you can help from home. Just by sharing these tips mentioned above with others, you can become an ambassador for Gorillas and join Zoo Knoxville and other AZA accredited zoos in the largest conservation movement on the planet!

“Fun on the outside, serious about animals on the inside.” We loved that sentence from the minute we first heard it from the creative director helping us design our new logo in 2015. “That’s us!” we said. And we’ve used it ever since to describe our personality and our culture.

But while we appreciate fun and light-heartedness, (and who doesn’t need that after the year we’ve all been through?), we realized that there is a time and place for us to talk seriously about why accredited zoos are important.

Some people love zoos, no reservations. Some people tell us zoos make them a little uneasy because they struggle with the thought of animals, not in their wild environments. Some people flat out dislike the concept of a zoo. We understand all of these reactions. Really. But we also realized that perhaps we had not been doing a very good job describing our reason for being, so here I am.

It’s our job as a modern zoo to provide the highest standard of care for the animals entrusted to us. It’s our mission to use our expertise in the care and breeding of endangered animals to save them from extinction. As a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), we are part of the largest conservation movement on the planet. Through the AZA’s Species Survival Plans and Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) programs, we are working with partners in the field to advocate, educate and protect animals.

You will read about some of those contributions in this blog as we share our stories and I hope you will be proud of the impact Zoo Knoxville makes.

Here at home, we hold our role as a beloved community asset and cultural treasure very dear. We continue to delight our visitors when they visit the zoo, providing a perfect setting to share our passion for animals. We are an important education resource touching thousands of people with our wildlife conservation message in unique and interactive ways.

In closing, Zoo Knoxville works hard to be among the best zoos in the country and to be part of something bigger in wildlife conservation. But ultimately, we can’t do it alone. We need you to achieve our mission, as ambassadors, as constructive critics to help us improve, and as members and supporters. Because we all have to be zookeepers if we are going to succeed in saving wildlife and wild places.

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Tiger courtship and breeding behavior is, well, complicated.  Tigers are solitary animals and only seek out a potential mate when it is time to breed.  Introduce them at the wrong time and you may find one or both tigers pretty unhappy to be in each other’s company, and risk a scuffle where someone could get hurt.

This is where behavioral science comes into the picture.  Asian Trek curator Petty Grieve has been carefully monitoring and documenting Arya’s behavior over the last several months. She has overlaid observed behaviors with hormonal analysis to determine what cues signal she’s ready to breed. After watching hundreds and hundreds of hours of video taken round-the-clock, and many pounds of tiger poop sent to the lab for hormone testing, Petty has found that Arya’s signs of cycling include vocalizations, restless movement at night, and frequent rolling around. These signs, combined with the insights on when to anticipate these hormonal spikes, have brought them to the next phase of their courtship, which is introducing Arya to male Bashir.

Arya has shown a preference for Bashir, and they often lock eyes when they see each other through the indoor viewing areas of Tiger Forest.  If they are compatible, the zoo will then begin to watch for breeding behavior while they are together. The gestation period for tigers is 90 days, and if introductions go well, the zoo could possibly be on cub watch in early 2020.

This introduction process is an important milestone in establishing Zoo Knoxville’s breeding program for Malayan Tigers.  With fewer than 400 estimated to be left in the wild, their future depends on the work being done in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to save them from extinction.

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