The New Orleans and San Diego zoos team up in a first-of-its-kin - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

The New Orleans and San Diego zoos team up in a first-of-its-kind partnership to breed animals

A bongo strolls through woods at the Audubon Species Survival Center in Algiers  (John Snell) A bongo strolls through woods at the Audubon Species Survival Center in Algiers (John Snell)
(WVUE) -

Betty the Bongo acclimates to her new surroundings, dense woods that hug the river on the New Orleans West Bank.

It is here that various antelope species roam in a first-of-its-kind-partnership between the Audubon Institute and San Diego Zoo Global. 

Over the last couple years, the zoos have transformed woods hugging the river into enclosures for hoofed species, ranging from giraffe to antelope and okapi, a critically endangered animal from the forests of Africa.

"We only have about 90 (okapi) in the United States," said Michelle Hatwood, a curator at the site. "And there are a lot of zoos that want to work with them."

While the okapi looks like something of a cross between a zebra and a giraffe, curators say they are closer genetically to a giraffe. Their unique look makes them a favorite among visitors to zoos that are fortunate enough to exhibit them.

The effort, which the zoos call the Alliance for Sustainable Wildlife, encompasses 425 acres on property the Audubon Institute leases from the U.S. Coast Guard near English Turn. 

San Diego Zoo Global has enjoyed success breeding animals at its sprawling, closer-to-nature Safari Park, where many species seem to thrive.

"We're working toward ensuring that we have some of these populations in zoos for future generations," said Joel Hamilton, V.P. and General Curator for Audubon.

The giraffe enclosure alone approaches the size of the entire Audubon Zoo.  

"This a big deal," said Audubon CEO Ron Forman, who joined his San Diego counterpart, Doug Myers, in celebrating the arrival of the first animals.

"This is day one of something that will change how we manage exotic animals in captivity," Myers said.

The partnership, which aims to provide populations for New Orleans, San Diego, and zoos across North America, illustrates the broader mission of zoos to boost wild populations that are often collapsing.

"More and more, the modern zoological facility is involved in the conservation of animals in nature," said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

While the alliance is focusing on hoofed animals, and some highly-endangered birds, leaders at both zoos believe the partnership could be a model for other zoos that could focus on different species. 

The site will not be open to the general public. However, the animals born there are intended to be displayed in New Orleans, San Diego and zoos across North America.

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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