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The Littlest Zoo in Texas

Discussion in 'Fantasy Zoos' started by Zygodactyl, 2 Dec 2017.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    To be clear: this is not a zoo I'm even remotely actually considering making. (I've never seriously considered making a zoo, my real goals are clearly unrealistic but they involve becoming a successful aviculturalist.) In the event that I somehow came into the tens of millions of dollars I'd need for this idea, I'd try to start a species survival center focusing on EDGE bird species, not a zoo.

    However writing up this idea was inspired by Batto's real zoo, or rather by the article he posted: "How to Exhibit a Bullfrog." The only place I've seen that I think comes close to that ideal is the Meadows Center in San Marcos, but even before I went there I'd been fantasizing about what one could do with a zoo dedicated to Texas. Texas is a big state with an impressive range of biomes, has an interesting variety of species, many found only in the far east, far west, or far south, and this is an zoo which I've fantasized about for awhile. It also gets more expensive with every iteration. When I first came up with the idea it was part of a larger fantasy zoo otherwise focused on the Southern Hemisphere, there were about three dozen animal species in total, mostly songbirds and reptiles, and the name was not ironic.

    The Littlest Zoo in Texas
    is laid out in the shape of Texas plus those portions of Texas biomes which span into other states. On land the boundaries of the zoo are the boundaries of the biomes and Texas itself is not outlined. A sign at the entrance asks visitors if they can identify the outlines of Texas as a political entity (not possible) and the Texas Triangle (easy). Paths follow the rivers of Texas at ground level and the major highways above ground level, with ramps and stairs connecting them. Small signs point out the locations of major cities. It is built into a hill, such that West Texas is more elevated naturally, with some attempt to match the contours of the land but more exaggerated, however the main reason for building into a hill is the Gulf side of the exhibit.

    Along the Gulf side, there is the Gulf Aquarium—a marine aquarium—with a glass tube which goes from the outlet of the Colorado River to the outside edge of the aquarium through the main tank. The aquarium includes an oil rig reef habitat and the species exhibited focus on commercially important, endangered, and/or invasive species, with invasive species isolated in their own tanks. Signage focuses on the role that the Gulf of Mexico plays in the Texas economy such as fisheries and oil and on the threats that fertilizer runoff, erosion, salinization, and invasive species pose to marine ecosystems as well as the way that global warming can exacerbate these problems.

    In addition to the marine aquarium, there are two freshwater aquaria near the sites of Barton Springs and the Red River. The Balcones Aquarium focuses on the endemic species of the springs of Texas Hill Country along the Balcones Escarpment, with several species of blind salamander among other things. It is located at the junction of the Edwards Plateau and Blackland Prairie sections.

    The Red River Aquarium focuses on the ecology of the Mississippi Valley as a whole while only exhibiting species which are also found in Texas. Texas is home to several species which are instructive in bony fish evolution: the American paddlefish, bowfin, shovelnose sturgeon, and several species of gar. All of those are present in exhibits about their commercial importance and conservation. A major part of the exhibit looks at the evolution of bony fish with casts of fossils and pictures of fish such as bichirs which are not found in Texas. It is located along the Red River path at the junction of the Pineywoods and Post Oak Savannah sections.

    Outside the aquaria, the landward side is divided into eleven sections: ten roughly equivalent to those laid out in this inexplicably low-resolution map from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, though without enclaves, the eleventh located around either Austin or the Metroplex focusing on urban habitats. Each of the traditional sections is planted with representative species of the biome, making sure to include species that span multiple biomes for continuity. There are at least five special exhibits: "South of the Border," "Thinking of You," "Welcome to the Anthropocene," "Of Cuckoos and Cuckolds" and "Fly Away."

    South of the Border is in the South Texas Plains section as it focus on South Texas's role as a transition zone between the Nearctic and Neotropical ecozones. Part of it looks at the Great American Interchange, with models of the extinct animals which thrived before humans arrived, as well as living species of South American origin such as nine-banded armadillos and Virginia opossums. The other part of the exhibit looks at species which are today extirpated or rare in South Texas, but thrived before colonization, including charismatic species such as jaguarundis, common vampire bats, and ocelots, and charismatic vagrant birds such as the fork-tailed flycatcher.

    Thinking of You
    is a special exhibit on the evolution of complex social behavior and its relationship to intelligence in animals. It focuses on the unusual number of species native to Texas which exhibit complex social behavior including prairie dogs, groove-billed anis, Harris's hawks, burrowing owls, and common vampire bats, as well as examples of social intelligence in other species such as keas, New Caledonian crows, elephants, and spotted hyenas, none of which are present except in picture form. It is located near the intersection of the Edwards Plateau and South Texas Plains habitats, since pretty much all of the relevant species are are found in one or both of those biomes.

    Welcome to the Anthropocene focuses on the radical shifts humans have had on our environment, from the extinction of most of Texas's native megafauna (with statues) to issues with global warming and invasive species today. An sub-exhibit: Of Herons and House Finches focuses on early conservation in the United States, how the Migratory Bird Treaty Act came to pass, and how the introduction of the house finch to the eastern US was an unintended consequence of its passage. It is located at the junction of the Trans-Pecos and High Plains sections.

    Of Cuckoos and Cuckolds look at how the behavior of the common cuckoo in Europe influences our perception of cuckoos in the rest of the world. It talk about the breeding habits cuckoos of Texas (including groove-billed anis and greater roadrunners) and how most species of cuckoo and all but three species of the New World Cuckoo raise their own young. as well as the occasional brood parasitism of the yellow-billed cuckoo and black-billed cuckoo. It also looks at the habits of cowbirds, the primary brood parasites of the New World, and how brood parasitism might have evolved, as well as the threat cowbirds pose to the golden-cheeked warbler. It is located at the junction of the Gulf Prairies and Marshes, South Texas Plains, and Post Oak Savannah sections.

    Fly Away
    focuses on the Central Flyway and is a free-flight aviary with native migratory birds and monarch butterflies. In addition to exhibits on bird migration and the monarch lifecycle, there is an exhibit dedicated to the golden-cheeked warbler, the only bird that nests exclusively in Texas. Though golden-cheeked warblers nest slightly northeast of the exhibit's location on the map of Texas, the exhibit is located at the intersection of the Crosstimbers and Rolling Plains sections.

    The Texas Triangle is a section devoted to urban habitats rather than a special exhibit, but it merits special mention. It's planted with a mix of popular native landscaping plants and popular invasive plants. Signs ask visitors if they can identify the invasive plants and encourage the use of native landscaping. The focus is on animals which have adapted well to urban habitats, and the main section is another free-flight aviary, which I talk about in the next paragraph. Most mammals (such as racoons), herps, and inverts are in their own enclosures: mammals from disease concerns, herps and inverts because they'd be hard to see otherwise. There's also a "bat bridge" exhibit with Mexican free-tailed bats and an overhead tunnel similar to the one at the Miami Zoo. Peregrine falcons are also in their own exhibit for obvious reasons.

    The free-flight aviary (you may have noticed I love free-flight aviaries) which includes not just successful native birds such as great-tailed grackles, northern mockingbirds, mourning doves, and blue jays, but also city pigeons, house sparrows, house finches, common starlings, and quaker parakeets. Starlings, quakers, and great-tailed grackles have exhibits dedicated to how they became established in Texas cities and the ecological role they play. The pigeons include fancy pigeons in addition to the city types, and the signs talk about how they became such a widespread city bird and their relationship with people. This is the only exhibit which allows feeding of animals, with birdseed on sale at dispensers with signs that encourage visitors to think about why the most successful urban birds in the US eat seeds, while the most successful urban birds in Australia eat fruit and nectar. Other signs focus on non-birds that have adapted to city life and what makes an animal suited to urban habitats.

    In addition to the species I specifically mentioned as parts of special exhibits, aquaria, and the urban section, there are several charismatic species which are part of the normal terrestrial habitat exhibits which I haven't mentioned, but which are used in promotional materials. Charismatic mammals I haven't mentioned include ringtails, white-nosed coatis, collared peccaries, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, bison, and kangaroo rats. Charismatic birds I haven't mentioned include crested caracaras, elf owls, wood ducks, Attwater's prairie chickens, and plain chachalacas. Charismatic reptiles I haven't mentioned include American alligators, alligator snapping turtles, Texas tortoises, Texas horned lizards, copperheads, and a variety of rattlesnakes. Also while they aren't likely to draw many visitors, I do need to mention the presence of spadefoot toads and Texas wasp moths.

    It should go without saying but sadly doesn't: as much as possible species are in mixed-species enclosures. Not just ungulates with ungulates, but ungulates with prairie dogs and tortoises and vultures, and as much as possible animals that span a range of habitats have enclosures making that possible. As much as possible species are in one of three kinds of enclosure: 1. free-flight aviaries, 2. enclosures where paths go through on elevated walks through them and 3. Monkey Jungle-style enclosures with wire/netting around the visitors on all sides. Each animal present which doesn't have its own mini-exhibit has detailed signage devoted to it in multiple places. The signage describes not only an animal's range and habits, but also has pictures identifying the plants and other animals in the exhibit it has a relationship with.
     
  2. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    Very cool! I had a similar idea but I never got around to posting it. One could definitely stock a zoo with nothing but Texas wildlife.

    I really like the idea to educate about plants, I always think it's cool when zoos try to go beyond just general animal facts. Making the zoo into the shape of Texas, with all of those different types of paths, is a pretty cool idea too.
     
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  3. elefante

    elefante Well-Known Member

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    If you really wanted to you could stock Texotics in the zoo. ;)

    But I do like your original idea. This seems like something that could be put into a major city to educate those that maybe don't get to explore the rural areas so much.
     
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  4. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    If it's in a big city, it could also maybe be appealing to tourists who want to do Texas things.
     
  5. wally war eagle

    wally war eagle Well-Known Member

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    The Texas Zoo in Victoria exhibits mostly state species but not many texotics.
     
  6. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    Unless a texotic has become naturalized outside of the game ranches, I generally don't see the point of including it in a zoo dedicated to the wildlife of Texas. Game ranches are all over the place in Texas; if you want to see texotics you can go to one of them.

    That said, I could see including the scimitar-horned oryx as part of the Welcome to the Anthropocene exhibit. The point of WttA is that it's a conservation exhibit that goes beyond the usual guilt trips about "aren't humans awful!?" I strongly believe that this is an unhealthy attitude which leads both to counterproductive conservation policies and a backlash against conservation efforts. In this exhibit I want to show that the changes we've wrought on our environment aren't a new thing; they're an integral part of the human story. I want to show what we've lost and what we still stand to lose, but also to show that conservation is complex. I want to encourage people to approach conservation in a thoughtful manner.

    The purpose of Of Herons and House Finches is to show how we lost two species at the turn of the twentieth century and without the Migratory Bird Treaty Act we might have lost more, but also to show how as an unintended but direct result of the MBTA house finches have become a problematic invasive species. Though the MBTA carved out an exception for hunting because hunters were part of the coalition that got it passed, it was otherwise fairly absolutist in nature, and the ban on native birds as pets led to "Hollywood finches" being released en mass in the eastern US, while the protections of all birds native to the US in the whole US prevents us from controlling this invasive species.

    The story of the scimitar-horned oryx is basically the opposite of that. It's a story where pragmatism won the day and saved a species, but the visceral reaction people had to the hunting of endangered species led to changes in AZA policy and federal law which will make it harder to repeat. I'm not sure what I'd call the oryx exhibit, but it's the one texotic which I think would fit with the WttA theme.

    I was under the impression that the Texas Zoo has been shifting away from native animals, though I've been meaning to check it out all the same.
     
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  7. jaykkey

    jaykkey Active Member

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    You should go help them update Texas Wild! at the Fort Worth Zoo...they could use your imagination!