New in the Zoo

Denise M. Verret Named Next L.A. Zoo CEO and General Manager
July 1, 2019

Capuchin Baby Photo by Tad Motoyama

May births included a crested capuchin monkey. These New World monkeys are native to South America and they currently are not endangered thanks to their wide distribution. However, they face the same challenges as many endangered primates, notably habitat loss.

When Portuguese explorers reached the Americas in the 15th century and encountered these monkeys, they were reminded of monks from the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, an offshoot of the Franciscans, who wear brown robes with large hoods. In Italian, the word “cappuccio” and its diminutive, “cappuccino,” refer to a cap or hood. (The espresso drink that is familiar to many of us is also named for these Capuchin friars: brown coffee topped with a “cap” of frothed milk.) The scientific name of the genus that includes capuchins, Cebus, comes from the Greek word kêbos, which means long-tailed monkey. Capuchins do have long tails, and as with most New World monkeys, those tails are prehensile, which means they can be used like an extra hand for climbing.

Who came first? Both the capuchin monkey and the cappuccino coffee drink were named because of their resemblance to Capuchin friars in their brown, hooded robes.


Crested capuchin mother and baby are in their habitat located in the South America section of the Zoo. Photo by Tad Motoyama


Capuchin friar Painting by Jan Zasiedatel


Cappuccino Photo courtesy of Pixabay

A Mertens’s monitor is now part of a mixed-species display in the LAIR. Formerly the mata mata turtle exhibit, it is now home to this unique Australian lizard as well as large freshwater fish. This monitor is a good swimmer and actively dives to hunt for fish underwater.


Most species of monitor lizards are good swimmers. Photo by Tad Motoyama

A pair of spotted chuckwallas is out on view in the Arroyo Lagarto outside the LAIR. The L.A. Zoo is the only zoo in the world to exhibit these lizards. And while you are at the LAIR, be sure to stop and appreciate the painted river terrapins who live with the Indian gharials. These critically endangered turtles are now exhibiting their breeding coloration, which is spectacular!


Spotted chuckwallas are found only on Santa Catalina Island in the Gulf of California and at the L.A. Zoo! Photo by Ian Recchio


Female painted terrapins are larger than the males, but they are less colorful. Photo by Tad Motoyama


Indian gharials and painted river terrapins share similar habitats in Southeast Asia. Photo by Tad Motoyama

Adjacent to the piranhas at Rainforest of the Americas you can now see hundreds of cardinal tetras and a group of angelfish in a new rainforest aquarium. Also new to the Rainforest of the Americas is a caiman lizard. Native to the Amazon basin regions of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana, caiman lizards can be found among the low branches and overhanging roots of swampy tropical forests and flooded woodlands. These lizards are named for their large, heavy scales that resemble those of the caiman crocodile.


Freshwater angelfish originate in the riverways of South America. Photo by Jamie Pham


Caiman lizards are not crocodilians; their name refers to their big heavy scales, which resemble those of crocodiles. Photo by Tad Motoyama


Dwarf caimans are the smallest of the crocodilians, with males reaching up to five feet and females up to four feet. Photo by Tad Motoyama

Three African pancake tortoises arrived and, after completing quarantine, they will become Learning and Engagement outreach animals. Found in Kenya and Tanzania, these social tortoises are fast, agile and, as you might guess from their common name, flat. Rather than tucking into their shells when threatened, they will run to nearby rocky areas and wedge themselves into crevices to wait until it’s safe to emerge. As babies, their shells are domed, as with most tortoises. But as they mature, the shells flatten out and are actually flexible—adaptations that help them hide and also make it easier for them to right themselves if they are overturned, which happens fairly often in the rocky areas where they live.


Pancake tortoises are classified as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They face habitat loss and over-collection for the pet trade. Photo by Susan Pearson

Other reptilian arrivals include a male Boelen’s python, who will join the female on exhibit in the LAIR, and a San Diego gopher snake who will join the Southern Pacific rattlesnakes in the Desert LAIR. At first glance, people (and other animals) often mistake gopher snakes for Southern Pacific rattlesnakes (both species occupy much of the same range), and gopher snakes exploit the confusion to scare away potential threats. They will shake their tails in leaf litter, producing a sound that is remarkably similar to the sound of a rattlesnake. Both species eat small birds, eggs, and mammals, but will live harmoniously if food is abundant.


Boelen's pythons are found in the mountains of New Guinea. The scales of the adults produce an iridescent sheen under the correct lighting. Photo by Tad Motoyama


Gopher snakes are common throughout the American Southwest. Photo by Joel Sartore


The Southern Pacific rattlesnake is our local rattlesnake species. Its range stretches from southern Santa Barbara County to northwestern Baja California, Mexico, including Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina Islands. Photo by Tad Motoyama

Sometimes it takes a while for recent arrivals to settle into their new homes so, although the male cassowary has access to the public portion of the habitat in the Zoo’s Australia section from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., it can be challenging to catch a glimpse because he remains a bit… wary.

All of the Zoo’s male peninsular pronghorn transferred to San Diego Zoo on May 29. Because they were all related to the females, they could not be allowed to breed with them. Hopefully, a new breeding male will arrive in the near future. A new Virginia opossum named Pip has joined the animal ambassador team. Pip is an orphan from a rehab facility, having lost her mother and siblings in a dog attack.


Opossums are North America’s only marsupial. Photo by Lori Conley

It’s egg-watch time for many oviparous Zoo residents! The blessed poison frogs (listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN) produced two fertile eggs for the first time and two clutches of Cape Baja rock lizard eggs hatched at the end of June. Bird species currently “on the nest” with eggs or chicks include blue-throated macaws, blue-billed curassows, red-billed blue magpies, and tawny frogmouths. Additionally, several species of local birds are nesting on Zoo grounds, including hummingbirds, dark-eyed juncos, Brewer’s blackbirds, great horned owls, and more! So, if you are walking out in the Zoo, keep an ear out for the calls of hungry chicks.


The blessed poison frog is one of the species photographed at the L.A. Zoo by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. Photo by Joel Sartore


The Zoo’s self-sustaining population of Baja Cape rock lizards produced two clutches totaling 25 eggs. Photo by Tad Motoyama


The most recent blue-throated macaw chick to hatch (in December 2018) matured enough to relocate to the Nashville Zoo. Two new chicks hatched at the end of June and are being raised by their parents. Photo by Tad Motoyama


Blue-billed curassows usually lay one or two eggs at a time. The chicks leave the nest very quickly, though they remain close to their parents for some time. Photos by Tad Motoyama


Red-billed blue magpies are members of the crow and raven family. Photo by Jamie Pham


Tawny frogmouths are native to Australia. These nocturnal birds are active at night and during the day roost in trees where they blend in with the branches. Photo by Bob McMillan

In May, two bird walks took place. One was held for a birding group from Wild Birds Unlimited–Redondo Beach, whose manager Bob Shanman generously supplies the Zoo with bird seed for all the feeders found on Zoo grounds. The other outing was the spring member bird walk which coincided with World Migratory Bird Day. Between the two walks, 38 species were identified: mallard, band-tailed pigeon, mourning dove, white-throated swift, Anna's hummingbird, Allen's hummingbird, Cooper's hawk, red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, acorn woodpecker, yellow-chevroned parakeet, red-crowned parrot, Pacific slope flycatcher, black phoebe, California scrub jay, common raven, tree swallow, bushtit, Bewick's wren, American robin, European starling, cedar waxwing, house finch, lesser goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, song sparrow, spotted towhee, California towhee, hooded oriole, Bullock's oriole, black-headed grosbeak, brown-headed cowbird, Brewer's blackbird, red-winged blackbird, northern mockingbird, western tanager (heard but not seen) , house sparrow, and scaly-breasted munia/nutmeg mannikin.


Brewer's blackbird Photo by Mike Elliott


Junco Photo by Jamie Pham

Other local birds at the Zoo avoided these bird counts, but have not gone unnoticed! A great blue heron named Pickles by Animal Care staff has been patrolling pools at Elephants of Asia and stalking the golf course, and at the beginning of May, Animal Care staff discovered a great horned owlet that had fallen into the Calamian deer yard. An intrepid animal keeper scaled the tree to safely return the chick to its nest.


Great blue herons are formidable hunters and will eat anything they can catch in the water or on land including, but not limited to fish, amphibians, lizards, snakes, other birds, and rodents. Photos by Megan Holmstedt


Animal Keepers teamed up to return a great horned owl chick that fell to the ground back to the safety of its nest. Photo by Elaine Chu


Hummingbirds are common on Zoo grounds and frequently nest near plants that are reliable sources of nectar. Photo by Jamie Pham

A Word on Birds

This time of year, many young birds are fledging and may look like they need to be rescued. But all that most of them really need is a helping hand to place them out of harm’s way, close to where they were found so that their parents can locate them. Nestling birds (those with no feathers yet) that can’t be put back in their nests and injured birds do need to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator. The L.A. Zoo does not offer wildlife rehabilitation services for a variety of reasons, but here are some licensed local wildlife rehabilitators that can help if you find birds that do need help: