Spotlight on Vultures

On your next visit to the zoo, take special note of the scores of vultures perching in the trees, on the roof of the administration building and in Olivia’s Eagle Canyon.   Their presence is particularly appropriate this time of year, as we begin to transform the zoo for our annual “Nightmare at Elmwood” Halloween celebration. 

turkey and black vulturePennsylvania has two native species of vultures, the turkey and the black vulture.  Elmwood Park Zoo’s animal collection includes a turkey vulture featuring beautiful, glossy brown wings and distinctive red beak.    The visitors are black vultures.   

Black vultures have wing spans of up to five feet and can weigh as much as four or five pounds.   They are social creatures, preferring to travel and roost in groups.  Although black vultures are carrion-eaters, they sometimes eat small live animals.  Though slightly smaller than turkey vultures, they tend to be more aggressive in driving away competition for food.  You may observe this behavior in Olivia’s Eagle Canyon, where they sometimes compete for food with the eagles that reside there.  Our keepers keep a careful eye on the eagles, weighing them often and hand-feeding them to make sure they receive proper nutrition.

vulture standingVultures are nature’s clean-up crew and an important part of our environment.  Last month, we observed International Vulture Awareness Day, which highlights the important ecological role vultures play in reducing the spread of disease by feeding on animal remains.    For more information, visit

PLEASE NOTE: Elmwood Park Zoo’s Website is Experiencing Technical Difficulty

We are temporarily experiencing difficulty with our website.  This is a great opportunity to introduce you to our blog – welcome!

It looks like the rain is going to hold off until later this afternoon, so please come for a visit!  Elmwood Park Zoo is located at 1661 Harding Blvd. in Norristown, PA.  The zoo is open daily from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.  Admission is $12.00 for adults, $9.00 for seniors and children under 2 years.  Complimentary admission is gratefully offerer to military personnel and their families.   

Now that you’re here at our blog, please take a moment to explore.   In the meantime, we will continue to work on resolving the technical issues at our website, and we apologize for any inconvenience.   If you have any questions, please contact the friendly staff in Guest Services, 610.277.3825 x240.

On Quarantine, and The Plight of New Zealand’s Emperor Penguin

This beautiful rehabilitated juvenile bald eagle is currently in quarantine at Elmwood Park Zoo and will go on exhibit after receiving a clean bill of health.

Last month, a young emperor penguin was found stranded on a beach in New Zealand.  The penguin, native to Antarctica, had traveled about 2,000 miles from home.   At some point he had begun eating sand, apparently mistaking it for snow, which penguins consume for hydration and to keep cool.  Unfortunately, the sand caused internal blockages, which required several surgeries to clear.  The penguin is now recovering at New Zealand’s Wellington Zoo, but his future is uncertain.

Under ideal conditions, this emperor penguin would eventually be returned to the wild.  However, wildlife officials are concerned that reintroducing the penguin to a wild population in the Antarctic could expose the colony to any disease that this animal may have picked up during its journey.

When a new animal is introduced to a an existing population at a zoo that has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), it must first be placed in quarantine.  Quarantine procedures are used to prevent the introduction of pathogens – disease organisms.  The AZA has rigorous standards governing quarantine procedures, as does the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Protocols require that trained personnel separate new arrivals from the resident population for a prescribed period of time.  While in quarantine, the new animal receives complete physical and dental examinations, including fecal and blood testing, to assess its overall health; the animal is also tested for the presence of infectious disease and parasites, and receives any required vaccinations.

As an AZA-accredited zoo, Elmwood Park Zoo follows these procedures.  All new arrivals go through a minimum 30-day quarantine period, during which they are examined by the zoo’s veterinarian and monitored for their activity level, food intake and behavior.   Since primates are more closely related to our own species and susceptible to many human illnesses, they are quarantined for 90 days.  Certain illnesses contracted during transportation might not test positive during the shorter 30-day period, so additional time is needed to ensure the animal is disease-free.

In certain situations, new animals can be quarantined on exhibit.  This is possible when the newcomer is the only resident in its enclosure.

In addition to the animals on exhibit, Elmwood Park Zoo maintains a collection of animals that are used specifically for education programs throughout the zoo and in surrounding communities.  Since these animals have greater exposure to the public and many different environments, they are managed in a permanent state of quarantine.

The quarantine period also provides the animal with time to become acclimated to its new environment.  Elmwood Park Zoo maintains two off-exhibit quarantine areas that are used depending on the species, size and time of the year.  Large animals, and those that will be housed outdoors, are quarantined in spacious outdoor facilities.  The timing of arrivals also is coordinated for animals coming from different climates; sudden changes in temperature can cause stress.  We do our very best to coordinate their arrivals to minimize these changes and provide sufficient time for seasonal transitions.

In fact, climate acclimation has become a concern for the stranded emperor penguin, which appears to be suffering from the New Zealand heat.  San Diego’s Sea World, which maintains the only emperor penguin colony in North America, has offered a home for the transient bird.   He would be joining Sea World’s thirty emperor penguins that inhabit a 25-degree, simulated Antarctic habitat, into which up to 5,000 pounds of snow is blown every day.  However, it appears that New Zealand wildlife authorities may soon decide to set the bird free in the Southern Ocean and give it a chance to make its way home.  Either way, it will have received a thorough health examination to make certain there aren’t any unwanted pathogens or parasites in tow.

How a Jaguar Enriched My Life

By: Judy Militello, Elmwood Park Zoo Docent

 In February 1995, I became a Docent at the Elmwood Park Zoo (EPZ).  Wanting to be around big cats was what encouraged me to pursue this effort.  The zoo had cougars, bobcats and one male jaguar, Anasazi.  Eight months later, EPZ acquired a melanistic (black) female jaguar named Cali.  She was captive-born inFlorida and came to us at about 10 days of age.  Over the next few months, I became Cali’s childhood friend.

 The Education Director at the time told me about a book he thought I might enjoy – Jaguar by Dr.Alan Rabinowitz.  While reading this book, I became infatuated with Dr. Rabinowitz.  His passion for conservation and his desire to protect the jaguar compelled him to establish the world’s first sanctuary for jaguars in Belize, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve. 

 EPZ’s conservation efforts in 2011 will include programs to help ensure the jaguar’s survival.  We will develop a conservation partnership with the Belize Zoo, which has established a Problem Jaguar program.  The Belize Zoo rescues and rehabilitates jaguars that pose a threat to local livestock and domestic animals.  Beginning this year, the EPZ will adopt Field Master, a problem jaguar that developed the bad habit of killing dogs.  After being rescued, however, Field Master now serves as an ambassador for his species and helps the Belize Zoo educate local people about the value of protecting indigenous wildlife.  In a upcoming blog, EPZ director Bill Konstant will explain this program in more detail, as well as how it links to other conservation efforts supported by our zoo.

 Our Cali is almost 16 years old, but she still recognizes my call and that fills my heart with pride. This jaguar, in particular, has captured my heart and I am so glad that I decided to join EPZ as a Docent.  Being a volunteer is a very rewarding experience.