MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Sunset Zoo officials welcomed the newest addition to the collection last night, as a pair of white-handed gibbons arrived safely from fellow-AZA-institution North Carolina’s Natural Science Center of Greensboro. Dempsey, an 11-year-old male, and Leslie, a 16-year-old female, are currently getting acclimated to their new space in preparation for this weekend’s Grand Opening of the John Woodard Memorial Gibbons Exhibit along the Asian Forest Trail.
The arrival of the new primate pair has been full of anticipation; this not only marks the first time in the Zoo’s 75+ year history that they’ll exhibit a gibbons species, but the animals’ journey to Manhattan was full of challenges. The process began over a year ago when Sunset Zoo officials contacted the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) Gibbon Taxon Advisory Group (TAG); a cooperative breeding management program that allows for the careful monitoring of a particular species’ population in AZA-accredited institutions.
In the fall of 2011, AZA’s TAG identified a pair of white-cheeked gibbons for Sunset Zoo’s newest exhibit – a male from California and female from Florida. After the recommendations were reviewed, it was determined that the female gibbon in particular was too young to transfer from her family unit in Florida. The TAG quickly identified a second pair – this time white-handed gibbons – that were already cohabitating with one another at North Carolina’s Natural Science Center.
To transport the animals to Manhattan, the gibbons would take a commercial air flight from Greensboro, North Carolina to Kansas City where Sunset Zoo officials would drive the animals to the Little Apple. However, all involved learned quickly that this would not be a “routine shipment.” Their arrival date was continually pushed back for a variety of unforeseen factors, including the need to build custom travel crates for the animals - ones that would fit the smaller planes flying out of Greensboro but would also ensure that the animals were safe and comfortable during transport.
After much coordination, planning and preparation, the animals safely departed Greensboro airport late yesterday morning for the first leg of their air travel. However, Zoo officials were alerted halfway through their flight that the plane was experiencing mechanical issues and would be returning to Greensboro to ensure the safety of all passengers. Luckily, Zoo officials quickly identified a second flight – only delaying the animals’ arrival in Kansas by two hours. Sunset Zoo’s Head Keeper, Kirk Nemechek, met the animals and transported them safely to their new exhibit last night.
“I’ve been in the Zoo industry for over 30 years and have never seen an animal transfer marked with as many challenges as this one,” said Scott Shoemaker, Sunset Zoo Director. “I want to commend my staff as well as our colleagues from North Carolina for the perseverance and dedication to ensure that these animals arrived safely and healthy in their new home.”
Community members can get their first glimpse at Sunset’s newest residents this Sunday as Sunset Zoo’s Earth Day Celebration: A Party for the Planets & Primates 2! Zoo gates open at 9:30am, with family-friendly activities from Noon to 4:30pm, including the Zoo’s Bounce House, National Guard’s Rock Climbing Wall and Walgreen’s Photo Booth. A public dedication ceremony will take place at 1:00pm.
Regular Zoo admission rates apply for Earth Day 2012. Additionally, construction is wrapping up on the Zoo’s new entryway facility, the Nature Exploration Center, scheduled to open on Sunday, June 3. Parking will be limited for Earth Day festivities, so guests are encouraged to carpool or depending on weather, park in the field across from the Zoo’s main lot. To learn more about Earth Day, the Gibbons or the new exhibit, visit www.SunsetZoo.com or call 785.587.APES.