Building a Pack with Seven New Puppies

Written by: Animal Care Professional Ashley Gaia, Africa Team

Last year, ZooTampa at Lowry Park welcomed an exciting new species called the African painted dog. A male and female pair, Hatari and Layla, came to us from Zoo Miami in hopes that they would begin growing a family of their own. On October 1st, our hopes were met with the addition of seven beautiful, squirmy puppies. There are several reasons why these puppies are so special!

African painted dogs (Lycaon pictus) are genetically unique in the world of canids. One of the features that sets them apart from other canids is their feet, they have four toes per paw instead of five! They also have specially adapted carnassial teeth that help slice meat and bone more efficiently.  All painted dogs have big round ears, a dark muzzle, and white tipped tails. The rest of the coat is mottled in splotches of ebony, white, and golden tans. Every dog has a unique pattern, just as unique as our finger prints!

Building a Pack with Seven New Puppies - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Painted dog society is complex and cooperative. Packs range from around 6-12 individuals, however packs of 30-50 have been documented. Each pack has an alpha male and female, chosen by the pack for their ability to lead versus their size. The painted dog is one of the greatest predators in Africa. Working as a team, the pack brings down their prey, quickly fill their bellies and rush back to their dens. There, they will regurgitate some meat to feed any puppies or dogs that need extra care.

Currently, our own painted dog family is excelling at parenthood. Hatari quickly mastered his role of staying close to the den to be a literal “watch dog” while Layla is devoting all of her time into raising, and wrangling, their puppies inside their den. For the last month, animal care staff has been heavily feeding Hatari so he can supply food to his growing family. At this time, Layla is allowing the puppies to begin to explore the habitat little by little. The puppies are rapidly learning the rules of fair play, tumbling together and pouncing on sticks and leaves. When Layla sees the pups getting too excitable, she ushers them back into the den to calm down and nap. It won’t be long until the whole family is out exploring the habitat in full and playing together!

The birth of these puppies is critical, as African painted dogs are an endangered species. Threats such as habitat fragmentation, car strikes, diseases from domestic dogs, and illegal snares have diminished this species to around 6,000-7,000 individuals. Here at ZooTampa, we work closely with organizations in Africa that are fighting for the survival of wild painted dogs. We sell recycled snare wire sculptures in our gift shop, with the proceeds going to saving this incredible species. To learn more, join us at the painted dog habitat every day at 10:45am for our keeper chat, and help us on our mission to preserve and protect wildlife!

The Puerto Rican Crested Toad: Working together to save a tiny toad

By Lee Ann Rottman, VP of Conservation

The Puerto Rican crested toad, Peltophryne lemur,is the only toad species native to Puerto Rico. The species once flourished on the island, but is now listed as Critically Endangered due to habitat loss and marine toads preying on their tadpoles. The crested toad is now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as Critically Endangered.

The Puerto Rican Crested Toad: Working together to save a tiny toad - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

ZooTampa is a proud partner of the Puerto Rican Species Survival Plan (SSP) which includes 20 organizations working together to save this important species. The Zoo’s Herpetology team works to selectively breed pairs of crested toads.  This is a tedious process with many intricate steps.

What does the process look like?

  1. Exams: In early September, before breeding season, our crested toads received physical exams by our veterinarian, Dr. Nico Maldonado. Weights and x-rays were taken, as well as samples for parasitology. These exams are important to ensure the toads are healthy and fit for breeding.

2. Cooling period: Researchers discovered that cooling air temperature is nature’s way of signaling the toads to prepare for breeding. ZooTampa simulates this by slowly dropping the room temperature from 80 °F to 66°F. This was maintained for roughly four weeks and then slowly raised back to normal.

3. Breeding time: After the cooling period, in mid-October, the male and female pairs were introduced to each other in rain chambers for breeding. Wild crested toads will congregate in ponds after heavy rains and the males will call for females to join them. Our herpetologists, actually play a sound track of crested toad mating calls to help get our toads in mood.  Think of it like a little Barry White for the toads.

The Puerto Rican Crested Toad: Working together to save a tiny toad - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

4. Egg release/fertilization: If all goes as planned, the female toad will release her eggs and the male will fertilize them as she releases them. If the toads don’t naturally breed, our herpetologists can inject a hormone to help promote the release of both eggs and semen.

5. Release: The tadpoles will be released into ponds in Puerto Rico, which are monitored by field staff as they morph into toadlets and disperse. To date, through the combined efforts of the Puerto Rican crested Species Survival Plan, more than 400,000 tadpoles have been reintroduced back into the wild.

This year at ZooTampa, two of our toad pairs produced clutches of fertilized eggs. Within 24 hours the fertilized eggs began to hatch into tadpoles.  Staff will continue feed and care for the tadpole until they’re ready to be sent to Puerto Rico for release.

You can help too! By purchasing a Zoo ticket, you are helping us care for Zoo animals and save species on the brink of extinction, like the Puerto Rican crested toad.

Birdy Spotlight – Vultures

By Tessa Giannini, Animal Care Professional, Aviary

2018 has been celebrated as The Year of the Bird nation-wide. This month, we’re highlighting vultures and the important, but often overlooked role they play!

Vultures and other scavengers sometimes get a bad rap for being unattractive or unsanitary and are associated with death and bad omens. What many people don’t realize is that scavenging birds are incredibly important for a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Without them, deceased organisms would not decompose nearly as quickly and diseases would spread more rapidly. In areas without vultures, carcasses take 3-4 times longer to decompose!

Vultures tend to be social animals and will feed and roost in flocks. Did you know their bald heads and hunched awkward bodies are designed to be adaptive to their diets? Their bald helps these messy eaters stay clean as they dive into a meal.

Although some species prefer fresh meat, vultures will feed on carcasses in various stages of decomposition, even carcasses that may be infected! Thanks to their very strong stomach acid, vultures are able to feed on rotting, infected carcasses without ill-effect.

Sadly, 14 of the 23 species of vultures are threatened or endangered due to a variety of threats including poisoning (both accidental and intentional), vehicle collisions, power line collisions, habitat degradation, lack of food availability and human-wildlife conflict. Many of the species facing these threats occur in Africa and Asia.

Vultures, also known as “nature’s garbage collectors” love to be appreciated year-round! If you find a wild vulture that is injured and needs help, contact a local certified wildlife rehabilitation facility that can provide them with the proper care to return to their native habitat. To help these species, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has a designated the African Vulture a Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program. This program focuses on assisting 6 species of Endangered or Critically Endangered African Vultures by partnering conservation work in Africa with the work that zoos are doing in North America.

Here at ZooTampa at Lowry Park we are home to Quito, the Andean Condor and Smedley, the Black Vulture. Both of these handsome birds can be found flying in our “Spirits of the Sky” Bird of Prey demonstration, where they help educate visitors about the importance of vultures.

Birdy Spotlight - Vultures - ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Birdy Spotlight - Vultures - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

A Tail of Two Okapi

By Senior Veterinarian Dr. Ray Ball

While discussing ruminants with my animal nutrition class, I described some health challenges we have had with giraffe and okapi.  Every one instantly knows what a giraffe is, but not so much with an okapi and even in this college biology class there were a few puzzled looks.  I briefly explained what an okapi was and how it is related to a giraffe.  “But what color are they?”  One inquisitive mind finally asked.  This has always stumped me when trying to describe okapis, but looking out into class and seeing the omnipresent Starbucks cups and the students sipping, it hit me.  “Okapi are like upside down raspberry mocha lattes.”  All twenty-eight heads dropped and began to jot down notes.

A Tail of Two Okapi - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

There are few creatures today that truly deserve the description of mythical but the okapi is one of them.  They do resemble short robust little giraffes but are much stouter in the body and have crisper facial features.  Then of course there is the color; a raspberry mocha brown on top with white stripes on the lower body and legs.  The fur itself adds much to the mystique of the okapi and touching one is an extraordinary treat.  They feel like velour and the slight oil in their skin rubs off leaving the raspberry mocha color on your hands.

Betty and Zach are a pair of okapi who live at ZooTampa.  The pair have spent essentially their entire adult lives together.  Last week we celebrated the birth of their beautiful calf.  They have been able to achieve this due to the care - and adoration - of the staff dedicated to their wellbeing.  Betty is starting to show her age just a little and a boost of energy in her diet was insurance to make sure both mom and calf would have everything they needed to thrive. Both seem to be doing so now. The relationship between the okapi and the okapi keeper team has led to several advances in their health care, including hoof trimming and general examinations. The ultrasound exam and now the milk sample collection have allowed us to further that care with Betty’s pre-natal evaluations.

The upside raspberry mocha latte comes in two sizes, venti and grande but that is temporary.  This little girl okapi calf will grow quickly, her ears will straighten out and she will also develop the oil in her skin.  She will then be able to leave a little bit of herself with everyone she encounters.  She has already started to make everyone fall in love with her.

A Tail of Two Okapi - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

All About Storks

By Animal Care Professional Marcus Kowitz


All About Storks - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

African Open-billed Stork

This particular species stands 3-feet-tall and is characterized by its all-black plumage with hints of iridescence found on the feathers, especially on the chest. They get their name from their uniquely shaped beak, which helps to acquire food. African Open-billed Storks can remove snails with their beaks without even breaking the shell! These storks are currently classified as near-threatened due to habitat destruction and pesticides. In the wild, Open-billed Storks can be found through central Africa in rivers and swampy areas. At ZooTampa, our Open-billed Stork can be found in the large free-flight aviary near the Manatee Fountain.

All About Storks - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Yellow-billed Stork

This stork is commonly found throughout Eastern Africa. They are mostly white with a red face and a large yellow beak. A fun fact about this species is that traces of pink coloration appear on their wings during breeding season. While most birds rely on their vision to hunt, yellow-billed storks use their sense of touch instead. They will wade through the shallows with their beak slightly open, swinging it back and forth through the water. When something touches their beak, they will snap it closed lightning fast and eat whatever they catch whole - woah! This species in particular have legs that appear to have a chalky look to them, this is due to the urates they deposit on their legs to help cool down their body during extreme heat. The water left behind evaporates and helps draw heat away, similar to how sweat helps us cool off! Although their conservation status is considered as least concern, populations have declined over the recent year due to poaching and habitat destruction. The yellow-billed storks at ZooTampa can currently be seen in our Sulawesi Aviary on the Asian boardwalk.

All About Storks - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Wood Stork

This stork is North America’s only native stork species and can be found primarily in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. This species can also be found throughout Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Wood Storks are sometimes referred to by their nicknames (‘Wood Ibis’ or ‘Flinthead’) due to their unique beak shape and shiny scales that appear on their head and neck. Wood Storks live in swampy areas usually near water, where they feed on all sorts of aquatic animals. This species is currently classified as threatened due to habitat destruction, pesticides and disruption of natural hydrological processes, usually because of agriculture. Native Wood Storks can be seen throughout ZooTampa, around the Florida Boardwalk and Safari Africa.

Making progress on the manatee critical care center

By Joe Couceiro, President and Chief Executive Officer

A hallmark of ZooTampa at Lowry Park is that every day our team takes action to protect the natural world and create exceptional personalized experiences connecting people with wildlife and each other. For example, we recently welcomed the zoo’s first litter of rare, red wolf pups. A new, innovatively designed habitat contributed to the birth of these pups.  This state-of-the-art habitat also allows guests to be part of this unique experience as they see the pups grow and emerge from their den.  For families, we kicked off the summer with a splash – by opening a wild water adventure.  Roaring Springs presented by Pinch A Penny allows guests to trek through Florida and discover endangered native wildlife, then board a boat for a family journey along a flowing stream and feel then feel the roar of a three-story splashdown.  These two additions are now open, and are just a small part of ZooTampa’s recently announced transformation plan.

Making progress on the manatee critical care center - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Additionally, we have been at work behind the scenes on a $3 million upgrade to ZooTampa’s manatee life support capacities.  When the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center opened more than 25 years ago, it set a new standard for manatee rescue and care. From a uniquely-designed observation area, the center gave guests a view of veterinary and rehabilitation procedures in real time. Zoo visitors fell in love with Florida’s gentle sea cows. Through hundreds of rescues, our manatee care team became leaders in successful manatee rescue, rehabilitation and eventually release, helping move these marine mammals back into the wild, inspiring the next generation of manatee lovers.  The newly improved life support system will allow us to provide more advanced, specialized care for the welfare of the manatees. Now we will be able to treat even the most severe cases.

While work progresses on the center, our team is assisting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park with the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured manatees. Our veterinary and animal care teams continue to conduct research, for which ZooTampa is internationally recognized as leaders in manatee care. We proactively educate visitors about the role we as humans play in ensuring peaceful coexistence with this vulnerable marine mammal found in Florida waters.

After years of planning and fundraising for the project, the center’s renovations are nearing completion. We are on an aggressive schedule to reopen the center this fall and begin receiving manatees in desperate need of care. It’s our mission to protect and conserve wildlife, particularly native Florida species, like the manatee, and we take great pride in helping save them.  Animal care is at the core of everything we do.

Making progress on the manatee critical care center - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Saving Great Apes

Today is the day famous primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall, first stepped foot in what is now called Gombe Stream National Park in 1960. Through her research, Dr. Goodall pioneered what we know about our closest living relative.

ZooTampa is committed to the conservation of species great apes. Tiffany Burns, Animal Care Manager of Primates, and I work directly with the Pan Africa Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) throughout Africa to help primates in need of care. Chimpanzees are facing many threats in the wild such as habitat loss, being hunted for bush meat and the illegal pet trade. Due to these threats, their numbers are declining at a rapid rate. Continued conservation efforts are needed in Africa range countries to help protect this amazing species and turn their numbers around.

PASA is a 22 member organization that rescue African great apes and monkeys from unthinkable suffering. Many of the animals were orphaned by the bushmeat crisis and others were illegally held as pets in abusive situations. High quality care is crucial for the welfare of these animals, many of whom require specialized treatment to recover from the physical and psychological trauma endured. As part of the PASA team, Tiffany and I were tasked to create and provide specialized training for sanctuary caregivers. Since 2017, we have spent several weeks at four sanctuaries in Africa working directly with caregivers on animal welfare, behavior, cleaning, enrichment, human interaction, husbandry, nutrition, training and reintroduction. This training has an enormous impact on the quality of life of the apes and monkeys at the sanctuaries and is helping to grow the next generation of leaders in Africa to be environmental stewards and wildlife champions.

You can help great apes just by visiting the Zoo - every dollar, every ticket and every membership helps support our mission to save species on a global scale.

- Lee Ann Rottman, Vice President of Conservation

Saving Great Apes - ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Saving Great Apes - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Country Store Shoppin’

With the brand-new family, water adventure Roaring Springs opening up, we wanted to give y’all an exclusive sneak peek at the new store where you’ll be able to shop for your favorite local goodies! You’ll go wild at the Country Store for the items that include the most unique Florida finds.

Country Store Shoppin' - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

If you are buzzing for something sweet, don’t worry! We have the best honey in the state from Kelley’s Apiaries. Kelley’s offers nothing but pure, raw, unfiltered honey with a variety of flavors including orange blossom, local wildflower, palmetto, and holly. With this honey, you can add a little sweetness to your life!

Country Store Shoppin' - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Got Milk? Goat milk that is!  The Country Store will be selling goat milk soaps from Sunflower Soaps. The soaps are made with ingredients and oils with our skin benefits in mind and are handcrafted in small quantities with fresh goat milk from their own herd of Nubian dairy goats.

Country Store Shoppin'
Country Store Shoppin'

Another great local find at the store are the Florida salt scrubs - specially crafted in South Florida. These sea salts contain pure mineral-rich sea salt crystals collected directly from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. While you’re scrubbing away, you can add to your pampering with one of the handmade natural soy candles from Cantara Candles. These candles are eco-friendly, allowing the candles to burn cleaner and longer without polluting your home with toxins and carcinogens. These products make for the perfect spa day in the comfort of your own home!

Country Store Shoppin' - ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Country Store Shoppin' - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Add to your Florida lifestyle with all these items, plus more, at the Country Store near Roaring Springs!

Day of Discovery


Day of Discovery - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Sensory Friendly Christmas Experience

November 30 , 2019 | 8:00am - 9:30am

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is thrilled to raise awareness for autism in the Tampa Bay community through Day of Discovery events. We aim to provide unforgettable experiences for all guests, including those with special needs.

Day of Discovery - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Join us at ZooTampa at Lowry Park for our sensory friendly Christmas celebration. During this daytime event, families to explore our some of our Christmas themed areas, decorate cookies and listen to a story from Mrs. Clause. In addition, families can download social stories and parent tips prior to the event on ZooTampa at Lowry Park or CARD website.

Doors will open at 8:00 a.m. for Sensory Christmas in the Wild participants only, with lights and sounds adapted for individuals with sensory differences and their families. Sensory Christmas in the Wild concludes  at 9:30 a.m.


Distract-Packs are available at Guest Services.

Distract Packs are available at Guest Services.

This event is FREE for Zoo Members.

Non-Members: Only $5 if purchased before event date and $8 on day of event.

Parking is FREE.

Special Thanks

ZooTampa’s Day of Discovery is made possible by: SunTrust Foundation and The Lowry Murphey Family Foundation, Inc.

We also acknowledge the generous efforts of Autism Shifts and the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at USF for their efforts in helping to make this event a success.  We also recognize the support of The Learning Academy at USF, Autism Speaks and the Diversity Action Coalition and applaud their efforts to promote inclusive experiences.