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Who owns the animals that live in zoos?
It all depends first on the mother, then the dad

A pregnant Asha. American zoo-animal ownership depends on parentage and breeding programs.
Courtesy of WVXU
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In The Region:

The Cincinnati Zoo is expecting a baby gorilla any day now. But, as WVXU’s Tana Weingartner reports for Ohio Public Radio, the little tyke won't actually belong to Cincinnati.

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Neither the unborn gorilla nor its parents, Asha and Jomo, are Cincinnatians, so to speak. Though all three will live here, ownership falls to the parents’ zoo of origin.

It’s all part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan which helps zoos in North America regulate breeding. Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard says it’s complicated but important.

“Sometimes a zoo might own an animal for 10, 20, 30 years even though it is actually living at another facility,” says Maynard. “Zoos no longer keep their records in a little file box written with a pencil by the curator. It’s a very elaborate system that’s networked throughout all the accredited zoos in North America. So everybody knows who has what and who’s related to whom.”

Here are your fun facts for the day: The new baby gorilla will technically belong to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, because that’s who owns mother, Asha. Maternal zoo’s have rights to the first offspring.

And father, Jomo? He’s actually Canadian, tracing his lineage to the Toronto Zoo, which would get the second offspring, should there be another birth.

International law forbids buying or selling endangered species, and Maynard says simply taking animals from the wild largely ended in the 1970’s.

Zoos also have to be careful about inbreeding.

“We have a young giraffe here named Lulu who is pushing 2 years old, so later this summer or fall she’ll leave and go to another zoo. The reason for that is because, as she matures, we don’t want her to breed with her own father. So though we would retain ownership, she’ll actually go and live at another zoo and maybe breed there and then their offspring would maybe move around.”

Lulu is scheduled to go to The Wilds in southeastern Ohio.

Unlike European zoos which allow animal culling, Maynard says accredited zoos must have long-term care and housing plans for newborns. So if zoos want to continue preserving these animals, they have to work together.


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