It may be 28 degrees in New Bedford today, but Buttonwood Park Zoo is already looking ahead to spring and introducing three brand new species to Zoo guests when it finally arrives.

According to a recent press release, three unique species were sent to New Bedford as part of collaborative programs of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Zoo participates in many collaborative programs, including AZA Species Survival Plans (SSP). “The goal of an SSP is to cooperatively manage animal populations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy and genetically diverse population while enhancing the conservation of this species in the wild.”

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Photo contributed by Jessica Martinho at Buttonwood Park Zoo

Currently residing in BPZOO’s innovative Rainforests Rivers & Reefs building, which showcases South American primates, birds, reptiles, and fish among four mixed-species rotational habitats, is a pair of Ma’s night monkeys, also known as owl monkeys. Alexander, 10, and Supressa, seven, are two of only five Ma’s night monkeys at just three AZA-accredited institutions. The pair came to BPZOO from a conservancy in Miami, Florida, and have been acclimating to their new home since their arrival. Ma’s night monkeys are nocturnal primates with short, dense, and soft fur. They have characteristically large eyes to aid in their nocturnal lifestyle and their hands are well developed for grasping.

Keith Lovett, Buttonwood Park Zoo Director, is also Chair of the AZA New World Primate Taxon Advisory Group. “Although Ma’s night monkeys are a nocturnal species that will be less active during the day, the Zoo expects them to be a crowd favorite during our many nighttime events and programs throughout the summer. We are very pleased to be able to allow guests the opportunity to learn about this species that is maintained at very few zoos across the country.”

Photo contributed by Ian Gereg

The second species debuting at BPZOO this spring is a pair of southern screamers. Also known as crested screamers, these long-legged, non-migratory birds are most closely related to ducks, geese, and swans – although one would not know that just by looking at them.

The trumpet-like call of a southern screamer, which has helped them earn their name, carries for several miles and warns other birds of approaching danger. Between their loud, far-reaching call, and the two sharp spurs they carry on each wing, southern screamers are the “guard birds” of their wetland habitat. As the weather warms, they can be seen on guard in the Chilean pudu habitat that opened in the summer of 2020, opposite the Asian elephant habitat.

“At first glance, many think this incredible species with their long, scaly legs, large bony spurs on the edge of their wings, and cautious gait look pre-historic. The Zoo is home to many species of waterbirds, but the screamers are definitely visually unique,” Lovett said.

Photo contributed by Keith Lovett at Buttonwood Park Zoo

The third and final species that will debut at BPZOO this spring is also the most critically endangered - the Panamanian golden frog. These four females, who arrived recently from the Nashville Zoo in Tennessee, are set to take up residence in one of the terrarium habitats in the admissions lobby of the Zoo.

Panamanian golden frogs exhibit a unique behavior only seen in a few frog species called ‘semaphore’ - a type of sign language - to signal to each other. They will “wave” their hands or raise and move their feet to defend their territory, try to attract a mate, or even to greet one another.

Panamanian golden frogs are critically endangered and it is believed that they may possibly be extinct in the wild. Scientists believe that an infectious disease called chytridiomycosis, coupled with pressure from the illegal pet trade has caused the drastic decline in population – an estimated 80 percent in the last 10 years. Habitat loss due to deforestation and stream toxification from agricultural chemicals have also put pressure on this species. Panamanian golden frogs haven’t been seen in the wild since 2009 and if a population remains, it may include fewer than 50 mature individuals.

“The community is mostly aware of the Zoo’s efforts to conserve iconic species like Asian elephants and red pandas, but many smaller, less-known species including the Panamanian golden frogs are at significant risk of extinction in the wild and are equally the focus of accredited zoos and aquariums of AZA,” Lovett said.

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