Phoenix Zoo creature feature

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Ever wonder what goes on in the Arthur L. "Bud" Johnson and Elaine V. Johnson Conservation Center at the Phoenix Zoo? Since its grand opening in 2007, the Center has served as home for several key Arizona animal species in need of rescue and recovery. Read on to learn more about the animals that have spent time at the Center and to get a better glimpse of what the Zoo is doing to help.

Sonoyta mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense longifemorale)

The Sonoyta mud turtle is a small, secretive aquatic turtle that is currently only found in one area in the United States; Quitobaquito Springs and Rio Sonoyta in extreme southwest Arizona.

The primary threats to this population at this time are drought and an unexplained leak in Quitobaquito Springs. Earlier this year, biologists from Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) brought 30 turtles to the Zoo to act as a safety net population while repairs are made to the spring where they live.

If the repairs are successful, the turtles will return to the wild in the spring. We are currently partnering with AZGFD on this program and are proud to be entrusted with this important role.

Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis)

The Chiricahua leopard frog (CLF) is found in the higher elevations of east-central and southeastern Arizona. All six species of Arizona's native leopard frogs are protected by the state and the CLF is also listed as threatened under the United States Endangered Species Act.

The primary causes of the frogs' decline include: disease, (chytridiomycosis, a fungal infection attacking amphibians around the world), habitat loss and fragmentation, and introduced species such as bullfrogs, crayfish and non-native sportfish (green sunfish) that prey on the frogs and tadpoles. The Phoenix Zoo has been involved with head-starting CLFs since 1995. Field biologists locate CLF egg masses and notify Zoo staff so we can prepare for their arrival. The egg masses are set up in tanks in the Center and tended until they hatch. Then, Zoo staff raise the CLF tadpoles until they are large enough for release back into the wild.

Over the years we have worked with many partners on the program, including but not limited to: AZGFD, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy and private landowners. Since the program began in 1995, we have head-started more than 7,500 tadpoles and frogs at the Zoo.

Three Forks springsnail (Pyrgulopsis trivialis)

The Three Forks springsnail, is a very small (1-2mm) aquatic snail found in only two small springs in Arizona's White Mountains.

The primary threats to this species are its limited distribution, threats to habitat from elk, livestock grazing and wildfire, and the introduction of non-native crayfish that are destructive to the snails' habitat. As a result of these pressures, the springsnail is a candidate for listing as threatened under the United States Endangered Species Act.

The Zoo currently houses approximately 300 snails in the Conservation Center. We are developing husbandry and breeding techniques in preparation for releasing snails back to the wild if the need arises. We are currently partnering with AZGFD and USFWS on this project and are pleased to be able to share the story of this little-known native Arizona species with Zoo members and other guests.

Narrow-headed garter snake (Thamnophis rufipunctatus)

The narrow-headed garter snake is a small almost entirely aquatic snake found near streams in higher elevations such as the juniper/pine forest in central and eastern Arizona. Narrow-headed garter snakes almost exclusively eat aquatic foods such as fish, tadpoles, salamanders and frogs.

The snake is declining in all areas where it is found across the state due to threats including crayfish and bullfrogs, the introduction of non-native sportfish that compete with the native fish the snakes eat, habitat fragmentation, drought, recreational use of riparian areas, and livestock grazing. The Zoo is currently holding five garter snakes so we can develop husbandry and breeding techniques, since not much is known about the biology of this species. We hope to produce offspring for future release back to the wild.

The Phoenix Zoo belongs to the Garter snake Working group which includes AZGFD, USFWS, Arizona State University, Mesa Community College, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Phoenix Herpetological Society as active participants.

Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)

Black-footed ferrets (BFFs) were once considered the most endangered mammal in North America, and have even been considered extinct twice! As a hedge against their extinction in the wild, the last remaining BBFs in the world were brought into captivity in 1987.

From that initial group of 18 ferrets, more than 6,000 ferrets have been born, including 385 here at the Phoenix Zoo. The Zoo is an active partner in ferret recovery and 100 of the kits born here have been released to the wild. Black-footed ferrets rely on prairie dogs as both their main source of food and for shelter (ferrets live in prairie dog "towns"). This relationship means BFFs are subject to the same threats as those facing prairie dogs: mainly loss of habitat and the threat of sylvatic plague.

Currently the Zoo is holding 14 ferrets that have been retired from the breeding program and cannot be released to the wild due to health issues. After the construction of a new breeding facility at the current Zoo Conservation Complex, we will resume our breeding program. As proud members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Black-footed Ferret Species Survival Plan® program, we work closely with the USFWS and AZGFD as well as the other four breeding facilities at AZA-accredited zoos in the United States and Canada.

The Phoenix Zoo is located at 455 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. Rain or shine, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day (Dec. 25). Regular-season hours (Sept. 1-May 31) are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Summer hours (June 1-Aug. 31) are 7 a.m.-1 p.m. during the week and 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on the weekends Admission is $14 for adults, $6 for children and $9 for seniors. For more information, call 602-273-1341 or visit .