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'Boogie Down' Bronx Zoo returning to Animal Planet for season 2 of 'The Zoo'

The show that highlights the animals at the Bronx Zoo and their caretakers is filming a second season.
  • Julie Larsen Maher/©WCS

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    Blue iguana at the Bronx Zoo

    The Grand Cayman iguana (Cyclura lewisi), also known as the blue iguana, is named for the beautiful blue hue of its skin. Blue iguanas can grow to nearly five feet long and weigh 30 pounds as adults. They are the largest native land animal in the Cayman Islands. The main threats to wild populations are feral dogs and cats as well as human activities, according to WCS.

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    Blue iguana at the Bronx Zoo

    The blue iguana numbered fewer than 20 animals, but the species has been brought back from the brink of extinction.

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    Blue iguana at the Bronx Zoo

    The two young iguanas at the Bronx Zoo were bred at other zoos that participate in the blue iguana Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program designed to enhance the genetic viability of animal populations in zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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    Blue iguana at the Bronx Zoo

    “Although many people have never heard of a blue iguana, the animals at the Bronx Zoo will help us tell the story of their species – a wonderful story of conservation success,” said WCS Vice President for Health Programs Dr. Paul Calle, chief veterinarian and director of the Zoological Health Program. “Blue iguanas were functionally extinct just a few years ago and would not exist on this planet today if it were not for the collaboration and intervention of these groups.”  

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    American bison and calves at the Bronx Zoo

    Six American bison calves were born at Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Bronx Zoo and four of them are on exhibit on the zoo’s Bison Range, the WCS announced in May.

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    American bison and calves at the Bronx Zoo

    The calves were born to a herd of seven females and one male that arrived at the zoo from Ft. Peck, Montana, in November 2016. The herd was an historic gift from the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes and was significant because the Fort Peck bison are from the Yellowstone National Park bloodline, and are among the few pure bison remaining. 

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    American bison and calves at the Bronx Zoo

    The vast majority of present-day bison have trace amounts of domestic cattle genes, a reflection of past interbreeding efforts when western ranchers tried to create a hardier breed of cattle. 

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    American bison and calves at the Bronx Zoo

    The female bison were already pregnant when they arrived at the zoo and the calves were born in late April. 

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    American bison and calves at the Bronx Zoo

    For more than five years, the Bronx Zoo has worked on developing a herd of pure bison through embryo transfer. The bison from Ft. Peck will supplement those efforts. The bull currently on exhibit with the females and calves was the first American bison born as a result of embryo transfer in 2012. 

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    Hellbender at the Bronx Zoo

    The Eastern hellbender is a large species of salamander native to freshwater rivers and streams in Eastern North America. Adults are nearly two feet long and there are only two larger salamander species known to exist – the Japanese and Chinese giant salamanders – both can grow to up to six feet long.

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    Hellbender at the Bronx Zoo

    Hellbenders have a host of colorful nicknames: snot otters, Allegheny alligators, devil dogs and old lasagna sides, to name a few. They are fully aquatic and are typically found in rocky, swift-flowing streams, hiding beneath large rocks in shallow rapids. 

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    Hellbender at the Bronx Zoo

    Eastern hellbenders are one of the world’s largest salamander species native to New York State.

     

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    Hellbender at the Bronx Zoo

    In 2014, Bronx Zoo joined hellbender conservation efforts with the Upper Susquehanna Conservation Alliance. The group’s goal is to conserve wild hellbender populations in the Susquehanna Watershed of New York and Pennsylvania. 

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    Hellbender at the Bronx Zoo

    In the fall of 2014, wild collected eggs from the Susquehanna Watershed were collected and hatched at the zoo where staff have been raising 103 hellbenders for future release, WCS announced in April.

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    Hellbender at the Bronx Zoo

    Hellbenders have flattened heads and bodies, small eyes and slimy, wrinkly skin. They are typically a brown or reddish-brown with a pale underbelly. A narrow edge along the dorsal surface of their tails helps propel them through water. 

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    Hellbender at the Bronx Zoo

    New York State lists the hellbender as a species of Special Concern. Populations are declining due to several factors including over chytrid fungus, water pollution and habitat destruction. 

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    Père David’s deer and fawns at the Bronx Zoo

    The herd of Père David's deer (Elaphurus davidianus) at the the Bronx Zoo grew by four fawns: two males and two females, all born to different mothers. A male and a female were born on April 7, and the other two deer were born on April 15.

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    Père David’s deer and fawns at the Bronx Zoo

    The Père David's deer might seem somewhat unassuming, but the species has some adaptations unlike any other deer. They have long tails, branch-like antlers and splayed hooves that would indicate that they are adapted to live in a marsh-like environment, but no one knows for sure how the species evolved or the environment it once lived in the wild. 

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    Père David’s deer and fawns at the Bronx Zoo

    Père David's deer, also known as milu, are endemic to China, but only fossil records give clues to the species’ original range and habitat. Centuries of hunting and habitat loss drove the species to the brink of extinction. By the 1860s, the species was all but gone, according to WCS.

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    Père David’s deer and fawns at the Bronx Zoo

    Today, Père David’s deer exist only in human care. They roam in deer parks, ranches, zoos, and have returned to China to live in reserves. The species is classified as Extinct in the Wild by the IUCN. 

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    Indian Gharials at the Bronx Zoo

    The Bronx Zoo recently added eight Indian gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) to the river habitat in JungleWorld, and they made their public debut this spring. This is the first time the Bronx Zoo has exhibited the species since 2000. 

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    Indian Gharials at the Bronx Zoo

    Gharial are a slender-snouted crocodilian native to northern Indian subcontinent. They are classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Eighty percent of the remaining world population live in the Chambal River in India – the last stronghold for the species. 

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    Indian Gharials at the Bronx Zoo

    “As people watch the gharials swim, bask, and interact with each other, we hope they will enhance the visitor experience and raise awareness of the dire conservation needs of this species in the wild,” said Don Boyer, Bronx Zoo herpetology curator. “WCS is supporting field conservation efforts to ensure the species’ survival in nature, and these eight animals serve as ambassadors to help us tell that story.”

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    Indian Gharials at the Bronx Zoo

    The gharials can be seen in a river that already serves as home to turtles and fish native to Asia. White-cheeked gibbons, mouse deer, Indian fruit bats, painted storks and numerous other species of birds can also be seen along the river’s edge. 

“The Zoo” debuted on Animal Planet in February with 1.1 million viewers tuning in to get a glimpse into the life of the animals at the Bronx Zoo and the interactions with their caretakers.

The subsequent seven episodes averaged more than 1 million viewers, making it Animal Planet's most-watched freshman series since July 2015.

And the “Boogie Down” Bronx Zoo is just getting started! Animal Planet gave the green light to 10 more episodes of “The Zoo,” which will give fans a chance to learn about different animals, meet new zoo staff members and follow up on season 1 favorites.

Animal Planet “The Zoo” Season 2

Executive Vice President of Zoos and Aquarium at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Executive Director of WCS’s Bronx Zoo Jim Breheny was a cast member in the first season of “The Zoo.”

The show isn’t scripted, so it isn’t “reality TV” in that sense (also, the “cat fights” are between actual cats and not the real housewives of the Bronx). The Bronx Zoo tells Animal Planet what is expected that day in terms of animal care, events or procedures like physical therapy for a snow leopard with muscle issues.

Often times, the animals have their own plans.

“Interestingly, when we got the word that we were going to do season 2, and we looked at what aired [in season 1], 70 to 75 percent of what aired wasn’t what was planned,” Breheny explained.

When a new challenge or opportunity arises, Breheny said the zoo calls the show’s producers, and a new storyline is born.

“We partially had one story that I hope makes it in season 2; we have a local conservation story featuring hellbenders, which are one of the largest salamanders in the world,” Breheny said.

So far, this time around, Animal Planet was there for the creation of an exhibit for slender horn gazelles and shot some film of lemurs.

“We’ve just started filming, so it’s too early to say exactly what we’ll see in season 2, but the animals and stories we’ve covered so far are just the tip of the iceberg,” Animal Planet Executive Producer Lisa Lucas teased.

“The learning and perfecting never stop,” Lucas added, “but I think we found the right balance of story and information. Our goal is to do more of the same, even better, with a lot more animals. We may also catch up with some favorite animals from season 1!”   

The Bronx Zoo After Season 1

There have been some changes to the Bronx Zoo since the first season.

“It’s created more of a dialogue between the visitors and zoo staff,” Breheny said. “So many of us are recognized from the show, and people have been so warm and complimentary and telling us what their favorite episode is and why.”

What’s his favorite episode?

“Everything is my favorite when I’m talking about it,” Breheny said with a laugh.

Breheny continued to say he really enjoyed the tiger storyline and the episode when they released the spray toad to Tanzania.

Breheny told us he gets a chuckle out of visitors who make it a game to meet staff members they saw in the show, coupled with the appreciation that has grown for the relationships between the zookeepers and the animals for whom they care.

“The Zoo” also provided a “real morale booster," he added.

Instead of focusing on a handful of characters, the debut episode alone featured at least 60 Bronx Zoo employees.

“[The show has] done a lot for morale at the zoo, and it’s done a lot for morale in aquariums and zoos across the country,” Breheny said. “Almost every day, we get an email or letter from someone in the country giving feedback, and from our colleagues, it’s been positive.”

Breheny said it’s really nice for the staff to hear how much everyone loved the first season, but it’s most surprising every time he hears someone say, “Thank you for doing the show.” Many families Breheny said he’s spoken to at the zoo would watch “The Zoo” at 10 p.m on Saturdays or DVR it to watch on Sunday with the whole family.

Animal Planet Shows You Layers

Lucas, who was also the executive producer for Animal Planet’s recently premiered show “Raised Human,” said the cool access to the behind-the-scenes action could be its own show, but “The Zoo” takes it further.

“There’s another layer that’s resonating: the relationship between keepers and the animals in their care. These people aren’t actors and the animals are unpredictable, so it’s never clear where their stories will go,” she said, “but in the end, what emerges are genuine, relatable stories that can be happy or heartbreaking or anything in between.

“And it’s not just familiar, showy animals you’d expect to be featured – some of the most memorable stories in season 1 are about animals you’ve probably never seen before. So, I’d like to think we’re feeding hearts and minds at the same time.” 

Breheny agrees.

“We really kind of set out to kind of change the conversation on zoos; rather than try to preach to people, our strategy was to kind of show people, and I think people just really responded well to the way the show is filmed and represented, and they see it as really real and genuine,” the director of the Bronx Zoo told us. “And again, [fans of the show] often express the passion and care that the staff has and feels for the animals.”

Breheny also said he was surprised by some of the other comments the zoo staff heard after season 1, especially when it comes to how people personally relate to the animals’ stories.

“The story where we had to euthanize the snow leopard, it could have been potentially controversial,” Breheny recalled. “People wrote in and said it taught them a lesson on how to deal with their own pets in that situation.

“One person even said they realize they went too far with their own pets because of their own feelings and needs, and they weren’t considering what was best for the animal, so they took that away as a lesson.

“It’s really nice to know you’re having an impact on people’s lives and thinking.”

Catch up with season 1 of “The Zoo” during a marathon on July 9 starting at 3 p.m. on Animal Planet. As a bonus, some of the stories have been updated, so you get an extra early peek inside the “The Zoo” after season 1!

 

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