Zoos in the USA and 24 foreign countries will be celebrating National Zookeeper Week, which runs July 17-23, 2011. In Mexico City, we will be toasting our local animal caregivers, like Dr. Saúl Soto Mendoza, who works at Parque Zoologico de Chapultepec.
Dr. Saul is one lucky guy: he’s the chief of the reproductory lab who works with the Zoo’s world-famous pandas. They are as cute as can be – almost as cute as the little kids on this video who are visiting the zoo and talking about the black and white animals.
Nowadays, three giant pandas live in Chapultepec Zoo: Xiu Hua, Shuan Shuan & Xin Xin. They were all born at the zoo, which has the world’s most successful panda-breeding program outside of China. The first pair to arrive – Ying Ying and Pe Pe – arrived in 1975 and is the parents or grandparents of today’s cubs (their names mean “Treasure” and “Welcome,” respectively). And today’s three are real Mexicans: other than a panda in Berlin, the Chapultepec trio are the only pandas in the world who belong to the country they live in (as opposed to being loaned by the Chinese government).
Chapultepec Park, the great, green forest in the center of Mexico City, is no stranger to animal enclosures. Back in the 1500’s when the park was off-limits to any Mexica other than Aztec Emperor Moctezuma and his court, hundreds of zookeepers cared for the ruler’s menagerie, which is said to have included thousands of mammals, birds, and reptiles.
The current zoo, located just off Paseo de la Reforma near the Auditorio and Chapultepec Metro stations, was founded in 1923 and extensively renovated in the 1990s. Visitors praise the naturalistic habitats, gigantic aviary, herpetarium, and butterfly enclosure. The zoo is a busy place – on both sides of the walls that separate visitor from resident; more than 5 million guests pass through annually to see the zoo’s 2,000 animals, representing 250 different species. Director Adriana Fernández Ortega, a biologist, oversees the animal park and is one of the few women in the world directing a major zoo.
Best of all, admission to Parque Zoologico de Chapultepec is free! On weekends, the place is packed with the many families who come to enjoy Chapultepec’s many attractions, including the botanical garden, hilltop castle, and the Museum of Anthropology across Paseo de la Reforma from the zoo.
Always wanted to be a zookeeper? Read what the American Association of Zookeepers has to say and maybe we will be honoring you during next year’s National Zookeeper Week.