Zoo’s Historic Grottos Transformed into New Raptor Ridge Habitat

Recently, a historical part of the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden was renovated to create a new home for the Zoo’s raptor species. Raptors are large birds of prey and includes species like, eagles, owls, condors and vultures. Originally built in 1938, the grottos, located near the Zoo’s sea lion habitat, was a must-see stop for anyone visiting the Zoo. The grottos were originally built to house the Zoo’s big cats and were considered top-of-the-line animal habitats in the late ‘30s. Guests could walk up to the habitat of their favorite big cat and peer down into their living space—giving them an aerial view of the habitat and the animal. Different generations of big cat species called the grottos home for decades. When the Zoo’s Cat Forest habitat was built in 1997, the big cats were moved to their new homes. Once the big cats moved to their new habitat in Cat Forest, the grottos were left empty. 

Because the grottos were considered a staple of the Zoo experience for decades, Zoo staff chose to fence off the grottos, rather than remove them.  The grottos remained fenced off for several years until the decision was made to renovate them in 2019 to accommodate bird species. Through a long process of deep cleaning and re-construction, the historic grottos were transformed into Raptor Ridge, the Zoo’s newest animal habitat designed specifically for raptor species – including Andean condors and cinereous vultures.

Raptor Ridge officially opened in fall 2020. The habitat expansion includes an azalea garden and five habitats that house six different species – four of which are new to the Zoo’s animal family. While the Zoo’s two raptor species inspired the name, Raptor Ridge, the habitat is also home to four bird species and one mammal.

The first habitat in Raptor Ridge is considered a multi-species habitat, meaning that it is shared among different animal species. In this multi-species habitat, guests can see two, male Reeve’s muntjacs, a small deer species that is native to China. This species of muntjac only grows to 40 pounds and is referred to as the “barking deer” for its uncanny, dog-like vocalizations when warding off predators. Found in the three of the five habitats is a flock of jungle fowl, the ancient ancestor to domesticated farm chickens. Jungle fowl are found throughout southeast Asia, and can be heard throughout the Zoo by their rooster-like cry. A female Himalayan monal pheasant, native to Nepal, can also be found in the first habitat. Helmeted guinea-fowl have access to roam two of Raptor Ridge’s habitat spaces.  The helmeted guinea-fowl is the wild relative of the domestic guineafowl. This bird species is able to fly, but prefers to run and will only take flight when necessary. Raptor Ridge is also home to two white-necked ravens who have access to two of the habitats. This bird species is distinguished by its short tail, small bill and extensive white patch on its neck.

Raptor Ridge is the new home of the Zoo’s two, beloved Andean Condors - Lady and Brando, who’ve lived behind-the-scenes for the last few years. Lady is slightly smaller than Brando and has bright red eyes, whereas Brando has light brown eyes. Brando also has an extra bridge along the top of his beak. Lady and Brando were brought together as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Andean Condor Species Survival Plan®. The raptor species is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Andean Condor is one of the biggest birds in the world that is able to fly, with a wingspan of up to 10 feet in width. This majestic species is also the national bird of several South American countries including Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. Because Andean condors are a solitary species, Lady and Brando have lived in separate habitats throughout their time at the Zoo - only sharing space when mating.

Raptor Ridge is also home to two female cinereous vultures, Bondi and Alabama. Cinereous vultures are typically solitary birds, but social pairs have been spotted in the wild. Bondi and Alabama became acquainted with one another at the Zoo. Since their initial introductions, the two raptors have continued to share space. In the wild, the cinereous vulture has a wide range of territory. The species can be found between western Europe, all the way to northern China, and have been spotted as high up as Mount Everest.

 Just as the big cat grottos were once a beloved part of the Zoo, we hope Raptor Ridge will create family memories for generations to come.

 

 - Eddie Witte, Curator of Birds

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