On 24 July, biologist Dr Jorge Servin of the Instituto took me to Zoológico Sahuatoba, a municipal facility which was opened in 1977 on a busy highway, Boulevard del Castillo. Eucalyptus trees were prevalent throughout the seven-hectare grounds. The style of animal housing, represented mostly by wire-mesh cages and fenced-in enclosures, was reminiscent of zoos in Panama, in both the City and the old Canal Zone. It was apparent that within its various limits, they have made an effort to improve the living conditions of the inhabitants. Earth, grass and trees were replacing sterile concrete floors. Some of the hoofed stock pens were quite large. Also, the practice of providing generously large areas for `crowd pleasers', such as large felids and bears, was noted in this zoo. Signage was generally good, depicting basic information on natural history, including distribution, reproduction and longevity.
As in Mexico City, there is no admission fee for this zoo. It appeared that visitors were allowed to ride bicycles on the grounds. Some large trees were neatly trimmed, giving a park-like atmosphere. Other U.S. delegates for the wolf conference, who visited this facility on another occasion, took interest in the large open enclosure for spider monkeys. This exhibit also caught my attention. It was in the center of the zoo, circled by low strands of electric wire. Inside the enclosure were eucalyptus trees, climbing apparatus, rope and wooden houses. At least eight Ateles geoffroyi were seen in the enclosure; they were very active and some of them were near the top of tall eucalyptus trees.
What follows is the list of animals I noted on exhibit, and as usual I have skipped domesticated species. The list by no means represents the entire inventory; chances are I may have missed a few species. Eight spider monkey (A. geoffroyi), 1.1 hamadryas baboon, 1.3.2 coyote, 1 grey fox, 1 raccoon, 1 coati, 1 kinkajou, 1 grizzly bear, 1 American black bear, 1 bobcat, 1 jaguar, 1.1 lion, 10 collared peccary, 1 hippopotamus (with a llama in the same enclosure), 2 guanaco, 1.2 white-tailed deer, 3 brindled gnu, 1.1 blackbuck, 0.2 ostrich, 2 black vulture, 11 red-tailed hawk, 1 Harris' hawk, 2 golden eagle, 1 bald eagle, 3 caracara, 2 barn owl, 9 great horned owl, 5 military macaw, 7 red-lored amazon, 1 raven.
After the tour Dr Servin introduced me to the director, Leticia Matuk Palacios. We sat in her office, and thanks to the translation by Dr Servin, I was able to chat with her. Ms Matuk said that the young adult bald eagle in the zoo was first found in a factory near Durango with an injured wing, possibly by gunshot. The bird came to the zoo about a year ago, and she thought that it was the sole representative of its species in Mexican zoos. The conversation then shifted to the ever-confusing topic of spider monkey taxonomy. She said that the founders of the group in her zoo were collected in at least three different locations. According to her, there is an embryonic program to organize information and give some directions concerning spider monkeys kept in four zoos, namely in Durango, Puebla (Africam Safari), Guadalajara and Monterrey. This is welcome news indeed, considering the confusing taxonomic status of this genus in so many zoo collections.
Even though this was a brief trip, it constituted a delightful introduction to the zoo circle in my `south of the border' neighbor nation. I recommend visiting this country at any opportunity, to meet with friendly people, and to see what their zoos offer to the international zoo world.