The Animals of the New African Savanna
Imagine the African savanna. Wide, open and flat expanses with tall yellow grasses. Sparse trees and shrubs dotting the landscape. Endless blue sky with a bright sun. What’s missing from this scene? The iconic wildlife that roam this habitat, of course! I’m sure you imagine the giraffes, stretching upward to reach the leaves in the very tops of trees, large herds of zebras, their silhouettes and stripes blending together, and the elephant herds navigating their way to their watering holes.
As many of you know, here at Zoo Atlanta, our all-new African Savanna will open later this summer, and we will be welcoming these species and more back into the public view. They’ve spent their time in behind-the-scenes areas during construction, and we can’t wait for them (and you!) to see what’s coming soon. Our goal is to introduce visitors to the many ways life is connected, on the savanna in Africa and here at home in Atlanta, so here’s a little about the animals you can look forward to seeing later this summer.
- African elephants are Earth’s largest land animals. Elephants are keystone species and act as the gardeners of the savanna. They keep vegetation from becoming overgrown and disperse seeds through their poop, helping to re-plant their environment.
- While African elephants may hold the record for being the heaviest land mammals, giraffes are the tallest animals! Giraffes are so tall that they can see danger coming before their animal neighbors in the wild. If a predator or another threat is nearby and the giraffes run, everyone else knows that it’s time to run.
- At the top of the food chain as apex predators, African lions are strict carnivores, eating only meat, and are crucial to the health and balance of their ecosystem.
- Male kori bustards in breeding season are among the world’s heaviest birds capable of flight. Although they will eat some plant material and other small animals, their favorite food is insects. They will follow fires or herds of animals that stir up the insects in the grass to make catching a meal easier.
- Ostriches are the heaviest and largest birds in the world. Much like the kori bustard, they are an omnivorous bird that helps keep the ecosystem balanced.
- The bulges on warthog’s faces aren’t warts at all. They are protective pads on both sides of the head. While warthogs do like to dig, they often use burrows dug by other animals to hide, sleep, care for offspring, and keep cool or warm. As opportunistic omnivores with an appetite for everything from carrion to insects to plants, they are also prey for carnivores like lions.
- Zebras are known for their striking striped patterns. Every zebras’ stripes are different and unique, like human fingerprints. They play the important role of “pioneer grazer,” meaning that they cut back old plant growth so that other grazing animals with specialized diets can get to the food they need.
- Meerkats live in groups called mobs. Within the mob, the role of sentinel is important, since they keep a look out for danger for the rest of the group.
So how are these amazing creatures connected to us in Atlanta (or wherever your home may be)?
- Use energy efficiently. The habitat for these species is changing due to changes in the environment and natural landscape. This could lead to habitat loss or changes that they are unable to adapt to quickly enough. You can help by being conscious of and reducing your energy and fuel use. Shop for locally grown produce, carpool or walk when possible, unplug electronics when not in use, wash laundry in cold water, and reduce plastic consumption.
- Use your voice to support wildlife! Stay in the know about policies. Speak to elected officials and let them know that you care about wildlife and practices that affect them.
- Be responsible when traveling. Do your research beforehand. Ensure that souvenirs purchased don’t come from threatened or endangered species or negatively impact their habitats. Engage in eco-tourism that is sustainable for local communities.
- Share what you learn. Encourage others to engage in positive behaviors that benefit both humans and animals. Social media is a great way to spread awareness.
- Be a part of our conservation efforts. Join Zoo Atlanta as a Member or come back and visit us!
To learn more about these incredible animals and how you can be the change for these species, check out more on zooatlanta.org: https://zooatlanta.org/conservation/take-action/.
When the African Savanna opens later this summer, be on the lookout for interpretive signs and educational opportunities in the Zoo where we will be waiting to share even more with you. Stay tuned for details on opening times!