By all appearances, they could belong to another place and another time in the prehistory of the Earth. In fact, they could be considered modern-day dinosaurs.
They are shoebill storks. Beginning yesterday, this unique species can be seen daily in their brand new home at the Houston Zoo.
The result of a three month project, the new shoebill stork exhibit is the Houston Zoo’s largest aviary measuring 62 feet wide, 72 feet long, and up to 30 feet high.
The shoebill stork is native to Africa, and is listed as Vulnerable, with approximately 8,000 individuals remaining in the wild. The population is declining due to habitat destruction, nesting disturbance and hunting.
Their diet in the wild consists of lungfish, amphibians and young crocodiles. At the Houston Zoo, the shoebill storks will eat various fish, including trout and capelin.
Shoebill storks first arrived at the Houston Zoo in October of 2009, but have been off-exhibit for the past several months as their exhibit was renovated. The Houston Zoo is currently home to two shoebills storks, each approximately 5 years of age.
For the first time in its 88-year history, the Houston Zoo is home to shoebill storks. Currently only four other Zoos in the United States are exhibiting the species. Little is known about the behavior of shoebill storks in their native habitat.
Inside, the exhibit features a wading pool, allowing the shoebill storks to get plenty of enrichment and exercise by hunting and catching their meals. The exhibits landscaping and vegetation are designed to echo the shoebill’s natural habitat. The exhibit incorporates a beautiful old oak tree and a faux concrete tree built in the early 1920s by renowned faux bois artisan Dionicio Rodriguez who also created the waterfall and grotto featured in the nearby flamingo exhibit. Both pieces are on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to the improvements inside the exhibit, enhancements to the guest viewing area have been made as well. The new shoebill stork exhibit is surrounded on three sides by a stainless steel woven mesh, providing guests with a much clearer view of the animals inside the exhibit. A portion of the guest viewing area is paved with a recycled rubber tire material. A new pedestrian bridge and new educational signage have also been added to the area.
Many modern-day birds share characteristics with dinosaurs, including long legs and hollow bones, as well as laying eggs and caring for their young. Some dinosaurs might have even had feathers, though they did not fly. Many scientists believe small, carnivorous dinosaurs gave rise to birds.
This summer, the Houston Zoo is the place to see DINOSAURS!, shoebill storks, and more than 230 bird species. DINOSAURS! at the Houston Zoo features 10 life-like animatronic dinosaurs presented in a wooded, landscaped setting. Open daily until September 6, 2010, DINOSAURS! at the Houston Zoo is $2 per person with regular Zoo admission. Last ticket sold at 6:30 p.m. daily; last entry at 6:30 p.m. daily.