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Peek through any of the large viewing windows in Nairobi Field Station at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and what do you see? A wobbly legged baby antelope. A newly hatched bird. A newborn chimpanzee. Even a downy ostrich. The menagerie is always changing. Cries range from bleats to squawks.

Baboon mother and baby
Baboon mother and baby
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Resembling a 19th-century African hospital, with its wood façade and ceiling fans, Nairobi Field Station is not your standard nursery. The interior, however, is completely up-to-date with heated floors and pens equipped with oxygen. Autoclaves sterilize baby bottles that range from two-litre-sized to some no bigger than eyedroppers. Computerized isolettes (adapted human incubators) help maintain constant body temperatures in infants.

The nursery is located in Tampa Bay's Busch Gardens. There are more than 2,000 animals here, representing more than 200 different species. Every year, more than 300 babies are born or hatched.

Flamingo parade

"Our goal is to have the mothers raise their own young," says Stacy Spurlock, one of seven animal care specialists, who work here with four full-time veterinarians. "We only bring them into the Field Station if they're sick or if the weather is too cold. We also take care of geriatric animals that need medication."

Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The 20 to 30 animals at the Field Station include educational animals in outside pens, such as parrots, a llama, a two-toed sloth and common marmosets. The most popular are the hand-reared flamingoes, which staff bring on a sidewalk parade daily.

Behind the scenes tours

Sometimes, staff need to teach animals maternal skills. "We showed a pregnant gorilla how to hold a baby, using a stuffed animal, because there were no other gorillas to teach her mothering behaviors," says Stacy. "Her baby was delivered by C-section by our veterinarian, assisted by a local surgeon. We fed the baby for 10 days, near the mother, so we could reintroduce it after the mother recovered."

Staff are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. "We just spent two weeks bottle-feeding a baby addax antelope four times a day. It's really a rewarding job to work with endangered species such as this one, so it can be reintroduced to carry on its genes and survival of its species."

Visitors, of all ages, who want close-up views and explanations of what's happening inside Nairobi Field Station, can join behind-the-scenes tours.


Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: www.buschgardens.com

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