Even the smallest animals born are always a big thrill for everyone here at the Indianapolis Zoo. What makes an addition even more special is when it’s a first for our institution, and one recent birth gave our staff the chance to mark a few firsts.
On the morning of Feb. 24, keepers in our Oceans exhibit came in to find that, sometime during the night, a cownose ray had given birth to a male pup — the first cownose ray ever born at the Indianapolis Zoo.
“Of course it’s very exciting,” Oceans Area Manager Karen Waterfall said of the birth. “It’s a first-time birth and that makes it super exciting.”
Cownose rays are classified as a near-threatened species, which makes this birth all the more special.
As exciting as the discovery was, the birth was far from a surprise. In fact, Waterfall said keepers have been preparing for the pup’s arrival for several months. Staff started seeing some telltale signs of breeding back in January 2012. After several months of waiting, members of the Zoo’s veterinary staff performed ultrasounds in September to confirm the pregnancy.
Performing an ultrasound on sea life can be a bit of a challenge, and the vets had never done one on a cownose ray before, so that proved to be another exciting first for the staff. To perform the ultrasound, first a diver carefully scooped up one of the rays and brought it to a platform adjacent to the tank. There, other staff members were standing by with wet towels to help keep the ray comfortable. Within seconds, vets were able to record an ultrasound image and release the ray back into the water.
“The vets are very proficient because they had done it before with the dogfish sharks and it was really good for the vets to get that first experience too,” said Waterfall. “After that, there was no mistaking it.”
As they waited for the new arrival, Waterfall said Oceans keepers carefully observed the rays to record any unique behavior. Female cownose rays will carry the pups for 12 months, so keepers had plenty of time to record information for their research.
Fast-forward five months, and guests can now see the new ray swimming around with the other adults. Rays have live births and the babies are born tail-first with their wings folded over their bodies almost like a taco shell. The pup will remain a youngster for a while, so guests can easily pick him out from the crowd.
Zoo Babies are presented by Community Health Network.