Home on the range: Antelope get new digs in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A few tiny herds of African antelope have a new home on ranges in New Orleans, and zookeepers hope they will take advantage of the extra space away from curious crowds of humans to relax and reproduce.

The Alliance for Sustainable Wildlife breeding center has developed 88 acres (35 hectares) of its 1,000-acre (400-hectare) parcel of land, on the other side of the Mississippi River from the much smaller Audubon Zoo, where about 2,000 animals are on display.

In addition to 22 antelope — eight elands, six sable antelope, six Eastern bongos and two yellow-backed duiker (pronounced DIKE-er) — the area also will serve as home for seven giraffes and two okapi, a close relation to the giraffe that stands out from the rest because of its black-and-white-striped legs. Most of the animals have been moved here from the San Diego Zoo and its safari park.

“We’re letting them be animals, letting them do their thing,” said Michelle Hatwood, curator for the center, which was jointly established by the Audubon Nature Institute, an umbrella organization that includes the Audubon Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy.

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The land, owned by The Audubon Institute and the Coast Guard, was used for 20 years by an Audubon project that focused on cloning and artificial insemination of endangered animals. The San Diego Zoo covered the $5.2 million cost for new site work, including the paddocks with solar-powered double gates, zoo spokesman Frank Donze said. The two zoos are sharing a little more than $1 million a year in operating costs, Hatwood said.

Officials from both zoos planned a news conference Thursday, about 4½ years after announcing the project, to celebrate its official opening.

In the new facility, six Eastern bongo, nearly chest-high to Hatwood, and a pair of yellow-backed duiker about half their size share 3 acres (1 hectare).

The bongo are from what Hatwood described as a critically endangered subspecies with fewer than 100 in the wild, though North American zoos hold about 550.

“Bongo are water-loving forest antelope, so this is their dream,” Hatwood said Tuesday, as she and zoo curator Joel Hamilton took journalists on a preview tour through the paddocks on a low flatbed trailer with hay bale seats.

The duiker were delighted with their new environment, she said: “They immediately started to breed. They were…

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