Some newly-named jaguar cubs bring genetic diversity to the Milwaukee County Zoo.
The zoo — the state's largest — is where two jaguar cubs were born last November, the first of their species to be born there in 38 years. The zoo just announced the new names of the cubs, based on the results of a contest: B'alam and Zean.
But scientists at the zoo say these cubs are more than just a cute tourism draw. Large mammals curator Tim Wild says the cubs' father is a wild-born jaguar, roughly 14 years old, captured in Belize after killing some livestock. The zoo does not take in many wild animals anymore, due to various concerns, including the difficulty in getting import permits.
Wild says the cubs help bring genetic diversity to North American zoos.
"So all the jaguars in zoos in North America are managed as a group — the population. So anytime you bring new genes into that population, it adds new bloodlines, it kind of spreads things out a little bit better. It brings our inbreeding down.
Wild says the diversity can help deal with change.
"With changing environments and changing habitats with more diversity, you have animals out there that are going to be adaptable. Disease is one of those things. A disease that runs through a population, some animals might be able to handle it better."
Wild says the cub's father is very healthy, making it unlikely he brought in any problems or passed them on to his offspring.
Wild also says he hopes the breeding success in Milwaukee shows the importance of the wild jaguar population in Belize, which may discourage ranchers and farmers there from wanting to shoot the animals.