ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – As the early stages of the Abilene Zoo’s 10-year master plan get underway, the first dominoes have fallen, with the additions of three new species arriving in the Key City.

While many of the Abilene Zoo’s residents were hunkered down trying to stay out of the pouring rain and wind Wednesday morning, the zoo’s newest residents were out in full force just a day after going on exhibit officially.

“We wanted to get the bald eagles right away because we’ve rescued two of them and put them back in the wild,” Zoo Director Jesse Pottebaum said. “We wanted to get these two attractive species and tell their story.” 

Two juvenile male bald eagles have found their permanent residence in the Elm Creek Backyard, formerly where the turkey called home. After reimagining the enclosure, the two eagles were driven in from Florida and officially can call Abilene home.

The quintessential icon for America, the bald eagle nearly went extinct in the late 1960s and 70s, after many ingested a popular insecticide called Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). A contact poison, many of the eagle’s food sources ingested the insecticide later to be eaten by the eagles and caused a huge drop in population.

“There were only about 400 active nests, meaning there was only 800 bald eagles in our nation,” explained Pottebaum.

However, since a cancellation order was put on DDT in the 1970s, bald eagle populations have seen an uptick, going from nearly extinct to a thriving population across the United States.

Sparky and Leu are adolescent eagles, so they may look a little different when you first see them. They are fully grown, but they won’t get their distinguishable white heads until they are five to seven years old. However, Leu is special in his own rite.

“He may not get that dark feather plumage but will always a have a few spots of white,” Pottebaum expanded on Leu’s unique genetic trait.

Due to the nature of bald eagles, Pottebaum told KTAB/KRBC it took more than a year-and-a-half to receive the proper permits to house these federally protected birds.

However, these two feathered beauties are not the only new residents of the Abilene Zoo.

“We actually acquired a brand-new species, first time ever at the Abilene Zoo,” beamed Pottebaum. “It’s called a bongo and it’s an antelope species from Africa, that are also on the brink of extinction.” 

Known for their reddish-brown coloration, the forest dwellers are notoriously skittish. The Abilene Zoo’s bongo goes by Hubert, and comes from Houston. There are only a few hundred of his kind left in the wild of East-Central Africa.

“It’s actually zoos bringing them back from extinction. They thrive in zoos and breed well in zoos, and it’s a very attractive species,” Pottebaum said, encouraging all to come see their newest resident.

You can find Hubert in his new enclosure with the red river hogs across from Uhuru the black rhinoceros.

While the bald eagles and bongo are the two first-time species of their kind at the Abilene Zoo, the third is still being left anonymous. Pottebaum advised to keep checking in with the Abilene Zoo to find out when the next new species will make its debut.

Lastly, while they are not new to the Abilene Zoo, a baby blue duiker was born within the last few weeks. His older sister, Rosie, was born in September of 2022. Zookeeper Alex Gonzalez said the newest little one is like her shadow, typically right on the heels of his older sister.

Pottebaum added that more details on phase one of the zoo’s master plan should be released to the public within the next couple months.