Virginia Zoo receives a new member of the family

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A.J., a male bongo, explores his new outdoor habitat at the Virginia Zoo. (Zoo Photo)

Norfolk, Va. - A new male bongo is receiving visitors at the Virginia Zoo, officials tell NewsChannel 3.  

A.J., a 2-year-old bongo from the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida, arrived at the Virginia Zoo in December and began exploring his new outdoor habitat Wednesday after 30 days in quarantine. 

“We’re very excited about A.J.,” said Greg Bockheim, executive director of the Virginia Zoo. “The Virginia Zoo has had a successful bongo breeding program, and we hope A.J. will help us maintain that tradition.” 

The bongo breeding program is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which strives to preserve endangered species. As part of the effort, the Zoo sent one of its captive-born calves to Africa in 2004, to create a herd with other bongos from North American zoos. 

Wild bongos live in dense forests in Kenya and other regions of Africa. The wild population is rapidly diminishing as its habitat is destroyed by human encroachment, and the animals are over-hunted for meat and for their horns. 

Bongos are the largest and heaviest type of forest antelope, standing over 50 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing around 450 to 550 pounds. Their chestnut coats with white stripes provide camouflage in the forest shadows. Herds are comprised of females and calves, while males are more solitary.

Bongos are most active at dawn and dusk. Females give birth to one calf per year and the gestation period is nine months.