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A gorilla and 50 Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles are leaving the Buffalo Zoo -- not because of threatened budget cuts, but in the interest of species conservation.

Rich, a lowland gorilla who arrived from California in 1987 but must have left his heart in San Francisco because he never sired an offspring here, will return to the City by the Bay in early December.

The move was mandated by the gorilla species survival program, in the hope that a fresh start with San Francisco's trio of breeding-age females will change Rich's luck.

"He is a prime specimen, so San Francisco will be a great opportunity for him," said zoo spokeswoman Lisa A. Herman.

His departure follows by three weeks the transfer to the Omaha Zoo of Timmy, a 5-year-old Buffalo-born gorilla. He will be counted on to some day broaden the lowland gorilla gene pool by fathering offspring there.

Rich's .000 batting average notwithstanding, Buffalo has had good success breeding gorillas since the current habitat was completed in the 1980s. Nine of the animals, which are highly endangered in their native West Africa, have been born here.

But Rich's removal leaves the program without a male of breeding age, and there is no plan at present to add any to the collection, which will be down to five animals, including the Buffalo-born females Lily and Sidney.

Meanwhile, head reptile keeper John Kast packed the crested toad tadpoles in fish bags Wednesday for the flight to San Juan, where they will be released into the wild with specimens from other zoos.

The swarthy, warty amphibians, which are found only in Puerto Rico and were once thought to be extinct, have become a proud symbol of the island nation -- and Buffalo has played a leading role in their comeback.

In 1983, the zoo became the first to breed the toads in captivity, earning the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's top conservation award. Since then, more than 57,000 tadpoles and toadlets have been returned to the wild from Buffalo and about a dozen other zoos participating in the species survival program.

Each tiny specimen is assigned a number so that its progress in the wild can be tracked, Kast said.


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