CALI, Colombia, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- Every visitor stepping inside downtown Cali, Colombia's third largest city, may hear animals roar in the jungle. Actually, the sounds come from the Cali Zoo, renowned worldwide for its high standards and successful wildlife conservation programs.
Sheltering 233 species of wild animals, the zoo is an eco-friendly oasis amid the hustle and bustle of city life.
Among the zoo's 2,600 inhabitants is a baby otter that was found abandoned at seven weeks in countryside and brought here for rehabilitation.
"Our institution is one of the most adept at managing and caring for otters," the zoo's head of communications Susan Posada told Xinhua.
"In fact, we were able to breed the giant river otter, a species native to Colombia's Orinoquia region, and the process, which was very successful, made us experienced in the rehabilitation and breeding of these animals," said Posada.
The zoo's main function, she said, is to research and design the best strategies to protect Colombia's vulnerable species, including those rescued from illegal trafficking.
"Unfortunately, there is a lot of wildlife trafficking ... so we end up attending to many cases, not just of otters but also primates, which perhaps represent the most cases we get at the zoo. So we have to serve as substitute parents for these animals which, in most cases, arrive as newborns," said Posada.
With the Cali River flowing through, the 40-year-old zoo, covering 10 hectares of forest, has replaced barred cages with open enclosures to resemble the animals' natural habitats, Posada said.
The Cali zoo now ranks among Latin America's top five zoos, she said. "We are accredited by the AZA (U.S.-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums), which is the highest body for fulfilling quality standards specifically for zoos, assessing security, animal well-being, conservation, education, and all aspects inherent to a zoo."
Colombia has the world's second most diverse population of amphibians, or cold-blooded vertebrates, such as the planet's most poisonous frog -- the golden poison arrow frog (Phylobates Terribilis), which is at risk of extinction due to trafficking.
The zoo is working to protect the species and other endangered vertebrates, said Bibiana Andrea Santamaria, the zoo's coordinator of animal care. "We have been working on conserving these species for a long time."
To fight against wildlife trafficking, thought to be the world's third most lucrative illicit trade, after drugs and arms, researchers at the zoo said educating visitors on the importance of preservation is their most effective tool.