Sunshine on the Future’s Horizon

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and the Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s Website!

 This week, interns had the opportunity to meet Torrey Pillsbury and Roger Petersen, two Senior Mammal Keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They are in charge of caring for some of the animals in the main field exhibits, specifically the area that the keepers call the north run. When out observing the animals, Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen take detailed notes on the behaviors of the animals and mark when a new baby is born to keep accurate records.

Originally opened as a breeding center for the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park has since prospered into an attraction of its own. One of the Safari Park’s main goals is to educate the public about how they can make a difference in the conservation of animals and be a hero for wildlife. Ms. Pillsbury explained how the Safari Park also focuses on the breeding of exotic and endangered species so they can maintain a genetically healthy and viable population. It is the San Diego Zoo Global’s hope that eventually endangered species will be released back into the wild after the threat of its native habitat is no longer a problem.

Just recently, six female southern white rhinos were flown in from South Africa to help with the rhino breeding program at the Park. These rhinos will not only help with the near threatened southern white rhino population, but also play a role in trying to bring the critically endangered northern white rhino back from the brink of extinction. Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Rogers play a vital role in maintaining the environment of a variety of animals that may later be moved to another facility for breeding purposes.

Since its founding, the Safari Park has been very successful in researching the breeding behaviors of rhinos and is now one of the best at breeding southern white rhinos. Last month, a new southern white rhino was born at the Park. The calf was named Kianga for the Swahili word sunshine, she is sure to brighten the future for the southern white rhino species. She is the 94th rhino calf born at the Safari Park, and when she matures, Kianga will either stay at the Park or be moved to another zoo to become part of the global breeding program.

Other animals in the African and Asian plains exhibits are constantly being moved to and from the Park to ensure a successful and healthy breeding program. Ms. Pillsbury mentioned how birth records of all the animals are shared with the studbook keepers who are in control of determining when an animal will move so that its genes do not become overrepresented. Eventually, these animals are moved to reserves so that their species can slowly be reintroduced into the wild. When an animal is going to be transferred from the Safari Park, it is Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen’s job to move the animal into temporary holding and ensure it remains healthy and comfortable in its new situation.

Although very concerned with exotic species around the world, Ms. Pillsbury explained how the Safari Park also works locally to ensure the conservation and preservation of some endangered species here in San Diego. Mr. Petersen mentioned how the Safari Park has put aside acres of land, known as the back 900, to preserve the endangered coastal sage scrub species. These plants are slowly losing population due to more frequent wildfires and increased land development. While many may simply think of exotic animal species as being vulnerable, it is important to remember the native species that can be found in your own backyard.

Kylie, Conservation Team
Week Six, Fall 2015