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Collaring for Conservation: San Diego Zoo Polar Bear Being Conditioned to Wear Accelerometer

Tatqiq wears a collar

Tatqiq wears a collar

Tatqiq, a female polar bear at the San Diego Zoo, is wearing a bit more than her fur coat these days. Visitors to the Zoo and watchers of the Zoo’s Polar Cam may see a white collar occasionally around her neck while keepers are conditioning the bear to participate in an upcoming research project about polar bear behavior in the Arctic.

“This project is being led by the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska and is a great example of how Zoo bears can help with conservation of polar bears in the Arctic,” said Megan Owen, associate director in the Applied Animal Ecology Division, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

For now, the collar is held together with temporary, easy-to-remove ties so that the bear can choose to pull it off or it will fall off easily if snagged on anything within the Polar Bear Plunge exhibit. Eventually, Tatqiq will wear a collar with a small accelerometer, which is the same instrument that allows smart phones to automatically adjust their screen orientation.

The instrument is able to measure Tatqiq’s movements at extremely high frequencies; however, these measurements are abstract without seeing the behaviors they correspond with so Tatqiq will also be videotaped while wearing the collar. The data recorded from the collar will be paired with her movements on the video so researchers can interpret the data and understand which measurements correspond to different behaviors, such as diving into the water, resting, walking or running.

Measuring Tatqiq’s movements at the San Diego Zoo will provide a baseline by which to identify behaviors for bears wearing the accelerometer collars in the wild. The polar bear’s remote Arctic sea ice habitat makes it near impossible for direct observations of polar bear behavior in the wild. The data gained from accelerometers on collared polar bears in the Arctic will provide U.S. Geological Survey scientists with new insights into the bears’ daily behavior, movements and energy needs and a better understanding of the effects of climate change on polar bears.

Because animal care staff does not have direct contact with Tatqiq, modifications were made to an area in the polar bear bedroom to allow the collar to be placed on Tatqiq’s neck while she slurps a honey-water treat.

Tatqiq currently wears the collar about three times a week for two to three hours at a time, working up to a goal of five hours. While she is wearing the collar, she is the only polar bear allowed in the habitat.

The San Diego Zoo is home to three polar bears: Tatqiq, her brother Kalluk and another female, Chinook. Polar bears are a threatened species due to climate change-driven habitat loss.



Bright-Orange Langur Born at San Diego Zoo

Francois' langurA week-old baby Francois’ langur held on tightly to a subadult as members of the San Diego Zoo’s langur troop foraged and climbed around their exhibit this morning. Francois’ langurs, also known as Francois’ leaf monkeys, practice alloparenting, which means every family member participates in raising the infant. The youngster can often be seen being passed around as each of the langurs take turns caring for their newest addition.

“The baby is doing fantastic! We’re all really excited and very impressed,” said Joe Milo, keeper at the San Diego Zoo. “The baby has gotten a lot stronger within just the last week. It’s starting to look around and be very curious about its environment.”

Langurs are born with bright orange hair while their parents are black in color. It’s thought this color distinction makes it easier for the whole troop to identify and look after the infants. The youngster’s color usually changes within the first six months, when the juvenile becomes an almost perfect copy of the adults.

The San Diego Zoo is home to five Francois’ langurs, counting the newest arrival born on Nov. 14, which can be seen in the Zoo’s Asian Passage. The Zoo was the first in North America to house Francois’ langurs and established the population now found in American zoos. Researchers at San Diego Zoo Global are studying Francois’ langurs to learn more about their physiology, diet and habitat use. The species is native to tropical forests in Asia.

Photo taken on Nov. 20, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



New Zealand Elephant Celebrates Anniversary at San Diego Zoo

MilaToday, Mila, the African elephant from New Zealand, celebrated the first anniversary of her arrival to the San Diego Zoo with some special edible treats. The 42-year-old elephant arrived in San Diego on Nov. 14, 2013, through collaboration with the Franklin Zoo Charitable Trust. Animal care staff celebrated by providing Mila treats of pineapple, flowers and banana stalks.

Mila had been living at the Franklin Zoo since 2009. As the only elephant in New Zealand, Mila had not been around another elephant for decades. Animal care staff successfully introduced her into the herd at the San Diego Zoo and she is doing well.

Photo taken on Nov. 14, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo



African Serval Kitten Gets Weighed at San Diego Zoo

Serval kittenA five-week-old African serval kitten was weighed by animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo this morning. The small kitten, weighing in today at three pounds, was born to first-time mother Onshe at the Zoo’s Kopje area on October 7. Animal care staff began taking weekly weight checks of the young cat to monitor his growth and ensure that he is getting the nutrition he needs. To do this, keepers temporarily separate kitten and mother and then place the kitten into a plastic container on a scale to get an accurate weight.

“The activity that we did this morning, getting a body weight on the kitten, is important for us to not only collect information for the future but also to get an idea of how the kitten is growing and his status as he gets bigger,” said Lisa Martin, animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo.

The kitten is very curious of his surroundings and is getting more confident exploring the exhibit, which features rock outcroppings, various plants and tree limbs to climb. The young cat is currently getting all of his nutrition from his mother by nursing, but he has recently begun investigating some food items as well.

Guests visiting the Zoo can see the two servals on exhibit in the Zoo’s Kopje area. Shortly after Onshe gave birth to her kitten, keepers moved the mother’s mate to a separate area so mother and kitten could bond. In the wild, a serval mother would raise her kittens alone, so keepers are providing Onshe with that same opportunity.

African servals are small, slender cats with long legs, a lean body, short tail, and a small head. They are found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert near waterways in the savanna and forests. In the wild, servals can be harmed by habitat loss, global climate change and hunting for their fur.

Photo taken on November 13, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



Hawaiian Discovery Forest Receives Grant from Bill Healy Foundation

Palila on MamaneThe San Diego Zoo Global Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) on the island of Hawai‘i has received a $10,000 grant from the Bill Healy Foundation for its Discovery Forest project. Hawai‘i’s forests are important to the health and well-being of Hawai‘i’s endemic wild birds; the Discovery Forest helps to restore two additional acres of native forest habitat.

“We are extremely grateful to the Bill Healy Foundation for supporting our mission of promoting the health and productivity of Hawai‘i’s forests through the KBCC Discovery Forest, which is located near Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park on Hawai‘i Island,” said Hawai‘i Forest Institute Executive Director Heather Simmons. “This unique project is combining native forest restoration with captive propagation-and-release techniques to reestablish self-sustaining populations of critically endangered Hawaiian birds in the wild.”

Understory fruiting species will be planted in the area once a koa forest has been re-established. The native fruiting species that are key to the diets of the rare Hawaiian bird species include ‘ohelo, ‘olapa, naio, ‘alani, ‘akala, maile, pūkiawe, kōlea, hāpu‘u, olomea, ‘Ie‘ie, kāwa‘u, pala‘a, pilo and pa‘iniu. The endangered birds ‘alala, kiwikiu, puaiohi and palila in the captive breeding program will benefit along with the native wild birds at the site including Hawai‘i ‘amakihi, ‘apapane, ‘i‘iwi, ‘oma‘o, ‘io, ‘akiapōlā‘au and ‘akepa. Endangered Hawaiian birds are bred for release into the wild.

“We appreciate the support of the Bill Healy Foundation as we continue to work together with the Hawai‘i Forest Institute to integrate education and stewardship with our captive breeding-and-release efforts of endemic Hawaiian birds,” said San Diego Zoo Global Conservation Program Manager Bryce Masuda. “It is vitally important that we preserve and restore the unique bird species found only here in Hawai‘i for future generations.”

The Keauhou Bird Conservation Center Discovery Forest is a native forest restoration and education project initiated in 2014 on approximately 200 acres of land. To date, 120 community volunteers have planted 856 Acacia koa and māmane seedlings on 1.8 acres.

The land is owned by Kamehameha Schools and leased to the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, which is a part of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, a partnership between the San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife.



Breeding Pairs of Condors a First for Mexico City

Global_logo_color copyConservationists from San Diego Zoo Global joined U.S. and Mexican officials to celebrate the establishment of a new condor breeding program at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City yesterday. The new program is significant because it will feature the first breeding pairs of condors to live in Mexico City in recent years.

“The California condor’s recovery from the brink of extinction is one of our proudest accomplishments,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The prospect of expanding that success here today by establishing a California condor reintroduction program in Mexico is exciting for all of us.”

Two male condors arrived at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City in 2006. Two female condors, one from the Santa Barbara Zoo and the other from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, arrived in the city in October. Conservationists on both sides of the border hope the pairs will breed, creating offspring that can be released to join the wild population that has been reintroduced into Baja California, Mexico.

“For many years San Diego Zoo Global has worked with Mexican partners to release California-born condors into the wild in Mexico,” said Allison Alberts, chief conservation and research officer for San Diego Zoo Global. “With the presence of these two pairs at the Chapultepec Zoo, we hope to see a renewed cross-border commitment to the species that will result in Mexican-born condors flying free in the skies of the San Pedro de Martir mountains.”

The California condor was reduced to less than two dozen individuals in the mid-1980s, due to habitat loss and lead poisoning in the environment. Through the joint effort of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are now more than 200 condors flying free in the skies of North America.



San Diego Zoo Global to Host 2nd Session of “Tech to Reconnect,” a Three-Part Conversation Series

Global_logo_color copySan Diego Zoo Global is hosting a three-part conversation series to explore the intersection of technology and nature with an upcoming event on Wed., Nov. 12. Featured speakers Jordan Pedraza, program manager, education for Google, Jim Newton, chairman and founder for TechShop, and Rick Loughery, director of global communications for Go Pro, will share their experiences in supporting creative communities, leveraging rapid prototyping tools, and empowering outdoor adventures.

“Technology can be a tremendous gateway to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the natural world,” said Paula Brock, chief financial officer for San Diego Zoo Global. “We are pleased to host this community conversation to explore new innovative approaches to conservation.”

Community Partners for the Tech to Reconnect Series include the San Diego Science Alliance, Balboa Park Conservancy, STEAM Connect, AIGA San Diego, CONNECT, CommNexus, Markers Quarter, Fab Lab San Diego, High Tech High, Geek Girl, UC San Diego Engineers for Exploration and Startup Weekend San Diego.

Each of the three evening events will take place at the San Diego Zoo. Attendees of all ages can interact with science and technology-related demonstrations, network, and enjoy appetizers and cocktails. General admission is $40 per session or $20 for full-time students and professional educators. To purchase tickets for this event or for more information visit www.techtoreconnect.org.



San Diego Zoo Safari Park Celebrates 57th Birthday of Gorilla

Gorilla Vila's 57th birthdayThe San Diego Zoo Safari Park marked a milestone this morning at the habitat for its western lowland gorillas. The troop matriarch, Vila (pronounced VEE-la) turned 57 years old, making her one of the oldest known gorillas. When Vila entered the exhibit, she stopped at the first treats she saw, raisins and Chex Mix, and scooped up every little piece. She eventually worked her way over to her orange ice cake after Winston, the silverback male, ate the first of the three tiers. The ice cake was colored with a sugar-free, orange-flavored drink mix. Vila, and later other gorillas, licked and scraped ice off the cake. There were also dozens of ice cupcakes that contained sweet-potato puree and raisins.

Safari Park volunteers painted boxes to look like presents and keepers filled the boxes with edible treats like leafy greens, vegetables and air-popped popcorn and smeared peanut butter on the top. Keepers also smeared peanut butter on the pages of magazines placed around the exhibit. There were painted gourds filled with treats that also encouraged the gorilla’s natural behavior of foraging for food.

The Safari Park has eight western lowland gorillas: an adult male silverback, four adult females, two young male gorillas and one young female, who made international news when she was delivered via cesarean section in March. Vila serves as the matriarch of five generations and has been the surrogate mother of several hand-raised gorillas during her life. Keepers describe her as a gentle soul who is respected by the troop.

It is estimated that Vila was born in late October of 1957 in the Congo. After arriving in the United States, Vila was hand-raised at the San Diego Zoo and then moved to the Safari Park, and she has lived there since 1975. There are three other western lowland gorillas who are close in age to Vila. The three other oldest-known gorillas live at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio (born Dec. 1958), the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas (born June 1958) and the Berlin Zoo in Germany (born May 1959).

Photo taken on Nov. 6, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

CONTACT: San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations, 619-685-3291


Four “Purr-Fect” Cheetah Cubs Explore New Habitat with Mother at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

4 Cheetah cubs, momFour cheetah cubs ran, climbed and played in their new habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park this morning. The young felines chased birds and each other, eventually resting alongside their mother, who groomed and nursed them, before the felines’ playtime started over again. Their attentive mother kept a close watch over the cubs and vocalized with a loud chirp when they ventured too far out of her view.

The almost four-month-old cheetah cubs, two males and two females, were born to first-time mother Addison on July 13 at the Safari Park’s off-site cheetah breeding center. The little family moved to their new habitat at the Safari Park’s Okavango Outpost this week. “Addison is an excellent mom, calm, confident and extremely protective,” stated Paula Augustus, senior keeper. “The cubs are very vocal, curious and playful, each with their own distinct temperaments. It is great to be able to watch a cheetah mother raising her cubs.”

The two male cubs have been named Wgasa and Refu, and the two females are named Pumzika and Mahala. All were named after former areas of the Safari Park. Keepers tell the young felines apart by their faces, tails and markings. Weighing one to two pounds at birth, the cubs are healthy and growing well, currently weighing 16 to 18 pounds each. They are still nursing but also eat a diet of raw meat. When full grown, the average cheetah can weigh 84 to 143 pounds, with the males being larger.

Cheetahs are found in Africa and a small portion of Iran. They are classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. It is estimated that the worldwide population of cheetahs has been reduced from 100,000 in 1900 to just 10,000 today, with about ten percent living in zoos or wildlife parks.

San Diego Zoo Global, which has been breeding cheetahs for more than 40 years yielding more than 130 cubs, has been instrumental in the formation of a Breeding Center Coalition (BCC) to create a sustainable cheetah population that will prevent extinction of the world’s fastest land animal. There are eight other organizations participating in the breeding program for this endangered species: Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas; White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, Fla.; The Wilds and the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio; the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va.; the St. Louis Zoo; the Wildlife Safari in Ore.; and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in Neb.

Visitors to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park can see the cubs and their mother at the Okvango Outpost exhibit or from the Africa Tram tour.

Photo taken on Nov. 4, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.



New Research Explores Scent Communication in Polar Bears

Polar bear Kalluk

New research conducted by a team of conservation scientists provides the first systematic examination of the social information polar bears may glean from scent left in the paw prints of other polar bears. The authors also suggest that scent communication in polar bears may be compromised if climate-change driven sea ice losses in the Arctic intensify. This research was undertaken by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, Polar Bears International and U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska.

“Effective communication is essential for successful reproduction in solitary, wide-ranging animals,” said Dr. Megan Owen, lead author of the “Journal of Zoology” study. “Developing an understanding of how communication is tied to the environment may enhance our ability to predict the impacts of rapid environmental change on populations.”

This chemical form of communication was likely shaped by the environmental constraints of Arctic sea ice. Scientists worry that this communication may be impacted if scent trails are disrupted due to the increased fracturing of sea ice from climate change. Polar bears are largely solitary animals, coming together for brief periods for reproduction. As in many similar species, scent is thought to play a critical role in social communication, both in terms of avoiding potentially aggressive individuals as well as finding potential mates.

“Scent communication is instrumental in both managing aggression and motivating reproductive interest in solitary species,” said Owen. “Scent communication plays a vital role in regulating social behavior and this is particularly important during the breeding season.”