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Rhinos in India Now Thrive in Protected Area

Conservationists say that new video of greater one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga National Park offers new hope for the future. The video was taken in late October by a team of conservationists, visiting the area to survey the success of ongoing anti-poaching efforts supported by San Diego Zoo Global.

Once prevalent throughout southern Asia, the greater one-horned rhino has been significantly affected by poaching for its horns. The entire population of the species is now only found in three national parks, where rhinos are heavily guarded. But although the greater one-horned rhino was reduced to a population of 200 only a few years ago, with the protection of the parks and communities around them, there are now more than 2,400 of this species in Kaziranga. In recent years, additional populations have been introducedthrough collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global experts and the International Rhino Foundationto protected areas in Manas and Orang national parks.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.
 
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NOLA, THE NORTHERN WHITE RHINO, LEAVES AN IMMEASURABLE LEGACY THROUGH HER CONTRIBUTIONS TO SCIENCE

While the death of Nola, a critically endangered northern white rhino who died Nov. 22 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is still being mourned by those who worked closely with the beloved animal, as well as people from around the globe, scientists at San Diego Zoo Global are focusing on how Nola’s contributions through science could help save her species from extinction.

Taking a science-based approached, Dr. Oliver Ryder, director of genetics and Dr. Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive physiology, and their teams at the San Diego Zoo Conservation for Research Frozen Zoo along with collaborators at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and at the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Medicine in Berlin, are working to develop and perfect reproductive techniques to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

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“Nola’s unique story of the incredible journey she took in her lifetime and her impact on the world could never be recreated by any facet of science,” stated Dr. Ryder. “However, the information in her DNA – the digitized sequence of her genome – and the living cells that we have saved will serve as a legacy and a crucial tool for our efforts to bring back the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction. We hope what we can learn will also contribute to conservation of other species of rhinoceros.”

Durrant and Ryder, who both knew and worked with Nola for 26 years, obtained tissues samples collected post mortem for banking and establishment of additional cell cultures for the Frozen Zoo. The Frozen Zoo also has genetic material from 11 other northern white rhinos. The genetic material includes semen from two male northern white rhinos but no eggs from females. As expected, due to Nola’s advanced age, no eggs were able to be collected, but her ovarian and uterine tissues were saved.

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“Although Nola did not reproduce in her long lifetime, she touched the hearts of everyone who was fortunate enough to meet her.  In that way she contributed to our mission of saving the northern white rhino by demonstrating the intelligence and gentleness of her species,” stated Durrant.  “It is a great consolation to all who loved her that many of her tissues were collected and frozen for future research and assisted reproduction.  Her passing only strengthens our commitment to develop the technology needed to realize the goal of producing an offspring from Nola’s preserved cells.”

To reach the ultimate goal of successfully producing a northern white rhino, multiple steps must be accomplished. The first step involves sequencing the genomes of the northern white rhinos to clarify the extent of genetic divergence from their closest relative, the southern white rhino. Understanding these differences will assist scientists in guiding assisted reproduction efforts. The next step requires conversion of the cells preserved in the Frozen Zoo to stem cells that could develop into sperm and eggs, a process successfully begun in the laboratory of Dr. Jeanne Loring of Scripps Research Institute and published in 2011.

Reproductive options might include artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, genetic engineering or a hybrid with a southern white rhino. The reproductive system of rhinos is very complex and there is still much to be learned. San Diego Zoo Global recently opened a new Rhino Rescue Center at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, home to six southern white rhinos, who eventually could serve as surrogates.

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To further Nola’s contributions to science, her body and valuable horns will be sent to the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. for inclusion in the research collections, where they will be maintained in an off-exhibit area with materials from other northern white rhinos. Nola’s physical remains will be preserved so scientists now and in the future can continue to study this magnificent species.

The 41-year-old Nola had been on around-the-clock watch since Nov. 17 when her keepers noticed she began showing signs of a reduced appetite and activity level. Her condition worsened significantly in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 22, and the Safari Park’s animal care team made the difficult decision to euthanize her.

Nola’s death leaves three northern white rhinos remaining: a 43-year-old male, Sudan, and two females, 26-year-old Najin and 15-year-old Fatu, living under human care at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. These rhinos all have reproductive issues.

Northern white rhinos have been brought to the brink of extinction due to poaching in Africa.  Rhinos are poached for their horn, which is made of keratin—the same material that forms human fingernails. Rhino horn has been erroneously thought to have medicinal value and is used in traditional remedies in some Asian cultures. In addition, objects made of rhino horn have more recently become a “status symbol,” purchased to display someone’s success and wealth, because the rhino is now so rare and endangered.

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SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL RECEIVES AN OUTPOURING OF SYMPATHY OVER DEATH OF ENDANGERED NORTHERN WHITE RHINOCEROS AT SAN DIEGO ZOO SAFARI PARK

Since the news of the death of Nola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhino who died yesterday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was announced, San Diego Zoo Global has received an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy from around the globe.

“There are no words to adequately express the depth of the loss of Nola”, stated Randy Rieches, curator of mammals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “All of us at San Diego Zoo Global are grateful for the outpouring of condolences we have been receiving. Nola was truly an amazing animal and her story resonated with people not only in San Diego, but globally. It is a very difficult time for our staff right now as they have worked with and cared for Nola for 26 years. Our hearts are broken over the loss of Nola and knowing her subspecies is now three individuals from extinction makes it even more difficult for of all of us who work with and love rhinos. But, we are not willing to give up.”

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Nola was an iconic animal, not only at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, but worldwide. She was one of only four northern white rhinoceros on the planet. For those wanting to honor Nola’s memory, please share condolences, favorite photos or thoughts on Facebook using #Nola4Ever. Monetary donations also can be made to the San Diego Zoo Global Rhino Rescue Center at sandiegozoo.org/rhinos to help fund rhino conservation.

Her death moves her subspecies one step closer to extinction with three northern white rhinos remaining: a 43-year-old male, Sudan, and two females, 26-year-old Najin and 15-year-old Fatu, living under human care at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. These rhinos all have reproductive issues.

Keepers had been watching Nola around-the-clock since Nov. 17 when they noticed she began showing signs of a reduced appetite and activity level. Her condition worsened significantly in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 22, and the Safari Park’s animal care team made the difficult decision to euthanize her.

Nola arrived at the Safari Park in 1989 on a breeding loan from the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. Northern white rhinos were at critically low numbers at the time and San Diego Zoo Global, known for its unprecedented rhino breeding successes, was chosen to try and breed this subspecies. Nola was paired with a northern white rhino male, Angalifu. While the pair bred, Nola never became pregnant. The pair lived in their spacious field habitat at the Safari Park until Angalifu died at the age of 42 in December 2014.

Northern white rhinos have been brought to the brink of extinction due to poaching in Africa. Rhinos are poached for their horn, which is made of keratin—the same material that forms human fingernails. Rhino horn has been erroneously thought to have medicinal value and is used in traditional remedies in some Asian cultures. In addition, objects made of rhino horn have more recently become a “status symbol,” purchased to display someone’s success and wealth, because the rhino is now so rare and endangered.

While the future is bleak for the existing three northern white rhinos, conservationists at San Diego Zoo Global, Dvur Kralove Zoo, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and collaborators around the world are holding out hope that they can find a way to save the subspecies. Genetic and reproductive materials from 12 northern white rhinos have been stored in the Frozen Zoo at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, with the hope that new reproductive technologies will someday allow northern white rhinos to be reproduced by having southern white rhinos serve as surrogates. These reproductive technologies may also be applied to other rhino species including the critically endangered Javan rhinos and Sumatran rhinos.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

 

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291

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CRITICALLY ENDANGERED NORTHERN WHITE RHINOCEROS, NOLA, DIES AT SAN DIEGO ZOO SAFARI PARK

It is with great sadness, San Diego Zoo Global announces Nola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhino died today at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Nola, who has resided at the Safari Park since 1989, had been under veterinary care for a bacterial infection, as well as age-related health issues. The source of Nola’s infection was recently identified as a large abscess deep in her pelvic region. On Nov. 13, veterinarians performed a minor surgical procedure on Nola to drain the abscess. The procedure was successful in removing ninety percent of the infected material.

Keepers had been watching Nola around-the-clock since earlier this week when they noticed she began showing signs of a reduced appetite and activity level.  In the last 24 hours Nola’s condition worsened significantly and the animal care team at the Safari Park were maintaining her on intensified treatment efforts.  Early this morning, the team made the difficult decision to euthanize her.

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Nola was an iconic animal, not only at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, but worldwide. She was one of only four northern white rhinoceros on the planet. Through the years, millions of people learned about Nola and the plight of rhinos in the wild through visits to the Safari Park, numerous media stories and social media posts. Nola leaves a legacy that her keepers and animal care staff hope will continue to help rhino conservation for years to come.

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Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents.  The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide.  The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

This is a devastating loss. Please share your condolences in the comments below, and please join us in the fight against extinction.

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Northern White Rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Undergoes Procedure for Chronic Infection

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Nola’s procedure went well and she is eating and walking normally.

Nola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhinoceros who has been under medical care since early September, underwent a surgical procedure earlier today at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Veterinarians caring for the elderly Nola had performed multiple procedures and diagnostic tests over the past few months to pinpoint the source of a chronic draining tract near her right hip. A perirectal abscess—a large accumulation of infectious material in the tissues around the rectum—was identified deep to the animal’s pelvis using ultrasound, and was surgically drained earlier this morning.

“Using local anesthesia and a mild sedative, we were able to access the area of infection and establish drainage,” said Nadine Lamberski, associate director of veterinary services, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We hope this procedure will resolve the infection Nola has had for many months now, and she certainly should feel better in the days to come.”

To perform the procedure, Nola was walked into a protective chute inside a boma (corral) in her African Plains habitat. The protective chute allowed the veterinary team to perform the surgical procedure without having any unprotected contact with the gentle, but powerful 4,500-pound rhino, were she to move suddenly or try to walk away during the procedure. She was given mild sedation, allowing her to remain awake and standing for the procedure. Her primary keepers stayed with Nola the entire time, keeping her calm by rubbing her back, head and ears.

Immediately after the procedure, Nola was able to walk out of the chute into the boma, where she will remain for the next few weeks. Keepers will monitor her closely and attempt to keep the incision site clean. Nola appears to be feeling well, and she is eating and walking normally.

Nola is one of just four northern white rhinos remaining in the world. Three other northern white rhinos are under human care in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Northern white rhinos are at the brink of extinction due to poaching for their horn. San Diego Zoo Global is working to save the genome of this rhino subspecies through the collection of genetic material preserved in the Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, where researchers also are working to develop and implement assisted reproductive technologies to save the northern white rhino.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

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Pygmy Hippo Born at San Diego Zoo

UPDATE: We regret to announce the death of Francesca’s pygmy hippo calf. Staff observed the mother caring for her calf, but a veterinary exam indicated that the newborn wasn’t receiving proper nourishment. This is an extremely difficult loss, please take a moment to share your sympathy.

An important addition to the population of the world’s smallest species of hippo was made at the San Diego Zoo on Wednesday morning (Nov. 11). The youngster, weighing just 12 pounds, 2 ounces (5.5 kilograms), was born to its mother, Francesca, in the early hours of the morning. Mom and calf are doing well—and they are taking some quiet time in a barn out of the public eye, until keepers think the youngster is ready to try the larger pool available for swimming in the main exhibit area.

A baby pygmy hippo nestles in straw, a day after birth at the San Diego Zoo.

This is the first surviving hippo birth at the San Diego Zoo in more than a decade. Pygmy hippos are an endangered species from the forests of West Africa. There were estimated to be about 2,000 left in the world a decade ago, when the last population survey was done. Since then, political unrest, habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking in their native habitats are likely to have reduced the wild population to critically low numbers.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the mission of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken Nov. 12, 2015 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Big Arrivals at San Diego Zoo Safari Park: Six Southern White Rhinos Arrive from South Africa as Part of Rhino Conservation Initiative

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Six female rhinos that arrived in San Diego will live at the Safari Park’s Rhino Rescue Center.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcomed some big arrivals Thursday evening (Nov. 5): Six southern white rhinos arrived via a chartered MD-11 flight from South Africa. The female rhinos, between four and seven years of age, were relocated to the Safari Park from private reserves in South Africa as part of a collaborative conservation effort to save the critically endangered northern white rhino—and all rhino species—from extinction.

A member of the Safari Park animal care staff flew to South Africa earlier this week to accompany the rhinos, along with a veterinarian from South Africa, on the 22-hour flight from Johannesburg to San Diego. The rhinos were transported in individual crates specially designed for the transport. Upon arrival in San Diego, the crates were loaded onto two flatbed trucks and driven to the Safari Park’s new Rhino Rescue Center, built specifically for the new arrivals. Once at the Park, a team of veterinarians and keepers unloaded the animals into fenced yards, where they will remain under a mandatory quarantine for at least 30 days.

“We are beyond thrilled to welcome these southern white rhinos to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and our new Rhino Rescue Center,” said Steve Metzler, interim associate curator of mammals, who accompanied the animals from South Africa to San Diego. “The animals did extremely well during the flight, eating normally and sleeping a good portion of the long trip. Our priority now is to ensure the rhinos are comfortable and acclimating to their new surroundings.”
San Diego Zoo Global has been working for decades, along with other accredited zoos, to keep a sustainable population of rhinos safe under human care while working to protect them in sanctuaries in the wild. To further this commitment, the Rhino Rescue Center was recently built to house the new southern white rhinos, establishing the Safari Park as a sanctuary to protect these rhinos—at a time when an average of three rhinos are killed each day in the wild by poachers.

Poaching of all rhino species has reached critically high numbers in recent years. A rhino is poached every eight hours in South Africa. Rhinos are poached for their horns, which are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails. At the current rate of poaching, rhinos could become extinct in 15 years.

The northern white rhino is the most critically endangered rhino, with only four individuals remaining in the world. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to Nola, a 41-year-old female northern white rhino. Three other northern white rhinos (one male and two females) are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

The six female southern white rhinos will be a part of San Diego Zoo Global’s science-based rhino conservation efforts to save the northern white rhino. Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, along with collaborators, are developing reproductive techniques to develop northern white rhino embryos (from cells stored in the institute’s Frozen Zoo®) to be implanted in the southern white rhinos, which will serve as surrogate mothers. There are many challenges ahead, but researchers are optimistic a northern white rhino calf could be born from these processes within 10 to 15 years. These technologies may also be applied to other rhino species, including the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

San Diego Zoo Global has one of the most successful rhino breeding programs in the world. To date, a total of 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one-horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos have been born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

For more information on San Diego Zoo Global’s rhino conservation efforts, visit sandiegozoo.org/rhinos.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on November 5, 2015 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Global

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291

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Fifty-Eight and Looking Great: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Celebrates Birthday of Matriarch Gorilla

The matriarch of the western lowland gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park snacks on an ice cupcake this morning, during a celebration to mark her 58th birthday. The Safari Park’s Nutrition Services department made an elaborate ice cake, but Vila (pronounced VEE-la) was more interested in the tiny treats of frozen fruit frosted with pureed banana and sweet potatoes. Vila is one of the world’s oldest-known gorillas, believed to have been born in October of 1957 in the Congo. She is the matriarch of five generations, and she has served as a surrogate mother for several hand-raised western lowland gorillas during her lifetime. Despite her advancing age, she is in excellent health and continues to thrive at the Safari Park. A crowd of guests and volunteers watched while Vila and the other seven gorillas at the Safari Park foraged for treats throughout their entire habitat, which included cardboard tubes made to look like ears of corn filled with broccoli, special plant cuttings, gift boxes and messages written in peanut butter on a mirror hung in a tree. Keepers also wrote birthday messages and drew festive pictures in chalk, on the rock walls of the habitat.

Vila snacked on an ice cupcake during a celebration to mark her 58th birthday.

One of the world’s oldest known gorillas celebrated her 58th birthday this morning at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Vila (pronounced VEE-la) is believed to have been born in 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, where she has lived since 1975. Vila is the matriarch of five generations, and she has served as a surrogate mother for several hand-raised western lowland gorillas during her lifetime.

The celebration for Vila and the seven other gorillas in her troop was big—the exhibit was filled with enrichment items ranging from a cardboard zebra to messages written in peanut butter, streamers and the Nutritional Services department’s signature ice cake. However, it was the smaller ice cupcakes that caught Vila’s eye upon entering the exhibit, and she stood on her legs and reached up to the top of a rock to get two of the tiny treats of frozen fruit, frosted with pureed banana and sweet potatoes. Another favorite food is popcorn and Vila worked to get every last piece from a narrow-necked bottle filled with the air-popped treat.

The enrichment items, which included several cardboard tubes made to look like ears of corn, were created by volunteers at the Safari Park and placed around the entire exhibit. The Nutritional Services department created the frozen treats and the Horticulture department provided special cuttings from plants for the party. Keeper staff was tasked with placing everything on exhibit and setting out the gorilla troop’s usual daily food. Keepers also wrote birthday messages and drew festive pictures in chalk, on the rock walls of the habitat.

Vila, despite being one of the oldest-known gorillas, is in excellent health and continues to thrive at the Safari Park. Keepers say that while she is slower than she used to be, she still plays with the young male gorillas, Frank and Monroe. She has had no recent health issues and is given a daily vitamin, medicine for arthritis and a baby aspirin, for preventive measure.

There are three other western lowland gorillas that are close in age to Vila. One lives at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio (born at the Columbus Zoo in December 1956), one at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas (estimated to have been born in 1957, and arrived in the US in June 1958) and one at the Berlin Zoo in Germany (estimated to have been born in 1957, and arrived at the Berlin Zoo in May 1959).

The Safari Park cares for eight western lowland gorillas—an adult male silverback, four adult females, two young males and one young female, who made international news when she was delivered via caesarean section in 2014.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on October 30, 2015 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291

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A Halloween Party Fit for a Grandma

San Diego Zoo’s oldest resident, 130-year-old Galapagos tortoise Grandma, celebrates Halloween with a pumpkin breakfast.

San Diego Zoo’s oldest resident, a 130-year-old   named Grandma, enjoyed a pumpkin breakfast.

The San Diego Zoo’s oldest residents, the Galápagos tortoises, proved age is nothing but a number this morning, as they celebrated the Halloween season with a yummy pumpkin breakfast. The senior citizens group—led by Grandma, the oldest member at approximately 130 years old—had a great time chomping down on delicious pumpkins, while animal care staff looked on.

Galápagos tortoises are the giants of the tortoise world, with males weighing more than 500 pounds and females weighing an average of 250 pounds. The San Diego Zoo currently has 13 of these supersize tortoises; nine of them arrived at the Zoo in 1928, and the other four joined the herd later. Animal care staff estimates all of the tortoises, with the exception of one, are over the age of 90, making them among some of the oldest animals on the planet. Staff members say their steady behavior and longevity makes them a favorite of Zoo guests.

“I can’t tell you how many people are absolutely amazed when they come to the exhibit,” said Jonny Carlson, San Diego Zoo reptile keeper. “They’re surprised at just how big or old the tortoises are, and that’s just something you can’t appreciate without seeing them in person.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Galápagos tortoise as a vulnerable species. Modern conservation efforts have helped increase population numbers after human hunting almost wiped out the species. Today, the tortoises face threats from nonnative species, such as rats, dogs and cats, which eat tortoise eggs and young tortoises. San Diego Zoo Global partners with the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galápagos Islands to help with breeding and to give the hatchlings a headstart by protecting them until they are old enough to survive on their own.

Zoo visitors can see Grandma and the other Galápagos tortoise seniors at Reptile Mesa in the Discovery Outpost area of the Zoo. Grandma is smaller than her roommates and tends to stay in one location, moving only when she feels it is necessary.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

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No Tricks, Just Treats for Komodo Dragon at the San Diego Zoo

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Ratu, a Komodo dragon, uses her tongue to “smell” where her treat awaits.

Animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo got into the Halloween spirit this morning, with carved pumpkins for the world’s largest lizard. There were no candles to light the jack-o’-lanterns, but keepers filled the gourds with trout and ground elk meat drizzled with fish blood, for a 4-year-old Komodo dragon. Ratu, which means “queen” in the Indonesian language, could see the orange gourds, but it was the action of flicking her tongue that allowed her to locate the meat, which is part of her daily diet. Putting her food inside the jack-o’-lanterns encourages the animal’s natural behavior of scavenging and foraging.

Komodo dragons are carnivores that detect odors by sending their long, yellow forked tongue to sample the air and then delivering it to the roof of the mouth, making contact with an auxiliary olfactory sense organ called the Jacobson’s organ. The chemical analyzers in that organ are able to “smell” airborne molecules—and if the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, the Komodo dragon will follow the stronger scent to the food.

The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world and is the apex, or top predator in its native range on Komodo, Rinca and Flores islands in Indonesia. They are known to scavenge from carcasses or stalk animals ranging in size from small rodents to large water buffalo. Komodo dragons can detect carrion from an estimated 2.5 miles away, and will actively seek it out. Its jaws, muscles and throat allow a Komodo dragon to swallow huge chunks of meat rapidly, while its stomach expands easily, enabling an adult to consume up to 80 percent of its own body weight in a single meal.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Komodo dragon population as vulnerable. Laws have been in place to protect the Komodo dragon since the 1930s, and international trade is prohibited by Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.