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Alala Breeding Season a Success

alala puppet fedPartially feathered and squawking for meals, `alalā chicks at San Diego Zoo Global’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center keep animal care staff busy. With nine new chicks this year, the rare bird’s population now numbers 114. `Alalā (also known as Hawaiian crows) are extinct in the wild, and the entire remaining population is managed in captivity through a collaborative effort by the Hawai`i Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP). Some of the chicks are fed and cared for by animal care staff, which the chicks never see to ensure they do not imprint on humans.

“`Alalā are very intelligent birds and are susceptible to imprinting”, said Bryce Masuda, program manager for San Diego Zoo Global. “We use puppets to hand-rear and feed the birds when they are young to keep them from imprinting onto us, so they will behave naturally as adults.”

The last `alalā were recorded in their Hawaiian forest natural habitat in 2002, where they were threatened by habitat destruction, introduced predators and avian disease. The HEBCP has been working with the species in managed care since 1993, bringing the population from a low of only 20 individuals to 114 today.

The Hawai`i Endangered Bird Conservation Program is a field program of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, in partnership with the State of Hawai’i Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Planning and preparation efforts are currently underway to restore `alalā back into its vital niche within the forest ecosystem on the Big Island of Hawai`i. It is hoped that the first reintroduction activities will begin in the near future.



Curious Coatis Show Off Agility at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

coatisFive 3-month-old South American coatis jumped on rocks, climbed trees, and dug in the dirt in their new habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The young coati siblings, two males and three females, played in their enclosure, showing off agility that included balancing on limbs and even somersaulting on a branch high above the ground. The coatis are described by keepers as very curious, very smart and always very active.

South American coatis, also known as ring-tailed coatis, are closely related to raccoons and are found in the jungles and rain forests of South America, where they live both on the ground and in trees. They have a slender head with a long nose, small ears, dark feet and a distinctive ringed tail, used for balancing while climbing. Their specially adapted ankle joints allow them to rotate their feet, climbing up trees and descending head first.

Coatis are omnivores, and while these youngsters are still receiving milk while being weaned, their diet primarily consists of meat, fruit and vegetables. Coatis use their sharp-clawed paws and long, thin, shovel-like nose to dig for food. Coatis in the wild may be heard chirping, snorting and grunting as they root through the jungle, foraging for termites, lizards, spiders and other food items. The coatis at the Safari Park currently weigh 4 to 5 pounds each, but when full grown in 6 to 8 months can weigh between 10 and 15 pounds.

There are four different coati species: ring-tailed and mountain coatis, found in South America; the Cozumel Island coati, found in Mexico; and the white-nosed coati, found in Mexico and the desert areas of the Southwest United States. Due to their size, coatis have numerous predators in the wild, including large cats like jaguars and mountain lions, along with boa constrictors and even large birds of prey.

Visitors to the Safari Park can see the playful coatis in their habitat, located at Thorntree Terrace.

Photo taken on Aug. 5, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.



Rare Frogs Holding Their Own Despite Drought Conditions

mountain yellow-legged frogA recent survey of mountain yellow-legged frogs released into the wild by San Diego Zoo Global wildlife conservationists indicates that the populations are showing signs of stress related to drought conditions in California. The juvenile frogs, released into the San Jacinto mountains in two protected sites, are representatives of a species brought to the brink of extinction by the threat of wildfire, habitat destruction and chytrid fungus. The young frogs hatched at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and were introduced as tadpoles into the wild in 2013.

“When we released these frogs into the wild, we knew they would be facing natural challenges to their survival, like predation,” said Frank Santana, a research coordinator with the Institute for Conservation Research. “The drought is adding an additional challenge to their survival, but we are still finding a significant number of frogs that are healthy and growing.”

Of the 300 tadpoles that were released, researchers believe about 25% continue to survive. The species is believed to number less than 200 individuals in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains, where they once thrived. Institute for Conservation Research conservationists, working in collaboration with government partners – U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game and University of California – are working to repopulate Southern California with these rare frogs.



Meer-ly Adorable: Meerkat Born at San Diego Zoo

Meerkat and pupA Southwest African meerkat pup is carefully watched over by its mother at the San Diego Zoo. The pup recently emerged from its burrow, and while it still spends most of its time below ground, it is beginning to spend longer periods of time above ground each day, where it is learning to forage for food and play with its mother and other members of its mob, or family group. The pup is estimated to be between five and six weeks old and its sex is yet to be determined.

Meerkats are native to African savannahs. They are very vocal, social animals related to the mongoose. Meerkats sleep in underground burrows overnight, coming out when the sun comes up. During daylight hours, one adult keeps watch over the mob as they eat, groom and sunbathe. Meerkats share the duty of raising pups and teaching them to hide, hunt, clean and defend all that is theirs. Meerkat pups are born with their eyes and ears shut and are mostly hairless at birth. Their eyes open after two weeks, they start eating food other than milk at around three weeks, and begin venturing out of their den at four weeks of age. They are completely weaned by nine weeks.

Visitors can best see the meerkat pup and its mob mid-morning and afternoons at their exhibit in the Zoo’s Africa Rocks. The Zoo currently offers extended hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during Nighttime Zoo, now through Sept. 1.

Photo taken on Aug. 1, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



Condor Cam Chick Name is Named

Safari Park logoThe young condor chick who hatched on April 29 and is visible on San Diego Zoo Global’s Condor Cam now has a name: Su’nan, which means “to continue to or to keep on” in the Chumash language. An online naming contest conducted by San Diego Zoo Global’s Wildlife Conservancy announced that Su’nan was the final winner, with 900 votes. In second place was the name Antik, which means “to recover,” with just over 600 votes.

“This years Condor Cam chick has attracted thousands of followers as people observed the chick hatch and watched it being raised,” said Michael Mace, curator of birds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Su’nan is a fitting name because the condor population was once at the brink of extinction. This species has fought hard to ‘continue on,’ making this a great name for the highly watched condor chick.”

At more than 2 months of age, viewers watching the Condor Cam can see the chick being closely cared for by her foster parents, Towich and Sulu, who are very protective over Su’nan and their nest. (www.sandiegozooglobal.org/video/condor_cam)

The young bird will continue to grow and mature over the next few months until her flight feathers grow in and she is ready to leave the nest. Animal care staff at the Safari Park hopes the chick will be able to take her place among the wild populations that have been released in California, Arizona and Mexico.

In the 1980s, there were only 22 condors left in the world. The Safari Park has now hatched over 180 chicks and released more than 80 birds into the wild. Currently, there are more than 400 condors, more than half of which are flying free in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico.

The California Condor Recovery Program is implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, zoos in the U.S. and Mexico, and U.S. and Mexican government agencies. Although listed by the federal government as an endangered species in 1967, the California condor population continued to decline, reaching a critical low of less than two dozen birds. In 1982, a condor breeding program was successfully established at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Los Angeles Zoo. Two additional breeding centers are assisting with the recovery of the species, The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey and the Oregon Zoo. In addition, condors are part of an education program that allows guests at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Santa Barbara Zoo and Mexico City’s Chapultepec Zoo to see North America’s largest bird up close.

Those interested in helping California condors can visit endextinction.org to learn how to become a HERO for Wildlife.



New Generation of Rare Turtles Released into San Diego Reserve

Pond turtle releaseFive juvenile western pond turtles were released into the Sycuan Peak Ecological Reserve today by a team of federal, state and zoo scientists. The released turtles are part of the “headstart” program, which involves raising hatchlings at the San Diego Zoo to a large enough size and then releasing them into the wild, giving them a better chance of surviving and fending off natural predators.

The western pond turtles are California’s only native freshwater turtle species, a species that was once widespread in California, Oregon and Washington. They are now uncommon, especially in southern California, due to habitat loss and invasive, nonnative predators like bullfrogs and largemouth bass, which eat up the tiny hatchling turtles that are no larger than a quarter.

“Along with USGS we’re able to monitor these turtles with their radio transmitters and check on them periodically to see how they’re doing,” said Tommy Owens, senior keeper with the San Diego Zoo’s Department of Herpetology. “It’s really important here at the beginning of the release, because the turtles might not stay put and we want to be able to find them easily. Through radio tracking we can see the use of habitat, their behaviors and check on their overall well being.”

The five turtles released this morning were each fitted with a miniature radio transmitter prior to the release. Researchers attached these tiny antennae to the juvenile turtles’ shells so they can regularly check on the turtles’ growth, physical health and behavior. The transmitters were applied with a silicone sealant that allows the young turtle’s shells to grow and expand, even with the transmitter device attached to it.

Since the first generation of “headstart” turtles was released over a year ago, researchers monitoring the program have noticed progress and have been able to catch those turtles periodically to gather their measurements. After examining the turtles and checking their transmitters, researchers release them back into the same watershed.

The Sycuan Peak effort is a joint project of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), San Diego Zoo Global, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). The project is testing conservation strategies to help western pond turtles and other native species, since many California ecosystems are being impacted by invasive, nonnative species accidentally or intentionally introduced by humans. The SANDAG TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program (EMP) funded the USGS’ initial work to support the restoration of the western pond turtle.

Photo taken on July 31, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



Mentor, Leader, Friend to Zoo Community Receives Conservation Award

Global_logo_color copyFor more than four decades, Charles “Chuck” Bieler, executive director emeritus of San Diego Zoo Global, has been called a mentor, leader, and friend to the global zoo community. He has contributed to our organization’s world-famous reputation in so many ways, setting the stage for a new-century approach to zoos as they worked together to save endangered species. We are proud to award Charles Bieler the Conservation Advocate Medal at a luncheon held next Thursday, August 7, at the San Diego Sheraton Hotel and Marina. He will be recognized in a ceremony attended by many of his friends from the zoo world, along with Joan Embery, San Diego Zoo Global’s conservation ambassador.

Chuck was an early-and visionary-advocate for wildlife conservation, taking a leadership role in supporting ground-breaking efforts to save California condors in the 1980s as well as working with Dr. Kurt Benirschke to create the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (now the Institute for Conservation Research) and the Frozen Zoo® in the 1970s. His goodwill visit to China in 1979 paved the way for future animal loans, which led to a partnership to save giant pandas from extinction. As president of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, along with a leadership role in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Chuck worked to create conservation management goals for endangered species.

“Charles Bieler has always been a tremendous advocate for wildlife, and with the programs he started, he began a conservation revolution among American zoos,” said Doug Myers, president and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global. “It is largely due to his work that the zoo industry is now in the forefront of wildlife conservation, with San Diego Zoo Global being a leader in these efforts.”

As executive director of the Zoological Society of San Diego from 1973 until 1985, Chuck saw the growth of the Wild Animal Park (now the Safari Park) through its early years. After stepping down as director in 1985, he continued his work to support the organization, working on fund-raising projects, meeting with donors, and acting as a liaison with other zoos to advance their conservation efforts. He has always valued teamwork and is quick to give credit to his staff. With his ready smile, Chuck makes everyone feel that he can be counted as a friend. For all this and so much more, Charles Bieler overwhelmingly deserves our 2014 Conservation Advocate Medal.

Since 1966, the San Diego Zoo Global Conservation Medal has a long history of recognizing significant efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats. In past years, the Zoo has honored Betty White, Joan Embery, Jane Goodall, George Schaller, H.R.H. Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, and E.O. Wilson.



Birthday Celebration at San Diego Zoo: Giant Panda Xiao Liwu Turns Two!

Xiao Liwu's 2nd birthdayXiao Liwu (pronounced sshyaoww lee woo), a male giant panda at the San Diego Zoo, turned two years old today and received a birthday party, complete with cake and presents. The young panda, whose name means little gift, came out of his den this morning to find a festive, four-foot-tall ice cake, topped with a big ice “2″ and filled with some of his favorite treats: apple, carrot and yam slices.

The birthday bear, called Mr. Wu by his keepers and panda fans, went directly to the two-tiered cake and began eating the slices of fruits and vegetables layering the top tier of the icy treat. When he ate all the slices, he patiently waited for the ice to melt so he could eat the fruit frozen into the tiers. He later climbed on top of the cake and chewed on the bamboo stalks frozen inside the decorative elements before venturing off to check out his gifts, boxes filled with hay, alfalfa and pine shavings and scented with cinnamon.

Xiao Liwu’s cake, weighing 100 pounds, was made by the Zoo’s nutritional services team and took weeks to complete. It was made of water colored with food coloring and frozen into layers, with bamboo stalks used to support the tiers. The ice cake was decorated with sliced fruits and vegetables, bamboo, colored pieces of ice cut into star shapes and pureed yam frosting applied with traditional frosting tubes and tips. The cake and gifts are a form of enrichment, which is important to the panda, as it keeps him stimulated and active, allowing him to show natural behaviors.

Keepers describe Mr. Wu as an extremely smart and precocious cub. He enjoys playing in a long, plastic tray filled with ice cubes, but once the cubes melt, he comes out. He also enjoys rolling in different scents and his favorites are ginseng root, wintergreen and cinnamon. He is very laid back and relaxed and loves his bamboo, eating 15 to 20 pounds of it a day. He weighs 88 pounds and when full grown can weigh as much as 250 pounds. Visitors can see Mr. Wu at Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo or watch him on the Zoo’s Panda cam at zoo.sandiegozoo.org/cams/panda-cam.

The San Diego Zoo is home to three giant pandas: Xiao Liwu, his mother, Bai Yun and father, Gao Gao. Giant pandas are on loan to the San Diego Zoo from the People’s Republic of China for conservation studies of this endangered species. To help San Diego Zoo Global lead the fight against extinction and to celebrate Xiao Liwu’s birthday, please consider becoming a Hero for Wildlife by making a monthly donation to San Diego Zoo Global’s Wildlife Conservancy at www.endextinction.org.

Photo taken on July 29, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



Rare Night Lizards Form Satellite Population at San Diego Zoo

island night lizardA recently recovered endangered species, the island night lizard, has been added to the list of reptile species at the San Diego Zoo. Five night lizards arrived at the Zoo on July 25, 2014, brought by the U.S. Navy to be available for guest viewing. The species was removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 1, 2014.

“It is one of the few species that visitors to the Zoo will see that was recovered under the Endangered Species Act, and the only one estimated to occur in the millions on U.S. Navy Lands,” said Dr. Robert Lovich, senior natural resource specialist at Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) SW, Desert Integrated Product Team.

The island night lizard Xantusia riversiana is native to three federally owned Channel Islands (San Clemente, San Nicolas, and Santa Barbara) located off the Southern California coast, and a small islet (Sutil Island) located just southwest of Santa Barbara Island. San Clemente and San Nicolas islands, used by the U.S. Navy as training lands, are also home to several unique and endangered species that the naval command works to preserve.

“San Clemente Island is critical to the Navy’s ability to train and prepare sailors to fight in realistic situations. By adaptively managing wildlife like the island night lizard, we can conduct our mission requirements and remain great stewards of our natural resources. We’re pleased the San Diego Zoo has an opportunity to share this interesting creature with the public,” said Capt. Christopher E. Sund, commanding officer of Naval Base Coronado.

The island night lizard was placed on the endangered species list in 1977 because its habitat was threatened by feral goats, pigs and predators that had been introduced to the island. In 1992, the Navy removed the last of the feral goats and pigs from San Clemente Island and has an ongoing program to trap and remove feral cats and rats. In conjunction with these efforts, nonnative species of plants were removed from the island as well, greatly improving the habitat of the night lizards and promoting their recovery.

“Now that the species is recovered, it is important to ensure its ongoing survival by creating a satellite population away from its island home,” said Kim Lovich, curator of reptiles for the San Diego Zoo. “This satellite population provides insurance that the species will survive even in the event of a sudden natural disaster to its island home.”

The lizards will soon be available for viewing at the Zoo’s reptile house.

Photo taken on July 25, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Global.



San Diego Zoo Global Receives Neighborhood Grant for Field Notebooks

field notebooks grant presentationThis morning Supervisor Dave Roberts presented a check for $7,000 from the County of San Diego Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund to San Diego Zoo Global Chairman Rick Gulley. The check was awarded to the nonprofit organization in a brief ceremony under the curious eyes of a spectacled owl.

The funds will help create a digital field notebook titled “Life in a Biodiversity Hotspot” for use in the Eddy Family Outdoor Learning Lab, located next to the Beckman Center for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The digital field notebook will introduce students and teachers from disadvantaged Title I schools in San Diego County to local wildlife found throughout the region.

Photo taken on July 25, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Global.