Animal Stories

Animal Stories

54

Ahoy! Let’s Celebrate Xiao Liwu’s Birthday!

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Flashback to Xiao Liwu’s first photo at about a month old. Oh, that face!

Xiao Liwu’s 3rd Birthday is July 29th  but we are going to have his big party on August 1st for him, beginning at 9 a.m. (US Pacific Daylight Time), so mark your calendars and set your alarm!  We are looking forward to seeing what his ice cake (crafted by our creative Forage Team) looks like this year. We as a team always enjoy this little surprise and the only hint we have had is that it is orange. (You can read about how an ice cake is made here.)

“X marks the spot” when the Forage Team delivers the cake at 8:45 a.m., while we keepers put out all his enrichment.  The birthday boy will be able to come aboard his exhibit at 9:15 a.m., right after the Zoo opens so all of his crew and friends can be there to watch him enjoy his cake and “presents.”  Mr. Wu  has commandeered the cave exhibit, so his fans will have a bigger space to view the celebration.  This is also the better exhibit for Panda Cam viewing so all the Panda Fans that cannot be there in person can celebrate with us, too!

Mr. Wu still is our “Little Gift” and amazes us everyday. He is now 149.6 pounds (68 kilograms) and is still small but mighty. He has been going through the destructive phase, testing the limits of every climbing branch and log in his exhibit.  So be ready for the fact that there may be times that he falls or gets a new scrape, just like any young boy would.  He has many playful bouts of running around and enjoying his enrichment, but he still remains patient during his training sessions.  We have taken a little break with his blood pressure readings, as Bai Yun has been having full access to the training crate.

As keepers we look forward to this time to give all our pandas extra enrichment in celebration of this milestone—another year closer to being an adult (which usually is around five years of age).  If you are able to come to the celebration in person, please also stop over at our Volunteer table to learn about giant pandas and look at our special artifacts.

We know one day that Mr. Wu will add to the genetic diversity of future giant pandas and maybe even one day his future cubs will be candidates for release into the wild. In this way and so many others he is a “Little Gift” that keeps on giving!

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Happy Anniversary, Gao Gao.

0

Condor Chick: Getting Big!

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There she grows! Antiki is feathering out nicely.

Antiki, our California condor chick featured on this year’s San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Condor Cam, is now over 100 days old and starting to get her “big bird” feathers! As many of our regular viewers have noticed, her flight feathers are growing in. Some of the first feathers that start to grow are the wing feathers. It is easy to see the feathers growing through the chick’s down—the down feathers are gray, but the new flight feathers are black. The long feathers that grow from the tip of the wing are called “primary feathers” and the feathers from the wrist to the armpit are “secondary feathers.” Primary and secondary feathers are the giant feathers that make the California condor’s wing so large and impressive; an adult can have a wingspan of up to 9 ½ feet! We are estimating our chick’s wingspan to be around 5 feet right now—between the size of a red-tailed hawk’s and a bald eagle’s. Her tail feathers are also starting to grow. They’re a little harder to see on camera, but you should be able to spot them soon.

After the wing and tail feathers fill in, the feathers on the chick’s back will start to grow, as well as the small feathers on the top of the wing (called “coverts”). Even though many new, black feathers will be covering parts of her body, she will still have lots of gray down showing, making it easy to differentiate her from her parents. Eventually, her light-colored skin will turn dark grey or black and be covered with fine, fuzzy feathers, but this won’t happen until well after she leaves the nest. Her skin will stay dark until she reaches maturity at 6 years and it turns pink-orange, just like her parents’, Sisquoc and Shatash.

The chick had her second health exam on June 25 during which our veterinary staff were able to administer her second, and final, West Nile virus inoculation. A blood sample was obtained and she weighed in at 13 pounds, 7 ounces (6.1 kilograms), over half of her projected adult weight. Even though our little girl is getting big, she still has room to grow!

The adult condors normally are fed four days per week. The other three days of the week, they are fasted. They often will not eat every day in the wild, sometimes fasting for up to two weeks, so our nutritionists recommend not feeding them every day to prevent obesity and food waste. Their diet, depending on the day, can consist of rats, rabbits, trout, beef spleen, or ground meat. We offer two to three pounds of food per bird per feeding day. When the condors are raising a chick, in addition to their normal diet, we offer extra food every day: 1 rat, 1.5 pounds of beef spleen, 1 trout, and half a pound of ground meat. They don’t end up feeding all of this food to the chick, but we want to be sure that they have enough for the growing baby. It’s difficult to calculate exactly how much food the chick is eating each day, but we estimate that she could be eating 1.5-2.5 pounds of food per day.

Many Condor Cam viewers have seen some rough-looking interactions between the chick and her parents. What may have been happening was a form of discipline. As the chick has gotten bigger, her begging displays and efforts have gotten more vigorous. These efforts can sometimes be bothersome or problematic for parents that just want some peace and quiet. The parents have two ways to make sure that the chick does not cause too much trouble while begging. They can leave immediately after providing food, which is what we’ve seen a lot of on Condor Cam; or they can discipline the unruly chick. This discipline can come in the form of the parent sitting or standing on the chick, or the parent may nip or tug at it. Either of these behaviors results in the chick being put in its place by the dominant bird in the nest, thus ending the undesired behavior. Sometimes, this discipline may occur before the chick acts up. Be mindful that this is perfectly normal for condors to do, even though it would be cruel for us to treat our own babies like that! When condors fledge, or leave the nest, they need to know how to interact with dominant birds at a feeding or roost site. This seemingly rough behavior from the parents will benefit the chick later when it encounters a big, unrelated bird that might not be as gentle.

There have been many questions regarding the chick being able to jump up on the nest box barrier. She hasn’t jumped up yet, but she may soon. Stay tuned for our next blog that will discuss this next big milestone!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, Say Hello to Antiki!

2

Malayan Tigers, A Family Tradition at the San Diego Zoo

Having one offspring of a legendary pair is special. Having THREE is something else altogether. Mek and Paka, a breeding pair of Malayan tigers, are heroes in the fight against extinction. The latest in their long line of offspring, Cinta and Berani, are a pair of 18 month old sub-adult males that just sauntered into the Lost Forest at the San Diego Zoo. Cinta and Berani, aka “the Boys,” were born January 4th 2014 in a four-cub litter that also included two girls.

Brothers Berani & Cinta are inseparable. (photo by Penny Hyde)

Brothers Berani & Cinta are inseparable. (photo by Penny Hyde)

The addition of the youthful teenagers has been both joyful and a bit nerve-wracking! One particularly heart pounding moment came in the first few weeks of the boys exploring the recently renovated exhibit. At the end of May, Cinta and Berani were wading in the large pool in the lower exhibit when one decided to try to jump up the wall. Easily clearing 10 feet in a single bound, he gently fell back on his feet in the pool and wandered off to explore something else. Even though there was never a chance he could get out of the exhibit, it was still surprising to see how easily he leapt up a sheer wall. This was a true testament to how athletic and powerful these majestic creatures really are.

Brothers Cinta & Berani snuggle up for a cat nap (photo by Deric Wagner)

Brothers Cinta & Berani snuggle up for a cat nap (photo by Deric Wagner)

The exhibit was not the biggest adjustment the boys had to make. Their brother Conner, twice their age and a quarter larger in size, is an imposing and dominant male. Connor made it his mission to scent mark the entire exhibit thoroughly. This marking can last for a month. While the boys are never in the same exhibit as Connor, they know he is around and they had to adjust to seeing and smelling a much larger male. This certainly put the boys in a nervous state, leading to some funny interactions and behaviors early on. Both Berani and Cinta were on high alert the first day they and Connor were out on their exhibits for the first time. They could see Connor through the double fence and never once turned their backs on him the entire day. All the while, Connor just sat on his rock, welcoming the new kids to the block.

Connor sharpening his tetherball skillz. #TigerTetherball (video by Rachel Pollard)

A video posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

Once things settled down and all the tigers were getting comfortable with their surroundings, we all moved on to the next phase, exhibit swapping. Both Connor and the boys have now had time in each of the two sections of the redesigned tiger exhibit and they are noticeably calmer as a result. Connor, still a relatively young male himself, continues to show his youthful attitude and exuberance for life. On the first night of Nighttime Zoo, Connor decided to put on a show. He managed to create his own version of The Bellagio water show by ripping up a water line to his drinker. Water sprayed everywhere and one happy tiger got to play in it. The repairs were made the next day and after a short test, Cinta and Berani were swapped into the previously flooded exhibit. They decided to team up and proceeded to tear the water line out of the drinker, just after it got repaired! I guess the boys think imitation is the best form of flattery.

Connor has reclaimed his renovated digs on Tiger Trail in the Lost Forest. #caturday (Pic by Mike Wilson) A photo posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

Just two months in with our rambunctious family of brothers, Connor, Cinta and Berani are all adjusting. The family fun and adventure shall continue!

Aimee Goldcamp is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

27

A Little Switch

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A change of scenery will be enriching for active, curious Xiao Liwu.

On Friday our keepers decided to switch it up a bit for our panda bears (and for a particular tree); Xiao Liwu was moved into the first enclosure and Gao Gao moved to the “Keebler” side. This change of environment is nothing new to our bears (we do this every few months), and is a chance for guests and Panda Cam viewers to see some interesting behavior as the pandas get reacquainted with their new spot. Giant pandas are very good at scenting their territory, and when we are able to play “musical bears” we give them the chance to re-mark territory and exhibit some of those behaviors: scent marking in a handstand position as well as rubbing on trees and even on the ground. Not only is this fun for our guests to observe, it is a good behavior for our bears to express. Changing locations is a novel enrichment experience for the pandas.

The switch last week also gave our staff a chance to check out the little elm tree that Mr. Wu was exposing. For those of you who haven’t seen that particular enclosure over the years, it has gone through a few trees in its day. The first tree in the exhibit was knocked over by Su Lin, born in 2005. Luckily, nothing was damaged and we were able to secure her and the tree so that she could continue to use it as a climbing structure. We were then gifted with a young elm tree that Yun Zi (born 2009) tore apart during one of his many energy bursts. Shortly after that, we acquired the elm currently in the exhibit. We did our best to secure it so that the tree might stand a chance against a young, rowdy bear. So yesterday when our keepers discovered that little Mr. Wu had torn the plastic covering off the elm, they moved Gao Gao into the exhibit knowing that he probably wouldn’t destroy the tree.

Over the past ten years, I’ve watched cubs go through the many stages of adolescence, and they can be very destructive. The cubs learn how strong they are and like to test boundaries. And never forget how smart bears are and how curious they can be. As keepers, our job is to make sure that these bears go through these stages safely. For our researchers, this is a busy time watching and noting the many changes going on with our bears. This can often be fun for the observers as they watch the bears be a little silly and try out their abilities.

So while our staff does their best to restore the tree’s protective covering, enjoy watching the bears in a new—yet familiar—environment. Also keep an eye out for some smelling behaviors; after every storm I think we get some of the most fascinating behaviors from all of our animals as they investigate all the new smells kicked into the air.

Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Thunder and Lightning.

Monitor’s note: We have recently updated our Blog Comment Policy. We ask that comments stay focused on the topic of the blog or what you observe on Panda Cam rather than animals or events at other institutions. Thank you!

6

Thunder and Lightning

The Zoo's newest giraffe calf, born May 5, seemed to get a real kick out of the thunder and rain last week.

The Zoo’s newest giraffe calf, born May 19, seemed to get a real kick out of the thunder and rain last week.

Here at the San Diego Zoo, our animals’ welfare is number one! If an animal appears to be having a difficult time, we will do out best to make sure that we can make them comfortable and figure out what may be the cause of any uneasiness. So with that being said, the storms that came through San Diego last week gave a few of our animals something new to say the least. On Tuesday, when the thunder began to move in, little Mr. Xiao Liwu decided that not only did he not like it, but that he wanted to seek shelter…inside!

Of course, animals in the wild are going to deal with this without the luxury of having a nice, climate controlled bedroom to run into. Since giant pandas are naturally found anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation, they deal with a whole multitude of weather conditions including snow and extreme humidity. But our Mr. Wu has had a different life experience.

The day of the storm, I was also giving a tour around the Zoo and animals everywhere had their own responses to smelling the rain and hearing the thunder. A particularly special treat was watching our baby giraffe running around and kicking her legs out playing in the falling drops. I’ve always told guests that the best time to go to the Zoo or even the Safari Park is right before or after a storm. All the animals can smell the change in the air and it’s always fun to watch them.

Over the 10 years I’ve been working around the pandas, I’ve had the opportunity to witness interesting behavior and great moments with the bears. One of those is panda cubs in the rain, and the aftermath. All of our animals have shelter in their enclosure so that if it begins to rain hard, they can get out of the rain and still be visible to the public. Panda cubs have really never disappointed in their playtime in the mud. Just as human kids like to jump in puddles and make a mess, panda cubs love to slide, roll, and jump in puddles and mud. One of my favorite memories of Yun Zi (born 2009) was a morning I had put him in the “garden room” of Bai Yun’s indoor area so that I could clean the bedroom. It had rained a little and as I was finishing up, here came Yun Zi, dripping with mud. Total “boy” move; he had rolled in the mud and had clearly had a blast.

So, keep your eye peeled for those awesome moments, and again try a visit just before or after a storm. You’ll be amazed at what you see the animals doing!

Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Panda Cubs: Interesting Individuals.

18

Polar Bears: Summer Update

Handsome Kalluk is back in a non-breeding state of mind, but there are still many things that capture his attention!

Handsome Kalluk is back in a non-breeding state of mind, but remains a curious, active fellow.

In response to recent blog comments regarding Kalluk, the Polar Team wants to assure everyone that he is doing very well. He is rebounding nicely out of breeding season but does occasionally fall back briefly into some breeding season habits. Kalluk has gained a significant amount of weight and some days he eats about 40 pounds of meat! He is once again acknowledging keepers—always a nice change from the height of breeding season when he can be very non-responsive to behavior cues and “hellos” because his focus is elsewhere. He was even was trying to initiate play with me the other day as well as greeting me with his hot, bear breath when I said “good morning”. He also really enjoys a good lip rub again—he pushes his lips past the mesh so keepers are able to make safe contact.

For those who have noticed Kalluk walking around by the waterfall and rockwork in the back of the exhibit, rest assured he is not revisiting his breeding season antics. Behind the rockwork and those doors are the bedrooms where all the bears get the majority of their diet. At various time during the day, keepers call the bears inside to eat their favorite items in private bedrooms. Also in these bedrooms are some comfortable materials they use to make themselves a bed each night. One speculation for Kalluk’s motivation is that he either wants to come inside for food (Yea Kalluk!) or he would like to make a bed by hauling rubber mats, burlap, and boxes to his favorite spot—all of which are behaviors that we are very happy to see. We try to provide opportunities for the bears to create beds on exhibit as well, but we strive to give the bears choices and where they make their bed at night is one important choice. Early in the afternoon, the bears outside get to choose between being on exhibit or going in the bedrooms.

Tatqiq and Chinook are also doing well. You may notice Chinook is looking beautifully plump these days. We purposefully increased her diet significantly this year at this time, to see if it would tip the scales (pun intended) in favor of her chances of having cubs. We really are trying everything we can to make this breeding season a success. Other ways in which we are trying to increase Chinook’s chances (as we have in past years) are allowing her to “choose” her situation (i.e. isolation or with the group), access to air conditioned bedrooms, eventually installing her den, and continuing to study her hormone levels via fecal samples.

As usual, Tatqiq is her “happy-go-lucky” self. She too has gained a little weight, as we intentionally increased her diet. Stay tuned for some exciting projects in the future with Tatqiq!

Other updates include a recent change to the exhibit. We added a new bridge in front of the waterfall. This simple renovation to the exhibit will enable us to make future changes easier to facilitate such as using a bobcat to add more substrate to the exhibit. New substrate is a great source of enrichment and gives the bears more opportunities to make a bed on exhibit.

As the heat increases in the summer months, we do ask for your patience! On those hot days, the bears are allowed access to those nice, cool bedrooms by 3 p.m. PST at the latest in order to give them more choice. Each bear can decide to stay on exhibit (therefore potentially on view for Polar Cam fans) or choose to make a bed inside their bedrooms. Thank you for understanding!

Susan Purtell is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

12

Gorilla Bachelors: A Day in the Life

Maka is the leader of the Zoo's gorilla bachelor troop.

Maka is the leader of the Zoo’s gorilla bachelor troop.

A typical day in the life of the San Diego Zoo’s bachelor brothers, 20-year-old Maka, 13-year-old Mandazzi, and 9-year-old Ekuba includes both some outdoor exhibit time and indoor bedroom time. On this sample day, they are scheduled to go outside in the morning, and our breeding troop will go out in the afternoon. After an early morning wake up to check on how everyone is feeling, a heart-healthy breakfast of low-starch biscuits and their favorite banana leaf browse, it’s time for keepers to head out to clean and set up the exhibit for the day. Keeping the boys active and engaged is a top priority; it’s one of the highlights of my day and most certainly theirs, too!

We have a wonderful and creative team of enrichment volunteers that keep our gorillas well-stocked with fun items like painted gourds, boxes, papier-maché and burlap bags, perfume-scented pine cones, bamboo cups for gelatin or peanut butter, palm husk baskets and comfy hay beds to sleep on (they even take special requests for birthday parties or upcoming holiday themes!)In addition to the enrichment, we also set out plenty of fresh cut browse. The boys get a total of 12 branches of a variety of browse delivered daily by our hard-working forage team. Willow, mulberry, and rusty-leaf fig are always a huge hit!  After we top off the exhibit with a liberal sprinkling of cereal to increase foraging, it’s time for the boys to head outside.

As is the case with all of our primates, the gorillas are part of an extensive training program that allows us to give them excellent medical care. On their way outside, each one of the boys stop in a chute and are asked for a variety of behaviors that allow us to get a good look at them one-on-one and address any issues. For example, we might notice Mandazzi has a hang nail and dry heels, so we file the nail and apply lotion to his feet; Ekuba needs a quick tooth brushing; and Maka has a minor cut on his arm that we will irrigate to promote faster healing. These are a just a few of the over 20 behaviors the gorillas know. This individual time keeps them in top form and develops an invaluable relationship of trust between gorilla and keeper. And it doesn’t hurt that they get yummy fruit and nut pieces hand fed to them during these daily check-ups!

Once outside, the boys enjoy their enrichment and foraging time, check in with a few devoted friends on the other side of the glass (our guests!) and settle in for a mid-morning nap next to the rushing sound of the waterfalls. Like all primates, gorillas like to eat throughout the day, so every couple of hours more food and treats are distributed by a keeper from the roof of the building. The boys each have their favorite “spot” to be in while the food is delivered. Maka usually prefers to hang back either on the “point” or along the side near the waterfalls to keep an eye on things. Ekuba takes the requisite spot between his big brothers, and Mandazzi, ever the foodie, likes to be front and center catching all of his food like a pro center fielder. In addition to fresh produce like yams, broccoli, snap peas, jicama. and green peppers, the boys get treats like peanut butter covered pine cones or Crystal Light-flavored ice treats. This enrichment requires a lot of time to enjoy, so they are occupied until their early afternoon naptime rolls around.

Keepers describe Mandazzi as a "foodie".

Keepers describe Mandazzi as a “foodie”; he’s also usually the first one into the bedrooms at the end of the day.

By mid-afternoon, when the bedrooms have been cleaned and the bedding re-fluffed, it’s time for the boys to come in so that our other troop can head outside. Mandazzi is almost always the first one in. His eager attitude has made him our star patient in training for voluntary cardiac ultrasounds. He has an appointment this afternoon and our veterinarian is already staging the scene. Heart disease is a major concern for adult male gorillas. To help with early identification and treatment of this disease, all four adult male gorillas at the Zoo are trained to allow us to “see” how their hearts are functioning.

Mandazzi comes up to the front of his room where the veterinarian and keeper are set up, positions himself with his chest flush against the mesh separating his space from ours, and an ultrasound probe is placed against his chest to capture images while a keeper gives him treats. Depending on the position and length of time we need him to hold the position, keepers offer the gorilla juice from a squirt bottle, applesauce from a spoon, or hand feed pieces of fruit and nuts. Mandazzi did great and three different angles of his heart were recorded today. He gets a few more treats from a happy veterinarian and then it’s time for second lunch and more fun enrichment!

While inside, the gorillas often get very messy enrichment. There are piles of shredded paper or pine shaving with raisins to dig through. Magazines are sprinkled with seeds and spices and ready to be torn up. Often, their produce and hay is fed out in puzzle feeders that take time to manipulate. With a nature DVD playing on their wall-mounted flat screen TVs and a pile of cardboard boxes to dig through, the boys are busy right up until late afternoon nap time. After a power nap, the boys get another round of browse to strip and eat while the day keeper finishes her/his tasks and updates the evening keeper that takes over the area. As the sun sets, the boys get ready for their evening routine— and more food!

Peaceable, laid-back Ekuba has the ability to enter his brothers' bedrooms at night.

Peaceable, laid-back Ekuba has the ability to enter his brothers’ bedrooms at night.

Each of the boys has their own room at night. They are fed in their separate rooms to make sure everyone gets their fair share. Afterwards, the doors between rooms are opened wide enough for little, peacekeeping Ekuba to mingle. This allows for some socializing but still gives both of the big boys a peaceful night’s sleep without worrying about the other sneaking into “their” room while they are relaxing. Maka is the troop leader, being the oldest brother, but Mandazzi already outweighs him and we are always aware of the possibility of a coup. No such drama tonight, however. All is quiet as bedding is adjusted and sleepy boys are ready to settle in for the night. After all, tomorrow starts with an early morning keeper wake up call, and big bowl of heart healthy biscuits.

Nerissa Foland is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Oh, joy—It’s a Boy!

2

Say Hello to Antiki!

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Tests show our Condor Cam chick is a female. Watching Condor Cam shows she seems to be wondering what’s on the other side of that ledge!


The results are in: Our California condor chick being raised on Condor Cam at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a female. Her name is “Antiki” (pronounced “an-TEE-kee”), a Chumash word that means “to recover, get well.” She is the seventeenth chick produced by parents Sisquoc and Shatash, and is the seventh that they have raised themselves, including the 2012 and 2013 Condor Cam stars: Saticoy (now flying free in southern California) and Cuyamaca (currently soaring free in Arizona). The pair’s other offspring were raised by keepers using a condor puppet so the chicks wouldn’t imprint on their human caretakers. Overall, Sisquoc and Shatash have proven to be great and reliable parents.

Some viewers have worried about the amount of time that Antiki spends alone in the nest—that she might be getting lonely. Yet, it’s important to look at the situation from a condor “point of view,” using what we know about their natural history.

California condors naturally have a one-egg clutch; in other words, there is never more than one chick in a nest. Although the chicks may appear lonely to us, we need to keep in mind that their social requirements are much different from ours. Of course, a human would be lonely being raised in isolation, but condors thrive in that situation. There is no competition from nest mates (ensuring plenty of food for growth), the single chick receives plenty of attention, preening, and protection from both parents (facilitating the proper social skills for when it’s time to leave the nest) and there is less waste that accumulating in the nest (reducing the possibilities for nest parasite infestation).

Sisquoc and Shatash visit Antiki several times a day for feeding and social interaction, giving her everything that she needs. If she was in distress, it would manifest in improper growth and unusual behaviors. She is in perfect health and showing excellent behaviors for a release candidate of this age, indicating that Sisquoc and Shatash are doing a textbook job!

We do not offer her “toys” or enrichment items, as her parents have provided several items in the nest to explore or play with: feathers, dried food items/bones, or cast hair pellets. We have seen Antiki (as well as every other condor that has been raised at the Safari Park) play with, sleep on, and re-distribute these items around the nest. Field observations have shown that chicks in wild nests in California, Arizona, and Mexico behave in the exact same manner. We don’t want to provide any unnaturally occurring items in the nest as playthings as this could encourage her to seek out similar items after she is released to the wild, possibly putting her in harm’s way. Remember, we are trying to foster behaviors that wild condors should have–avoiding human activity and hazardous, artificial situations. Survival rates for condors that become accustomed to humans and human activity are very low.

We are preparing for Antiki’s second health exam this week; it is usually scheduled when the chick is approximately 75 days old. Enjoy watching our little girl grow up and stay tuned for more updates!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, Condor Cam Chick’s First Health Exam.

84

Panda Cubs: Interesting Individuals

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At almost three years old, Xiao Liwu is a bundle of adorable energy!

 

In my previous blog, Meanwhile, in Panda Canyon, I mentioned that Xiao Liwu is “so different from his siblings…” Many of you have asked me to share more about the ways Mr. Wu is different, so here we go. To give you a good idea of what I mean, let’s take a “refresher course” in all the cubs born at the San Diego Zoo.

In August of 1999, Bai Yun, gave birth to her first cub Hua Mei as a result of artificial insemination from Shi Shi, the first male in our breeding program. As the very first giant panda cub to survive in the US, Hua Mei was a new adventure for our care staff and veterinarian team. Our nursery staff was on standby, but day after day, Bai Yun amazed us with her attentiveness to and care of her cub. Hua Mei was a typical, curious cub that became playful with her mother as she grew. The world watched her grow and fell in love with her—and her mom—via Panda Cam.

Gao Gao, our current breeding male, came to San Diego in 2003. He had never bred before and was a bit smaller than we anticipated, but Gao Gao rose to the challenge, and we had our first successful mating followed by another successful live birth on August 3, 2003. Named Mei Sheng, the first male cub for Bai Yun kept up with Hua Mei in weight in the beginning, even though he was a little smaller measurement-wise—different paternal genes can make a difference in size of an animal. Personality-wise, Mei Sheng was a little more clingy to his mom than Hua Mei, but he also had a goofy side. I remember when I first started working in Panda Canyon, he would sometimes hang upside down from tree limbs and swing. He was great fun to watch and was always putting on a great show for guests.

Our next panda cub, Su Lin, was born in 2005. She was one of our smaller kiddos, and I would definitely call her an “old soul.” She was pretty mellow, and sometimes seemed more sensitive to environmental change. Su Lin was the first cub trained to be part of the giant panda hearing study. Su Lin ended up staying at the Zoo until she was five years old, and during that time she went through her first estrus. Watching her scent mark her enclosure and even investigate her bedroom for possible denning was always interesting for guests and staff.

The birth of Zhen Zhen in 2007 brought a whole new experience for keepers! Physically, she kept up with Mei Sheng’s weight patterns as she grew, but Zhen Zhen had a little more of a feisty attitude. She had a lot of energy and used it to give Bai Yun a “hard time.” Keepers had to start training to go into her bedroom with mom sooner rather than later because with all of that energy, she would often attempt to roughhouse with keepers when they tried to gather her up to bring her in. As she got older, she still maintained a high-energy personality and was notorious for breaking tree branches from trees while bouncing on them.

An interesting side note: when Su Lin and Zhen Zhen went to China in 2010, we got reports from keepers there that their personalities had switched a bit. Zhen Zhen had mellowed out, while Su Lin now much more sure of herself, was putting on quite high-energy act for staff in China!

In 2009 Yun Zi was born. Nicknamed “Monster” as a little cub, he was ALL boy. He had a “I’m a big, tough bear” attitude even as a young cub. At the time, I was on loan as a panda keeper and was working with him five days a week. In the mornings when we would attempt to get Yun Zi “out of bed”, we would use all the amazing enrichment items that our donors had provided, but nothing seemed to work. In the end, dried leaves were the thing that got him up and moving—he liked chasing them down the tunnel that leads into the exhibit. We had another challenge at the end of each day, when we needed to get him back into the bedroom with mom. On more than one occasion, Yun Zi would be sleeping in the corner of the exhibit and we would have to carry him off exhibit. But as soon as you put him down in the bedroom, he “magically” woke up and began running around! Yun Zi was the biggest cub we have had born here at the Zoo. On more than one occasion, he was more than 2 pounds bigger than his siblings at the same age. Today, living in China, he is over 235 pounds.

And that brings us to the afternoon of July 29, 2012 when a little bear named Xiao Liwu was born. After five kids, Bai Yun was well seasoned for this cub and often when we would watch her you could tell that she was all about letting this kid figure things out for himself. “Wu Bear” has been very independent and what he may have lacked in size he has more than made up for in focus. He has always been a mellow cub, and as keepers have said many times, “They broke the mold after Wu Bear!” When we began training him to cooperate with having his blood pressure taken, he was calm, confident, and extremely relaxed. Not much fazes him, and for the most part—from a keeper’s point of view—he has been the easiest cub to work with.

Xiao Liwu will be turning three years old soon, and with that age comes a whole new set of behaviors and energy bursts. Just the other day, I was watching him put on quite a show for guests, running around and breaking off branches from the bushes in the enclosure. He will continue to be fun to observe and has a very bright future ahead of him—just like his older siblings.

2012 PandaCubGrowth

This chart shows Xiao Liwu’s early develoment compared to his siblings. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Meanwhile, In Panda Canyon.

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3

Condor Cam Chick’s First Health Exam

Caption

The Condor Cam chick is currently about the size of a bowling ball!

 

On Tuesday, May 26, our California condor chick received its first health exam. We normally conduct this exam at around 45 days of age. The goal was to obtain a blood sample for our labs, administer a vaccine for West Nile virus, inject a microchip for identification, and weigh the chick.

The first step in this process is to separate the parents from the chick. Of course, the parents—father Sisquoc and mother Shatash—don’t want any invaders in the nest and do their best to defend the chick and keep it safe, as all good parents will do. Adjacent to the flight pen, we have a shift pen. Shift pens are used to safely and calmly move large or dangerous animals from one area to another. Other animals at the Safari Park that are moved with shift pens include lions, gorillas, bighorn sheep, and others. That’s why you never see any keepers in the exhibits at the same time with these animals. We offer all of the condors’ diet in the shift pen, so Sisquoc and Shatash are very comfortable entering this spot for every meal. On the day of the exam, we shifted Sisquoc into the pen and kept him there until after the health check was completed. From the shift pen, he cannot see the nest area so he was unaware that we were even in his nest, thus keeping him very calm. He ate and waited patiently until he had access back into his flight pen.

Shatash was not shifted, but instead was able to see us go into her nest. We posted one keeper in the nest entryway to keep Shatash out, while another keeper entered the nest and covered the little chick with a towel. This is the first time that the 46-day-old chick had ever seen a person, and it was understandably nervous and defensive—hissing and lunging at the intruder. Yet once under the cover of the towel, the chick could not see and calmed down. It was then brought into the adjoining vestibule where our veterinary staff was waiting.

First, the veterinarian obtained a blood sample from the chick’s leg. This sample will be sent to the lab to make sure that the chick is healthy. Also, our geneticists at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research can use the sample to determine if the chick is male or female.

Next, a vaccine for West Nile virus was administered. West Nile virus is disease that originated in Africa and was accidentally introduced to North America by humans. North American animals, including condors, usually don’t have a natural immune response to West Nile Virus, so we are trying to give the chicks as much of a head start as we can.

Then a microchip was injected under the chick’s skin. This chip is a form of identification, the same kind you can get for your dog or cat at the veterinarian.

The veterinarian then did a quick health assessment, checking the chick’s eyes, nares (nostrils), beak, feet, legs, wings, and abdomen.

Lastly, we weighed the chick to make sure it was growing on schedule.

While the exam took place, a third keeper was able to enter the nest to clean the camera domes and make sure there were no hazards in the nest cavity. The whole exam, from capture to release, took approximately 16 minutes.

Once the exam was over, the chick was returned to the nest and Shatash was allowed to approach and check on her baby. As previously mentioned, the chick was rightfully disturbed by this process, despite our best intentions to minimize stress. Although we feel bad that the chick was so nervous, it is actually good that it was not comfortable in our presence. We have to keep in mind that we don’t want the young condor to become accustomed to or feel reassured by humans; we want it to be a wild condor, uninterested in and wary of humans, so that it may someday fly free in California, Arizona, or Mexico. Condors that show an affinity for humans seldom survive in the wild.

For several minutes, the chick showed defensive posture, hissing at everything it saw, even its mother. Shatash slowly approached her chick and calmly preened it, eventually soothing it. That is the reason we shifted only one parent; we wanted the other parent present to calm the chick after the exam. After only about two minutes, the chick was showing proper begging behavior, resulting in a feeding session from Shatash. With everyone appearing calmer, Sisquoc was let out of his shift pen. Approximately five minutes later, he approached the nest to peek in on the chick and then returned to the shift pen to eat some more. Afterwards, he went back to the nest and fed the chick.

So far, the health exam looks to have been successful. Hopefully, the blood work will show that the chick is healthy. The veterinarian’s initial inspection looked great; the chick’s eyes and nares were clear, the feet, legs and wings were solid, and vitality was very strong. The chick weighed  7 pounds (3.16 kilograms) and was approximately the size of a bowling ball. We hope to receive the sex results from the Genetics Lab soon. When we do, we’ll let you know if the chick is a male or a female.

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, California Condor Chick: 30 to 45 days of Age.