Animals site sub feature

Animals site sub feature

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Catching Rock Iguanas: Easier Said than Done!

Corinne PisacaneThis year I traveled to the Turks and Caicos Islands to study wild rock iguanas. The Turks and Caicos rock iguana Cyclura carinata is endemic to this Caribbean country and is critically endangered. Our team flew to the island of Providenciales, the main hub for tourist travel. From there we continued in a much smaller plane across the beautiful and shallow waters of the Caicos Bank to our final destination, Big Ambergris Cay. This island, located about 40 miles east of Providenciales, is diminutive in size, measuring about 4 miles (6 kilometers) long and only 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) wide. Its highest point is less than 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level. In addition to the iguanas, this secluded island hosts a number of private residences, and there are plans for a large housing development, which poses a potential threat to iguana habitat on the island.

During my time on Big Ambergris Cay, I was involved with a graduate student’s dissertation project involving iguana capture, relocation, and the subsequent examination of homing abilities (among a number of other iguana-related activities!). Every day we set out after it warmed up enough for iguanas to come out of their nooks and holes. Once we located individuals of interest, we set about stalking them. A number of our team members then attempted to catch iguanas of interest with varying degrees of success. Sometimes the lizards were just too fast and would elude our attempts with ease!

Once caught, our next challenge was to try to take a blood sample from each iguana to measure baseline stress hormones. From the moment we caught each iguana, we had exactly three minutes to successfully collect the blood. Any time over three minutes meant that stress hormones (or glucocorticoids) had already reached the iguana’s circulation, meaning we were measuring its stress response to the capture, which was not our goal. As you can imagine, this made for a very exciting three minutes!

If we were not successful, the iguana would be released and not considered as part of the study. If we did succeed, the iguana was then numbered using a system of color-coded beads strung through Spectra line and placed on both sides of the iguana’s dorsal crest between the shoulder blades. This dorsal skin is similar to that of our earlobes, and the stringing of the beads is thought to feel much like piercing one’s ears. Once we were finished marking individuals with beads, each iguana was also fitted with a small radio transmitter to enable future tracking of their movements on the island.

After the identification beads and radio transmitter were secured, iguanas were released at their point of capture and tracked for two weeks to determine their home range. Then they were recaptured and relocated to a different study site just under a mile away to determine if relocation might be used to successfully mitigate future development. As soon as they were released, the race was on! Equipped with radio-receiver equipment, researchers tracked the movements of the iguanas daily to investigate where they went. It appears that adult iguanas can usually find their way home, although how they do so is still not fully understood. By contrast, the homing skills of juvenile iguanas don’t appear to be as developed, and they usually stay put in their new home. For this reason, juvenile iguanas make better candidates for relocation than adults.

Alongside all the capturing and relocating of iguanas, our team also processed all the blood samples collected. This was no small task, as the logistics of processing blood on a small Caribbean island are very involved and time sensitive. Samples had to be frozen immediately, which required transferring them from a portable mobile cooler, carried by each researcher, to a larger cooler on a golf cart (the only mode of transportation around the island!) and then, finally, back to one of our rooms where we’d set up a mobile laboratory. Overall, this was quite an operation! Picture at least half of a dorm room set up as a temporary lab with collection tubes, a centrifuge, slide-staining equipment, and blood-draw needles.

Having traveled to a number of tropical places, I had expected the Turks and Caicos landscape to be all soft sand and friendly flora, with iguanas living in a beach environment. How wrong I was! All this capturing, relocating, and tracking takes place on volcanic-like ground that can quickly tear up ordinary shoes. The ground is also uneven and makes capture and tracking a slow and strenuous process. In addition, the small shrubs and trees are full of thorns and are quite abrasive. As a result, we always wore long pants and covered up at all times, making the work more challenging as it got extremely hot outside. Thick-soled shoes were also critical if we were to move around quickly enough to capture iguanas and avoid large thorns entering the soles of our feet. While we find it difficult to deal with this kind of environment, the iguanas have evolved to be perfectly suited to it.

This type of research is critical to gain a thorough understanding of the biology and behavior of the Turks and Caicos rock iguana. As with most endangered species, we need to be diligent about setting aside the necessary habitat for these amazing reptiles. Rock iguanas throughout the Caribbean are in danger of losing their habitat as a result of human-related pressures. I learned a great deal while on Big Ambergris Cay and am very grateful that I could be involved with iguana conservation in such an amazing habitat!

Corinne Pisacane is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, ISWE: Cheetah Pseudopregnancy?

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Pandas On and Off

Xiao Liwu takes a stroll.

Xiao Liwu takes a stroll.

Changes are happening at the San Diego Zoo, and all for the better, of course! Ground was broken for our new Asian leopard habitat, to be located next to Panda Trek in our Panda Canyon (see NEWS blog dated October 9). With the preparation and construction of this wonderful new home for our snow leopards and Amur leopards comes noise. We try to keep noise to a minimum in our giant panda area.

Bai Yun seems to take almost all construction noise in stride—she’s had years of experience at the Zoo! Her son Xiao Liwu has been the least bothered by noise of all six cubs Bai Yun has raised. Still, as construction progresses, panda keepers may take “Mr. Wu” off exhibit from time to time or move him to the north yard if they find he is bothered by the noise. He could still be seen by our Panda Cam viewers but not by Zoo guests. Gao Gao will continue to remain off exhibit during this time.

Where there's 'boo, there's bliss!

Where there’s ‘boo, there’s bliss!

But the good news is that a television monitor tuned to Panda Cam has been installed in our main gift shop! If you come to the Zoo, you can check on Panda Cam to see who is visible before making your way down to Panda Trek. And our wonderful volunteer Panda Cam operators will always strive to give you the best possible view of one of our pandas.

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Well, Chinook?

6

No Hakuna Matata for this King

Little Evelyn finds that her father makes a fun chew toy!

Little Evelyn finds that her father makes a fun chew toy!

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s king celebrated Father’s Day on October 2, 2014, but the father in question wasn’t too happy about this. Izu, the Park’s male African lion, met his four newest cubs for the first time on exhibit before the Park opened to the public. Cubs Ernest, Evelyn, Marion, and Miss Ellen were born on June 22, 2014, to mother Oshana. The cubs were named for Ernest and Evelyn Rady, Marion Wilson, and Ellen Browning Scripps, all major benefactors of San Diego Zoo Global.

To prepare for the introduction, Izu and his cubs had been eyeing each other through protective barriers for the last month. Animals thrown together at random often don’t do well; keepers carefully plan introductions in stages to get the animals used to one another. Before the morning meeting on exhibit, Izu and his cubs met face to face through a “howdy door,” a door made of heavy steel mesh so they could see, smell, and hear one another. According to keeper Amy Whidden-Winter, the cubs swatted Izu’s tail, and he jumped up on a bench to get away from them. The King of the Jungle is a scaredy-cat!

On October 2, 2014, I arrived at the Park early and was lucky enough to see the lion family introduction. The keepers let Oshana and her four cubs into the outdoor exhibit first, followed immediately by Izu. He eyed the cubs and tried to sidle away from them along the edge of the exhibit. Evelyn led her siblings, with little Ernest bringing up the rear, on a stalk-and-pounce chase of Izu. Evelyn and Marion snuck up behind Izu when his back was turned and retreated as soon as he looked around. Occasionally, the bravest cubs ran up and tagged his back. Izu swatted them away like flies, and even tried spraying to mark his territory. Unfortunately for Izu, cubs don’t care about territory boundaries, and these cubs are particularly persistent and precocious.

As the morning wore on, the cubs got more and more daring. Oshana would occasionally look up from her nap when a cub hissed or Izu roared particularly loudly, but she wasn’t perturbed by the cubs’ antics. They were clearly Izu’s problem now, and it was her turn for a long-overdue catnap. According to the keepers, the four cubs have been keeping Oshana awake constantly; for a lioness used to sleeping up to 20 hours per day, that’s not desirable. Izu eventually succumbed to fatherhood: the cubs rolled on him, bit his ears, and swatted at his mane. With only an occasional roar of protest, and some hilarious facial expressions, Izu became the new babysitter. I could swear Oshana smiled in her sleep.

Visitors to the Safari Park can see Izu and Oshana on exhibit with the four cubs every morning. In the afternoon, 10-month-olds Ken and Dixie, Oshana and Izu’s first litter this year, might be on exhibit. Or Mina, the other adult female lioness in the pride, might be on exhibit with Izu to give him a well-earned respite from fatherhood. Hang in there, Izu!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Who Likes the Rain: Giraffes, Rhinos, or Elephants?

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11 Animal Hairstyles Humans Should Aspire To

The super-slick curls on this curl-crested aracari would make even the smoothest operator jealous.

Photo by Bob Worthington

Photo by Bob Worthington

 

There’s only one word to describe these giraffe ponytails: EPIC.

Photo by Charles Jellison

Photo by Charles Jellison

 

This secretary bird’s hairdo means business.

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The San Diego Zoo’s mane man M’bari has a regal hairdo fit for a king.

This African crowned crane wins the award for best afro ever.

Photo by Bill Gracey

Photo by Bill Gracey

 

This baby orangutan is way more punk than you. Like way more.

 

Fresh Prince eat your heart out. This great blue turaco has the greatest flat-top to ever flat-top.

 

This Brazilian tree porcupine is single-handedly bringing back the spiked do, and looking sharp while doing it.

Photo by Ion Moe

 

Super glam red eye shadow + awesome flared pomp = EPIC WIN

 

Sure, these animals all have pretty sweet dos, but the winner of the bunch is clearly this Visayan warty pig who rocked the tussled hipster mop before it was cool.



Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous blog, 7 Animal Life-Hacks That Will Make You Jealous.

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Hide and Seek: Followers and Tuckers

A Przewalski’s horse foal strolls next to Mom at the Safari Park.

A Przewalski’s horse foal strolls next to Mom at the Safari Park.

Spring and summer mark baby season at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and animal babies at the Safari Park fall into two categories: followers and tuckers. Followers walk, run, and jump within a half hour of birth. They follow their mothers and their herd. They can run from predators. A Przewalski’s foal is able to stand, walk, trot, neigh, and nibble forage on its birthday. Within a week, the foal is able to kick a predator to defend itself. A Przewalski’s foal born at the Safari Park on June 26, 2014, already forages independently in the field exhibit.

A baby gazelle is tucked against a log for safe keeping by Mom.

A baby gazelle is tucked against a log for safe keeping by Mom.

Conversely, tuckers are “tucked” near a rock, tree, or dirt mound after birth. The herd avoids the baby to keep its location secret. Even the tucker’s mother avoids her baby, only coming back a few times a day to nurse. She also moves her baby to different hidden locations to confuse predators. Tuckers are completely helpless, so they stay as still as possible and blend in to their surroundings, even if a predator approaches. Thomson’s gazelles are tuckers. They are the favorite food of cheetahs—infant gazelles don’t stand a chance against them. Gazelle mothers hide their babies in tall grasses for multiple days until they are strong enough to keep up with the herd. A “Tommy” calf born at the Park on June 19, 2014, still looks like a tan rock in the grass.

A gazelle baby gets an ear notch as part of its first exam.

A gazelle baby gets an ear notch as part of its first exam.

Keepers have a tough job with tucker offspring. The baby is easy to catch to give it its first exam, because tuckers can’t run yet, but keepers have to first find the baby. Have you ever tried to find a completely still infant gazelle in a 60-acre exhibit? Good luck. On a Caravan Safari, I have the privilege of watching the action first-hand and even helping keepers spot the tuckers!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

8

Condor Cam Chick Needs Name

Name the Condor ChickHatched on April 29, a small condor chick emerged into the world observed closely by animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Adding to the more than 180 condors hatched at the Safari Park since the breeding program began in 1982, the little chick was placed with adult condors Sulu and Towich so they could raise it to adulthood. Its growth has been watched by thousands of people through a live Condor Cam placed in the nest box. Now animal care staff are asking these interested watchers to help choose a name for the young female bird.

Viewers can go online at http://bit.ly/condorname to vote for one of five suggested names. In keeping with the tradition of the condor program, the names have been selected from the Kumeyaay language. The name receiving the most votes will be used for the chick for the rest of its life. Voting closes at end of day on July 20.

“California condors are an important native species in the western United States and hold a special place not only in the ecosystem but in the culture of the people native to this area,” said Michael Mace, curator of birds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “By giving condors names from the Kumeyaay language, we hope to honor the role of condors in human culture throughout history.”

At more than 2 months of age, the condor chick is covered with fluffy, gray feathers and is still closely cared for by its foster parents. The young bird will continue to grow and mature over the next couple of months until its flight feathers grow in and it is ready to leave the nest. Animal care staff at the Safari Park hope that the chick will be able to take its place among the wild populations that have been released in California, Arizona and Mexico.

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

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Tigers Adjust to New Home

Tiger JoAnne is ready to meet you!

Tiger JoAnne is ready to meet you!

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three weeks since the grand opening of the Tull Family Tiger Trail at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! In that time, we’ve been more than impressed with how well the cats have acclimated to their new daily routines, as well as to the influx of all of their human guests! Many of the tigers seem to really enjoy making themselves as visible as possible at the glass viewing areas and appear to have a great time watching their spectators (especially the kids). The cats have quickly overcome any of the stage fright they may have first felt during their daily training demonstrations and are now quite happy to show off their skills at the interpretive wall for all those who are willing to watch!

As the cats have become more comfortable, we’ve also started to rotate them more throughout the different exhibits, making sure each of the cats gets to check out the features of each yard at least a couple of times per week. This not only gives them a chance to take advantage of all the great features in each yard but also helps to keep them active and enriched, as they get to check out all of the smells left behind by the cat before them!

When the cats aren’t on exhibit, they are enjoying the cool and comfortable accommodations of their new house. Enrichment toys, bedding, and scents furnish each of the eight rooms and are changed daily to delight their curious natures. The cats are brought into their bedrooms every morning, where we feed them their breakfast and then work on trained behaviors to challenge their minds and encourage problem solving. The tiger house also features a number of features to better allow for routine care, such as desensitization of things like voluntary blood draws, injections, ultrasounds, and crating.

With all of the wonderful elements for the tigers in both the exhibits and the house, we’re certainly able to provide these cats with fun-filled and exciting days! Be sure to watch them daily on Tiger Cam.

Lori Gallo is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Meet the Tigers on Tiger Cam.

14

A Jaguar’s Legacy

We'll miss you, Orson!

We’ll miss you, Orson!

The final day of April was a somber one at the San Diego Zoo, as we had to say goodbye to Orson, our melanistic jaguar. At an extraordinarily advanced age of over 21 years, Orson had developed irreversible geriatric conditions that had begun to impact his quality of life. Fortunately, we can take solace that Orson’s legacy will carry on through the countless people he entertained, amazed, and inspired throughout his life.

Orson had many unique traits that drew people to him. The most obvious was his handsome melanistic coloring that only betrayed his spots when the sunlight hit his coat just right. His most engaging trait was simply that he habitually perched front and center where visitors could see him up close and bask in his impressive roar from mere feet away. Many people also fondly recall the weekly tug-of–war matches Orson had with his keepers. Using a hanging pulley system, Orson would battle a team of keepers, which were several times his weight but only a fraction of his strength, for the rights to a shank of meat. Needless to say, Orson always won!

Orson’s effect on people was obvious from the legions of members who made weekly pilgrimages to visit him to the numerous guests who could clearly remember him despite many years passing between visits. I’m sure that a great number of visitors over the years would agree with a teenager who once told me that seeing Orson was a “life-changing experience.” A visit with Orson clearly enhanced people’s respect for jaguars, wildlife, and our natural world in general.

At times the celebrity status Orson enjoyed could rub off slightly onto his keepers. In my time away from the Zoo, I moonlight as a hockey referee. One night after a game, I was leaving the ice and heard someone yell, “Hey, ref!” from the stands. As a rule of thumb, no one has a compliment to give a referee, so I put my head down and quickened my pace toward the locker room. The voice continued, “Hey, ref! We know you. You take care of Orson.”

It was a privilege to take care of such a charismatic animal who was a legend in his own time. Although we will all miss Orson, his legacy will live on in the people he amazed, the children he inspired, and the hearts he touched.

Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Cheers to a Local Legend.

14

Tatqiq: Odd Bear Out

Tatqiq is sure to enjoy Snow Day on Saturday, May 17, 2014!

Tatqiq is sure to enjoy Snow Day on Saturday, May 17, 2014!

Breeding season for polar bears is typically January through June. For Kalluk and Chinook in particular, it can happen anytime in that window. This year, the breeding window began on April 23, 2014, and usually lasts anywhere from 4 to 14 days. In 2013, it occurred in January and only lasted four days. This year, we are seven days into the process and breeding is still happening. However, the frequency has diminished quite a bit from the first few days.

Science still knows very little about polar bear reproduction. What we do know is that polar bears are both induced “ovulators” and delayed “implanters.”

Induced ovulation means that the females don’t have a normal estrus cycle like many mammals do. Male bears follow around females for days or weeks at a time, “wining and dining” them until they are receptive to breeding. Once ovulation is induced, then breeding will commence.

Delayed implantation is tricky because it makes gestation periods and birth dates difficult to predict. Unlike most mammals, after polar bears successfully copulate, they are not immediately pregnant. The fertilized egg remains in a suspended state until conditions are right, at which point the egg implants in the uterus and gestation can begin.

Until late May/early June, Tatqiq is, unfortunately, the odd bear out. Chinook’s hormones are raging, and she is less tolerant of Tatqiq during this time period. Kalluk generally does a good job of breaking up squabbles and moving his sister to a safer spot away from Chinook. If you have been watching the Polar Cam in recent weeks, you have probably noticed Tatqiq seeking refuge in the back corner near the waterfall. This is her safety zone and the spot where she feels she can best defend herself. It is our job as keepers to recognize these changes in behavior and adapt our management strategy. Because of the increased tension between the two females, you will usually only see Kalluk and Chinook on exhibit after 12:30 p.m. When the keepers pull the bears off exhibit for their final meal of the day, we give Tatqiq the polar bear penthouse where she has her own private pool, grass, trees, and air-conditioned bedrooms.

Once breeding season is over, you will again see Kalluk and Tatqiq playing together and there will be less aggression between the two females. Be sure to watch the action daily on Polar Cam!

The Polar Bear Team

135

An Enriched Elephant Herd

The kids enjoy an early-morning pool party.

The kids enjoy an early-morning pool party.

As chronicled in my last post, Tracking Safari Park Elephants, both keepers and researchers consistently strive to improve the welfare of our elephants at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. One such way we can enhance welfare is through the use of enrichment. Enrichment provides our elephants with opportunities to engage in species-appropriate behaviors. Making changes to their social groupings, along with providing more variety in the types and amounts of browse food items given, has proved extremely beneficial. The separation and reuniting of individuals from yard to yard encourages heightened levels of social behavior. Access to bodies of water can encourage everything from taking a simple drink to providing a good place to cool off, and is occasionally a great venue for a full-on pool party!

Vus'Musi and Msholo spar.

Vus’musi and Msholo spar.

Our overarching aim is to maintain a high diversity of positive naturalistic behaviors: we want our elephants to be elephants, and it takes a lot of work to ensure they receive those opportunities. Every morning, keepers go over the plan for the day, and that plan always involves some type of enrichment. One of my personal favorites is when a fresh mud bog is made in the west yard, a task that requires much skill to produce the perfect consistency of mud. The elephants then get to spend the day wallowing, playing, and cooling off in it. Feeder puzzles are another fun device. Some are round while some are rectangular, and all are filled with alfalfa pellets or fresh hay. To get to the food product inside, the elephants have to kick, push, and use their heads (literally and figuratively!), all of which provides them with both mental and physical stimulation while satisfying their appetite.

Swazi reaches up to a hay pile above her head with Msholo, Mac, Emanti, Kami, and Qinisa nearby.

Swazi reaches up to a hay pile above her head with Msholo, Mac, Emanti, Kami, and Qinisa nearby.

Because enrichment is deployed every day, creative minds have to band together to keep the environment as unpredictable as possible. One recent example of this is the variety of produce that is now being introduced (such as romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and celery) to go along with the alfalfa pellets that the elephants receive. Another example is the frequent change in placement of common enrichment products. The Boomer Ball that was previously in the east yard may show up the next day in the pool of the west yard. Even celebrating the birthday of an elephant switches up the herd’s diet and overall schedule, and because it doesn’t happen every day, it is also a very enriching event.

There are many ways to keep the elephants both mentally and physically engaged with their environment, but all require teamwork, scattered scheduling, and creative minds. The next time you’re watching Elephant Cam or visiting our African elephant herd at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, keep an eye out for any interesting behaviors or interactions resulting from our enrichment efforts. Maybe M’sholo and Vus’musi will be playing in the pool. Perhaps Kami will be kicking around a feeder puzzle, or Swazi will munch on some alfalfa hay. Whichever behaviors you observe, you’ll be witnessing the results of our efforts to ensure that our herd is fully enriched!

Charlotte Hacker is a research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.