Animals site sub feature

Animals site sub feature

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10 Festive Reindeer Facts

‘Tis the season to be jolly! What could be more merry than Santa’s sleigh? Well, without his dexterous reindeer, Old Saint Nick’s mode of transportation would not get very far. So today, we would like to share a few fun facts about this festive species.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

1. Reindeer or caribou?
In Europe, they’re known as reindeer. In North America, the term reindeer is used for Eurasian populations, while the name caribou refers to wild populations found in the country. However, both reindeer and caribou are classified as the same genus and species, rangifer tarandus. So for the purpose of simplicity and sticking with the holiday theme, we’ll call them reindeer for the rest of this blog.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

2. Males AND females grow antlers.
Male antlers may grow twice as long as their female counterparts; still, reindeer are the only deer species to practice gender equality when it comes to their most memorable characteristic. Males begin to grow antlers in February and females start in May. Both stop growing around the same time, but a male’s antlers typically drop off in November, while a female’s remain through winter until their calves are born in spring. If you’re following this logic, our good pal Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was most likely a female, because she was rocking her antlers on Christmas Eve.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

3. Hard antlers start out soft and fuzzy.
Since antlers fall off and grow back every year, a reindeer is said to be in “velvet” while the new pair of antlers grow. After the velvet dries up, the reindeer unveils its hard antler cores by rubbing its deciduous horns against a rock or tree. Ta-da!

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

4. Reindeer calves are quick learners.
Newborns are able to stand one hour after birth, and they can outrun humans when they reach one day old. Calves are also weaned from their mothers as early as one to six months of age.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

5. They have hairy feet.
Reindeer are built for subzero temps, so they’re covered in hair from their nose to the bottom of their feet. The hair on their hooves provides an excellent grip when trekking over frozen landscapes. Thus, the hairy hooves of reindeer have adapted into snowshoes for these Arctic animals.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

6. Reindeer hooves are anatomically noisy.
“Up On The Housetop” and other holiday jingles often imply that the “click, click, click” we hear upon Santa’s arrival is the result of his herd’s stampeding feet. In fact, many hoofed animals make loud noises when their feet meet hard surfaces, but not reindeer. The metallic sound of reindeer hooves is actually due to tendons slipping over their foot bones as they walk.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

7. They love crowds…
… of other reindeer, of course. Since they are social animals, reindeer live in herds of 10 to several hundred. So Santa was somewhat limiting his holiday herd by having only nine reindeer. Imagine the horsepower his sleigh would have if his herd included 100 fancifully named members!

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

8. Reindeer are good swimmers.
Santa’s exclusive herd might be capable of flying, but the rest of the species is not. However, since reindeer migrate to follow their food supply and avoid harsh conditions, chances are they come into contact with water. Luckily, reindeer use their wide, two-toed hooves like paddles that push water and allow these mammals to swim from four to six miles per hour.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

9. Their eyes change color in winter.
To adapt to the varying levels of light in their northern habitat, part of a reindeer’s eye changes color and increases their vision sensitivity. The layer of tissue behind the retina that reflects light (tapetum lucidum) turns blue during winter and allows reindeer to see slightly more of their surroundings, even if what they can see is not that sharp or in focus. This seasonal trade-off has its advantages, especially if it improves a reindeer’s ability to spot predators.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

10. Like humans, reindeer “wear” layers.
A reindeer has two coat layers: the undercoat is made of soft, fine wool that grows next to the skin, and the top layer consists of long, hollow guard hairs. Similar to a hollow-fill winter jacket worn by humans, the stiff top layer insulates the animal and keeps it warm against the wind and cold. These hollow hairs also help reindeer float. In other words, reindeer have incredible fashion sense.

Do you have any reindeer facts to add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, What We’re Thankful For.

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Lazy Gao Day

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun enjoying some treats on her "plate."

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun enjoying some treats on her “plate.”

We don’t get to see much of our senior panda, Gao Gao, on Panda Cam. But rest assured he is looking good, eating well, and, in the words of San Diego Zoo keeper Karen Scott, he seems “happy.” Gao is even at his ideal weight: 170 pounds (77.2 kilograms).

So why can’t guests view Gao Gao these days? Well, as Karen explained, Gao Gao and his son, Xiao Liwu, are “like peas in a pod,” personality-wise. “Mr. Wu” doesn’t like the construction noise as we build our new Asian leopard habitat, and neither does his dad! They are much more comfortable farther away from the intermittent noise. Xiao Liwu is currently in the off-exhibit north yard, where he can sometimes be seen on Panda Cam, and Gao Gao has access to another off-exhibit yard. Bai Yun, our matriarch, remains in her normal exhibit, where guests can admire her munching contentedly on bamboo. Nothing fazes this panda mama!

Although Gao Gao can go in his outside yard whenever he wants to, he sometimes prefers to have what Karen calls a “lazy Gao day.” He has a large rubber tub that he uses as a comfy bed. Keepers fill the tub with a flake of excelsior hay, and Gao likes to stretch out in it, resting on his back, his legs straight out and his forelimbs dangling over the edge. The other day, Karen put FOUR flakes of hay in the tub and fluffed up some of it to make a pillow for Gao. Panda heaven! With his pile of bamboo nearby, Karen says all he really needed was a TV to watch a football game or two.

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, How to Take a Panda’s Blood Pressure: 8 Easy Steps.

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Talkin’ about Takins

Closely related to sheep, takins are native to China.

As guests walk through Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo, they are always surprised at our “cool goats” on the hillside. Indeed, the takins have been amazing to watch and work with over the years and have been a huge success for the zoological community here in the United States. Currently, we have a female herd of five individuals ranging in age from 14 to almost 2. They each have their own personalities, and society in the takin world can be a little dramatic!

Summer is our matriarch and the boss of the younger females. She is also the largest and very good with the younger females. As keepers, we do not go in with the takins, so we have to move the girls either into the barn or up onto the hillside yard. Our typical goal is to always move Summer first and the rest will follow her. Behind her is her sister, Eve, who is the bossy one and has the biggest attitude. She likes to throw her weight around and act like she’s in charge until her sister, Summer, tells her that’s enough. Summer and Eve have a younger sister named Duli, who is several years younger but who also likes the idea of being in charge of someone. These three females are the daughters of the last matriarch, Blondie, and challenge each other on a fairly regular basis about who is next in line.

The two youngsters in the herd are named Mei and Mu. Mei is the daughter of Summer and is in the awkward teenage phase where she is unsure of herself. She does her best to stay close to Mom for her protection, although Summer is starting to make Mei take care of herself and will even push her away to get her to an independent point. Mu is a bit of a stinker; she likes to pick fights with Duli and Mei but have her mother finish them. She is full of energy and has a very sweet disposition toward her keepers. One of her favorite things to do is go to the top of the hillside exhibit and wait for a clear path down the hill so she can run and jump the entire way down!

Female takins can live into their late teens, but being such a large animal, we do tend to see arthritis develop in their joints. Luckily, we have an amazing vet staff who are always ahead of the game, making sure we are as proactive as possible with possible medical issues.

Takins are found in the high mountains of the Sichuan Province of China and are used to climbing, jumping, and running on uneven terrain. As keepers, we have a blast watching them chase each other and play on the hillside. We also like to hang browse for them in high positions so that they stand on their hind legs and stretch to get those leaves.

These girls are wonderful ambassadors for their species, and as keepers and educators we are always so happy to hear guests get excited about these ladies. We think they are quite special and are always happy to share our stories and knowledge with our guests.

Click here to learn more about takins.

Anastasia Horning is a keeper and educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Wish List: Enrichment for All.

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The Python Challenge

Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida's Everglades.

Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida’s Everglades.

When a male reptile in the San Diego Zoo collection passes away, it is my job to freeze his sperm. Unfortunately, there has been so little research done on freezing reptile sperm that there are no guidelines in the scientific literature. So, we have to develop the protocols for ourselves, which requires a great deal of research and a lot of sperm samples. This scenario plays out all too often in the Reproductive Physiology Lab of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. We always need more samples! How could we know how to freeze golden lancehead sperm without any practice on this or any related snake species?

Our lab group has struggled with this problem for years and has come up with some creative solutions to the sperm shortage problem. My colleagues Nicole Ravida, Dr. Barbara Durrant, and I began scouring the Internet to find a way to collect large numbers of reptile sperm samples in a short period of time to use as models for endangered reptile species. That’s when we learned about the Python Challenge in the Everglades.

Carly and Barbara got an early start in the Everglades.

Carly and Barbara got an early start in the Everglades.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) launched the Python Challenge to raise awareness about Burmese pythons and how this invasive species is a threat to the Everglades ecosystem and its native wildlife. The Burmese python is one of the deadliest and most competitive predators in South Florida. With no known natural predators, population estimates for the python range from the thousands to hundreds of thousands. A severe decline in a variety of mammal populations in the Everglades over the last eight years coincides with the proliferation of the invasive Burmese python. Necropsies on the captured snakes reveal what pythons are eating, their reproductive status, and location data from the hunters that will help scientists figure out where the snakes are living—valuable data for researchers working to stop their spread.

The Python Challenge was a month-long harvest open to anyone, and we knew this would be our opportunity to collect many snake sperm samples. We immediately contacted the Invasive Species Program staff at the University of Florida, one of the Python Challenge partners, and the project all started to fall into place. Barbara and I arrived in Florida and immediately collected all the supplies and equipment we had sent ahead to Zoo Miami and then purchased thick sheets of dry ice. Lining a large Styrofoam box with the cold sheets, we fabricated a minus 112-degrees-Fahrenheit (-80 degrees Celsius) freezer for one of our freezing protocols. With everything we would need piled into our rental car, we finally made it to the hotel room and organized our temporary lab.

The Python Challenge check-in station was simple but effective.

The Python Challenge check-in station was simple but effective.

The next day we drove to the Python Challenge check station, which consisted of a pickup truck and a tent. Hunters came to the check station to have their snake(s) measured and documented by the Invasive Species Program staff. Prizes were awarded to the hunter who harvested the longest snake and the one who brought in the most snakes. We anxiously waited with the people from the University of Florida for a male snake to be brought in. Unfortunately, the first snake to arrive had been frozen the previous day. We needed fresh, cooled samples, not frozen, so we continued to wait for another snake, which came in a few hours later. We dissected out the vas deferens, where the sperm is stored, on the back of a pickup truck as the sun set over the Everglades. We immediately put the tissue in saline in a cooler and raced back to the hotel to process the sample. But it was a bust—no motile sperm. We just had to hope for better luck the next day.

The vas defrens were taken back to the makeshift lab in the hotel room for processing.

The vas defrens were taken back to the makeshift lab in the hotel room for processing.

The next morning we got a call from our colleagues at the University of Florida saying that they had two live snakes. This was fantastic news, because we would be able to obtain fresh sperm samples. During the snakes’ necropsies, we collected the vas deferens and drove an hour back to our hotel room to process the samples. Fortunately, both males had motile sperm. More sperm, in fact, than we had ever seen and certainly more than we could ship back to San Diego. After several hours of freezing the sperm in our homemade dry-ice box or in liquid nitrogen vapor, we received a call that another male snake was available. We drove back to the Check Station, arriving after dark. We removed the vas deferens in the back of the truck using my phone as our light source. We made it back to the hotel room for another five hours of processing and freezing, falling into bed at 1a.m. It was a very long day but a successful one, with sperm from three snakes safely stored in our shippers.

Our luck continued the next day, with an interesting twist. This time the live snakes had been brought to another checkpoint, and we would need to transport them to the University of Florida lab. It was a bit surreal to be driving down the highway with three large pythons in snake bags in the trunk. We wondered if we had violated the rental agreement when we promised not to carry pets in the car. It was worth the risk; snakes and humans arrived safely at the university, and we froze three more sperm samples back in our hotel room lab.

Overall, it was a successful trip to the Python Challenge in the Everglades. We froze 130 vials of sperm, shipping them back to San Diego. Then began the long process of thawing and evaluating each sample, comparing three different freezing protocols to determine which one resulted in the best post-thaw viability. We have analyzed the data, and we have an early winner among the protocols we tested. However, we will need to repeat the experiment with improved protocols to maximize sperm motility and membrane integrity, both of which are essential for potential fertility.

Although we will never use the sperm of this invasive species for artificial insemination (we certainly don’t want more Burmese pythons in the United States!), we have taken a big step forward in the development of sperm-freezing methods for its endangered relatives such as the Indian python and the Cropan’s boa.

Carly Young is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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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.

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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.

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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.