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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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How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Pollinators are one of Mother Nature’s greatest gardeners, yet many populations continue to decline at an alarming rate. While National Pollinator Week continues to raise awareness, conservation of our precious pollinators is a year-round project. One way you can be a hero for wildlife is by creating a pollinator-friendly habitat in your own yard or community, and invite hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to do what they do best.

Hummingbird | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

For starters, you’ll need a nectar source for your hummingbird guests. They get most of their nectar from tubular blossoms, the perfect shape to accommodate their long, slim beak and tongue. Hummers like bright plants that are open during daylight hours, when the birds are awake and hungry. Sage is an excellent option for these tiny pollinators, not to mention the added bonus of providing your herb pantry with some homegrown goodies.

Bee | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

It’s no secret that honeybee and native bee populations are in trouble. Entertain bees in your outdoor space by planting a diversity of vibrant flowers. It’s extremely important to select plants that do not contain neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that may contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder. Nowadays, some stores label plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids, but many do not, so it’s best to consult with your local nursery before purchasing.

Bee | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Including suitable nesting habitat in your landscape can help bolster the struggling populations of native bees. Many are solitary (so you don’t need to worry about a hive) and a good number of species are considered stingless, in case that is a concern. You can purchase ready-made nesting houses for mason and orchard bees online, or make your own.

Butterfly | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

For butterflies, a simple search on Google will help you discover which species are common in your area. Once you know which butterflies live in your region, it’s important to learn about their habitat needs. Certain species require specific host plants to serve as larval food for caterpillars. Choose a variety of colorful, native plants with upward-facing blossoms as they provide a landing pad for butterflies to stop and sip on sweet nectar.

Butterfly | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Adding a water source for all of your pollinator guests is another great idea. If you’re going to use a bird bath to accomplish this, just be sure to add stones that peek above the surface so your tiny guests (bees) don’t drown.

Do you have any tips for creating a pollinator-friendly garden? Leave them in the comments.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 10 Cats You Don’t Want to Cuddle With.

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Condor Cam Chick’s First Health Exam

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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.

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Myths About Rhino Horn That Need to Go Away

It’s no secret that the demand for rhino horn is responsible for the current poaching crisis, but where does the demand come from? Sadly, a few misguided myths about rhino horn are responsible for the systematic destruction of this majestic creature, and it’s about time they go away for good.

Rhino horn has no proven medicinal value

Rhino horn has no proven medicinal value.

 

Rhino Horn Is Medicine

Perhaps the most pervasive, destructive myth about rhino horn is that it has medicinal qualities. Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is the same material as our fingernails. Despite having no proven medicinal value, rhino horn concoctions have been prescribed in traditional Asian medicine for about 2,000 years, but until the late 1800s, the effect on the species was manageable. By the early 1900s, however, extensive trophy hunting had been added to the mix, decimating rhino populations. Furthermore, in 2008, the perfect storm to annihilate rhinos was unleashed. According to an article in The Atlantic magazine, a rumor swept across Vietnam that imbibing crushed rhino horn cured a politician’s cancer.

Rhino horns belong to rhinos!

Rhino horns belong to rhinos!

 

Rhino Horn is an Aphrodisiac

Not too dissimilar from the belief in the curative abilities of rhino horn, some cultures believe that rhino horn can serve as an aphrodisiac. Multiple scientific studies have proven that this belief couldn’t be further from the truth.

Together we can kill the myths that are responsible for the decline of rhinos.

Together we can kill the myths that are responsible for the decline of rhinos.

 

Rhino Horn is a Party Drug

Some insist that the demand for rhino horn has an even more nefarious purpose: ground into a powder, the horn is considered a party drug in Asia, much like cocaine, except without the pharmaceutical effects (imagine grinding your fingernails into a powder). Some mix the powder with alcohol (one Vietnamese news site called the luxury potion “the drink of millionaires”), others even snort the powder like snuff.

41-year-old Nola, who lives at the Safari Park, is 1 of 5 remaining Northern white rhinos on the planet.

41-year-old Nola, who lives at the Safari Park, is 1 of 5 remaining northern white rhinos on the planet.

 

Rhino Horn Makes Nice Trinkets

Another cause for the senseless slaughter of rhinos is the desire to fashion horns into all kinds of trinkets, from cups and dagger handles to figurines. Despite the ready availability of better alternatives, many cultures continue to exalt rhino horn trinkets as symbols of class.

Join the fight by writing "Stop Killing Rhinos" on your hand and posting a photo on Instagram or Twitter with #rally4rhinos.

Join the fight by writing “Stop Killing Rhinos” on your hand and posting a photo on Instagram or Twitter using #rally4rhinos.

Please help us debunk these myths once and for all and stop the senseless slaughter of rhinos. Write “Stop Killing Rhinos” on your hand and post a photo on Instagram or Twitter with the #rally4rhinos hashtag. See your photo in the gallery, and visit rally4rhinos.org for more info about the plight of rhinos and ways you can help. Thanks for joining the fight!

 

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 11 Bellies You Really Need to Rub.

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Meanwhile, in Panda Canyon…

Handsome Gao Gao is currently on exhibit with his beloved 'boo.

Handsome Gao Gao is currently on exhibit with his beloved ‘boo, making his many fans very happy!

As we are fast approaching June and our busiest time of the year, I wanted to give all of you a quick update on the pandas. Everyone is doing well! Bai Yun is still in the North Classroom exhibit, and will be until further notice. At this time we are not able to give an answer to the ongoing question of Bai Yun’s maternity status.

However, we may know within the next few weeks if we are expecting another cub. Due to Bai Yun’s age and the very different breeding season that we had this year, none of us really know what to expect. Her last weight came in around 236.3 pounds (107.3 kilograms)—a good weight jump for her but again, it doesn’t mean she is pregnant. Giant pandas can go through pseudo or “false” pregnancies, in which the females show a number of behaviors and other indications leading us to believe they are expecting—but they are not!  In that case, the ultrasound comes into play. We will let you know as we gain more information, we will let you know.

Gao Gao is also doing very well. He is on exhibit and letting his fans have a peek! Currently weighing in at  168.7 pounds (76.7 kilograms), he has been eating well. He gets his blood pressure taken each week and continues to do well, but will be taking a break for a bit while the crate  for Bai Yun’s ultrasounds is prepared.

Xiao Liwu is terrific! Running around and putting on a great show for everyone visiting, and beginning to fill out. Currently weighing in at 135 pounds (61.8 kilograms). He is so different from his siblings, and it has really thrown us for a loop. With the five previous cubs, we have been able to anticipate the different stages that they go through. With this little guy, we have been surprised at every turn and really cannot wait to see what comes next!

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Heeere’s Devi!

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Our river hippo calf has a name—say “hello” to Devi!

The river hippo baby announcement many have been waiting for finally came on May 12: “It’s a girl!” We named her Devi, in honor of Dave Smith, a zookeeper and a friend to both animals and humans. We (hippo keepers along with several volunteers) had been doing our best to see the calf’s belly to determine gender since her birth on March 23, 2015. It took nearly two months to determine without any doubt that she is a girl. We had caught glimpses here and there, but as you can see in the photos with this blog, she has a few wrinkles. And while they are adorable, those wrinkles often hide certain characteristics we look for in determining a calf’s gender.

For the past two months, we have been watching Devi grow into her wrinkly skin—and develop quite a personality! While she is often shy, hiding by her mom’s head and tucked under the plants, she is also starting to get more comfortable with this whole being-a-hippo-thing, and it is magical to watch. The connection she has with her mom is amazing. Funani is constantly teaching little Devi: how to maneuver through deeper water, how to get in and out of the pool in different spots, even how to interact with keepers. The first time Devi approached me at their barn stall gate was due to a gentle push from Funani; oh, how my heart melted!

As Devi continues to gain confidence she is becoming more curious of her surroundings. But she always sticks close to mom, just in case. Sometimes, she reacts to a sound, movement, etc. and runs back to mom, but if Funani wants to use that as a teachable moment, you might see her nudge Devi back to that area.

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Fun and learning with Mom leads to naps in the sun.

Now, the hippos’ neighbors have definitely not gone unnoticed by Devi. The okapi and black duikers that live on the other side of the fence have all been quite curious about their new little neighbor. When Funani and Devi are on the beach, you will probably see the okapi and black duikers peering from their side. The first time she spotted the youngest okapi, Subira, Devi opened her mouth towards her and made a few hops in her direction. Subira didn’t budge, probably trying to figure out what was wrong with this little thing, and Devi retreated to mom.

These great interactions along with watching Funani mold Devi into a wonderful river hippo are the perfect reasons to come visit them at the exhibit on Hippo Trail in Lost Forest. Of course, keep in mind that all that exploring and activity requires lots of naps, and as nocturnal animals, many hippo naps take place during the day. But if you are patient or have perfect timing you can be in for quite a treat! Currently, Funani and Devi are on exhibit Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Devi’s father, Otis is on exhibit Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but please keep in mind that this schedule is subject to change.

Jennifer Chapman is a senior keeper at the Zoo. Read her previous blog, Hippo Birth: A Private Event.

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Northern White Rhino Under Veterinary Care at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

SafariParkBlogNola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhino, is undergoing medical treatment at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Keepers noticed a swelling on Nola’s right hip late last week and began monitoring the area. The swelling continued to grow over a few days, causing concern for the elderly animal.

On Saturday, in an attempt to find out if the affected area was an abscess or something else causing the swelling, the veterinary team lanced the growth. “We found the swelling was consistent with a large abscess, filled with pus,” stated Meredith Clancy, associate veterinarian, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We were able to flush the area with sterile saline and will wait on tests results to determine what is going on with Nola.”

The rhino, a favorite of the animal care team and Safari Park guests, doesn’t appear sick outwardly so veterinarians are hoping the swelling is a walled-off abscess that isn’t affecting her systemically, or affecting her entire body. Nola has been put on a course of antibiotics as a precautionary measure. She will be carefully monitored, having the area flushed on a daily basis. Test results from fluid and tissues samples taken on Saturday should be available within a week to two weeks.

Nola is an exceptional rhino in more ways than one. She has a great relationship with her keepers and due to her ongoing, age-related medical needs, they interact with her in ways they might not be able to do with other rhinos. During her examination, she walked slowly through the field with both her keepers and the veterinary team, allowing the veterinarians to aspirate fluid from the abscess site. “Nola is a great patient,” added Clancy.

Nola is one of just five northern white rhinos left in the world. Three other northern white rhinos are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and one is in the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. The five remaining rhinos are all non-reproductive.Poaching for its horn has brought the northern white rhino to such critically low numbers.

Currently, a rhino is poached every eight hours in South Africa. With dramatically low populations of all five rhino species, rhinos could become extinct in 15 years. On Endangered Species Day, May 15, the Safari Park will be holding a “Rally 4 Rhinos” to raise awareness of the plight of rhinos and the urgent need to protect them for future generations. A ceremony will take place at the Safari Park’s African Plains Overlook beginning at 9:30 a.m. and will include guest speakers, special entertainment and a sky art project. For more information, visit www.Rally4Rhinos.org

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

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

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May 9 Is World Binturong Day!

Binturongs are also known as "bear cats" because they look like a cross between those two animals.

Binturongs are also known as “bear cats” because they look like a cross between those two animals.

A bintur-what? A bintur-right? No, a binturong. Most people have never heard of a binturong let alone seen one in person, which is a good reason zoos everywhere are celebrating the very first World Binturong Day on May 9, 2015.

Binturongs are mammals about the size of a medium-size dog. They are native to the forests of China, India, Indonesia and Southeast Asian forests, including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Borneo. Something really unusual about them is their scent—they smell like hot buttered popcorn! But more about that later…

Binturongs have delighted guests at the San Diego Zoo for many years. Currently we have three in our collection and they are all animal ambassadors. Phuket (Foo-KET), a young three-and-a-half-year-old male binturong, lives in the Children’s Zoo. Called “Phu”, by his keepers and trainers, he always delights kids during school programs and impresses Zoo visitors with his playful antics during his walks around the Children’s Zoo. Another young male, three-and-a-half-year-old Khi, (Kee), lives in Urban Jungle. He loves early morning walks  through his “neighborhood.” The elder of the Zoo’s binturongs, 14-year-old Bap Rang (“Bop Rong) meets hundreds of guest each month as a regular star of our Backstage Pass experience.

Binturongs are in the Viverridae family. Some of their relatives include civets and genets, even though they don’t look anything like them. Many people think binturongs look like a cross between a bear and cat, which is why they are sometimes called “bear cats.”

Taxonomists have grouped binturongs, civets, and genets together because they have something in common: the perineal gland (located under the tail). This unique gland secretes a thick substance that smells just like hot buttered popcorn—although some people think it smells like over-cooked rice. And here’s where that special scent comes in: the secretion, called civetone or musk, carries hormonal information that allows the male binturongs to find the females in their dense jungle habitat. A binturong’s home range can be hundreds of acres in size, which would make it hard to find one another if it weren’t for civetone. By rubbing the perineal gland against branches and tree trunks, female binturongs leave scent marks in the treetops throughout their territory.

A female binturong’s estrus cycle lasts 80 days. During this time, she is looking for Mr. Bintur-right—and he is very busy looking for her! The estrus cycle is the only time a male binturong is welcome into a female’s foraging area without a fight.

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A binturong’s tail provides balance as it moves along tree branches, but the animal can also hang from it!

An adaption that allows binturongs to live comfortably up in trees is their prehensile tail. Binturongs and kinkajous (from South America) are the only two carnivores with a prehensile tail. A binturong’s tail is strong enough to support the animal’s body as it hangs from a branch—when it needs to dangle to reach ripened fruit or bird eggs. Binturongs are considered carnivores, yet their diet looks more like that of an omnivore because they eat things other than meat. They will dine on just about anything that doesn’t eat them first, including small birds, small reptiles, amphibians, carrion, and seasonally ripened fruits.

A binturong’s  gastrointestinal tract doesn’t completely digest meals—food travels quickly through their system. But that short time is just long enough for the outer layer of a seed to break down, allowing it to germinate quickly when expelled. A binturong’s scat or waste helps more plants to grow!

Now that you know more about binturongs, we hope you’ll celebrate the very first World Binturong Day by helping us preserve their future. All nine subspecies of binturong are listed as “vulnerable with decreasing populations.” Today, the biggest threat to binturongs (and so many other animals) is loss of habitat for the creation of new palm oil plantations.

Palm oil is the number one ingredient in over half of the products in the average American household today. It’s in just about everything you can imagine: crackers, lipstick, detergent, margarine, shampoo, chocolate, and more! Living without palm oil is not a viable option, but buying products made with a sustainable source of palm oil is. Certified sustainable palm oil and certified sustainable palm kernel oil are produced on plantations that comply with globally agreed upon environmental standards.

There are more than 80 different names for palm oil. This fact alone makes it very difficult for consumers to decipher ingredients on labels. But two free apps—available for all types of smart phones—will help you find and purchase products from companies that use sustainable sources of palm oil.

To find these free apps, search “palm oil” in your app store. Once you learn which products are binturong-friendly, it will make shopping easier and you will not only help the binturong but all the other animals—like orangutans and clouded leopards—that share the same habitat. Happy World Binturong Day!

 

Maureen O. Duryee is a senior animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Clouded Leopard Success.

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Bones on the Beach

The team repositions the whale skull for better access for cleaning, measuring, and sample collection.

The team repositions the whale skull for better access for cleaning, measuring, and sample collection.

The Wildlife Disease Laboratories of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM) have had a long-time working relationship. So when Scott Tremor, the mammologist at SDNHM and a long-time friend of mine, called me in March to tell me about his latest adventure and make an interesting proposition, we were intrigued. A 30-foot-long juvenile humpback whale had died, and the carcass had washed ashore at Pelican Point, on the tip of Point Loma. Humpback whales are relatively rare off San Diego’s coastline, so the museum wanted to preserve the specimen for its collection. It had laid on the beach in the sun for over a month, and Scott was collecting volunteers to help clean the bones.

Having never necropsied a whale and being unfamiliar with the anatomy, I thought it would an amazing experience. This rare opportunity also enticed a few coworkers and two pathologists (Dr. Jenny Bernard, Dr. Andrew Cartocetti, Megan Varney, and Rachael Keeler) to put on their Tyvek® suits and boots and help out. With the warning that the carcass may have washed away overnight and may not be there when we arrived, we met up with other volunteers at the San Diego Natural History Museum and headed to the beach.

Pelican Point is a relatively narrow beach surrounded by a high cliff. This beautiful spot, part of Cabrillo National Monument, is closed to the public—the only way to reach it is down a cliff wall using a knotted rope. We timed our excursion to coincide with low tide, so we could access the beach and the whale. There, we were met by Southwest Fisheries Science Center employees, who are responsible for testing tissues and collecting measurements on all beached cetaceans. Dr. Thomas Deméré, curator of paleontology at the SDNHM, led us through the process. One of his areas of expertise and interest is in the evolutionary history of baleen whales, also known as the mysticetes. He explained that baleen species (humpback, fin, blue, minke, right, and grey whales) are filter feeders, but have all evolved different feeding strategies. Fossil evidence shows that all baleen species evolved from toothed whales. In studying today’s mysticetes , scientists have discovered that baleen whale embryos develop upper and lower teeth that simply never erupt. At some point the teeth are reabsorbed and baleen is formed. Because baleen is made of keratin, it rarely fossilizes and has not been studied much—making it important on this excursion to comb the beach in search of the sloughed baleen in addition to recovering the whale’s bones.

When we arrived, the whale looked like a white-grey mound. The goal of the day was to disarticulate the skull from the body and move it to the base of the cliff. Naturally, the tide washing over the carcass had removed some of the flesh exposing some bone, but there was still a lot of work to be done. The soft, rubbery flesh was hard to cut through and the sand dulled our knives immediately. Tom was amazing at directing us the best way to maneuver the skull so we could cut away the muscles. In the end, the strength and endurance of so many people accomplished our goal; we separated and lifted the 300-pound skull to a safe place on nearby rocks. All the while, a pleasant breeze of fresh ocean air kept the smell away. It wasn’t until later in the car ride home we realized we smelled like the hold of a fishing boat!

As you would expect, Scott and his volunteers made many more trips to the beach to recover as many bones as possible, stacking them at the base of the cliff. On April 14, the skull was placed in a sling, and the U.S. Coast Guard airlifted it first to a nearby parking lot, then on to a spot where it was buried so local insects could finish cleaning the bones. All of the other bones were carefully moved assembly-line style by a group of volunteers. It was front-page news in the local media that day! What a great opportunity we had collaborating with our neighbors at the San Diego Natural History Museum to turn a tragedy into valuable learning experience.

 

April Gorrow is a senior pathology technician at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous blog, Nature’s Excellent Engineering Feat: The Egg.

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Guide to Condor-chick Watching: Ages 1 Week to 1 Month

The condor chick is knows what it wants (food) and knows how to get it from Shatash!

Condor Cam screenshot: Now that the condor chick is a little bigger, it will be easier to get a glimpse of Shatash (seen here) and Sisquoc feeding it.

At approximately two to three weeks of age, the real fun of condor chick-viewing begins! The chick is getting bigger, weighing between 17 and 42 ounces (500 and 1200 grams), and can often be seen poking its head out from under the parents’ wings. The parents might be spending less time sitting on the chick, weather permitting, leaving it unattended for longer periods of time (possibly 30 minutes or so). Never fear—the parents are nearby, often just out of the camera’s view, approximately six to eight feet away.

It is usually easier to observe feeding behavior at this age, as well. The parents stand a little to the side of the chick while feeding now, so you may catch a glimpse of food actually being transferred from the parent to the chick. The chick’s crop—a bulge in the esophagus where food is stored—may be visible when it’s full. Look for a bald patch of skin between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. You will also witness a very common behavior called “wing-begging.” This is when the chick is begging for food, flapping one or both of its stubby little wings and bobbing its head excitedly. This behavior can persist until after the chick fledges, or leaves its nest, at four to five months.

The chick hatched wearing a fluffy coat of white down feathers. The main function of down is insulation—it can keep a bird cool or warm, whatever its body needs. At this stage, the chick’s white down is starting to transition to gray. Sometimes this can make the chick look dirty or scruffy, but it is still as healthy as it ever. Both the chick and its parents frequently groom the feathers to make sure they are working the way they should be. These dark feathers also help the chick blend in with the substrate and the nest cave walls, since the parents are not covering the chick as much as they were right after hatching.

Some viewers may notice what look like scabs or wounds on its head, neck, and torso, matting its down feathers. No need to worry—what you’re seeing is regurgitated food stuck to the chick’s face or body. Feeding can be quite exciting for the chick and some food doesn’t always end up in its mouth (sound familiar, parents?). The chick obviously can’t take a bath at this age, but the food dries up, gets crusty, and flakes off —a major benefit of having a bald head! Anyone that has seen the big condors eat on exhibit at Condor Ridge at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park or at the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey can attest to the condors’ ability to keep clean after a messy meal.

Also, the presence of flies in the nest is nothing to worry about. Keep in mind that condors are carnivores, feed their chicks via regurgitation, and nest in cavities (caves, crevices, etc.) that are often sheltered from the wind. All of these components add up to a very comfortable environment for flies as well as condors. Never fear – condors have excellent immune systems and are only mildly annoyed by the flies!

At three weeks of age, 2 pounds, 10 ounces to 3 pounds, 4 ounces (1.2-1.5 kilograms), condor chicks can start to thermoregulate, or control their own body temperature. This is when the parents can start leaving the chicks on their own during the day. Depending on the ambient temperature, the chick may be seen shivering or panting in an effort to warm or cool itself. Also, on warm days, the chick may inflate the air sacs in its chin and neck to cool down. Air sac inflation can also occur after a particularly filling meal. Often, the parents may spend time in the nest with the chick, but they may not necessarily sit on the chick.

At this stage, too, the chick is more mobile, scooting around the nest on its haunches, or tarsal joints. We refer to this as a “tarsal crawl.” It’s not quite standing up on its feet, but it can move about, following the parents and investigating different parts of the nest. You may see the chick start to gather items (feather, scraps of old food) from around the nest and move them to one corner. The chick likes to sit or sleep on this pile and play with the different items. These feathers and old food scraps are often brought to the nest by the parents. Birds replace their feathers through a process called “molting,” similar to when mammals shed their hair or fur. We don’t know if the parents are bringing these items to the nest specifically for the chick or if it’s just happenstance, but the chick loves to investigate and play with them!

As the parents start leaving the chick alone for longer periods of time, it will be easier to watch the chick when it sleeps. Just like all growing youngsters, condor chicks sleep A LOT. With longer legs and gawky bodies, they often will be sprawled out, wings askew, in odd positions when they sleep. Do not worry! The chick is perfectly fine.

At approximately 1 month of age, the chick weighs around 3 pounds, 15 ounces (1.8 kilograms). The parents may start leaving the chick alone overnight, sleeping near the nest. If the weather is still cool or it is raining, the parents may continue to brood overnight until the weather improves. Even though the parents are increasing their time away from the chick, they remain VERY vigilant and protective of their nest and—especially their chick.
Happy viewing and thanks so much for your support!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, A New Condor Chick on Condor Cam.