Conservation

Conservation

6

A Successful Giant Panda Workshop

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Dr. Megan Jones (left) and the author (right) had a chance to see how San-Diego-Zoo-born Yun Zi is doing. (Answer: Fantastic!)

Unlike many of my San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) colleagues that have traveled to China, I wasn’t sent there to accompany one of our young pandas on their journey home. Mine was unlike any other China trip. Situated in the heart of China lies a small city with just over 600,000 people. The city of Dujiangyan is in the Sichuan Province, just 45 miles from Chengdu, the country’s 7th largest city by population. The Sichuan province is best known for their extremely spicy food, and one other thing, the giant panda!

This connection was obvious from the moment I stepped off the airplane. Littered throughout the airport are panda souvenir shops, mock habitats filled with plush giant pandas, and tourists decked out in panda garb. Several street corners in Dujiangyan are decorated with oversized giant panda statues arranged in various “panda-like” postures. Just about anything you can imagine has a panda on it. You want a panda pot holder or shower curtain? You got it—you can even pick up panda green tea and panda cigarettes.

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The workshop was held at the Dujiangyan Panda Base hospital in Sichuan.

Late last year, Dr. Megan Jones, a SDZG veterinary pathologist, and I set off to China to teach a Giant Panda Pathology International Exchange training workshop in Dujiangyan. Working with the recently built Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control and Prevention Base, which aims to rehabilitate sick and geriatric giant pandas and red pandas, we were tasked with teaching the first of a series of workshops intended to share knowledge and skills in wildlife disease surveillance, investigation, and research.

The beautiful and green-certified facility is located on 125 acres along the foothills of the bamboo forest and currently houses almost 30 giant pandas. The facility also contains a public education center filled with many creative and unique hands-on activities, including a real giant panda skeleton and—my favorite—a digital, interactive, panda necropsy table complete with an overhead surgical lamp!

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The beautiful facility was just the right venue for participants to sharpen their necropsy skills.

The pathology workshop was comprised of 25 Chinese veterinarians, managers, and technicians from 18 different panda facilities throughout China, as well as 4 interpreters and 9 instructors from various international facilities. The main focus of this workshop was developing necropsy, or post-mortem exam, skills through a series of lectures and hands-on wet labs. Necropsies are an essential tool for making accurate diagnoses and ultimately determining the cause of death, just like a human autopsy. The lab portion of the workshop enabled the participants to hone their necropsy skills using rabbits. These skills include taking accurate measurements and photos, practicing proper tissue sampling techniques for histology and future testing, and ensuring all gross lesions are accurately described and recorded in the final report.

These tools and techniques will help the Chinese determine the best conservation strategies for the giant panda populations in China. This workshop has been in the making for over 20 years! Thanks to the hard work of many experts in the field, including SDZG’s Wildlife Disease Laboratories Director, Dr. Bruce Rideout, as well as the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, disease investigation will become an integral part of panda conservation, a necessity for any conservation plan.

This is just another great example of how the San Diego Zoo is helping the fight against extinction globally.

 

Megan Varney is a research technician with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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The Art of the Western Snowy Plover’s Nest

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Some snowy plover nests are a simple scrape in the sand, adorned with shells. (Photo: Anjanette Butler, SDZG on MCB Camp Pendleton)

Unlike most beach-nesting shorebirds, the western snowy plover has taken nesting to the level of an art form. I have been monitoring this threatened species during the nesting season as part of my job as a research associate with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Previously, I primarily searched for snowy plover nests along the Oregon Dunes, as well as California beaches with dune habitat. Our current study site at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Pendleton offers a more diverse habitat.

Because of their nesting strategy, I become more intrigued with snowy plovers the more I get to work with these resilient birds. Before the eggs are laid, the male creates some nests by making various circular scrapes in the sand and the female selects the one she likes best. I have seen some of these simple nests adorned with decorative shells, others that incorporate the available vegetation along the dunes, and even quite a few containing woody debris that can be found concentrated along the creeks.

I’ve been impressed by how well the plovers use the resources—both natural and manmade—available to them. Last year, lobster traps sometimes washed up on beaches we were studying in Ventura, California and a plover used one of them as a nest site. The lobster traps looked very much like the mini-exclosures we use to protect nesting birds from predators. Made of wire mesh and shaped like a square (with small openings so the adult plovers can exit when needed); we place an exclosure over a plover nest until the chicks hatch. Apparently, the plovers there had gotten used to the protection offered by the exclosures, and the nesting pair that used the lobster trap did indeed successfully hatch and raise their chicks.

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Western snowy plovers are adaptable, using available resources when nesting. (Photo: Anjanette Butler, SDZG on MCB Camp Pendleton)

In contrast, our study site at MCB Camp Pendleton is more remote, so the birds there must rely on the available natural resources when selecting a nesting site. This year, we have some birds nesting along a creek. I could not believe how well one of the nests blended in with the woody debris and rocks around it—I almost did not see it at first! I feel so good when the birds’ hard work pays off and we get to see their chicks hatch. Hopefully, they will survive and continue in their parents’ footsteps.

Western snowy plovers face many challenges each day. Predators like crows and ravens, intelligent birds that are great problem solvers, are a constant threat to the plovers. It is possible that the plovers are sometimes testing out ways to keep these and other predators from locating their nests. This might seem like an obvious observation, but shrinking habitat availability in critical plover habitat can create the need for the plovers to find new ways to adapt to disturbances. It is vitally important for us as individuals to respect these birds during this busy nesting season on the beach.

I look forward to more discoveries while monitoring the western snowy plovers and their chicks on the beach.

Anjanette Butler is a research associate with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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Saving Kauai’s Honeycreepers

Akikiki eggs

To start a captive breeding flock to help save the critically endangered akikiki, we collected two eggs each from two separate nests.

Since it began in 1993, the San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP) has worked with over a dozen native bird species found only on the Hawaiian Islands. The conservation status of these birds ranges from non-endangered surrogate species to critically endangered species that are on the brink of extinction.

The past decade has seen a precipitous decline in two species of Hawaii honeycreepers, the akikiki and akeke‘e. These two small species of forest birds are found only in a remote area on the island of Kauai and the wild population has been monitored for years. Due to the declines of both species in the wild, bird experts determined these two species should be raised in captivity as a safeguard against extinction. Based on that decision and with funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as a grant from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, our HEBCP team began planning the techniques and protocols to safely and successfully add these two new species to our facilities on both the Big Island and Maui.

Whenever possible, the best scenario for bringing a species into captivity is to collect eggs from nests out in the wild. There are many reasons why this is the preferred method. By collecting eggs, you eliminate the chance of bringing in a disease that an adult bird might have into the captive flock. It can also be very difficult to teach an adult bird from the wild to eat from a food pan and acclimate it to a captive diet. Another reason we didn’t want to start our captive flock by collecting adult birds out of the wild is that there are so few akikiki and akeke‘e left in Kauai’s forests and we didn’t want to negatively affect the wild population. When you collect a wild female’s eggs she almost always builds a new nest and lays a second clutch. Thus, you can build a captive flock without reducing the number of wild chicks produced.

One of the first decisions made by our team was to setup an egg house on Kauai instead of trying to transport eggs from there to our facilities on Maui or the Big Island. Akikiki and akeke‘e eggs are incredibly tiny, weighing between 1.2 and 2.5 grams. As a comparison, two plain M&Ms weigh 1.8 grams! These eggs are so delicate that they could become damaged during transport if they were flown to another island. With generous help from Jesse Fukushima from Kauai Realty, Inc. as well as Bryan and Tanya Tanaka, we rented a house on Kauai and shipped over all the equipment and tools we would need to care for the eggs and chicks we hoped to obtain. This included everything from incubators and brooders for the eggs and chicks to the food items that we would eventually be feeding.

Our next task was to decide what incubation, hatching, and rearing methods to use for these two new-to-us species. We had to think of everything from what temperature we would use to incubate the eggs to what food items we would feed the chicks. Fortunately for us, the akikiki and akeke‘e are insectivores (meaning most of their diet comes from insects) which are very similar to two other honeycreeper species that we have already worked with, the Hawaii creeper and the Hawaii akepa. Thus, with some small adjustments, we adopted successful protocols we had used with the Hawaii creeper and Hawaii akepa to use with our new species.

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Out on a limb: Akikiki nest on terminal branches, so accessing the nests requires scaling great heights!

We had the house, we had the supplies, we had the protocols…the only thing left to do was to collect the eggs! Unfortunately, this was much easier said than done. Akikiki and akeke‘e nest in the remote Alakai Swamp on Kauai. There are no roads into this habitat, it can only be reached by a long, arduous seven-hour hike through the rainforest. Yet, getting to the birds’ territory is the easy part. Akikiki and akeke‘e build their nests at the ends of branches, sometimes 40 feet up in the air! The big question was: how would we reach the nests to harvest eggs? The State of Hawaii’s Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP) team identified a technique where a 40-foot ladder is raised to almost vertical and, instead of leaning against something, is then tied off onto anchors behind the ladder. This setup would allow our HEBCP staff to gain access to the nests that were previously too remote to collect from.

On March 26, 2015, after spending the previous day practicing the ladder techniques and transporting the ladder to the nest site, we set the ladder up and, with assistance from the KFBRP team, collected two eggs from an akikiki nest. The eggs were placed in a thermos and lowered from the nest by rope before being transferred into a battery-powered incubator. The ladder was then moved to a second akikiki nest and two more eggs were harvested and placed into the portable incubator, then carried back to camp on foot. A helicopter that was on standby was notified of our successful harvest and began flying to the landing zone near the camp. We carefully brought the eggs to the waiting helicopter and flew out of the swamp. The strenous hike into the location translates into a 20-minute helicopter ride to a landing zone just a few miles from the egg house. At the house, the eggs were weighed and candled. Candling the eggs is a process in which a bright light is shone through each egg to see which ones are fertile and how far along they are in development. With bated breath we candled our first egg. Inside, we saw active blood vessels and an embryo moving around—it was fertile! We candled the other three eggs and discovered the same thing. All four akikiki eggs were fertile and looked to be a few days away from hatching. We carefully put the eggs back into the incubator and let out a sigh of relief. We had successfully collected four fertile eggs from a brand new species of endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper, and if all goes well we should have four chicks in a few days time!

Check back regularly for more blogs to complete the story!

Jeremy Hodges is a senior hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo and seasonally participates as a research coordinator with the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

2

Say Hello to Antiki!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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California Condor Chick: 30 to 45 Days of Age

A Condor Cam screen capture of the fluffy, growing chick.

This Condor Cam screen capture shows the California condor chick to be developing nicely.

At approximately one month of age, our California condor chick should weigh around 4 pounds (2 kilograms). The parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, may start leaving the chick alone overnight, sleeping near the nest instead of in it. If the weather is still cool or it’s 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. Some field biologists have even seen wild condor parents chasing black bears away from the nest area!

Up until now, the chick has been scooting around the nest on its tarsal joints. We refer to that as a “tarsal crawl.” It’s not uncommon, at this age, to see the chick standing all the way up on its feet, teetering around the nest, holding its wings out for balance. As its legs get sturdier, the chick may even approach the parent, begging for food. The “wing-begging” behavior we’ve been seeing will get more pronounced: lots of wing flapping, head bobbing, and trying to position itself in front of the parent.

It is possible that the parents, who are offering larger quantities of food per feeding session, might be providing a small amount of fur/hair in the chick’s diet. (Part of the adults’ diet includes mammals, like rats and rabbits.) Condors can digest just about every part of the animals they eat, except for fur. This fur accumulates in the digestive tract and is eventually regurgitated as waste. We refer to this as “casting.” A condor’s cast is composed of predominantly fur, whereas a cast from an owl has fur and bones; owls can’t digest bones, but condors can. We have seen condor chicks cast hair pellets as young as three weeks of age. When the chick casts, it throws its head forward several times, mouth open, until the pellet is ejected from its mouth. It can look like the chick is in trouble, but it is perfectly normal, and good for the chick.

At 45 days of age, the chick will get its first health exam. We will obtain a blood sample for the lab to make sure it is healthy and send a portion of this sample to a lab in the Genetics Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, located adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. From this blood sample, the geneticists can determine if the chick is male or female. Also, during the exam, we will weigh the chick—it should weigh between 7.75 to 8.75 pounds (3.5 – 4 kilograms)—and inject a transponder chip as a form of identification. It’s the same kind of chip you can get for your dog or cat at the veterinarian. Most importantly, this exam allows us to administer a vaccine for West Nile Virus. West Nile Virus is disease that originated in Africa and was accidently introduced to North America by humans. North American wildlife, including condors, usually doesn’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.

This exam will be the first time that the chick will see humans, so it will naturally be disturbing for it. We try to be as quick as we can be (9 to 10 minutes) to minimize the disturbance. Additionally, we will keep the chick covered with a towel to reduce its exposure to humans and to provide it a bit of security. Sisquoc and Shatash are usually away from the nest when we perform the procedure in order to keep them as calm as possible, as well. We have to keep in mind that we don’t want the chick to become accustomed to or feel reassured by our presence; we want it to be a wild condor, uninterested and wary of humans, so that it may someday fly free in California, Arizona, or Mexico.

The chick will look very large at this age compared to how big it was at hatch, but remember that it is still less than half of its adult weight. There is much more growth and fun to come!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, Guide to Condor-chick Watching: Ages 1 Week to 1 Month.

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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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24 Rhino Facts You Should Know

It’s time to stop the merciless killing of rhinos. Join us on Endangered Species Day, May 15, 2015, as we #Rally4Rhinos the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

#Rally4Rhinos

It’s estimated that a rhino is poached every 8 hours. At this rate, rhinos could become extinct in 15 years.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

In total, there are less than 30,000 rhinos remaining on Earth.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

A group of rhinos is sometimes called a “crash.”

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Rhinos may look indestructible, but their skin is actually quite sensitive, especially to sunburn and biting insects.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

All rhinos are herbivores.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Rhino gestation lasts 15 to 16 months. The only animal with a longer pregnancy is the elephant.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Newborn calves are able to stand on their feet and start to nurse two to three hours after birth. ­

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Because rhinos are very nearsighted, they often charge when startled; in the wild, rhinos have been observed charging at boulders or trees.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

The biggest threat to rhinos is humans; civil war in their native lands and poaching for their horns has decimated wild populations.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Rhino horn is made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

The demand for rhino horn has gone from subsistence hunting by locals to highly organized international crime rings.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

In 2014, the toll from poaching was the worst yet: a horrifying 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Close to 100 known rhino species have existed. Today, only five continue the line: two native to Africa (black and white) and three native to Asia (Greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran).

The rhino’s ancestors walked the Earth 55 million years ago.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Black, white and Sumatran rhinos have two horns; Javan and greater one-horned rhinos have one.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know 25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Despite their name, black rhinos and white rhinos are the same color – brownish gray.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Black rhinos can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour).

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Standing at up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) at the shoulder, white rhinos are the largest rhino species and the second largest land mammal.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

White rhino males can be persistent, with courtship lasting 5 to 20 days.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

There are only five northern white rhinos remaining on the planet. One of them, an elderly female named Nola, lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

The three Asian rhinos use enlarged incisors or tusks, rather than their horns, when fighting or defending territory.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

All three Asian rhino species are excellent swimmers.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Sumatran rhinos are the smallest of the five rhino species and the only type covered with a coat of shaggy hair.

25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Through collaborative, science-based, multidisciplinary conservation efforts at the Safari Park, we have successfully added the births of 93 southern white rhinos, 66 greater one-horned rhinos, and 13 black rhinos to the worldwide population.

sdzsp-southernw sdzsp-greater 25 Rhino Facts You Should Know

Lend a hand to save rhinos. Write “STOP KILLING RHINOS” on your hand and post your photo to Instagram or Twitter with the #Rally4Rhinos hashtag. Participants are automatically entered to win two beautiful rhino paintings by Jeremy Donovan Rohr. Learn more HERE.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. See her previous post, Best of Vine: Safari Park.

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Name Our Jaguar Cub for Conservation

The male jaguar cub at the San Diego Zoo is getting a lot of attention for his off-the-charts cute ratings, but this little boy needs a name. Animal care staff have worked together to come up with a list of possibilities and now we want to hear what you think. Vote here.

The jaguars at the Zoo are just three of the jaguars that San Diego Zoo Global is working with. Scientist Mathias Tobler, Ph.D, has spent more than 10 years working in the Peruvian Amazon. He is using radiotelemetry, GPS collars, and camera traps to study jaguars and other keystone species’ role in the Amazonian ecosystem. Tobler is using this technology to learn about how undisturbed populations of jaguars use their habitat, their movement patterns, home-range size, density, and their foraging ecology to create a baseline to evaluate future impacts on this species caused by human development. This data will help to inform conservation decisions and recommend ways to mitigate impacts to wildlife during the planning stages of development projects near the most pristine and bio-diverse terrestrial ecosystem on Earth.

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

At San Diego Zoo Global we’re working to understand jaguars, as well as pumas, peccary and tapirs, and have seen improvements in the techniques of capturing, tracking and observing animals. It has also been noticed by the Peruvian government and the research team has been asked to advise Peruvian officials on monitoring systems for animals in this area.

Studying jaguars in the Peruvian Amazon is just one example of how San Diego Zoo Global is working to #endextinction for endangered species. To find out more about this project and others please visit these resources:

Counting Jaguars in the Amazon

Looking for Jaguars in the Night

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