Events at the Safari Park

Events at the Safari Park


Cinco de Rhino

One way to help rhinos? Throw a party!

It sure seems like we are having a party, but this is serious, official rhino conservation business! May was a particularly busy month for rhino conservation, and the keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park contributed the best way possible by throwing a happy hour event! A couple of weeks ago, the Safari Park’s rhino keepers hosted the first-ever Cinco de Rhino event at Hacienda de Vega in Escondido. Although the International Rhino Foundation has been celebrating Cinco de Rhino for four years, this was the first year we hosted a celebration. There were friends, food, drinks, and prizes, and all of the proceeds directly support Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) in South Africa!

At the Safari Park, we carefully observe our animals every day, monitor their health and behavior, and attentively follow up on any concerns. In Asia and South Africa, Rhino Protection Units guard some of the wild populations of rhinos. Their trained staff are the front lines of defense against poaching. The job is risky and dangerous, yet very necessary. And we are here to help support them. In zoos, rhinos act as ambassadors for their species, demonstrating their beauty and importance. In their natural environments, they are an integral puzzle piece in a symbiotic relationship with nature, acting as gardeners for the forest by dispersing seeds to help maintain biodiversity. Rhinos are a flagship species, and saving them can influence an entire ecosystem.

It’s a pretty scary time for wild rhinos right now; they are incredibly threatened by poachers and the insatiable mis-belief that rhino horn is a cure for cancer. Rhino poaching is now conducted as organized crime and is a deadly threat to the future of this species. The latest tally of rhinos poached in South Africa is 227 this year alone, and the number keeps growing. Approximately 1 rhino is poached every 18 hours! It’s hard to sit back and watch the disappearance of these prehistoric creatures, and that’s why we are not sitting here—we’re partying!

An array of items were auctioned off to raise money for Rhino Protection Units.

While party guests sipped drinks, relaxed in the secluded seating areas, and mingled among tables of exciting and highly coveted prizes, we raised $4,489.37 for the International Rhino Foundation’s RPUs. More specifically, the money purchased 2 GPS units, 2 digital cameras, several transponders, and over $2,000 to be used at the Foundation’s discretion.

Initially, when we started planning the event, we hoped to gather donations for prizes and sell tickets to 200 people. Rhinos are so popular here at the Safari Park, and we have such a supportive organization, that we quickly sold out! It was an exciting night; we raffled off T-shirts, gift baskets, and tote bags to many lucky winners. The silent auction featured a private field tour at the Safari Park and paintings created by the rhinos themselves. Finally, our fearless supervisors volunteered their time by auctioning off their services, such as helping keepers complete some of their daily tasks, like loading a few hundred pounds of feed onto our trucks and completing tedious paperwork that is a necessary part of our job. It’s a nice reminder that our love of animals, and our goal to protect them, brings us all together, working toward wildlife conservation.

The Cinco de Rhino planning committee extends its sincere appreciation to everyone who attended and supported this event to benefit rhino conservation. I’d also like to give special thanks to Charlie Hyde, Jennifer Minichino, and Matt Gelvin for helping pull the event together. We are already looking forward to next year’s event, which will be held on May 5, 2013, at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego. All are welcome to attend!

Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Ungulates: Underdogs of the Zoo World.

Follow Jonnie’s tweets on the Safari Park’s Twitter!



Elephant Serenade

Akaayla leads the group in a traditional African drum circle.

I love drumming. So, when I heard about the LivingSocial Drum Circle experience at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where I work, I had to get a ticket and see what it was all about. Not only would I get to play the drums, but I’d get to play them with members of our elephant herd as an audience! I wondered if the drumming would be bothersome to the herd or if it might actually bring out some sort of instinctual reaction to a sound that their species and family of origin were accustomed to. Only one way to find out! So I got my ticket to attend the May 19 drum circle event.

When I arrived for the event, I walked the path to the Safari Park’s Tembo Stadium and saw boxes and baskets full of instruments waiting to be played: drums, hammers (wooden sticks with round ends to beat the drums), shakers, and a variety of hand-made African instruments. I also saw and heard our own Dr. Zoolittle as he playfully chided people walking through or taking their seats. It was a great way to bring out the smile in everyone and prepare us for the experience we were about to have. Some of Dr. Zoolittle’s inquiries revealed that we were a very diverse audience, with guests visiting from places as far as Russia and Guyana to Los Angeles and Fresno and even Escondido, home of the Safari Park! But we were all there with a common interest: playing drums and appreciating the beauty of animals.

A variety of drums and shakers were available for use.

Dr. Zoolittle guided us as we collectively created the sound of African rain approaching, becoming heavier and then subsiding—all using just our hands. I closed my eyes and listened, and it was magic. I actually imagined myself being in South Africa with elephants and other animals listening in the distance. It was then that I knew this drum circle would prove to be even more than I expected.

Our leader for the more complicated portion of the drum circle was Akaayla, a professor at a San Diego university who teaches African drumming. What a privilege to be able to spend this time with her! She told stories of life in Africa, where women socialize by gathering together and clapping hands rhythmically, and how music and chanting were, in the truest sense of the word, instrumental in changing the political climate in South Africa during years of apartheid. She taught us, and we sang, a Soweto fight song that celebrated victory!

By the end of our time together making music and learning about Africa, the elephants that were previously at the farthest end of their yards had moved as close as they could get to where the drumming and singing was. And so, my initial question about how this event would be received by the elephants was answered.

I might never be able to visit Africa, though I hope to one day. This drum circle brought me close to it, and I have no doubt I’ll attend another. And I’m even more excited now about the arrival of the Summer Safari at the Safari Park that begins on June 30. Jambo!

Valerie Stoddard is a senior administrative assistant at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Exam Takes a Village.


Biomimicry, Biomaterials, Biomimetics

Our armadillo demonstrates the use of keratin, the wonder protein.

On Wednesday, September 28, the San Diego Zoo hosted the second in our series of fall Biomimicry Receptions. This special evening, sponsored by the City of Murrieta, welcomed David Kisailus, Ph.D., and several of his students from the University of California, Riverside, who work on biomaterials and biomimetics. Guests were treated to an after-hours walk through the Zoo to the Treetops meeting room, where wine and appetizers were served while guests mingled with each other and got to know to UC Riverside students. The students gave us some insight into their research through posters and biological artifacts from the animals they work with, such as abalones and marine snails.

Photo credit: Shadow Van Houten

The theme of this evening’s animal presentation was keratin, the wonder protein used to make everything from armadillo scales to rhino horns to human hair. Even though our armadillo ambassador was a bit shy that night and stayed rolled up in a ball, he still had a lot to tell us about the inspiring adaptations found in nature.

Next, City of Murrieta Councilmember Rick Gibbs shared with us all the benefits Murrieta has to offer. All over California there are designated Innovation Hubs or iHubs. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spearheaded this initiative in March 2010, and in August 2011 the San Diego iHub was expanded to include Temecula, Murrieta, and part of Riverside. We were excited to have this opportunity to visit with Murrieta and spread the word of biomimicry throughout the range of the Innovation Hub.

Photo credit: Shadow Van Houten

The keynote speaker of the evening, Dr. Kisailus, then shared with guests his exciting research in biomimetics. In his lab at UC Riverside they research the question, “What can biology teach us about the synthesis of new materials?” Current engineering processes tend toward the use of unnaturally high temperatures and environmentally unfriendly methods. Dr. Kisailus is trying to amend these practices by studying the processes that occur in nature. Structures are created at ambient temperatures with available materials and biodegrade at the end of their lifetime. Perhaps even more amazing is that these structures often perform better than our human-engineered products. Abalone shells, enamel, and chiton teeth are among the most abrasion-resistant materials, ranking significantly higher than most human-made metal alloys.

Don’t miss the final reception of the series! We are changing up the location and on Thursday, October 27, we’ll be at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Conservation Research, on the grounds of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. This LEED-certified building houses the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, the largest zoo-based research effort in the world. This reception will feature Richard Lieber, Ph.D., of University of California, San Diego, who will be speaking to his experience linking animal biomechanics to orthopedic surgery. Please visit our Biomimicry website for more information and to register.

Dena Emmerson is a biomimicry research assistant at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, The Da Vinci Index.


Summer Pitfalls: Lots of Lizards!

A juvenile Gilbert's skink

Each season reveals a new chapter in the multiple micro-habitats that our biodiversity-monitoring project surveys (see post, Biodiversity Monitoring at Safari Park Reserve). The warm, dry weather means that we have been up before dawn every day this season, and it affects which critters might be active at this time of year as well. This summer we have seen fewer mammals in our arrays at the Biodiversity Reserve at the Safari Park in Escondido as compared to last spring, whereas the number of herptofauna findings has increased. However, due to the dry weather we have rarely seen frogs, which may be aestivating during these hot months. This last week was quite foggy and a bit cooler, so our September data includes a few common mammals such as gray shrews, California pocket mice, San Diego pocket mice, cactus mice, harvest mice, deer mice, and California voles.

After a few months of seeing big, gravid female lizards, we started find hatchlings in our pitfall traps! June marked our first sightings of side-blotch lizard, western fence lizard, and western skink hatchlings. In July, we started finding Gilbert’s skink hatchlings as well. By August, beautiful orange-throated whiptail hatchlings emerged! This month brought the first occurrence of granite spiny lizard hatchlings and a few juvenile striped racers (aka California whipsnakes).

Western skink hatchling

Both orange-throated whiptail hatchlings and western skinks have bright blue tails and dark body-length stripes. Often my volunteers ask how I tell them apart! While they may be similar in size, they look quite different in detail. The western skink’s head is more rounded, and its scales are very smooth and shiny. In addition, the two species of endemic skinks are also easy to tell apart as hatchlings. Juvenile Gilbert’s skinks typically have bright pink tails, and western skinks have bright blue tails. Furthermore, the body-length stripes on the Gilbert’s skinks do not go past their hind legs, as do stripes on western skinks in juvenile form. Later in life, western skink adults have stripes down their sides, whereas Gilbert’s are darker in coloration and have no stripes at all, which makes them quite distinguishable.

Granite spiny lizard

Our local subspecies of western skink, the Coronado skink, is a California species of concern due to habitat loss. Orange-throated whiptails, western skinks, and Gilbert’s skinks all have brightly colored tails as juveniles as a defense adaptation that can be dropped if caught by a predator. The tail even continues to wiggle and move after it is cast off, which may allow the animal to potentially escape. All three species do not retain this tail coloration in their adult form, and it does not appear to be associated with a form of mimicry in these species. Furthermore, its tail grows back after being discarded. From the number of tailless hatchlings I have seen, it seems like this strategy is successful in aiding them to survive until they can learn from experience how to avoid predators.

Christine Slocomb is a research technician at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.


Summer SCVNGR Safari

There will be no shortage of things to see and do during Summer Safari African Extravaganza, July 2 to August 21 at the Safari Park. From high-flying African acrobats to ridiculously fast cheetahs, there will be plenty of ways to experience the wonders of Africa’s rich culture and animals. But for those of you who want a more in-depth, interactive, and FUN way to experience the sights and sounds of Summer Safari, there’s no better way than with our Summer SCVNGR Safari.

Summer SCVNGR Safari is a game you can play on your mobile phone that leads you through some of the more notable Summer Safari festivities to complete challenges and become a certified “Safari Master.” Players will compete against each other for the grand prize of a Flightline Safari for four, and the best part is that you don’t even need a fancy smart phone to play. You can text the word “summersafari” to 728647 to join in the fun. For those of you who DO have fancy smart phones, all you have to do is download the SCVNGR app, search for the Summer Safari trek, and off you go!

We’d love to hear your feedback about the trek, so feel free to chat with us on facebook or twitter and share your experience with us. Good luck, and game on!

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Albert’s First Tequila Dinner Featuring Casa Noble.


Butterfly Jungle Preview Dinner

It’s no secret that the Safari Park’s annual Butterfly Jungle event is a big draw, and the Hidden Jungle exhibit can get a little, um, “cozy,” during peak hours. Most people agree that the bright, fluttery payoff is definitely worth dealing with the crowds, but if you’d rather avoid them entirely for a special VIP preview of Butterfly Jungle the evening before it opens, and be treated to a delicious four-course meal immediately following your exclusive peek, then you can’t miss our Butterfly Jungle Preview Dinner. I had the honor of attending this year’s Dinner, and I have to say it’s probably the best way to experience Butterfly Jungle.

Our night began when we were ushered straight into the front door of the Hidden Jungle exhibit after a quick Sharpshooter photo (which you have the option of purchasing after the Dinner). This was my first year ever attending Butterfly Jungle, and as soon as we entered the exhibit, it was immediately apparent why people go so nuts over it. It was like walking into a dream—an alternate reality where bright, airy spirits fill the air in the shape of butterflies. Okay, that description was pretty melodramatic, but trust me, it’s an incredible experience. I think I’m even going to use the word enchanting, if that’s okay with you.

Because the Jungle was only open to Dinner guests, there was plenty of room to move around and position myself for prime picture-taking or tree-impersonation in hopes of coaxing a few butterflies to land on me. We also had the option to take a break from the Jungle to enjoy nearby hors d’oeuvres and libations, but as you can imagine, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the exhibit. After an hour of alone time with the butterflies, we were led to the Hunte Nairobi Pavilion for a brief yet enlightening presentation by the Park’s insect keeper, Sarah Jenkins, on butterflies and their fascinating biological nuances. Then it was time to feed our hungry stomachs!

The dinner began with a subtle, buttery farfalle soup with butterfly pasta, a broth of wild mushroom and petite spring vegetables with an herbed Parmesan crisp. It was appropriately mushroom-forward with a nice foundation of earthy, herbal notes to balance it out and ease our taste buds into the courses to follow.

Fresh-cut chicken breast marinated in lavender-infused honey, pan roasted and served over jasmine rice and grilled asparagus with garlic lavender jus

The second course came in the form of a bright, floral berry salad with baby spinach leaves, fresh blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries in a champagne vinaigrette. It was finished off with candied pecans, to harmonize with the sweet notes, and a fried goat cheese medallion to provide a nice, savory contrast to the fresh, crisp greens and berries.

Next came the entree, which was decidedly the star of the show—fresh-cut chicken breast marinated in lavender-infused honey, pan roasted and served over jasmine rice and grilled asparagus with garlic lavender jus. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. There was nothing unexpected or exotic about this dish, but everything about it was well executed. The chicken and asparagus were cooked to perfection, and the rice was the welcome neutral third party to balance the highs and lows. The dessert, a vanilla sponge cake with a layer of raspberries topped with mascarpone  cream and crushed pistachios, was the perfect fluffy exclamation point to the experience.

Vanilla sponge cake with a layer of raspberries topped with mascarpone cream and crushed pistachios

Many thanks to the excellent Safari Park keepers and culinary staff for an unforgettable night of ethereal insects and delightful food and company. If you like incredible dream-like encounters and decadent meals, keep your eyes peeled for next year’s Butterfly Jungle Preview Dinner. If you don’t, check your pulse. You might be dead 😉

Check out the rest of Matt’s pics from the night.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Roar & Snore Safari at the Safari Park.

Note: Butterfly Jungle runs through May 8, 2011, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Roar & Snore Safari at the Safari Park

Roar and Snore camper looking out upon the East Africa Exhibit

Going in to last Friday’s Roar and Snore Safari sleepover at the Safari Park, I had no idea how literally the name would apply to the event. There was almost as much roaring as there was snoring, not by rambunctious guests, but by the Park’s three adult lions housed in the nearby Lion Camp exhibit. The highly vocal cats roared periodically throughout the night, almost as if on a schedule to entertain us. If you think coyotes howling at night is cool, this will blow you away. The surprising ratio of actual roaring to snoring was just one of the highlights of the Roar and Snore Safari. I’ve been to the Safari Park a million times but I had no idea that spending just one night there would forever alter my perspective of the Park and its animals.

After meeting in the preferred parking lot at the start of the event, unloading our bags and collecting our free t-shirts, we were treated to a presentation of an African pygmy falcon named Kipanga, whose constant vocalizing and posturing betrayed his serious Napoleon complex. Then we were herded through the near-empty Park to the Roar & Snore campground for a delicious buffet dinner. Keep in mind that the Park closes right around the time you get to the campground so you and your fellow campers essentially have all 900 acres of the Park to yourselves. You can almost trick yourself into thinking it was built just for you. It’s an incredible feeling.

The view from inside your tent

After dinner (which was far better than your average campground meal!) we split up into two groups and went off on a guided behind-the-scenes tour of the Park. The first stop of the tour was at the tiger exhibit, where we got a close look at the Park’s two 5-month-old Sumatran tiger cubs, Joanne & Majel. I had seen many photos and videos of the cubs but it was my first time seeing them in person and the experience was indescribable. They came right up to the fence to greet us and kept pacing back and forth curiously. It was amazing to look them in the eyes and have them stare back in that cold, calculating way that nature’s top predators do. They are being raised in a Zoo setting with human contact, but it surprised me just how WILD they seemed. It saddens me to think they are one of the most endangered species on the planet, with only about 400 left in the wild.

One of the Park's tiger cubs greeting Roar and Snore guests

After hanging with Joanne & Majel we cruised over to the Conifer Forest and met a few more animal ambassadors, such as a charming hedgehog and a ball python. Then we made our way to the elephant exhibit to have a look behind the scenes. Our jovial tour guide was like a walking animal trivia book, giving us constant insight into the animals at the Park and what it takes to care for them. Apparently the writers of the movie Jurassic Park visited the Safari Park’s elephant exhibit to get ideas for what it would take to enclose dinosaurs. Staring at the immense steel gates jutting into the night sky, I could see why.

Flashlights in hand, we continued over to Condor Ridge to check out native Southern Californian wildlife settling in for the night. As we were touring Condor Ridge I realized that the Park totally transforms after dark. Because it’s 40 miles from San Diego, there’s no light pollution and the stars shine bright. From up on Condor Ridge you can look out upon the entire Park and most of the San Pasqual Valley, listening to the calls of thousands of exotic animals in the dark. It’s enchanting. And seeing a California condor emerge from the dark by flashlight and spread its 10-foot wings is an image I’ll never forget.

After exploring Condor Ridge, we were led back to the campground to relax for a while and munch on all-you-can-eat smores (what would a camp out be without smores!) before our final nighttime foray into Lion Camp. When we got to Lion Camp we were led into the back holding area where both lionesses, Mina and Oshana, and the Park’s male lion, Izu, were lounging for the night. At one point one of the lionesses jumped up onto the glass to get a closer look at her admirers, but the most memorable moment for me was when Izu came close to the glass. Izu is significantly larger than his lady friends (about the size of a small car in my opinion), and his presence is intensely humbling.

Behind the scenes at Lion Camp

When we returned from Lion Camp it was time to grab some more coffee or hot chocolate and wind down for bed. In the morning we were treated to a delicious breakfast and a two-hour walking tour of the African Outpost and African Woods areas before we were led out to the entrance to complete our experience.

The Roar & Snore was definitely one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had. I’ll never forget drifting off to sleep amidst the cooing of African crowned cranes, the roaring of lions, and of course, the soft snoring of campers. And one thing is certain–I’ll never see the Safari Park the same again.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Winter Brewmaster Dinner Featuring Pizza Port.

Check out the rest of Matt’s pics on flickr.


Love at the Zoo

Commercialism aside, Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love. We like it because it reminds us that love is in the air at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Wild Animal Park), not just with our animals, but with our guests, too. And not just on Valentine’s Day—love is in the air all year round. The Zoo and Park are places where people come to enjoy the wonders of the natural world with the people dear to them, the people they love and cherish. We think that’s a beautiful thing, and in honor of that spirit we asked our Facebook fans to share their stories of love at the Zoo and Park with us. Below are the stories they shared. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. Much love!

Ellen Brown Got the first kiss from my favorite boyfriend in front to the koalas. He knew I loved the zoo–and that I love the koalas most. He said ‘you never get a second chance to have a first kiss.’ In all the years since, I have never been back to the koala enclosure that I don’t think of that day 18 years ago.

Cathy Souza Culbertson My husband proposed to me, on my birthday, after a fantastic surprise picnic lunch on the lawn overlooking “East Africa” at the Park. I was thinking what a wonderful birthday I was having, when he went on one knee and started with a beautiful speech about how grateful he was to have me in his life when the ring box came out of his pocket, I was as excited as one of those proposal commercials they are playing on TV! We have been married for 7 years and have had many more wonderful memories of the Zoo and Wild Animal Park since.

Sheila Kirby Cavanaugh My husband & I had our first date at the SD Zoo on August 25, 2004 (which also was my birthday)… It was a beautiful summer evening. We walked around, had dinner & got to know each other. We also shared our first kiss there too!! Best date ever… Exactly 2 years later he proposed to me and we are happily married with 2 beautiful little girls. I love the zoo!!

Amy Fullerton After 6 years of dating, my husband took me for a picnic in Balboa Park. He’s Irish so much earlier in our relationship I received a Claddaugh ring, which I wore faithfully. At some point during our lunch he said you know I love that ring but I have one I think you might like even more and he proposed under one of the fabulous old trees. After I said yes… 🙂 we walked around for hours and just let it all sink in. The zoo has always been my favorite place… now it’s just extra special! ♥

Jessica Foster My husband and I met at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. We met for the very first time in front of the crowned cranes at the entrance to the park. Exactly a year later, he proposed to me at the very spot. 😀

Mara Peters McLeod My husband and I used to go on play dates at the zoo together when we were two with our Grandmas (1981). They were friends and used to take us there. Who knew 21 years later we would start dating, get married and have 2 girls. We now go to the zoo as a family together all the time. Awesome!

Ana Hartman When I was 16, I went to the zoo with my then boyfriend for one of our first “real” dates. My good friend had given us free passes. It was an awesome day where we saw all of our favorite animals. He bought me a red panda t-shirt with Bai Yun, it was the first gift he ever bought me. Fast forward to 11 1/2 years later and that boyfriend is now my husband and I still have that panda shirt. Our first son wore the shirt until he grew out of it and I can’t wait until our second son fits into it! Our whole family loves the zoo and we’ve been members since 2001.

Stacey Atkins My fiancé and I met online, but decided to meet face to face in Balboa Park. After wandering through the park for a while, he asked me if I would like to go to the zoo. So, off to the zoo we went, and then he took me to lunch at Albert’s. Obviously we had a wonderful time there, as many of our weekends have been spent wandering through the zoo, and as members, special zoo events have often served as date nights. The zoo will always hold special memories for us as the place where we began our relationship, and every trip to come will remind us of how our love blossomed there.

Steven Cerda My girlfriend and I had our first date at the zoo almost four years ago..=]. We still call it Tiiiiiiiiiiiger River..♥. I love you Carolyn..♥.

Joshua P. Romero My now boyfriend and I shared a wonderful night together at Jungle Bells, courtesy of my Diamond Membership. We’d become the best of friends over the previous year and a half and I’d never really considered us being more than fiends. But something magical happened that night at Jungle Bells where I began to see him as someone more dear and special to me than just a friend. The San Diego Zoo will always be a special place for me because of the role it played in the start of our relationship.

Jennifer Anne McCroskey Weyenberg My husband is my 2nd. So we started dating in May, and over the early summer decided it would be fun to go somewhere for a weekend…a test to see if we could stand each other that long. Ok, not really, but that was what we joked. We soooo enjoyed the zoo, it was the best day in SD for us. We wandered, saw the shows, looked at the amazing animals, and fell even deeper in love with each other. A year later we went back with my kids and had another amazing time!!!

Brittany Knutson My fiance proposed to me at the San Diego Zoo in May 2010! I made it quite difficult for him, but he finally did it in front of the serval on the lion statue there 🙂 We are getting married June 4th at the Denver Zoo and are then going back to San Diego for our honeymoon!

Susanne Ruthsatz My husband contacted SDZ for his marriage proposal to me. He wanted to put a sign saying: “Susanne will you marry me” in the terrarium of the Burmese python, as she was the animal I wanted to see. Ever since I read the book “Sandeagozu” by Jannan V Jenner, visiting the zoo was my dream and he knew that. The people at SDZ were totally helpful and would have done it for him/us. Unfortunately our trip to USA went from LA to Vegas and then to San Diego, so we got married just before we went to SDZ, so he couldn’t do the proposal like he planned, but it’s the thought that counts! It was the best honeymoon ever!!!!! I will cherish my memory of SDZ forever, hoping someday I have enough money to return.

Laura Rosenthal Benz Had my first date with my hubby there, now we bring our daughter.

Ashli Krasznavolgyi My husband and I went to San Diego on our honeymoon (we lived in New Jersey at the time). We spent so much time at the zoo, the weather was amazing and we had so much fun and at the other parts of Balboa Park. We visited the Japanese Tea Garden and the Cottages and just have great memories. For our one year anniversary I took all of our paper memorabilia and put it in a shadow box to celebrate our one year “paper” anniversary. 🙂 We have been married 5 years now.

Ruka Micheletti My boyfriend and I had our first date at the San Diego Zoo during the Hunte show. We also had our first kiss at the Safari Park by the cheetahs. The zoo will always have a special place in our lives.

Nora Harris Watson I didn’t get engaged at the zoo, but, I did get my ring at the zoo. I have a cute series of pix of me pretending to be ignoring the animals and looking at my ring instead. 🙂

Rachel Carpenter My husband proposed to me at the zoo while we were on the Skyfari. He even managed to get down on one knee in the little car. The car number was 42, and every time we visit the zoo we look for it!

Timothy A. Schenck Got engaged at the SD Zoo Safari Park in ’03. Every couple weeks we were visiting the Park that summer but as soon as I was ready to propose, she was always too busy to make ‘1 more visit.’ So, I had to create a scheme with my sister-in-law to get her to go and even when we did go it was like pulling teeth to get her to visit her favorite spot up near the babbling creek in the conifer forest.

Sandy Jarrett At age 49 my husband and I married, a second marriage for both. Four months later, we helped caravan AWANA kids from our church to the zoo. Fifteen minutes later a kid had been lost then found resulting in a strong talk from the leader. Keep an eye on each other! So my husband and I put our faces together, someone took our picture and we sent that to his 90-year-old mother. She loved us keeping an eye on each other. We love the zoo!

Mandy Dahl I had never seen the ocean and always dreamed of going to the San Diego Zoo. Before my fiancé deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, he surprised me by telling me to pack my suitcase. We arrived at the airport and that’s where he revealed that he was going to take me to San Diego to see the zoo and ocean. The man of my dreams made my dreams come true! We had the best time that weekend, and I will never forget it!

Rebecca Sefl My husband and I got married at the Wild Animal Park…it was beautiful.

Michelle O’Neill I had my first date with my husband at the Wild Animal Park 10 years ago. We were stuck on the tram ride for almost an hour in the dark. 😉

Deborah Carp-Mandelblatt I did get engaged at the zoo. I was so surprised and my husband (now) adopted a pair of meerkats (my favorite animal) and I got to spend some time with kala and hari!!!! All this happened before the park opened.

Shaun Ivory My very first date with my wife of 22 years was at the San Diego Zoo, in March 1988. She didn’t think it was a real date at the time, but I guess I ended up being right! 🙂

Breanna Hough My boyfriend and I have been coming to the Zoo once a month for over a year and we call it our monthly get-away date 🙂

Ben Liebner My wife and I honeymooned in San Diego, and went to Sea World, San Diego Wild Animal Park and the San Diego Zoo, among other places. We had a fantastic time all-around!

Tricia Bayless Browne My husband & I got married in Dec. So San Diego was the obvious choice for our honeymoon. It was his first time there & of course we had to go to the zoo. We had a wonderful time & 36 years later are still having wonderful times together.

Heather Wright Met my husband at the Zoo, in the old panda exhibit, three years later we were married and had our reception in the Rondaval.

Nicholas Newman My best friend got engaged at the wild animal park, right in front of the Okapis. We were visiting our friend who’s a keeper there, it was soo cute and fitting since we are all zookeepers.

Katia Stanford My fiancé and I had our first date at the zoo, and he took me back there to propose to me! He knows that I don’t like public scenes, so he kept waiting for a quiet place without any people. We ended up on the trail in front of the tapir, who was the only creature to witness our engagement. 🙂 Such a special moment. The zoo holds such great memories for both of us. We love our annual memberships and keep coming back. Such a great San Diego institution and you are truly making a difference in this world. Hopefully the kids we have one day are going to see animals that would otherwise have been extinct because of your efforts. xoxo

Jennifer Russell When I was a teen back in 1987, I had the best date ever that started at the zoo. It was some sports Padre/Charger thing day, so the zoo was almost empty. After we went to lunch, and then miniature golfing at the La Mesa Family Fun Center, which is now a freeway…such a LONG time ago!

Suzanne Hanna My Fiancée’ and I went on many dates at the zoo, we took many pictures which we proudly hang in our condo. We buy a pass every year because it’s the perfect place for us to talk, take pictures, and see all the wonderful animals! Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!!!

Judy Fink My husband and I met when we worked at the zoo 47 years ago. Got engaged and still enjoy romantic strolls around the zoo with two little grandsons.

Carmen Van de Kamp My “husband-to-be”;) got the tickets and hotel night for his birthday in August 2010. The SD Zoo had always been a dream from his childhood to visit, so it was a big surprise. But even bigger was my surprise when we were in the San Diego Zoo on the 2nd day when we went into the Skyfari and right there above the Zoo he asked me to marry him, this was last December 1st. He had been preparing that since I got him the tickets in August last year for his birthday…
Coming year on the day between our birthdays (August 25 & August 27, so on August 26) we are getting married…The San Diego Zoo was always special to him as a dream from his childhood, but now it will be special for us for the love that we have for each other, which will always be connected with those 3 great days we had in the Zoo & the Wild Animal Park…& the Skyfari 😉

Scott Daugherty My wife and I grew up in San Diego together, and are both avid animal people (I’m a zookeeper, she a vet tech). We both have very fond memories of the SD Zoo, and I figured ‘what better place?’ We had lunch at Albert’s and she knew something was up, but I kept her waiting, and popped the question on a quiet back pathway, near the koi pond. I can’t imagine a better place for the both of us. 🙂

Alyssa Brislin My manager got engaged at the zoo! Her now husband proposed by the ducks at the lagoon terrace. He was trying to get her attention and get down on one knee but she was too busy rushing along to look at other things. He finally popped the question and they are now happily married.

Sarah Thatcher My husband and I, after we eloped in Vegas, came to live in San Diego. The first place we went on our honeymoon was the San Diego Zoo. I love animals so he surprised me with passes.


Park Elephant Update

Have you been checking out the construction of our yard project, connecting the two large elephant yards at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? Currently, our African elephant herd lives in one yard, and adult male Msholo lives in the other yard. It will, I hope, be completed very soon!

Our plan is to acclimate all the females and their calves to Msholo’s  “West Side” yard, keeping him separated by just a gate so they can physically and visually check each other out through the gate openings. We’ll keep the adult bulls separated. Physical introductions with Msholo will depend on what we observe and how comfortable the elephants are with the new yard or how they interact with Msholo through the gate. Msholo should know his original herd mates Umngani, Swazi, and Umoya, from their time in Swaziland, but back then the females didn’t have calves. We really don’t know what any of them are going to do, so plans will change. My best advice is to stay glued to Elephant Cam!

All the elephants are doing well. Babies are growing fast, and you can check their recent weights in the Meet the Elephants section. Macembe is still quite independent and still plops down anywhere to sleep. He hangs out with Mabu a lot. Emanti is playing more and more with Lutsandvo and Macembe and knows well enough to stay out of Swazi’s way. Musi and Lungile still do their “gate fighting” whenever possible, and Musi and Impunga still wrestle with each other. Khosi and Kami keep a watchful eye on their little brothers, and a fresh mud bog is always a big hit with everyone.

A day with Msholo is a physically exhausting day. Because he’s such a quick eater, we have to set in some form of difficult-to-get enrichment device with every flake of hay he gets so that it will keep him busy. Brian, one of our keepers, is a master at coming up with novel enrichment ideas and is constantly changing locations for Msholo’s food items. The amount of time and energy we put into enrichment for all of our elephants every day is truly amazing. I’ll go out on a limb and boast that as far as enrichment goes, we are the most dedicated group of elephant keepers on the planet!

We are expecting two more calves in 2011. Litsemba is due with calf #2 in January, and Umngani is due with Calf #3 in the fall. Mabu is well represented as a father, and three calves is more than enough with any one female, so we’d like to see if Msholo is viable as well. Way easier said than done!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Park Elephant Answers.

Update: Watch the introduction, which took place December 16, 2010.


Park Elephant Answers

Impunga takes a nap.

Here are some answers to questions posed by our elephant fans about the African elephants at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park!

Calves, in general, start eating solid food around their fourth month. By seven months they’re eating it all, including the pellets that we use to train them, which become their favorite item.

Macembe has to have good elephant manners when around any other animal if Mom Swazi isn’t next to him, which is frequently. He usually climbs onto Emanti whenever they get together, but rarely is Emanti far away from his mom, Umoya, so his dominance is short-lived. He loves his wrestling matches with Lutsandvo though.

When we do our “Elephant Rush” (it’s at 11:30 a.m. nowadays) you might see us holding an animal back to go last, but not always. What we like to do is get the animals that have been in the barns out first before we let the animals that were in the yards out. If Mabu is in the barns while we clean the main yard, he’s typically the last to come out; he doesn’t need first crack at the goodies because he gets to most of it anyway. If we have time to train before the Rush, we may bring out some elephants earlier and train them and then let the majority (at least seven of them) out as the “Rush;” this tends to look more like an elephant “trickle.”

Do the elephants’ react to earthquakes? I don’t think the elephants know what an earthquake is, but I wouldn’t doubt that they could feel or hear it coming before we could. Forming their protective circle around their calves just seems like a logical thing they would do whenever they feel threatened or spooked. Our elephants have always maintained this natural behavior, which is really cool to observe. They do react to new construction noises and smells but quickly habituate or become desensitized to them. We want our elephants to get used to any and everything that’s out there, so we don’t tell Park guests to “be quiet” or to not fly the Balloon Safari, etc. On a side note, we have seen that if the elephants are initially spooked by a new noise or smell, they will go into their protective circle.

Ndlulamitsi’s right curved tusk broke off a couple of weeks ago. We noticed a fresh scrape on ‘Musi’s derriere the same day, so we think she busted it off while telling her son to get lost. Not to worry; it’ll grow back, and the pulp cavity wasn’t exposed. And ‘Musi is still a momma’s boy.

Elephants do show affection or offer a greeting by massaging each other’s head with their trunk. Mabu does this with Umngani, Swazi, Litsemba, and Lungile a lot, and they all do it toward someone at some point. It does appear quite affectionate at times. When it’s male to male it seems as if it could also be a “sizing up” before wrestling ensues.

Impunga has been notorious for lying down across a dirt mound. Is it colic? We think he simply loves the feel of the cool dirt on his belly. Most of the other boys seem to love doing this as well. It’s only rarely that I’ve seen an adult lie down on their side and quickly get back up that looked like an adjustment for a possible colic situation. It’s not uncommon at all for elephants to lie down. When they want some deep sleep, they lie down. When they have a new calf, the moms sleep standing up, even though they sure look like they want to lie down. But instincts say to stay on guard and to wake up the calves every half hour or so to nurse.

Does Mabu have a favorite offspring? I can definitely say that it’s not Impunga or Khosi. I would say that Kami is his favorite, and currently Macembe hangs out with him more than anyone else. Both Macembe and Lutsandvo also try to nurse off of him. Mabu doesn’t really initiate anything “fatherly,” but he sure does tolerate them all, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have such a great bull. (He’s my favorite elephant, by the way.)

For Don, the earliest recorded weight we have on Impunga was when he was three days old and he weighed 98 kilograms or about 216 pounds. As far as your theory on the mothers’ ventral edema (sagging stomach), even our vets don’t know the cause or the cure. For now I would say you’ve made an interesting observation. Only time and a bigger sampling will tell if you’re on to something.

Dianna from Ohio would like it if we could do a blog on a “Day in the Life of an Elephant Keeper.” Boy, would that be a write up! It would take a massive amount of time, and I’d probably want to post some set-up blogs such as how we train, why we train, and how and why we manage them the way we do. It would be quite an undertaking.

What are we going to do with all the males? For now they’re staying put. If Msholo proves to be viable or perhaps needs to have Mabu leave to become viable, then Mabu, a well-represented bull here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, would probably need to be moved to an AZA-accredited zoo where he can continue to take part in an African elephant conservation program. With the nearly completed yard connection, we have the possibility of having a yard just for the males, if need be. What a bunch of yahoos that would be! Male calves in the wild usually get kicked out from the protection of Mom or the herd around 8 to 10 years of age, so we have a lot of time to plan. The age and size differences between Mabu and ‘Musi are so great that we don’t see a problem between those two at present. The same goes for Msholo and ‘Musi, but we don’t know what Msholo will be like toward ‘Musi. As his sire was a wild bull from Swaziland, ‘Musi is a very important breeding possibility. Some day we hope to build a new African elephant facility designed to house different elephant social groups somewhere out along the Journey into Africa tour path. I would love to keep all of them, but that’s because I’m attached to them.

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Elephant Manners.