Public Relations

Public Relations


San Diego Zoo Safari Park Home to 2 of 6 Remaining Northern White Rhinoceroses

Nola, northern white rhinoSan Diego Zoo Global was notified this weekend that Suni, a 34-year-old northern white rhinoceros at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, had died. While the cause of death hasn’t been determined, it is not believed to be an incident of poaching. The death of this male northern white rhino adds another challenge in the fight to prevent this critically endangered species from going extinct.

There are now just six northern white rhinos left on Earth. Three remain in the care of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, one lives at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic and two are in the African plains exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, a male named Angalifu and a female named Nola (pictured).

“This is a big loss, but we’ve been very successful with species in similar situations and we are hopeful that with a lot of the work we’re doing here, we can turn the situation around,” said Andy Blue, associate curator of mammals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Arabian oryx were down to very few animals in the late 1960s and have since been bred back up at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We have had over 400 of them born here and have reintroduced them back into the wild.”

San Diego Zoo Global has also had great success with breeding the California condor. When the organization first began its breeding program, there were only 22 California condors left in the world. Today, there are more than 400, 232 of which fly free in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico. Many of the now-wild condors were hatched in breeding facilities and then introduced into their native range habitats, but some have been hatched to those introduced condors and have lived their entire lives in the wild, which is good news for their ecosystem.

The loss of one animal in a species as rare as the northern white rhino can have a significant impact on the ability to save it from extinction. Despite this challenge, the animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and researchers and scientists at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research remain hopeful and continue to work toward saving the northern white rhino through ongoing research of the reproductive system of this species, collecting and saving genetic material from animals that have died and looking into alternate breeding methods for this species.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has the most successful captive breeding program for rhinoceroses in the world. There have been 92 southern white rhinos, 67 greater one-horned rhinos and 13 black rhinos born at the Safari Park since it opened 42 years ago. While the northern white rhinos at the Safari Park were never able to successfully breed, this was most likely due to their age when they arrived at the facility. Guests at the Safari Park can see the two northern white rhinos when they take the African Tram tour, which is included with admission to the Park.

Photo taken on October 21, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo



San Diego Zoo Global Elephant Calf Doing Well in Arizona

Elephant NandiNandi, the new baby elephant at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona, is doing well and enjoying time with her herd at the Click Family Elephant Care Center. The family group is a satellite African elephant herd that originated at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and is managed jointly by animal care staff at both zoos. The baby was born on August 20 and now weighs more than 400 pounds.



San Diego Zoo Begins Construction on Asian Leopard Exhibit, $3 Million Dollar Project to Debut Summer of 2015

Snow leopard The San Diego Zoo broke ground for its newest habitat area for critically endangered Asian leopards Wednesday night during a small, after-hours ceremony for donors who contributed major gifts to the project. Adjacent to Panda Trek, the new habitat will be home to Amur leopards and snow leopards. Opening on Memorial Day Weekend 2015, the new habitat will allow the Zoo to increase its participation in the breeding programs for these big cats.

“One of the exciting aspects of this Asian leopard exhibit is that it puts us in a position to be in breeding programs for all five of the big cat species,” said Stacey Johnson, director of collections for San Diego Zoo Global. “We’re breeding lions and tigers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and we’ll be set up to have jaguars, Amur leopards, and snow leopards in breeding groups here at the San Diego Zoo.”

The 16,500-square-foot habitat will include 5,500 square feet of multilevel living space with rock outcroppings, slopes with felled trees and shrubs, and other features to encourage natural behaviors. The habitat can be sectioned off into four separate exhibits, depending on animal-care needs. Mesh passageways will span the visitor walkway and allow the leopards to cross from one exhibit to another with ease. With plans to breed both Amur and snow leopards, one of the four exhibits in the new habitat can be used as a nursery for a mother and her cubs, with a glass viewing area for guests.

The Amur leopards and snow leopards will live separately but will have opportunities to trade living areas as part of their enrichment. More than 1,000 donors contributed the $3 million dollars needed to build the habitat designed specifically for large cats. This is one of the first steps in moving animals out of aging exhibits that have gone through several upgrades over the years.

The San Diego Zoo’s new Asian leopard habitat will also include a scent distribution system that will allow staff to pump various scents into the exhibit for enrichment and could be used as a training tool for the animals. Rather than verbal cues from keepers, scents may be put out to cue animal behaviors.  Climbing structures are being designed that can be easily changed and moved by animal care staff to create new paths and routes for the cats to explore.

The Amur leopard is believed to have just 40 individuals left in its native habitat of southern Russia and northern China. There are only 300 Amur leopards in zoos around the world, making it the most critically endangered big cat on the planet. The home range of snow leopards is the cold, rugged mountains of central Asia. It is estimated that just 7,000 snow leopards exist in the wild.

The San Diego Zoo has two male Amur leopards and two female snow leopards. Additional animals will be brought to the Zoo to create breeding pairs for both big cats when the exhibit opens.



Special Enrichment Delights Monkeys and Otters at San Diego Zoo

spotted-necked otter MugoPumpkins with peanut butter and hollowed-out gourds with fish inside were given to the animals in Lost Forest this morning at the San Diego Zoo as a special enrichment surprise. The animals live in a mixed-species exhibit that houses Allen’s swamp monkeys, Schmidt’s red-tailed monkeys, African spotted-necked otters, red river hogs, and a forest buffalo. These unique animals are all species native to Africa and pair well together.

The otters and the monkeys were particularly interested in the enrichment and spent the morning chasing rolling pumpkins, swimming around floating gourds, and picking out pumpkin seeds. Keepers had carved some of the pumpkins to make it easier for the animals to reach in and dig for seeds but left a few pumpkins solid so the animals would need to work to break them open. Some of the swamp monkeys kept busy trying to roll the pumpkins around and push them off ledges in hopes of cracking them open. Enrichment items such as these give animals the opportunity to exercise control of their actions and chose which items they want to play with.

“Enrichment is really important to encourage species-specific behaviors,” said Leslie Steele, keeper at the San Diego Zoo. “It’s great to give the animals something that’s out of the blue that’s a fun puzzle to figure out, and it’s fun for people to watch, too.”

Special enrichment will be given to animals at the San Diego Zoo on weekends during the month of October for Kids Free presented by Mission Fed. Guests visiting the Zoo for Kids Free can look for “Beast Treat” signs around the Zoo at certain animal exhibits, which indicate that special enrichment items will be given. Free admission for children 11 years and younger is offered during the month of October for Kids Free. For more information about Kids Free, visit

Photo taken on October 8, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



San Diego Zoo Breeds Rare Vipers for First Time

baby Ethiopian mountain viperA baby Ethiopian mountain viper coiled up this morning at the San Diego Zoo’s Reptile House. This venomous viper youngster is one of seven that was born at the Zoo just over a week ago. There are only four zoos in North America to have this species and the San Diego Zoo is the first to have bred them.

Ethiopian mountain vipers live in the southwest region of Ethiopia. Very little is known about their natural history since they are believed to have a very small range and are found only in high altitudes (6,500 to 9,800 feet) of the Rift Valley in Ethiopia.

The San Diego Zoo is home to three female and two male Ethiopian mountain vipers. Guests visiting the Zoo can see two of the females on exhibit at the Reptile House. Free admission for children 11 years and younger is offered during October’s Kids Free presented by Mission Fed. For more information about Kids Free visit

Photo taken on October 3, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



Lion Cubs Share Exhibit with Father for 1st Time at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Lions Evelyn, IzuFour African lion cubs played with their father for the first time this morning in Lion Camp at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The almost four-month-old lions have been spending time at Lion Camp with their mother, Oshana, with only visual access to their father, Izu. Keeping the pride together is expected to help the cubs thrive.

“Lions are the only social cat. They live in a pride,” said Tony Franceschiello, senior keeper. “It is always our ultimate goal that we get them out here together as a group, as a pride. It pretty much replicates what would happen in the wild. She (Oshana) would go off and have her cubs on her own, and when they’re old enough she brings them back to the pride and introduces them, and everyone is together.”

The cubs, Ernest, Evelyn, Marion and Miss Ellen, eagerly ran outside this morning into the grassy habitat with Oshana. Izu came outside next and was patient as his four cubs interacted with him for the first time. The youngsters took turns with Izu, pouncing, climbing and sniffing, and even playfully swiped at his tail.

Oshana has been bonding with and caring for her babies since they were born on June 22. Animal care staff began visual introductions with Izu and the cubs to get them used to seeing each other. After a month of visual introductions, physical introductions through a protective barrier provided Izu with the opportunity to smell and lick his newest offspring.

The cubs are named in honor of longtime San Diego Zoo Global supporters Ernest and Evelyn Rady and Marion Wilson, and in memory of Miss Ellen Browning Scripps, the San Diego Zoo’s first benefactor. The cubs are described by animal care staff as being active, vocal, curious and feisty, each with its own distinct personality. When full grown at around three years of age, female lions can weigh 270 to 400 pounds and male lions can weigh 330 to 570 pounds.

Visitors to the Safari Park’s Lion Camp may see Oshana, Izu and their cubs daily, 9 to 11:30 a.m. Free admission for children 11 years and younger is offered during Octobers Kids Free presented by Mission Fed. For more information about Kids Free visit

Photo taken on Oct. 2, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.



A Stand-out Guy: Ellipsen Waterbuck Calf at San Diego Zoo Safari Park is Leucistic

Ellipsen Waterbuck A rare white ellipsen waterbuck calf stood out among his herd as he roamed his exhibit with his mother early this morning at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The Safari Park has successfully bred over 20,000 rare and endangered mammals for decades (278 of those were ellipsen waterbuck), but this is its first-ever animal born with leucism, a condition that causes an animal to have reduced pigmentation. The three-week-old calf, named Luke, was born on Sept. 6 in the Safari Park’s South Africa exhibit.

Ellipsen or common waterbuck are recognizable by the bull’s eye or ellipse-shaped ring on their rump. In Luke’s case, the bull’s eye is a brown ring on a white body, rather than a white ring on a brown body. In the wild, an animal with leucism is an easy target for prey as it stands out, unable to camouflage itself. Since Luke was born at the Safari Park, he has a good chance of survival as animal care staff can keep close watch on him.

Typical of waterbuck, Luke’s mother kept him from harm by tucking him in the rocks in their habitat for his first two weeks while she rejoined the herd, returning to nurse the calf several times a day. Once the calf was strong enough, she allowed him to venture out with her to meet his herd and the 10 other animal species sharing his habitat, including rhinos, wildebeests and eland.

Keepers report the other animals have been curious about the calf, but his mother, father and other members of the waterbuck herd keep a close watch on the youngster.

Ellipsen waterbuck are found from central Kenya to northern Botswana and eastern South Africa. Waterbuck inhabit savannas and woodland areas within reach of permanent water. They are not aquatic but can hide in water from predators, when necessary.

Visitors to the Safari Park may see Luke and his mother on an Africa Tram tour, included with Park admission.

Photo taken on Sept. 26, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.



Komodo Dragon Practices Target Training at San Diego Zoo

Komodo dragon Sunny with camKeepers at the San Diego Zoo worked on training a 14-year-old Komodo dragon this morning, using a target that the dragon is learning to walk over and respond to when shown. After the Komodo dragon, named Sunny, successfully completes the behavior by walking to where the target is placed, keepers reward him with a special treat to positively reinforce the behavior.

This type of target training is extremely beneficial for the animal’s welfare. As Komodo dragons spend most of their time resting in the sun, the training provides and encourages exercise for Sunny throughout the day. Another benefit is that once the behavior is learned, keepers can ask Sunny to move or shift into a different area of the exhibit. This will be helpful if medical attention is needed, since Sunny could voluntarily move without the need for sedation.

Keepers working with Sunny have trained him to wear a harness during these training sessions. They can safely attach a portable action camera to it to film the training from the Komodo dragon’s point of view. This allows staff to review the sessions and it gives insight into how Sunny sees the training.
Komodo dragons are the largest living lizards in the world. They are a type of monitor lizard, an ancient reptile species with ancestors that date back more than 100 million years. Komodo dragons can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 176 pounds.

Photo taken on September 25, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.



Cheetah Cubs Snuggle Close at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Cheetah Cub SistersTwo cheetah cubs being hand raised by animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are receiving around-the-clock care and bottle feedings at the Park’s Animal Care Center. The female cubs were born to a cheetah at the Safari Park’s Cheetah Breeding Facility. As the mother, Allie, has been unsuccessful raising her previous litters, animal care staff made the decision to hand rear these littermates, born on Sept. 1.

The nearly three-week-old cubs are growing quickly and now weigh around 3 pounds each. They are becoming increasingly active now that their eyes are open and their vision is becoming clearer. Animal care staff says that these cubs are full of personality, noting that at only a few days old, the youngsters were already swatting and interacting with each other.

“Every baby’s different, but these cheetahs really seem to be developing quickly in our eyes,” said Eileen Neff, lead keeper, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “They are great eaters, they started playing when they were just three or four days old. They could barely walk at that time, so it was pretty interesting seeing them tumbling around with each other.”

These cubs with be animal ambassadors and each will be paired with a domestic dog for companionship, as are all ambassador cheetahs at the Safari Park and San Diego Zoo. The dog’s body language communicates to the cheetah that there’s nothing to fear in new or public surroundings, which relaxes and calms the cheetah.

Visitors to the Safari Park may see the two cubs at the Animal Care Center from 9 a.m. for a few hours daily.

Photo taken on Sept. 19, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.



San Diego Zoo Global, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo Recognized with Prestigious Bean Award

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced that San Diego Zoo Global and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo have received top honors with the 2014 Edward H. Bean Award for their African bush elephant program. In 2003, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo airlifted 11 elephants from Swaziland, where they were scheduled to be culled (killed) due to park overpopulation. The move brought valuable genetics into the North American African elephant population.

“San Diego Zoo Global and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo are true leaders in conservation science,” said AZA president and CEO Jim Maddy. “The AZA Bean Award provides well-deserved national recognition for the hard work of these facilities and also showcases the important work zoos and aquariums are doing to save species in their backyard and in the wild.”

The Edward H. Bean Award is a historic award within AZA, established in September 1956, honoring the first director of Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and one of the founders of AZA. The Edward H. Bean Award recognizes propagation or management programs that contribute to the reproductive success of one or more species and/or subspecies.

“San Diego Zoo Global and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo ensure the survival of African bush elephants for generations to follow,” said Rick Barongi, executive vice president of conservation at the Houston Zoo and chair of AZA’s Honors and Awards Committee.

The joint effort between the two zoos was part of an effort to ensure that a satellite population of African elephants exists in North American zoos. A decade later, all eight of the female elephants and two of the three males from Swaziland have successfully reproduced, increasing the North American managed population by 14 elephants.

African elephants are vulnerable to extinction in Africa due to ever-increasing pressures from ivory poaching. Current estimates indicate that thousands of elephants are killed each year to provide ivory for the black market. As populations in the wild continue to plummet, the sustainability and genetic diversity of protected populations under human care become more important.

“San Diego Zoo Global has dedicated itself to saving species from extinction,” said Doug Myers, CEO and president of San Diego Zoo Global. “Animal species are under incredible pressure from human activity in the wild, and it can seem that the odds are overwhelmingly against conservation, but we know we can do it by focusing on one species at a time.”

In addition to conservation efforts in North America, both institutions have supported acquiring additional land to increase protected areas for elephants in Africa and anti-poaching programs and public education in Swaziland. Results to date include expansion of the Mkhaya Game Reserve by 10 percent to promote survival of elephants and thousands of other animals protected there.

“The role of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo as a modern zoo is to provide people unique opportunities to appreciate the variety of life on earth, to get close enough to care, and care enough to act,” said Craig Pugh, Executive Director and CEO of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. “No one zoo can do it alone. That’s why partnership with zoos and other conservation organizations regionally, nationally and around the world is so vital. Conservation work aimed at saving animals from extinction truly takes years of hard work and commitment.”