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49

Entertaining Panda Cub Xiao Liwu

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking "horse." See, he likes apples!

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking “horse.” See, he likes apples!

What has our panda cub been up to, now that he’s been on his own for a few weeks? Keeper Jennifer Becerra filled me in on all things “Wu,” and I’m eager to share what I learned with Xiao Liwu’s many fans!

Jennifer says Xiao Liwu, now 20 months old, is doing quite well. He is not as playful as his older siblings have been and instead has become a bamboo-eating machine. Now weighing 70.5 pounds (32 kilograms), “Mr. Wu” eats about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of bamboo each day—a lot for a little bear! Shunning most non-bamboo food items, he is developing a taste for Fuji apple slices and applesauce. Lately, keepers have been blending steamed carrots, yams, applesauce, and banana-flavored biscuits into a mush for him. They serve the concoction in a metal pan, which you may have seen in his enclosure.

Lest you think Wu is all about food, don’t worry. He does enjoy playing in a long, plastic tray filled with ice cubes. He climbs all over a recycled plastic “rocking horse,” which is really in the shape of a whale, that is in his off-exhibit bedroom area. And you’ll be proud to know he is doing well with his training. He already urinates on command when he hears the words “go potty”! Being able to collect this vital fluid for periodic testing is part of our animal care protocol. Mr. Wu knows how to “target” or touch his nose to a target stick, and he knows to put his paws up, paws down, and to sit when asked to do so. He also enjoys his new bedding material, called excelsior hay, that is on top of the cave structure. This hay product was on his Wish List—thank you, donors!

Ice cubes feel good on a warm day!

This ice feels good on a warm day!

And then there are scents! Our pandas love to roll and anoint themselves with different odors. Their keepers found a fragrance company that provides a huge variety of choices. They all like the smell of cinnamon, but I found it interesting that each panda also has his or her favorites. For Mr. Wu, it’s wintergreen. Bai Yun enjoys those in the mint family: wintergreen, peppermint, and spearmint. Yun Zi, who is now living in China, loved honeysuckle and earthworm! And Gao Gao? He tends to lean toward more musky scents, but his all-time favorite is rubbing alcohol!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Delightful Tasmanian Devils.

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San Diego Zoo Global Begins Second Captive Breeding Season for Endangered Southern California Mammal

Pacific Pocket Mouse The second captive breeding season for the Pacific pocket mouse started in March, and San Diego Zoo Global scientists welcomed the first litter on April 1, 2014. The four pink, hairless pups are being kept safe in the back of a densely packed nest inside the pocket mouse breeding facility at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The mother of this litter was the first Pacific pocket mouse born in the captive breeding program, which began in 2013 and is managed by staff at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The inaugural breeding season for this critically endangered species, native to California, yielded 16 pups between May and August 2013. Now that the breeding program is in place, scientists expect the second breeding season to yield even more pups; pocket mice remain active for breeding from spring into fall. The gestation period for a Pacific pocket mouse is 23 days and the species can reach sexual maturity in less than two weeks. Because of this, it is expected that pocket mice born during this breeding season might also reproduce this season.

The Pacific pocket mouse breeding facility is in an off-exhibit area at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park but uses air conditioning and humidifiers to mimic the coastal temperatures and humidity the mouse requires. The facility is also equipped with large skylights to make sure these nocturnal animals are attuned to the rising and setting of the sun, which cues their activities. The animals’ nocturnal nature also requires researchers to observe them at night without disturbing them by using red light, which is not visually perceived by the animals.

In 2012, fewer than 30 adult Pacific pocket mice were taken from three remaining wild populations to form the breeding colony at the Safari Park.

The Pacific pocket mouse, thought to be extinct in the 1980s, was rediscovered in 1993 and today exists at just three sites along Southern California’s coast: Dana Point, Santa Margarita and South San Mateo. Scientists working on the breeding program for the Pacific pocket mouse expect to increase the overall population and also maintain genetic diversity in the species. In the wild, the three Pacific pocket mouse habitats are divided by human development, so there is no chance for interbreeding.

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

0

Lead Continues to Be Serious Threat to California Condor Populations

California condor in BajaThe California condor was one of the first species to be placed on the federal endangered list in 1966 when the population was reduced to a handful of birds. Through a massive, collaborative effort that included work in the field and breeding in zoos, the condor population has grown to more than 400 birds, more than half of which are now free flying in the wild. Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that lead poisoning from accidental ingestion of spent ammunition is the leading cause of death in the wild population, and this may prevent the establishment of self-sustaining populations.

“After reviewing nearly 20 years of our mortality data on the free-ranging birds, it became clear that lead poisoning is the primary problem for the birds in the wild. And this is not just a problem for California condors. We can view them as an indicator species, warning us about the hazards of widespread lead contamination in the environment,” said Bruce Rideout, D.V.M., Ph.D., Dipl. ACVP, director of the wildlife disease laboratories for San Diego Zoo Global.

San Diego Zoo Global collaborators at the Wildlife Health Center at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, recently published a review of the impact of lead in ammunition on scavenging birds and what it means for the health of our shared environment. The review article can be found in the January edition of the journal “EcoHealth.”

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

14

Orangutan Aisha at 5 Months

What fun to watch Aisha grow!

What fun to watch Aisha grow!

The past five months have gone by so fast! Little orangutan Aisha is growing by leaps and bounds. I forget how small she actually was until I see a picture of her first day outside. Indah continues to be a great mother. She seems even more relaxed with Aisha than she did with Cinta, her first offspring.

The last few weeks have seen an increase in Aisha’s activity level on exhibit. Typically, Indah is active and moving around the exhibit first thing in the morning, and by 11a.m., she finds a comfortable perch in the climbing structure and relaxes for the rest of her time on exhibit, with Aisha hanging on her. Lately, we have seen Aisha off of Mom on the climbing structure and hammocks—it’s so exciting! At first, Indah’s hand was right there, and she was very vigilant. Now, Indah will be a few feet away, sometimes with her back to Aisha, and one time Indah even left the tree and went to the ground for a few minutes! It is amazing to see Aisha on her own, so interested in her surroundings.

Mom and baby are still going inside at 1p.m. so the siamangs can go on exhibit. It will be a while before we are comfortable introducing the baby to the siamangs. Because of male siamang Unkie’s previous behavior with Cinta, we do not want to try this too early, as it could result in unnecessary stress to Indah and Aisha or possibly injury.

When inside, Indah is even more relaxed. At a very young age Indah would put Aisha down in the bedroom and let her explore. It varies greatly between individual mothers when they break that mother-child contact for the first time. Literature has the range as early as 2 months and as late as 18 months. Indah was definitely on the low end of the range! She feels very safe in her bedroom and knows that there is no threat to Aisha inside. In her bedroom, Aisha climbs up the bars and across the ropes and back again. She is very active, but sometimes she just wants to be on Mom. We have a camera system set up in the bedroom, and this has really allowed us to see behaviors between Mom and baby and to see early development that we would not have seen if we were standing there watching. Indah typically is more protective if there are people present and usually will grab Aisha and hold her until people leave the area.

Aisha still does not have any teeth, but she is tasting everything, and everything goes into her mouth. She eats lettuce and would probably eat or try to eat other foods, but Indah is not good with sharing. The majority of Aisha’s nutrition is from nursing.

I get asked a lot how much Aisha weighs. Even though Indah lets Aisha climb and move around, she would never leave Aisha and move to another area without her. We can get weights anytime on Mom and baby together.

It will be great to see Aisha grow and change in the coming months. Every day I am excited to get to work and see all the cute stuff she does. Everything she does is cute!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Personalities.

30

Yun Zi Travels to China, Part 2

Dr. Beth (at right) and Jennifer pose with their flight captain.

Dr. Beth (at right) and Jennifer pose with their flight captain.

Be sure to read Yun Zi Travels to China, Part 1!

Panda Yun Zi was a natural traveler in the van all the way to the Los Angeles Airport. He sat quietly in his crate and ate bamboo all the way. When we got to the airport, he decided to take a nap while we waited to get checked by security. We had to wait a short time before Yun Zi and all of his luggage was strapped down safely onto a pallet and ready to load onto the plane. The pilots were very kind to ask what temperature and light settings would make Yun Zi most comfortable in cargo during our long flight.

The time flew by, and before I knew it, Yun Zi, Dr. Beth Bicknese, and I were boarded onto the plane. Yun Zi was nice and calm all the way onto the plane. Not me! I was super-nervous, as this was my first flight overseas and flying on a large cargo plane. We met with all five pilots and introduced them to Yun Zi. He did extremely well meeting the pilots, and they even spoke a little Chinese (Mandarin) so he could practice.

Jennifer and Dr. Beth meet Yun Zi's new keepers upon arrival.

Jennifer and Dr. Beth meet Yun Zi’s new keepers upon arrival.

Our flight departed around 9 p.m., and we were off for our 22-hour journey. The airlines and the pilots were wonderful, as we all felt like we were in first class. They understood our needs and the care we needed to provide Yun Zi on his flight. Dr. Beth and I did not get much sleep on the plane, as we were making sure Yun Zi was as comfortable as possible. It was extremely easy to access Yun Zi, as he was only behind one door, and we checked on him every three to four hours.

I will tell you he was a much better flyer than I! Every time I checked on him, he was resting and calm. He enjoyed his biscuits, bread, and honey water in first-class style. I didn’t sleep much at all, wanting to make sure he was comfortable, and I was reassured every time I checked on him that he was calm. The flight was entirely at night as we flew up the coastline to Alaska and over the Pacific Ocean and landed in Shanghai two hours early, around 6 a.m.

When we landed, we were greeted by airline security, and the pilots quickly took us through customs so we could get back to Yun Zi. It was wintertime in Shanghai, and lucky Yun Zi had his fur coat on, as it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside. We waited for Yun Zi to be unloaded and noticed his small welcoming party (small because we landed two hours early!). Dr. Beth and I were immediately introduced to one of his new keepers (Mr. Strong) and veterinarians (Mr. Deng). They checked on Yun Zi and offered him a fresh apple. Yun Zi was polite but decided he would rather sleep.

And off he goes to his new home!

And off he goes to his new home!

Dr. Beth and I passed along Yun Zi’s training video (we had made a video for his new keepers to show them what he knows so far) and all his information to his new keepers. Mr. Deng asked several typical questions about Yun Zi: how much he eats, how much he poops in a day, his favorite scents, and favorite toys. We talked about his training and how he likes to see people.

I know Yun Zi is in good hands with his new staff and was ready for his journey to Wolong with them. I did leave a little piece of my heart in Shanghai that day, but I know Yun Zi will do well in China.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

3

A New “Tree” for Woodpeckers

A yellow-naped woodpecker is hard at work.

A yellow-naped woodpecker is hard at work.

Nothing beats natural behavior. Allowing birds to use their evolved traits, behaviors, and abilities usually results in a healthier bird in both mind and body. We encourage natural foraging behaviors by hiding earthworms in loose soil for the kiwis to hunt. We do bug scatters in the diving duck aviary for the ducks to dive for (it is so cool to watch!). And we try to make available various nesting material the birds would look for and use in the wild. Hummingbirds get spider webs, weavers get thorny twigs, and woodpeckers get…hmm…how do you replicate the tall, thick, dead trees most woodpeckers prefer to use in the wild? The San Diego Zoo’s Horticulture department does such a good job at keeping the trees alive and healthy that there are not many dead trees available. Not to mention that it would be difficult to actually move those trunks into the exhibit!

Enter the cork nest! The ingenious box was developed by curator Peter Shannon and his team at Albuquerque Biological Park. The nest box has plywood sheets on the top, bottom, and three sides. The fourth side is open, exposing the cork. The idea is that the cork is hard enough to provide the birds a tough substance to chip away at but is soft enough for them to still make progress. Here’s a photo essay and video of what happened…

On February 3, 2014, I used a tool to make a small indent in the hard cork on the front of the nest box and installed the box in the yellow-napped woodpecker’s Picus chlorolophus exhibit, which is just up the hill from the turtle exhibit on Tiger Trail.

#1: On February 3, 2014, I used a tool to make a small indent in the hard cork on the front of the nest box and installed the box in the yellow-napped woodpecker’s Picus chlorolophus exhibit, which is just up the hill from the turtle exhibit on Tiger Trail.

Within hours, the male was clinging to the front of the nest box and was working away at the starter hole I had made! You can see that the woodpeckers are much better at making circles than I am…how embarrassing.

Within hours, the male was clinging to the front of the nest box and was working away at the starter hole I had made! You can see that the woodpeckers are much better at making circles than I am…how embarrassing.

After congratulating myself for thinking about making the starter hole, I walked into work on February 9 to see this. Hmm, obviously I didn’t put the starter hole in the right place and the birds had come up with their own location.

After congratulating myself for thinking about making the starter hole, I walked into work on February 9 to see this. Hmm, obviously I didn’t put the starter hole in the right place and the birds had come up with their own location.

By February 16, though, the birds had come up with an even better spot!

By February 16, though, the birds had come up with an even better spot!

 A week later, the three holes look like a surprised cork ghost...

A week later, the three holes look like a surprised cork ghost…

 ...and by March 16, a scared cork ghost!

…and by March 16, a scared cork ghost!

It has been such a joy these past few weeks to see both of the woodpeckers engaging in their natural nesting behavior. At the time of this writing, the bottom hole is the most extensive cavity that reaches to the very bottom of the nest. The upper right hole is also large but does not extend or break through to the bottom hole. And the top center hole—the one I helpfully started for them—nothing. I think they just worked on it to be nice.

The video below is not the up-close-and-personal video I’ve tried to show in the past. But I think it is great in that it was taken from the guest walkway and is exactly what observant—and lucky—guests might be able to see for themselves! In the video, the woodpecker is “corkpecking” and chipping away at the material. Later in the day, I was delighted to see the female’s pointy beak emerge full of loose bits of cork. She spat the cork out, ducked back into the nest, and emerged seconds later with another mouthful of excavated cork. How cool!

Woodpecker Video

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, A Trick up Her “Sleeves.”

29

Yun Zi in China

Yun Zi arrives in the quarantine area.

Yun Zi arrives in the quarantine area. Photo credit: Wolong

Life is Good in Dujiangyan

We were all sad to see giant panda Yun Zi leave the San Diego Zoo and move to China, and honestly, we all miss him! However, we were not surprised to hear reports from keeper Jennifer Becerra (see Yun Zi Travels to China) that he traveled well, and it looked like the transition to his new life in China would be very smooth.

Yun Zi explores his new digs.

Yun Zi explores his new digs. Photo credit: Wolong

The changes a panda might experience when he or she moves to a new, far-away home include some changes in diet, new voices, different smells, and, for bears heading to China, the presence of a larger population of other pandas. Experiencing these novel stimuli for the first time may be both challenging and exciting for a young panda, and given Yun Zi’s generally spirited personality, I have no doubt that this was very exciting for him!

A good place to leave a scent mark?

A good place to leave a scent mark? Photo credit: Wolong

Yun Zi is now living at the Duijiangyan Base (part of the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas), where there are 21 pandas, including 10 adults. Reports from our colleagues indicate that he is doing very well. Now 4½ years old, Yun Zi is approaching adulthood, but he is not yet of breeding age. That said, this breeding season could provide Yun Zi with some indirect experience, as he may hear the vocal communication of courting pandas at the facility and potentially catch the scent of a panda female in estrus. In a couple of years, he may be ready to experience panda courtship firsthand, but for now, he is simply enjoying spring in the Sichuan Province.

Megan Owen is an associate director with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post,
Panda News: The Good and the Bittersweet
.

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Diving into the Gene Pool

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online.  Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Zoo InternQuest visited the Genetics Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and even had a chat with the well-known Dr. Oliver Ryder, an important figure in the animal conservation community.

My fellow intern Kalee is looking through a microscope. At the lab, we all had the opportunity to view fibroblast cells of Gymnogyps californianus, better known as the California condor. Cells of the California condor are stored at the Frozen Zoo®, where there are already at least 9,000 samples are being preserved.

My fellow intern Kalee is looking through a microscope. At the lab, we all had the opportunity to view fibroblast cells of Gymnogyps californianus, better known as the California condor. Cells of the California condor are stored at the Frozen Zoo®, where there are already at least 9,000 samples being preserved.

Pictured here are the incubators that contain fibroblast tissue cell cultures. Each species must have their cells kept at a specific temperature. This is important to ensure the integrity of the sample and prevent the deterioration of the DNA within.

Pictured here are the incubators that contain fibroblast tissue cell cultures. Each species must have their cells kept at a specific temperature. This is important to ensure the integrity of the sample and prevent the deterioration of the DNA within.

At the lab, we were shown examples of specimens that can be used for DNA extraction. At first, I thought that it would only be blood or hair follicles, but I learned that extractions can come from a variety of items, like an eggshell membrane or even feces.

At the lab, we were shown examples of specimens that can be used for DNA extraction. At first, I thought that it would only be blood or hair follicles, but I learned that extractions can come from a variety of items, like an eggshell membrane or even feces.

Meet Heidi Davis. She is a Research Coordinator for the Genetics Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Ms. Davis practices molecular genetics and is an expert in paternity testing. If the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park ever need to know who fathered a newborn baby, she's the one to call. She even does species identification by analyzing samples, such as the feces or hair, of unknown animals.

Meet Heidi Davis. She is a Research Coordinator for the Genetics Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Ms. Davis practices molecular genetics and is an expert in paternity testing. If the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park ever need to know who fathered a newborn baby, she’s the one to call. She even does species identification by analyzing samples, such as the feces or hair, of unknown animals.

Asako Navarro is a Research Technician and also works in the Genetics Division, prepared an activity for us to sex California condors in the lab. These amazing birds are sexually monomorphic (meaning both genders look exactly the same). The only efficient way to determine a bird’s gender is by analyzing its DNA.

Asako Navarro, a Research Technician and also working in the Genetics Division, prepared an activity for us to sex California condors in the lab. These amazing birds are sexually monomorphic (meaning both genders look exactly the same). The only efficient way to determine a bird’s gender is by analyzing its DNA.

One of the genetic techniques used in sexing is known as PCR, which stands for polymerase chain reaction. PCR is used to clone a specific gene over and over again until there are millions of copies. With these copies, geneticists can use the DNA in a variety of ways, for sequencing, microsatellite analysis, or paternity determination.

One of the genetic techniques used in sexing is known as PCR, which stands for polymerase chain reaction. PCR is used to clone a specific gene over and over again until there are millions of copies. With these copies, geneticists can use the DNA in a variety of ways, for sequencing, microsatellite analysis, or paternity determination.

The Frozen Zoo® stores animal DNA samples, mostly from mammals, at a temperature of  -196 degrees Celsius. The staff at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are working to add more species to the mix, like birds and reptiles. The Frozen Zoo® is an important conservation component because it provides a unique resource for future generations of science, especially as they pertain to endangered or extinct species.

The Frozen Zoo® stores animal DNA samples, mostly from mammals. The staff at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are working to add more species to the mix, like birds and reptiles. The Frozen Zoo® is an important conservation component because it provides a unique resource for future generations of science, especially as they pertain to endangered or extinct species.

 

Dr. Oliver Ryder, Director of the Genetics Division, shared a few examples of how genetic rescues are conducted. For example, when cougars in Florida were showing signs of genetic mutations, such as kinked tails and infertile males, scientists decided to bring cougars from Texas and allow them to breed with the Florida population. Eventually, a more genetically diverse population was created.

Dr. Oliver Ryder, Director of the Genetics Division, shared a few examples of how genetic rescues are conducted. For example, when cougars in Florida were showing signs of genetic mutations, such as kinked tails and infertile males, scientists decided to bring cougars from Texas and allow them to breed with the Florida population. Eventually, a more genetically diverse population was created.

 

Dr. Oliver Ryder also discussed a popular topic: bringing back the woolly mammoth. He said that many scientists have pondered bringing back this species, along with others like the Siberian tiger. He explained, however, that extinction happens for a reason, and one concern would be that these species no longer have a role in the ecosystem and could also potentially bring back unknown diseases.

Dr. Ryder also discussed a popular topic: bringing back the woolly mammoth. He said that scientists have pondered bringing back this species, along with others like the Siberian tiger. He explained, however, that extinction happens for a reason, and one concern would be that these species no longer have a role in the ecosystem and could also potentially bring back unknown diseases.

Samantha, Photography Team
Week Four, Winter Session 2014

0

Butterflies Prepare to Take Flight at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Butterfly pupaeMarci Rimlinger, a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, checked on some blue morpho butterfly pupae that are getting ready to emerge as butterflies this morning at the Safari Park. Shipments of butterfly pupae (also known as chrysalides) have been arriving at the Safari Park over the past few weeks, each carrying between 500 and 700 pupae of various butterfly species. The delicate pupae will be cared for by animal care staff until ready to emerge as butterflies and be released in the Hidden Jungle aviary for the Butterfly Jungle event.

After the butterfly pupae shipments arrive, animal care staff sorts and counts every pupae before carefully placing each chrysalis into a secure space in the butterfly facility. The chrysalides will stay in that position until the butterflies are ready to emerge, at which point they will be let out from a special release box into an aviary filled with tropical plants and trees.
“Not only do you see these magnificent butterfly species from tropical areas around the world, we also have bird species from Africa such as various finches and turacos that co-exist very well with the butterflies,” animal care manager Don Sterner said.
Each year, guests at the Safari Park can see thousands of butterflies as they walk through an aviary filled with the flying creatures during Butterfly Jungle. The 30 butterfly species highlighted this year hail from Africa, Asia and Central and South America and include the zebra longwing, orange-barred tiger and Grecian shoemaker. Old favorites such as the monarch, giant swallowtail and blue morpho will be there as well. There are 15 bird species that co-exist with the butterflies in the Hidden Jungle aviary. Guests can be on the lookout for some new bird species in the aviary this year: red-crested turacos and sunbirds.

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

4

San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Baby Gorilla and Mother Venture Outside for First Time

Gorilla Imani, BabyA new mother gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park ventured outdoors this morning, March 25, 2014, for the first time with her 13-day-old baby girl. The mother, Imani, and baby were only physically introduced to each other 24 hours earlier, and this was the first time the other gorillas in the troop were able to be in close proximity with the mother and baby.

The animal care team offered Imani access to the outdoor exhibit, with the remainder of the gorilla troop coming outside shortly afterward. Imani walked into the exhibit, cradling her baby, and began foraging and eating some greens. She then found a warm alcove and nursed her baby. The other gorillas – an adult male, three adult females, and two young males – appeared remotely curious about the baby, with Monroe, the troop’s 2-year-old male, showing the most interest.

The baby was born at the Safari Park on March 12 after an emergency C-section was needed. Since the physical introduction occurred, Imani has been extremely attached to her baby, holding and constantly carrying her.

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