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The Evidence is in the Slides

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

 This week, interns had the opportunity to meet with Megan McCarthy, Resident Zoological Pathologist, and Yvonne Cates, Histology Technician, to learn about what happens to an animal after it dies. Animals from both the Zoo and Safari Park come to the Wildlife Disease Labs to be examined in order to try to determine the cause of death. The most common animals are small birds, but the pathologists work with deceased animals as large as an elephant.

Megan McCarthy is a Resident Zoological Pathologist at the Zoo. She first received an undergraduate degree in economics before deciding to go back to school to study to be a vet. After graduating from vet school from NC State, Dr. McCarthy applied to UC Davis to do a residency program to learn about being a zoo pathologist. She currently works with five other zoological pathologists at the zoo.

Megan McCarthy is a Resident Zoological Pathologist at the Zoo. She first received an undergraduate degree in economics before deciding to go back to school to study to be a vet. After graduating from vet school from NC State, Dr. McCarthy applied to UC Davis to do a residency program to learn about being a zoo pathologist. She currently works with five other zoological pathologists at the zoo.

Interns first walked to the Wildlife Disease Lab, part of the Zoological Hospital and Biological Research Center, to began to explore the process of examining a deceased animal. Here, Dr. McCarthy showed us a presentation depicting what she does every day and why it is important to pay attention to the animals that have passed. Included in the presentation were three cases that the interns worked through to determine the possible cause of death of each animal.

Interns first walked to the Wildlife Disease Lab, part of the Zoological Hospital and Biological Research Center, to began to explore the process of examining a deceased animal. Here, Dr. McCarthy showed us a presentation depicting what she does every day and why it is important to pay attention to the animals that have passed. Included in the presentation were three cases that the interns worked through to determine the possible cause of death of each animal.

Half of Dr. McCarthy’s job involves working at her microscope and analyzing tissue samples on the cellular level. As a pathologist, she looks at possible pathogens found in an animal that may have been the cause of death. In some cases, such as when dealing with a virus, Dr. McCarthy is unable to see the true pathogen and instead looks for signs that the pathogen did pass through the specific area. Those working in molecular pathology will take this a step further and use a scanning electron microscope to analyze the sample on a molecular level.

Half of Dr. McCarthy’s job involves working at her microscope and analyzing tissue samples on the cellular level. As a pathologist, she looks at possible pathogens found in an animal that may have been the cause of death. In some cases, such as when dealing with a virus, Dr. McCarthy is unable to see the true pathogen and instead looks for signs that the pathogen did pass through the specific area. Those working in molecular pathology will take this a step further and use a scanning electron microscope to analyze the sample on a molecular level.

After a quick introduction, interns walked to the histology lab to find out what it takes to make the samples of animal tissue visible under the microscope. There are many steps that go into preparing these slides, and a great deal of care goes into it. One slip up could prevent the zoological pathologists to properly analyze the sample for the animal’s cause of death.

After a quick introduction, interns walked to the histology lab to find out what it takes to make the samples of animal tissue visible under the microscope. There are many steps that go into preparing these slides, and a great deal of care goes into it. One slip up could prevent the zoological pathologists to properly analyze the sample for the animal’s cause of death.

Yvette Cates is a Histology Technician in charge of preparing the samples. In the containers are tissue samples taken by the zoological pathologists from various parts of the deceased animals. The tissue samples are currently being ‘fixed’ by using formalin to denature the proteins and stop the process of the tissues breaking down.

Yvette Cates is a Histology Technician in charge of preparing the samples. In the containers are tissue samples taken by the zoological pathologists from various parts of the deceased animals. The tissue samples are currently being ‘fixed’ by using formalin to denature the proteins and stop the process of the tissues breaking down.

After fixing, the samples are put into this machine to remove the excess water and replace the open spots with paraffin. This process takes 6 to 8 hours, so Ms. Cates leaves the machine to do its job overnight. The paraffin makes the tissue samples last for a long time; some of the tissue samples in the histology lab are from over 30 years ago.

After fixing, the samples are put into this machine to remove the excess water and replace the open spots with paraffin. This process takes 6 to 8 hours, so Ms. Cates leaves the machine to do its job overnight. The paraffin makes the tissue samples last for a long time; some of the tissue samples in the histology lab are from over 30 years ago.

After being sliced, the tissue samples are moved to this machine to stain different parts of the cells. Each color will highlight a different structure when placed under the microscope. Some of the stains are made in the histology lab by following a recipe, and others are ordered from various places across the country.

After being sliced, the tissue samples are moved to this machine to stain different parts of the cells. Each color will highlight a different structure when placed under the microscope. Some of the stains are made in the histology lab by following a recipe, and others are ordered from various places across the country.

Once stained, the tissue sample slides are ready to be examined by the zoological pathologists. Each case requires a different amount of slides, with a small frog requiring only a couple and a large elephant requiring dozens. This is because more samples are taken from various parts of the same tissue to ensure a good representation of the organ as a whole.

Once stained, the tissue sample slides are ready to be examined by the zoological pathologists. Each case requires a different amount of slides, with a small frog requiring only a couple and a large elephant requiring dozens. This is because more samples are taken from various parts of the same tissue to ensure a good representation of the organ as a whole.

Occasionally, a different type of process needs to be done to show the animal’s structure as a whole. In the case of this frog, all of the tissues were left transparent and only the skeletal structure was stained. This frog had some leg abnormalities, so only staining the skeletal structure made it easier to find where the problem started.

Occasionally, a different type of process needs to be done to show the animal’s structure as a whole. In the case of this frog, all of the tissues were left transparent and only the skeletal structure was stained. This frog had some leg abnormalities, so only staining the skeletal structure made it easier to find where the problem started.

Next, interns visited the building where the necropsies take place. A necropsy for an animal is used in the same way that an autopsy would be used for humans. The deceased animals are taken here to receive a gross examination and have samples taken from various parts of their anatomy.

Next, interns visited the building where the necropsies take place. A necropsy for an animal is used in the same way that an autopsy would be used for humans. The deceased animals are taken here to receive a gross examination and have samples taken from various parts of their anatomy.

Before entering the necropsy room, interns were required to wear plastic shoe coverings to prevent contaminants from entering the building. In between every animal necropsy, tools and tables are sanitized to prevent the spread of disease and to help properly determine the animal’s specific cause of death. When leaving the necropsy building, it was also required for interns to step through a footbath.

Before entering the necropsy room, interns were required to wear plastic shoe coverings to prevent contaminants from entering the building. In between every animal necropsy, tools and tables are sanitized to prevent the spread of disease and to help properly determine the animal’s specific cause of death. When leaving the necropsy building, it was also required for interns to step through a footbath.

Lastly, Dr. McCarthy showed us some preserved samples taken from animals. Here, a horn is being compared to an antler in terms of bone structure and composition. Other animal sections included a section of a deer’s brain, a cross section of an elephant’s foot, and a skull from a hippo.

Lastly, Dr. McCarthy showed us some preserved samples taken from animals. Here, a horn is being compared to an antler in terms of bone structure and composition. Other animal sections included a section of a deer’s brain, a cross section of an elephant’s foot, and a skull from a hippo.

Kylie, Photo
Week Five, Fall 2015

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Get Your Zoo News from ZOONOOZ

As Yun Zi discovered in 2010, a new location can deliver better views!

As Yun Zi discovered in 2010, a new location can deliver better views!

We’re excited to announce a new home for stories and updates about the animals and conservation work of San Diego Zoo Global: the ZOONOOZ website!  For the first time, the amazing stories, photos, and videos that have only been available via our printed magazine and app will be available to just about everyone. Anyone with a web browser—on any device—can enjoy the fun, interesting, and informative tales we share.

Blogs published in 2015 have been re-homed at the new location, and this site will continue to exist as an archive of past years’ stories and information.

The search function on the new site will help you find stories about the species you particularly enjoy reading about, but we encourage everyone to explore and scroll through the topic headings—you’re sure to discover some new favorites!

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Northern White Rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Undergoes Procedure for Chronic Infection

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Nola’s procedure went well and she is eating and walking normally.

Nola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhinoceros who has been under medical care since early September, underwent a surgical procedure earlier today at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Veterinarians caring for the elderly Nola had performed multiple procedures and diagnostic tests over the past few months to pinpoint the source of a chronic draining tract near her right hip. A perirectal abscess—a large accumulation of infectious material in the tissues around the rectum—was identified deep to the animal’s pelvis using ultrasound, and was surgically drained earlier this morning.

“Using local anesthesia and a mild sedative, we were able to access the area of infection and establish drainage,” said Nadine Lamberski, associate director of veterinary services, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We hope this procedure will resolve the infection Nola has had for many months now, and she certainly should feel better in the days to come.”

To perform the procedure, Nola was walked into a protective chute inside a boma (corral) in her African Plains habitat. The protective chute allowed the veterinary team to perform the surgical procedure without having any unprotected contact with the gentle, but powerful 4,500-pound rhino, were she to move suddenly or try to walk away during the procedure. She was given mild sedation, allowing her to remain awake and standing for the procedure. Her primary keepers stayed with Nola the entire time, keeping her calm by rubbing her back, head and ears.

Immediately after the procedure, Nola was able to walk out of the chute into the boma, where she will remain for the next few weeks. Keepers will monitor her closely and attempt to keep the incision site clean. Nola appears to be feeling well, and she is eating and walking normally.

Nola is one of just four northern white rhinos remaining in the world. Three other northern white rhinos are under human care in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Northern white rhinos are at the brink of extinction due to poaching for their horn. San Diego Zoo Global is working to save the genome of this rhino subspecies through the collection of genetic material preserved in the Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, where researchers also are working to develop and implement assisted reproductive technologies to save the northern white rhino.

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

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Conservation Kitchen

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

Camille_W4_picThe nutrition of the animals is a top priority for the personnel working at the Zoo and Safari Park. Last week the interns got to meet with Michael Schlegel, the Director of Nutritional Services, and Katie Kerr, an Associate Nutritionist for the San Diego Zoo. They are two of three nutritionists in charge of creating and adjusting the diets for over 7,000 animals! The work that they do helps ensure each animal is receiving the proper nutrients they need to live a long and healthy life. The interns got to see just a few of the animals in their care as they took us on a miniature tour of the Zoo.

So, how does nutrition help with conservation efforts? Well first of all, when the animals have healthy diets it increases the species sustainability as healthy animals are more likely to reproduce.

The Nutritionists take special care to replicate each animal’s natural diet to make sure they are getting everything they need. If an animal does not receive all the nutrients they need, they run the risk of becoming sick; which is why the job of a Nutritionist is so important to a zoo! When an animal does fall ill, Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr can adjust and create new diets to help the animal have a fast and safe recovery. The health of each animal at the Zoo and Safari Park is an important part of the overall conservation of their entire species.

In addition to developing diets for animals that are sick, Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr can create diets for reproductive purposes. When they are creating these diets they try to maintain proper levels of vitamin A and E to help with the fertility of the animals. The female animals that are ready to breed also need to maintain a healthy weight to help regulate their cycles and fertility. The Nutritionists just recently needed to change the diets of the elephants at the Zoo. They found that if the elephants were overweight then their calves would be too large which resulted in difficulties during birth. They also recently changed the diets for the southern white rhinos. The phytoestrogen that were once in their diets were removed and replaced with beta-carotene to help with their reproductive health. Each individual diet has a very significant impact on the reproduction rates for the animals at the Zoo and the Safari Park.

The work that the nutritionists do also serves to help with environmental conservation. When there is a team of nutritionists creating the diets there is significantly less waste produced. They are able to streamline the whole process of what foods are to be purchased and where it is to be purchased from. They also lower the Zoo’s carbon footprint by purchasing the extra meat from processors making products for human consumption.

The job of a nutritionist is never done, as they are always working to maintain and improve the health and happiness of the animals at the Zoo. They are also a very important piece of the puzzle in regards to the many conservation efforts the Zoo and Safari Park have in place. What can we do to help in these efforts? One option is being aware of your carbon footprint that is created when food products are shipped long distances. Buying local and in season can assist in significantly lowering your footprint!

Camille, Conservation Team
Week Four, Fall 2015

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Animal Weight Watchers

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 jobs, and the blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

 Last Thursday, the interns met with Dr. Mike Schlegel and Dr. Katie Kerr. Dr. Schlegel is the Director of Nutritional Services and Dr. Kerr is an Associate Nutritionist. They are responsible for creating diets to give to the forage warehouse to later be given to the animals at the Zoo. Interns spent the day in the classroom as well as throughout different areas in the Zoo, learning more about animal nutrition.

The day started in the education classroom as Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr discussed their career paths and also their daily job tasks. Interns took notes as Dr. Schlegel talked about his road to becoming the Director of Nutritional Services. He received a degree in Animal Production from Pennsylvania State University before getting both his Master’s and Doctorate in Ruminant Nutrition from Michigan State University. Dr. Schlegel then took on a number of jobs and research positions before ending up at the San Diego Zoo.

The day started in the education classroom as Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr discussed their career paths and also their daily job tasks. Interns took notes as Dr. Schlegel talked about his road to becoming the Director of Nutritional Services. He received a degree in Animal Production from Pennsylvania State University before getting both his Master’s and Doctorate in Ruminant Nutrition from Michigan State University. Dr. Schlegel then took on a number of jobs and research positions before ending up at the San Diego Zoo.

Pictured above are Dr. Schlegel and the interns on their way to the Galápagos tortoise exhibit. Dr. Schlegel is the Director of Nutritional Services. His main job is supervising his team in creating and changing diets. He also evaluates body condition of the animals, communicates with other zoos about diet information, and formulates diets for reproduction, lactation, and hand rearing. Dr. Schlegel’s job is extremely important to the well being of the animals and the productivity of the Zoo.

Pictured above are Dr. Schlegel and the interns on their way to the Galápagos tortoise exhibit. Dr. Schlegel is the Director of Nutritional Services. His main job is supervising his team in creating and changing diets. He also evaluates body condition of the animals, communicates with other zoos about diet information, and formulates diets for reproduction, lactation, and hand rearing. Dr. Schlegel’s job is extremely important to the well being of the animals and the productivity of the Zoo.

You can find a number of these hibiscus flowers all around the Zoo. These vibrant plants come in a multitude of different colors, including red, white, yellow and orange. On our way to the flamingo exhibit, Dr. Schlegel stated that almost all of the hibiscus plants grown in the Zoo are used for food. He also noted that the tortoises especially love eating the flowers!

You can find a number of these hibiscus flowers all around the Zoo. These vibrant plants come in a multitude of different colors, including red, white, yellow and orange. On our way to the flamingo exhibit, Dr. Schlegel stated that almost all of the hibiscus plants grown in the Zoo are used for food. He also noted that the tortoises especially love eating the flowers!

The Galapagos tortoises are an excellent example of the importance of diet changes. Dr. Schlegel stated that about two years ago, the tortoises’ diet was changed from high calories to high protein. This had many positive impacts on the tortoises’ health. Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr take pride in finding different ways to help the animals.

The Galapagos tortoises are an excellent example of the importance of diet changes. Dr. Schlegel stated that about two years ago, the tortoises’ diet was changed from high calories to high protein. This had many positive impacts on the tortoises’ health. Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr take pride in finding different ways to help the animals.

Pictured above is fellow intern, Riley posing in front of the flamingo exhibit. The Zoo is home to a huge flamboyance of Caribbean flamingos. These awesome birds are known for their long necks, skinny legs and deep pink-orange color. Dr. Schlegel and the nutritional services department have created a pellet food to replace their typical diet. This is not only less expensive for the Zoo to produce, but also makes it possible to know exactly what the flamingos are eating.

Pictured above is fellow intern, Riley posing in front of the flamingo exhibit. The Zoo is home to a huge flamboyance of Caribbean flamingos. These awesome birds are known for their long necks, skinny legs and deep pink-orange color. Dr. Schlegel and the nutritional services department have created a pellet food to replace their typical diet. This is not only less expensive for the Zoo to produce, but also makes it possible to know exactly what the flamingos are eating.

In the wild, flamingos get their color from their natural diets of algae and shrimp. Dr. Schlegel and the rest of his team have replicated this by infusing their food pellets with carotenoid pigments. Carotenoids are the same things that make carrots orange, bell peppers red, and spinach green! The pigment used at the Zoo, called canthaxanthin, promotes good health and provides the flamingos in the Zoo with their bright color.

In the wild, flamingos get their color from their natural diets of algae and shrimp. Dr. Schlegel and the rest of his team have replicated this by infusing their food pellets with carotenoid pigments. Carotenoids are the same things that make carrots orange, bell peppers red, and spinach green! The pigment used at the Zoo, called canthaxanthin, promotes good health and provides the flamingos in the Zoo with their bright color.

When we visited the Hippo Trail, Dr. Schlegel taught us some important facts that contribute to the dietary needs of the pygmy hippopotamuses. I learned that pygmy hippos, like a few other animal species, have stomachs with multiple chambers. Dr. Schlegel also added that this adaptation makes pygmy hippos capable of digesting high fiber food in the wild. Dr. Schlegel and his team have to take facts like these into account when creating and adjusting animal diets. When we visited the Hippo Trail, Dr. Schlegel taught us some important facts that contribute to the dietary needs of the pygmy hippopotamuses. I learned that pygmy hippos, like a few other animal species, have stomachs with multiple chambers. Dr. Schlegel also added that this adaptation makes pygmy hippos capable of digesting hig

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The Quest to Preserve for Future Generations

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 adventure here on the Zoos website!

Lauren_W4_picOn Wednesday, October 28, 2015, the interns met with Dr. Christopher Tubbs, a Scientist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research who works in the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory. In the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory, the main goal for the scientists is to help ensure the reproductive success of the animals at the Zoo and Safari Park. Dr. Tubbs works to preserve and allow endangered and threatened species to have the best possible chance to reproduce.

Dr. Tubbs has been involved with projects involving fertility of southern white rhinos and the marine environment effects on California condors in their reproductive stage. In the lab, Dr. Tubbs does blood tests to determine the hormone levels of the animals. Through the blood test, the scientists can look at the hormones such as their estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is high during the reproductive cycle. However, it is unrealistic for Dr. Tubbs to take multiple blood samples from the species to determine their hormone levels. Instead, keepers gather urine and feces samples, and then Dr. Tubbs and his team can monitor the animals’ reproductive cycles and their hormone levels.

While working in the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory, Dr. Tubbs gets samples of rhino feces every week. After the feces have been tested, Dr. Tubbs makes a graph of the data from black, southern white and greater one-horned rhinos. When the rhinos show elevated progesterone levels, it means that they are possibly ovulating or pregnant.

The graphs from the hormone data gathered from animal’s feces are very important in certain animals such as pandas. Being solitary by nature, female and male pandas have to stay in separate enclosures because they will become aggressive. When a female panda’s progesterone levels peak, she may be ready for reproduction. Female giant pandas only ovulate a few days out of the year, so it is crucial that the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory notify the keeper once this occurs to introduce the male panda to the female panda otherwise they will miss the opportunity for breeding.

Dr. Tubbs is also working on a diet change for the southern white rhinos to ensure that they are able to reproduce. The pellets, which make up a high percentage of the southern white rhino’s diet contained phytoestrogens that can cause reproductive problems for this species of rhino. In response to this discovery, Dr. Tubbs had bars put in place over the field feeding troughs to keep the southern white rhinos from eating the pellets that contained high levels of phytoestrogens. Dr. Tubbs’ says his job is rewarding because he is able to make a difference in preserving various animal species and is able to raise awareness and to explain how chemicals affect the environments where the different species live.

Lauren, Conservation Team
Week Four, Fall 2015

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Nutrition for the Zoo and Beyond

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 adventure here on the Zoo’s website!

Dawn_W4_picThis week, the interns met the “executive chefs” of the Zoo and Safari Park, the nutritionists. Director of Nutritional Services, Michael Schlegel, PhD., as well as Associate Nutritionist, Katie Kerr, PhD., showed us around the Zoo and explained the variety of diets they use for the animals. As nutritionists, their jobs mainly encompass managing diets for the animals and giving individual animals body condition evaluations, which is similar to the BMI scale for people. These body condition scores tell nutritionists, veterinarians, and keepers if the animal is underweight, normal or overweight. With this information, nutritionists and veterinarians learn if and what they need to change in an animal’s diet to keep it as healthy as possible, just like how people get check-ups, and doctors will often tell their patients to monitor and change their carbohydrate, sodium, cholesterol, sugar, etc. intake to try and avoid health problems.

Just like humans, it’s good for animals to have as much variety as possible in their diet, and everything in moderation. You wouldn’t want to eat only pizza every day for the rest of your life, right? Well, maybe… but it’s not good for you. To achieve variety, in addition to their daily mandatory diets, nutritionists provide enrichment food items, which the keepers can mix and match to find what the animal likes.

For primates, Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr devised a point system, similar to Weight Watchers, to monitor the enrichment food items given to primates. The primates are given a certain allotment of enrichment points in their diet, and different items are worth different amounts of points, depending on their nutritional value. For example, a serving of grapenut cereal is worth 4 points, while a hard-boiled egg is worth 1½point. This way, primates can have unusual and tasty items, while also staying within their nutritional boundaries.

As you can see, Zoo diets aren’t necessarily restricted to specialty feeds and fresh fruit and vegetables. Carnivorous birds, or birds of prey, get dry dog food in their diets because it has essential nutrients that the birds need. One of Dr. Schlegel’s most memorable cases as a Zoo Nutritionist was the small and colorful beautiful sunbird. Two of the Zoo’s beautiful sunbirds had chicks, and for some reason, they weren’t eating their normal diet. Eventually, they realized that the birds ate spiders, so Dr. Schlegel was able to obtain spiders from a company that originally raised spiders for use in the pharmaceutical industry.

Instead of shrimp, because it’s very expensive, Zoo flamingos actually get carotenoid vitamins added to their diets. The specific carotenoid used by Nutritional Services is called lutein. Lutein helps the flamingos to achieve their signature pink color, but it is also used in the medical industry for human eye health. It’s known as the “eye vitamin,” and helps prevent eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts by acting as a sort of light filter, protecting eye tissues from sunlight damage.

Sometimes, zoo nutrition also overlaps outside of the Zoo. Some exotic feeds which were originally specially made for zoos and exotic animals have made their way into the pet food industry. For example, a specialty feed for crickets made for zoos is now used by many pet reptile owners to feed their crickets, which are in turn used to feed their reptiles.

As a cat owner, Dr. Schlegel advises fellow cat owners to feed their cats strictly cat food because it contains everything your cat needs, although he and his family may be a little lenient about their own cats’ diets. Although the Schlegel’s do feed their cats dairy products sometimes, Dr. Schlegel advises not to because domestic cats have lost the ability to digest lactose properly, a key ingredient in dairy products.

There’s no doubt that Dr. Schlegel’s and Dr. Kerr’s work is tailored to benefit zoo animals, but it also can carry over to our everyday lives. Like zoo nutritionists, it’s important to monitor your animals’ diets, because keeping your animals healthy and happy is quintessential. Certain food items may be very detrimental to your pet’s health, while others may be good for them, so always do your research and think before you feed.

Dawn, Real World Team
Week Four, Fall 2015

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Totally [Test] Tubular!

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 jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

shannon_W4_pic2The San Diego Zoo Global is famous for their success in breeding endangered and at risk species, specifically rhinos. This week we had the opportunity to meet one of the people who is part of one of the most successful breeding programs at the Zoo. Dr. Chris Tubbs, scientist at the Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, gave us a tour of his team’s lab and showed us how he works with southern white rhino reproduction.

Breeding animals isn’t as simple as placing a male and female together in the same enclosure, there is much more going on behind the scenes. Most of what happens to bring a new baby animal into the world begins in the lab with test tubes, samples, and hours of analysis. Dr. Tubbs and his team examine the hormones that are present in pregnancy and reproductive cycles. Hormones are chemical messengers that are released into the blood stream in order to trigger reactions. By testing and studying the hormones in the animals, Dr. Tubbs and his team can watch for changes in the amount of hormones which are associated with pregnancy.

Sampling and testing the animals for hormone levels is not that easy…do you know any 5,000lb rhinos that will happily cooperate with a large needle drawing their blood daily? Dr. Tubbs and his team have a more efficient way of doing things- though much more stinky. This is where the poop comes in! Weekly samples collected by the keepers are perfect for studying hormones from each animal. Dr. Tubbs explained that each waste sample is dried out, placed in a chemical solvent (like alcohol), and the hormones can then be extracted. The hormone levels are then charted to compare the levels of each hormone over time. For example, southern white rhino feces is sampled for levels of Progesterone which is a hormone produced by the female reproductive system. What Dr. Tubbs’s is looking for is high levels, or spikes, in the graph of progesterone to see if the rhino, or any other mammal, could be pregnant or ovulating (producing an egg). Similarly, when a human is pregnant or ovulating, there are higher levels of the HCG hormone that show up on a pregnancy test.

Recently, Dr. Tubbs had a new diet passed for the rhinos that could be very promising in the world of zoo-born animal reproduction. There has been a history of southern white rhinos raised in a zoo setting struggling with fertility and becoming pregnant. Dr. Tubbs explained that our environment and food intake has a large impact on our health and the same goes for animals. When looking into why the zoo-born rhinos were struggling with fertility, the team discovered that certain chemicals in the pellets that the animals are eating contain phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens, found in soy and alfalfa, are chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen which is linked with the female reproductive system. By mimicking estrogen, the animal’s body is tricked into thinking it doesn’t have to produce more estrogen and that greatly reduces their fertility. Dr. Tubbs’s team, working with the Zoo’s nutritionists, has produced a diet with less of these phytoestrogens in the hopes that the zoo-born southern white rhinos have a greater likelihood of producing offspring.

Hormones play a big role in the success of reproduction just like Dr. Tubbs plays a big role in aiding the Zoo’s rhino mothers. With the help of scientists like those in the reproductive physiology team, the San Diego Zoo can maintain its reputation of world renowned breeding facility. And, who knows, Dr. Tubbs and his team’s studies of hormones and diets could change zoo reproductive success for the better!

Shannon, Conservation Team
Week Four, Fall 2015

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Life in a Laboratory

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, then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Naomi_W4_picDr. Chris Tubbs is in the business of babies – but not human babies, and not as a keeper with animal babies. Nope, Dr. Tubbs is a Scientist, working off exhibit to uncover the details of animal fertility and pregnancy throughout the Zoo and Safari Park. And how does he do that? With poop.

Dr. Tubbs is one of about a dozen staff in the Reproductive Physiology Department at the Institute for Conservation Research. His focus is on molecular endocrinology: the study of hormones. Hormones are the chemical messengers of an organism, and their presence can be a signal of what’s going on inside the body. Dr. Tubbs uses these hormone “clues” to figure out when an animal is ovulating, if they are pregnant, and when a mother might have her baby. He can do this by extracting the hormones, specifically progesterone, from poop samples. His analysis of hormone levels plays a huge role in coordinating the birth of babies across the Zoo and Safari Park.

So how does one end up in such a specialized field? Dr. Tubbs said it was a stumble, not a plan, that got him into this line of work. He was studying to be a veterinarian at the University of Florida when he got hooked on lab work in a biology class his sophomore year. He stuck with it, and was soon working on his graduate degree with fish in a marine lab. He knew someone who was working at the Institute for Conservation Research, and they encouraged him to apply for a job there.

Now in his eighth year at the Institute, Dr. Tubbs is working on a project to determine the effects of diet on fertility in southern white rhinos. In addition to lab work, he analyzes and writes papers on his findings. Dr. Tubbs goes to conferences and universities to collaborate and share with other scientists, and speaks with the public, be it potential donors, or interns, like our group.

With so many different things to do, it comes as a surprise that the most challenging part of Dr. Tubbs’ day doesn’t have anything to do with science. Instead, it is convincing other people that the data he collects, pulled solely from the contents of a test tube, can be a reflection of the entire animal that it came from. The challenges, however, do not outweigh the fondness Dr. Tubbs has for his job. He enjoys being able to come up with his own projects and solve puzzles every time he goes in to work.

Dr. Tubbs’ advice to anyone looking to pursue a job as a lab researcher is fairly self-explanatory: get yourself in a lab. You’ll gain experience, get to know people interested in similar fields, and will be showcasing yourself to potential employers the whole time. Networking is a huge part of getting any job, Dr. Tubbs explained, and who you know is very important.

Through his own lab experience and networking, Dr. Tubbs was able to work his way into his current position. Though his job isn’t always glamourous, Dr. Tubbs knows that the research he does helps make breeding programs successful. The results he can glean from a tiny test tube reverberate outwards, helping iconic species in the Zoo, Safari Park, and around the globe.

Naomi, Careers Team
Week 4, Fall 2015

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Big Arrivals at San Diego Zoo Safari Park: Six Southern White Rhinos Arrive from South Africa as Part of Rhino Conservation Initiative

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Six female rhinos that arrived in San Diego will live at the Safari Park’s Rhino Rescue Center.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcomed some big arrivals Thursday evening (Nov. 5): Six southern white rhinos arrived via a chartered MD-11 flight from South Africa. The female rhinos, between four and seven years of age, were relocated to the Safari Park from private reserves in South Africa as part of a collaborative conservation effort to save the critically endangered northern white rhino—and all rhino species—from extinction.

A member of the Safari Park animal care staff flew to South Africa earlier this week to accompany the rhinos, along with a veterinarian from South Africa, on the 22-hour flight from Johannesburg to San Diego. The rhinos were transported in individual crates specially designed for the transport. Upon arrival in San Diego, the crates were loaded onto two flatbed trucks and driven to the Safari Park’s new Rhino Rescue Center, built specifically for the new arrivals. Once at the Park, a team of veterinarians and keepers unloaded the animals into fenced yards, where they will remain under a mandatory quarantine for at least 30 days.

“We are beyond thrilled to welcome these southern white rhinos to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and our new Rhino Rescue Center,” said Steve Metzler, interim associate curator of mammals, who accompanied the animals from South Africa to San Diego. “The animals did extremely well during the flight, eating normally and sleeping a good portion of the long trip. Our priority now is to ensure the rhinos are comfortable and acclimating to their new surroundings.”
San Diego Zoo Global has been working for decades, along with other accredited zoos, to keep a sustainable population of rhinos safe under human care while working to protect them in sanctuaries in the wild. To further this commitment, the Rhino Rescue Center was recently built to house the new southern white rhinos, establishing the Safari Park as a sanctuary to protect these rhinos—at a time when an average of three rhinos are killed each day in the wild by poachers.

Poaching of all rhino species has reached critically high numbers in recent years. A rhino is poached every eight hours in South Africa. Rhinos are poached for their horns, which are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails. At the current rate of poaching, rhinos could become extinct in 15 years.

The northern white rhino is the most critically endangered rhino, with only four individuals remaining in the world. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to Nola, a 41-year-old female northern white rhino. Three other northern white rhinos (one male and two females) are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

The six female southern white rhinos will be a part of San Diego Zoo Global’s science-based rhino conservation efforts to save the northern white rhino. Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, along with collaborators, are developing reproductive techniques to develop northern white rhino embryos (from cells stored in the institute’s Frozen Zoo®) to be implanted in the southern white rhinos, which will serve as surrogate mothers. There are many challenges ahead, but researchers are optimistic a northern white rhino calf could be born from these processes within 10 to 15 years. These technologies may also be applied to other rhino species, including the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

San Diego Zoo Global has one of the most successful rhino breeding programs in the world. To date, a total of 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one-horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos have been born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

For more information on San Diego Zoo Global’s rhino conservation efforts, visit sandiegozoo.org/rhinos.

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

Photo taken on November 5, 2015 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Global

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