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Baby Bonobo Climbs, Plays at San Diego Zoo

PrintThe youngest member of the bonobo troop at the San Diego Zoo could be seen playing, climbing ropes and rolling in the grass on Friday morning, Aug. 28. The female, named Belle, is 20 months old and is one of four bonobos that arrived at the San Diego Zoo last month, from the Cincinnati Zoo. Bonobos live together in integrated family groups. Belle, her mother, older brother and sister integrated easily into the existing bonobo troop providing them the opportunity for the kind of social interaction they would have in the wild.

Bonobos are a very rare and critically endangered great ape species native only to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the wild populations are being decimated at an alarming rate. They are very closely related to humans, sharing 98.4 percent of the same DNA. The San Diego Zoo is one of only a handful of zoological institutions in the United States that house and care for this rare species.

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 inspiring 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.

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

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Punk Rock Polar Bears?

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Polar bears are champion swimmers!

One of the most frequently asked questions during the summer months at Polar Bear Plunge is “Why are the bears green?” The answer may surprise you!

The outer guard hairs on a polar bear’s coat are clear and hollow (like a straw), which means they often take on the color of whatever they happened to roll in. Wild bears mostly have only snow and ice to lie on, so they usually maintain the bright white color that you imagine when you picture a polar bear. Here at the Zoo, we like to provide Kalluk, Tatqiq, and Chinook with as many different substrates in their habitat as we can so that they have options when they choose to rest or roll around. This gives them an opportunity to exhibit species-specific behavior. Throughout their habitat they have access to grass, sand, mulch, dirt, pine needles, hay, and a couple of hammocks made out of used fire hose. You may have seen Chinook masquerading as a brown bear after a prolonged roll in the mulch or dirt.

That brings me back to the original question of “Why are the polar bears green?” Remember those hollow hairs? That tiny space in each hair is a great place for algae to live. The bears’ main exhibit pool is fresh water and during the summer, when the weather is warmer than usual, algae begin to grow on the pool floor. When our bears swim and brush up along the bottom or sides of the pool, they pick up some of the algae, which continue to grow inside the individual hairs! It is not a concern for the bears as we have an elaborate filtration system and excellent water quality team. It is unlikely that they even notice it, but it does give them a bit of a punk rock look. In the winter, around Christmas time, they look downright festive!

The discoloration will last until the bears molt in the springtime. For about two weeks in March to April, our bears glisten with a brilliant white color. Once they start rolling around in all that substrate we provide, they begin to take on the color of their environment and the cycle begins again.

Matthew Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous blog, Springtime for Polar Bears.

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Bottle-fed Giraffe Calf Rejoins Herd at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

SafariParkBlogAnimal care staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are taking extra-special care of one of the giraffe calves in the East Africa habitat. Starting today, Congo, a 2-month-old giraffe calf, will be bottle-fed three times a day while he’s with his herd. Eileen Neff, a senior mammal keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, fed Congo his bottle this morning from the back of a keeper truck. Congo gets 2.6 liters of formula at each feeding—and he finished his bottle in about 5 minutes.

Congo is being bottle-fed by animal care staff following the death of his mother, earlier this month. The giraffe calf, who was born June 22, 2015, began taking bottles from animal care staff while he was being cared for at the Park’s veterinary hospital. He was then transitioned to a boma, or barn, in the East Africa habitat and paired up with a 2-year-old giraffe named Leroy, who was also bottle-fed as a young calf.

Congo and Leroy were re-released into the East Africa exhibit at the Safari Park this morning, and Congo was soon seen playing with two other female calves, Siri and Yamakaui. All three calves were born this summer at the Safari Park.

San Diego Zoo Global is partnering with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to help conserve giraffes in East Africa. This year, a team of scientists from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has been developing a conservation project with Kenyan pastoralists, to find ways to collaborate and protect giraffes in the savanna.

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 inspiring 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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Devi, Cover Girl

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Five-month-old Devi is a bundle of energy with a personality all her own!

Have you seen the August 2015 ZOONOOZ? Hippo calf Devi is the “cover girl”—complete with a model-like, pouty lip. Devi is now five months old and has been growing in both size and personality. It wasn’t that long ago we were straining to get a glimpse of the shy, skittish calf tucked under the chin of Funani, her almost 3,500-pound mom. Nowadays, Devi is doing underwater barrel rolls and cartwheels while Funani tries to keep up! Often, Funani rests her big head on her calf’s back to keep her still, if only for a minute. But if Devi isn’t ready to settle down, she wriggles free to go on to her next adventure.

Some of you might wonder: “When is this happening? Every time I go see them, they are sleeping.” Hippos are naturally nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. Here at the Zoo, the best time to see them active is after they’ve finished breakfast in the barn and go back out to the exhibit—usually right as the Zoo opens—and then later in the afternoon. But keep in mind that, depending on their mood and weather, they can be active anytime.

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Devi often likes to get right up to the window to watch the visitors.

If you witness one of their active times, you will see Devi’s personality shine. There is only one word to describe her: sassy. She often ventures up to the glass to gaze at the visitors while Funani gently nudges her to move along. Then, if they pause on a ramp or a rock, she might initiate a play session with mom. Devi will start with a quick head toss that turns into a nibble on her mother’s ear or mouth and then, ever so gently, Funani opens her large mouth (exposing those enormous teeth) and thus begins the session.

These sessions are teaching Devi valuable life lessons on how to maneuver if and when she has to fight, but for us onlookers these sessions are sweet and smile inducing. Their play sessions on land are something to see, too! Mostly, it’s Devi trying to check out everything around her as she head tosses, nose bumps, bounces, and pivots all at a pace much quicker than Funani who is trying to make sure her “little one” doesn’t get into trouble. It is common to see or hear Funani snort at Devi if she needs to reign in the sass. You can “see” the snort when they are in the water—it’s when a rush of large air bubbles suddenly come from Funani’s nostrils. If you watch closely, you’ll see Devi will change her tune after a snort from mom…usually.

Funani and Devi are scheduled to be in their habitat on Hippo Trail Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends. As always, the schedule is subject to change depending on their needs, but try to come by and see the sassy sweetie soon!

 

Jennifer Chapman is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Hippo Birth: A Private Event.

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One Step Closer To Fledging

Antiki has moved out of the nest box, spending her time on the ledge outside where her parents groom and feed her.

Antiki has moved out of the nest box and is spending her days on the ledge outside where her parents groom and feed her.

As many Condor Cam viewers have experienced, the rearing process for a California condor can be long and slow. It makes sense, though, for a condor to develop so slowly. She has lots of growing to do. When our chick, Antiki, hatched, she weighed approximately 6.35 ounces (180 grams). When she reaches her fledge weight of 17 pounds (8 kilograms) or more, she will have increased her hatch weight by 44 times! I, myself, have only increased my birth weight by 19 times.

On August 6, at 118 days of age, Antiki took her most recent step toward leaving the nest: she jumped up onto the barrier between her nest box and the adjoining roost area. She later hopped back into her nest, but that’s OK. There’s no hurry to fledge, or leave the nest, just yet. Her feathers still need time to fill in all of the way. In the meantime, hopping up and down from the barrier will exercise her muscles, as well as improve her balance. On August 11, she hopped into the roost area on the other side of the barrier for the first time. Here, she can warm herself in the sun, if she so chooses. While out in the roost, she can also rest or sleep in the shade, perch with her parents (if they are not perched out in the flight pen), or step out to the roost ledge to soak up the sun’s rays for the first time. The ledge is about 8 feet from the ground – high enough to make the parents feel comfortable and secure in their nest, but not as high as a condor nest in the wild. Antiki may get near the edge, but she will be cautious in doing so, so she doesn’t teeter off. It is natural for condor chicks to explore and exercise on the edge of their nest cavities. Rarely do they fall out; in 33 years of raising California condors here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we have never seen a chick fall from its nest area prematurely.

The next step of Antiki’s development will be to fledge. When she is ready, she will jump off of the 8-foot-high nest ledge. She will either slow her fall to the ground below the ledge, or fly to a nearby perch. We consider her fledged when she can get up on a perch by herself. The youngest we have seen a condor chick fledge here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is 123 days old. Sometimes chicks have waited until over 165 days. It all depends on the chick.

The parents tend to be very vigilant at this phase of their chick’s development. It might appear over-protective to us, but keep in mind that they have invested an entire breeding season and lots of energy into this one chick. It benefits them greatly to make sure that their sole offspring is safe, healthy, and strong. They usually don’t coax or pressure their chick to leave the nest; on the contrary, we have seen parents make sure that it doesn’t stray too far from the nest if it’s not ready yet. The parents will usually perch and/or roost near the fledgling. They also will join her when she finally starts going to the feeding area of the flight pen. Most of the time, though, they will push her aside and they will eat first, feeding her when they are done. In “condor culture,” the bigger, more dominant birds usually eat first, while the subordinate birds wait their turn. The earlier Antiki learns this from her parents, the better she will assimilate into a wild population after she is released. Don’t worry—Sisquoc and Shatash won’t let Antiki starve. They will continue to feed her even when she is out in the flight pen. Eventually, she will eat more and more on her own.

Depending on Antiki’s development and activity levels, we will try to switch the Condor Cam view from the nest box/roost area to the flight pen. You’ll be able to see the roost area, most of the perches in the pen, the feeding area, shade areas created by plants, and the pool, where she can either drink on her own or bathe (one of my favorite condor activities to observe!). The view will be wide, so detail will be harder to discern. Also, we do minimal maintenance in the pen once the chick is large enough to look over the nest box barrier and into the pen. So the pen has lots of plant growth and dried food (animal carcasses) in it. We limit our activities in/near chick pens so as not to expose the chick to humans, thus desensitizing her to our presence. We have found that chicks raised in isolation from humans tend to be more successful once they are released to the wild. The flight pen won’t look as nice as an exhibit you might see at the Zoo or the Safari Park, but Sisquoc and Shatash prefer it that way, if it means we stay away from their precious chick!

Thanks so much to all of our faithful and dedicated Condor Cam viewers. Soon, your support and devotion will be rewarded when our “little big girl” spreads her wings and takes that next step. Rest assured, though, that Antiki’s story will be far from over!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, Condor Chick: Getting Big!

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park Loans African Elephant to Fresno Chaffee Zoo

SafariParkBlogA team of animal care staff from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park went on the road this week with a 7,500-pound (3,432-kilogram) traveling companion named Vus’Musi. The 11-year-old male elephant—who is affectionately called “Moose” or “Moosey” by his keepers—was moved to a new home at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo on Thursday, Aug. 20 as part of a breeding loan recommended by the Species Survival Plan program, managed within zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Vus’Musi’s keepers worked with him for weeks to prepare him for the move, so when the day came for him to leave the Safari Park, he walked into his moving crate easily. To ensure that Vus’Musi was safe and confortable, he was monitored throughout the entire drive by two of his Safari Park keepers and a veterinarian. During the trip, there were frequent stops to reward him with treats, including watermelon and cuttings from leafy tree branches.

Upon his arrival, Vus’Musi was placed in a holding area that allows him to see his two new herd members, females Amy and Betts. He won’t have physical access until he has completed his quarantine at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Two of Vus’Musi’s keepers from the Safari Park, Mindy Albright and Curtis Lehman, will stay with him in Fresno to assist in his transition to new keepers and surroundings.

“He’s all grown up,” said Curtis Lehman, animal care supervisor, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Being a male, we knew that someday he’d probably move to another place and start a family of his own—and it turned out to be the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.”

This fall, all three elephants will be living in the multi-species African Adventure habitat. Opening October 15, the area features savannas, pools, waterfalls and mud wallows. The other species included in the new African Adventure habitat include lions, cheetahs, rhinos and meerkats.

Vus’Musi was born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2004. He is the first calf born into a herd of elephants that was relocated from Swaziland to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2003, to prevent them from being culled in their homeland. His name, Vus’Musi, means “to build a family”—and now that he is in Fresno, animal care staff hope that he will become a father.

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.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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San Diego Zoo Global Awards Conservation Medals to Two Scientists Working to Save Elephants

Global_logo_color webSan Diego Zoo Global today is honoring the work of two leading field biologists and researchers who have dedicated their lives to saving elephants: Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Dphil (doctorate), founder of Save the Elephants; and Michael Chase, Ph.D., founder of Elephants Without Borders. Both honorees were awarded San Diego Zoo Global’s 2015 Conservation Medals during a luncheon Thursday, Aug. 20 in San Diego, attended by San Diego Zoo Global staff and members of the board of directors. Since 1966, the Conservation Medal awards program has recognized world leaders in conservation who share San Diego Zoo Global’s vision to end extinction.

Douglas-Hamilton was awarded the 2015 Conservation Medal for “Lifetime Achievement,” due to his invaluable leadership of the Save the Elephants organization, which he founded in 1993. He and Save the Elephants have contributed to legislation against ivory trade and importation, and have been rallying efforts to end the poaching crisis facing this species.

When he was 23 years old, Douglas-Hamilton completed the world’s first in-depth scientific study of elephant social behavior, based on elephants in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park. After earning his doctorate in zoology from the University of Oxford, Douglas-Hamilton went on to investigate the status of elephants throughout Africa in the 1970s, and he chronicled how Africa’s elephant population was cut in half between 1979 and 1989.

Chase was presented with the 2015 Conservation Medal for “Conservation in Action,” for providing data on the status of elephants and other wildlife, identifying cross-border corridors, and discovering new migration routes. He is also the principal researcher leading and coordinating the Great Elephant Census—which started two years ago, spans 21 countries, and is expected to conclude later this year.

“This (Conservation Medal Award) came as an unexpected surprise and I’m overwhelmed…It’s a tremendous honor,” said Michael Chase, Ph.D., co-founder of Elephants Without Borders. “This award does come with a very generous gift, and I hope to use the money to establish the first elephant and rhino sanctuary in Botswana that will rehabilitate and reintroduce orphaned animals back into the wild.”

Chase has been studying the ecology of elephants for more than 15 years, but he has spent time in the bush of Africa since he was a child on safaris with his father. Chase received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Natal in South Africa. He returned to his homeland of Botswana and worked with Conservation International to conserve the Okavango Delta and its rich variety of wildlife.

Chase received his doctorate in conservation from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While finishing work on his degree, he founded Elephants Without Borders to continue his lifelong work with elephants. In 2007, he was the first person from Botswana to read for a doctorate specifically in elephant ecology. Chase also served as a post-doctoral research fellow for San Diego Zoo Global and has conducted groundbreaking studies of the ecology and movements of elephants.

The San Diego Zoo Global Conservation Medal for Conservation in Action is given to individuals who are making an active and important contribution to the conservation and recovery of endangered species, habitats or ecosystems in the field through applied research, breeding and reintroduction programs, community education or the establishment of protected areas. Both the Lifetime Achievement and Conservation in Action medals are presented with a $10,000 prize.

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 onsite 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 inspiring 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.

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

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San Diego Zoo Brings the Animal Kingdom to Patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas

Global_logo_color webAnimals and young patients were brought together today at Arkansas Children’s Hospital to unveil a groundbreaking collaboration designed to entertain and educate patients and their families about wildlife. Funded through a generous gift by businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, San Diego Zoo Global, Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH), Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas, and the Little Rock Zoo announced the arrival of San Diego Zoo Kids — an innovative closed-circuit television broadcast channel that features entertaining and educational programming about unique and endangered animal species. The channel is available on TV monitors in every patient room, as well as in hospital waiting areas.

“At ACH, we’re fans of any initiative that brings huge smiles to children,” said David Berry, senior vice president & COO of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “The animal stories our patients are watching through San Diego Zoo Global take their minds off stressful situations, and remind them of the incredible world waiting for them outside when they’re healed and leave our hospital.”

San Diego Zoo Kids offers up-close video encounters with popular animals, all hosted by San Diego Zoo’s national spokesperson, Rick Schwartz and San Diego Kids host, Lauren Ayers. Viewers can observe the Zoo’s famous Panda Cam, other online cameras, as well as content from zoos across the country.

“We have heard from medical professionals that animal interaction and animal stories can help promote well-being,” said Doug Myers, president and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global. “San Diego Zoo Global has a wealth of animal stories, and through the generosity of T. Denny Sanford; we are able to bring these stories to families at hospitals around the country.”

The channel will also feature animal stories from the Little Rock Zoo — which brought a few of their animals to the today’s launch to meet patients and their families.

“Animals capture our interests, touch our souls, and remind us of our own humanity,” said Mike Blakely, Little Rock Zoo Director. “In addition, nature has the power to soothe, inspire and restore.  The more of the natural environment we can give to our children, and to those around us, the more we can hope for renewed health and change.”

The service is also making its debut at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas in Little Rock.

“What an exciting opportunity for our families at the Ronald McDonald House,” said Katie Kirkpatrick Choate, Executive Director.  “Both the patients and their siblings will enjoy this quality programming and, at least for a little while, will get to focus on just being kids.”

San Diego Zoo Kids debuted in 2013 at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Since then, it has been installed at 13 other children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald House centers across the country.

About ACH
Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas, and it is one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21. Over the past century, ACH has grown to span 29 city blocks and house 370 beds, with a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties, and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit health-care facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research — all dedicated to fulfilling its mission of championing children by making them better today and healthier tomorrow. For more info, visit archildrens.org.

About Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas
Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Arkansas enhances the lives of children and their families by creating and supporting programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children. These programs include: the Ronald McDonald House and the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile. The Ronald McDonald House is a home away from home for families with an ill or injured child being treated at local hospitals. The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is a 40-foot, state-of-the-art mobile unit that provides free dental care and education to underserved children in their own neighborhoods. To learn more about RMHCA and its work, visit rmhclittlerock.org.

About the Little Rock Zoo
The Little Rock Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and provides engaging experiences that inspire people to value and conserve our natural world. Founded in 1926 with an abandoned timber wolf and circus trained bear, the Zoo now features 700 animals representing more than 200 different species. The Zoo is noted for its breeding programs for the maned wolf, sloth bear, Malayan tiger, western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, and others. It is also noted for its historical Workers Progress Administration (WPA) buildings that can still be seen throughout the Zoo as well as the renovated Over-the-Jumps antique carousel. The Zoo is located in the heart of central Arkansas at War Memorial Park and is one of Arkansas’s leading family attractions and tourist destinations. For more information on the Little Rock Zoo, visit LittleRockZoo.com, or search Little Rock Zoo on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

About San Diego Zoo Global
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.

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

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Summer Pandas

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Xiao Liwu got a swing for his birthday—the perfect gift for this active young bear!

The end of the Zoo’s longer summer hours is in sight, and our animals are getting hit with another big heat wave. This year has been a more mild summer as a whole, but we have had some small sprints of heat. Many of you, visiting or watching, have noticed that Gao Gao has spent many of his summer days in the air conditioning. While this has been frustrating for our guests visiting, please know how much we appreciate your cooperation while we get Gao Gao bear through summer.

While Gao Gao has been relaxing most of the day, Xiao Liwu has been quite a character to watch! Throughout the day we have observed him having random energy bursts, and showing off to our guests. Remember this is normal for a panda as they go through their first hormone shift at three years of age! For those of us that have been watching him since birth, up close, it’s great to see him really exhibit these bear behaviors.

I have had the amazing opportunity to watch five of our panda cubs go through their first hormone shift, and it NEVER gets old. Right now I can honestly say that there is no perfect time to come visit the pandas for good activity levels; there are mornings where Mr. Wu is entirely on FOOD mode, there’s SLEEP mode, and then there’s DEMO mode! Right now, he has been eating for several hours a day, no specific time, and there is almost always a time where he is running, rolling around, and jumping on stuff in his enclosure.

Bai Yun is still in our behind-the scenes-area. As many of you know, our vets have come to the conclusion that she is not pregnant. While we are of course disappointed, we are glad that she is healthy and doing well. Our keepers will be working with her on a daily basis, and getting her out of her den and outside into her garden room. This is a process in itself. Making sure she’s comfortable is their number one priority and they are easing her back into her normal routine.

So thank you again for your understanding and helping us keep our animals comfortable—remember that in the heat of the day none of our bears are really going to want to be up and about! And this coming week, drink lots of water while you’re visiting us at the Zoo!

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Learning What We Can Learn From Camera Trap Photos: Part 2

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Can an Andean bear’s nose be a way to determine its age?.

I recently wrote about how we’ve determined that, with caution, researchers can identify individual Andean bears in camera trap photos. Researchers should therefore be able to answer some basic questions that have big implications for Andean bear conservation. However, there are many other important questions for which we still don’t have answers. For example, does the population in this watershed have an age structure that will be stable over the long-term?

How do you figure out how old an animal is when it was born in the wild years ago – 2 years ago, 8 years ago, or 14 years ago? Field researchers often use characteristics of mammals’ teeth to estimate their ages, but those methods require capturing the animals and it is definitely not easy to capture Andean bears. It turns out that we can use camera traps.

I might not have seriously considered using camera trap photos to investigate these kinds of questions except for a conversation with a field researcher from our collaborator, the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society. When I showed him a photo of an Andean bear living at the San Diego Zoo, he said “Wow, that’s an old bear!” He was correct, but how did he know that? He couldn’t describe exactly what it was about the photo that suggested that the bear was old, but I remembered that several years earlier some researchers had documented that the nose color of African lions changes as they age. Might the same thing happen in Andean bears?

Using photos of known-age bears from various zoos, we’ve determined that although the changes in nose color aren’t as predictable as we’d like, they’re consistent enough to provide some information about the age of the individual bear. And, using photos of captive- and wild-born cubs, we’ve verified that it’s possible to estimate the ages of young cubs from camera trap photos. Since fewer than a dozen Andean bear birth dens have ever been found in the wild, this could be really helpful in determining when female bears give birth to cubs. That information, in turn, is the first step in determining why females give birth then, and not at other times of the year.

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Notice the changes in Tommy’s nose from when he was  (left to right) 2, 17, and 23 years old.

Another set of conservation research questions can only be answered with information on the genetic structure of a population, or information on how individuals are related to one another. Does the population in this mountain range have a functional connection to other populations or is it isolated and inbred? What traits affect the probability that a female, or male, will have surviving offspring? Who knows which cub was sired by which male? Do cubs look like their parents? In other words, do the facial markings of cubs look like the facial markings of their parents? The only Andean bears with known mothers and fathers are the cubs born in captivity, so I worked with collaborators to test whether the markings of related captive-born Andean bears looked more similar than the markings of unrelated captive-bear Andean bears. They don’t. Sometimes bears that are closely related look alike, but sometimes they don’t. On the other hand, sometimes bears that look alike are closely related, but sometimes they’re not related at all. So, although it might be tempting to say that a cub which looks like an adult male is the offspring of that male, that’s a potentially misleading conclusion. We’ll just have to wait for the development of good genetic tools before we can answer questions about the genetics or kinship structure of Andean bear populations.

After thorough review and discussion by other scientists, this work has been published online in PeerJ, where you can read the details and see more photos.

Russ Van Horn is a scientist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous blog, Learning What We Can Learn from Camera Trap Photos: Part 1.