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Gaur Game Plan

Indian gaur can be seen in the Asian Savanna field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Indian gaur can be seen in the Asian Savanna field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

What are those big buffalo in the Asian Savanna field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? This is one of the most commonly asked questions on Caravan Safari tours. They are Indian gaur Bos frontalis gaurus, the largest wild cattle species. Gaur live in herds of up to 40 individuals led by a mature bull. An adult gaur can stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 2,000 pounds! Coupled with their dark coat and light-blue eyes, this body-builder physique makes gaur very intimidating to predators. Gaur currently live in fragmented evergreen forest habitats in southern Asia and India.

In India, gaur have been domesticated as work animals and hybridized with domestic cattle to create a separate species. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List considers wild Indian gaur “vulnerable” in southern Asia. This is a poorly understood species, so there may be as few as 13,000 left in the world or as many as 30,000. Indian gaur are threatened due to hunting, habitat loss, and domestic cattle diseases, like Johne’s disease. Our researchers are using mathematical models to monitor transmission of these types of diseases to help save Indian gaur (see post Saving Species with Math).

We also conserve Indian gaur in two other ways. Indian gaur are protected under the umbrella of Asian elephant and tiger habitat conservation programs that San Diego Zoo Global supports around the world. Additionally, the Safari Park has a herd of Indian gaur that are part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ bison and wild cattle taxon advisory group (TAG).

Very few zoos currently house gaur because they are large, territorial, and require the same amount of space as rhinos, which are often more exciting to visitors. In the past, the Safari Park successfully bred over 200 gaur, but the breeding program stopped because there was no longer anywhere to send the offspring. Through the TAG, individuals are loaned and traded to other zoos for breeding programs and conservation initiatives to increase the genetic diversity of many different species. Without other facilities involved in the TAG, we would quickly become saturated with gaur. Now, the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans has expressed interest in a herd of Indian gaur. As a result, the Safari Park welcomed two new females and a young male to our Asian field exhibit. The young male will, hopefully, dominate the resident castrated male in the herd and begin breeding.

Female Indian gaur typically give birth to one calf between December and June after a 275-day gestation. It’s amazing to think that a female gaur and a human female have the same pregnancy length! Stay tuned. Hopefully, the Safari Park will have new Indian gaur calves by next year to bolster the fight for conservation of this unique species.

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, It’s Alive! Look Inside our Giant Pandas’ Favorite Food.

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Meeting Endangered Birds on a Tropical Island Getaway

The view as we drove the winding road to the Maui Bird Conservation Center was stunning!

The view as we drove the winding road to the Maui Bird Conservation Center was stunning!

As a senior animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo, I always tell our guests that San Diego Zoo Global has dozens of conservation projects worldwide. But until recently I had never gotten to experience any of our off-site programs. While planning a vacation to the islands of Lanai and Maui in Hawaii, I realized “Hey—we have that bird facility over there!” I had heard about the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC) and the work they do with critically endangered Hawaiian bird species, and I was lucky to be able to visit the MBCC, even though the facility is typically closed to the public.

At left are the bird holding areas.

At left are the bird holding areas.

My companion and I drove straight from the Lanai ferry up an exceedingly narrow and twisty road with some amazing vistas to the Maui Bird Conservation Center, stopping first to pick up some thank-you donuts for the staff. If there’s one thing I know about zoo folk, they love surprise yummy treats, and the reception the donuts got was very gratifying! The MBCC has only a few permanent staff, supplemented by a handful of post-college interns each year. They do everything themselves, including mowing the lawn and caring for the two back-up generators. The interns live on site and are allowed to borrow the car to go into town just twice per week.

We were met by Michelle Smith, who gave us a fantastic tour of the facility and answered all of our questions. The first thing I learned was that the MBCC’s facility is a former minimum-security prison! Its clinic is located in the prison’s old dentist’s office and is fully equipped with an X-ray machine and a complete stock of medicines regulated and monitored by San Diego Zoo veterinarians. Michelle told us that they are able to contact a vet 24-hours per day, and one visits every six months to do a comprehensive check-up on all the birds. Most of the day-to-day medical issues are handled by the MBCC staff, and they’ve even had emergency procedures narrated to them over the phone by the Zoo’s veterinarians!

An intern prepares bird diets at the MBCC, a task I can relate to!

An intern prepares bird diets at the MBCC, a task I can relate to!

Although it was not breeding season for any of the birds, Michelle was able to show us their old but functional incubators. Eggs are transported from the nest to the incubator in a warm thermos full of millet seed! There is also an intensive care unit, like an incubator for premature human babies, where the young chicks grow. Alala and kiwikiu chicks are fed with a hand puppet so they don’t associate food with humans. Eggs that are hand-incubated are cared for intensively and every change recorded in detail. Rate of water loss is very important to monitor, and a machine called an Egg Buddy can even sense and record the heartbeat of the unborn chicks. Michelle explained the hatching process and some of the interventions that the staff has to do to help chicks hatch.

We peeked in on an intern making diets, a process that I am very familiar with! The birds eat mostly fruits and some insects. The alala get some mice because in the wild they would eat eggs and nestlings, though they eat much more fruit than other species of crows. The birds’ diets are put in bowls and served up on stainless-steel trays left over from the prison!

We saw a handsome adult male and three juvenile palila. In the wild, they eat only the pods and grubs found on the mamane tree and are very tenacious about their territory; that is, you can't move them from a dangerous area, because they'll just go back.

We saw a handsome adult male and three juvenile palila. In the wild, they eat only the pods and grubs found on the mamane tree and are very tenacious about their territory; that is, you can’t move them from a dangerous area, because they’ll just go back.

To actually see the birds, we walked down a dirt pathway past a (nonnative) pine grove. The air was surprisingly cool and fresh, due to our elevation on the northwestern slope of Mount Haleakala above the “cowboy town” of Makawao. The MBCC is on state-owned land, and the developed part is about eight acres. We got to enter “Forest Bird Barn I” to see three small forest bird species. I was interested to learn that the four species at the MBCC are from all around Hawaii, not just Maui itself.

The palila is a pretty little gray bird with a yellow head, found only on the high-elevation slopes of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii. The puaiohi or small Kauai thrush is an un-prepossessing brown bird. Puaiohi are easy to raise, and are the species that new staff gets to work with first. The kiwikiu was called the Maui parrotbill until recently, when it was given a Hawaiian name. It’s a really cute little bird with a big bill reminiscent of a parrot’s.

Leaving the Forest Bird building, we went to look at the stars of the MBCC: the alala or Hawaiian crows, which are Extinct In The Wild. I capitalized that because I felt awestruck to get to see these birds. There are only 114 alala on the planet, 42 of which are at the MBCC, and the rest of which are on the Island of Hawaii at MBCC’s sister facility, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, with one exception. They are strikingly different from regular crows in size, and they made a variety of startlingly loud and odd vocalizations the whole time we were there.

It is considered the only Kauai forest bird with a stable population – even though that population is only 500 individuals. This bird is not being bred at the MBCC very much, because they are stable in the wild - however, observations of the wild birds are very important to ensure that the population is truly sustainable.

The puaiohi is considered the only Kauai forest bird with a stable population, even though that population is only 500 individuals.

The only alala not in Hawaii is Kinohi, who lives in California at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research! He is extremely valuable genetically because his mother, a founder, has no other offspring and neither does he. If we can get babies from Kinohi, it will increase the genetic pool by a whole other crow. The problem is that Kinohe is imprinted and not willing to breed with female crows. Scientists at the Institute have been working to get semen samples from him, but Kinohi has been producing only low concentrations of sperm. (see post Alala: We’re Getting Closer.) Michelle was hopeful that they will one day be able to try artificial insemination with a sample from Kinohi. The odds are stacked against it, but I think that if anyone can do it, our scientists can!

I was very impressed by the facility, which was clean and neat. The staff was so kind and excited about having us, I felt like a VIP! It was really special to get to see the birds and hear all about them, especially since the MBCC is typically closed to the public. At the same time, it was sad to hear about the challenges that these species face across all the islands but heartening to hear the determination and enthusiasm shared by the staff. I would encourage anyone to visit during the MBCC’s annual open house if you find yourself on Maui early next November!

Susan Patch is a senior animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo.

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It’s Alive! Look Inside Our Giant Pandas’ Favorite Food

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun this morning demonstrating her bamboo-eating skills.

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun this morning demonstrating her bamboo-eating skills.

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Jennifer Parsons, an associate nutritionist at the San Diego Zoo. Although she manages diets for all of the animals at the Zoo, her specialty is a particular diet for a highly specialized species: bamboo makes up 99 percent of a wild giant panda’s diet.

A wild giant panda may roam the bamboo groves of China all day eating 25 species of bamboo, but not a zoo panda. The San Diego Zoo’s Horticulture Department grows bamboo for the giant pandas in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s parking lot. Every day, the horticulturists harvest the bamboo with chain saws coated in peanut oil, which is edible, unlike grease. After harvesting, they truck it to the Zoo’s panda exhibit, where it’s put in large coolers to wait for panda mealtime.

The keepers feed the giant pandas three times per day. At each feeding the pandas are offered twice the amount of bamboo that they will actually eat. This allows the pandas to selectively “sniff test” the bamboo, as they would in the wild. The pandas spend the entire interval between feedings processing and eating bamboo.

Bamboo is a colonial organism. An entire bamboo grove behaves likes one organism, which presents challenges for the Horticulture Department. Bamboo is actually a type of grass, and it’s the fastest-growing plant on Earth. Bamboo can grow up to 98 inches (249 centimeters) in 24 hours!

Bamboo has a seasonal cycle that determines where the plant’s nutrients are stored. This cycle may drive a giant panda’s preference for the leaves or the culm, the woody central stalk of the plant. In the winter and spring, when temperate bamboo produces shoots, nutrients are stored in the culm, so giant pandas favor this protein-packed stalk. When bamboo grows new leaves in the summer and fall, photosynthesis stores sugar and protein in the leaves; therefore, the giant pandas prefer the nutrient-rich leaves.

In the wild, pandas only eat temperate bamboo, so a wild giant panda’s home range is larger in the winter, giving the panda access to more food. But zoo pandas cannot seasonally change their territories, so the keepers feed both tropical and temperate bamboo species to the pandas at the San Diego Zoo. These bamboo species have opposite reproductive cycles, so the pandas can eat leaves and culm year-round. Strangely, however, both adult giant pandas at the Zoo, Gao Gao and his mate Bai Yun, prefer to eat the hard culm year-round instead of the easily digestible leaves. Pandas are a puzzle!

Pandas aren’t the only ones that use bamboo. In the bamboo forests of China (and at the San Diego Zoo) red pandas, takins, and golden monkeys also eat bamboo. Asian cultures use bamboo for food, medicine, construction, clothing, paper, musical instruments, bicycles, and fishing rods. Bamboo is also being used as a green resource all over the world. For example, the building housing the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is built from sustainable bamboo.

Take a shoot out of a giant panda’s book and buy environmentally friendly bamboo products. And be sure to say hello to giant pandas Gao Gao, Bai Yun, and juvenile Xiao Liwu at the San Diego Zoo or on Panda Cam.

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Northern White Rhinos in Peril.

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Facebook Tiger Caption Contest

We’re running an impromptu giveaway with the Safari Park’s Facebook followers. By entering, you agree to these terms and conditions. Good luck!

pic by Darrell Ybarrondo

pic by Darrell Ybarrondo

1. NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. Participation constitutes entrant’s full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules. The Facebook Tiger Caption (“Contest”) will be held online from 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time (“PT”), November 17, 2014 (“Contest Start Date”), to 5:00 p.m. PT, Novemeber 18, 2014 (“Contest Period”). Contest is sponsored by the Zoological Society of San Diego DBA San Diego Zoo Global (the “Sponsor”) who is solely responsible for all aspects of this Contest.

2. ELIGIBILITY. The Contest is open to legal residents of the United States of America who are 18 years of age or older as of “Contest Start Date.” Sponsor’s employees and their immediate families are not eligible to participate or claim a prize. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. All federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations apply. By participating, entrants agree to abide by all terms of these Official Rules and to the decisions of the judge, and waive any right to claim ambiguity in the Contest or these Official Rules.

3. HOW TO ENTER.

1.) As of 11:00 a.m. PT, November 17, 2014, the entrant must:

a. Have a Facebook® account: If you are not a member, you may sign-up at www.facebook.com

b. Follow the prompt on the Facebook post found here: https://www.facebook.com/sdzsafaripark/photos/p.1060689877281021/1060689877281021/?type=1&theater

No mechanically reproduced entries will be accepted.

4. INTERNET LIMITATIONS OF LIABILITY. If for any reason this Contest is not capable of running as planned due to infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical failures, or any other causes beyond the control of the Sponsor which corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity or proper conduct of this Contest, the Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion, to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry process, and to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Contest in whole or in part, at any time, without notice and award the prizes using all non-suspect eligible entries received as of this termination date. The Sponsor assumes no responsibility for any error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation or transmission, communications line failure, theft or destruction or unauthorized access to, or alteration of, entries. The Sponsor is not responsible for any problems or technical malfunction of any telephone network or telephone lines, computer on-line systems, servers, or providers, computer equipment, software, failure of any e-mail or entry to be received by the Sponsor on account of technical problems, human error or traffic congestion on the Internet or at any Website, or any combination thereof, including any injury or damage to participant’s or any other person’s computer relating to or resulting from participation in this Contest or downloading any materials in this Contest. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE ANY WEBSITE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE CONTEST IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS AND SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, THE SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES OR OTHER REMEDIES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON (S) RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ATTEMPT TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. In the event of a dispute as to the identity of a winner, the winning entry will be declared made by the authorized Facebook account holder of the entry submitted at time of entry. “Authorized account holder” is defined as the natural person who is assigned to a Facebook account by Facebook, Inc.

5. SELECTIONS AND NOTIFICATION OF WINNERS. Winners will be determined on or after November 18, 2014 by Sponsor’s staff from among all eligible entries. Winners will be notified on or after November 18, 2014 via Facebook and need not be present to win. Only one winner per household. The winner will be disqualified and an alternate winner will be selected if a selected winner fails to comply with these rules, cannot be contacted, is ineligible, fails to claim a prize, or if the prize notification or prize is returned as undeliverable. Acceptance of a prize constitutes permission to use the winners’ names, likenesses, and statements for promotional and publicity purposes without additional compensation or limitation unless prohibited by law. All decisions of the Sponsor regarding the selection of winners, notification and substitution of winners in accordance with these Official Rules shall be binding and final.

6. PRIZES AVAILABLE. One (1) winner will receive one (1) one-day pass to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Substitutions of similar value will be made at the sole discretion of the Sponsor if offers are no longer available. The prize is not transferable, assignable or redeemable for cash and if not used will be forfeited.

7. INDEMNIFICATION AND RELEASE. By entering the contest and participating in any promotions relating thereto, each entrant agrees to release and hold Sponsor and respective affiliates, subsidiaries, parent companies, officers, directors, shareholders, employees, agents, participating retailers, and any other companies participating in the design, administration, or fulfillment of this sweepstakes and their respective officers, directors, employees, and agents, harmless from any and all losses, rights, claims, injuries, damages, expenses, costs, or actions of any kind resulting in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, from participation in this contest or any contest-related activity, or acceptance, possession, use or misuse of the prize or parts thereof, including without limitation personal injuries, death, and property damage and claims based on publicity rights, defamation, or invasion of privacy.

8. TAX INFORMATION. All applicable Federal, state and local tax liabilities and any other incidental expenses, fees or costs associated with the receipt or use of any prize are the sole responsibility of the winner.

9. WINNERS LIST. For an Official Winners List (available after November 18, 2014 and through December 31, 2014) or a copy of these Official Rules (PLEASE SPECIFY WHICH), send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: San Diego Zoo Global, P.O. Box 120551, San Diego, CA 92112-0551.

10. SPONSOR. San Diego Zoo Global: P.O. Box 120551 San Diego, CA 92112-0551

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Taking Care of Tusks

A screen shot from our Elephant Cam taken on November 11 shows 10 of our elephants. Can you find them all?

A screen shot from our Elephant Cam taken on November 11 shows 10 of our elephants. Can you find them all? Click to enlarge.

As you know, there have been a lot of things going on with our African elephant herd this year at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. For instance, you may have seen our trainers working with the elephants in different areas. You may have wondered what they doing with the elephants’ faces! Well….

Some members of our herd have broken or chipped their tusks, and our veterinary staff has had to perform pulpotomies (think root canal) to clean out any infected pulp. All of our elephants are pretty active, especially the little ones, so we have had to put extra protection on the tusks that have fillings. This protection is in the form of a gray material called Technovit (pronounced Techno–vite), and you may have seen us putting it on the tusks of Musi, Macembe, and Luti periodically. Swazi recently broke off a small part of her tusk. No pulp was exposed, and you may see us filing the jagged end of her tusk.

Unfortunately, Khosi and Emanti’s tusks broke and exposed too much pulp, and we were not able to save their broken tusks. For them, we have been flushing their sulcus (skin and cavity surrounding a tusk) to keep the cavity clean and to aid in the healing process. We use a diluted mixture of anti-bacterial solution and water sprayed out of a one-gallon sprayer. Our trainers have worked patiently with Khosi and Emanti to make them comfortable with this process. I am happy to report that they are doing well and healing nicely.

Our elephants are also given vitamin E every day. We’ve trained our elephants to perform a swallow behavior so that they will be able to swallow any medication or vitamin supplements as needed. Because they have such a well-developed sense of smell and taste, we give them their vitamin E followed by mango juice, as the vitamin E doesn’t taste very good!

Qinisa and Inhlonipho are growing up and asserting themselves. Qinisa’s milk tusks are starting to come in. Inhlonipho is wrestling with Emanti and Ingadze any chance he gets. He even charged Msholo (who was quietly eating hay). Msholo looked at him and then went back to eating the hay. When Inhlonipho gets older, he will be wrestling with the big boys.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the herd, either in person or on Elephant Cam!

Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephant Qinisa Turns 2.

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Will We Lose the Elephants?

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique ability 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!

IMG_1989According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 96 African elephants are killed per day for their ivory tusks. This is called poaching and is one of the primary reasons for their population decrease. The other major component to their population decline is the loss of their habitat due to human encroachment and deforestation. My fellow interns and I got the chance to meet with Ron Ringer, Lead Keeper, and Steve Hebert, Senior Keeper who both work at the Conrad Prebys Elephant Care Center at the San Diego Zoo. We had an up-close encounter with three amazing elephants and learned about why elephants are so valuable to our planet.

Elephants are traditionally found in scrub habitats (hot and dry land) in Africa or the rain forests of Asia. Since elephants are big creatures, it makes sense that they need big habitats to live in. However, their land is diminishing by the minute. They are constantly losing more land every day as a result of human deforestation for construction of new establishments or farming. It’s at the point where the elephants are living on “islands,” or rather small areas of land that do not have easy access to other areas for them to get to. This results in a problem when the elephants need to migrate. Since forests are being diminished, other areas that elephants can live in are becoming less accessible to them and they are not able to move there. This difficulty to move elsewhere results in the overpopulation of elephants in a small area. As migrating animals, elephants travel quite a bit, particularly in times of rain or drought. However, since the elephants’ habitats are being destroyed, they don’t have many other areas to roam to. Their migration routes are becoming smaller and it is harder for them to survive.

Elephants are more than a popular animal to see at the Zoo. In the wild, they play a vital role in the ecosystem. Elephants are seed dispersers, meaning they deposit seeds around the land they live in through their waste… aka their poop! In fact, these gigantic herbivores only digest about half of the food they eat, leaving the other half to be excreted. The nutrients found in the waste are able to act as fertilizers and the seeds promote plant growth. If the elephant populations continue to rapidly decrease, the plant life of forests can potentially suffer drastically. Without any of their seeds being spread along hundreds of miles by elephants, how are the plants supposed to reproduce? The lack of tree and other plant replenishment could mean the loss of a food source for other animals. This could lead to another species going hungry and having the potential to become endangered. Losing elephants can result in a major ripple effect that could have disastrous results. If the elephant does go extinct, is there a chance we will lose the rainforest in Asia as well?

One major way we can step up and help prevent animals from becoming extinct is through education. That’s where Mr. Ringer and Mr. Hebert come in. Combined, they have worked with over sixty-eight elephants. With the construction of the Conrad Prebys Elephant Care Center, the appreciation for elephants is increasing. Having the elephant exhibits more visible allows the public to see the connection between the elephants and their keepers. Mr. Ringer and Mr. Hebert explained to us that they see their role as a bridge between the public and the elephants. They are now able to interact with the public while simultaneously doing their daily caretaking. For example, if you are to head up to the Elephant Care Center around noon, you can observe a keeper giving the elephants their daily pedicures. If you have a question as to why this is done every day, you can ask the second keeper that will be standing nearby and explaining the process. This interaction with the keepers as they work gives the public the opportunity to become further educated about elephants.

As a consumer, you can play a positive active role in helping elephants by not buying ivory products. An organization that aims to put a stop to the ivory market is called 96 Elephants. The Wildlife Conservation Society adopted its name from the startling fact that 96 elephants in Africa are killed every day for their tusks. The ivory that is created from tusks is then turned into jewelry and other goods. Ninety-six Elephants is a great way to be involved by making the pledge to not purchase goods that have been made of ivory. If you would like to step up today, click on the link to sign the no – ivory pledge from 96 Elephants. http://www.96elephants.org/

Elephants play a larger role in our ecosystem. Not only would we lose this beautiful species if they go extinct, but many other species will be harmed and can also risk a similar fate. With the rate of deforestation and poaching, there is a significant chance that we can lose the elephant species, but not if we step up. Luckily for us, we have the knowledge and passion for elephants from both Mr. Hebert and Mr. Ringer. It is now up to us to take that knowledge and turn it into success in protecting the elephants.

Belle, Conservation Team
Fall Session 2014

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Four “Purr-Fect” Cheetah Cubs Explore New Habitat with Mother at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

4 Cheetah cubs, momFour cheetah cubs ran, climbed and played in their new habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park this morning. The young felines chased birds and each other, eventually resting alongside their mother, who groomed and nursed them, before the felines’ playtime started over again. Their attentive mother kept a close watch over the cubs and vocalized with a loud chirp when they ventured too far out of her view.

The almost four-month-old cheetah cubs, two males and two females, were born to first-time mother Addison on July 13 at the Safari Park’s off-site cheetah breeding center. The little family moved to their new habitat at the Safari Park’s Okavango Outpost this week. “Addison is an excellent mom, calm, confident and extremely protective,” stated Paula Augustus, senior keeper. “The cubs are very vocal, curious and playful, each with their own distinct temperaments. It is great to be able to watch a cheetah mother raising her cubs.”

The two male cubs have been named Wgasa and Refu, and the two females are named Pumzika and Mahala. All were named after former areas of the Safari Park. Keepers tell the young felines apart by their faces, tails and markings. Weighing one to two pounds at birth, the cubs are healthy and growing well, currently weighing 16 to 18 pounds each. They are still nursing but also eat a diet of raw meat. When full grown, the average cheetah can weigh 84 to 143 pounds, with the males being larger.

Cheetahs are found in Africa and a small portion of Iran. They are classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. It is estimated that the worldwide population of cheetahs has been reduced from 100,000 in 1900 to just 10,000 today, with about ten percent living in zoos or wildlife parks.

San Diego Zoo Global, which has been breeding cheetahs for more than 40 years yielding more than 130 cubs, has been instrumental in the formation of a Breeding Center Coalition (BCC) to create a sustainable cheetah population that will prevent extinction of the world’s fastest land animal. There are eight other organizations participating in the breeding program for this endangered species: Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas; White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, Fla.; The Wilds and the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio; the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va.; the St. Louis Zoo; the Wildlife Safari in Ore.; and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in Neb.

Visitors to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park can see the cubs and their mother at the Okvango Outpost exhibit or from the Africa Tram tour.

Photo taken on Nov. 4, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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

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Facebook Halloween Costume Contests

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

We’re having fun with our Facebook followers this Halloween by hosting costume contests. The Safari Park is having a human costume contest, and the San Diego Zoo is having a pet costume contest. By entering, you agree to these terms and conditions. Good luck!

1. NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. Participation constitutes entrant’s full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules. The Facebook Halloween Costume Contests (“Contest”) will be held online from 12:00 a.m. Pacific Time (“PT”), October 31, 2014 (“Contest Start Date”), to 5:00 p.m. PT, Novemeber 1, 2014 (“Contest Period”). Contest is sponsored by the Zoological Society of San Diego DBA San Diego Zoo Global (the “Sponsor”) who is solely responsible for all aspects of this Contest.

2. ELIGIBILITY. The Contest is open to legal residents of the United States of America who are 18 years of age or older as of “Contest Start Date.” Sponsor’s employees and their immediate families are not eligible to participate or claim a prize. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. All federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations apply. By participating, entrants agree to abide by all terms of these Official Rules and to the decisions of the judge, and waive any right to claim ambiguity in the Contest or these Official Rules.

3. HOW TO ENTER.

1.) As of 12:00 a.m. PT, October 31, 2014, the entrant must:

a. Have a Facebook® account: If you are not a member, you may sign-up at www.facebook.com

b. Follow the prompts on the respective Facebook posts found here: https://www.facebook.com/sdzsafaripark/photos/a.191010764248941.58007.143152622368089/1021973594485983/?type=1  and here: https://www.facebook.com/SanDiegoZoo/photos/p.10152885123797147/10152885123797147/?type=1

No mechanically reproduced entries will be accepted.

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Helping Vaquita Porpoises

We are working with teachers and students in San Felipe, Mexico, to address the human dimension of conservation.

We are working with teachers and students in San Felipe, Mexico, to address the human dimension of conservation in an effort to help save the vaquita.

What do Sonoran pronghorn, desert bighorn sheep, and California condors have in common? They are threatened, priority species for San Diego Zoo Global conservation initiatives in Baja California, Mexico, and are united under a new community-based conservation initiative of the Conservation Education Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

The extraordinary Baja California peninsula contains a unique array of biodiversity that is a nature lover’s paradise. However, much of the biodiversity is threatened due to increasing human activities, and we must place ever-more importance on working with the local people to become protectors and stewards of the land. You may have caught wind of the program “From the Ridge to the Reef” (Del mar a las montanas in Spanish) in the September 2014 issue of ZOONOOZ, as we are excited to team up with researchers working all over Baja to help address the human dimension of conservation of these important species.

Teachers work together to review a curriculum designed specifically for the region with their help and with priority species in mind.

Teachers work together to review a curriculum designed specifically for the region with their help and with priority species in mind.

There is one species, in particular, so close to extinction that we felt compelled to begin work with communities immediately. On the eastern side of the Baja peninsula in the northern Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortez) exists the most endangered porpoise in the world. The vaquita marina Phocoena sinus is inadvertently caught in nets intended for fish and shrimp, including a lot of illegal fishing, and recent population estimates are at fewer than 100 individuals.

We have begun working with teachers and students in San Felipe, BC, and our last trip to San Felipe was a huge success. Our new postdoctoral fellow, Jenny Glikman, and I conducted a teacher-training workshop with 15 teachers from 4 different schools. This involved brainstorms and discussions on current and future implementation of environmental education activities, the adaptation of curriculum developed specifically for the Ridge to Reef program, and teacher-led creation of conservation project proposals that their students will implement and share with the community. We have also begun collaborating with local organizations already on the ground and part of the community, including the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans.

Teacher attendees of the Ridge to Reef workshop pose with facilitators while sporting a parting gift:  "Del Mar a las Montanas" hats.

Teacher attendees of the Ridge to Reef workshop pose with facilitators while sporting a parting gift: “Del Mar a las Montanas” hats.

We are working with UCSD’s Engineers for Exploration (E4E), who are developing technologies to take photo and video of vaquitas, as we have nearly none. In September, David O’Connor of Conservation Education collected water visibility measurements to get an idea of clarity where the cameras will be deployed. Read more about this in a special blog by the E4E crew themselves!

This is still the beginning of what is shaping up to be an exciting collaboration between a variety of scientists and local teachers, students, and those who make a living from fishing, and there is hope for the future of the vaquita and Baja’s treasures. You can help by sharing information about the plight of the vaquita (find out more here), supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy, and purchasing products coming from sustainable fisheries (the United States is one of the largest markets for Mexican fish and shrimp). With less than 100 of these beautiful, mysterious, and ecologically important porpoises left, urgent action is required, and culturally conscious, grass roots, community-based conservation—whether local to San Diego or international—is how we’re going to make a stand against disappearing species.

Samantha Young is a research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Across the Pacific in 60 Days.

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What’s the Haps on the Herps?

Zoo Intern Quest 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!

markWhat exactly is a herp? Well, “herp” is short for herptiles, the group of animals known as reptiles and amphibians. That’s why people who study reptiles and amphibians are known as herpetologists. The San Diego Zoo’s herpetology collection is huge, containing over 1,300 animals! Sadly, many of the world’s reptiles are now under threat of becoming endangered or worse, extinct. We met with Peter Gilson, one of the Zoo’s educators, part-time keepers, and conservation researchers to learn more about what the San Diego Zoo has done to prevent that from happening.

Mr. Gilson gave us our first behind-the-scenes look with the Galapagos Tortoise exhibit. While handing out carrots and giving neck massages to the enormous reptiles, he explained to us the history of tortoise conservation, both here in San Diego and in the wild. The Galapagos tortoises here at the Zoo have been busy, having hatched 96 babies since they arrived in 1928, making them a real success story. Breeding programs for these gentle giants is essential, as most of the 14 subspecies in the wild are listed as vulnerable or endangered. In the wild, tortoise populations have been severely affected by habitat encroachment and human conflict. However, new laws and conservation programs have helped educate people around the islands, helping ensure the vitality of their species

Another major conservation issue that has the herpetology community scrambling for solutions has to do with amphibians. After being introduced to the Zoo’s amphibian collection, Mr. Gilson told us about chytrid fungus, a new species which is exterminating amphibians worldwide. The fungus works by digging into its victims’ skin, causing it to thicken. Since most amphibians breathe through their skin, this swelling prevents them from taking in the oxygen and other nutrients they need to survive. The scientific community currently hasn’t found a cure yet, but it is believed to be linked to the use of pesticides. The disease has spread fast, already covering most of the world’s prime amphibian habitat. According to Mr. Gilson, chytrid fungus has the potential to wipe out over a third of the amphibians on earth, and that is with generous estimates. Such a loss would be devastating, not just for the natural world, but for ours too. Amphibians are the world’s pest control, eating all the mosquitoes, locusts, and just about every insect that has ever caused humanity trouble. Without frogs and toads to keep them in check, pest populations could grow out of control.

Here at the Zoo, there are breeding programs in place to help save some of the most threatened amphibians before its too late. For instance, the Panamanian golden frog is extinct in the wild, and the Zoo has been working since 2003 to bring them back from the brink. As of right now, 20 individuals have been born at the Zoo. Unfortunately, these new frogs cannot return to the wild because their native habitat is still too toxic. On the bright side, because of the alarming speed at which chyrid fungus has spread, conservation teams have been forced to act fast. Organizations like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (or ICUN) has declared over 6,000 species of amphibians as vulnerable or endangered, and are dedicated to finding a solution as fast as possible.

Despite the success of the Galapagos tortoises and Panamanian golden frogs, one of the Zoo’s most impressive achievements in reptile conservation is probably the Caribbean rock iguana. Mr. Gilson explained to the interns how he was fortunate enough to work with the rock iguana breeding program, which has been going on for over 18 years. There are three species of rock iguana which San Diego Zoo Global has been working to protect: the Grand Cayman Blue, the Anegada, and the Jamaican. They are all threatened, but the Grand Cayman and Jamaican iguanas are some of the most endangered reptiles in the world. In their natural environment, these huge lizards play a very important role in seed dispersion. Iguanas carry seeds from the fruit they eat across their island homes, and then deposit them to new areas in the form of iguana dung. In order to demonstrate how important the relationship between the iguanas and the plants that they eat, Mr. Gilson told us that many of the Sea Grape plants here in the San Diego Zoo were actually planted from Iguana poop! In their habitat, Rock Iguanas are threatened by invasive species like dogs and rats, which eat their eggs and young hatchlings. With the help of captive breeding, over 700 individuals have been released into the wild, significantly boosting rock iguana population. This, along with efforts to control invasive species has helped to keep these fascinating creatures from dying out.

As a lover of all things reptilian, this experience was truly memorable. Not only was I able get a hands-on view of what goes on with these creatures behind closed doors, but I also had the opportunity to really learn about the pressing issues regarding their survival outside of the Zoo. Having seen what good work is being done for these animals around the world, I strongly recommend to anyone interested to donate to San Diego Zoo Global’s Wildlife Conservancy (endextinction.org). Whatever amount, no matter how small, will make a difference. As for myself, after seeing what Mr. Gilson and others like him are doing for reptile conservation, I can only say that I want in.

Mark, Conservation Team
Fall Session 2014