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Birthday Celebration at San Diego Zoo: Giant Panda Xiao Liwu Turns Two!

Xiao Liwu's 2nd birthdayXiao Liwu (pronounced sshyaoww lee woo), a male giant panda at the San Diego Zoo, turned two years old today and received a birthday party, complete with cake and presents. The young panda, whose name means little gift, came out of his den this morning to find a festive, four-foot-tall ice cake, topped with a big ice “2″ and filled with some of his favorite treats: apple, carrot and yam slices.

The birthday bear, called Mr. Wu by his keepers and panda fans, went directly to the two-tiered cake and began eating the slices of fruits and vegetables layering the top tier of the icy treat. When he ate all the slices, he patiently waited for the ice to melt so he could eat the fruit frozen into the tiers. He later climbed on top of the cake and chewed on the bamboo stalks frozen inside the decorative elements before venturing off to check out his gifts, boxes filled with hay, alfalfa and pine shavings and scented with cinnamon.

Xiao Liwu’s cake, weighing 100 pounds, was made by the Zoo’s nutritional services team and took weeks to complete. It was made of water colored with food coloring and frozen into layers, with bamboo stalks used to support the tiers. The ice cake was decorated with sliced fruits and vegetables, bamboo, colored pieces of ice cut into star shapes and pureed yam frosting applied with traditional frosting tubes and tips. The cake and gifts are a form of enrichment, which is important to the panda, as it keeps him stimulated and active, allowing him to show natural behaviors.

Keepers describe Mr. Wu as an extremely smart and precocious cub. He enjoys playing in a long, plastic tray filled with ice cubes, but once the cubes melt, he comes out. He also enjoys rolling in different scents and his favorites are ginseng root, wintergreen and cinnamon. He is very laid back and relaxed and loves his bamboo, eating 15 to 20 pounds of it a day. He weighs 88 pounds and when full grown can weigh as much as 250 pounds. Visitors can see Mr. Wu at Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo or watch him on the Zoo’s Panda cam at zoo.sandiegozoo.org/cams/panda-cam.

The San Diego Zoo is home to three giant pandas: Xiao Liwu, his mother, Bai Yun and father, Gao Gao. Giant pandas are on loan to the San Diego Zoo from the People’s Republic of China for conservation studies of this endangered species. To help San Diego Zoo Global lead the fight against extinction and to celebrate Xiao Liwu’s birthday, please consider becoming a Hero for Wildlife by making a monthly donation to San Diego Zoo Global’s Wildlife Conservancy at www.endextinction.org.

Photo taken on July 29, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.

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

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Panda Xiao Liwu is Two

Xiao Liwu's birthday cake was a thing of beauty!

Xiao Liwu’s birthday cake had a beach theme, complete with tiki torches!

Our birthday boy picked an especially warm day for his party, and who knows how long his ice cake will last, but it was a thing of beauty! The two-year-old panda’s party had a beach theme, so his exhibit was decorated with cardboard beach balls, jellyfish, and seahorses dangling here and there, cardboard gift boxes, and a pile of wood shavings to represent beach sand.

The birthday cake was topped with a large blue “2,” which didn’t stay upright for long, and an orange “tiki torch” on each side. Mr. Wu seemed delighted with his surprise, climbing up on it to get every last bit of apple. When, most likely, his tongue and bottom got too cold, he retired to the log bridge to nap in the warm sun.

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Our cake team spent several weeks preparing this special treat for Xiao Liwu. It was about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall, weighed over 100 pounds (45 kilograms), and had layers supported by bamboo poles. It was so colorful, too! Bright blues and oranges. Knowing that apples are “Mr. Wu’s” favorite snack, the team filled the cake with apple slices frozen in the ice blocks. Slices of carrots, yams, bamboo, and more apples were arranged in a depression on the top of the cake, which was drizzled with a yam paste “frosting.”

If he gets too warm today, he’ll still have that beautiful ice cake to sit on! Video of Xiao Liwu enjoying his morning when it becomes available, so be sure to check back. (Update: video has been added. Enjoy!)

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Keeper Jennifer Becerra hangs a cardboard beach ball as part of the decorations.

Xiao Liwu 2nd birthday cake

It took three strong cake team members to bring in the 100-pound cake.

The cake awaits the Birthday Panda.

The cake awaits the Birthday Panda.

Ooh, this cake feels good!

Ooh, this cake feels good!

Happy birthday, Xiao Liwu, our Little Gift!

San Diego Zoo Global is working with a number of international partners worldwide to save species like the giant panda. You can become one of our valued partners in conservation by supporting us today!

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San Diego Zoo Global Receives Neighborhood Grant for Field Notebooks

field notebooks grant presentationThis morning Supervisor Dave Roberts presented a check for $7,000 from the County of San Diego Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund to San Diego Zoo Global Chairman Rick Gulley. The check was awarded to the nonprofit organization in a brief ceremony under the curious eyes of a spectacled owl.

The funds will help create a digital field notebook titled “Life in a Biodiversity Hotspot” for use in the Eddy Family Outdoor Learning Lab, located next to the Beckman Center for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The digital field notebook will introduce students and teachers from disadvantaged Title I schools in San Diego County to local wildlife found throughout the region.

Photo taken on July 25, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Global.

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

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Tiger Trail Territory

Teddy patrols his territory.

Teddy patrols his territory.

For our guests at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, as well as our Tiger Cam viewers, it’s not uncommon to see the tigers roaming the perimeter of their yards, or even strolling back and forth across a smaller area. This activity can be attributed to a number of factors, many of which are a clear reflection of life for their wild cousins. In the wild, tigers patrol the perimeter of their territory on a regular basis and can sometimes walk more than 10 miles in one night while hunting. Consequently, we consider it a natural, species-appropriate exercise when they cruise their territorial boundaries, whether it’s to check out the smells left behind by another cat the day before, to remark the borders with their own signature scent, or to just make sure that everything is well within their domain!

The perimeter fencing around Tiger Trail keeps the local mule deer from ever getting into close proximity with the tiger yards. At the former tiger habitat, we’d frequently have deer around the perimeter of the exhibit and on the trail by the catch pen, and all the cats would do was sit and stare…for hours! Our tigers have it pretty good within their yards; they have all their needs met and basically get everything served to them on a platter, so they have no real motivation to “expand their territory.” And while tigers are capable of climbing, they’re pretty inefficient at it, especially once they’re full grown.

Typically, when we see the cats walking back and forth across a smaller area, it’s because something has them particularly inspired. Often, this can be the anticipation of an upcoming training session, especially if one of their keepers is in close proximity. Sometimes, however, their excitement has more to do with the other tigers. For example, when one of our females is in estrus, we’ll often see an increase in activity from them, as well as our adult male, Teddy. Also, as the cats are still acclimating to all of their new human guests, we’ll sometimes see them become a bit more enthusiastic when they catch sight of a particular passer-by (usually one of the smaller ones!). Our guests often, albeit unknowingly, provide a great source of environmental enrichment for the tigers.

If helping to enrich the tigers sounds like fun, be sure to visit us on Tuesday, July 29, when we’ll be celebrating Global Tiger Day! We’ll have keeper talks, training demonstrations, and enrichment-building workshops, where you can create real tiger toys and then see them put to use! It will be a day not to be missed for all of our tiger fans. Be sure to come out and show your stripes!

Lori Gallo is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Tigers Adjust to New Home.

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Hide and Seek: Followers and Tuckers

A Przewalski’s horse foal strolls next to Mom at the Safari Park.

A Przewalski’s horse foal strolls next to Mom at the Safari Park.

Spring and summer mark baby season at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and animal babies at the Safari Park fall into two categories: followers and tuckers. Followers walk, run, and jump within a half hour of birth. They follow their mothers and their herd. They can run from predators. A Przewalski’s foal is able to stand, walk, trot, neigh, and nibble forage on its birthday. Within a week, the foal is able to kick a predator to defend itself. A Przewalski’s foal born at the Safari Park on June 26, 2014, already forages independently in the field exhibit.

A baby gazelle is tucked against a log for safe keeping by Mom.

A baby gazelle is tucked against a log for safe keeping by Mom.

Conversely, tuckers are “tucked” near a rock, tree, or dirt mound after birth. The herd avoids the baby to keep its location secret. Even the tucker’s mother avoids her baby, only coming back a few times a day to nurse. She also moves her baby to different hidden locations to confuse predators. Tuckers are completely helpless, so they stay as still as possible and blend in to their surroundings, even if a predator approaches. Thomson’s gazelles are tuckers. They are the favorite food of cheetahs—infant gazelles don’t stand a chance against them. Gazelle mothers hide their babies in tall grasses for multiple days until they are strong enough to keep up with the herd. A “Tommy” calf born at the Park on June 19, 2014, still looks like a tan rock in the grass.

A gazelle baby gets an ear notch as part of its first exam.

A gazelle baby gets an ear notch as part of its first exam.

Keepers have a tough job with tucker offspring. The baby is easy to catch to give it its first exam, because tuckers can’t run yet, but keepers have to first find the baby. Have you ever tried to find a completely still infant gazelle in a 60-acre exhibit? Good luck. On a Caravan Safari, I have the privilege of watching the action first-hand and even helping keepers spot the tuckers!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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Elephant Mila Applies Her Social Skills

Mila, right, and Mary share a snack of acacia browse.

Mila, right, and Mary share a snack of acacia browse.

Some of you may be wondering how our newest elephant, Mila, is fitting into the family here at the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey. Mila had not seen another elephant in approximately 35 years before she came to the Zoo in November 2013 (see post Welcome, Elephant Mila). We were excited to let her meet our herd of five female elephants but knew that we needed to take it slow in order to give Mila the best chance of fitting in. So, after her quarantine period ended in January 2014, we began the introduction process.

We started by letting Mila meet Mary, a 50-year-old Asian elephant and our most dominant female (see post Elephants Mila and Mary Meet). After a little pushing and shoving, which is how elephants establish dominance, Mila and Mary became fast friends and are often seen spending time together in the yard.

Our next step was adding Shaba, a 34-year-old African elephant, to the mix. When Mila met Shaba, she had a nervous few days trying to figure out this elephant who looked like her but had longer tusks! She used all the social skills she had learned from meeting Mary, and they now get along. We then gave Mila some time to bond with Mary and Shaba before introducing her to more of the girls.

Once Mary, Mila, and Shaba were able to be together 24 hours a day, we let Mila meet Sumithi, a 47-year-old Asian elephant, and then Devi, a 37-year-old Asian elephant. Once again, our smart girl Mila applied her new social skills and ability to navigate the exhibit and be “under the radar,” and the introductions went great—Mila had now met four of our five female elephants!

Tembo, a 42-year-old African elephant, was the last girl Mila needed to be introduced to; however, we wanted to give Mila some time to bond and adjust to her new herd before she met Tembo, who is usually a little more animated and intimidating than the other elephants. After a few weeks of spending her days with Mary, Shaba, Sumithi, and Devi, and her nights with Mary and Shaba, we decided it was time for Mila to meet Tembo. On July 8, we put all six of the girls together for the first time, and, much to our relief, Tembo and Mila did great together! There has been a little pushing and chasing from Tembo as she asserts her dominance, but overall, they are getting along well.

Another step we have taken in the last few days is having Mila spend the night with not only Shaba and Mary but Devi and Sumithi as well. They have access to three of our four yards and have the ability to spread out to eat or interact as they chose. So far, they are all doing well together, which is exciting because it puts us one step closer to having all six of our female elephants living together in a group the majority of the time.

It’s been a slow process, but it’s worth the time and the effort knowing that after 35 years of being alone, Mila will finally have a herd she can call her own. The next time you visit the Zoo, make sure to stop by Elephant Odyssey so you’ll have the chance to see all six of our female elephants out in the yard together.

Lori Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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3-D Technology Used to Help California Condors and Other Endangered Species

Condor 218A team including researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has developed a novel methodology that, for the first time, combines 3-D and advanced range estimator technologies to provide highly detailed data on the range and movements of terrestrial, aquatic, and avian wildlife species. One aspect of the study focused on learning more about the range and movements of the California condor using miniaturized GPS biotelemetry units attached to every condor released into the wild.

“We have been calculating home ranges for the tracked condors in three dimensions for the first time using this GPS location data, and our novel density estimator was used to incorporate the vertical component of animal movements into projections of space-use,” said James Sheppard, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Conservation Research.

While its population now stands at approximately 400 birds, up from only 22 in the mid-1980s, conservation efforts to reintroduce the California condor to its former habitat in the mountains of California and Mexico have been hampered by a lack of understanding about condor movement patterns and habitat use.

“This data will be used as a predictive management tool to inform conservation efforts to restore condor populations, particularly with regard to emerging threats such as climate change and wind energy impacts,” added Sheppard.

The team created highly detailed data sets and visualizations relying on expertise from researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego, after they tracked three highly iconic but threatened species: California condors, giant pandas, and dugongs, a large, marine animal somewhat similar to the manatee.

“We were able to speed up their software by several orders of magnitude,” said Robert Sinkovits, SDSC’s director of the Scientific Applications Group, which helps researchers make optimal use of SDSC’s larger supercomputers. “In this case, calculations that had formerly taken four days to complete were finished in less than half an hour.”

A paper detailing the project, called “Movement-based Estimation and Visualization of Space Use in 3-D for Wildlife Ecology and Conservation,” was published July 1 in the PLoS-ONE online science journal. A video of the project can be viewed on SeedMe at https://www.seedme.org/condor_vis.

In addition to Tracy and Sheppard, researchers for the study included Jun Zhu (University of Wisconsin, Madison); Fuwen Wei (Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing); Ronald Swaisgood (San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research); and Robert Fisher (USGS, San Diego). The California condor tracking part of the study was funded or supported by San Diego Zoo Global, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sempra Energy and Mexico-based organizations including Instituto Nacional de Ecologia, Comision Nacional Para El Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Wildcoast/Costasalvaje. The giant panda research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Wildlife Experimental Platform of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and San Diego Zoo Global. Funding and support for the dugong research was provided by CRC Reef, Australian Research Council LIEF Scheme, and James Cook University.

CONTACT:
Christina Simmons, San Diego Zoo Global, 619-685-3291
Jan Zverina, SDSC Communications, 858-534-5111
Warren R. Froelich, SDSC Communications, 858-822-3622
Ben Landis, U.S. Geological Survey Communications, 916-278-9495

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Condor Cam Chick Needs Name

Name the Condor ChickHatched on April 29, a small condor chick emerged into the world observed closely by animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Adding to the more than 180 condors hatched at the Safari Park since the breeding program began in 1982, the little chick was placed with adult condors Sulu and Towich so they could raise it to adulthood. Its growth has been watched by thousands of people through a live Condor Cam placed in the nest box. Now animal care staff are asking these interested watchers to help choose a name for the young female bird.

Viewers can go online at http://bit.ly/condorname to vote for one of five suggested names. In keeping with the tradition of the condor program, the names have been selected from the Kumeyaay language. The name receiving the most votes will be used for the chick for the rest of its life. Voting closes at end of day on July 20.

“California condors are an important native species in the western United States and hold a special place not only in the ecosystem but in the culture of the people native to this area,” said Michael Mace, curator of birds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “By giving condors names from the Kumeyaay language, we hope to honor the role of condors in human culture throughout history.”

At more than 2 months of age, the condor chick is covered with fluffy, gray feathers and is still closely cared for by its foster parents. The young bird will continue to grow and mature over the next couple of months until its flight feathers grow in and it is ready to leave the nest. Animal care staff at the Safari Park hope that the chick will be able to take its place among the wild populations that have been released in California, Arizona and Mexico.

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

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Roar & Snore: Sizzling Summertime Fun at Safari Park

There are many animal presentations throughout your Roar & Snore experience. The tiny pygmy falcon made a big impression on people.

There are many animal presentations throughout your Roar & Snore experience. The tiny pygmy falcon made a big impression on people.

There is really no better way to spend a summer evening than hassle-free camping under shooting stars with a warm breeze and a menagerie of animal calls echoing through the valley. The Roar & Snore Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park allows you to do just that, which my friend Teresa and I did in early July. There’s a choice of tent accommodation from Classic (what we chose) to Premium (includes a Queen-sized bed, rug, and lamps—more like “glamping” than camping). Roar & Snore Safaris feature Adults Only, Family Nights, and All Ages to choose from. Check in time is 4:15 p.m. and, while strapping young men transfer your luggage from your car to a van and deposit it at your tent, campers enjoy the first of several animal presentations in a shady area in front of the Safari Park entrance. We got to meet a surprisingly fast African leopard tortoise and a hyper-alert pygmy falcon while campers checked in.

Roar & Snore accommodations are rustic and comfortable. And you can’t beat the view!

Roar & Snore accommodations are rustic and comfortable. And you can’t beat the view!

We were divided into four groups, each sporting a nifty, glow-in-the-dark color-coded wristband, and we headed to camp. We settled into our digs and savored the view from Kilima Point, overlooking the African Plains habitat replete with giraffes, rhinos, buffalo, springbok, and more. After supper, as the shadows stretched long, our guide took us through the new Tiger Trail, and we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the tigers’ bedroom area and the keepers’ workspace. The structure is so well made and expertly ventilated, that if there was a wildfire, cats and keepers could hunker down in the building and stay safe.

On our way back to camp, we got another animal presentation featuring a darling little sugar glider (“the smallest marsupial”), a hypnotic sand python named Woma, whose flattish head indicates it is a shoveler of sand and soil, and a shy three-banded armadillo, which soon felt comfortable enough to unfurl for us. As we headed to see elephants, there was splashing and excitement in the air…with dusk descending, several of the elephants decided it was the perfect time to take a dip! In a tangle of trunks and trumpeting, the young pachyderms frolicked in the pool, as kids are wont to do. As one pushed another under water, its trunk opening would crack the surface like a periscope. Soon it would bob up and return the dunking. The giant matriarchs stood nearby, one tossing dirt on her back, another scratching against a log and bellowing every so often. It was a pool party I was happy to witness!

Seeing the animals at night was a truly magical experience.

Seeing the animals at night was a truly magical experience.

Returning to camp, where the fire was crackling, we were given the ingredients to make roasted marshmallow s’mores and had some time to relax and count stars before the next optional add-on: a walking tour with night vision goggles! Eight of us intrepid campers chose to participate, and we were given our super-power binoculars. With a push of a button, the eyepieces glowed night-vision green. I squealed with delight.

We headed out past Lion Camp to the Africa Tram road. It was magical—nighttime chirps and murmurs punctuated by the alto roar of Izu, the male lion. The air was cool and fragrant…and it was DARK. Outlines of palm trees and giraffes were all that were visible with the naked eye, but through the goggles, details and texture prevailed. Animal eyes reflected glowing green back at us. African crowned cranes stood stalk still, clearly visible through the goggles.

After our early morning tram tour, we saw the lion cubs Ken and Dixie warming up for the day.

After our early morning tram tour, we saw the lion cubs Ken and Dixie warming up for the day.

I was breathless with this whole new nocturnal world revealed to me. With the naked eye, about all you could see in the cheetah exhibit was an ear gliding by, but with the goggles, you could see her sleekness and spots clear as day. I wonder what she thought about this little group of upright apes peering at her through green orbs as she gracefully glided before us, comfortable in her own skin and the night. I will never, ever forget seeing the Safari Park with truly fresh eyes.

Karyl Carmignani is a staff writer for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Still Ga Ga for Gao Gao.

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Carnivore Campout

The Zoo's comfortable campground is inside the Zoo and just yards away from the critters!

The Zoo’s comfortable campground is inside the Zoo and just yards away from the critters!

Hello, carnivore connoisseurs!
Here at the San Diego Zoo, we are gearing up for our first-ever Carnivore Campouts this July! Carnivore Campout is a family sleepover event where guests will have the chance to meet some of our fiercest animals. We will enjoy up-close experiences with some unexpected meat-eaters, including some of our big cats and reptiles. The Zoo’s own animal researcher, Dr. Zoolittle, will present some special games and challenges, and guests will embark on an Endangered Species Mystery Hunt to try to figure out where our missing lions have gone! Campers will be treated to another animal visit in the evening before enjoying s’mores around the campfire and finally falling asleep to the sounds of the Zoo.

In the morning, campers will enjoy a hearty breakfast and may just spot some unexpected carnivores nearby enjoying their own morning meal! Before heading home, we’ll meet some of our bravest (and most careful!) keepers and get an up-close look at more of our world-famous carnivorous cats and dogs.

Carnivore Campouts will be held at the San Diego Zoo on July 12, 19, and 26, and August 16.

Can’t make it to a Carnivore Campout? The San Diego Zoo also hosts Black & White Overnight sleepovers in August and Spooky Sleepovers in October. Visit our Zoo Sleepover page or call 619-718-3000 for more information!

We hope you can join us soon for a wild night!!

Megan Adcock is a conservation education specialist at the San Diego Zoo.