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Galapagos Tortoise Arrives at Toledo Zoo from San Diego

San Diego Zoo logoEmerson, a male tortoise approximately 100 years old and weighing about 400 pounds, arrived at the Toledo Zoo from the San Diego Zoo late on Aug. 27 and is scheduled to be on exhibit at the zoo’s Tiger Terrace area. The species is native to the Galapagos Islands, near Ecuador and off the western coast of South America. Galapagos tortoises can live for 150 or so years, with males measuring up to 6 feet long and weighing as much as 500 pounds (females are smaller).

This species was among the animals that Charles Darwin observed when he traveled to the Galapagos Islands in 1835. The information Darwin gleaned from that trip helped shape his resulting theory of evolution by natural selection, which has become the cornerstone of modern biological science.

While the species is thought to have numbered in the tens of thousands before pirates and whalers started hunting them, four of the Galapagos tortoise’s 14 subspecies have gone extinct. The surviving species face competition for resources from nonnative animals humans have introduced to the islands. Although few animals could kill a full-grown tortoise, many animals eat the tortoises’ eggs, decimating reproduction rates. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as vulnerable.

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

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Xiao Liwu’s First 2 Years

Here he comes. Watch out, snow!

Here he comes. Watch out, snow!

We’ve put together a fun video showing some of panda Xiao Liwu’s milestones (see below). The video was made for our San Diego Zoo Kids channel, a television broadcast channel featuring programming about unique and endangered animals species designed to entertain and educate guests about wildlife around the world. It is shown in select children’s hospitals on their in-room televisions. The channel features video from our famous Panda Cam as well as other live, online cameras, fun and educational pieces about a variety of animals, and up-close video encounters of popular animals with our national spokesperson, Rick Schwartz.

The San Diego Zoo Kids channel is funded by a generous gift by businessman and philanthropist Denny Sanford. We thought “Mr. Wu’s” many fans would like to see this video, too. Enjoy!


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First Breeding Season of Endangered Bird at Maui Bird Conservation Center Produces Six Chicks

Palila-on-MamaneA small songbird of the Hawaiian forest, the critically endangered palila has received a significant boost to its captive breeding population due to a successful breeding season at San Diego Zoo Global’s Maui Bird Conservation Center. With the support and care from conservationists at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, a pair of palila has produced a total of six healthy nestlings in 2014 thus far.

“This is the first full breeding season we have had for this species at the Maui Bird Conservation Center and we are delighted with the success,” said Josh Kramer, research coordinator for San Diego Zoo Global. “These birds are very charismatic and it is very easy to fall in love with them.”

In the wild, palila are only found on the island of Hawaii, in subalpine woodlands of Mauna Kea. At the Maui Bird Conservation Center, animal care staff artificially incubated eggs laid by the pair and hand-reared the offspring to encourage multiple clutches from the breeding adults. Palila are highly dependent on the mamane Sophora chrysophylla tree, from which they consume unripe seeds. Mamane seeds contain high amounts of toxic alkaloids and palila have evolved tolerance to this toxin. Today, palila are found in less than 5% of their historic range, primarily due to the loss of native dryland forest habitat.

The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program is a field program of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, in partnership with the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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

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Secretary of Interior Announces Additional $1 Million to Fund Urban Engagement Efforts at Southern California Wildlife Refuges

Global_logo_color copySecretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced last week that the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex will receive an additional $1 million in funding to reach new audiences and engage Southern California urban communities and youth in conservation and outdoor recreation. The outreach includes programs from a number of local conservation organizations, including a teacher education program being run by San Diego Zoo Global. The project for the refuge is the first among the nation’s urban national wildlife refuges to receive this new award through a nationwide competition.

“As the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States with 17 million people, Southern California can be a laboratory for the rest of the country to show how to help people who live in a world made of bricks and concrete connect with a world of grass and rivers, fish and wildlife,” said Jewell. “Helping kids feel welcome on public lands at a young age can help create the next generation of conservationists or spark a passion to be good stewards of nature that will last a lifetime.”

Ten exceptional programs have been incorporated into the SoCal Project that will complement and expand current outreach and education programs on the refuges, including:

* Working with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to develop job skills with inner city, low-income young adults to restore wildlife habitats along the Los Angeles River and to lead outdoor education activities;
* Expanding the partnership with Earth Discovery Institute to build a cadre of young technology-savvy environmental stewards and to expand service opportunities for volunteers and communities to connect with their wild lands;
* Growing the next generation of environmental scientists and developing skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with the Living Coast Discovery Center; and
* Training teachers and students on the use of cutting-edge science to solve conservation problems with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

“Native species refuges located in the middle of urban areas are faced with the ongoing challenge of balancing human and wildlife needs, which highlights the importance of awareness building through conservation education,” said Douglas Myers, CEO and president of San Diego Zoo Global. “San Diego Zoo Global is proud to be part of this leadership effort to put youth in touch with our environmental heritage.”

The refuge’s winning proposal, the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project, incorporates outdoor learning, service and stewardship of natural habitats and conservation-based projects for youth and young adults from diverse communities. It encompasses activities not only at the San Diego Refuges but also to the north at the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex and in Los Angeles under the auspices of the Los Angeles Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership and Friends of the Los Angeles River. The competition was launched in March 2014 to encourage innovative proposals from refuges across the country to engage new and diverse audiences.

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

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Puppy Love for Cheetah Cub at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Cheetah Ruuxa, Dog RainaA cheetah cub, Ruuxa, and his female puppy companion, Raina, wrestled, ran and played as they participated in training sessions earlier today, Aug. 18, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. As part of their training, the young animal ambassadors, both now over 3 months old, ventured out of their current home at the Safari Park’s animal care center to experience new surroundings and to begin acclimating to their future home behind the scenes at the Park’s Benbough Amphitheater.

“As an ambassador animal, Ruuxa will be experiencing lots of unpredictable environments, so it is vitally important for him to feel confident in his surroundings,” stated Larissa Comb, senior animal trainer, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We are taking Ruuxa and Raina outside their comfort zone of the animal care center, doing short training sessions with them several times a day, allowing them to have experiences in a controlled environment. Both animals are doing great, progressing very fast, and Ruuxa’s confidence is incredible for his age.”

The animal pair was placed together at 4 and 5 weeks of age to be raised as ambassador animals after the cheetah cub was rejected by his mother and had to be hand raised by keepers. Safari Park ambassador cheetahs are paired with a domestic dog for companionship, and the dog’s body language helps communicate to the cheetah that there is nothing to fear in new or public surroundings, which relaxes and calms the cheetah.

Visitors to the Safari Park may see Ruuxa and Raina in the Park’s animal care center from 12:15 to 1 p.m. daily until Aug. 21. On Aug. 22, the pair will move to their new home behind the scenes at Benbough Amphitheater, where they can be seen during a Behind-the-Scenes Safari: Cheetah & Friends, or guests may possibly see them on one of the training sessions around the Park.

Photo taken on Aug. 18, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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

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Upcycling: Recycling at its Finest

These colorful critters are made from upcycled flip flops!

These colorful critters are made from upcycled flip flops!

Upcycling reduces waste by using existing resources to create products rather than harvesting new raw materials. Think of it as converting trash into environmentally friendly products or art. How is this relevant to San Diego Zoo Global? We are a conservation organization dedicated not only to protecting wildlife and plants, but natural resources as well.

For instance, our gift shops promote upcycling and sustainability by carrying Ocean Sole’s statues of rhinos, elephants, and giraffes made from upcycled flip-flops. Ocean Sole collects 400,000 discarded flip-flops per year that litter Kenya’s coastline and refashions them into colorful, hand-made statues. Ocean Sole reduces oceanic pollution AND fosters a connection between Kenyans and their surrounding marine ecosystem. Ocean Sole also improves the quality of life for the women who make the statues. By earning their own incomes, they can afford to send their children to school. Some even save money to start their own businesses.

It's amazing what crafters can make with old aluminum soda and beer cans!

It’s amazing what crafters can make with old aluminum soda and beer cans!

Similarly, our gift shops sell animal statues made of upcycled beer and soda cans as part of a GreenZoo initiative. Every ounce of aluminum recycled is an ounce of bauxite, an ore in aluminum, that doesn’t have to be mined. Bauxite mines are located in prime wildlife habitat in South Africa, South America, Russia, the West Indies, and the United States. The mines disrupt wildlife habitat, and chemicals from the mines often pollute waterways. The GreenZoo animal statues available in our gift shops were hand-made in South Africa by local artisans.

My favorite example of upcycling is elephant PooPooPaper. An adult elephant eats up to 300 pounds of roots, grasses, and bark each day. That’s a lot of fiber. Most of it passes undigested into 100 pounds of poop per elephant per day. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park sends the bulk of its manure to a farmer across the street who grows hay for the animals at the Park. The PooPooPaper we sell in our gift shops is made from elephant droppings in Thailand. PooPooPaper processes the fibers in elephant poop into paper with environmentally friendly methods to clean, boil, mix, blend, color, screen, dry, and cut the fibers. Poop has actually been upcycled for centuries as fertilizer, fuel, building material, and insect repellent. PooPooPaper takes this idea to the next level, upcycling waste materials and supporting our involvement with Elephants Without Borders, an organization dedicated to studying the migration routes of the 220,000 endangered elephants in southern Africa. Buying paper made of elephant poop saves both natural resources and elephants! Gift shops at the San Diego Zoo also sell giant panda PooPooPaper that upcycles and help saves giant pandas.

These whimsical animals are made from snare wire.

These whimsical animals are made from snare wire.

Upcycled products are often colorful, creative, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly. But you don’t have to shop at a zoo to upcycle. You can save the planet’s resources by upcycling at home. Turn old glass bottles into hanging lamps. Use an old computer tower as a mailbox. Make a bookshelf out of a ladder. Turn an old musical instrument into a fountain. Or create a recycling can from old water bottles. The next time you get ready to throw something away, ask yourself if that trash can be turned into treasure.

For more information about upcycling, and for additional creative upcycling inspirations for your home, school, and community, visit the following websites:

Our gift shops also sell items made to support South America's only bear species.

Our gift shops also sell items made to support South America’s only bear species.

1. San Diego Zoo Global Green Practices
2. Upcycling Re-values and Re-purposes Trash
3. Upcycle That—Upcycling Ideas and Inspirations
4. Here are 30 Brilliant Ways to Use Old Stuff You’re About to Throw Away
5. 10 Ways to Reduce Ocean Plastic

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Hide & Seek: Followers and Tuckers.

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World Elephant Day

Christine Browne-Nuñez admires elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

Christine Browne-Nunez admires elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

World Elephant Day, launched on August 12, 2012, is now an annual event intended to celebrate this beautiful and majestic mammal and to bring attention to the plight of Asian and African elephants and the numerous threats they face. Sadly, elephant tusks are one of the major reasons elephants are threatened. Elephant tusks are made into ivory carvings, jewelry, chopsticks, and other such trinkets. Some people in the world believe that elephant tusks fall out, like baby teeth in humans, and, to collect the ivory, all one needs to do is gather those fallen tusks off the ground. The truth, however, is that tusks are permanent and grow throughout an elephant’s lifetime. In order to get the ivory, the elephant is illegally killed. Because of the high demand for ivory, elephants are currently being killed at an alarming rate. According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 35,000 elephants were poached in Africa last year.

My work with elephants began in 1995 as a manager of a volunteer conservation education program at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, where local and international visitors came to see baby elephants and learn about elephant ecology and conservation. It was at the Trust that I witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by poaching, as many of the traumatized orphaned elephants had lost their mothers to the ivory trade. The good news is, individuals, organizations, such as DSWT, and governments around the world are working hard to bring an end to poaching by educating people about the real costs of ivory and by enforcing national and international laws that make it illegal to collect, sell, or buy ivory.

Many values are associated with elephants, which is, in part, why conserving elephants is a complex task. From an ecological perspective, the elephant has important roles in the environment. It is sometimes called an ecosystem engineer, with complex effects on its habitat and species diversity. It modifies its environment through activities such as seed dispersal, tree felling, bark stripping, and the creation of waterholes. From a social perspective, the many elephant lovers around the world appreciate that elephants are intelligent, social animals that communicate with others near and far, maintain strong family bonds throughout their lives, and have life stages parallel to those of humans. Additionally, many elephant behaviors, such as those demonstrated in greeting ceremonies or when standing over and covering a dead body or bones, are interpreted as displays of emotion. Elephants also have economic value at the local and national level by attracting tourists for consumptive and non-consumptive use.

An elephant gives itself a dust bath in Amboseli. Photo credit: Richard Nunez.

An elephant gives itself a dust bath in Amboseli. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

Whereas the elephant is admired by many people around the world, not all people view elephants positively. About 70 percent of the elephant’s range lies outside protected areas on lands often occupied by people, highlighting the importance of maintaining private lands as viable elephant habitat. Therefore, conservation efforts aimed at protecting the elephant and securing habitat for its long-term survival need to be based on both ecological and human-dimensions information.

People and elephants have coexisted for millennia with varying levels and types of interaction, but negative interactions known as human-elephant conflict (HEC) are perceived to be on the rise in some places. Human-elephant conflict can come in many forms and result in property damage and injury and death of both people and elephants. Crop depredation, the most common form of HEC, is a critical issue in elephant conservation, especially as more land is converted to agriculture. In pastoral areas such as Maasailand, where I conducted research, coexistence is threatened as a result of the evolving socio-economic landscape.

The Maasai people living around Amboseli National Park, Kenya, located at the foot of the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro, are traditionally semi-nomadic livestock herders. This livelihood practice facilitated their coexistence with wildlife, including elephants, in the Amboseli ecosystem for hundreds of years, but changes brought about by government policy, conservation policy, and immigration of peoples from other cultures has had a significant and on-going impact on their way of life. With more land under the plow and increasing competition for resources resulting from population growth, the level of conflict was on the rise.

A Maasai elder is interviewed. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

A Maasai elder is interviewed. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

My research found the Maasai were divided in their willingness to tolerate elephants on their lands. At the core of this division were perceptions about costs, resulting from HEC, versus benefits, namely tourist revenue. Conservationists working in this and other ecosystems are continually working to find solutions to HEC in order to secure long-term habitat for elephants. In Amboseli, such solutions include electric fencing around agricultural areas, compensation payments for loss of human life, consolation payments for livestock killed by elephants on private lands, and ecotourism schemes. My research found only a minority of local Maasai were aware of, or fully understood, these interventions, but of those, attitudes tended to be more positive. Conservation education and communication programs, such as those developed by our Conservation Education Division at San Diego Zoo Global, can increase awareness of these types of conservation activities and provide knowledge and skills to empower local people in managing and conserving wildlife.

It is evident that people have and will continue to determine the fate of the elephant. African savanna elephants will become extinct by 2020 if the threats to elephants are not adequately addressed. A vital component of conservation is understanding and influencing human actions. Ongoing ecological and social science research is needed in the varied settings in which people and elephants coexist in order to provide information for developing, monitoring, and adapting methods for protecting both species. Developing community-based conservation programs that include conservation education and communication is one of the many things we do here at the Conservation Education Division at San Diego Zoo Global.

Support the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy in its efforts to conserve elephants and elephant habitat. With your help, we can bring elephants back from the brink of extinction!

Christine Browne-Nuñez, Ph.D., is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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Gao Gao: Class Clown

Gao Gao was busy munching on his leafy bamboo this morning. Image taken from Panda Cam.

Gao Gao was busy munching on his leafy bamboo this morning. Image taken from Panda Cam.

Although our senior panda, Gao Gao, is still off exhibit, he is much improved after his May surgery (see post Surgery for Gao Gao). I spoke with Gaylene Thomas, animal care supervisor, to get the latest scoop on Papa Gao. She said he had additional dental work performed on a damaged/worn molar in June, and that procedure seemed to help guide him down Recovery Road—his appetite and energy have returned!

Being a born bamboo-eating machine, Gao Gao had always preferred to eat the thick bamboo culm, which was so hard on his teeth, rather than the much-gentler leafy bamboo. And that was just at the feedings when he was even interested in food; leading up to his May surgery, Gao Gao frequently exhibited lethargy and loss of appetite. But these days, our senior panda has taken to eating the leafy bamboo with renewed gusto, so there is no need to provide the thicker stuff for him. He is more active and animated, often exploring his yard and playfully seeking his keepers’ attention. Sometimes he does his playful antics to elicit tactile interaction: back or head scratches, provided by the keepers with the use of a wooden back scratcher. But sometimes he just does them to make his keepers smile! Who knew Gao could be such a clown?

So why do we continue to keep him in the off-exhibit north yard? Plain and simple: the Panda Team still wants to keep a close eye on him, and that side of the Giant Panda Research Station has a larger air-conditioned bedroom for him and much easier access to the area where his blood pressure is monitored. Gao Gao is eager to participate in these sessions once again, with apple slices and honey (or perhaps just that extra attention?) as his reward. Whatever the reason, Gaylene shared that she is “really happy he’s doing so well.” Me, too!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

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10 Photos of Giant Tortoises Chowing Down

Galapagos tortoises are known for living forever (up to 170 years old), and for being HUGE. The largest male at the Zoo, Speedy, weighs about 600 lbs. At that size, Galapagos tortoises have ridiculous appetites. Learn more about this fascinating endangered species.

And now, 10 photos of epic tortoise gnoshing. Just because.

 

Hello Mr. Watermelon

Get in my belly!!!

Oooooom….

Prepare to die!

Oh sweet sweet melon-y goodness…

Tortoise attack!

You are mine!!!!

I need a bigger mouth. :/

Umph

Gotcha!

 

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 10 Photos That Prove Mr. Wu is a Super Awesome Gymnast.

 

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Panda Collaboration

A delegation from the Sichuan Forestry Administration and China Wildlife Conservation Association met with members of our staff.

A delegation from the Sichuan Forestry Administration and China Wildlife Conservation Association met with members of our staff.

The San Diego Zoo’s giant panda conservation program has greatly benefited from our long-term collaboration with colleagues in China. The exchange of knowledge regarding the best husbandry practices to ensure the highest-possible level of care for giant pandas has been a hallmark of this international program. We have learned much over the years from our Chinese colleagues, and we have shared what we have learned with them as well.

This summer, we hosted a delegation from the Sichuan Forestry Administration and China Wildlife Conservation Association as its members began their inspection tour of the zoo housing giant panda in the United States. Members of our executive team and staff from our departments of Collections Husbandry Science, Applied Animal Ecology, Reproductive Physiology, and Veterinary Services shared details of our giant panda conservation program and our panda facilities at the Zoo.

A focus of the day’s discussions was the continued international collaboration toward the optimal husbandry care for older giant pandas, as well as the continuation of the collaborative and successful relationship we have developed over the past years. All who participated would agree that is was a successful day, and we are looking forward to continuing our collaboration in support of giant pandas well into the future!

Megan Owen is an associate director with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Bug Safari: Time to Get Outside!