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18

Pandas On and Off

Xiao Liwu takes a stroll.

Xiao Liwu takes a stroll.

Changes are happening at the San Diego Zoo, and all for the better, of course! Ground was broken for our new Asian leopard habitat, to be located next to Panda Trek in our Panda Canyon (see NEWS blog dated October 9). With the preparation and construction of this wonderful new home for our snow leopards and Amur leopards comes noise. We try to keep noise to a minimum in our giant panda area.

Bai Yun seems to take almost all construction noise in stride—she’s had years of experience at the Zoo! Her son Xiao Liwu has been the least bothered by noise of all six cubs Bai Yun has raised. Still, as construction progresses, panda keepers may take “Mr. Wu” off exhibit from time to time or move him to the north yard if they find he is bothered by the noise. He could still be seen by our Panda Cam viewers but not by Zoo guests. Gao Gao will continue to remain off exhibit during this time.

Where there's 'boo, there's bliss!

Where there’s ‘boo, there’s bliss!

But the good news is that a television monitor tuned to Panda Cam has been installed in our main gift shop! If you come to the Zoo, you can check on Panda Cam to see who is visible before making your way down to Panda Trek. And our wonderful volunteer Panda Cam operators will always strive to give you the best possible view of one of our pandas.

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Well, Chinook?

5

Who Likes Rain: Giraffes, Rhinos, or Elephants?

Giraffes come to a Caravan Safari truck to see if tasty acacia leaves are being handed out.

Giraffes come to a Caravan Safari truck to see if tasty acacia leaves are being handed out.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s weather patterns parallel those in our animals’ native African habitats: hot, dry, and sunny for most of the year with a rainy season from October through April. Like California, East Africa is prone to flash floods, droughts, and fires. So most of the animals in the African field exhibits at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park feel right at home.

Our animals also display seasonal preferences. Safari Park giraffes are most active during the summer months. Six giraffe calves were born this summer! The giraffes range across their entire 60-acre habitat and chow down on acacia leaves offered by guests on Caravan Safari tours. Frankly, it’s difficult to manage more than one giraffe feeding at a time on a Caravan Safari truck. Acacia leaves are the giraffes’ favorite part of their diet. The giraffes are so excited to eat from the guests’ hands that during the summer they descend on the trucks en masse and can get a little pushy with each other—but it’s quite fun for our guests!

If it’s raining, the giraffes huddle together under palm trees or man-made shelters and refuse to approach the Caravan Safari trucks for acacia leaves. My observations indicate that giraffes don’t like rain and prefer the dry, summer months.

A mud wallow hits the spot for this white rhino.

A mud wallow hits the spot for this white rhino.

Rhinos and elephants are a different story. Southern white rhinos and African elephants are the Safari Park’s largest animals and need to stay cool in the summer. Some of our rhinos also spent this past summer pregnant, with 150 pounds of added weight. You can imagine how uncomfortable that was. To stay cool, they rest in the shade or wallow in man-made watering holes. When the mud from the watering holes dries on their skin, it acts like sunscreen and insect repellent to help protect their hairless skin from the harsh African or Escondido sun.

But when a storm first breaks over the Safari Park, the rhinos and elephants race around their exhibits, vocalizing to each other. I have never seen rhino and elephant calves as playful as they are during a rainstorm. Typically, only about one third of Caravan Safari tours get to feed the greater one-horned rhinos. During a rainstorm, the probability increases. That is, if the rhinos stop frolicking in the rain long enough to eat apples!

Unfortunately, California has been experiencing one of its severest droughts on record, which has impacted the Safari Park in innumerable ways. A lack of rainwater to irrigate the African field habitats is one. The majority of the grass in these habitats is African kikuyu grass, a hardy, water-wise species. However, it does need to be watered occasionally, because many of the ungulates in these habitats are grazers and depend on the grass for food. The keepers supplement the animals’ diets with hay, alfalfa, and pellets multiple times per day, but most of the ungulates are nature’s lawnmowers and instinctively perform natural grazing behaviors.

Additionally, the southern white rhinos, elephants, and Cape buffalo enjoy a gooey mud wallow. Without rainfall to restock the wallows, water recycled from the Safari Park’s water treatment plant and ponds fills the void. In this way, the Safari Park animals experience the advantages of a wet season without adding pressure to the California water shortage.

Hopefully it will rain in San Diego soon! Does anyone know a rain dance?

Elise Newman is a Safari Caravan guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Personable Petunia.

0

Who Will Catch Johne’s Disease?

Gina Geiselman works with DNA samples in the Genetics Lab.

Gina Geiselman works with DNA samples in the Genetics Lab.

Wild animals can be endangered for many different reasons, most of them related to habitat loss, poaching, climate change, and pollution. However, disease outbreak in wild and captive animals has also been a factor of major concern to conservationists. Diseases such as Johne’s (pronounced yo-nees) disease have been reported in hoofed mammals at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, jeopardizing valuable animals designated to specific breeding programs or exhibits. This disease is a bacterial infection that causes wasting and chronic diarrhea, eventually leading to death.

Because of the potentially disastrous effect of Johne’s disease on captive wildlife health and conservation, it is vital to identify those individuals at higher risk or more susceptible to the disease and prevent mortality. This summer, I had the opportunity to work in the Genetics Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research exploring genetic markers potentially associated with species susceptibility to Johne’s disease in various hoofed mammals in our collection, including springbok, water buffalo, and various goat species.

Above is sequenced white-tailed gnu DNA from the gene SLC11A1.

Above is sequenced white-tailed gnu DNA from the gene SLC11A1.

I examined genetic variation in genes that have been used to study Johne’s disease in cattle and a similar disease in humans, Crohn’s disease. These so-called “candidate genes” for Johne’s disease did not show evidence of being associated with susceptibility to Johne’s, as patterns of genetic variation were not correlated with levels of incidence across species. This result was disappointing but somewhat expected, given that genes associated with disease susceptibility are typically very hard to identify, especially among animals in managed care with small population size and related individuals.

Nonetheless, this study was a great opportunity for me to learn new genetic techniques. It opened up a new possibility for evaluating more genes and also additional animals in future studies. Animal care and well-being is a San Diego Zoo Global priority, and using genetics as a tool may help improve the management of these precious and endangered animals.

Gina Geiselman is a 2014 summer fellow at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

0

San Diego Zoo Begins Construction on Asian Leopard Exhibit, $3 Million Dollar Project to Debut Summer of 2015

Snow leopard The San Diego Zoo broke ground for its newest habitat area for critically endangered Asian leopards Wednesday night during a small, after-hours ceremony for donors who contributed major gifts to the project. Adjacent to Panda Trek, the new habitat will be home to Amur leopards and snow leopards. Opening on Memorial Day Weekend 2015, the new habitat will allow the Zoo to increase its participation in the breeding programs for these big cats.

“One of the exciting aspects of this Asian leopard exhibit is that it puts us in a position to be in breeding programs for all five of the big cat species,” said Stacey Johnson, director of collections for San Diego Zoo Global. “We’re breeding lions and tigers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and we’ll be set up to have jaguars, Amur leopards, and snow leopards in breeding groups here at the San Diego Zoo.”

The 16,500-square-foot habitat will include 5,500 square feet of multilevel living space with rock outcroppings, slopes with felled trees and shrubs, and other features to encourage natural behaviors. The habitat can be sectioned off into four separate exhibits, depending on animal-care needs. Mesh passageways will span the visitor walkway and allow the leopards to cross from one exhibit to another with ease. With plans to breed both Amur and snow leopards, one of the four exhibits in the new habitat can be used as a nursery for a mother and her cubs, with a glass viewing area for guests.

The Amur leopards and snow leopards will live separately but will have opportunities to trade living areas as part of their enrichment. More than 1,000 donors contributed the $3 million dollars needed to build the habitat designed specifically for large cats. This is one of the first steps in moving animals out of aging exhibits that have gone through several upgrades over the years.

The San Diego Zoo’s new Asian leopard habitat will also include a scent distribution system that will allow staff to pump various scents into the exhibit for enrichment and could be used as a training tool for the animals. Rather than verbal cues from keepers, scents may be put out to cue animal behaviors.  Climbing structures are being designed that can be easily changed and moved by animal care staff to create new paths and routes for the cats to explore.

The Amur leopard is believed to have just 40 individuals left in its native habitat of southern Russia and northern China. There are only 300 Amur leopards in zoos around the world, making it the most critically endangered big cat on the planet. The home range of snow leopards is the cold, rugged mountains of central Asia. It is estimated that just 7,000 snow leopards exist in the wild.

The San Diego Zoo has two male Amur leopards and two female snow leopards. Additional animals will be brought to the Zoo to create breeding pairs for both big cats when the exhibit opens.

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

15

Well, Chinook?

I snapped a photo of this bear from the Polar Cam. Any guesses as to who looks so relaxed?

I snapped a photo of this bear from the Polar Cam today. Any guesses as to who looks so relaxed?

Polar bears have, what seems to us, a long gestation period. A fertilized polar bear egg doesn’t implant or develop right away. Instead, it implants when triggered by the female’s body condition and environmental factors, most often between September and November. This is known as delayed implantation, an adaptation that ensures cubs are born to healthy mothers at a time of year when their chances for survival are greatest. We are in the middle of that time zone right now with our female bear, Chinook. If a fertilized egg were to implant, the actual fetal gestation would be about 60 days.

Keeper Samantha Marino explained that Chinook is starting to be come interested in using bedding materials and desires more “alone time” from Tatqiq and Kalluk on a more regular basis. Keepers are offering Chinook denning/nesting materials, such as Bermuda grass, burlap, and palm fronds, and allowing her to spend the afternoon away from the other bears. They will continue to monitor this behavior and give Chinook what she needs for a possible pregnancy.

Chinook’s urine and feces are collected and sent to our Endocrinology Lab several times a week to determine if there are any changes in her hormone levels that might indicate that hoped-for cubs are on the way. And currently, Chinook is just on exhibit in the morning; in the afternoon and evening, she gets to enjoy the privacy of the off-exhibit polar bear yard, which includes access to the bedroom area.

We will certainly let polar bear fans know if anything changes, but for now it’s just a waiting game. Paws crossed!

Watch the bears daily on Polar Cam…

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Pandas Keep Cool.

8

Personable Petunia

greater 1-horned rhinos Petunia and TanayaPetunia, the newest greater one-horned rhino calf at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, was born to Tanaya on August 1, 2014. The keepers heaved a collective sigh of relief when she and Tanaya were released from the maternity corral into the 40-acre Asian Plains exhibit with the other greater one-horned rhinos. When Petunia was born, she was diminutive by rhino standards, weighing only 128 pounds (58 kilograms) instead of the usual 132 to 176 pounds (60 to 80 kilograms). Additionally, Tanaya was having trouble producing milk for Petunia, so the keepers treated her with a drug to increase milk production. As a result, the concerned keepers kept 24-hour surveillance on Tanaya and Petunia in the maternity corral for the first few weeks of Petunia’s life.

Petunia is now a spunky, vibrant part of our greater one-horned rhino crash. She and Tanaya were released into the Asian Plains exhibit with the rest of the rhinos when Petunia was four weeks old. Tanaya took Petunia on a tour of her new home and has been the model protective rhino mom, never straying from Petunia’s side. But Tanaya’s strides are so large that Petunia trots to keep up with her. To escape the heat, Petunia has been exploring the mud wallows throughout the exhibit. She is still so tiny that she sometimes sits on top of Tanaya’s feet to keep her head above water!

As Petunia gets more comfortable in her new habitat, she gets braver. I have even seen Petunia surreptitiously investigate Parvesh, the seven- month-old greater one-horned rhino calf (see post Rhino Calf Makes Own Rules). When Tanaya catches her straying toward the toddler, she quickly ushers Petunia away. Petunia is a bit too small to play with Parvesh right now, but as she continues to gain weight, she will be big enough to romp around the exhibit with her half brother. She may even catch up to him in size, as rhino calves gain about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) per month during their first year of life. Watch out, Parvesh! Petunia might be the new boss in the exhibit.

Petunia is the 67th greater one-horned rhino calf born at the Safari Park, making the Park the principal breeding center in the world for this species. The Safari Park officially celebrated World Rhino Day on September 22, but guests who love Petunia and the other rhinos as much as I do celebrate World Rhino Day every day!

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

0

San Diego Zoo Global Receives National Award for Excellence in Marketing

Koalafornia logoThe Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced that San Diego Zoo Global received Top Honors in marketing for budgets over $175,000 for its Welcome to Koalafornia: The New Australian Outback campaign. The AZA Marketing Award recognizes excellence in marketing campaigns developed and executed by its AZA member institutions.

“This award provides well-deserved national recognition for the creativity of the staff and marketing savvy of San Diego Zoo Global in utilizing their resources and expertise to their highest potential,” said AZA president and CEO Jim Maddy.

The Australian Outback offers habitats for the Zoo’s Queensland koalas, parma wallabies, Tasmanian devils, two wombat species and 23 species of Australian birds. The “Koalifornia” campaign used to communicate about the launch of this exhibit reached across the United States to bring attention to the plight of koalas. A highlight of the campaign, which included media visits and social media outreach, was whimsical advertising placing the koala in key California scenes.

“San Diego Zoo Global has a history of working to conserve koalas and is home to the largest population of koalas in the United States,” said Ted Molter, chief marketing officer for San Diego Zoo Global. “The Koalifornia campaign was created to inspire interest in this unique species while also celebrating the California population of this Aussie animal.”

The Zoo started plans to expand and diversify the koala area in 2009 and spent $7.4 million to create the new habitat for Australian animals. The exhibit debuted with a traditional smoke ceremony of the Yugambeh-language people of the Gold Coast.

“For the past couple of decades San Diego Zoo Global has been working with the Australian government to learn about and conserve the unique species native to that area of the world,” said Doug Myers, chief executive officer for San Diego Zoo Global. “This new exhibit allows us both to provide a better venue to educate Americans about this species and has afforded us the ability to reach across the ocean once again to solidify our diplomatic relationships.”

Collaborative partners for the exhibit include: Government of Australia; the Yugambeh-language people of Australia’s Gold Coast; and DreamWorld Wildlife Foundation in Australia. Partners in advertising assistance include: M & C Saatchi Los Angeles and Orci Media.

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

5

7 Animal Life-Hacks That Will Make You Jealous

Sure, our species has achieved some pretty amazing things, but some animals can do things that we could never dream of doing. Behold 7 animal life-hacks that will make you extremely jealous.

Seeing in the dark

Many animals can see way better in the dark than we can, but owls take the cake. Owls have the best night vision of any animal and can see up to 100 times better at night than we can. Talk about a sweet life-hack.

Built-in snorkel

Yep, you guessed it, elephants have us beat in the snorkeling department. They don’t need fancy, modern contraptions to breath underwater; all they need is their specially adapted nose. Fun fact: An elephant’s trunk has over 40,000 muscles in it and is nimble enough to pick up a leaf and strong enough to knock down a tree.

Freakish super-strength

Watch out Superman, the rhinoceros beetle might have you beat. Rhinoceros beetles can lift over 800 times their body weight. That’s equivalent to a human lifting a 65-ton M1 Abrams tank. Whoa.

Running as fast as a car

It’s well-known that cheetahs can run up to 70 miles per hour, but did you know that they can go from 0 to 60 MPH in just 3 seconds? That would leave most cars in the dust. I want that.

Living forever

Okay, well, not “forever,” but Galápagos tortoises live a loooooong time. It’s estimated by some scientists that Galápagos tortoises can live over 200 years. More than double our average lifespan? Yes, please.

Changing color

While most people think chameleons change color for camouflage, they actually do so based on mood, health, temperature, and light conditions–but that would still be a pretty sweet life-hack. Imagine everyone knowing not to talk to you because you’re that one color you turn when you’re just not in the mood. Awesome.

Flying

This is one thing we’ll never forgive nature for not giving us the ability to do. Humans have looked to birds with envy since the dawn of time for their ability to leap into the sky and soar, and we probably always will. Sure, we have airplanes, but it’s just not the same. :/

Can you think of any other awesome animal life-hacks? Let us know in the comments.

 

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post 7 Animal Myths You Probably Believed.

Animals that are active at night usually have large eyes that let them make use of any available light. With owls, the eyes are so big in comparison to the head that there is little room for eye muscles, meaning owls can’t move their eyes. Instead, owls must move their entire head to follow the movement of prey. However, having fixed eyes gives owls better focus, with both eyes looking in the same direction. And even though it seems that owls can twist their head completely around, most owls turn their head no more than 270 degrees in either direction. – See more at: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/owl#sthash.yTtEd37V.dpuf
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Pandas Keep Cool

Xiao Liwu dines next to his refreshing pool.

Xiao Liwu dines next to his refreshing pool.

It’s been warm in San Diego lately, and some of you may be wondering how our giant pandas are kept comfy. Senior Keeper Kathy Hawk filled me in on the hot-weather protocol used in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek.

There are thermometers in shaded areas of each panda enclosure, and if the temperature reaches 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees Celsius), the pandas are given access to their air-conditioned bedrooms. The panda station has its own ice-making machine, so keepers can fill tubs with ice to make ice beds for some cool lounging, or they can make an ice-cube pile for flopping on (the pandas, not the keepers!). Sometimes food treats are added to the ice to encourage use.

Bai Yun knows how to relax on a warm day!

Bai Yun knows how to relax on a warm day!

You may have seen the mist fans in each yard. These fans mix water and air to blow a cooling mist into the enclosure. Kathy said the pandas really seem to enjoy the shrouded mist the fans create. Ice treats or popsicles made with applesauce or other panda delights are offered as both enrichment and as another way to keep cool. And, of course, each enclosure has a pool to soak in.

Xiao Liwu rests after a big meal, the mist fan blowing on his sweet face.

Xiao Liwu rests after a big meal, the mist fan blowing on his sweet face.

Kathy emphasized that anytime there is high humidity, no matter the actual temperature, the pandas are pulled off exhibit. Keepers are pro-active about avoiding any signs of early heat stress with these precious bears, and all three are closely monitored.

Thank you, panda keepers, for always taking such good care of these black-and-white bears. Your work is much appreciated!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Fishing Cats: It Takes Two.

8

7 Animal Myths You Probably Believed

When it comes to the Animal Kingdom, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and some of it’s downright ridiculous. It’s difficult to know who to trust and where to go for reliable info. That’s where we come in. Even we have been known to make a mistake here and there (gasp!), but we’re here to set the record straight on a few animal myths that are widely believed–but definitely not true. Like really not true.

Koalas are bears

You’ve probably heard the term “koala bear” thrown around casually here and there, but contrary to popular belief, koalas have no relation to bears. While they have an uncanny likeness to teddy bears, they’re actually marsupials. Super cute, teddy bear-like marsupials.

Porcupines shoot their quills

A porcupine’s quills are made up of keratin, which is the same material our fingernails are made of. Can you shoot your fingernails? Didn’t think so. Just as we can’t shoot our fingernails (unfortunately), neither can porcupines shoot their precious defense mechanisms.

Ostriches bury their heads in sand

It’s hard to say where this ridiculous myth came from, but it could have derived from a behavior that ostriches exhibit when they sense danger. To avoid detection by predators, ostriches have been known to lay flat on the ground, placing their heads on the sand. Wherever it came from, let this myth officially be busted.

Mother birds reject babies if touched by humans

This myth probably comes from well-meaning people who fibbed to get other people to let nature take its course and avoid handling delicate baby birds. Actually, most birds have a very poor sense of smell and probably wouldn’t detect human scent. Regardless, handling baby birds isn’t a great idea.

Touching a frog or toad will give you warts

Many species of frogs and toads have wart-like bumps on their skin, and at some point it became widely believed that those bumps are contagious to humans. Truth is, warts are caused by a human virus and have nothing to do with handling frogs or toads. Strike that one down for good!

Camels store water in their humps

It’s known that camels are incredibly well-adapted to survive the harsh desert climates they call home, but their ability to avoid dehydration stems in part from oval-shaped red blood cells, not by carrying giant organic water jugs on their backs. Their humps actually store fat to tide them over on long walks through the desert where there is little to eat.

Lemmings commit suicide

No, lemmings don’t mindlessly follow each other to an untimely demise. This wholly unfounded myth may derive from population fluctuation among lemmings, with frequent die-offs and population booms. The phenomenon is still not well understood, leading to the belief that the small rodents boldly die by mass suicide for the good of the group. This misconception was reinforced by a scene in a 1958 Disney movie, White Wilderness, in which lemmings follow each other off a cliff to their death.

Photo by  Gunnar Pettersson

Photo by Gunnar Pettersson

 

So which myths did you believe? Do you have any more animal myths to share? Let us know in the comments.

 

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous blog, 10 Photos of Galapgos Tortoises Chowing Down.