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Dealing with Noise in Panda Canyon

Bai Yun is a pro at dealing with activity around Panda Trek.

New noises catch Bai Yun’s attention, then it’s back to “business as usual.”

As many of you have seen on Panda Cam and in person, young Mr. Wu is off exhibit at times and only Bai Yun is present. Rest assured there is nothing wrong with him and he is perfectly fine. Our Zoo is coming up on its 100th birthday soon, so we are improving areas and updating where we can. With that comes a certain amount of noise that we really cannot get away from, so we closely monitor our animals for any signs of stress.

Xiao Liwu, being younger and not as experienced with new sounds, is more likely to react to the construction noise. Bai Yun is typically a pro at changes and has been managing extremely well. One of the benefits of having a panda narrator keeping an eye on the bears is that the narrator is familiar with each animal and can tell the Panda Team when there is a change in behavior. Our Web Team will always do its best to notify you when there may be a change in who is out for viewing, but the fact of the matter is that things can change quickly here, and we often need to make judgment calls quickly, too.

When the bears are off exhibit, they still have an outside yard they can go into if they so choose. Both of the north exhibits are close to bedrooms and, if needed, the keepers can give the pandas access to the bedrooms. The bedrooms offer a dry and cozy area for the pandas. Keepers often fill a giant tub full of hay or shavings for the bears to rest in, and there is a garden room for them to go into as well. Having a building between them and the extra noise often makes a huge difference in a panda’s comfort level and helps diminish any stress behavior.

Bai Yun is an expert at dealing with noise. When we were building the rest of Panda Trek, she was still able to be out in the main viewing area, right next to the noise. There were, of course, days where we noticed that she was a little annoyed with the activity level and so gave her access to her bedroom. There are several cameras in the area, and the panda narrator and guest ambassador all keep an eye—and ear—out for her to make sure that she is comfortable. In many situations, just giving her 10 to 15 minutes in her bedroom to get a little break will often set her right. In addition, we always do our best to make sure that she has extra bamboo that she is fond of and to try and keep her busy with enrichment.

Come see us soon, and please know that we are always thinking of how to make this an easy time for our animals!
Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Talkin’ about Takins.

 

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Greater One-horned Rhino Calf Being Hand-raised at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Greater One-Horned Rhino Calf A 3-week-old greater one-horned rhino calf received a morning bottle feeding at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. After his feeding, he ventured out of his nursery stall for some fresh air and exercise with his keepers. The male calf, yet to be named, was born on Nov. 27 to first-time mother Kaya in the Safari Park’s Asian Plains exhibit.

The calf was small at birth, weighing about 160 pounds (the average birth weight for this species is 160 to 176 pounds). While Kaya nursed and cared for her newborn for almost two weeks, keepers monitoring the calf realized he wasn’t gaining weight as he should. To provide the calf with the optimal care to thrive, he was taken to the Safari Park’s animal care center where he is watched around-the-clock and bottle-fed every two hours.

Since the calf is being raised in a nursery setting, it is important for him to get daily exercise. After only a week in the nursery, the little rhino is growing stronger and gaining weight at almost four pounds a day. He currently weighs 190 pounds and when full grown can weigh between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds.

Visitors to the Safari Park may see the baby rhino at the animal care center nursery corral between 12:15 and 12:45 p.m. daily, weather permitting, when he is brought out to exercise.

Once widespread in Southeast Asia, the greater one-horned rhinoceros is now found only in India and Nepal. This species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to poaching threats and the illegal use of rhino horn. Worldwide, a rhino dies every 8 hours due to poaching. There are an estimated 3,250 greater one-horned rhinos remaining in the wild. This calf is the 68th greater one-horned rhino born at the Safari Park since 1975, making the Park the foremost breeding facility in the world for this species.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts representing both plants and animals at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The important conservation and science work of these entities is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on Dec. 17, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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

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Who You Calling “Sloth?”

Curious Sahaasa sniffs out his new surroudings.

Curious sloth bear Sahaasa sniffs out his new surroundings.

This week, I had the opportunity to observe two new additions to the San Diego Zoo’s bear canyon. Sahaasa and Kayla, 2-year-old sibling sloth bears, got busy making themselves at home—and watching each go about it in their own way was quite interesting!

Sloth bears are not well known to many North Americans, but they are really very interesting creatures. Their long, shaggy coat makes them appear quite cute and cuddly, but they are good-sized bears with sharp claws and teeth and can therefore be quite dangerous if provoked. They live in the grasslands and open dry forests of India, where they feed primarily on insects; those extra long claws are particularly useful at shredding rotting wood and hard-packed dirt to gain access to the grubs, termites, and other delicious invertebrates that live beneath. So, too, is their muzzle well adapted to foraging for bugs, with highly mobile lips, nostrils that can close to keep dirt out, and a gap in their front teeth to allow them to vacuum up creepy crawlies. These guys are well suited to play nature’s exterminator.

The sloth bear is so-called because originally it was thought they resembled sloths, the slow-moving tree dwellers. In fact, sloths bears are not related to sloths, but the differences don’t end there.

In three hours yesterday, I watched Sahaasa climb a tree a half dozen times, crawl into the moat just as often, scratch a hole in a 6-inch-thick (15 centimeters) piece of deadwood, dig a hole (that his big body could nearly fit into) in about 10 minutes, dangle from the climbing structure more times than I could count, and sniff out every inch of his new exhibit space. The dictionary defines “sloth” as “habitual disinclination to exertion, laziness.” Apparently Sahaasa didn’t get the memo.

Kayla is a little more shy and reticent than her brother, but she performed her share of mayhem as well: she uprooted a shrub with little effort and dragged it half way across her exhibit. If you’d like to come say “hi” to the newest additions to our bear family, you might want to do it soon. I can’t guarantee any of their exhibit plants or hardware will survive for much longer!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, World Orangutan Day.

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10 Festive Reindeer Facts

‘Tis the season to be jolly! What could be more merry than Santa’s sleigh? Well, without his dexterous reindeer, Old Saint Nick’s mode of transportation would not get very far. So today, we would like to share a few fun facts about this festive species.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

1. Reindeer or caribou?
In Europe, they’re known as reindeer. In North America, the term reindeer is used for Eurasian populations, while the name caribou refers to wild populations found in the country. However, both reindeer and caribou are classified as the same genus and species, rangifer tarandus. So for the purpose of simplicity and sticking with the holiday theme, we’ll call them reindeer for the rest of this blog.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

2. Males AND females grow antlers.
Male antlers may grow twice as long as their female counterparts; still, reindeer are the only deer species to practice gender equality when it comes to their most memorable characteristic. Males begin to grow antlers in February and females start in May. Both stop growing around the same time, but a male’s antlers typically drop off in November, while a female’s remain through winter until their calves are born in spring. If you’re following this logic, our good pal Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was most likely a female, because she was rocking her antlers on Christmas Eve.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

3. Hard antlers start out soft and fuzzy.
Since antlers fall off and grow back every year, a reindeer is said to be in “velvet” while the new pair of antlers grow. After the velvet dries up, the reindeer unveils its hard antler cores by rubbing its deciduous horns against a rock or tree. Ta-da!

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

4. Reindeer calves are quick learners.
Newborns are able to stand one hour after birth, and they can outrun humans when they reach one day old. Calves are also weaned from their mothers as early as one to six months of age.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

5. They have hairy feet.
Reindeer are built for subzero temps, so they’re covered in hair from their nose to the bottom of their feet. The hair on their hooves provides an excellent grip when trekking over frozen landscapes. Thus, the hairy hooves of reindeer have adapted into snowshoes for these Arctic animals.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

6. Reindeer hooves are anatomically noisy.
“Up On The Housetop” and other holiday jingles often imply that the “click, click, click” we hear upon Santa’s arrival is the result of his herd’s stampeding feet. In fact, many hoofed animals make loud noises when their feet meet hard surfaces, but not reindeer. The metallic sound of reindeer hooves is actually due to tendons slipping over their foot bones as they walk.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

7. They love crowds…
… of other reindeer, of course. Since they are social animals, reindeer live in herds of 10 to several hundred. So Santa was somewhat limiting his holiday herd by having only nine reindeer. Imagine the horsepower his sleigh would have if his herd included 100 fancifully named members!

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

8. Reindeer are good swimmers.
Santa’s exclusive herd might be capable of flying, but the rest of the species is not. However, since reindeer migrate to follow their food supply and avoid harsh conditions, chances are they come into contact with water. Luckily, reindeer use their wide, two-toed hooves like paddles that push water and allow these mammals to swim from four to six miles per hour.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

9. Their eyes change color in winter.
To adapt to the varying levels of light in their northern habitat, part of a reindeer’s eye changes color and increases their vision sensitivity. The layer of tissue behind the retina that reflects light (tapetum lucidum) turns blue during winter and allows reindeer to see slightly more of their surroundings, even if what they can see is not that sharp or in focus. This seasonal trade-off has its advantages, especially if it improves a reindeer’s ability to spot predators.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

10. Like humans, reindeer “wear” layers.
A reindeer has two coat layers: the undercoat is made of soft, fine wool that grows next to the skin, and the top layer consists of long, hollow guard hairs. Similar to a hollow-fill winter jacket worn by humans, the stiff top layer insulates the animal and keeps it warm against the wind and cold. These hollow hairs also help reindeer float. In other words, reindeer have incredible fashion sense.

Do you have any reindeer facts to add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, What We’re Thankful For.

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Lazy Gao Day

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun enjoying some treats on her "plate."

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun enjoying some treats on her “plate.”

We don’t get to see much of our senior panda, Gao Gao, on Panda Cam. But rest assured he is looking good, eating well, and, in the words of San Diego Zoo keeper Karen Scott, he seems “happy.” Gao is even at his ideal weight: 170 pounds (77.2 kilograms).

So why can’t guests view Gao Gao these days? Well, as Karen explained, Gao Gao and his son, Xiao Liwu, are “like peas in a pod,” personality-wise. “Mr. Wu” doesn’t like the construction noise as we build our new Asian leopard habitat, and neither does his dad! They are much more comfortable farther away from the intermittent noise. Xiao Liwu is currently in the off-exhibit north yard, where he can sometimes be seen on Panda Cam, and Gao Gao has access to another off-exhibit yard. Bai Yun, our matriarch, remains in her normal exhibit, where guests can admire her munching contentedly on bamboo. Nothing fazes this panda mama!

Although Gao Gao can go in his outside yard whenever he wants to, he sometimes prefers to have what Karen calls a “lazy Gao day.” He has a large rubber tub that he uses as a comfy bed. Keepers fill the tub with a flake of excelsior hay, and Gao likes to stretch out in it, resting on his back, his legs straight out and his forelimbs dangling over the edge. The other day, Karen put FOUR flakes of hay in the tub and fluffed up some of it to make a pillow for Gao. Panda heaven! With his pile of bamboo nearby, Karen says all he really needed was a TV to watch a football game or two.

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, How to Take a Panda’s Blood Pressure: 8 Easy Steps.

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Talkin’ about Takins

Closely related to sheep, takins are native to China.

As guests walk through Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo, they are always surprised at our “cool goats” on the hillside. Indeed, the takins have been amazing to watch and work with over the years and have been a huge success for the zoological community here in the United States. Currently, we have a female herd of five individuals ranging in age from 14 to almost 2. They each have their own personalities, and society in the takin world can be a little dramatic!

Summer is our matriarch and the boss of the younger females. She is also the largest and very good with the younger females. As keepers, we do not go in with the takins, so we have to move the girls either into the barn or up onto the hillside yard. Our typical goal is to always move Summer first and the rest will follow her. Behind her is her sister, Eve, who is the bossy one and has the biggest attitude. She likes to throw her weight around and act like she’s in charge until her sister, Summer, tells her that’s enough. Summer and Eve have a younger sister named Duli, who is several years younger but who also likes the idea of being in charge of someone. These three females are the daughters of the last matriarch, Blondie, and challenge each other on a fairly regular basis about who is next in line.

The two youngsters in the herd are named Mei and Mu. Mei is the daughter of Summer and is in the awkward teenage phase where she is unsure of herself. She does her best to stay close to Mom for her protection, although Summer is starting to make Mei take care of herself and will even push her away to get her to an independent point. Mu is a bit of a stinker; she likes to pick fights with Duli and Mei but have her mother finish them. She is full of energy and has a very sweet disposition toward her keepers. One of her favorite things to do is go to the top of the hillside exhibit and wait for a clear path down the hill so she can run and jump the entire way down!

Female takins can live into their late teens, but being such a large animal, we do tend to see arthritis develop in their joints. Luckily, we have an amazing vet staff who are always ahead of the game, making sure we are as proactive as possible with possible medical issues.

Takins are found in the high mountains of the Sichuan Province of China and are used to climbing, jumping, and running on uneven terrain. As keepers, we have a blast watching them chase each other and play on the hillside. We also like to hang browse for them in high positions so that they stand on their hind legs and stretch to get those leaves.

These girls are wonderful ambassadors for their species, and as keepers and educators we are always so happy to hear guests get excited about these ladies. We think they are quite special and are always happy to share our stories and knowledge with our guests.

Click here to learn more about takins.

Anastasia Horning is a keeper and educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Wish List: Enrichment for All.

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With Experience, People Can Tell Bears Apart

Andean bearStudying the social interaction of bears through the use of camera traps and visual observations requires that humans be able to tell individuals apart. A study done using volunteers to study the vulnerable Andean bear indicates that people can learn to identify individual bears, given a little practice. The research, done by San Diego Zoo conservationists with international collaborators using photos spanning many years, also indicates that young bears usually retain many of their unique markings as they grow older.

“Knowing, scientifically, that people who have been trained to identify individual bears can do so with a reasonable expectation of accuracy helps us to know that the work we are doing to learn about these bears is based on good science, not just personal opinion,” said Russ Van Horn, Ph.D., a lead researcher on the study and a research scientist for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “It also allows us more freedom to engage local citizen scientists in the effort to save the species around them.”

Published in a recent issue of “Wildlife Biology,” the study used photos of Andean bears in many different zoos.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Condors: Feeding Time Manners

Around the corner to the right is where the condors are fed.

The condors are fed around the corner to the right.

After fledging, a growing young condor starts to eat on its own, with the parents continuing to feed the youngster every once in a while. At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we do things a bit differently, as the fledged birds are moved to a remote socialization pen with other young release candidates and a mentor bird or two. We don’t move fledglings to the socialization pen until we’ve made sure they have been seen feeding themselves. The mentor birds do not feed anybody.

This year’s Condor Cam chick, Su’nan, who hatched on April 29, 2014, was starting to eat on her own when she was with her parents. When we saw that she was eating on her own, we were comfortable moving her to the socialization pen with the other young release candidates. We drop all of the food at the same time through a chute in the wall, hiding us from the young birds’ view. The most dominant members of the group (usually the biggest or the most experienced) eat first or displace other birds that may be in their way. The subordinate, younger birds usually wait until the dominant birds finish or let them come and eat with them.

Eventually, as the subordinate birds gain experience, they may move up in the social hierarchy. Currently, Su’nan is near the bottom of the pecking order, as expected, due to her size and age. She is doing just fine, though. Feeding is very competitive, just like it is in the wild. It may look rough and impolite to us, but we must remember that the condors are working under the rules that work best in their social system, not ours. This experience the youngsters are getting will better prepare them for a free-flying life in the wild.

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condors Saticoy and Cuyamaca Flying Free.

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The Python Challenge

Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida's Everglades.

Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida’s Everglades.

When a male reptile in the San Diego Zoo collection passes away, it is my job to freeze his sperm. Unfortunately, there has been so little research done on freezing reptile sperm that there are no guidelines in the scientific literature. So, we have to develop the protocols for ourselves, which requires a great deal of research and a lot of sperm samples. This scenario plays out all too often in the Reproductive Physiology Lab of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. We always need more samples! How could we know how to freeze golden lancehead sperm without any practice on this or any related snake species?

Our lab group has struggled with this problem for years and has come up with some creative solutions to the sperm shortage problem. My colleagues Nicole Ravida, Dr. Barbara Durrant, and I began scouring the Internet to find a way to collect large numbers of reptile sperm samples in a short period of time to use as models for endangered reptile species. That’s when we learned about the Python Challenge in the Everglades.

Carly and Barbara got an early start in the Everglades.

Carly and Barbara got an early start in the Everglades.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) launched the Python Challenge to raise awareness about Burmese pythons and how this invasive species is a threat to the Everglades ecosystem and its native wildlife. The Burmese python is one of the deadliest and most competitive predators in South Florida. With no known natural predators, population estimates for the python range from the thousands to hundreds of thousands. A severe decline in a variety of mammal populations in the Everglades over the last eight years coincides with the proliferation of the invasive Burmese python. Necropsies on the captured snakes reveal what pythons are eating, their reproductive status, and location data from the hunters that will help scientists figure out where the snakes are living—valuable data for researchers working to stop their spread.

The Python Challenge was a month-long harvest open to anyone, and we knew this would be our opportunity to collect many snake sperm samples. We immediately contacted the Invasive Species Program staff at the University of Florida, one of the Python Challenge partners, and the project all started to fall into place. Barbara and I arrived in Florida and immediately collected all the supplies and equipment we had sent ahead to Zoo Miami and then purchased thick sheets of dry ice. Lining a large Styrofoam box with the cold sheets, we fabricated a minus 112-degrees-Fahrenheit (-80 degrees Celsius) freezer for one of our freezing protocols. With everything we would need piled into our rental car, we finally made it to the hotel room and organized our temporary lab.

The Python Challenge check-in station was simple but effective.

The Python Challenge check-in station was simple but effective.

The next day we drove to the Python Challenge check station, which consisted of a pickup truck and a tent. Hunters came to the check station to have their snake(s) measured and documented by the Invasive Species Program staff. Prizes were awarded to the hunter who harvested the longest snake and the one who brought in the most snakes. We anxiously waited with the people from the University of Florida for a male snake to be brought in. Unfortunately, the first snake to arrive had been frozen the previous day. We needed fresh, cooled samples, not frozen, so we continued to wait for another snake, which came in a few hours later. We dissected out the vas deferens, where the sperm is stored, on the back of a pickup truck as the sun set over the Everglades. We immediately put the tissue in saline in a cooler and raced back to the hotel to process the sample. But it was a bust—no motile sperm. We just had to hope for better luck the next day.

The vas defrens were taken back to the makeshift lab in the hotel room for processing.

The vas defrens were taken back to the makeshift lab in the hotel room for processing.

The next morning we got a call from our colleagues at the University of Florida saying that they had two live snakes. This was fantastic news, because we would be able to obtain fresh sperm samples. During the snakes’ necropsies, we collected the vas deferens and drove an hour back to our hotel room to process the samples. Fortunately, both males had motile sperm. More sperm, in fact, than we had ever seen and certainly more than we could ship back to San Diego. After several hours of freezing the sperm in our homemade dry-ice box or in liquid nitrogen vapor, we received a call that another male snake was available. We drove back to the Check Station, arriving after dark. We removed the vas deferens in the back of the truck using my phone as our light source. We made it back to the hotel room for another five hours of processing and freezing, falling into bed at 1a.m. It was a very long day but a successful one, with sperm from three snakes safely stored in our shippers.

Our luck continued the next day, with an interesting twist. This time the live snakes had been brought to another checkpoint, and we would need to transport them to the University of Florida lab. It was a bit surreal to be driving down the highway with three large pythons in snake bags in the trunk. We wondered if we had violated the rental agreement when we promised not to carry pets in the car. It was worth the risk; snakes and humans arrived safely at the university, and we froze three more sperm samples back in our hotel room lab.

Overall, it was a successful trip to the Python Challenge in the Everglades. We froze 130 vials of sperm, shipping them back to San Diego. Then began the long process of thawing and evaluating each sample, comparing three different freezing protocols to determine which one resulted in the best post-thaw viability. We have analyzed the data, and we have an early winner among the protocols we tested. However, we will need to repeat the experiment with improved protocols to maximize sperm motility and membrane integrity, both of which are essential for potential fertility.

Although we will never use the sperm of this invasive species for artificial insemination (we certainly don’t want more Burmese pythons in the United States!), we have taken a big step forward in the development of sperm-freezing methods for its endangered relatives such as the Indian python and the Cropan’s boa.

Carly Young is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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Preference for Gravid Females Makes Rare Iguana Consumption Unsustainable

Global_logo_color copyThe Valle de Aguán spiny-tailed iguana is a critically endangered species found in Honduras. A recent survey of people living in the region shows that, although residents are aware of the endangered status of the species, the iguana continues to be hunted for food. Of particular concern is the preference for the consumption of female iguanas that are gravid (carrying eggs in their body).

“In this study we worked to gain a better understanding of how humans are harvesting the species for food,” said Stesha Pasachnik, Ph.D., a lead researcher on the study and a postdoctoral research associate for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “The information we gained indicates a use that is not only not sustainable but is likely to accelerate this species’ extinction due to the loss of gravid females.”

Published in the December issue of Herpetological Conservation and Biology, the study gained firsthand information regarding the hunting, harvesting and consumption of the species. Although the study, supported by the Bay Islands Foundation and San Diego Zoo Global, highlights an area of serious concern, it also recommends work to educate residents about the species and ways that harvesting can be made more sustainable.

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