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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
200

Yi Lu Ping An (Have a Good Trip), Yun Zi

The time has come to say goodbye to our good-natured young panda, Yun Zi. Yesterday, January 9, 2014. He embarked on his most momentous adventure yet—a move to his homeland. After crating up easily, our boy was loaded into a vehicle for the trip to Los Angeles, where he caught his flight to China. Thanks to the diligence and careful planning of our staff, he is well prepared for his journey.

The keepers worked to ready Yun Zi for all of the transitions he is about to make. He began crate training some weeks ago, getting used to the transport crate he will live in for a few days as he hops across the pond and heads up to the mountains of his ancestral homeland. As anticipated for such a smart and easy-going boy, he adapted to his new crate easily, spending time feeding inside it and accepting treats from his keepers through the openings of the crate.

Yun Zi Throughout the Years

Yun Zi Throughout the Years

Keepers have also been preparing him for the dietary transition he will undergo. In China, the pandas are not fed the low-starch, high-fiber biscuits and kibble they are used to getting in San Diego but instead receive a specially made formulation of bread that is foreign to our bears. Our keepers have access to that bread recipe and for some time have been whipping it up in our on-site kitchen so that Yun Zi could adapt to this new culinary staple. Thankfully, he had taken to the new bread, perhaps better than any of our returnees ever had.  This means dietary changes in China won’t be a big deal for our boy.

Since he is traveling in winter, staff wanted to prepare Yun Zi for the big change in temperatures he will experience. Keepers had been fattening him up a bit, and he has little rolls of flesh that will serve as extra insulation against the cooler mountain air. He looked nice and robust.

Staff has also prepared videos to leave with Yun Zi’s new Chinese handlers that detail aspects of the training he has received. This will help his new keepers to better understand the commands he has been taught, and, hopefully, will enable them to continue to use his training to facilitate future husbandry and veterinary procedures. Our video contains shots of Yun Zi sitting quietly while having his blood drawn, for example; his training allows this procedure without the use of anesthetic. This is a highly desirable, low-stress way to get biomedical data from him, and we wanted to be sure his new handlers are aware of his capabilities.

Yun Zi isn’t traveling alone on this voyage. He is attended by his primary keeper, Jen, who has been with him from birth. She had been actively engaged in his training, both during and prior to his preparation for departure to China. Yun Zi knows and trusts her, and this will be a comfort to him on his journey. In addition, a veterinarian is accompanying our boy on his flight, should there be any medical concerns to address. We anticipate that will be unlikely.

On Wednesday, the keepers began preparing his food bundles for the trip, and I know they were selecting choice bamboo culm to keep him content on the flight. Jen will ensure he receives regular munchies throughout the trip and will regularly refresh his water and clean up his crate to keep him comfortable. All of the plans and preparations are in place.

All that’s left now is to wave goodbye. 

Farewell, Yun Zi. You were a fun and exciting part of our panda research program. Even from far away, you will always be a member of our San Diego Zoo giant panda family. Yi lu ping an.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

 

4

For the Love of Lemurs and Monkeys

Black and white ruffed lemur

Black and white ruffed lemur (photo by Rose Marie Randrianarison)

I recently returned to Madagascar after a five-year hiatus. Even though these days I am steeped in research and conservation work in Asia, I was thrilled when the opportunity arose for me to revisit the island. As a scientist, I am not embarrassed to profess my fondness for lemurs because there is nothing embarrassing about transforming one’s passion into action. And lemurs are the reason why I became a primatologist in the first place.

I still vividly remember my very first lemur encounter. It was with a group of sifakas. In the lush rain forest, enveloped in a shroud of mist and fog and breathless from hiking up what I thought was the steepest trail in the world, I was astounded by the sheer beauty of these animals. There I stood, quietly watching the sifakas move about from tree to tree, so elegant in their posture, like ballet dancers pirouetting across an emerald stage. By the end of my field season, despite all the rain and leeches, I was absolutely hooked on lemurs!

Fast-forward 20 some years: Madagascar still excites me in the same way and my fervor for lemurs has not waned. At Maromizaha, which I visited on this trip, I was enthralled by the myriad of creatures that call this forest home. On my first morning walk, 6 of the 13 species of lemurs greeted me. Maromizaha, like many rain forests along the island’s eastern strip, is a true naturalist’s paradise!

Brown lemurs

Brown lemurs (photo by Zafison Boto)

The most impressive lemur is the indri. Weighing about 17 pounds, it is the largest living lemur species in Madagascar. Indris are known for their operatic singing ability. Often in the morning, male and female indris can be heard singing duets to announce their presence in their territory. There is another lemur in the forest with a well-endowed voice, the black and white ruffed lemur, although its vocalization is more a cacophony than a melody! Lemurs are so interesting to me because of their biology, and through this exploratory trip I hope to learn more about the lemur community in Maromizaha.

North of Maromizaha is a famous national park called Mantadia. Just a little to the west is another well-known preserve called Andasibe (also known as Perinet). These three forest parcels at one time were connected and quite large—but today they appear as isolated specks on a map. Slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, and mining are the main contributing factors to these ever-shrinking forests. From one of the highest points in Maromizaha, I could see where this paradise ends. Beyond is a much different world—a barren landscape devoid of all vegetation and lemurs. How do we protect a paradise like Maromizaha?

Diademed sifaka (photo by Chia Tan)

Diademed sifaka (photo by Chia Tan)

The answer is conservation partnerships with a focus on scientific research, local capacity-building, rural development, and education. So when my colleague, Professor Cristina Giacoma from the University of Torino, Italy, learned about the successes of our camera trap research, in-country training, and education program for schoolchildren in Fanjingshan, China (see posts What Might Monkeys Be Up To?, Monkeys, Leopard Cats, and Bears, Oh My! and March of the Little Green Guards), she invited me and San Diego Zoo Global to partner with her Biodiversity Integration and Rural Development (BIRD) project in Maromizaha.

This approach to biodiversity conservation is not new but it has been proven effective. Our initial camera trap work in Maromizaha and a survey of Malagasy children’s preferences and knowledge of wildlife have produced very promising (not to mention some surprising!) results. Cristina and I will soon meet in China where our partnership continues, and she will witness firsthand the ongoing conservation and research projects we have with partners in Guizhou and Beijing. There, our labor of love will help conserve leaf-eating monkeys, such as the highly endangered Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys and François’ langurs.

Chia Tan, Ph.D., is a scientist in the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

 

 

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Choose Your Favorite Butterfly GIF

Butterfly Jungle is in full swing at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You have until April 7 to bask in the fluttery glory, but in the meantime, check out these gifs of butterflies in the exhibit and let us know which one is your favorite. You can tell us in the comments below or tweet it to us at www.twitter.com/sdzsafaripark. Enjoy!

1. 1

 

2.2

 

3.3

 

4.4

 

5. 5

9

Clouded Leopards: Settling In and Getting Wild

leopard-cubHaui and Rikki have settled in and spread themselves out here in the NACU. Their day centers on food, nap and wild fun at playtime.

Somehow along the way, we gave Rikki a nickname which has stuck. This frequently happens here in the nursery. Rikki‘s second name is now Rolli (named after the slightly pudgy and always hungry puppy in the movie 101 Dalmatians). We’re having a lot of fun with these boys and trying to stay ahead of them by providing fun things to do.

We house the two boys in a large room which they have full run of. In the center of the room is a climbing structure for play. This elevated perching affords repeated attempts at dropping on and surprising your brother – a move that is held in high regard. The room also has a cozy box enclosure which the boys love to relax and sleep on top of. Lately though the two have learned to scale the countertop and from there, they climb all the way to the top of the refrigerator where they survey the landscape or nap in a comical, relaxed heap.

Several times each day it is time for playtime. We move Rikki and Haui to a much larger room (and here we have to keep a vigilant eye on them because there are all kinds of things they can get into) where we provide a variety of fun toys and furniture items. Here, the boys have even more opportunities to really “get down” and play in earnest. Anyone who has watched the scene through the nursery window will agree that things get crazy! There are dramatic leaps, pounces, chases and some rough landings. They love large branches and toys that we drag about so they can practice and perfect their leaps and pounces. The boys love big cardboard boxes too – they make a satisfying noise and enjoyable slide when landed upon. Another big favorite is our office chair which rolls crazily across the floor if one of the guys lands just right.

Haui remains nimble and quick. He constantly hounds his brother by launching carefully planned attacks. When the two wrestle they can be rough, but no one really gets seriously hurt. These battles are fantastic to watch because they attest to the strength, balance, agility and speed of these remarkable cats. Clouded leopards do not purr, but they do make an adorable vocalization called a chuff, which is reserved for a greeting.

On December 19th both boys received their quarantine exams. These exams took place at our Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine. The two were held off food and water in the morning as per our protocol, and then transferred by airline crate to the hospital. Our capable and talented veterinary, wildlife disease, and tech staffs thoroughly examined them. They conducted a number of medical diagnostic tests to make sure both were in perfect health. The boys did very well during the exam, recovered quickly, and passed with flying colors. They returned home to the NACU and we were glad to see that they were playing quietly together early that same afternoon.

To the staff here in the NACU, the quarantine examination signals that the boys will soon be leaving our facility. They will enter the collection at Backstage Pass and begin their training. As we look ahead to the time of their departure, we know that we will miss them.

Janet Hawes is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Clouded Leopards: Getting to Know the Boys.

473

My Moment With Our Black and White Celebrity!

It finally happened, I was able to help with a cub exam! I have been waiting for this moment since my first look at the cub during my night watch shift. As we began setting up for the exam, my excitement quickly turned to nervousness, and my mind raced. There were cameras, researchers, veterinarians, nutritionists, fellow keepers and supervisors, and it was up to me to keep our celebrity calm!  

Then it was time: Bai Yun shifted out to her breakfast, and she was calm. Now was my chance to pick up the cub, weigh him, and bring him out for his exam. I picked him up and placed him on his blanket, along with several bamboo leaves that I had to clean off of him so he would be camera ready. I gently placed him on the scale; he weighed 7.26 pounds (3.29 kilograms)! Now out to the cameras, the veterinarian, and the nutritionist for his exam. He did so well! He made a few vocalizations here and there, and he is getting much more mobile–he even crawled–but the veterinarian and nutritionist were able to conduct a thorough exam. Success!

Jennifer Chapman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Night Watch: Mission Accepted.

6

New Additions: Monkeys, Otters, Pigs

Spot-nosed guenon Indi hanging out on the swing in the lower exhibit

I just wanted to update everyone on some of the changes that are happening in Lost Forest at the San Diego Zoo. If you remember reading my older posts, Monkeys, Otters, and More and More about Monkeys and Otters, some of the same animals are still monkeying around in their current exhibits.

In the lower mixed-species exhibit, we still have our Allen’s swamp monkeys: Kinah, Deriai, Layla, Shaba and Nub. Our little juveniles are growing up so fast and still love to hang out with our spotted-necked otters from time to time. The spotted-necked otters currently in the lower exhibit are Mzee and Lila; however, you are not going to see them together. Mzee is Lila’s father, and we keep them separate so they don’t breed. Consequently, we rotate the two otters on exhibit, so one day you will see Mzee going down the water slides and Lila wrestling with the swamp monkeys the next. The otters don’t seem to mind at all!

You might also see some new faces in the lower exhibit, ones with blue faces, white cheeks, and white spots on their noses. These are our three, new spot-nosed guenon siblings: Indi, Chi-Chi, and Tiko. The first few weeks on exhibit, they were inseparable. They were like three monkeys in one. Wherever one went, the other two followed. You will see this close-knit behavior on exhibit. Indi and Chi-Chi are the two females. Indi has a little more meat on her bones. You will most likely see her try to take over any food situation. Chi-Chi, the smaller female, lets Indi eat her portions to keep their hierarchy balanced. But don’t worry, everyone gets enough food on and off exhibit. Tiko is the larger male spot-nosed guenon and loves to be groomed by the females. You will see him stretched out on one of the platforms with his legs and arms hanging down in such bliss. Every once in a while they interact with the swamp monkeys, but they definitely like to stay close to one another.

Spot-nosed guenons Indi, Chi Chi, and Tiko

In the upper exhibit, our adorable Allen’s swamp monkey pair, Jaribu and Ota, are doing great. Patty and Abu, the spot-nosed guenons who were in the lower exhibit last year, are now in the upper exhibit to accommodate our new arrivals. You’ll see Patty and Abu way up top in the trees where they like to hang out. Haraka and Spike, the spot-nosed guenons who used to be in this area, are now in the mixed-species area of Lost Forest with the mandrills and Angolan colobus.

And do you remember our charismatic Congo buffalo, Helen? She is still striding around the exhibit checking on what everyone else is doing or just relaxing in the back catching some Zs. Some of you might recall our spot-necked otter Khalil. He was paired with a female to start his own family and now resides at a different zoo. His mother, Pori, now inhabits the upper exhibit side. Mother otters in most cases isolate out the older daughter, and fathers isolate their sons after maturity due to competition for breeding. This is why Pori is housed alone as of now. If we get a breeding recommendation to breed Pori, then she may be paired with a male. For now, we wait and enjoy her company with the rest of the animals in the upper exhibit.

African spot-necked otter Pori grabs a fish in the deep pool while Jaribu watches.

Last but not least are our red river hogs! Helen’s red river hog friend from last year, Oboi, was transferred to breed with females at another zoo. Now Helen has some new friends to snuggle with. Our new additions include Hamela and Amy. A little shy at first, they warmed up to our older red river hog residents of a couple of months, Tarzan and CT. Talk about an inseparable foursome! You will love seeing this cuddle fest in the back of the exhibit. All four pigs and Helen took to each other rather quickly. Even behind the scenes, Helen and the pigs share the same beds, making it a cute group of “red” sleeping together. Helen is such a mom figure to these piggies!

(Clockwise) Helen the Congo buffalo, red river hogs CT, Hamela, Amy, and Tarzan

Well, hopefully you can come down and enjoy the new company of animals as much as I do. I randomly toss treats to the critters in the late morning/early afternoon, so come by and say hi!

Jasmine Almonte is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

81

Pandas, Bears, and Pregnancy

Bai Yun’s ultrasounds have revealed a leg, spine, and heartbeat.

The giant panda diverged from the rest of the bear lineage some 20 million years ago, and they have developed some really unique traits not shared by other bears as a result. Dependence on bamboo for sustenance and the development of the pseudothumb to aid in bamboo acquisition are two examples of differences between pandas and other bears. However, when female pandas are pregnant (or pseudopregnant) they remind of us of just how bear-like they are. Although pandas do not experience the hibernation-like state of cold-weather bears most of the time, the females still couple hibernation-like behaviors with the changes in their pregnancy-related hormones.

Cold weather bears like polars, black and brown bears give birth while denned up in the winter. The females rear their young for the first few months in the quiet warmth of their den, before emerging in the spring. During the denning period, females generally forego food and are largely inactive, producing milk to sustain their young while they themselves conserve energy by resting. Winter is a good time for females to slow down and fast, because they wouldn’t find much food anyway during the frozen months of that season. Springtime is a good time to emerge hungry from the den because food abundance is on the uptick at that time of year, and the mothers leave the den with a long season of good eating ahead of them.

Panda mothers experience the same sluggishness and fasting behaviors, but their window for such behavior isn’t coupled with winter. This is probably because bamboo is not a seasonally available food source; it’s around them all year long.  Pandas tend to den up in the summer months instead. Those are some of the warmest months in the mountain ranges in China, and caring for tiny, fragile neonates during warm months affords the mother the opportunity to keep her cub sufficiently warm even when she needs to leave the den to feed a few weeks after birth, as panda mothers do.

Bai Yun’s hormones are in full pregnancy mode, declining from a peak a few weeks ago towards a presumptive birth window. To that end, we have kept monitoring her hormones, behavior, thermo imaging and ultrasound. What do our results show thus far?

Her behavior is interesting, showing a slight increase in denning activity over a week ago. She is building her nest. She is sluggish and still declining her bamboo, but has also become very finicky with respect to non-bamboo too. She has begun insisting that keepers peel her apple slices during husbandry sessions; no skins for Bai Yun! Her hormones continue to drop toward baseline. And her ultrasounds have revealed: a fetal heartbeat!

Yes, we are very excited to think Bai Yun is carrying what we hope will be her 6th cub. We are patiently waiting and crossing our fingers that she will carry this cub to term. I know you will be crossing your fingers with us!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous update, Panda Update: Seeking Seclusion.

5

The Secret Life of Eiders: Part 1

Mike releases a king eider back into the wild after it was rehabilitated in Alaska.

Most people have never heard of an eider before (pronounced EYE-der). This is a shame, as eiders are the most colorful and playful ducks I’ve ever worked with. Eiders are large sea ducks that are found along the coastline of Alaska, northern Canada, and even down into New England. The common eider Somateria mollissima, king eider Somateria spectabilis, and spectacled eider Somateria fischeri are all closely related and of the same genus. The Steller’s eider Polysticta stelleri is more distantly related and has a genus all its own. The following anecdotes are a collection of stories from my work in Alaska before I came to the San Diego Zoo.

The wonderful king eider is truly a regal bird. The breeding male has a beautiful red bill, a bright orange-yellow cere (the top of the base of its bill), greenish cheeks, and a subtle purple/gray crown and nape (the back of its neck). This is coupled with a cream chest and a black back with little feathers that stick up and look like sails. Sounds amazing? Believe me, my description doesn’t do them justice. The female is, of course, quite drab by comparison. However, the female demonstrates her royalty by her devotion to her eggs. When the king eider female finishes laying her eggs, she stays on the nest for up to a week at a time without a break! While most duck moms take a daily “break” to eat, defecate, and stretch, the female king keeps her nest as secret as possible by remaining on her throne.

The common eider is bigger than life. Almost. Many years ago I had the privilege of working with this species, and what struck me the most about them was that they also believed that I was privileged to work with them!  Usually when a keeper enters a bird exhibit, one of two things happen: the bird flies or walks closer looking for a treat, or the bird flies or walks away seeking distance from potential danger. Well, the commons did neither; they stayed right where they were. Many times I had to carefully weave my way around the feathered “mines.” Oh, but I was surely in for a bite on my leg if I passed by without giving them a piece of krill, clam, or squid. Privileged, remember?

Next comes my favorite eider species, the spectacled eider. They are not massive like the commons. They aren’t flashy like the Steller’s. They aren’t regal like the kings. They are the clowns. There were days when I believed that they were sent to keep the humans entertained as we worked with the “real” eider species. Cleaning pools was always a chore with the Steller’s eiders. They were so skittish that we had to move slowly or else they could spook and fall into the empty pool. We had the opposite problem with the spectacled eiders. The specs would wait until our back was turned and would line up at the edge of the empty pool. They would then start their own version of American Gladiators and try to knock each other off the ledge. Many keepers turned just in time to see one duck get pinched in the rump by its buddy and sent over the edge (a short, harmless fall). As the rest of the flock fluttered about joyously at the misfortune of their friend, we would walk over, pick up the fallen bird, and place it in one of the full pools so the whole episode could start all over. It was impossible to be bored when there were specs around!

Check back soon for The Secret Life of Eiders: Part II, where we will learn about the gorgeous, but aloof, Steller’s eider.

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Dabbling vs Diving Ducks.

 

109

Elephant Antics

The Safari Park’s African elephant herd continues to thrive, and we are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of Swazi’s second calf, which is due late July or early August. Look for physical changes in our matriarch as she prepares to welcome her baby.  Will son Macembe (Mac) be a good big brother? Time will tell, of course, but so far Mac is one super cool, laid-back kid. Like his mom, Mac has long legs and is a quick-learning and confident two year old.

You’d think that Umngani, mother of three, would have her trunk full taking care of her brood. Yet she has been spending her time lately enticing Msholo, our lone bull, to come hither! He, of course, is happy to play along, and there may be breeding between the two soon. Luckily for Umngani and her raging hormones, daughter Khosi, who is almost six years old, is more than willing to babysit younger brothers Ingadze and Neepo, freeing her mom to flirt with the handsome Msholo. Ingadze is now three years old and has been the kindest big brother to little brother Inhlonipho. Keepers describe Neepo as a wild, high-energy boy who will have his first birthday in September. Neepo loves to sound his little trumpet and chase the keepers along the exhibit’s fenceline. He has recently taken up a new talent: hopping!

Msholo has integrated very well with the herd. He is gentle with the little ones and attentive to the ladies. Even Ndula will occasionally interact with him, and she never interacted with Mabu (except during estrus and would then make him work!) Perhaps it’s because her oldest son, Vus’musi, has become best buddies with Msholo. The two play wrestle often, especially in the pool. Although he is much larger than Musi, now 8 years old, Msholo gets on the younger elephant’s level to help make the wrestling matches more even. What a guy! Ndula’s other son, Luti, is 2½ years old and has replaced his big brother as a momma’s boy. Keepers say Luti is shy and cautious about learning new things, although when he gets real excited, he hops on his rear legs, too!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Elephants Emanti and Kami.