What’s it like to work with the rarest rhino in the world?

I started working at the Safari Park in 1983, and was working with the animals by 1984. The most frequently asked question I’ve had is “What is it like to work with rhinos?” Of late it’s been “What is it like to work with the rarest rhino in the world?”

One of my charges is Nola. She is one of only four northern white rhino alive on our planet. Their story is well known; the northern white rhino population has gone from 2000 in the 1960s, to 500 in the 1970s, to just 4 today. None of the four remaining animals can breed, so the only thing left for them is extinction.

Jane (left) & fellow keepers clip Nola’s nails

For me and the team that I work with here at the Safari Park, that’s just unacceptable. The Safari Park has been a captive breeding haven birthing more than 20,000 mammals, many of which are endangered. We are the most successful breeding facility in the world! The Safari Park has helped bring back species like the California condor, the Arabian oryx, the giant panda, and many others that could be lost to extinction if it weren’t for the work we do. The thought of not doing everything we can to help the northern white rhino is unimaginable. Yes, it will be complicated and difficult, but we can do it if we work as a global team.

Jane tends to Nola

Jane tends to Nola

As keepers, our part of the puzzle isn’t developing the science we will need, our part is to give the hands-on care these rhinos need to survive and thrive. For me, that means giving Nola the best care she can receive for her remaining days. At 41 she is the oldest recorded female northern white rhino. Her last day can be any day. My job is to make every one of those days a good one. It usually involves apples and alfalfa (something we now know is not a good thing for white rhino) and of course some love in the form of scratches behind her ears. For the rest of her life I am charged with being her lead keeper; the human she can most rely upon to take care of her. I plan on doing this job to the utmost of my abilities and give her the love that she needs.

You are part of her team too. Every time you support San Diego Zoo Global you support Nola. Your dollars will make the Rhino Rescue Center a reality. What I will do for you is share Nola’s remaining days with you. You can be part of her team that makes sure every day is a good day. Watch for my posts about Nola and what her days have been like. Thank you for caring about her, and all of the other animals being protected from extinction here at the Safari Park and San Diego Zoo. What we do makes a difference.

Jane Kennedy is lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Feeling Better and Getting Her Nails Done: Northern White Rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Gets Pedicure.


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.


13 Animals That Are So Over Being Awake

Let’s face it, sometimes being awake is overrated, and it seems like these critters agree. Enjoy these 13 animals who are so over being awake, and try not to catch a yawn…

Koalas are the sleeping beauties of the animal kingdom. They subsist on nutrient-deficient eucalyptus leaves, so they sleep 18-22 hours a day to conserve energy—and look adorable while doing it.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

The king of the Safari Park, Izu, is also the king of naps. Over the course of 24 hours, lions have short bursts of intense activity, followed by long bouts of lying around that total up to 21 hours.

Photo by Bob Worthington

Photo by Bob Worthington


Red pandas, like Lily here, sleep through the hottest part of the day and are most active at dawn and dusk, a strategy adopted by many animals to conserve energy. Sensing a theme?

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe


The mountain lion (aka puma, cougar, panther, catamount) is no different than other cats. It sleeps away most of the day to save up energy for hunting. It’s a rough life.

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo


Meerkats aren’t necessarily known for sleeping, but they’re known for doing so in luxury. A meerkat mob has several burrow systems, complete with toilet and sleeping chambers, within its territory and moves from one to another every few months. Ahh the finer things.

Photo by p.b. fletch

Photo by p.b. fletch


The King of the San Diego Zoo, M’bari, puts his best foot forward when it comes to napping.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe


Animal Fact: Zebras yawn in black and white.

Photo by Nathan Rupert

Photo by Nathan Rupert


Polar bears hibernate like other bears, right? Wrong. Despite the long, harsh winter, polar bears don’t hibernate. In fact, most of them (except pregnant females) continue to hunt seals throughout the winter. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t sleep A LOT. If you watch Polar Cam you know what I’m talking about.


Tasmanian devils take shelter during the day, and are more active after the sun goes down. In fact, they were actually named for the eerie, devilish sounds they make at night.


D’aww…..just d’awww

No words for this photo Jaguar cubs Tikal and Maderas, born at the San Diego Zoo, 2012. Photo by Ion Moe

Jaguar cubs Tikal and Maderas born at the San Diego Zoo, 2012. Photo by Ion Moe


Another koala sleepyhead, because cute.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe



Most epic yawn ever. Ok Izu, we get it, you’re pretty good at this sleepy-time thing.

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo


We have to hand it to Flynn the red panda though, we’ve never seen anyone hammock this good. Bravo sir, bravo.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde


Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo global. Read his previous post, 11 Animal Hairdos Humans Should Aspire To.


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.


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

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.



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.




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!

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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.


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.


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.