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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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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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5 Turkey Myths Busted

There are a lot of myths floating around out there about the bird that defines the holiday season, the iconic North American turkey. It’s time to bust some of those myths once and for all and hook you up with some trivia to share at the dinner table to impress your cohorts.

By jimbobphoto on Flickr

By jimbobphoto on Flickr

Myth 1 – Turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving
Common folklore holds that the turkey was an important food at the first Thanksgiving, but it’s doubtful the turkey was part of the holiday tradition until the 1800s. It’s more likely that other game birds were served, such as the now-extinct passenger pigeon.

Myth 2 – Turkeys are just big chickens
Turkeys are NOT chickens. The two birds are entirely different species separated by tens of millions of years of evolution.

Myth 3 – Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national symbol
Benjamin Franklin never explicitly suggested that the US adopt the turkey as its national symbol, but he did once praise the turkey in writing as a more “respectable” bird than the bald eagle.

The ocellated turkey is native to Yucutan Peninsula, Mexico.

Myth 4 – Turkeys can’t fly
Wrong. Despite having one of the highest body-weight-to-wing-area ratios, turkeys can fly up to 55 m.p.h. and have been observed nesting in trees.

Myth 5 – Turkey makes you sleepy
It’s true that turkey contains tryptophan (an amino acid that produces serotonin, which helps regulate sleep), but most other meat has similar amounts of tryptophan. The sleepiness you’re feeling after that Thanksgiving feast is your body’s exhaustion from consuming an insane amount of calories.

Do you have any other turkey facts or myths to share? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 11 Orange Animals To Get You In the Spirit of Fall.

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11 Orange Animals to Get You in the Fall Spirit

After a long, warm summer, it’s finally fall in San Diego, and orange is the color of the season. It turns out that orange is also a prominent color in the Animal Kingdom, as proven by these 11 stunning creatures that wear the color beautifully.

Tigers are perhaps the most iconic orange member of the Animal Kingdom. You might think their bright-orange coloration would make them stand out in the lush greenery of their native habitat, but it actually has the opposite effect. Orange and green are in the same color range when viewed in black and white, and it just so happens that prey animals see in black and white. Black stripes help further camouflage tigers, making them near invisible to prey.

Orangutans are another iconic carrot-topped animal. Aside from their stoic problem-solving intelligence and skilled tool use, orangutans are also known for having super rockin’ hairdos.

 

Red river hogs, native to Africa, are about as orange as it gets. And as cute as it gets.

 

The largest South American canid and tallest of all canids, the maned wolf, also sports beautiful light-orange coloration and long black “socks.” Despite its name, the maned wolf is not a wolf at all, and despite its fox-like appearance, it’s not a fox, either. It’s actually the only species in the genus Chrysocyon (meaning golden dog).

 

The red panda, aka “fire fox,” is admired for its charming face and gorgeous orange, white, and cinnamon coloration–as well as for  its formidable agility. Despite its name, red pandas have nothing in common with giant pandas. For many years, red pandas were classified as part of the Procyonidae family, which includes raccoons and their relatives. But DNA studies show that red pandas represent a unique family that diverged from the rest of the Carnivore Order, and scientists place them in their own unique family: Ailuridae.

red panda

 

It doesn’t get much more orange than the Guinean cock-of-the-rock. Native to South America, this bird not only has the coolest name ever but also the best fashion sense.

 

One of the largest African antelope species, the bongo, is characterized by its unique orange coloration with striking white stripes and slightly spiraled horns. They’re also known for being incredibly adorable.

The Gila monster is one of the most-feared orange reptiles, but its fearsome reputation is largely unwarranted. True, they are venomous, and their bite is painful to humans, but it rarely causes death. The biggest problem you might have if a Gila monster bit you is trying to get the lizard to release its grip. But you really shouldn’t worry, as Gila monsters tend to avoid humans and other large animals.

Aside from being known for their unique orange plumage and blue, vulture-like head, capuchin birds are also known for the super-strange call they emit in their native South American forests. Many have likened it to a cow mooing.

With their beautiful fluorescent coloration, poison frogs are a sight to behold. But beware, as their skin contains enough toxins to kill up to 100 people. Poison frogs are often called poison dart frogs because the Choco Indians in South America use the frogs’ poison to coat the tips of the blow darts they use for hunting.

 

Orange julius butterflies boast striking orange coloration, easily standing out in almost any garden. However, butterfly wings are actually clear—the colors and patterns we see are made by the reflection of the tiny scales covering them.

Did we miss any? If you think of any other orange animals, let us know in the comments.

 

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 13 Animals That Are So Over Being Awake.

A Gila monster bite is painful to humans but rarely causes death. The biggest problem you might have if a Gila monster bit you is trying to get the lizard to release its grip! But you really shouldn’t worry, as Gila monsters tend to avoid humans and other large animals. – See more at: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/gila-monster#sthash.nzmBtJrS.dpuf
For many years, red pandas were classified as part of the Procyonidae family, which includes raccoons and their relatives. But DNA studies show that red pandas represent a unique family that diverged from the rest of the Carnivore Order, and scientists place them in their own unique family: Ailuridae. – See more at: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/red-panda#sthash.1m4HBmEz.dpuf
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9 Culturally Haunting Animals

Since Halloween is around the corner, it’s time to learn about some creepy critters that have been haunting cultures around the globe. It’s also time to separate fact from fiction, the latter being partially responsible for some bad reputations surrounding some incredibly innocent creatures. It’s important to note that just because certain species are portrayed as terrifying monsters in the media or fancy folklore doesn’t mean that said animals are, in fact, flesh-eating freaks of nature. In other words, the expression “don’t believe everything you hear” exists for a reason.

So without further ado, keep reading for some animal-inspired myth busting.

Satanic leaf-tailed gecko

One look at the satanic leaf-tailed gecko and you’ll understand why this demonic reptile made the list. This master of disguise has a body that mimics a dead leaf, which protects the gecko in its native Madagascar. To trick predators, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko can also flatten its body like a pancake and deliberately shed its tail. Despite how scary this tiny reptile appears to be, it’s irrational to denounce the species for its kooky characteristics.

Aye-aye

The Safari Park’s Lemur Walk demonstrates how curiously cute these prosimians can be. Yet the Malagasy people of Madagascar believe that lemurs embody the souls of their ancestors. In fact, the word lemur stems from the Latin word lemures, which translates to “ghosts” or “nocturnal spirits.” In Roman mythology lemures weren’t just spirits—they represented lethal, vengeful spirits, the kind nightmares are made of. This misunderstanding has threatened the lives of one subspecies in particular, the aye-aye, which is often killed on sight because it’s perceived as a bad omen. The only bad omen here is the fact that lemurs status was recently moved from vulnerable to endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species this year.

Tasmanian devil

The Tasmanian devil got its moniker for its dark color and fierce temper. These nocturnal marsupials let out spine-chilling screams while feeding together at a carcass. When they feel threatened or excited, their little ears change to bright red. While their name appears to suit their style, what’s even scarier is the fact that Tasmanian devils are critically endangered. In other words, Loony Tunes’ exaggerated portrayal of Taz as a voracious lunatic may have done more harm than good. Currently, the San Diego Zoo is one of just two facilities in North America to house these little devils.

Snow leopard

As elusive as they are stunning, snow leopards have been creatures of Nepalese myths and Buddhist culture for centuries. Luckily for them, their reputations tend to be more positive than the aforementioned animals. Their shy and mystifying ability to almost disappear in their native habitat has established snow leopards as shape-changing mountain spirits to the local people of Central Asia, who know them as “ghost cats.”

Jaguar

Another mysterious big cat that’s earned a prominent place in local legends is the jaguar. These cool cats are depicted in ruins throughout Central and South America, but instead of symbolizing a spooky species, jaguars represent beauty, strength, and unparalleled intelligence in the New World. In fact, some tales suggest that jaguars move between worlds because they’ve adapted to life in the trees as well as on the ground. Their ability to hunt during the day and night is equally impressive.

Vultures

Most vultures depicted in cartoons, comics, or films reinforce that one-dimensional image we all have: a symbol of impending doom or death. Even though the entertainment industry has deemed this winged species as wickedly horrid, once you get past their harsh appearance, you’ll learn that some cultures actually idolize vultures. Aside from ancient mythology and rituals, vultures are crucial to habitats, as they remove dead carcasses without spreading disease. So instead of fearing vultures, we should thank them for taking care of at least one dirty job.

Crow

Another bird that’s been doomed by ancient legends and modern Hollywood is the crow. Despite the fact that the comic book series and subsequent action movie was based on a brutal story of murder and vengeance, Edgar Allan Poe’s preceding works in the mid-1800s further expanded the crow’s negative connotations. Perhaps its slick, dark plumage is to be blamed for the crow’s lack of love, but in nearly every culture’s mythological past– from Ireland to Islam–this species was associated with war, death, murder, and other terrifying nouns that keep us awake at night.

Gila monster

With a name like Gila monster, it’s no surprise that this species has one of the worst reputations in the reptile world. Native to northern Mexico and our southwestern states, this lizard is feared by humans for a bevy of false reasons. For starters, some people think the Gila monster can spit deadly venom, sting with its tongue, and even kill people with its poisonous breath. While the Gila monster is, in fact, venomous, a bite from one of these scaly creatures rarely causes death…in humans. Nothing to fear here.

Komodo dragon

The Komodo dragon is another victim of bad publicity. While it wins the prize for largest-living lizard in the world, people have feared the dragon because it’s believed that its saliva contains a deadly bacteria. The jury is still out on this one, so stay tuned for another blog that addresses this topic.

Join the Halloween fun! Share your spooky species or animal legends in the comments below.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 7 Animals You Didn’t Learn In School.

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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.

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9 Animals You Never Knew Existed

The precise number of animal species that exists on Earth, both past and present, is unknown. Following this logic, there’s a plethora of animals they didn’t teach you about in school. Sure, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) are cool, but if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the Animal Kingdom or just want to stock up on fun #animalfacts, check out these nine exceptional creatures.

Bonobo

Before you mistakenly categorize this primate as a chimp, take a closer look. The bonobo is one of the most rare and intelligent primates in the world; they’re only found in a small part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and, among other things, their social structure is unique, complex, and largely peaceful.

Agouti

The agouti (ah GOO tee) is a rain forest-dwelling rodent from Central and South America. Given its diet of fallen fruit and nuts, it’s no secret that the agouti loves forest leftovers, but its sharp incisors also play a vital role in the survival of Brazil nut trees (one of the largest in the Amazon). This rodent species is the only mammal that can crack open the indestructible outer shell of a Brazil nut, which is extremely valuable for the country’s remote people.

Fossa

Madagascar is home to some incredible species, and the fossa is the “king” of them. Even though resembling a morphed cat-like dog, a fossa’s closest relative is the mongoose, but the misunderstandings don’t end there. Legends of fossas stealing babies from cribs, licking humans into a deep trance, and making their own pupils disappear are endless, but let’s be honest, we prefer facts over a lengthy list of myths.

Binturong

Imagine a buttery box of theater-style popcorn, and you can almost smell this next exceptional species. Yes, the smell that usually signifies box-office entertainment is the same smell you’ll find emanating from a binturong, aka bear cat. However, that moniker is a bit misleading since binturongs aren’t related to bears or cats but instead have closer ties to fossas mentioned above.

Echidna

There are only two types of egg-laying mammals in the world, and the echidna is one of them. If that’s not enough to spark your interest, this spiny anteater is also one of Earth’s oldest surviving species. While other animals have been busy evolving and adapting to fluctuating environments, the echidna has remained unchanged since prehistoric times.

Tamadua

Speaking of anteaters, the tamandua (aka lesser anteater) is another mammal you probably didn’t know existed. Its relative, the giant anteater, gets most of the attention, but the tamandua has its own way of making its presence known; it can spray a rotten-smelling secretion that’s said to be significantly more powerful than a skunk. Thus, its unforgettable nickname, “stinker of the forest,” is properly attributed.

Tree pangolin

The tree pangolin is a scaly anteater that looks like a pinecone with legs and a long tail. Its scales are made of keratin, like our hair and fingernails, which protect this “pinecone” from predators.

Tuatara

Sure, the tuatara appears to be an average lizard, but this reptile is truly unique. The tuatara is specific to New Zealand and its closest relatives are an extinct group of reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. It’s no wonder the tuatara is referred to as a “living fossil.”

Caecilian

Caecilians (pronounced seh-SILL-yens) live a mysterious life in a network of underground tunnels. There are over 120 species of caecilians on at least 4 continents, but almost nothing is known of this amphibian’s habits or lifestyle.

Can you think of any uncommon animals to add to this list? Share yours in the comments below.

*Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Ken and Dixie’s Bite Club.

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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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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.