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Conservation

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San Diego Zoo Begins Transformation of 8 Acres for New Africa Rocks Exhibit

Ruva, a South African porcupine breaks ground on the largest expansion in the Zoo's 99-year history. Pictured from left to right: Krista Perry, animal trainer, San Diego Zoo; Conrad Prebys, who gave the visionaly gift of 11 million for Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks; and Debbie Turner. At center: principal donor Ernest Rady and wife Evelyn Rady. At far right: Robert Horsman, chairman of the board, San Diego Zoo Global.

Pictured from left to right: Krista Perry, animal trainer, San Diego Zoo; Conrad Prebys, who gave the visionary gift of $11 million for Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks; and Debbie Turner. At center: principal donor Ernest Rady and wife Evelyn Rady. At far right: Robert Horsman, chairman of the board, San Diego Zoo Global.

An African crested porcupine had the honor of taking the first dig this morning, when the San Diego Zoo broke ground on the largest expansion in its 99-year history. Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks is a $68 million project that will transform eight acres of the Zoo and replace 1930s-era grottos and enclosures (formerly known as Cat and Dog Canyon) with new habitats for African plant and animal species that range from savanna to shore.

When the exhibit opens in 2017, Africa Rocks will entirely transform the area that was previously a steep canyon. Africa Rocks’ gently winding, ADA-accessible pathway will lead guests through different types of African habitats—including a West African forest, acacia woodlands, Ethiopian highlands, kopje gardens and a Madagascar habitat.

More than 4,500 individual donors, including the visionary gift of $11 million from Conrad Prebys, have contributed to the Africa Rocks Campaign. Principal donor Ernest Rady provided a $10 million matching gift challenge in 2013 that resulted in 3,800 individual donors giving more than $20 million toward the exhibit. Other principal donors, Dan and Vi McKinney, gave $5 million for the creation of an African penguin habitat. Additional funds have been generously given by corporations, private foundations and estate gifts.

”We want Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks to showcase Africa, where wildlife and habitat are being threatened like never before,” said Douglas Myers, president and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global. “The new area has been designed with some innovative exhibit features that demonstrate San Diego Zoo’s leadership in animal welfare and give us some amazing storytelling opportunities, to help connect people to wildlife.”

Africa Rocks will be a home to mammals, reptiles, birds, and plant life native to Africa. The exhibit will feature a range of primates, including hamadryas and gelada baboons, vervet monkeys, and lemurs. Other mammals in the exhibit will include southern ratel, fossa and an African leopard.

The Zoo is now home to two African penguins, found in the Children’s Zoo—but expect this number to grow when Africa Rocks’ penguin beach opens, and the Zoo begins its participation in an international species survival plan for these endangered aquatic birds. There will also be a walk-through aviary with sociable weavers.

Dwarf crocodiles will be among the reptile species in Africa Rocks, which are the smallest of the crocodile species. Other reptiles featured in the exhibit will include Agama lizards and spurred tortoises.

The Zoo will also be relocating several old-growth trees, including a ficus and a sausage tree. Other African-native plants in the exhibit will include acacia, aloe, Madagascar ocotillo and palms.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on July 29, 2015 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Female Northern White Rhino Dies in Czech Republic: Only Four of These Rhinos Remain Worldwide

Global_logo_color webThe Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic has announced that an elderly northern white rhinoceros, Nabiré, has passed away. The female rhino was born in 1983 and died July 27, 2015 from complications with a pathological cyst. Her death leaves only four northern white rhinos remaining in the world: an elderly female at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, named Nola; and three under human care at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the African nation of Kenya: a male, Sudan; and two females, Najin and Fatu.

“Our condolences go out to the Dvur Kralove Zoo for this particularly difficult loss,” said Randy Rieches, curator of mammals for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Watching this wonderful subspecies move one step closer to extinction breaks the hearts of all of us who have worked with and love rhinos.”

Northern white rhinos are at the brink of extinction because of poaching in Africa. Only a few have lived in zoological settings, and those animals have been largely non-reproductive.

San Diego Zoo Global is working to save the genome of this rhino subspecies through the collection of genetic material. Samples of 12 northern white rhinos are currently preserved in the Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research.

San Diego Zoo Global just received a $100,000 grant from the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation to continue this research and rescue effort.

“After hearing about the plight of the northern white rhino, I shared San Diego Zoo Global’s plan for a genetic rescue of the species with the Scripps family,” said Doug Dawson, executive director of the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation. “Instantly, we unanimously and enthusiastically agreed this is where we wanted to commit Miss Ellen’s philanthropic investment this year!”

In addition to the genomic research at the Institute for Conservation Research, a rhino rescue facility is being built at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to house a colony of white rhinos, to ensure the preservation of the species. Those who want to contribute toward San Diego Zoo Global’s work to end extinction of the white rhino can visit www.sandiegozoo.org/rhino.

In the wild, rhinos are killed for their horns—a unique physiological feature made up of keratin, the same material that forms human hair and fingernails. Many cultures erroneously believe the rhino horn has medicinal value, so sadly, the illegal market in horns taken from poached animals continues to thrive.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the mission of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

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

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Frog Nanny

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Tending to tadpoles means carefully monitoring water quality and providing a constant supply of food.

Frog nanny is not an official job title, but it’s been my reality this year. I’m the “nanny” for some 1,176 healthy mountain yellow-legged frog (MYLF) tadpoles.  This iconic California species is one of the most endangered frogs in North America. San Diego Zoo Global has been involved in the MYLF recovery program since 2009, and captive breeding has been an important component of our efforts to re-introduce froglets into their natural habitat in the Sierra Mountains. However, with little information on MYLF life history, the care and reproduction of these frogs in captivity presents many challenges.

I have been working on this project full-time since last October. As I enter the lab and look into the 100-gallon containers holding the result of this years’ extremely productive breeding season, a feeling of excitement and nervousness comes over me. It takes about a month and a half for MYLF embryos to hatch out into free-swimming tadpoles, and in the meantime, they require daily preening. Early in the breeding season, I start my day by counting and cataloging over 1,800 embryos. Something like picking ticks off a chimpanzee, this entails cutting through the surrounding egg jelly and extracting any unfertilized or dead embryos from neighboring healthy ones. Sitting at the dissecting microscope, I examine and record what stage of development each embryo has reached every day. By the afternoon, I am all but cross-eyed. I walk around with constant images of beautifully formed black spheres in my mind’s eye. As the embryos grow and thrive, the stress of getting them through the early stage of development is taken over by concerns for stage two of tadpole rearing.

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These black specks are mountain yellow-legged frog embryos.

So what is stage two? We begin by focusing on what tadpoles need. MYLF tadpoles require cold, clean water, constant feeding, and plenty of space to grow. Like most infants, tadpoles are voracious eaters and require a constant supply of food. If too much food is offered, it accumulates in the tank, causing water quality issues. Too little food, and big brother Jake might start nibbling on his smaller sibling Fred. Cannibalism is not uncommon in amphibian species, so all I can do to stop Jake from eating his brothers and sisters is make sure I feed him enough.

Amphibian nutrition is a work in progress, and little is known of individual species’ requirements. This year, I have gone from reproductive physiologist to dietician. Researching amphibian nutrition is complicated by the specific needs of each life stage. Luckily, I have a supporting team of professional nutritionists and a wealth of knowledge and years of experience, courtesy of Brett Baldwin and David Grubaugh, amphibian/reptile keepers at the Zoo.

Controlling water quality is another daily necessity. The difference between clean and pristine can be subtle, and can affect growth and development in ways that may not be apparent until it is too late (like during metamorphosis). Armed with the HACH colorimeter DR-900, a small team of us (Nicole Gardner, senior research associate; Bryan King, research associate; me; and our weekly volunteers, Jaia Kaelberer, Janice Hale, and Jim Marsh) conduct daily screenings of the water in which our tadpoles live. Based on data we have collected on the water quality in MYLF habitat, we have specific parameters to which we can set our water standards in the lab.

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Helping to raise new generations of mountain yellow-legged frogs is challenging, but rewarding.

They say “be careful what you wish for.” This year, we wished for a handful of MYLF egg clutches to be laid and for a couple of hundred embryos to survive. Instead, we got almost 2,000 eggs! As they grow, we become faced with a new challenge—overcrowding. To my relief, the solution becomes clear; together with our partners at the US Geological Survey and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, we decide to split our bountiful cohort of tadpoles into smaller groups. At the end of May, 711 lucky tadpoles made their triumphant way back to the wild, and 400 of their brothers and sisters stayed here with us. They will be “headstarted” and returned to the wild as froglets.

Everyone involved in this project lives and loves every moment. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a life form grow and thrive under your care. This year’s breeding season has exceeded all our expectations. If we take into account that less than one percent of MYLF tadpoles are estimated to survive to metamorphosis and only an estimated 200 adults remain in the wild, everyone currently involved in this project holds the key to this species’ survival. That can be stressful, but it is also a humbling honor. I am happy to speculate that this is going to be a good year for our MYLF program, and that I will have the chance to be part of their journey back to nature.

Natalie Calatayud is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous blog, Rocky Mountain High: Boreal Toads Going to a Place They’ve Never Been Before.

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Malayan Tigers, A Family Tradition at the San Diego Zoo

Having one offspring of a legendary pair is special. Having THREE is something else altogether. Mek and Paka, a breeding pair of Malayan tigers, are heroes in the fight against extinction. The latest in their long line of offspring, Cinta and Berani, are a pair of 18 month old sub-adult males that just sauntered into the Lost Forest at the San Diego Zoo. Cinta and Berani, aka “the Boys,” were born January 4th 2014 in a four-cub litter that also included two girls.

Brothers Berani & Cinta are inseparable. (photo by Penny Hyde)

Brothers Berani & Cinta are inseparable. (photo by Penny Hyde)

The addition of the youthful teenagers has been both joyful and a bit nerve-wracking! One particularly heart pounding moment came in the first few weeks of the boys exploring the recently renovated exhibit. At the end of May, Cinta and Berani were wading in the large pool in the lower exhibit when one decided to try to jump up the wall. Easily clearing 10 feet in a single bound, he gently fell back on his feet in the pool and wandered off to explore something else. Even though there was never a chance he could get out of the exhibit, it was still surprising to see how easily he leapt up a sheer wall. This was a true testament to how athletic and powerful these majestic creatures really are.

Brothers Cinta & Berani snuggle up for a cat nap (photo by Deric Wagner)

Brothers Cinta & Berani snuggle up for a cat nap (photo by Deric Wagner)

The exhibit was not the biggest adjustment the boys had to make. Their brother Conner, twice their age and a quarter larger in size, is an imposing and dominant male. Connor made it his mission to scent mark the entire exhibit thoroughly. This marking can last for a month. While the boys are never in the same exhibit as Connor, they know he is around and they had to adjust to seeing and smelling a much larger male. This certainly put the boys in a nervous state, leading to some funny interactions and behaviors early on. Both Berani and Cinta were on high alert the first day they and Connor were out on their exhibits for the first time. They could see Connor through the double fence and never once turned their backs on him the entire day. All the while, Connor just sat on his rock, welcoming the new kids to the block.

Connor sharpening his tetherball skillz. #TigerTetherball (video by Rachel Pollard)

A video posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

Once things settled down and all the tigers were getting comfortable with their surroundings, we all moved on to the next phase, exhibit swapping. Both Connor and the boys have now had time in each of the two sections of the redesigned tiger exhibit and they are noticeably calmer as a result. Connor, still a relatively young male himself, continues to show his youthful attitude and exuberance for life. On the first night of Nighttime Zoo, Connor decided to put on a show. He managed to create his own version of The Bellagio water show by ripping up a water line to his drinker. Water sprayed everywhere and one happy tiger got to play in it. The repairs were made the next day and after a short test, Cinta and Berani were swapped into the previously flooded exhibit. They decided to team up and proceeded to tear the water line out of the drinker, just after it got repaired! I guess the boys think imitation is the best form of flattery.

Connor has reclaimed his renovated digs on Tiger Trail in the Lost Forest. #caturday (Pic by Mike Wilson) A photo posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

Just two months in with our rambunctious family of brothers, Connor, Cinta and Berani are all adjusting. The family fun and adventure shall continue!

Aimee Goldcamp is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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Summer Pool Party – Animal Style

Summer is in full swing and you know what that means–pool parties! And not just for us; many animals also enjoy the life aquatic. Enjoy this roundup of animals who take to water like moths to flame.

Hippos

Hippos are water fiends. They’re actually adapted for life in the water and are found living in slow-moving rivers and lakes in Africa. With their eyes, ears, and nostrils on the top of the head, hippos can hear, see, and breathe while most of their body is underwater.

Elephants

Our behemoth pachyderm friends also don’t hate water. Elephants often spray themselves with water or roll in the mud or dust for protection from the sun and biting insects. They can also use their trunks as periscopes to breathe underwater, which is quite possibly one of the coolest adaptations ever.

Polar Bears

Polar bears practically live a perpetual pool party. The taxonomic name for polar bears is Ursus maritimus, which means sea bear, a fitting name for these champion swimmers. They have been known to swim more than 60 miles without rest in search of food, using their broad front feet for paddling and their back legs like rudders to steer.

A #polarbear can swim for up to 12 days & up to 426 miles. #regram #animals #nature #sandiegozoo

A photo posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

Jaguars

Jaguars would show you up at any pool party with their swimming prowess, helped along by super muscular limbs and large paws to paddle with. In fact, they typically live near water and have a taste for aquatic creatures. Jaguars have even been observed sitting quietly at the water’s edge, occasionally tapping the surface with their tail to attract fish.

Otters

Otters are the only species in the weasel family that enjoys constant pool parties. They spend most of their lives in water, and they’re built for it. Their streamlined bodies are perfect for diving and swimming. They also have webbed feet and can close off their ears and nose as they swim underwater. Otters can also see just as well underwater as they can above, and can stay submerged for five to eight minutes.

Penguins

Most birds are masters of the skies, but penguins prefer the sea. Penguins are fast swimmers allowing them to catch a variety of prey including sardines and anchovies, as well as squid and crustaceans.

Tigers

Much like jaguars, tigers don’t shy away from a good dip in the water. Excellent and powerful swimmers, tigers are often found during the day relaxing or waiting to ambush prey in ponds, streams, and rivers.

Gharials

Gharials, like all crocodilians, are born knowing how to swim. As they grow older they become incredibly agile swimmers, moving through the water with ease by using their powerful, oar-like tails and strongly-webbed hind feet.

Photo by Bob Worthington

Photo by Bob Worthington

 

Can you think of any other animals who love water? Let us know in the comments.

 

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Myths About Rhino Horn That Need To Go Away.

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A Day in the Life of a Tiger Keeper

Sumatran tiger Conrad takes in a different view

Ever wonder what the day of a tiger keeper is like? Here at the Safari Park, our day starts early – at 6 a.m.! When we arrive, our first order of business is to bring all of the cats that spent the night outside on exhibit into the eight bedrooms inside the tiger house.

People often think it might be difficult to convince them to come in from their beautiful and spacious exhibits, but the truth is, they usually come running. That’s because they know that once they’re inside, it’s time for breakfast! All of the cats get between 4.5 to 6 lbs. of ground meat daily, and we typically like to divide their diet up into two to three feedings throughout the day. This allows us more opportunity to work with the cats, and it also helps to make their day a bit more interesting. We’ll often use their breakfast to work on some of their trained behaviors, or as a reward for simple desensitization, such as for blood draws, temperatures, or even just for sitting comfortably inside their transport crate. During that first meal of the day, we also take the opportunity to visually inspect them, and make sure all is well.

Sumatran tiger Thomas enjoys a refreshing dip in his private pool in the Safari Park’s new Tiger Trail habitat

Once everyone is satiated, we head out to inspect the exhibits. First, we of course make sure they’re clean and safe for the cats, and then it’s time to add enrichment! Enrichment refers to anything we can incorporate into the tigers’ day to make their lives more fun, interesting, or challenging. On exhibit, that can involve anything from scattering some treats to encourage foraging behavior, to simply spraying various scents on logs, rocks, or substrates. Sometimes we’ll even use products from other animals, such as ocelot bedding, rhino dung, or hair that’s been shed by our camels. This way, their exhibits always offer them something new to explore.

Lori in action at the tiger enrichment wall

Lori in action at the tiger enrichment wall

When the exhibits are ready, it’s time to send some of the cats outside. As another way to keep things interesting, the cats are all rotated daily, between the three exhibits and the eight bedrooms inside. That way, no one is in the same place for two days in a row! The cats that stay inside for the day also have their bedrooms cleaned and well-stocked with enrichment, ranging from heavy-duty tiger toys, to scented paper bags or cardboard boxes. Coming up with novel ways to present these items is always very enriching for us as keepers too! As a keeper, it’s a highlight to watch Delta rolling happily on her rosemary bedding, or one of the boys tackling their favorite “weebil” toy.

Once the rest of our work is done, it’s time for record keeping. Not only do our tigers have twelve different keepers taking care of them, but veterinarians, nutritionists, researchers, and  reproductive physiologists also keep tabs on the cats. For that reason, keeping detailed notes is a very important part of our job. We have record books, training and enrichment logs, and daily reports that help everyone track and monitor necessary information. Throughout the day, the keepers also do various training demonstrations with the tigers on exhibit. This allows our guests to view some of the cats’ husbandry behaviors and have a better understanding of how we interact with them, but it also provides our tigers with the best possible care.

If you’re interested in tiger training, enrichment, or even general husbandry, be sure to come and visit us on Wednesday, July 29th for Global Tiger Day. There will be keeper talks, training demonstrations, and enrichment releases for everyone to enjoy… especially the cats! We hope to see you there.

Lori Hieber is senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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Leeches and Wild Tigers: Randy Rieches’s Indonesian Adventure For Tiger Conservation

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s curator of mammals, Randy Rieches, has had a fruitful career breeding, protecting, and conserving wildlife here at home as well as in the wild. His latest project to help establish a tiger field conservation project led him all the way to Indonesia, where the situation for tigers is grim. I was able to ask Randy a few questions about his adventure and quickly learned that it was no walk in the park, proving once again that wildlife conservation, while incredibly important, isn’t always glamorous work.

1. What was the purpose of your trip?

I was sent to attend a meeting with Sumatran tiger and rhino conservationists working in Indonesia to find out who we could best partner with in Sumatra on our Sumatran tiger conservation work, which includes setting camera traps to monitor the tiger and rhino populations and studying behavior to better understand where to focus our efforts.

Camera Trap

Camera traps that we are placing in the forest to monitor the Sumatran tigers and the Sumatran rhinos as well as the prey base for tigers. They have to have the metal framework on them to protect them from elephants.

2. What kind of wildlife did you encounter on your trip?

Most of the trip was in the city, however, when we flew to Sumatra we went out to SRS and saw the Sumatran rhinos at the center, which was incredible. In the mornings as we walked on the edge of the forest we were serenaded by primates watching us from the tree tops and even had a very spooky encounter with a Sumatran tiger. As we walked down a path at 6:30 in the morning, we heard a low, guttural growl, which stopped all three of us in our tracks. We listened for a little while when we heard it again right off of the path in the forest. We started backing away very slowly all the while listening to see if it was following us. Luckily, it was not, and we moved off quite quickly. Most likely it was a female with cubs that was telling us not to come any closer, otherwise I am sure we would have had a worse encounter.

We took a boat on the river to Get out to the sites in the forest where we will be setting camera traps. Unfortunately, it started raining while we were out hiking which brought out all of the leeches. I stopped counting at 30 leeches on me during the hike. Not one of my favorite things on the trip. Fortunately, as they say with leeches it means that it is a healthy forest as the leeches must have wildlife to live on, and I must say the leeches are thriving.
The bird and primate life is doing very well in the forest as well as the deer and reptiles.
Boat trip

Out on the river going to check camera traps with the rangers

3. What kind of challenges did you face in the wild of Sumatra?

It is quite hot and humid and when it rains in Sumatra, it’s like someone turned a garden hose on you. However, I still think the leeches were the most challenging part of the trip.

4. What was the most memorable moment of the trip?

Seeing the Sumatran rhinos at SRS was incredible, but I will never forget the encounter with the tiger on our morning walk.

Sumatran rhino

Sumatran rhino out in wild habitat at SRS (Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas)

5. What did the trip accomplish, or what do you hope it will accomplish in the future?

We met some dedicated conservationists working in the field that we will be working with us to set camera traps to look at the number of Sumatran tigers, the prey base that they feed on, and also get a count on rhinos as well. Overall, the best accomplishment was meeting tiger people and building relationships with them which will streamline our efforts in the region.

Randy & friends at SRS

Randy and the staff that are doing the tiger work in Sumatra

 

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous blog, Myths About Rhino Horn That Need to Go Away.

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Breeding Strategies: Secretive Plovers & Gregarious Terns

Presenting food to a mate potential  mate is part of the least tern's courtship ritual.

Presenting food to a mate potential mate is part of the least tern’s courtship ritual. (Photo: Rachel Smith, SDZG on MCB Camp Pendleton)

Both least terns and snowy plovers are ground-nesting birds that nest on barren to sparsely vegetated beaches, but they employ quite different breeding strategies. Over the past couple of months, I have been able to observe and compare these strategies while searching for and monitoring their nests.

Least terns are colonial nesters, using a “safety in numbers” approach, whereas snowy plovers use a strategy of nesting separately and being physically cryptic and secretive in behavior. Unlike the least terns, which have bright yellow bills and prominent black caps on their heads, snowy plovers have pale brown upper parts and blend in far better to their sandy surroundings making their nests less conspicuous and less likely to be discovered by predators. This also makes it much harder for us to find snowy plover nests!

If they didn't occur in such concentrations, least tern nests would be a challenge to find.

If they didn’t occur in such concentrations, the least tern’s well-camouflaged nests could be a challenge for us to find. (Photo courtesy Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton)

On a good day my crew members and I might find about a dozen snowy plover nests, whereas during the peak of least tern nesting we can—and have—easily found over 200 least tern nests in one day! On a particularly busy day this season, we could hardly walk more than 20 feet without discovering a new least tern nest. Calling out the nest count sounded a bit like we were bidding at an auction; sometimes several nests were found almost simultaneously with one crew member exclaiming “I’ve got nest 500!” only to be quickly followed by “501!” and a few seconds later by “502!”

Because least terns nest in large colonies of up to several hundred individuals, their nests are much more obvious, but there is a lower probability of a particular individual’s nest becoming the victim of a predator. Being in a colony also offers the additional protection of having many adults present that can mob predators. Having walked through an active least tern nesting colony, I can personally attest to the protective nature of the adults. They have threatened me with their harsh “zwreep” alarm calls, flown inches from the top of my head while dive-bombing me, and even defecated on me and my data sheets in an attempt to drive me away from their nests!

Monica Stupaczuk is a research associate with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. You can learn more about this project by reading A Day in the Life of a Beach Biologist.

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The Art of the Western Snowy Plover’s Nest

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Some snowy plover nests are a simple scrape in the sand, adorned with shells. (Photo: Anjanette Butler, SDZG on MCB Camp Pendleton)

Unlike most beach-nesting shorebirds, the western snowy plover has taken nesting to the level of an art form. I have been monitoring this threatened species during the nesting season as part of my job as a research associate with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Previously, I primarily searched for snowy plover nests along the Oregon Dunes, as well as California beaches with dune habitat. Our current study site at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Pendleton offers a more diverse habitat.

Because of their nesting strategy, I become more intrigued with snowy plovers the more I get to work with these resilient birds. Before the eggs are laid, the male creates some nests by making various circular scrapes in the sand and the female selects the one she likes best. I have seen some of these simple nests adorned with decorative shells, others that incorporate the available vegetation along the dunes, and even quite a few containing woody debris that can be found concentrated along the creeks.

I’ve been impressed by how well the plovers use the resources—both natural and manmade—available to them. Last year, lobster traps sometimes washed up on beaches we were studying in Ventura, California and a plover used one of them as a nest site. The lobster traps looked very much like the mini-exclosures we use to protect nesting birds from predators. Made of wire mesh and shaped like a square (with small openings so the adult plovers can exit when needed); we place an exclosure over a plover nest until the chicks hatch. Apparently, the plovers there had gotten used to the protection offered by the exclosures, and the nesting pair that used the lobster trap did indeed successfully hatch and raise their chicks.

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Western snowy plovers are adaptable, using available resources when nesting. (Photo: Anjanette Butler, SDZG on MCB Camp Pendleton)

In contrast, our study site at MCB Camp Pendleton is more remote, so the birds there must rely on the available natural resources when selecting a nesting site. This year, we have some birds nesting along a creek. I could not believe how well one of the nests blended in with the woody debris and rocks around it—I almost did not see it at first! I feel so good when the birds’ hard work pays off and we get to see their chicks hatch. Hopefully, they will survive and continue in their parents’ footsteps.

Western snowy plovers face many challenges each day. Predators like crows and ravens, intelligent birds that are great problem solvers, are a constant threat to the plovers. It is possible that the plovers are sometimes testing out ways to keep these and other predators from locating their nests. This might seem like an obvious observation, but shrinking habitat availability in critical plover habitat can create the need for the plovers to find new ways to adapt to disturbances. It is vitally important for us as individuals to respect these birds during this busy nesting season on the beach.

I look forward to more discoveries while monitoring the western snowy plovers and their chicks on the beach.

Anjanette Butler is a research associate with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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San Diego Zoo Global Commends California Assembly for Passing Ivory and Rhino Horn Ban

Nola, a 41-year-old, a critically endangered female northern white rhino, creates a one-of-a-kind art piece at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Nola, a 41-year-old, a critically endangered female northern white rhino, creates a one-of-a-kind art piece at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

On June 2, the California State Assembly voted to pass AB 96, legislation introduced by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, which would close loopholes that prevent the effective enforcement of existing California law prohibiting the sale of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. The legislation will be reviewed by the Senate Natural Resources committee on June 23. San Diego Zoo Global has been a proponent of this legislation and recently held a “Rally 4 Rhinos” (#Rally4Rhinos) to help show public interest in saving rhinos.

“San Diego Zoo Global commends Assembly Speaker Atkins and the Assembly on their efforts to enforce the ban on elephant ivory and rhino horn products in California,” stated Douglas Myers, president, San Diego Zoo Global. “Elephants and rhinos are being slaughtered at alarming rates and could become extinct in our lifetime. In keeping with our effort to save species, we have been working to raise awareness for their plight and efforts to combat poaching.”

In appreciation of the Assembly’s action, San Diego Zoo Global is presenting Atkins with a unique piece of artwork created by one of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s residents, a critically endangered, 41-year-old northern white rhino named Nola.

To create the art, Nola’s keepers placed non-toxic paint on a canvas, held the canvas in front of Nola, and at the rhino’s discretion, she used her horn to move the paint. Nola is rare in that her primary horn grows downward, rather than growing upward like most rhinos, providing her with the perfect “paintbrush”. Nola participated in the art session as part of an enrichment activity provided by her keepers. Enrichment provides animals with physical and mental stimulation, changing up their daily routine.

The Rally 4 Rhinos was held at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Endangered Species Day, May 15. The event was attended by representatives from Assembly Speaker Atkins’ office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Save the Elephants, Northern Rangelands Trust, the Cincinnati Zoo, as well as Safari Park guests, school children, celebrities and other government officials. San Diego Zoo Global officials shared information on its efforts and collaboration with other entities to spread the word about rhinos, illegal wildlife trafficking, and how everyone can be part of saving a species from extinction.

As part of San Diego Zoo Global’s Rally 4 Rhinos campaign, the public was asked to celebrate Endangered Species Day by spreading the word about rhino poaching, writing a rhino conservation message on their hand, taking a photo, and posting the photo to social media using the hashtag #Rally4Rhinos. The campaign spread like wildfire, reaching around the world, with postings from San Diego, the Eiffel Tower in France, Vietnam, the Parliament building in the U.K., rhino preserves in South Africa, and beyond.

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

Photo taken by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Global

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