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Conservation

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Rhinos in India Now Thrive in Protected Area

Conservationists say that new video of greater one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga National Park offers new hope for the future. The video was taken in late October by a team of conservationists, visiting the area to survey the success of ongoing anti-poaching efforts supported by San Diego Zoo Global.

Once prevalent throughout southern Asia, the greater one-horned rhino has been significantly affected by poaching for its horns. The entire population of the species is now only found in three national parks, where rhinos are heavily guarded. But although the greater one-horned rhino was reduced to a population of 200 only a few years ago, with the protection of the parks and communities around them, there are now more than 2,400 of this species in Kaziranga. In recent years, additional populations have been introducedthrough collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global experts and the International Rhino Foundationto protected areas in Manas and Orang national parks.

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 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.
 
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NOLA, THE NORTHERN WHITE RHINO, LEAVES AN IMMEASURABLE LEGACY THROUGH HER CONTRIBUTIONS TO SCIENCE

While the death of Nola, a critically endangered northern white rhino who died Nov. 22 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is still being mourned by those who worked closely with the beloved animal, as well as people from around the globe, scientists at San Diego Zoo Global are focusing on how Nola’s contributions through science could help save her species from extinction.

Taking a science-based approached, Dr. Oliver Ryder, director of genetics and Dr. Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive physiology, and their teams at the San Diego Zoo Conservation for Research Frozen Zoo along with collaborators at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and at the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Medicine in Berlin, are working to develop and perfect reproductive techniques to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

Nola

“Nola’s unique story of the incredible journey she took in her lifetime and her impact on the world could never be recreated by any facet of science,” stated Dr. Ryder. “However, the information in her DNA – the digitized sequence of her genome – and the living cells that we have saved will serve as a legacy and a crucial tool for our efforts to bring back the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction. We hope what we can learn will also contribute to conservation of other species of rhinoceros.”

Durrant and Ryder, who both knew and worked with Nola for 26 years, obtained tissues samples collected post mortem for banking and establishment of additional cell cultures for the Frozen Zoo. The Frozen Zoo also has genetic material from 11 other northern white rhinos. The genetic material includes semen from two male northern white rhinos but no eggs from females. As expected, due to Nola’s advanced age, no eggs were able to be collected, but her ovarian and uterine tissues were saved.

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“Although Nola did not reproduce in her long lifetime, she touched the hearts of everyone who was fortunate enough to meet her.  In that way she contributed to our mission of saving the northern white rhino by demonstrating the intelligence and gentleness of her species,” stated Durrant.  “It is a great consolation to all who loved her that many of her tissues were collected and frozen for future research and assisted reproduction.  Her passing only strengthens our commitment to develop the technology needed to realize the goal of producing an offspring from Nola’s preserved cells.”

To reach the ultimate goal of successfully producing a northern white rhino, multiple steps must be accomplished. The first step involves sequencing the genomes of the northern white rhinos to clarify the extent of genetic divergence from their closest relative, the southern white rhino. Understanding these differences will assist scientists in guiding assisted reproduction efforts. The next step requires conversion of the cells preserved in the Frozen Zoo to stem cells that could develop into sperm and eggs, a process successfully begun in the laboratory of Dr. Jeanne Loring of Scripps Research Institute and published in 2011.

Reproductive options might include artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, genetic engineering or a hybrid with a southern white rhino. The reproductive system of rhinos is very complex and there is still much to be learned. San Diego Zoo Global recently opened a new Rhino Rescue Center at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, home to six southern white rhinos, who eventually could serve as surrogates.

Jane4

To further Nola’s contributions to science, her body and valuable horns will be sent to the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. for inclusion in the research collections, where they will be maintained in an off-exhibit area with materials from other northern white rhinos. Nola’s physical remains will be preserved so scientists now and in the future can continue to study this magnificent species.

The 41-year-old Nola had been on around-the-clock watch since Nov. 17 when her keepers noticed she began showing signs of a reduced appetite and activity level. Her condition worsened significantly in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 22, and the Safari Park’s animal care team made the difficult decision to euthanize her.

Nola’s death leaves three northern white rhinos remaining: a 43-year-old male, Sudan, and two females, 26-year-old Najin and 15-year-old Fatu, living under human care at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. These rhinos all have reproductive issues.

Northern white rhinos have been brought to the brink of extinction due to poaching in Africa.  Rhinos are poached for their horn, which is made of keratin—the same material that forms human fingernails. Rhino horn has been erroneously thought to have medicinal value and is used in traditional remedies in some Asian cultures. In addition, objects made of rhino horn have more recently become a “status symbol,” purchased to display someone’s success and wealth, because the rhino is now so rare and endangered.

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Big Arrivals at San Diego Zoo Safari Park: Six Southern White Rhinos Arrive from South Africa as Part of Rhino Conservation Initiative

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Six female rhinos that arrived in San Diego will live at the Safari Park’s Rhino Rescue Center.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcomed some big arrivals Thursday evening (Nov. 5): Six southern white rhinos arrived via a chartered MD-11 flight from South Africa. The female rhinos, between four and seven years of age, were relocated to the Safari Park from private reserves in South Africa as part of a collaborative conservation effort to save the critically endangered northern white rhino—and all rhino species—from extinction.

A member of the Safari Park animal care staff flew to South Africa earlier this week to accompany the rhinos, along with a veterinarian from South Africa, on the 22-hour flight from Johannesburg to San Diego. The rhinos were transported in individual crates specially designed for the transport. Upon arrival in San Diego, the crates were loaded onto two flatbed trucks and driven to the Safari Park’s new Rhino Rescue Center, built specifically for the new arrivals. Once at the Park, a team of veterinarians and keepers unloaded the animals into fenced yards, where they will remain under a mandatory quarantine for at least 30 days.

“We are beyond thrilled to welcome these southern white rhinos to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and our new Rhino Rescue Center,” said Steve Metzler, interim associate curator of mammals, who accompanied the animals from South Africa to San Diego. “The animals did extremely well during the flight, eating normally and sleeping a good portion of the long trip. Our priority now is to ensure the rhinos are comfortable and acclimating to their new surroundings.”
San Diego Zoo Global has been working for decades, along with other accredited zoos, to keep a sustainable population of rhinos safe under human care while working to protect them in sanctuaries in the wild. To further this commitment, the Rhino Rescue Center was recently built to house the new southern white rhinos, establishing the Safari Park as a sanctuary to protect these rhinos—at a time when an average of three rhinos are killed each day in the wild by poachers.

Poaching of all rhino species has reached critically high numbers in recent years. A rhino is poached every eight hours in South Africa. Rhinos are poached for their horns, which are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails. At the current rate of poaching, rhinos could become extinct in 15 years.

The northern white rhino is the most critically endangered rhino, with only four individuals remaining in the world. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to Nola, a 41-year-old female northern white rhino. Three other northern white rhinos (one male and two females) are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

The six female southern white rhinos will be a part of San Diego Zoo Global’s science-based rhino conservation efforts to save the northern white rhino. Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, along with collaborators, are developing reproductive techniques to develop northern white rhino embryos (from cells stored in the institute’s Frozen Zoo®) to be implanted in the southern white rhinos, which will serve as surrogate mothers. There are many challenges ahead, but researchers are optimistic a northern white rhino calf could be born from these processes within 10 to 15 years. These technologies may also be applied to other rhino species, including the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

San Diego Zoo Global has one of the most successful rhino breeding programs in the world. To date, a total of 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one-horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos have been born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

For more information on San Diego Zoo Global’s rhino conservation efforts, visit sandiegozoo.org/rhinos.

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 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.

Photo taken on November 5, 2015 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Global

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

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park Rhino Expert Visits Three of Earth’s Four Remaining Northern White Rhinos in Kenya

SafariParkBlogA team from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park visited three northern white rhinos living in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya last month. These three rhinos, a male and two females, along with a single elderly female living at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, are the last remaining northern white rhinos on the planet.

Although two of the rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy are elderly, they appear to be in good condition. The encounter with the critically endangered rhinos was bittersweet for Randy Rieches, curator of mammals for the Safari Park and a board member of the International Rhino Foundation, who last saw these rhinos in the Czech Republic when a population of the species still existed in the wild.

“I was at the Dvur Kralove Zoo a week after the youngest, Fatu, was born,” said Rieches. “At the time, the population of northern white rhinos in the wild had stabilized, and Fatu’s birth seemed to be a hopeful sign.”

Northern white rhinos became extinct in the wild in 2008, due to intensified poaching. The team from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park visited the Kenya rhinos as part of an effort to begin collaborative efforts with the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to recover the species. Rieches spent time with each of the rhinos and their caretakers before meeting with the Conservancy’s chief executive officer, Richard Vigne, to discuss the possibility of future collaborations.

“Whilst the predicament of northern white rhinos is calamitous, we are excited to forge close ties with San Diego to try and save the species. San Diego (Zoo Global) has a rich and successful history in endangered species management and, between us and other collaborators, we hope that we can deploy cutting-edge science that will benefit not only the northern whites, but other species in the future,” said Richard Vigne.

Of the four northern white rhinos left in the world, one, Nola, lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Unfortunately, three of the remaining four rhinos are at an advanced age and no longer reproductive. However, genetic material from 12 northern white rhinos has been preserved in the Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, for future reproductive opportunities.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy occupies approximately 139 square miles (360 square kilometers) of African savannah within the Laikipia District of Kenya and incorporates the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Laikipia carries large and growing wildlife populations and is home to almost 50 percent of Kenya’s black rhino population. Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to conserve wildlife, provide a sanctuary for great apes and generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprise for reinvestment in conservation and community development.

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.

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

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“Ugly” Animals Need Love Too

Part of our mission is to educate people that every single organism in an ecosystem is equally important to the health of the ecosystem. A critter’s place on the cute scale doesn’t correlate to actual environmental value. Sadly, it can be difficult to garner support for animals that are not perceived as “cute,” but we’re hoping to change that. These are just a few of the animals that are unfortunate victims of “cute bias” and need more love.

Vultures

Vultures, including the California condor, are nature’s clean-up crew. Their bald heads and permanent “scowls” don’t make people swoon, but the world would be a much dirtier place without them.

California condor

Reptiles

There are more than 6,500 known species of reptiles. They play varied, pivotal roles in their respective environments but are often vilified due to their appearance and unfair reputation. Reptiles are actually pretty awesome. They have been around forever, some have crazy long life spans, and some are fully independent at birth.

Caiman lizard

Caiman lizard

Arthropods

Arthropods is a phylum of animals that includes insects and spiders. Famous biologist Jonas Salk said, “If all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” Still, arthropods don’t get much love. There are more kinds of beetles in the world than any other type of animal, and the weight of ants alone is roughly equal to the weight of all human beings on Earth. It’s time to give arthropods some credit.

Dragon-headed katydid

Naked Mole-rats

The naked mole-rat and the Damaraland mole-rat are the only two mammal species that are eusocial. This means they live in a colony that may have several generations living together and just a few individuals that produce all the offspring for the colony, much the way bees and ants live. We think that’s pretty awesome, but unfortunately, some people just can’t get down with them.

Ungulates

Ungulates are a diverse group of mammals, usually hoofed, that serve as seed-dispersers and food for the many predators that hunt them. While not exactly “ugly,” ungulates are rarely singled out as beautiful or especially worthy of conservation, but they’re just as important as the rest.

Male and Female Nilgai

Bats

Bats are important pollinators and can eat thousands of insects in a single night, but are still feared and reviled by many. If anything, bats deserve respect and admiration. One out of every five mammals in the world is a bat, and some seeds don’t sprout unless they’ve passed through a bat’s digestive system.

Rodrigues fruit bat

Warthogs

Warthogs may not be the most beautiful or graceful creatures in the Animal Kingdom, but they are remarkable for their strength, intelligence, and flexibility. Also, a warthog’s “warts” are not really warts, but just thick growths of skin. What’s not to love?

Did we miss any animals that deserve more love? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Summer Pool Party – Animal Style.

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San Diego Zoo Global Researchers Tackle Reproductive Challenges in Southern White Rhinos

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Two  female southern white rhinos enjoy a new grass-based pellet as part of their morning meal at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

The reproductive physiology team at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has been working for seven years to determine why southern white rhino females born in zoos tend not to bear offspring as often as their wild relatives. It was recently discovered that the animals may be sensitive to compounds called phytoestrogens found in soy and alfalfa, which are a component of the animals’ diets in zoos.

“During their 16-month gestation, female calves could be exposed to the compounds through their mother’s diet, resulting in permanent infertility issues later in their life,” explained Christopher Tubbs, Ph.D., a scientist in the Reproductive Physiology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “Through our studies, we have found these plant-based phytoestrogens activate receptors that regulate estrogen function.”

Only about one-third of southern white rhinos in zoos successfully reproduce in their lifetime, making a sustainable population a challenge. This problem is not found in other species of rhinos living in zoos. To find a solution to this complex reproductive problem, Tubbs and his colleagues have spent extensive time in the lab, testing the diets of southern white rhino females at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, as well as those of female southern white rhinos from eight other zoological facilities in the U.S. Many of these diets were found to be high in phytoestrogens.

On the basis of Tubbs’ findings, Michael Schlegel, Ph.D., director of Nutritional Services at San Diego Zoo Global, recently developed a grass-based pellet for rhinos that is low in phytoestrogens. “Besides formulating the pellets that are low in phytoestrogens, we also are ensuring the pellets are supplying concentrations of nutrients that will support reproduction,” stated Schlegel. The pellets are currently being fed to the southern white rhinos at the Safari Park, with the hope that the lower phytoestrogen content will help solve this reproductive issue. Further diet studies will continue, including research on how phytoestrogens are metabolized in the rhino gut. While the reproduction of white rhinos in zoos is still uncertain, the development and implementation of new science-based efforts could be beneficial to the conservation of white rhinos in the future.

The project has reached a real point of urgency, due to the increase in poaching in recent years that has dramatically affected rhino populations in the wild. “When I started this project in 2007, 13 rhinos were poached (that year),” stated Tubbs. “Last year, more than 1,200 southern white rhinos were poached in South Africa—one every eight hours. More than ever, we need a self-sustaining population of white rhinos established outside of Africa.”

Rhinos are poached for their horn, which is made of keratin—the same material that forms human fingernails. Rhino horn has been erroneously thought to have medicinal value and is used in traditional remedies in some Asian cultures. In addition, objects made of rhino horn have more recently become a “status symbol,” purchased to display someone’s success and wealth, because the rhino is now so rare and endangered.

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 Sept. 29, 2015 by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Partnership Preparing to Release Rare ‘Alalā Back into the Wild

Global_logo_color webAnimal care staff with the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program are getting ready for an important breeding season—the season that will see hatching of ‘alalā, or Hawaiian crow, chicks that will be released into the wild. The ‘alalā has been extinct in the wild since 2002, preserved only in the program run by San Diego Zoo Global at its bird centers in Hawai‘i.

“In collaboration with our partners, we have been working for many years to build up a large enough—and genetically diverse enough—population to allow us to begin putting the ‘alalā back in the wild,” said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager of San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai’i Endangered Bird Conservation Program. “We have achieved our goal and are now preparing to release ‘alalā into the wild in 2016.”

The program’s goal has been to increase the ‘alalā flock to 75 or more individuals before conducting a trial release of birds into their native forests on the island of Hawai‘i. The ‘alalā is a member of the crow family that was brought to brink of extinction by loss of habitat, introduced predators and diseases. The entire population today stands at 115 birds. A group of dedicated conservationists have been working in partnership to prepare habitat that they hope will support the species in the wild.

“‘Alalā will be released in the far and remote portions of the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve, building upon many years of groundwork laid by many passionate individuals to protect and restore this significant forest,” said John Vetter, wildlife biologist with the State of Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

“Together, the agencies continue to collaborate with a wide variety of public and private partners as they work toward a better future for ‘alalā,” said Michelle Bogardus, team leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “These partnerships are integral to the successful reintroduction of this ecologically and culturally important species back into the wild.”

Returning ‘alalā to the wild is a significant step in the recovery of a number of native species on the Hawaiian Islands. Landscape-wide restoration has helped create healthy native forest that not only benefits ‘alalā, but many other native Hawaiian forest birds as well. Healthy native forests also provide many ecosystem services that benefit the people of Hawai’i, as well as cultural resources that ensure the continuation of countless traditions and unique ways of life.

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.

The mission of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife is to responsibly manage and protect watersheds, native ecosystems and cultural resources, and provide outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products opportunities, while facilitating partnerships, community involvement and education.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The mission of the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office is to conserve and restore native biodiversity and ecological integrity of Pacific Island ecosystems for the benefit of present and future generations through leadership, science-based management and collaborative partnerships.

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Observing Behavior in the Wild

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One of our camera traps caught this deer mouse heading for a burrow.

My favorite part of the fieldwork I do (see: A Night with the Pocket Mouse Field Crew)  is watching the pocket mice, kangaroo rats, and other small mammals in the wild. I love releasing them from a trap and watching them take a sand bath, or dig up a cache of seeds they buried previously, or sometimes dive into the closest burrow and get chased right back out by its owner who was already inside.

While the reward (and often the data!) of an animal behavior study is observing your subject do what it does, figuring out how to make the observation can be one of the biggest challenges. You don’t want your presence to affect what the animal is doing—unless you are observing their response to humans.

With big animals that live in fairly open environments, sometimes you just need to be far enough away. As an undergraduate I worked as a field assistant on a pronghorn project in Montana. We hiked up hillsides and watched for females to get their babies out of hiding to nurse. We used binoculars and spotting scopes so we could see well enough to note ear tag colors, yet distant enough to not make the animals feel threatened by our presence.

With the pocket mice, that are so small, quick and nocturnal, getting far away and sitting quietly doesn’t work very well. I spent a dozen or so nights trying, outfitted with a camp chair and night-vision goggles. I set out some seeds on a tray and hoped the pocket mice would come. With one exception, they did not. Those were some of the longest nights I have ever experienced, sitting in the dark, staring at nothing.

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Andrea Sork, a field assistant, uses night vision goggles to observe a kangaroo rat. On the right is an infrared camcorder.

What ended up working was trapping them first and then putting the tiny rodents inside a clear arena with the seeds, so I could watch them through the sides. While it isn’t perfect—they spend time exploring the walls and digging to get out—it at least allowed me to see them! And most of the animals decided that the seeds inside the arena were worth taking; even though I was sitting 12 feet away, the mice made multiple trips to the seed pile and back to their burrow. It helped that I sat very still and quiet the whole time. But it was exciting watching the animals come and go!

In addition to physically watching the pocket mice, camera traps can be hugely important. You can set multiple cameras at once and leave them for many nights. Later, as you go through the photos and videos, you can see where the mice were and what they were doing—especially if you leave food trays or set them at burrow entrances or some other specific place. The upside is that you can have a lot more “eyes” out at once, and cameras are less intrusive than a person sitting there. The downside, though, is that you can’t be sure cameras are catching everything, and they often have a pretty narrow view.

If you get a chance to see some animals in the wild, take an extra moment to watch them do their thing. Normal activities like sleeping or eating are a feat to witness, and there is so much to learn just by sitting still and watching!

Rachel Chock is a graduate student and volunteer with San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s Pacific pocket mouse project. Read her previous post, Protected Habitat in Southern California.

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Bringing Devils Back into the Tasmanian Wild: San Diego Zoo Partners in Program to Fight Extinction of This Unique Species

PrintThe fight to save the Tasmanian devil from extinction took an important step Sept. 26, with the release of 20 individuals into the wild at Narawntapu National Park in Northern Tasmania. The release was part of a collaborative effort by the Wild Devil Recovery Project and the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. Each of the animals has been vaccinated against Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), which has brought this unique species to the brink of extinction.

The vaccination program is a new one, and its effectiveness will be evaluated as part of this reintroduction program. Re-wilding through insurance population animals is an important part of the conservation program, as it assists in increasing the genetic diversity of suppressed wild populations, as well as directly increasing numbers. The animals released in Narawntapu National Park will join existing devils already living in the Park.

Save the Tasmanian Devil Program staff will be monitoring the devil population over time to evaluate the success of this initiative. The 20 devils (11 males and 9 females) come from an insurance population housed in free-range enclosures at Bicheno and Launceston, Tasmania.

“This field trial is a tangible step in the journey to bring the devil back into the Tasmanian wild,” said Bob Wiese, Ph.D., chief life sciences officer for San Diego Zoo Global. “The next milestone will be to see them start breeding in the wild and thus further ensuring their chances of survival into the future.”

The Wild Devil Recovery Project places emphasis on population monitoring, field research, and testing of possible vaccines and immunization techniques to manage wild devil populations.

The Wild Devil Recovery Project is a joint initiative between the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, and is supported through funding from the Tasmanian Government.

The San Diego Zoo is a proud partner of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, based in Tasmania. The program collaborates with research institutes and zoos from around the world to save the endangered Tasmanian devil. For more information on the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, go to tassiedevil.com.au.

The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program is a government initiative established in 2003 in response to the threat of Devil Facial Tumour Disease. Its mission is to combat the epidemic, to ensure the survival of the Tasmanian devil and achieve the endangered species’ recovery in the wild as an ecologically functioning entity.

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.

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

 

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Fledged!

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Although she occasionally ducks into the nest box area, Antiki now spends most of her time practicing her flying skills outside.

We have switched the camera view of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Condor Cam. Our faithful viewers have been able to watch our California condor chick, Antiki, hatch and grow in her nest box, but now they can view her out in her flight pen with her parents, father Sisquoc and mother Shatash, because she’s taken the next exciting step in her development—Antiki has fledged!

Fledging is the process in which a young bird leaves the nest. We consider a California condor chick to be fledged when they can fly to the higher perches in the pen—approximately 10 feet off the ground. When condor chicks fledge, they tend to be around 140 or 150 days old. The youngest bird to fledge here at the Safari Park was 123 days old. Antiki flew for the first time at 156 days of age.

Our condor nest boxes are elevated; they’re on the second floor of the condor breeding facility. The nests have one entrance that leads to the roost area. The entrance has an 18-inch barrier at the base to prevent young hatchlings from wandering out of our camera’s view. This barrier also provides exercise for the chick when it is big enough to start jumping up onto the barrier. The roost area is open to the flight pen and has a ledge that is about eight feet off of the ground. There is a five-inch-diameter pole leaning from the ground to the ledge; we call this the “pole ladder.” The condors can walk up or down this pole ladder to get to or from the nest. They can, of course, fly to the nest as well if they desire.

For a few weeks, Antiki was able to walk down the pole ladder to start exploring the flight pen. She would watch Sisquoc and Shatash eat, sometimes begging for them to feed her, sometimes playing tug-of-war trying to take food from them. She also got to drink from the pool for the first time. She would climb up onto an eight-foot-tall stump perch and up into the olive tree in the pen. She started to spend the night out in the pen, perched up in the tree, under the watchful eyes of her parents.

We still had not seen her actually fly to any of the perches, though, until September 13. That morning, after being warmed by the sun, she took a short flight from the olive tree to join Sisquoc on one of the 10-foot-tall perches. After that, she could deftly fly from perch to perch like a pro! Since that morning, Antiki spends the majority of the time out in the pen, sometimes returning to sit in the shade of the roost.

When condor chicks fledge in the wild, it can be a long process as well. They will often walk around the mouth of their nest cave, hopping about, testing their wings. They may hop or climb into nearby shrubs or trees to get a better vantage point. Very seldom do chicks just spring forth from their nest into the wild blue yonder. They usually need to exercise and develop their abilities before embarking on such a dangerous venture. Mom and dad are always present to escort or protect the chicks. Parent condors can be very vigilant and defensive of their chicks. After all, much energy and many resources went into producing just this one chick, so they try very hard to ensure success for their only nestling. One pair of condors in California actually chased a black bear away from their nest!

With this new camera view, you’ll be able to see the roost area, most of the perches in the pen, the feeding area (shift pen), shade areas created by plants, and the pool. The view is wide, so detail is a bit harder to discern. Also, we do minimal maintenance in the pen, so the pen has lots of plant growth and dried food (animal carcasses) in it. We limit our activities in/near chick pens so as not to expose Antiki to humans, thus desensitizing her to our presence. We have found that chicks raised in isolation from humans tend to be more successful once they are released to the wild. The flight pen won’t look as nice as an exhibit you might see at the Safari Park or the Zoo, but Sisquoc and Shatash prefer it that way, if it means we stay away from their precious chick!

If, by chance, you don’t see Antiki out in the pen, she could be resting in the shade of the roost, or she may have hopped back into the nest box. This is completely normal. The adult condors do the same thing. Just give her a little time; she’ll come back out into view later. We have a great volunteer staff that moves the camera for the nest box view, but we keepers move the camera when it is the pen view. We’ll do our best to zoom in to give you a good view of her when we can, but we are not always near the camera controls as we are also taking care of the other condors.

So what’s next for Antiki? She’ll stay in the pen with her parents for a little while longer. She is still learning from them. In the wild, condor chicks stay with or around their parents for up to 18 months. We don’t let them stay that long here at the Park. If we did, the next breeding season would probably be compromised; the presence of the fledgling may prevent the parents from breeding the next year, or the parents may act aggressively towards the chick if they try to nest again. Sometime in this fall, Antiki will be removed from her parents, so they can prepare for the next breeding season. She will be introduced to other birds her age in a group with an adult bird that acts as a behavioral mentor. In the meantime, it will be decided whether she will be a candidate for release to the wild (and where) or held for the captive breeding program. I’ll keep you informed when this happens. Until then, please continue to keep checking in on our big girl.

Everyone’s interest and enthusiasm over the hatch and growth of Antiki have been wonderful. We really appreciate all of the comments and questions we have received throughout her development. Thanks again for all of your support—we couldn’t do it without you!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, One Step Closer to Fledging.