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Elephants

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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

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PEANUT BUTTER BALLS A HIT FOR WOODLAND PARK ZOO ELEPHANTS AT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO

PrintWoodland Park Zoo’s female Asian elephants Bamboo and Chai are indulging in peanut butter balls and fruitsicles at their temporary home at San Diego Zoo.

Chai, 36, and Bamboo, 48, continue to do well at their temporary home. The pair was headed to meet their new family at Oklahoma City Zoo when a change in a forecasted storm rerouted the caravan to the south. On April 17, a conservative decision was made to go to the San Diego Zoo and allow the elephants to rest.

The elephants are together in San Diego Zoo’s elephant quarantine area, which includes indoor rooms and an outdoor yard. Quarantine is standard for any animal newly arriving to an accredited zoo.

In addition to the large quantities of hay, grain and produce the elephants consume each day, San Diego Zoo staff has been collecting browse plants for Chai and Bamboo, as they were used to at Woodland Park Zoo. Yesterday’s flavor of the day – elm – was a big hit.

Woodland Park Zoo is moving forward with its plans to relocate Bamboo and Chai to Oklahoma City Zoo where they can join a family with a larger, multi-generational herd.

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, the 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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Little Sisters Spoil Everything!

Qinisa took the lead in the race to her brother Macembe's birthday "cake".

Qinisa took the lead in the race to her brother Macembe’s birthday “cake”.

Siblings…what can you do? Macembe turned five years old on April 12. It was a beautiful day. The keepers had spent a lot of time making two cakes for Macembe and his family. The frozen cakes were made of alfalfa, mango juice, bran, and other goodies. The “decorations” were delicious ficus branches placed around the east holding yard for the family to enjoy. Then the keepers called Swazi’s family into the yard.

Qinisa saw Macembe’s cakes first and ran full speed past her brother to get to them. But Macembe was close behind, determined not to let his little sister have any cake. Qinisa got to the first cake, kicked it over and headed to the second one, which was placed on a box. The higher cake startled her! She spun around, smashed the second one and kicked it backwards. Macembe didn’t seem to mind—smashed cake is just as good as a whole one— and proceeded to eat the rest of it.

Macembe’s birthday was a family affair with Qinisa and Swazi joining in the birthday fun. They ate ficus branches and smashed cake. What a great day!

Laura Price is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous blog, A Tusk Task.

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For World Wildlife Day: Talking Trafficking

We think the tusks look better on the elephant, don't you agree?

We think the tusks look better on the elephant, don’t you agree?

Today is World Wildlife Day! The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed this day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as an important one to highlight one of the most serious threats to wildlife across the globe: the illegal trade in wildlife, also called wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is the illegal sale or trade of animals or plants, in part or in whole. For some wildlife, trade is legal: harvesting fish from the sea to feed people is a common practice. In the western world, it typically occurs in accordance with regulations and quotas to ensure that this commercial enterprise does not doom the fish to extinction. Your kitchen may contain mushrooms or morels that were harvested from the wild for your consumption. Some medicinal plants harvested in the wild might infuse your cup of tea. These are legal examples of trade in wildlife and plants.

This black rhino was fortunate to not be one of the more than 1,200 killed for its horn in 2014. How long will its luck hold?

This black rhino was fortunate to not be one of the more than 1,200 killed for its horn in 2014. How long will its luck hold?

Illegal trade in wildlife occurs when local and international laws are broken for the purpose of commercial enterprise. Often, the laws come about to support CITES, whose objective is to prevent commerce from threatening the survival of plant and animal species. Typically, laws are broken when that commerce proves exceptionally lucrative, as has proven to be the case for species like elephants and rhinoceros. Unfortunately, elephant ivory and rhino horn can bring big financial returns for poachers and the crime syndicates who fund them. Ounce for ounce, rhino horn is worth more than drugs like cocaine on the black market, drawing as much as $60,000/kilogram. This is the primary reason that rhino populations are suddenly experiencing steep declines, as poachers slaughtered 1,215 across the globe in 2014. That’s one rhino killed every eight hours for the purpose of making money for criminal organizations. And elephants are victims, too. Killed for their ivory tusks, about 96 elephants a day fall victim to illegal trafficking. These deaths draw both rhinos and elephants closer to the threat of extinction.

As stated by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “Illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law and threatens national security; it degrades ecosystems and… combating this crime is not only essential for conservation efforts and sustainable development, it will contribute to achieving peace and security in troubled regions where conflicts are fueled by these illegal activities.” This is a serious conservation issue. Its time we all get serious about wildlife trafficking.

Know before you buy, and don't purchase ivory items or anything made from rhino horn.

Know before you buy, and don’t purchase ivory items or anything made from rhino horn.

What can you do? Start by informing yourself. Though China is one of the primary destinations for most trafficked goods, you might be surprised to learn that the US is the second leading recipient of illegal ivory. So take the next step: refuse to buy trafficked goods. Never, ever buy ivory statues or jewelry, or rhino horn products and powders. Ending the demand for these items is an important part of the offensive to end the slaughter of rare wildlife across the globe, and a crucial part of preventing extinction.

San Diego Zoo Global is in the business of ending extinction. Combating illegal wildlife trafficking is an important part of meeting that objective. We hope you’ll join us this World Wildlife Day by getting serious about wildlife crime.

Suzanne Hall is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Who You Calling Sloth?.

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From Conflict to Coexistence: Part 2

There are only about 3,000 of the endangered Grevy’s zebra left in the world, so it was great to see a foal at West Gate Conservancy!

There are only about 3,000 of the endangered Grevy’s zebra left in the world, so it was great to see a foal at West Gate Conservancy!

Read Conflict to Coexistence: Part 1

Christy and I spent a month traveling across Kenya at the end of 2014. We journeyed from the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro at the Tanzania border in the very south, up to northern Kenya and the Mathews Range. Our purpose was to meet with researchers and conservationists in the field who are leading the fight against extinction, battling not only poaching, but also working alongside communities to address localized conflicts and habitat fragmentation. We were inspired by their passion and innovation, and returned to San Diego to start planning several collaborative projects focusing on elephants, lions, rhinos, Grevy’s zebra, cheetah, leopard, giraffes, and other species.

We take a collaborative approach to conservation, which cannot ultimately be successful unless communities support, participate in, and benefit from it. As such, we were lucky to meet with some of the most inspiring communities, groups, and researchers that are working together in creative ways to bring success for people and wildlife. It is alongside these groups that San Diego Zoo Global will stand and partner with as we save species.

We cannot do any of this work without your continue support—thank you so much, because together we can end extinction! Become a Hero for Wildlife and join us in this important work.

Here are some of the groups we met, and are excited to be exploring conservation research partnerships with:

African Conservation Centre partners with communities on conservation initiatives, and is coordinating the Borderlands Conservation Initiative. Saving the richest wildlife populations on earth by working with communities and landowners along the Kenya-Tanzania border between the National Parks to establish viable, interconnected elephant and lion populations by strengthening community conservation capacity, generating jobs and income, and end poaching.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy:  A 55,000-acre conservancy in northern Kenya. Initially focused on protecting rhino from poaching, it has grown as a leader in wildlife conservation, and spreads the benefits of wildlife conservation through community development programs to 40,000 people regionally.

Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust:  Encompassing the unique and bio-diverse Mathews Range, this million-acre Samburu community conservancy is the jewel of northern Kenya. Previously home to an estimated 3,000 black rhino and numerous other species, today wildlife are returning, including elephants, reticulated giraffe, leopards, cheetah. Sarara Camp, a glorious community-owned eco-lodge that gives guests a unique intimate experience, while generating wildlife income for the community It also partners with Samburu leaders on a number of innovative conservation projects.

West Gate Community Conservancy:  Recognizing this Samburu community’s vision for conservation and co-existence, San Diego Zoo Global has supported the 100,000-acre West Gate Conservancy since its inception. Ten years later it is a leader in community-based conservation, battling land degradation, collectively managing grazing, and runs innovative community programs benefitting local people and the growing population of wildlife. West Gate is also home to two extremely effective community-based conservation organizations: Ewaso Lions and Grevy’s Zebra Trust who use innovative, multi-dimensional approaches to conserve lions and endangered Grevy’s zebras and secure wildlife corridors in West Gate and beyond.

The Safari Collection:  Through its four world-class lodges, and in full partnership with the communities, the Safari Collection is a leader and innovator in sustainable ecotourism. At each location, the lodges provide income and employment locally and work collaboratively with community members to enact conservation and capacity-building programs. These include direct conservation research on cheetahs and rhino and community initiatives such as health clinics, education and sport programs. We met with the Owner and Community and Conservation Manager in the elegant Giraffe Manor, to plan potential exciting future conservation efforts.

Save the Elephants is the pioneer group for elephant research and conservation in East Africa. Save the Elephants continues cutting-edge elephant conservation research through its collaring program, and community conservation by reducing conflict and poaching. They are also tackling ivory poaching head-on across Africa and curbing demand in China and Asia.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation:  Giraffes are the forgotten giants of Africa. They have declined by 40% since 1999, from 140,000 to less than 80,000 today. All nine types of giraffe are in decline, but some are in real trouble. The reticulated giraffe has declined by 80% over the past fifteen years from 28,000 to less than 4,700 today. Most of reticulated giraffe’s range is outside of protected areas, in addition to habitat loss, they are being relentlessly poached for meat, decoration and in response to a recent myth that giraffe bone marrow and brains cure HIV/AIDS. In close partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, we are working to rapidly develop community-based conservation initiatives to stem this decline, before giraffes vanish.

David OConnor is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Understanding Wildlife Trade in Asia.

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From Conflict to Coexistence: Part 1

A mother elephant and her calf surprised the author in Kenya.

A mother elephant and her calf surprised the author in Kenya.

“Don’t worry”, came the calm tones of my passenger (and Institute colleague) Dr. Christine Browne-Nunez, as my foot pressed hard on the clutch. I had slammed the Land Cruiser into reverse, ready for a rapid retreat back through the weave of Acacia shrubs. However, not without unease, I returned to neutral and shut off the engine.

Staring at us, having emerged from the bush onto the track in front of us, was a mature female African savanna elephant Loxodonta africana and her young calf. Despite being the most massive terrestrial mammals on the planet, elephants are surprisingly invisible in dense vegetation, and momma elephants can be very protective when surprised…

Christine and I have both worked on conservation research in East Africa over the years, but our reactions to encountering elephants in the wild were miles apart. Me: “How quickly can I backup?” Christine: “Let’s be among them, and wait for them to pass.”

The elephants passed peacefully, purposefully going about the business of consuming their daily requirement of 220 pounds (100 kilograms) or more of vegetation. In that moment, we realized that our differing reactions to encountering elephants underscored a much larger conservation dynamic in the region. The very dynamic that had led us to be in the car on that track in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.

Christine Brown-Nunez, PhD a human dimensions of conservation specialist talking about wildlife interactions with a maasai warrior just outside Amboseli National Park.

Christine Brown-Nunez, Ph.D., talks about wildlife interactions with a Maasai warrior just outside Amboseli National Park.

Christine’s prior research focused on the human aspects of elephant conservation around Amboseli National Park. When inside Amboseli’s boundaries, the elephants are well protected [thanks to the elephant researchers, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and others]. As a result they are less stressed, and do not feel as threatened in the presence of humans as do elephants in other parts of Kenya. The elephants there accept researchers, who can approach a herd and be among them. This has allowed researchers to gather the most intimate behavioral and social portraits of elephants anywhere—vital knowledge that has informed conservation.

Thanks to the equally pioneering and long-term work of Save the Elephants, when inside Samburu National Reserve, elephants now have a growing sense of security. They know that while within Samburu they are safer from human threats.

Watchful eyes of members of an elephant family group in Amboseli National Park. We know a lot about these elephants thanks to the research of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

Watchful eyes of members of an elephant family group in Amboseli National Park. We know a lot about these elephants thanks to the research of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

In contrast, my previous experiences in East Africa are among elephants outside of formally protected areas. Where elephants face daily threats such as poaching, harassment, lack of access to resources, spears and bullets—a very negative environment. For instance, while working not far from Samburu, over in Laikipia, when I encountered elephants at such close range either in my vehicle or on foot, they’d immediately charge and I’d have to make a very rapid escape. Those elephants were stressed, feeling threatened, and so they would react in kind. What is interesting, however, is that these aren’t different animals we’re talking about. When the same, calm elephants in Samburu move into less-safe environments, they become aggressive in response to close human presence.

It’s not just elephants that act differently when they know they’re in riskier areas, overlapping with humans. I’ve experienced similar reactions in giraffes. In well-protected areas, they are less concerned about close proximity to humans and livestock, whereas outside those areas, it is hard to get within 110 to 218 yards (100-200 meters) of them, creating quite a challenge for giraffe researchers like me.

One of about 60 endangered black rhino in Lewa Conservancy. Lewa’s work has dramatically reduced poaching in the area, giving these rhino a fighting chance.

One of about 60 endangered black rhino in Lewa Conservancy. Lewa’s work has dramatically reduced poaching in the area, giving these rhino a fighting chance.

This is not to vilify the people who live among elephants and other large wildlife. Living with these giants is challenging. Elephants raid crops and can destroy a family’s livelihood (often their only income for the season) in a few hours. They also damage wells and can injure and kill people and livestock. So like the elephants, people need to defend themselves, their families, and livelihoods.

However, the more concerning threats are caused by the poachers who are responsible for the shocking decline in populations of elephants, rhino, giraffes, and other wildlife for trinkets and traditional medicine. They often mow down elephants and rhinos from a distance with automatic weapons or set neck snares for giraffe. It is these external drivers that cause the most conflict. They are also the reason for plummeting wildlife populations outside protected areas, and explain why wildlife are stressed and aggressive.

Two maasai warriors get some refreshment by the new water pump near their boma just outside Ambsolei National Park, surrounded by a wall to protect against elephant damage.

Two Maasai warriors get some refreshment by the new water pump near their boma just outside Ambsolei National Park, surrounded by a wall to protect against elephant damage.

East African pastoralists, or livestock herders, historically coexisted with wildlife. In fact over the millennia, both wildlife and human systems evolved in synch. Today, pastoralism remains a primary form of livelihood in East Africa. This complementary land use is key to successful wildlife conservation. Pastoralism leaves a porous landscape where herbivores and carnivores can live, access resources, and can travel between parks in search of resources, territory, or mates. Without such spaces and corridors, populations in protected pockets will atrophy and vanish, as isolated parks are too small for large, wide-ranging species.

The downside is that it is also in these vital areas where wildlife encounter their greatest threats, not only from poaching, but also from localized conflicts and ever-increasing habitat fragmentation.

It is in these complex settings that innovative conservation efforts are needed. As conservationists we need to understand not only what is happening with wildlife, but with the people living alongside and interacting with wildlife. This is the reason for our visit to Kenya, to move from conflict to coexistence between wildlife, people and livestock.

To be continued… Check back tomorrow to get to know the groups David and Christy met with, and what the future holds for collaborative conservation.

David OConnor is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Understanding Wildlife Trade in Asia.

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Happy Birthday, Zoo Elephants!

Shaba celebrated her birthday with a specially made "cake."

Shaba celebrated her birthday with a specially made “cake” stuffed with treats.

The beginning of every year is a time for celebration at the Elephant Care Center at the San Diego Zoo—it’s when we mark all of our elephants’ “birthdays.” Because we do not know the exact days that any of the elephants were born on, it makes it easy for us to keep track of their ages by having everyone “roll over” at the same time.

Shaba demonstrates that one CAN have her cake and eat it, too!

Shaba demonstrates that one CAN have her cake and eat it, too!

This year we are celebrating a milestone with Shaba, our youngest elephant who just turned 35 years old! Shaba is a female African elephant that has lived at the San Diego Zoo for more than three years. For her birthday, a dedicated group of Zoo volunteers crafted a giant cake out of cardboard and tasty produce for Shaba to consume on her own, and it didn’t take long for her to break apart the cake to reach the goodies inside. A group of more than 200 volunteers, guests, and zoo staff sang ‘Happy Birthday’ while she enjoyed her special treat. Before too long, we let elephants Mary and Mila join Shaba at the buffet, and it was completely devoured by the end of the day!

The Conrad Prebys Elephant Care Center was designed to care for aging elephants. All seven elephants in our herd are past reproductive age and will live out the rest of their lives with us at the Zoo. Mary, our most dominant female elephant, turned 51 this year, while Sumithi, the second-most dominant, turned 48. Here’s how old the rest of the “girls” are now: Tembo is 44, Mila is 42, and Devi just turned 38. Our bull elephant Ranchipur is now 49 years old, making him the fifth-oldest male elephant in North America.

An elephant-size thank you to the Zoo volunteers and keepers that created Shaba's marvelous cake!

An elephant-size thank you to the Zoo volunteers and keepers that created Shaba’s marvelous cake!

We want to especially thank the Zoo volunteers who took the time to create the cake for Shaba this year. It is always fun not only for the elephants, but for the keepers as well to enjoy these special moments. We appreciate all of the time and dedication you give the Zoo each and every day of each and every year.

Robbie Clark is keeper at the San Diego Zoo. REad his previous blog, Elephants Mila and Mary Meet.

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Taking Care of Tusks

A screen shot from our Elephant Cam taken on November 11 shows 10 of our elephants. Can you find them all?

A screen shot from our Elephant Cam taken on November 11 shows 10 of our elephants. Can you find them all? Click to enlarge.

As you know, there have been a lot of things going on with our African elephant herd this year at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. For instance, you may have seen our trainers working with the elephants in different areas. You may have wondered what they doing with the elephants’ faces! Well….

Some members of our herd have broken or chipped their tusks, and our veterinary staff has had to perform pulpotomies (think root canal) to clean out any infected pulp. All of our elephants are pretty active, especially the little ones, so we have had to put extra protection on the tusks that have fillings. This protection is in the form of a gray material called Technovit (pronounced Techno–vite), and you may have seen us putting it on the tusks of Musi, Macembe, and Luti periodically. Swazi recently broke off a small part of her tusk. No pulp was exposed, and you may see us filing the jagged end of her tusk.

Unfortunately, Khosi and Emanti’s tusks broke and exposed too much pulp, and we were not able to save their broken tusks. For them, we have been flushing their sulcus (skin and cavity surrounding a tusk) to keep the cavity clean and to aid in the healing process. We use a diluted mixture of anti-bacterial solution and water sprayed out of a one-gallon sprayer. Our trainers have worked patiently with Khosi and Emanti to make them comfortable with this process. I am happy to report that they are doing well and healing nicely.

Our elephants are also given vitamin E every day. We’ve trained our elephants to perform a swallow behavior so that they will be able to swallow any medication or vitamin supplements as needed. Because they have such a well-developed sense of smell and taste, we give them their vitamin E followed by mango juice, as the vitamin E doesn’t taste very good!

Qinisa and Inhlonipho are growing up and asserting themselves. Qinisa’s milk tusks are starting to come in. Inhlonipho is wrestling with Emanti and Ingadze any chance he gets. He even charged Msholo (who was quietly eating hay). Msholo looked at him and then went back to eating the hay. When Inhlonipho gets older, he will be wrestling with the big boys.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the herd, either in person or on Elephant Cam!

Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephant Qinisa Turns 2.

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7 Animal Facts You Didn’t Learn In School

You don’t have to be an animal expert to appreciate the natural world. In fact, simple short cuts like the fun facts listed below, can be very conducive to gaining a better understanding of the Animal Kingdom. Enjoy!

Monkeys have tails and apes don't.

1. Monkeys have tails and apes don’t.
Since we have more in common with our great ape cousins than we do with monkeys, a good way to remember this fact is to simply look at your rear end.

There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.

2. There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.
Contrary to pop culture and older versions of Encyclopedia Britannica, snakes are venomous, not poisonous. If they were poisonous, touching or licking a serpent would be the more appropriate fear than death by snakebite. And that’s even debatable, since statistics show that out of 7,000 to 8,000 snakebites per year in the U.S., only 5 or 6 are fatal. Call it semantics, but the truth is only 10 percent of the 3,000 species of snake are venomous, meaning they inject toxins into their prey (biting or stinging). The difference is skin deep.

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Elephant Qinisa Turns 2

Swazi encourages Qinisa to explore her birthday cake.

Swazi encourages Qinisa to explore her birthday cake.

There was a lot of anticipation before little Qinisa’s second birthday on August 28. The keepers had prepared a five-layer cake made of ice infused with an alfalfa pellet and soaked beet-pulp mixture. What a treat for an elephant girl on a hot day!

Oooh! It's nice and cool!

Oooh! It’s nice and cool!

The cake was set up in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Tembo Stadium during the 1:30 Keeper Talk, so that Park guests could celebrate with her. Qinisa’s mother, Swazi, was brought into the arena with her. At first, they didn’t seem to notice the cake because they were concentrating on their keepers, who had them run through some husbandry behaviors. When Qinisa had finished her training session, everyone in the audience loudly sang “Happy Birthday.”

Ice cakes are tasty!

Ice cakes are tasty!

Qinisa then explored the arena and investigated her birthday cake. She wasn’t sure what to make of the cake, so she waited until her mom joined her and knocked it over. Satisfied that it was okay, Qinisa then took her time eating little bits of her cake.

The keepers eventually moved all of the elephants back into the main yard and shared the rest of Qinisa’s birthday cake with the herd. What a fun day for everyone!

Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephants: Eat Your Vegetables!