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10 Cats You Shouldn’t Cuddle With

There’s no doubt that domestic cats are cute and cuddly, but when it comes to their wild brothers and sisters, we strongly advise keeping your hands to yourself.

Connor by Darrell Ybarrondo

photo: Darrell Ybarrondo

With two- to three-inch long canine teeth, Connor would rather chow down than cuddle with you.

Jaguar by Bob Worthington

photo: Bob Worthington

We suggest you steer clear of Nindiri, or suffer the same fate as this poor rabbit.

Serval by Ion Moe

photo: Ion Moe

Kamari might look cute, but servals are perhaps the best hunters in the cat world. They make a kill in about half of all tries, which means you probably wouldn’t survive a snuggle session.

Snow leopard

The legendary snow leopard is rarely seen by humans. Cuddling with one? Don’t kid yourself.

Sumatran tiger

One look at Teddy and you know he isn’t in the mood for some TLC.

Cheetah by Stephen Moehle

photo: Stephen Moehle

With the ability to reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of this cheetah’s gaze.

Fishing cat by Bob Worthington

photo: Bob Worthington

If you’re thinking “Aw, this looks just like my fluffy Felix,” think again—fishing cats can be very aggressive.

Izu

Izu barely has enough patience for his cubs, so he probably isn’t interested in your warm embrace either.

Oshana by Ion Moe

photo: Ion Moe

The same is true for Oshana.

photo: Deric Wagner

photo: Deric Wagner

Mountain lion, puma, cougar, panther—this cat is known by more names than just about any other mammal—”cuddle buddy” isn’t one of them.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 11 Incredibly Awesome Animal Moms.

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Tag, You’re It!

The public is invited to help select a name for the Zoo's rambunctious jaguar cub.

The public is invited to help select a name for the Zoo’s rambunctious jaguar cub.

A jaguar cub taps his mother playfully during a morning spent outside at the San Diego Zoo. Animal care staff has been giving the mother, Nindiri, and the wobbly-legged cub access to explore the area beyond the two bedrooms they share.

The public is being asked to help the Zoo select a name for the young cub through voting at www.bit.ly/NameTheCub. Voting will close on Sunday, May 24.

The cub was born at 8:30 p.m. on March 12, 2015, inside the jaguar den at the Harry & Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey exhibit. This is the third cub for 7-year-old Nindiri.

Photo taken on May 22, 2015, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Name Our Jaguar Cub for Conservation

The male jaguar cub at the San Diego Zoo is getting a lot of attention for his off-the-charts cute ratings, but this little boy needs a name. Animal care staff have worked together to come up with a list of possibilities and now we want to hear what you think. Vote here.

The jaguars at the Zoo are just three of the jaguars that San Diego Zoo Global is working with. Scientist Mathias Tobler, Ph.D, has spent more than 10 years working in the Peruvian Amazon. He is using radiotelemetry, GPS collars, and camera traps to study jaguars and other keystone species’ role in the Amazonian ecosystem. Tobler is using this technology to learn about how undisturbed populations of jaguars use their habitat, their movement patterns, home-range size, density, and their foraging ecology to create a baseline to evaluate future impacts on this species caused by human development. This data will help to inform conservation decisions and recommend ways to mitigate impacts to wildlife during the planning stages of development projects near the most pristine and bio-diverse terrestrial ecosystem on Earth.

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

At San Diego Zoo Global we’re working to understand jaguars, as well as pumas, peccary and tapirs, and have seen improvements in the techniques of capturing, tracking and observing animals. It has also been noticed by the Peruvian government and the research team has been asked to advise Peruvian officials on monitoring systems for animals in this area.

Studying jaguars in the Peruvian Amazon is just one example of how San Diego Zoo Global is working to #endextinction for endangered species. To find out more about this project and others please visit these resources:

Counting Jaguars in the Amazon

Looking for Jaguars in the Night

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 11 Bellies You Really Need to Rub.

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11 Bellies You Really Need To Rub

Disclaimer: These are wild animals, and must be treated as such. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. :)

You know you really want to rub this little spotted belly…

Photo by Cheryl Thiele

Photo by Cheryl Thiele

and this meer belly…

Photo by Helene Hoffman

Photo by Helene Hoffman

and this Andean bear belly…

Photo by Craig Chaddock

Photo by Craig Chaddock

and this polar pot belly…

and this panda paunch.

Aisha’s little red tummy is just asking for a good rub.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Jaguar cub Maderas (born at the Zoo in 2012) had perhaps the most rub-able belly of all.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

But Nindiri’s latest cub definitely gives Maderas a run for her money in the belly department.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

When Mr. Wu was a cub had the cutest panda pot belly ever.

And he still does.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Joanne’s fuzzy little tummy is just screaming “rub me!”

Just look at it.

Photo by Angie Bell

Photo by Angie Bell

Lion cubs Ken & Dixie were not lacking in the cute belly department.

See?

Izu seems to disagree.

But seriously, Mr. Wu just might be the winner of cutest belly ever.

Case in point.

Actually, maybe it’s a tie.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

Yep, definitely a tie.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

 

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 7 Animals That Look Like Star Wars Characters.

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Oh, Boy! Male Jaguar Cub at San Diego Zoo Gaining a Pound a Week

The Zoo's newest jaguar cub tips the scales in terms of cuteness!

No tipping the scales for this male jaguar cub—the bowl keeps  him stable for the weigh-in.

During a routine veterinary exam this morning at the San Diego Zoo, a jaguar cub was placed on a scale and weighed in at 4.8 pounds. It was also determined that the cub is a boy.

The cub and his mother, Nindiri, have access to two off-exhibit bedrooms at all times and are given access to a third cave bedroom, which is visible to the public, from approximately 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, there is no guarantee that Zoo guests will be able to see the cub, as Nindiri chooses which bedroom she would like to spend time in.

This is the third cub for 7-year-old Nindiri, who gave birth to a pair of cubs in 2012, a male named Tikal and a female, Maderas.

Photo taken on March 31, 2015, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Jaguar Cub at the San Diego Zoo Prepares for Debut During “Play Days”

Nindiri, an 7-year-old jaguar at the San Diego Zoo, is a mother for the third time. She gave birth to a single cub on March 12, 2015. Mom and cub have been spending most of their time off exhibit while the cub’s eyes open and it starts to become steadier on its paws. The sex of the cub is not yet known.

The 15-day-old jaguar cub and its mother were given access to the cave bedroom this morning before the San Diego Zoo was open to the public. Animal care staff have been giving the mother access to this third area so the cub has a chance to explore different terrain, an important step in its development – the keepers have filled the cave area with hay and there is a rock for the cub to investigate.

Guests at the San Diego Zoo may spot the mother and cub in the cave viewing area during Play Days, which starts Saturday. This year, the event focuses on plants and animals with spots. The spotted markings on a jaguar are called rosettes.

During Play Days, animal keepers, horticulturists and Zoo staff will help connect the dots about spots and share information about the importance of these markings for camouflage or as diversions from predators, and how sometimes the spots serve as a warning to other creatures.

Dr. Zoolittle will debut his new show exploring spots and dots, and the Zoo’s costume characters will be at the Koalafornia Boardwalk for meet-and-greets with guests. And new this year, The Sand Band will keep toes tapping with their musical fun.

Say carrots! The Easter Bunny will also be returning to the San Diego Zoo, March 21 through April 5, 2015, and guests can hop on the lap of Peter and Paula Cottontail, who will trade off taking photos in the basket-shaped photo booth in front of Skyfari East.

While guests are visiting during Play Days, they’re encouraged to interact with the Zoo on social media by taking their photo at designated “selfie spots” located around the Zoo and tagging the photos with the hashtags #sdzselfiespot and #sandiegozoo. Or visitors can enter the Spotted Photo Challenge by submitting their best photos of the Zoo’s spotted animals on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #sdzspots.

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, 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.

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9 Animal Superstitions

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

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

Satanic leaf-tailed gecko

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

Aye-aye

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

Tasmanian devil

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

Snow leopard

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

Jaguar

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

Vultures

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

Crow

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

Gila monster

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

Komodo dragon

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

Join the fun! Share your animal legends and superstitions in the comments below.

 

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

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A Jaguar’s Legacy

We'll miss you, Orson!

We’ll miss you, Orson!

The final day of April was a somber one at the San Diego Zoo, as we had to say goodbye to Orson, our melanistic jaguar. At an extraordinarily advanced age of over 21 years, Orson had developed irreversible geriatric conditions that had begun to impact his quality of life. Fortunately, we can take solace that Orson’s legacy will carry on through the countless people he entertained, amazed, and inspired throughout his life.

Orson had many unique traits that drew people to him. The most obvious was his handsome melanistic coloring that only betrayed his spots when the sunlight hit his coat just right. His most engaging trait was simply that he habitually perched front and center where visitors could see him up close and bask in his impressive roar from mere feet away. Many people also fondly recall the weekly tug-of–war matches Orson had with his keepers. Using a hanging pulley system, Orson would battle a team of keepers, which were several times his weight but only a fraction of his strength, for the rights to a shank of meat. Needless to say, Orson always won!

Orson’s effect on people was obvious from the legions of members who made weekly pilgrimages to visit him to the numerous guests who could clearly remember him despite many years passing between visits. I’m sure that a great number of visitors over the years would agree with a teenager who once told me that seeing Orson was a “life-changing experience.” A visit with Orson clearly enhanced people’s respect for jaguars, wildlife, and our natural world in general.

At times the celebrity status Orson enjoyed could rub off slightly onto his keepers. In my time away from the Zoo, I moonlight as a hockey referee. One night after a game, I was leaving the ice and heard someone yell, “Hey, ref!” from the stands. As a rule of thumb, no one has a compliment to give a referee, so I put my head down and quickened my pace toward the locker room. The voice continued, “Hey, ref! We know you. You take care of Orson.”

It was a privilege to take care of such a charismatic animal who was a legend in his own time. Although we will all miss Orson, his legacy will live on in the people he amazed, the children he inspired, and the hearts he touched.

Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Cheers to a Local Legend.

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Jaguar Cubs at Last!

Welcome, little jaguars!

About one year ago I wrote a blog post titled Jaguars: The Next Step. We had just recently introduced the San Diego Zoo’s jaguars with the hope of producing some much-needed cubs. As it turns out, the next step was the first step in a rollercoaster year that included hundreds of hours of behavioral observation, collection of more fecal samples than I care to remember, lots of amazing moments between the cats, and the heartbreak of an unsuccessful litter born in October.

Hold still! Each cub received a quick exam, including a weigh-in.

Over the course of the year we compiled a huge amount of jaguar data, some of which will be shared with other zoos all over the world to improve zoo-based breeding of this endangered cat. We saw our young, small Nindiri grow into an adult female, trading in some of her playful ways for more mature endeavors. We saw Guapo grow into a more confident animal as he figured out just how to get along with our always-spicy Nindiri. It was a year of many firsts for our jaguar friends and their keepers. We also achieved another milestone, something that we haven’t seen in San Diego for more than 20 years.

I have the privilege of announcing that a year’s worth of hard work, patience, and a major cooperative effort by people and jaguar has paid off. On April 26, Nindiri gave birth to two healthy, thriving little cubs, the first surviving jaguar cubs born at the San Diego Zoo since 1989. She quickly proved that she really has what it takes to be a great mother. Nindiri has been extremely attentive, opting to stay in her den box with her cubs nearly 24 hours a day. The few minutes away that she does take involve grabbing a few mouthfuls of food, a quick drink of water, and then back to her duties as mother.

There are some well-deserved privileges to being a jaguar keeper!

Our first official exam took place on their fourth day of life and involved getting a weight and a very quick all-over check by one of our vets. Much to my surprise, their eyes were already open. I hadn’t expected this to happen until they were at least a week old. Both cubs passed their quick exam with flying colors. The exam also gave us an early glimpse into personality. The first cub examined displayed some Nindiri-like attitude, hissing at me as I gently picked it up—a girl! The second cub, a boy, was quiet throughout the exam and seemed much less bothered by our imposition. Cleary cub #2 got his personality from Dad.

In the coming weeks will come the eating of solid foods, learning about our visitors, swimming lessons, figuring out how to get up into trees and—more importantly—just how to get down, and many, many other lessons that a jaguar cub must learn. Nindiri’s duties will continue to change throughout their many stages of life, and she has much to teach. It turns out that with these new cubs we are embarking on a new Next Step. A step toward a new, more maternal Nindiri. A step toward the next generation of jaguars. A step toward the conservation of this amazing species and ultimately a brighter future for the breeding of jaguars in our much-needed breeding programs. This next year will be another year of firsts, and I hope that you will share it with us.

Our new little residents will be off exhibit for a while, but look for them in Elephant Odyssey in the not-too-distant future.

Jacob Shanks is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Zoo Conference: AZA.

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Mountain Lions and Palm Trees

Can you see the 2nd pair of eyes?

Did you ever think about how palm trees might move mountain lions (pumas) and jaguars around? Where we’re working in Southeast Peru with the Botanical Institute of Texas, remote camera photos of mountain lions aren’t really common, but they’re not rare, either (see post Mountain Lion: Sensing Humans). Earlier this year we started seeing more mountain lion feces than usual on one trail, and we also started seeing photos of jaguars, which we hadn’t photographed there for several months.

Our working hypothesis (our best guess) was that the big cats were moving back into the area because a lot of white-collared peccaries moved into the area to feed on ripe palm fruits, and the big cats hunt peccaries. In other words, we think that perhaps the palms indirectly influenced the movements of the big cats. Of course there are many reasons why a mountain lion might decide to walk up one trail versus another. One reason is to improve its chance of finding food, as I just described. Another reason a mountain lion might walk up a trail is to follow a sexy mountain lion!

One series of photos (see below), taken by a remote camera, shows two adult mountain lions traveling together. The first two photos show an adult mountain lion walking down a trail with two eyes visible in the distant background; the second two photos illustrate that the second pair of eyes belonged to another adult puma.

The only reason I can imagine that these adults would be together is that it was mating season. The odds are pretty low that we’ll eventually obtain images of a mother mountain lion walking down a trail with her cubs, but wouldn’t that be neat? If we do get photos like that, I’ll be sure to share them with you!

Russ Van Horn is a scientist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, leading our Andean bear conservation program.