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4

A Handsome Newcomer

Guapo explores his new home.

More exciting news coming out of Elephant Odyssey! On March 29, a male jaguar named Guapo, meaning handsome or good-looking, moved into our cat complex to become the fourth big cat to call the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey home. Guapo is five years old and came to us from another zoo. He is joining us with the hopes that he will ultimately breed with our other resident jaguar, Nindiri.

Jaguars, like many of the species kept at the San Diego Zoo, are managed under a nationwide breeding program intended to maintain good genetic diversity as well as to create a safety net population in zoos. These powerful cats are currently listed as a near-threatened species with a declining population. Like many species around the world, jaguars are susceptible to habitat loss and degradation, loss of prey base, illegal hunting, and direct conflict with humans. Guapo represents a blood line that is not well represented in the United States and therefore is a genetically valuable individual. We are definitely going to be keeping our fingers crossed that some sparks will fly between these two beautiful cats, but the success of this potential breeding pair will ultimately lie with them.

Nindiri is lovingly referred to as a little firecracker. While very small for a jaguar, weighing in at only around 80 pounds (36 kilograms), Nindiri has a feisty little personality and can be rather intense. I like to say that she makes up for her small stature with attitude. Guapo seems to be a much different kind of cat with a much more laid-back approach to life. His gentle nature and lack of bravado are a stark contrast to his female counterpart. At approximately 130 pounds (59 kilograms), he has a size advantage over Nindiri, but all of us that are privileged to work with them are sure that she will call all the shots. Let us all hope that opposites really do attract!

For now, Guapo is acclimating to his new home and his new keepers. There are lots of new things for him to discover. Whether it be the features of his new enclosure, the rooftop penthouse where he spends time when not on exhibit, or just living across the hall from two huge lions (see post The Pride of Elephant Odyssey), you can guess that his transition will be an interesting one.

Guapo rotates exhibit time with Nindiri, so please come to Elephant Odyssey and welcome him to the San Diego Zoo family.

Jacob Shanks is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Jaguar Answers.

152

Polar Bears: What Happened?

Chinook pauses between doing her morning laps.

On February14, 2011, and for 10 days after, Chinook and Kalluk were inseparable. They slept together, ate together, swam together, and yes, bred. We can confirm that at this point we will be getting ready for the possibility of polar bear cubs this fall. However, this year breeding came early, and it’s possible we may see Chinook cycle again. It is interesting, as several other zoos with breeding polar bears have experienced this early breeding as well.

The gestation period for polar bears is 195 to 265 days, so before you get out the calendars and calculators, that gives us a due time of August 28 to November 16! To try to get as much information as possible along the way, we are collecting fecal samples and urine samples for hormone assay, and we will again do ultrasound exams with Chinook as we approach implantation and birth time. As you know, she does seem to greatly enjoy her belly-rubbing ultrasound sessions!

Kalluk is still showing a heightened level of testosterone with his behavior and inconsistent appetite. For males in the wild, this lack of eating is proving to be of concern as we lose more ice. In the wild, male polar bears begin searching for receptive females early in the spring. Once they breed with a female, she goes off to hunt and store as much fat as possible while he goes off in search of another receptive female. As the ice disappears earlier in summer, the males are losing precious time to hunt.

Kalluk doesn’t have this worry, as finding food is never an issue. Over the past weeks it has been difficult to get him to acknowledge food, but yesterday he ate 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of meat in one sitting. Kalluk is also beginning to actually sleep; during breeding season, he is so intent on where Chinook is that he rarely does anything more than a quick nap. Both eating and sleeping are good signs that we may be heading back to normal!

Chinook also has some resting to do. Kalluk is twice her size and very attentive to her every move. She is now spending a great deal of time snoozing in our mulch piles or taking long, luxurious swims in the pool. Two days ago Chinook and Kalluk had a great romping play-and- dive session, another sign that “normal” may be right around the corner.

Tatqiq seems to have a great understanding of what breeding season means to her. She is patiently waiting until her friends lose their romantic interests and regain their playful spirits and once again join her in a good romp around the exhibit. Until then, she is greatly enjoying having all the carrots to herself and is busy hunting gophers in Polar Bear Park.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bear Dance, where she has responded to questions sent there.

8

Monkeys, Otters, and More

Jaribu and Oboi have a unique relationship.

I am the zoo keeper for the monkey and otter mixed-species exhibits in Lost Forest at the San Diego Zoo. Working with our lively bunch of animals for almost three years has brought me great joy. Being a zoo keeper for this particular group sure keeps me on my feet and my mind stimulated!  Trying to keep up with five different species in the same area and have them get along can be challenging, but it sure works out and provides for some amusing times.

Helen and Oboi enjoy each other's company.

Let’s take the upper exhibit, for example. We have Helen, our Congo forest buffalo, who is 33 years old! Normally they live 18 to 20 years in the wild and about 29 years in zoos. Don’t let her age fool you: she is a spry, sweet girl who loves to sun herself along the back of the exhibit. Sometimes you will see her with her best friend, Oboi, the male red river hog. They like to snuggle up together and catch some Zs. These two are like peas in a pod; with both of them being the same rusty color red, you can almost say Oboi is a bit like Helen’s Mini-Me. Every once in a while, you will see Jaribu, our male Allen’s swamp monkey, hang out with Oboi. Jaribu sometimes thinks he is a cowboy and will climb on Oboi’s back as if to ride him like a horse! Oboi doesn’t mind, as he gets a gentle back massage with the off-chance that Jaribu will groom him. It’s a pretty funny sight!

Jaribu is definitely our most courageous and amusing monkey. He LOVES to interact with our spotted-necked otter girls Lila and Shani. You will most likely catch him in the waterway wrestling and playing tag with the otters. It may look like a fight may ensue, but it is all horse play with Lila and Shani loving the attention.

Spot-nosed guenon Haraka

Jaribu is also a great “fisherman.”Allen’s swamp monkeys are known omnivores and can eat all types of fruit, leaves, insects, and even fish. So you might see Jaribu “go fishing” in the waterway to try and steal the otters’ fish that I toss for their midday feeding.

Jaribu’s mate, Ota, is a delightful, shy female Allen’s swamp monkey. You will also see her in the waterway and sometimes in the upper island hanging out with our male Schmidt’s spot-nosed guenon, Haraka. Don’t stare too hard at Haraka, though: he might give you a stare-down head bob, which is considered a threat to some monkeys and apes.

Check back soon to meet the animals living in the lower mixed-species exhibit!

Jasmine Almonte is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

8

Camel Tuya Moves Out

If you are a regular visitor to the San Diego Zoo, you probably have noticed that our young Bactrian camel, Tuya, is no longer in the camel exhibit. A few weeks ago she made her journey to a zoo in the Midwest. In my last post I spoke about her pre-shipment physical (see post Training Camel Tuya) . For most of it she was stellar!

I haltered her up and walked her into the chute. She was calm since we had been working on this behavior for a few weeks now. The veterinarian checked her legs, feet, teeth, general body condition, eyes, ears, and then we had to draw blood. Since it is winter, Tuya has her full winter coat. Finding a vein is difficult enough with a moving camel, but add in four inches of thick, curly hair and it is practically impossible. We shaved her neck in the area where the blood would be drawn and she did great. It took a few tries, but we were able to draw a blood sample.

About a week later it was time to shift her into the trailer for movement to our shipping area. I had also been working on getting her to go into the trailer voluntarily. It is always easier for all involved, camel and keeper, to train behaviors and have the animals do things on their own. A 500-pound animal is not easy to convince otherwise. Once again I started slowly and gave her the chance to investigate the trailer, sniff it, get nervous and run away, and then come right back. I used her “target,” a small pool buoy on a stick, to give her something to concentrate on and reinforced her when she touched it while close to the trailer. We worked our way into the trailer, and she was somewhat confident. It was new, but I was there to comfort her.

On the move day she walked up to the trailer well with her halter on but would not go in. Sometimes this happens; the animals can sense something is different. They can feel the urgency. Luckily, the trailer has many small doors we can open, so we opened one at the back to show her a little light. Once that door was open she walked right in. It is always so rewarding for the animal to be calm and to have everything go smoothly.

Tuya was transported to our shipping area and then left a few days later. She arrived safely and will start her new life with a reason to have that thick winter coat. Working with her was a great experience and another addition to the never-ending repertoire of zoo keeping adventures.

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

16

Burrowing Owl Buddy

Click images to view in larger format.

As an animal keeper for the past 30 years at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, I’ve felt privileged to have worked with some of the world’s most fascinating and endangered species. Most of the species I work with come from Africa or Asia, but I am also acutely aware that we have species in our own back yard here in San Diego County that are also in peril.

I have recently learned that burrowing owls are becoming increasingly rare in the grasslands of our county and that our San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is involved with a grasslands restoration project. This is good news, as I just had my first encounter with a burrowing owl in its natural habitat here at the Safari Park a few weeks ago.

As a keeper, I have made numerous trips to the Park’s manure dump over the years to empty my dump truck. With over 3,000 animal residents, you can imagine that we produce copious amounts of endangered species feces. Fortunately for us, a farmer in the San Pasqual Valley is happy to take all we can give him; he plows this rich material into his fields, where it nourishes his crops. I had heard other keepers mentioning seeing a little owl visible on the hillside next to our dump pile. I began to look for the owl every time I went to our dump pile but could not figure out which of the 30 or so squirrel burrows might be occupied by this owl.

Finally, with the help of another keeper, I was able to spot him (or her, I’m not sure of the gender!). Now that I know where to look, I see the burrowing owl on a regular basis. Often this little bird is hunkered down inside its burrow when I first drive by to dump my truck’s load. It comes out to check out the noise after I pass, so that when I return, it’s right in plain sight. I can pull up and stop right below it. You might think it would quickly back down into the hole, but it usually doesn’t. Sometimes it just stands there, and sometimes it crouches down and freezes. This is most likely a defense mechanism against predators. This eight-inch-high owl is mottled brown and tan and easily blends in with the dry vegetation surrounding its burrow. It stands out a bit more right now, because all of the rains have turned the usually brown vegetation bright green.

I’ll admit, visiting the manure dump is perhaps not the most glamorous (or appealing) part of my day, but knowing I may get another peek at this special little burrowing owl always gives me something to look forward to.

Gloria Kendall is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

12

Something to Scream About

A sharp, keratinous spur on each wing helps screamers protect themselves by wing slapping and striking with these spurs. Click on images to enlarge.

What are those large, gray birds in the San Diego Zoo‘s Caribbean flamingo exhibit?  They look like turkeys or “raptors on stilts,” as I like to call them.  Interestingly, they are classified into the same scientific order as waterfowl (ducks) but are in their own unique family. There are three different species of screamers, all of which reside in South America.  We are home to a pair of crested screamers Chauna torquata, also known as southern screamers.  They can be heard from far away, and if you are lucky enough to hear them vocalize, you will quickly learn how they got their name. Screamers are excellent swimmers, even though they barely have any webbing on their feet. They can also be very aggressive, and if you have ever seen me in the exhibit speaking loudly at them, telling them to “back-up,” it is not because I am trying to be mean; my intention is to establish my dominance.

Our screamer pair is unique because they have a very romantic story (in my opinion, at least).  First, let me give you a little history about our male. He is approximately 30 years old now! He came to us when he was about a year old in February 1982. He was paired up with a female and together they parented a total of 24 chicks over a span of 8 years from 1988 to 1996. Sadly, his original mate passed away in 1997. In the wild, these birds would live to be anywhere from 10 to 15 years old but can live to be up to 35 years old in zoos.

Will our screamers become parents again?

The male was by himself until one beautiful day in 2008, when we received a young female from the Louisville Zoo. She was a sight to see!  Barely over a year old when she arrived, she still had some reminiscent juvenile plumage but nevertheless was larger and more robust than the male. They were introduced in adjacent pens up at the Zoo’s hospital, and it was love at first sight. They would often be seen standing near each other (still separated by fencing), bill-clapping  to each other, which in screamer language can be interpreted as “I like you.”  This behavior can also be observed on exhibit, and following the bill clapping you can see them preening each other.

As soon as it was apparent that they would get along if put in the same enclosure, they were brought to the Caribbean flamingo lagoon on the Zoo’s front plaza and have been inseparable ever since. The female was not yet reproductively mature, so we did not anticipate breeding for quite some time.  Early last year was the first time we observed copulation; in the bird world, that is the term we use for breeding.  Much excitement followed as the female laid her first egg!  But with the male being at the age he was, we wondered if the eggs could even be fertile.  Their first clutch consisted of two eggs that were laid seven days apart.  Typically, a clutch contains two to six eggs, with an egg being laid every two days.  Both eggs proved to be infertile, so they were pulled from the nest to allow the pair to try again. Shortly after, the female laid five eggs perfectly, each one laid two days after the previous egg.  How exciting! Two of the five eggs hatched, and the female behaved like a seasoned parent with her experienced mate showing her the ropes. They successfully parent-reared one of the two chicks (the other passed away at only two weeks of age due to health complications), and that male will be transferred to another institution soon!

Currently you can observe the crested screamer pair on their nest for their second breeding season together. Six eggs were laid, but only three remain, as the other three were candled and proven infertile or not viable.  The remaining three eggs are due anytime now up until February 14! The pair can be easily viewed from the bridge of the flamingo exhibit, where one of them will be sitting tightly atop a clump of Liriopes at the water’s edge.  If you get the chance to stop by, we hope that all three eggs will hatch, and we can enjoy seeing some of the cutest chicks in the bird world.  A screamer chick looks like a miniature Big Bird from “Sesame Street” with bright yellow down and thick, swollen orange legs. What a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for their keepers and the Bird Department!

Athena Wilson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

68

Yun Zi’s Training

Yun Zi is growing so fast right before our eyes. He is now at a hefty 90 pounds (41 kilograms) and eating large pieces of bamboo just like his mom, Bai Yun. He has started his training courses just like his sisters and brother before him. The first “course” was the most challenging, and that was learning how to follow Bai Yun into the bedroom area. As a keeper, we call this “shifting.” We ask the bear to walk into their bedroom so we can close the door and safely enter their exhibit to clean. In July, Yun Zi was weighing around 55 pounds or 25 kilograms (too heavy to lift) and was playing too rough with his keepers. I was given the great challenge to teach this little one to shift into his bedroom on his own.

The hardest part of teaching Yun how to do this was guessing what his favorite treat was. He did not care for apples like his sister Zhen Zhen, and he did not want the red leafeater biscuits like his other sister Su Lin. I talked to the other keepers, and they told me to try honey water. I diluted honey in warm water in a squirt bottle. The first time Yun Zi tried the honey water, his eyes lit up, and this became his reward as the training continued. Yun Zi is a very smart little bear and started working very hard for the honey water.

As his keeper, he has taught me a lot about patience—he will move when he wants to. Teaching Yun Zi to shift took a lot of patience from all his keepers when we slowly asked him to come down to the ground and walk toward the shift door. I know many of his fans and the panda narrators can bear witness to Yun Zi taking his time to come down to the ground. He learned really quickly that we wanted him to shift on his own. Around October, he became very proficient in shifting when we noticed he was starting to eat the red biscuits. Today, Yun Zi knows how to shift into his bedroom on his own, with the exception of a few times when he thinks it’s more fun to sleep in the tree.

Now Yun Zi is challenging himself to learn new behaviors and to show his keepers how smart he is. He is learning to “target”; this is where we ask Yun Zi to touch his nose to the keeper’s fist, or target. This is a great training tool that will help Yun Zi when he is in “college” and will participate in the panda hearing study. He will need to sit in front of us and touch his nose to a target when he hears a tone. He is also starting to learn “paws up” and “paws down”; this is a great behavior that we use when we have Yun Zi sit on a scale to get his weight and to get a good visual on his body condition. The newest behavior he is starting to learn is “mouth open” so the veterinarian can look at his mouth and teeth.

Yun Zi is growing up so fast, and we have high expectations of him as we prepare to help him gradually move out into his own exhibit as part of the weaning process.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Watch the pandas daily on Panda Cam.

19

Cheetah Cub Pounces

Kiburi was just three weeks old when this photo was taken.

Kiburi is getting so big! The little cheetah, born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on November 14, 2010, is weaned from milk now and on to carnivore diet mixed with canned cat food. (See previous post, Cheetah Cub at 32 Days.) Kiburi’s current feeding schedule is approximately 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m.

Kiburi knows when it’s feeding time; he becomes so excited to eat, calling out with a bird-like chirp! He dives into his bowl, making a huge mess in the process. He gets meat all over his face, feet, ears, and chest! Afterwards, we wipe him clean with a warm rag; he resists this cleaning, but momma cheetah would lick her cub clean.

Listen to Kiburi purr.

Listen to Kiburi as he squeals while being held.

Listen to Kiburi as he chirps.

Once he’s been fed and cleaned up, it’s play time! He gets to play on the floor of his room now; he runs and plays and pounces all over, giving his viewers an awesome show. The mane along the top of his head and back is getting longer and blonder. This mane will help him camouflage in the long grass, and it also protects him from the sun and rain. He’s changing every day, so hurry and come check him out at the Safari Park’s Animal Care Center, located in the Park’s Nairobi Village!

Sandy Craig is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

81

Pandas: Playtime and Bamboo

As a narrator, I watch the pandas four or five hours a day, five days a week. Talking on the microphone, answering questions, and chatting with guests keeps me busy during my shift, but I have ample time to observe the pandas while I’m talking, so I get to see some interesting behaviors.

Bai Yun plays with her cub, but we don’t see this behavior every day, so it is special to watch the two tussle with each other. One morning Bai Yun was in a playful mood and solicited interaction with Yun Zi. She played the same way I’ve seen dogs interact with one another. Bai Yun reared back and came down, keeping her forelegs stiff, bouncing in front of Yun Zi and inviting him to play. They rolled in the grass and bit at each other.

Sometimes Bai Yun holds onto the cub, flipping him this way and that, and biting him all over. These are play bites, of course, and he seldom complains. Sometimes he gets out of Mom’s grasp and runs away a few feet, then he comes right back for more. Yun Zi is like all the cubs (especially Mei Sheng) and bites on his mom whenever he is next to her. The cub gets a mouthful of fur and loose skin and tugs and twists as hard as he can. Mom ignores him unless he goes for her ears; ears are off-limits, and she swats him away. Not hard to imagine why, as those ears aren’t as tough as the rest of her. The keepers are always providing enrichment for Bai Yun, but there is nothing like a cub to enrich her days.

Sometimes I see cubs do pretty remarkable things that demonstrate their intelligence. The other afternoon our pandas had fresh bamboo. Bai Yun was sitting by the tree on the far left side of the enclosure. Yun Zi likes to carry his bamboo up to the hammock, but the redesign of the enclosure had removed the branch he used to get up to the flat rock. He picked up a long, skinny culm (the jointed stem of the bamboo) with lots of branches and looked over the situation. He carried the bamboo in his mouth and dragged it all the way across the front of the enclosure. When he got to the right side, he climbed the new diagonal tree trunk and up over the tall stump. With the bamboo still in his mouth, he transferred to a long branch on the elm tree and climbed down the branch until he reached his hammock with his prize.

Yun Zi is eating a lot more bamboo than he was only about a month ago. He likes the crunchy, pencil-sized branches and is eating leaves and narrow pieces of the big stuff, timber bamboo, that he finds in Bai Yun’s leftovers. Yun Zi really likes the leafeater biscuits and tries to get to some of them before Mom does. The keepers place a few biscuits (along with a few carrot, yam, and apple slices) on the logs, branches, and rocks, scattering the goodies so the pandas have a foraging experience much like in the wild. Watching the little fellow pick up and hold the treats in his paws and put them in his mouth always fascinates me. It’s all instinct, and he does it so well. Now that Yun Zi is eating the treats, the keepers have increased the amount they put out. The leafeater, or folivore, biscuits are a reddish color and shaped like a domino. Lighter than a dog biscuit, they are crunchy and not very flavorful. (Yes, I’ve tried them.)

Each day with the pandas is special, and I never get bored watching them. Best of all, I get to share my enthusiasm with all the panda fans who love them as much as I do.

Chris Tratnyek is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Attraction.

18

Tiger Cubs: Teeth and Claws

Looking fierce!

Our Sumatran tiger cubs, Joanne and Majel, born on October 5, 2010, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, are getting so big (see Hello, Tiger Cubs!). At 11 weeks old, they are already very close to 20 pounds each! They have full weaponry (teeth and claws) and use every opportunity to try them out on Mom, toys, and anything else that catches their interest.

We keepers work with them at least once a day as part of their training program, not for play. We have introduced a whistle to listen to, meat to taste, and their first command (sit). They are catching on well and will be progressing quickly from here. Next they need to learn their names!

Looking cute!

We will take advantage of their small size to introduce some advanced behaviors, like “side up” to the bars (for future training for vaccinations), and tail and rear end desensitization (for future blood draws, temperature taking, and cytology exams). Every chance we get we are feeding them from the outside through the bars; this is how we will be feeding them after we can no longer work with them without a protective barrier. Teaching them good eating manners this young will be beneficial to everyone in the long run.

This is all very exciting, and I am glad that you all are here to share it with. Look for the cubs to be out on exhibit sometime in January.

Thanks for reading!

Tina Hunter is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.