Are You Over Valentine’s Day? This Might Look Familiar.

Valentine’s Day just isn’t your thing. Honestly? Because you’re just not that into it.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

And you’re not really a fan of “getting all cleaned up” for that big date.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

You’re also not big on PDA, like holding hands (or tails).

And you’re definitely not a hugger.


And if you see one more candy heart with a generic love message on it you’re going to lose it!


And chocolates? Meh. They kind of make you gag.

Photo by Sayuri

Photo by Sayuri

When you get the bill after a super fancy dinner you can barely hide your shock.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

Because you’re easy to please. You don’t need some fancy meal. You’re fine eating what you always do.

Photo by Mollie Rivera

Photo by Mollie Rivera

And honestly, you’re not a big fan of crowds anyway.


You’d just rather stay in and relax.

Photo by Helene Hoffman

Photo by Helene Hoffman

And hang out with your boo, just the two of you, just how you like it. Because that’s what Valentine’s Day should be. No stress, no obligation, just love.

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Animals Who Totally Own Winter.




Wild Romance

Anytime is the right time for "romance" among rhinos.

Anytime is the right time for “romance” among rhinos.

“There’s a rhyme and reason to the wild outdoors,” sings Elton John in The Lion King. Disney’s Simba and Nala aren’t the only ones who “can feel the love tonight” during the Valentine’s Day season. Perhaps you want to know about the wacky, wild, and sometimes familiar romance rituals of the Safari Park animals? During this season of love, now’s your chance.

Some of the largest lovers at the Safari Park are southern white rhinos. Instead of mating seasonally like deer, breeding females can go into estrus any time of the year. Solitary, territorial males horn-wrestle one another for the privilege of mating with an estrus female. The winner approaches his intended mate with a wheezy, hic-throb noise—kind of a “Hey baby. How you doin’?” a la Friends character Joey Tribbiani. In an attempt at seduction, the male rests his head on the female’s rump. If she’s willing, mating lasts about 30 minutes. Over the years, “love” has definitely been in the air among the southern white rhinos at the Safari Park: they have produced 93 calves and counting.

Get the Party Started: Once their courtship ritual is rolling, all the flamingos in this flock will have their wings out.

Get the Party Started: Wing-spreading is one part of a flamingo flock’s courtship ritual.

In contrast to the rhinos’ cumbersome courtship, greater flamingos look like a precision drum line during their elaborate courtship rituals. The flamingo colony, or flamboyance, marches together in shallow water while honking, abruptly switching directions. The birds also head-flag, rhythmically turning their heads side-to-side, and salute each other with outstretched wings to display their contrasting colors. When a female finds a desirable male, she leaves the flamboyance and heads to slightly deeper water. The male vaults onto the female’s back and plants his feet on her wing joints, followed by an acrobatic dismount over her head. After mating, the pair begins building a volcano-shaped mud nest. Females lay a single egg, and both parents take turns incubating it for 28-32 days. Flamingo mating is seasonal, occurring during the rainy season to take advantage of the abundant food and mud.

Unlike flamingos, African lions don’t have a breeding season. Instead, mating usually occurs when a male assumes control of a pride. Lionesses only have a four to seven day estrus window, and the male makes the most of it. Although lions are world-renowned for their marathon sleep sessions, they also break records in the mating category. Lions usually mate for eight to 68 seconds at a time every 25 minutes over a four-day period; pairs may mate up to 100 times in one day! During this time, the male guards the female to keep the competition away. If the mating is successful, three and a half months later the female delivers a litter of one to four cubs. The females in a pride communally nurse their cubs for about seven months.

It may look like he's blowing a kiss, but this male is checking to see if the female is ready to mate.

It may look like he’s blowing a kiss, but this male is checking to see if the female is ready to mate.

While lions have some of the longest mating sessions in the animal kingdom, giraffes have some of the shortest. Copulation lasts barely a second, but it’s no “stretch” to say that giraffes are foreplay nerds. Interested males practically do a litmus test to evaluate females! A male closely follows an estrus female, waiting for the right moment to nudge her hind leg—her cue to urinate. Next, he sips a sample of the urine and curls his upper lip, opening the Jacobson’s organ on the roof of his mouth in a behavior called the Flehmen response. This allows him to test the female’s hormone levels to see if she is ready to breed—picture a connoisseur sampling a fine wine.

This year, forget the fancy dinner and flowers for Valentine’s Day. Come to the Safari Park and marvel at wild romance. Maybe you’ll even imagine strains of Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” playing in the background…

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gaur Game Plan.


Ken and Dixie’s Bite Club

An African lion’s life is typically all about sleeping, napping and resting… but that isn’t necessarily true for the Safari Park’s Lion Camp rock stars. Ken and Dixie managed to start a secret Bite Club in their spare time. Keep reading for the official rules.

The 1st rule of Bite Club is, you don’t talk about Bite Club.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club
Photo by Ion Moe

The 2nd rule is, you DO NOT talk about Bite Club.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club

A few practice chomps or chews are permitted before the bite begins.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club
Photo by Bob Worthington

Stalking your bite is optional.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club
Photo by Angie Bell

If a cub taps out or keepers call for lunch, the bite is over.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club

Two cubs to a bite.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club

No paws, no cheap shots.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club

Bites will go on as long as they have to.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club

No enrichment or outside items.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club



Ken and Dixie's Bite Club

If this is your first time at Bite Club, you have to bite.


Ken and Dixie's Bite Club
Photo by Nathan Rupert

For more lion cub fun, watch the video below.

*Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global.


Eau de Felid: Large Cat Scent Trial

Izu "wears" some of the scented wood shavings well, doesn't he?

As the year comes to a close, I wanted to update everyone on our scent studies. At the beginning of the year we were accepting donations of cologne and perfume to test preferences for our large felids (see Cologne, Perfume Needed for Cats!).  Thanks to all your donations, we had over 200 different types of perfumes and colognes to choose from for the scent trials. We ran the trials this summer with the lions and tigers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and tigers at the San Diego Zoo. The trials were a huge success, and we saw differences between perfumes and also different reactions between the tigers and the lions. What was really exciting is that the tigers at the Zoo showed very similar preferences overall to the tigers at the Safari Park. Similar to previous enrichment studies (see Big Cat Preferences, Part 2), it is quite clear that both species have types of scents that they prefer.

We are currently in the process of trying to raise the rest of the money to conduct a chemical analysis on the preferred perfumes. The analysis will help determine the chemical components of preferred perfumes so that we can make a “tiger” scent or “lion” scent with only the components that overlap from the top perfumes. Next year, we hope to then take the created scents to study the effects as enrichment with the lions and tigers. We also hope to do the same with cheetahs and other felid species in our collection.

Providing environmental enrichment for animals helps keep them both physically and psychologically healthy by promoting species-appropriate behavior and providing the animals some control within their environment. Only through good science can we continue to learn about the animals and their enrichment preferences to provide the highest quality of care for animals within the collection.

I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, and a happy new year!

Lance Miller is a scientist for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.


Big Cat Preferences, Part 2

A lioness enjoys a pumpkin she "hunted" at Lion Camp.

Thanks to our wonderful and dedicated animal care team that takes care of the lions in our collection, the preference trials for the three lions at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Lion Camp have been completed (see Big Cat Preferences). After examining the time spent with the different objects, and the behaviors elicited by the objects, the information we are gathering is very interesting. First of all, while lions are spending some time with the natural scents (for example, warthog feces), the females spent the most time with objects that could be “hunted” (for example, gourds). By contrast, the male lion  almost always scent marks on browse clippings such as acacia. Thinking about the natural history of these animals, the preferences we are observing relate to the behavior of lions in the wild.

In a pride of lions, the females are the hunters, and providing gourds or other objects that can be “hunted” allows the animals to engage in this behavior. Have you ever seen a dog roll in droppings from another animal? Lions roll in feces to hide their scent from prey species, and this is exactly what we are seeing with some of the different scents, including warthog feces, during the preference tests. In addition, male lions mark their territory, and by providing fresh browse we are also providing this opportunity to scent mark.

Moreover, providing environmental enrichment for animals helps keep them both physically and psychologically healthy by promoting species-appropriate behavior and providing the animals some control within their environment. Through assessment of enrichment preferences, we hope to determine not only what the animals prefer, but also which enrichment elicits behavior similar to that observed in the wild. This, in turn, allows the animals to engage in behaviors they are motivated to perform, ensuring we are providing the highest quality of care for animals within the collection.

On your next visit to the Safari Park, you might notice some new cameras at Lion Camp. The next phase of this project will be to examine how different enrichment preferences affect behavior over 24 hours. The cameras that have been installed allow us to examine behavior, even during the evening, to continue to learn more about these complex and amazing animals.

Until next year, happy holidays everyone!

Lance Miller is a scientist for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.


Big Cat Preferences

Hmmm. Sweet or salty?

Do you have a sweet tooth, or do you prefer treats like pretzels? Just as people have individual preferences, so do animals. Here at the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research we are interested in determining individual preferences for some of our animals. Specifically, we are involved in a study examining enrichment preferences for our larger species of felids (lions, tigers, and cheetahs).

Why is this important? Providing environmental enrichment for animals helps keep them both physically and psychologically healthy by promoting species-appropriate behavior and providing the animals some control within their environment. Through assessment of enrichment preferences, we can determine not only what the animals prefer, but also how those enrichment items affect their behavior. Currently, we have eight different objects (for example, gourds and Boomer Balls®) and eight different scents (for example, mint and lavender) that we are assessing to figure out individual and species differences. This will allow us to provide the highest quality of care for the felids at both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park by providing preferred items to animals and also items that promote species-typical behavior.

A young cheetah with a Boomer ball.

The assessment preferences involve pairing up the different items (for example, Boomer Ball versus a cardboard box) and looking at different measures such as time until they interact with each object and total duration of time each animal interacted with both objects. Over time, with enough trials we will be able to determine preferences for each of the cats in the collection. As of now, thanks to the hard work of our dedicated animal care staff, we have successfully completed all of the enrichment assessment trials with our lions and are working to finish the rest of the trials with the tigers and cheetahs. After we have completed the trials, I will update everyone with some of the preferences we are observing with our wonderful felid collection.

Lance Miller is a scientist for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
Read more about enrichment in the post Enrichment: Fun for Everyone.


Botswana: Lions

The trusty Land Rover that took Rick and crew on their adventures

The trusty Land Rover

Rick is currently in Africa to see elephants. Read his previous blog, Botswana: Still Tracking Elephants.

May 6, 2009 (Wednesday)

Today we woke up before sunrise to gather some gear and head out to see if we could find the lions we had been hearing the night before. The air was cool and thick with moisture, dew had settled across the Chobe National Park, and it was just a gorgeous scene as we drove away from camp in the early twilight. Many bird species were starting in with their morning calls and scattered groups of impala were grazing along the way.

We spent a couple of hours driving into areas where Dr. Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders (EWB) was certain we would find the lions. But as the morning light became stronger and it became closer to the time we were due back at camp, it seemed the lions had left the area. We drove around for a bit longer but had no luck.

We started to head back to camp and within a couple of kilometers we spotted fresh lion tracks. We knew they were fresh because we were on the same trail going back to camp that we had taken coming from camp, and the footprints were over our tire tracks! The footprints were going in the direction of camp, though we were still plenty far away. I found it ironic that we initially were going one way while they went the other way.

As we continued down the trail we came across a lone male baboon that paid no attention to us. He was on alert and looked to be very interested in what was in the area beyond the large plants and shrubs to the south of the road. Just a bit further we spotted two more baboons in a dead tree scanning the area just like we were. It seemed we were not the only ones looking for the lions.

Sign at an entrance to Chobe National Park

Sign at an entrance to Chobe National Park

We continued tracking the lions as best we could but then lost the trail once the footprints moved off of the soft dirt and into the high grasses and plants. We looked around for a little bit longer and then headed back to camp. The odds are they were right by us several times, but with the thick plants and bushes in the area we could not see them. However, I am confident that they saw us.

We had breakfast back at camp and then it was time to pack up and say goodbye to our overnights in the field. Next stop for us was the lodge in Kasane, where we are scheduled to be for the next few nights before heading back home to San Diego.

The rest of the day was spent getting settled at the lodge and then catching up with Mike and Kelly Landen at the EWB office. They showed us an elephant corridor that runs through farmlands connecting open land to the river. They also showed us other elephant trails that cut through properties around town. I thought it was pretty cool that the long dirt driveway for EWB was also part of a corridor for the elephants to travel down to the river.

To support our elephant conservation work in Africa and learn more, visit the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy.

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.