11 Animals That Feast Together

Mealtime is a profoundly social activity, and humans aren’t the only species that come together to satiate their nutritional needs. As we prepare to give thanks around heaping tables of festive cooking, let’s consider our friends in the animal kingdom that can also appreciate a meal together.

Lions | 11 Animals That Feast Together

A king may lead a pride of lions, but it’s the females that bring home the actual bacon (aka food). Their smaller and lighter physique makes lionesses more agile and faster when it comes to catching prey. Dinner typically comes at dusk and dawn, after the group takes down and sometimes relocates their meal to a safe spot for feasting.

Zebra | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Herd animals, like zebras, mow the fields together as a group, in part because herd immunity makes larger groups of prey harder to attack. Since zebras are grazing and grinding food for hours each day, their teeth have adapted to grow throughout their lifetime.

Meerkat | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Meerkat mobs understand the value in numbers. Even though individuals typically find their own food, meerkats sometimes share the task of capturing and enjoying larger prey, such as lizards. Let’s be honest—humans typically don’t gather their extended family together for every meal (could you imagine?), but special seasonal moments unite our gang in a similar fashion.

Dholes | Animals That Feast Together

Like other dogs, dholes form super packs that hunt together. Packs range from 5 to 12 members, but sometimes groups will join forces to hunt and share prey before separating into their original smaller packs. This is similar to those distant relatives who come home once or twice a year, if only to score a huge holiday meal.

Gorillas | 11 Animals That Feast Together

In contrast, gorilla troops travel, sleep, and eat together on a regular basis. A gorilla’s diet is made up of primarily plant material, so luckily for them, the forest they call home is like a huge restaurant buffet. Habitat destruction is a major threat facing species like gorillas, so we must work together to preserve the forests these primates and many others feast on.

Orangutan | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Orangutans tend to be more solitary and relaxed than other great ape species, like Thanksgiving dinner party on chill mode. Troop members would rather feed together peacefully, keeping an eye on the youngsters, than swing from tree to tree in search of fruit.

Elephants | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Like gorillas, elephants live in close social groups and graze for browse together to satisfy their healthy appetites. Unlike other mammals, elephants grow throughout their lifetime, so you can imagine how large their habitat needs to be. And like gorilla habitats, we have to do a better job at protecting these areas.

Spotted hyenas | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Spotted hyenas do more than just scavenge for meals together. The bigger the clan, the larger its prey—including young rhinos, wildebeests, zebras, and cape buffalo. After they bag a meal, hyenas bring new meaning to the phrase “lick the plate clean” and eat practically every part of the animal, including the skin, hooves, bone, and teeth. Yum!

Vultures | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Vultures tend to look at any meal as a Thanksgiving meal, because they never know when or where the next one will take place. Once carrion is located, the information is relayed quickly and quietly to surrounding birds, and masses land to join the feast. For nature’s cleanup crew, you don’t want to be the last to the table.

Flamingos | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Flamingos may be pretty in pink, but large swaths of birds, sometimes referred to as a flamboyance, share the same shallow muck during mealtimes. In other words, every bird double dips. Their eating habits involve a lot of backwash, but their bills are specifically designed to filter out mud and trap tiny morsels, including algae, diatoms, and small aquatic crustaceans.

Przewalski's horse | 11 Animals That Feast Together

Mongolian wild horses, aka Przewalski’s horses, live in distinct social groups that spend large amounts of time grooming one another. When they aren’t reinforcing social bonds and keeping each other clean and tidy, members all graze and rest together, too.


Join the conversation: Which animals would you add to this list of social eaters?


Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 14 Adorable Baby Animal Facts.


Aisha Turns Two


Aisha is becoming more independent, agile, and bold!

Two years have flown by and our little girl had another birthday (October 25)! Recently, we have a seen a lot of milestones in Aisha’s behavior. She is becoming more independent and Indah is more comfortable letting her explore on her own. In just the last two months, we have seen Aisha follow her mom to the front glass, increase her amount of play with her “aunties,” and even come down to the ground on her own.

Indah has started to leave Aisha and is letting her decide if she wants to follow. Most of the time, Aisha decides to join her. But the first few times Aisha walked on the ground, she was very hesitant; she particularly did not like the sand at the front of the exhibit and called for her mom to get her, so she did not have to touch it. She now crawls across it with little hesitation.

We have even seen her come to the ground without anyone being near. At first she came to the ground because Indah or another orangutan was there.  But recently she came and pulled grass to eat and play with when no one else was around. All of this behavior is mimicking what she has seen from her mom.
In just the past week, we have seen an increase in the length of play between Aisha and Janey and Karen (the latter in particular). Karen clambers up into the climbing structure near Aisha and waits for the youngster to initiate play. (Aisha will leave if Karen is too pushy and tries to touch her first.)  They play and wrestle on the ropes and in the hammocks. Sometimes it looks quite rough, but it is all play behavior. When Janey wants to play with Aisha, she goes to a spot on the ground that she knows the little one can reach from a rope or tree and waits for her to come to her. Once Aisha is more comfortable on the ground, I suspect we will see a lot more play between her and Janey.

The bond between Aisha and Indah continues to be incredibly strong. Aisha still goes to mom whenever she is anxious, and we have not ever separated Aisha from Indah. We are starting to work with them to be comfortable separating from one another. We want to be able to get frequent weights on Aisha—this is important for the species database on what is the normal range for a parent-raised infant. We also want to start her operant training so we can monitor her health as she grows and becomes an adult.

Tanya Howard is senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Siamangs Play Nice with Baby Orangutan Aisha.


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.


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.


7 Animals That Look Like Star Wars Characters

Look closer. That’s not Master Yoda, it’s an aye aye. “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not, hmmmm?”

Remember the cantina scene in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope? This white-faced saki belongs in it.

Chewie? Is that you? Oh no, it’s just Satu the orangutan. Remember, “It’s not wise to upset a Wookiee.”

This baby pygmy loris looks like its straight from a galaxy far far away.

Your Monday #adorable – baby pygmy loris

A video posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

No, these aren’t ewoks from the forest moon of Endor, they’re pygmy marmosets from the forests of South America.

Watch out Han Solo, this African toad is Jabba the Hut’s doppelganger.

Saiga antelope look like they live alongside womprats in the deserts of Tatooine.

Judging by that long snout, Saiga antelope also may have been the inspiration behind the most polarizing Star Wars character, the infamous (gasp) Jar Jar Binks.

Have any animals to add to the list? Let us know in the comments. May the 4th be with you.


Matt Steele is senior social media planner. Read his previous post, Best of Vine: Zoo.


Siamangs Play Nice With Baby Orangutan Aisha

Aisha learning the ropes

Aisha learning the ropes

All day long, Aisha can be seen on exhibit with the rest of the orangutans and now the siamangs, too. In December, after careful consideration, the introductions were made between Indah and Aisha and the siamangs. In the weeks prior, visual introductions were done inside where the siamangs could come near mom and baby but remain separate. We saw no negative interactions and even some interest from Aisha toward the siamangs. This lead us to believe that this time around should be different (ten years ago, the siamangs aggressively chased Indah and her baby, Cinta). And for sure, this time around was completely different.

Indah was in charge of the introduction from the beginning. Whenever she thought the siamangs were getting too close or too inquisitive, she chased them off and made them leave her. There wasn’t any aggression or fighting ever during the entire process. The siamangs were interested in Aisha and continue to be.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

We see Unkie and Ellie play with Aisha (under Indah’s close supervision). They will grab her hair or arm or leg and Aisha will work at getting away and then as soon as she is ‘free,’ she goes right back to them. We also see them swing their foot near her trying to get her to grab it.

Karen has been interacting with Aisha more, hanging near her on the climbing structures. Aisha is spending more time away from Indah and Karen will go up into the tree to be near her. Janey hasn’t had much interaction with her but I figure once Aisha is on the ground more Janey will be playing with her and checking her out.

At 15 months, Aisha is near 15 lbs and has 2 canines coming in-16 teeth in total.

The orangutans can be seen in the exhibit from 9am to 4:30pm.

BONUS: Watch the video of Aisha’s first birthday


Tanya Howard is senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


11 Orange Animals to Get You in the Fall Spirit

After a long, warm summer, it’s finally fall in San Diego, and orange is the color of the season. It turns out that orange is also a prominent color in the Animal Kingdom, as proven by these 11 stunning creatures that wear the color beautifully.

Tigers are perhaps the most iconic orange member of the Animal Kingdom. You might think their bright-orange coloration would make them stand out in the lush greenery of their native habitat, but it actually has the opposite effect. Orange and green are in the same color range when viewed in black and white, and it just so happens that prey animals see in black and white. Black stripes help further camouflage tigers, making them near invisible to prey.

Orangutans are another iconic carrot-topped animal. Aside from their stoic problem-solving intelligence and skilled tool use, orangutans are also known for having super rockin’ hairdos.


Red river hogs, native to Africa, are about as orange as it gets. And as cute as it gets.


The largest South American canid and tallest of all canids, the maned wolf, also sports beautiful light-orange coloration and long black “socks.” Despite its name, the maned wolf is not a wolf at all, and despite its fox-like appearance, it’s not a fox, either. It’s actually the only species in the genus Chrysocyon (meaning golden dog).


The red panda, aka “fire fox,” is admired for its charming face and gorgeous orange, white, and cinnamon coloration–as well as for  its formidable agility. Despite its name, red pandas have nothing in common with giant pandas. For many years, red pandas were classified as part of the Procyonidae family, which includes raccoons and their relatives. But DNA studies show that red pandas represent a unique family that diverged from the rest of the Carnivore Order, and scientists place them in their own unique family: Ailuridae.

red panda


It doesn’t get much more orange than the Guinean cock-of-the-rock. Native to South America, this bird not only has the coolest name ever but also the best fashion sense.


One of the largest African antelope species, the bongo, is characterized by its unique orange coloration with striking white stripes and slightly spiraled horns. They’re also known for being incredibly adorable.

The Gila monster is one of the most-feared orange reptiles, but its fearsome reputation is largely unwarranted. True, they are venomous, and their bite is painful to humans, but it rarely causes death. The biggest problem you might have if a Gila monster bit you is trying to get the lizard to release its grip. But you really shouldn’t worry, as Gila monsters tend to avoid humans and other large animals.

Aside from being known for their unique orange plumage and blue, vulture-like head, capuchin birds are also known for the super-strange call they emit in their native South American forests. Many have likened it to a cow mooing.

With their beautiful fluorescent coloration, poison frogs are a sight to behold. But beware, as their skin contains enough toxins to kill up to 100 people. Poison frogs are often called poison dart frogs because the Choco Indians in South America use the frogs’ poison to coat the tips of the blow darts they use for hunting.


Orange julius butterflies boast striking orange coloration, easily standing out in almost any garden. However, butterfly wings are actually clear—the colors and patterns we see are made by the reflection of the tiny scales covering them.

Did we miss any? If you think of any other orange animals, let us know in the comments.


Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 13 Animals That Are So Over Being Awake.

A Gila monster bite is painful to humans but rarely causes death. The biggest problem you might have if a Gila monster bit you is trying to get the lizard to release its grip! But you really shouldn’t worry, as Gila monsters tend to avoid humans and other large animals. – See more at: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/gila-monster#sthash.nzmBtJrS.dpuf
For many years, red pandas were classified as part of the Procyonidae family, which includes raccoons and their relatives. But DNA studies show that red pandas represent a unique family that diverged from the rest of the Carnivore Order, and scientists place them in their own unique family: Ailuridae. – See more at: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/red-panda#sthash.1m4HBmEz.dpuf

On the Palm Oil Path: A Journey to Sustainability

Making informed palm-oil decisions can help Indah and Aisha's wild brethren.

Making informed palm-oil decisions can help Indah and Aisha’s wild brethren.

When you watch the San Diego Zoo’s orangutans brachiating from branch to branch, it’s easy to picture the movement of wild apes through the canopy of those big trees in Borneo and Sumatra. Watching our sun bear Marcella sleep high in her climbing structure, you can envision a wild sun bear resting up in the canopy close to the fruit of a monstrous tree. There are a number of species that depend on the lush forests of tropical Southeast Asia, and these species are now at risk due to rampant deforestation and loss of habitat. As mentioned in a previous post, The Palm Oil Conservation Crisis, one of the major drivers of that deforestation is unsustainable palm oil cultivation.

The palm oil conservation crisis is a highly complex problem that cannot be solved overnight. However, San Diego Zoo Global has waded into the issue and hopes to contribute to a solution that can preserve forests and the wildlife that depends on them. Our first step was to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a multi-stakeholder organization that has produced a series of criteria aimed at altering the palm oil supply chain to produce a sustainable crop. (See press release Three US Zoos Take Leadership Role in Supporting Sustainable Palm Oil Practices.) The goal of the RSPO is to make certified sustainable palm oil the norm, thus ending the unsustainable practices that endanger forests. The RSPO is a young organization, and though it has made great strides in its 10 years, there is still a long way to go toward ensuring that palm oil is deforestation-free.

This is the reason North American zoos and aquariums are stepping up to address this issue, too. As conservation entities, we want to ensure a wild future for the species many of our guests see at our facilities. I just returned from the first Sustainable Palm Oil Symposium, hosted by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. Cheyenne Mountain was the first North American zoo to join the RSPO, and in hosting this symposium they helped to facilitate a dialogue among concerned zoos about what we can do, collectively and as individual institutions. We got an on-the-ground perspective from attending NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that work in Malaysia and Indonesia, and this allowed us to have a better understanding of what parts of the industry are likely to be most responsive to our efforts. It was really inspiring to be surrounded by like-minded folks who are as passionate about the palm oil conservation crisis as we are. Zoos around the world are raising awareness of the problem and are trying to encourage the transformation of the palm oil industry to sustainability. At the symposium, we realized that we might wield a powerful voice if we unite in our efforts.

That is very much our goal now. I hope to share with you some of our efforts and accomplishments over the next several months. In the meantime, you can help by supporting the RSPO’s vision to transform the palm oil industry. Think of this transformation as a journey toward sustainability. Zoos, corporations, and even the RSPO are on a journey, each of us in a different place, but the goal is clear. San Diego Zoo Global supports those companies that are making progress toward a sustainable palm oil industry. We encourage you to support the RSPO and those RSPO-member companies that are taking steps along their journey to sustainability, too.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.


The Palm Oil Conservation Crisis

Sun bears are the smallest of the bears, but they face a big crisis.

Sun bears are the smallest of the bears, but they face a big crisis.

The San Diego Zoo is home to a pair of Bornean sun bears, Marcella and Francis. Sun bears are the smallest of the eight living species of bear and are well adapted to life in their native jungle home. Being small and light makes it easier for them to climb, an important behavior when the trees in your forest can stretch as tall as 80 meters (more than 260 feet), and the fruit they bear is held aloft. If you need to eat, you need to climb! Sun bears have other adaptations for climbing, too: claws to dig into the bark and bare paws to reduce slipping as they ascend or descend. But these physical and behavioral features aren’t put to good use if their jungle home is denuded of trees. Unfortunately, sun bears have been losing trees, and habitat, to palm oil cultivation.

Have you heard about the palm oil conservation crisis? A major driver of deforestation on a grand scale, unsustainable palm oil cultivation poses a threat to plants and animals that live in the tropical regions where it grows best. In Malaysia and Indonesia, where about 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is grown, ancient forests are cleared to make way for new plantings. This eliminates habitat for the vast array of species that call those forests home. Orangutans, tigers, sun bears, hornbills, tapirs, pangolins, orchids…all are increasingly at risk due to the continuous expansion of the palm oil industry. In some cases, this expansion threatens species with extinction; orangutans, for example, are found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where palm oil cultivation is firmly entrenched. If we can’t put a stop to the unchecked deforestation resulting from farming this commodity, the estimated 50,000 remaining wild orangutans there may someday soon cease to exist.

Why is the palm oil industry growing so rapidly? It’s primarily because the human population is growing, and with it is an increasing need to supply us with food and materials for our daily lives. To that end, oil palm is an extremely versatile crop and can be used in a wide array of products, from food items to bath and hygiene products to biofuels. As a result, palm oil or its derivatives are an ingredient in about 50 percent of the products on the shelves in a typical US supermarket. Everything from sodas to soaps, from peanut butter to packaged cookies, from toothpaste to dinner rolls…all might contain palm oil.

But palm oil is not all bad. For one thing, it’s a very efficient crop to produce. An acre of palm oil plantings produces 4 to 10 times as much oil for sale as other options like soybean or sunflower oil. Palm uses less land to create a volume of edible oil for human consumption than any other choice. This is an important reason why boycotting palm oil is not a good conservation solution; to boycott is to simply push the land-clearance problem off to some other commodity. It only takes a little effort to uncover how the growth of the soybean industry in South America has created a conservation crisis of its own. Thus, avoiding palm oil in favor of other options does not avoid putting biodiversity at risk. Another factor to consider: palm oil has elevated the lives of millions of Malaysian and Indonesian families, and as many as 30 million families worldwide are economically dependent upon palm oil for their livelihoods.

So how do we North Americans, and conservation organizations like San Diego Zoo Global, begin to address this complex issue? In my next post, I will explore this topic in depth and share with you the actions we are taking. As you learn more about the palm oil conservation crisis, we hope you’ll be inspired to take action, too. In doing so, we can preserve some of those big trees for future generations of wild sun bears like Marcella and Francis.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Xiao Liwu: Weaning Wrap-up.


Orangutan Personalities

Janey bonds with a young Zoo guest.

Janey bonds with a young Zoo guest.

Ever wonder about the personalities of the orangutans and siamangs you watch on Ape Cam? Wonder no more! Here’s a quick guide to help you tell “who’s who.”

Janey is the oldest animal in the exhibit. At approximately 52 years old, her hair is thinning on her back and shoulders, and her toes are curled up (it is painful for her to straighten them out). You may see her crutch-walking on exhibit. She is on medications, due to her age, for pain and gut mobility. She is our only Borean orangutan, born in the wild around 1962. She remains interested in “human items” due to the fact that she was hand raised and in private hands for the first half of her life. Her favorite spots in the exhibit are at the exhibit glass and in her zen/sun spot down the hill. She gets along with everyone in the group. But do not let her old age fool you! She lets her feelings be known, and she stands her ground.

Karen was born at the Zoo on June 11, 1992, and was hand raised. She survived a widely publicized open-heart surgery in 1994. Karen is very short and round (a no-neck girl!). Her hair is shorter than Janey and Indah’s, and her eyes are yellow. She has a LOT of personality, is very stubborn and willful but remains a keeper and guest favorite. Karen likes to twirl around on the sturdy bamboo poles in the exhibit. She also likes to roll around instead of walking when out there (she will and can walk, but chooses not to!).

Indah likes to sit in the far right (east) climbing structure. She rarely comes down to the ground, and then only to get food and be at the popular man-made termite mound to grab a snack. Indah is the pretty one of the group with long, flowing hair and a large bump in the middle of her forehead. She is very slow to warm up to new people, but she likes the siamangs and shares her food with them occasionally (an unusual behavior in the primate world!). She was a very doting mother to little Aisha, born in 2013.

Satu is our lone male orangutan and is Aisha’s father. He was born on March 26, 1995. His cheek pads and dreadlocks filled out once his father, Clyde, moved to another zoo. Satu has a sweet disposition and can usually be seen slightly down the hill in a bed of pappas grass. He is quite playful and often plays with the two siamangs that share the exhibit.

Aisha is our newest orangutan, born on October 25, 2013, to mother Indah. So far, her mother is doing a great job of caring for her, and little Aisha is skilled at clinging to Mom’s chest as the pair travel up poles and across the ropes. What fun we’ll have watching her grow!

Of our two siamangs, Unkie is much leaner than Eloise and his face is more angular. Siamangs pair bond for the life of their mate, and Unkie and Ellie have been together since 1987 and can often be heard singing duets.

Unkie, born on October 19, 1983, is usually the instigator with the orangutans; he likes to steal their food, pull on their hair, and swat at them. Eloise, born on April 17, 1981, has a visible belly and a bare chest. There is a discolored line of hair down the middle of her back. She has had five offspring with Unkie. The siamangs both are very sweet, not too aggressive to people or their orangutan roommates.

Now that you know a bit more about them, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy watching all the action on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post,


Awww: Mother and Daughter Sumatran Orangutans Spend Morning on Exhibit at the San Diego Zoo

Orangutan Indah and babyA two-week-old, female Sumatran orangutan at the San Diego Zoo is cradled by her mother, Indah, who inspects the baby’s hands and fingers. The baby, sporting shaggy, reddish-orange hair in tufts was born with spindly arms, longer than her body, and a natural instinct to hold tightly to her mother.

Indah gave birth to the baby Oct. 25 in her off-exhibit bedroom under the watchful eyes of her keepers. Animal care staff report the little primate is healthy, nursing, and being very well taken care of by her protective and attentive mother. This is the second baby born to Indah, and dad, Satu, who shares the same habitat but takes no role in caring for the youngster.

The baby and her mother can be seen in their exhibit on Orangutan Trail at the San Diego Zoo. They also may be watched on the Zoos Ape cam at www.sandiegozoo.org/apecam.

Orangutans are native to the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, with an estimate of less than 7,000 remaining in the wild. Their populations have declined drastically in recent years as a result of habitat conversion to palm oil plantations, over-harvesting of timber and human encroachment.

CONTACT: San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations, 619-685-3291