Uncategorized

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

0

Drought: Reptiles Don’t Like It, Either!

A cell phone photo taken of the habitat at the Safari Park Reserve in August 2014 shows just how devastating the drought has been on our local habitats.

A cell phone photo taken of the habitat at the Safari Park Reserve in August 2014 shows just how devastating the drought has been on our local habitats.

The drought has been awful for Southern California residents: dry, hot days, water restrictions, and a brown landscape. These are things we can all live with, but for our resident native reptiles and amphibians, drought can be a life-or-death situation. I have been working in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Biodiversity Reserve (a 900-acre area adjacent to the Safari Park) for 15 years studying the reptile and amphibian species that call it home. This year I began a project studying a relatively rare coastal sage scrub species, the coastal patch-nosed snake Salvadora hexalepis virgultea. My plan was to capture at least 10 animals and implant them with radio transmitters so I could follow their movements and study their ecology. On normal rainfall years I see an average of eight of these wonderful snakes, so I figured that if I actively searched for them, I would be able to get a good sample size to study. However, I did not count on the drought being so intense.

Snakes get most of their water from the food they eat, and when there is no water, the food disappears as well. Many of our small, native animals tend to stay underground during such “tough times” and await better weather. Not only did many of the prey species disappear over the spring and summer, but the snakes also stayed deep underground to conserve moisture. Some snakes and other reptiles came to the surface for a brief period during the breeding season (April through June), and I was able to find a couple of patch-nosed snakes for my study. Unfortunately, reptile activity ceased altogether soon after. On a good spring day in a year with normal rainfall, I can find up to 20 snakes belonging to 8 to 10 different species in a single day. This year, in stark contrast to normal expectations, my best snake day yielded just two snakes. In addition, I spent nearly every day in the field for seven weeks in May and June and only saw two rattlesnakes. As the summer progressed and the habitat became more and more dry, very little lizard and snake activity was observed.

A red diamond rattlesnake found during a cover board array survey in 2010 at the Safari Park Biodiversity Reserve shows how lush and green the hills were that year.

A red diamond rattlesnake found during a cover board array survey in 2010 at the Safari Park Biodiversity Reserve shows how lush and green the hills were that year.

August is often our driest month, so we rarely see many animals in the field at that time. We often wait until late September before we start seeing hatchlings and juveniles along with occasional adult animals. This year, the young snakes have been virtually nonexistent, and that makes sense. If the adult female snakes and lizards cannot gain enough body mass, they generally will not reproduce. Since most of our wild animals stayed underground for much of the year, they probably did not feed and therefore were unsuccessful in breeding.

Last week I saw firsthand how difficult the drought has been on our native snakes. While walking through the coastal sage, I found a large, female red diamond rattlesnake Crotalus ruber. She was very thin and could barely move. I presume she had recently given birth (rattlesnakes in San Diego County give birth to live young in August and September) and just did not have enough body mass to make it through her pregnancy. No baby snakes were found in the vicinity, and I can only hope this female pulls through. If she had babies, they will, hopefully, be able to hold out until the rains eventually arrive.

A cell phone photo shows an emaciated red-diamond rattlesnake at the Reserve in September, 2014. Many of our local reptiles and amphibians are suffering from the recent drought.

A cell phone photo shows an emaciated red-diamond rattlesnake at the Reserve in September, 2014. Many of our local reptiles and amphibians are suffering from the recent drought.

In over 30 years of field “herping” (searching for reptiles and amphibians), I have not experienced drought conditions worse than those seen in 2013 and 2014. In fact, the North American Field Herping Association has shown just how bad the drought has been on Southern California snakes. When comparing non-drought year data from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2012, with drought year data from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2014, for snakes found in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, 4,971 snakes (1,055 hatchlings) were found between 2010 and 2012 whereas only 2,888 snakes (680 hatchlings) were found from 2012 to 2014. It is also interesting to note that there were more contributors to the database in the latter years, so roughly half the snakes were found by considerably more field herpers in the drought years than in the normal rainfall years, and roughly half the hatchling snakes were found in the drought years than in the normal years.

Here's a portrait of a healthy long-nosed snake in the Safari Park Biodiversity Reserve in 2009.

Here’s a portrait of a healthy long-nosed snake in the Safari Park Biodiversity Reserve in 2009.

So what does this all mean? Nobody can be certain right now. We do know that our climate has boom and bust years and drought and rainfall totals are very cyclical for most areas of the world. However, our findings to date do suggest that climate change is occurring at a rapid pace, and we all need to do our part to protect the environment and our natural resources, especially the snakes!

Jeff Lemm is a senior research coordinator in the Behavioral Ecology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

6

No Hakuna Matata for this King

Little Evelyn finds that her father makes a fun chew toy!

Little Evelyn finds that her father makes a fun chew toy!

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s king celebrated Father’s Day on October 2, 2014, but the father in question wasn’t too happy about this. Izu, the Park’s male African lion, met his four newest cubs for the first time on exhibit before the Park opened to the public. Cubs Ernest, Evelyn, Marion, and Miss Ellen were born on June 22, 2014, to mother Oshana. The cubs were named for Ernest and Evelyn Rady, Marion Wilson, and Ellen Browning Scripps, all major benefactors of San Diego Zoo Global.

To prepare for the introduction, Izu and his cubs had been eyeing each other through protective barriers for the last month. Animals thrown together at random often don’t do well; keepers carefully plan introductions in stages to get the animals used to one another. Before the morning meeting on exhibit, Izu and his cubs met face to face through a “howdy door,” a door made of heavy steel mesh so they could see, smell, and hear one another. According to keeper Amy Whidden-Winter, the cubs swatted Izu’s tail, and he jumped up on a bench to get away from them. The King of the Jungle is a scaredy-cat!

On October 2, 2014, I arrived at the Park early and was lucky enough to see the lion family introduction. The keepers let Oshana and her four cubs into the outdoor exhibit first, followed immediately by Izu. He eyed the cubs and tried to sidle away from them along the edge of the exhibit. Evelyn led her siblings, with little Ernest bringing up the rear, on a stalk-and-pounce chase of Izu. Evelyn and Marion snuck up behind Izu when his back was turned and retreated as soon as he looked around. Occasionally, the bravest cubs ran up and tagged his back. Izu swatted them away like flies, and even tried spraying to mark his territory. Unfortunately for Izu, cubs don’t care about territory boundaries, and these cubs are particularly persistent and precocious.

As the morning wore on, the cubs got more and more daring. Oshana would occasionally look up from her nap when a cub hissed or Izu roared particularly loudly, but she wasn’t perturbed by the cubs’ antics. They were clearly Izu’s problem now, and it was her turn for a long-overdue catnap. According to the keepers, the four cubs have been keeping Oshana awake constantly; for a lioness used to sleeping up to 20 hours per day, that’s not desirable. Izu eventually succumbed to fatherhood: the cubs rolled on him, bit his ears, and swatted at his mane. With only an occasional roar of protest, and some hilarious facial expressions, Izu became the new babysitter. I could swear Oshana smiled in her sleep.

Visitors to the Safari Park can see Izu and Oshana on exhibit with the four cubs every morning. In the afternoon, 10-month-olds Ken and Dixie, Oshana and Izu’s first litter this year, might be on exhibit. Or Mina, the other adult female lioness in the pride, might be on exhibit with Izu to give him a well-earned respite from fatherhood. Hang in there, Izu!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Who Likes the Rain: Giraffes, Rhinos, or Elephants?

6

Who Likes Rain: Giraffes, Rhinos, or Elephants?

Giraffes come to a Caravan Safari truck to see if tasty acacia leaves are being handed out.

Giraffes come to a Caravan Safari truck to see if tasty acacia leaves are being handed out.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s weather patterns parallel those in our animals’ native African habitats: hot, dry, and sunny for most of the year with a rainy season from October through April. Like California, East Africa is prone to flash floods, droughts, and fires. So most of the animals in the African field exhibits at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park feel right at home.

Our animals also display seasonal preferences. Safari Park giraffes are most active during the summer months. Six giraffe calves were born this summer! The giraffes range across their entire 60-acre habitat and chow down on acacia leaves offered by guests on Caravan Safari tours. Frankly, it’s difficult to manage more than one giraffe feeding at a time on a Caravan Safari truck. Acacia leaves are the giraffes’ favorite part of their diet. The giraffes are so excited to eat from the guests’ hands that during the summer they descend on the trucks en masse and can get a little pushy with each other—but it’s quite fun for our guests!

If it’s raining, the giraffes huddle together under palm trees or man-made shelters and refuse to approach the Caravan Safari trucks for acacia leaves. My observations indicate that giraffes don’t like rain and prefer the dry, summer months.

A mud wallow hits the spot for this white rhino.

A mud wallow hits the spot for this white rhino.

Rhinos and elephants are a different story. Southern white rhinos and African elephants are the Safari Park’s largest animals and need to stay cool in the summer. Some of our rhinos also spent this past summer pregnant, with 150 pounds of added weight. You can imagine how uncomfortable that was. To stay cool, they rest in the shade or wallow in man-made watering holes. When the mud from the watering holes dries on their skin, it acts like sunscreen and insect repellent to help protect their hairless skin from the harsh African or Escondido sun.

But when a storm first breaks over the Safari Park, the rhinos and elephants race around their exhibits, vocalizing to each other. I have never seen rhino and elephant calves as playful as they are during a rainstorm. Typically, only about one third of Caravan Safari tours get to feed the greater one-horned rhinos. During a rainstorm, the probability increases. That is, if the rhinos stop frolicking in the rain long enough to eat apples!

Unfortunately, California has been experiencing one of its severest droughts on record, which has impacted the Safari Park in innumerable ways. A lack of rainwater to irrigate the African field habitats is one. The majority of the grass in these habitats is African kikuyu grass, a hardy, water-wise species. However, it does need to be watered occasionally, because many of the ungulates in these habitats are grazers and depend on the grass for food. The keepers supplement the animals’ diets with hay, alfalfa, and pellets multiple times per day, but most of the ungulates are nature’s lawnmowers and instinctively perform natural grazing behaviors.

Additionally, the southern white rhinos, elephants, and Cape buffalo enjoy a gooey mud wallow. Without rainfall to restock the wallows, water recycled from the Safari Park’s water treatment plant and ponds fills the void. In this way, the Safari Park animals experience the advantages of a wet season without adding pressure to the California water shortage.

Hopefully it will rain in San Diego soon! Does anyone know a rain dance?

Elise Newman is a Safari Caravan guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Personable Petunia.

3

To Fledge or not to Fledge…

Su'nan is back in her nest...for now!

Su’nan is back in her nest…for now!

That is the question.

Fledging is the process in which a young bird leaves the nest. We consider a California condor chick to be fledged when it can fly to the higher perches in the flight pen, approximately 10 feet off the ground. When condor chicks fledge, they tend to be 140 to 150 days old. The youngest bird to fledge here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was 123 days old. Su’nan in now 162 days old, but she has yet to fledge.

Many viewers have been worried about this Condor Cam chick’s health and/or development. First of all, let me assure you that Su’nan is very healthy and safe. We are not concerned that she is a “late bloomer.” Although she may be a little behind compared to some of our condor chicks, we have had birds fledge even later than this.

Our condor nest boxes are on the second floor of the condor breeding facility. The nests have one entrance that leads to the roost area. The entrance has an 18-inch barrier at the base to prevent young hatchlings from wandering out of our camera’s view. This barrier also provides exercise for the chick when it is big enough to start jumping up onto the barrier. The roost area is open to the flight pen and has a ledge that is about 8 feet above the ground. There is a 5-inch-diameter pole leaning from the ground to the ledge; we call this the “pole ladder.” The condors can walk up or down this pole ladder to get to or from the nest; they can, of course, fly to the nest as well.

Early in the day on September 24, at 149 days of age, Su’nan walked down the pole ladder into the flight pen for the first time. Her parents, Towich and Sulu, kept a close eye on her as she investigated her new surroundings. She drank from the pool, even dunking her head in the water. She picked at old food from the ground. She had a fun time hopping around and flapping her wings. Towich and Sulu watched nervously, making sure their chick was safe and didn’t stray too far from the nest. At one point, when she did move to where her parents were uncomfortable, they corralled her back toward the nest. Frustration ensued and some firm discipline followed. Please note that Towich and Sulu were merely trying to protect their chick, their “investment,” you might say! Su’nan did not take kindly to this, and she stayed on the ground, hiding behind a sumac bush for the remainder of the day. Towich and Sulu made attempts to try to get her back up the pole ladder and back into the nest, but Su’nan did not comply. Su’nan spent that night out of the nest, on the ground in the pen. Her parents perched nearby to watch over her.

The next morning, after Towich and Sulu again tried to move her toward the nest, she finally climbed back up the pole ladder and quickly hopped back into the nest box. She stayed in there for several days, eventually warming back up to her parents’ company. Regular feeding bouts were reestablished. She has been a little standoffish with Towich, but he is the one to do most of the disciplining and preening—two necessary activities that the chicks don’t seem to appreciate. Sulu usually just comes into the nest to feed; naturally, Su’nan is more excited to see her! It’s important to note that BOTH parents are still heavily invested in this chick and are trying their best to ensure her success.

When condor chicks fledge in the wild, it can be a long process as well. They often walk around the mouth of their nest cave, hopping about, testing their wings. They may hop or climb into nearby shrubs or trees to get a better vantage point. Very seldom do chicks just spring forth from their nest into the wild, blue yonder. They usually need to exercise and build their abilities before embarking on such a dangerous venture. Mom and Dad are always present to escort or protect the chicks, too. Parent condors can be very vigilant and defensive of their chicks. After all, much energy and many resources went into producing just this one chick, so they try very hard to ensure success for their only nestling. One pair of condors in California actually chased a black bear away from the nest!

Su’nan is starting to come back out into the roost and onto the ledge. She has been seen testing her wings on the ledge in the morning sun. Her wings are looking nice and full. Hopefully soon, she will take that next step and fledge into the flight pen. When she does, we will be sure to switch the Condor Cam view to the pen view so you can watch her.

So what’s next for Su’nan once she fledges? She’ll stay in the pen with her parents for a little while longer. She is still learning from them. In the wild, condor chicks stay with or around their parents for up to 18 months. We don’t let them stay that long here at the Park. If we did, the next breeding season would probably be compromised; the presence of the fledgling may prevent the parents from breeding the next year, or the parents may turn aggressive to the chick if they try to nest again. Soon, Su’nan will be removed from her parents so they can prepare for the next breeding season, and she will be introduced to other birds her age and an adult bird to act as a behavioral mentor.

And on that note, we have some exciting news! This year, we were able to install some cameras at our remote socialization pen at the Safari Park. Once Su’nan is moved up there with the other young condors, we will be able to provide a view from those cameras, so you will be able to watch Su’nan for much longer than you were able to watch the previous Condor Cam chicks, Saticoy and Cuyamaca.

The interest and enthusiasm over the hatch and growth of Su’nan have been wonderful. We really appreciate all of the comments and questions we have received throughout her development. Thanks again for all of your patience and support. We couldn’t do it without you!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick Fostering: Close to Fledging.

8

Personable Petunia

greater 1-horned rhinos Petunia and TanayaPetunia, the newest greater one-horned rhino calf at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, was born to Tanaya on August 1, 2014. The keepers heaved a collective sigh of relief when she and Tanaya were released from the maternity corral into the 40-acre Asian Plains exhibit with the other greater one-horned rhinos. When Petunia was born, she was diminutive by rhino standards, weighing only 128 pounds (58 kilograms) instead of the usual 132 to 176 pounds (60 to 80 kilograms). Additionally, Tanaya was having trouble producing milk for Petunia, so the keepers treated her with a drug to increase milk production. As a result, the concerned keepers kept 24-hour surveillance on Tanaya and Petunia in the maternity corral for the first few weeks of Petunia’s life.

Petunia is now a spunky, vibrant part of our greater one-horned rhino crash. She and Tanaya were released into the Asian Plains exhibit with the rest of the rhinos when Petunia was four weeks old. Tanaya took Petunia on a tour of her new home and has been the model protective rhino mom, never straying from Petunia’s side. But Tanaya’s strides are so large that Petunia trots to keep up with her. To escape the heat, Petunia has been exploring the mud wallows throughout the exhibit. She is still so tiny that she sometimes sits on top of Tanaya’s feet to keep her head above water!

As Petunia gets more comfortable in her new habitat, she gets braver. I have even seen Petunia surreptitiously investigate Parvesh, the seven- month-old greater one-horned rhino calf (see post Rhino Calf Makes Own Rules). When Tanaya catches her straying toward the toddler, she quickly ushers Petunia away. Petunia is a bit too small to play with Parvesh right now, but as she continues to gain weight, she will be big enough to romp around the exhibit with her half brother. She may even catch up to him in size, as rhino calves gain about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) per month during their first year of life. Watch out, Parvesh! Petunia might be the new boss in the exhibit.

Petunia is the 67th greater one-horned rhino calf born at the Safari Park, making the Park the principal breeding center in the world for this species. The Safari Park officially celebrated World Rhino Day on September 22, but guests who love Petunia and the other rhinos as much as I do celebrate World Rhino Day every day!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

9

Luke, a Leucistic Waterbuck

Little Luke would normally be brown like his mother.

Little Luke would normally be brown like his mother.

Luke, a leucistic ellipsen waterbuck calf, was born in the South African exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on September 6, 2014. What in the world is that, you ask?

An ellipsen waterbuck is a 400-pound (180 kilograms), shaggy African antelope. Waterbuck are grazers and escape into lakes and rivers to avoid predators. Lions and hyenas are not good swimmers, but the waterbuck’s oily coat is water repellent and makes them buoyant as they swim away from these carnivores. Ellipsen waterbuck are distinctive because they have white rings on their rump, like a bulls-eye. This “follow-me” mark allows a waterbuck to identify its herd members.

Luke is unique because he is leucistic. Leucism is a genetic condition where pigment cells don’t develop properly. The word leucism comes from the Greek word leukos, meaning white. Albinism is often mistaken for leucism, but albino animals are only missing the melanin pigment. Leucistic animals are missing all pigments in either patches or over the entire surface of their bodies. Albino animals commonly have red eyes because they lack the melanin to color the irises and turn them opaque, so the blood vessels show through the translucent irises. Leucistic animals have normally colored eyes. Leucism is a well-documented phenomenon. Piebald horses are partially leucistic. The white tigers seen around the world in zoos in the 1980s and1990s demonstrate recessive genes for leucism.


Luke is not alone. His condition is rare but not unheard of, and it shouldn’t affect his development in any way. Luke’s mother, a traditionally colored ellipsen waterbuck, was pregnant for eight months before giving birth to Luke in the exhibit. Luke looks like the negative of his mom: instead of a chestnut-brown coat, Luke’s is bright white. Instead of a white bull’s-eye ring on his rump, Luke has a black ring. Instead of white eyebrows, Luke’s are black. In fact, if you look at a photo negative of Luke and his mom, Luke would look normal and his mom would look leucistic.

Initially, keepers were worried that Luke’s mom would reject him for looking different. Instead, she has been fiercely protective of him. Ellipsen waterbuck calves are “tuckers” for two to four weeks, meaning the mother tucks her offspring in a hiding place so she can forage. Luke’s mom has been hiding him in various spots throughout the Safari Park field exhibit. But she has been more attentive than the mothers of most tuckers and has isolated herself from the rest of her herd to spend time with him. She even chased away the curious herd of Cape buffalo that came to investigate her unusual baby.

The next time you visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, see if you can spot Luke and his mom during an Africa Tram tour.

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Rhino Calf Makes Own Rules.

6

Rhino Calf Makes Own Rules

Parvesh trots proudly beside his mother, Alta.

Parvesh trots proudly beside his mother, Alta.

Leroy the giraffe calf isn’t the only baby commanding lots of guest attention at the Safari Park these days (see post From Milk to Solids for Young Giraffe). Parvesh, a greater one-horned rhino calf, was born to Alta on February 25, 2014. Like Leroy, he was born in a maternity corral. He gained the expected 100 pounds (45 kilograms) per month and was released into the Asian Plains habitat with Alta when he was a month old. Now he weighs about 600 pounds (270 kilograms)!

Parvesh still nurses and will continue to do so for another year and a half, but he also experiments with solid foods. As Alta browses through grass, hay, pellets, and fruit, Parvesh stands alongside to nibble her food. Caravan Safari participants sometimes feed the rhinos apples. An adult rhino eats about 100 pounds of food per day. Each caravan truck carries only ten apples, so this snack is like a box of raisins to an adult rhino. Tour participants can’t hand-feed Parvesh yet. He is too short to reach over the truck slats, which are 7 feet (2.1 meters) off the ground, and his digestive system isn’t developed enough to process the sugar in 10 apples. If we feed him too much sugar, it will ferment in his stomach and make him sick. So it will be a few more weeks before we can hand-feed baby Parvesh.

In the meantime, he makes his own rules. He stands underneath Alta with his mouth open and catches the apples she drops!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

4

From Milk to Solids for Young Giraffe

Leroy enjoys some attention from Mom.

Leroy enjoys some attention from Mom.

Animal babies and human babies often have similar growing pains. For the Safari Park’s giraffe and rhino calves, the challenge is the transition from milk to solid food. Leroy, a Uganda giraffe, was born in a maternity corral on January 8, 2014. At two weeks old, Safari Park veterinarians determined that Leroy suffered from a severe bacterial infection that they treated with antibiotics and IV fluids, making nursing impossible. His human keepers became his surrogate parents and bottle-fed him three to five times a day.

A young Leroy is offered a bottle of milk from the back of a keeper truck.

A young Leroy is offered a bottle of milk from the back of a keeper truck.

After 39 days of hospitalization, Leroy was released into the Safari Park’s East Africa habitat with the rest of the Uganda giraffe herd. Leroy’s recovery was great news for both the keepers and for the endangered Uganda giraffe subspecies as a whole. Only about 700 Uganda giraffes still roam the wild.
But Leroy needed to learn how to be a giraffe. The gangly seven-foot calf touched visitors’ hearts as he cantered toward the keeper trucks at feeding time. A keeper stood on the bed of the pickup truck hidden under a giraffe-patterned blanket and fed the hungry baby from a bottle the size of a dachshund.

By the time Leroy turned seven months, he was sampling giraffe pellets from the feeders. Giraffes are typically weaned by their mothers at around six months old, so Leroy was on target, even though he was raised by humans. Caravan Safari guides ripped acacia leaves in half to create “baby food” and held the leaves firmly for the calf so he would feel like he was plucking leaves from an acacia tree with his prehensile tongue.

Caravan Safari participants, riding in the truck in the background, can now offer Leroy tender acacia leaves.

Caravan Safari participants, riding in the truck in the background, can now offer Leroy tender acacia leaves.

Leroy is a quick study. He has figured out that the Caravan Safari trucks are like the ice cream truck! Guests now feed him on Caravan Safari tours. Normally, guests look up at a 16-foot-tall giraffe’s face as they hand feed, but Leroy munches at eye level. When I ask guests for their favorite parts of the tour, they normally say, “Feeding Leroy!”

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Upcycling: Recycling at Its Finest.

5

Condor Chick Ready to Fledge

The Condor Cam caught Su'nan perched on the ledge.

Su’nan is perched on the barrier between the nest box and the roost area.

As many Condor Cam viewers have experienced, the rearing process for a California condor can be long and slow. It makes sense, though, for a condor to develop so slowly. She has lots of growing to do! When our chick, Su’nan, hatched on April 29, she weighed approximately 6.3 ounces (180 grams). When she reaches her fledge weight of 17 pounds (8 kilograms) or more, she will have increased her hatch weight by 44 times! In contrast, I have only increased my birth weight by 19 times.

On August 27, at 121 days of age, Su’nan took her most recent step toward leaving the nest: she jumped up onto the barrier between her nest box and the adjoining roost area. She quickly hopped back into her nest, but that’s okay. There’s no hurry to fledge, or leave the nest, just yet. Her feathers still need time to fill in. Hopping up and down from the barrier will exercise her muscles, as well as improve her balance. She has since started hopping into the roost area on the other side of the barrier. Here, she can warm herself in the sun, if she chooses.

Su'nan stretches out one of her fast-growing wings.

Su’nan stretches out one of her fast-growing wings.

While out in the roost, she can also rest or sleep in the shade, perch with her parents (if they are not perched out in the flight pen), or step out to the roost ledge to soak up the sun’s rays for the first time. The ledge is about 8 feet (2.4 meters) from the ground—high enough to make the parents feel comfortable and secure in their nest but not as high as a condor nest in the wild. Su’nan may get near the edge, but she will be cautious in doing so, so she doesn’t teeter off. It is natural for condor chicks to explore and exercise on the edge of their nest cavities. Rarely do they fall out; in 32 years of raising California condors here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we have never seen a chick fall from its nest area.

The next step of Su’nan’s development will be to fledge. When she is ready, she will jump off of the nest ledge. She will either slow her fall to the ground below the ledge or fly to a nearby perch. We consider her fledged when she can get up on a perch by herself. The youngest we have seen a condor chick fledge here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is 123 days old. Sometimes chicks have waited until over 165 days. It all depends on the chick.

She's made it to the other side!

She’s made it to the other side!

The parents tend to be very vigilant during this phase of their chick’s development. It could appear overprotective to us, but keep in mind that they have invested an entire breeding season and lots of energy into this one chick. It benefits them greatly to make sure that their sole offspring is safe, healthy, and strong. They usually don’t coax or pressure their chick to leave the nest; on the contrary, we have seen parents make sure a chick doesn’t stray too far from the nest if it’s not ready yet. The parents will usually perch and/or roost near the fledgling.

They also will join her when she finally starts going to the feeding area of the flight pen. Most of the time, though, they will push her aside and eat first, feeding her when they are done. In condor culture, the bigger, more dominant birds usually eat first, while the subordinate birds wait their turn. The earlier Su’nan learns this from her parents, the better she will assimilate into a wild population after she is released. Don’t worry: Towich and Sulu won’t let Su’nan starve. They will continue to feed her even when she is out in the flight pen. Eventually, she will eat more and more on her own.

Her foster parents keep her company in the roost area.

Her foster parents keep her company in the roost area.

Depending on Su’nan’s development and activity levels, we will try to switch the Condor Cam view from the nest box/roost area to the flight pen. You’ll be able to see the roost area, most of the perches in the pen, the feeding area, shade areas created by plants, and the pool, where she can either drink on her own or bathe (one of my favorite condor activities to observe!). The view will be wide, so detail will be harder to discern. Also, we do minimal maintenance in the pen once the chick is large enough to look over the nest box barrier. So the pen has lots of plant growth and dried food (animal carcasses) in it. We limit our activities in/near chick pens so as not to expose the chick to humans, thus desensitizing her to our presence. We have found that chicks raised in isolation from humans tend to be more successful once they are released to the wild. The flight pen won’t look as nice as an exhibit you might see at the Zoo or the Safari Park, but Towich and Sulu prefer it that way, if it means we stay away from their precious chick!

Thanks so much to all of our faithful and dedicated Condor Cam viewers. Soon, your support and devotion will be rewarded when our “little big girl” spreads her wings and takes that next step. Rest assured, though, that Su’nan’s story will be far from over!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick Foster: Name is Chosen!

7

Gorilla Frank Turns 6

Frank enjoys one of his birthday popsicles.

Frank enjoys one of his birthday popsicles.

Frank, the biggest gorilla brother at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, turned 6 years old on September 4, 2014! Keepers threw a birthday party for Frank and the entire troop, complete with paper streamers, decorated cardboard box presents, popcorn, sugar-free popsicles, and a big birthday banner.

With so much to explore out on the exhibit that morning, the members of the troop all quickly spread out and selected their own treats. Frank’s grandmother, 36-year-old Kamilah, claimed the largest decorated box and the popcorn forage pile inside it, while the Birthday Boy preferred the colorful popsicles. Lately, Frank has been trying to demonstrate how grown up he is by carrying his 6-month-old “sister” Joanne around the exhibit. (Joanne’s mother, Imani, had cared for Frank as a baby when his own mother was not able to do so.) Frank enjoys this responsibility so much that he is sometimes reluctant to give Joanne back when her mother thinks it’s time!

Before we know it, Joanne will be big enough to enjoy running around the exhibit on her own and keeping up with her big brother Frank and 3-year-old half-brother Monroe!

He found goodies in each box.

He found goodies in each box.

Winston and little Monroe had fun with the birthday gifts, too!

Winston and little Monroe had fun with the birthday gifts, too!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Baby: Movin’ and Groovin’.