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The International Language of Crocodiles

The Abidjan Zoo's director poses with a large male alligator at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

The director of the Ivory Coast’s Abidjan Zoo poses with a large male alligator at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

At the San Diego Zoo, employees have the opportunity to attend professional development courses to expand our knowledge base and to make the Zoo a stronger organization. For the past three years, the Zoo’s Reptile Department has sent an employee to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida to attend a 10-day Association of Zoos and Aquarium course called Crocodilian Biology and Captive Management. The San Diego Zoo has one of the most diverse collections of crocodilians in the United States, making this course very beneficial to a reptile keeper, as s/he is exposed to many different species of crocodilians. When the collection expands, as more crocodilians arrive at the Zoo, we will be ready to properly care for these beautiful animals.

Over the past several years, the Reptile Department has sponsored the work of Dr. Matt Shirley, a Ph.D. student from the University of Florida, Gainesville, in West Africa. Dr. Shirley discovered a new species of crocodile, the West African slender-snouted crocodile, which he later determined is on the verge of extinction. For over 150 years, this species was thought to be the same species throughout its range in central and western Africa. His research has separated the slender-snouted crocodile into the western and central slender-snouted species. His research and study of the region led him to the only zoo in the Ivory Coast, the Abidjan Zoo, where a substantial number of adult West African slender-snouts are housed.

Jeremy, left, and Digbe maintain a strong bond when it comes to crocodilians!

Jeremy, left, and Digbe maintain a strong bond when it comes to crocodilians!

The staff at the Abidjan Zoo have not been trained on the proper care, husbandry, diet, and safe handling of these crocodiles. This can be dangerous to the crocodiles and to the lives of the staff. With this notion in place, and Matt Shirley’s ties with the St. Augustine Zoo, the director of the Abidjan Zoo received a grant to attend the Crocodilian Biology course in Florida. The director of the Abidjan Zoo, whom I would later come to know as Digbe, had never left the Ivory Coast. As a former colony of France, the official language of the Ivory Coast is French. Digbe knew very little English. As a fluent French-speaking reptile keeper, the San Diego Zoo saw a great opportunity for me to travel to the St. Augustine Zoo and help translate for Digbe. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from some of the country’s premier crocodilian experts, and this course offered the best chance to help the director of the Abidjan Zoo gain a better understanding of crocodiles and thus share it with his staff.

My love of reptiles helped me translate all the amazing and beneficial information I was learning in class to Digbe. During the ten days, Digbe and I learned a lot about each other, and, thanks to the San Diego Zoo, we both left the Crocodilian Captive Management course with a better understanding of how to properly care for our beloved animals.

When speaking with Digbe, I learned that our zoo is blessed to have a plethora of books and resources to help make our collection one of the best in the world. The Abidjan Zoo is not as fortunate when it comes to resources. To help him out, I have sent over educational packages to help inform the children that visit the zoo (over a million!) on the importance of all animals, native and foreign. To this day, Digbe and I still communicate through email, sending pictures and updates of the new species of crocodilians.

This year, our Reptile Department and the American Association of Zoo Keepers organized its second annual “Croctoberfest.” All of this year’s proceeds with help benefit the slender-snouted crocodiles and future projects the San Diego Zoo has with the Abidjan Zoo. This May, the second annual Golf for Wildlife event will raise funds to send needed education supplies to the Abidjan Zoo’s newly built education center.

Hopefully, one day I will be able to visit Digbe in the Ivory Coast and help the fight to end extinction of these beautiful crocodiles!

Jeremy Fontaine is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Alligator Training.

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Protected Habitat in Southern California

A Stephen's kangaroo rat is checked out in the field.

Researchers examine a Stephen’s kangaroo rat in the field.

It’s the middle of November, the holidays are approaching, and 2014 is quickly coming to a close. Normally, I would be done with fieldwork by this time of year, since the Pacific and Los Angeles pocket mice that I study are probably already hibernating (see Where are Pocket Mice during Winter?). Since our Southern California winter hasn’t seemed to hit yet (it is still warm here, even by our standards!), I was able to squeeze in one more week to check out a new potential field site for the spring.

This new site is a California State Wildlife Area, a little piece of land next to a State Park but otherwise surrounded by a freeway, cropland, and cattle farms. Over five nights we caught five species of small mammals, including endangered Stephen’s kangaroo rats, from which we collected genetic samples. My field site this summer was a different State Wildlife Area, and in addition to the small mammals I saw badgers (see Badger and Coyote Caught on Camera), bobcats, foxes, and a spotted skunk.

A spotted skunk is "captured" by a camera trap in a State Wildlife Area.

A spotted skunk is “captured” by a camera trap in a State Wildlife Area.

Prior to starting my fieldwork in Southern California, I hadn’t known much about these 600,000 acres of designated wildlife areas in the state. In addition to our state and national parks, these protected areas make up the primary habitat for many of our local threatened and endangered species. San Diego Zoo Global provides a lot of the conservation research and a great opportunity to view some of these species at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, like the Peninsular bighorn sheep (see Bighorn Sheep Roundup Furthers Conservation Research). Only an hour or so from the Safari Park, they are roaming free in Anza-Borrego State Park!

Bighorn sheep lambs frolic.

Bighorn sheep lambs frolic.

Seeing animals in the wild, particularly endangered species that scientists have been working so hard to save, is such a treat. The opportunity to visit areas that are set aside and safe from development and to be able to see these animals in their native habitat is definitely something I am thankful for!

Rachel Chock is a graduate student and volunteer with San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s Pacific pocket mouse project. Read her previous post, Pocket Mice Powerhouses.

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Gaur Game Plan

Indian gaur can be seen in the Asian Savanna field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Indian gaur can be seen in the Asian Savanna field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

What are those big buffalo in the Asian Savanna field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? This is one of the most commonly asked questions on Caravan Safari tours. They are Indian gaur Bos frontalis gaurus, the largest wild cattle species. Gaur live in herds of up to 40 individuals led by a mature bull. An adult gaur can stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 2,000 pounds! Coupled with their dark coat and light-blue eyes, this body-builder physique makes gaur very intimidating to predators. Gaur currently live in fragmented evergreen forest habitats in southern Asia and India.

In India, gaur have been domesticated as work animals and hybridized with domestic cattle to create a separate species. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List considers wild Indian gaur “vulnerable” in southern Asia. This is a poorly understood species, so there may be as few as 13,000 left in the world or as many as 30,000. Indian gaur are threatened due to hunting, habitat loss, and domestic cattle diseases, like Johne’s disease. Our researchers are using mathematical models to monitor transmission of these types of diseases to help save Indian gaur (see post Saving Species with Math).

We also conserve Indian gaur in two other ways. Indian gaur are protected under the umbrella of Asian elephant and tiger habitat conservation programs that San Diego Zoo Global supports around the world. Additionally, the Safari Park has a herd of Indian gaur that are part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ bison and wild cattle taxon advisory group (TAG).

Very few zoos currently house gaur because they are large, territorial, and require the same amount of space as rhinos, which are often more exciting to visitors. In the past, the Safari Park successfully bred over 200 gaur, but the breeding program stopped because there was no longer anywhere to send the offspring. Through the TAG, individuals are loaned and traded to other zoos for breeding programs and conservation initiatives to increase the genetic diversity of many different species. Without other facilities involved in the TAG, we would quickly become saturated with gaur. Now, the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans has expressed interest in a herd of Indian gaur. As a result, the Safari Park welcomed two new females and a young male to our Asian field exhibit. The young male will, hopefully, dominate the resident castrated male in the herd and begin breeding.

Female Indian gaur typically give birth to one calf between December and June after a 275-day gestation. It’s amazing to think that a female gaur and a human female have the same pregnancy length! Stay tuned. Hopefully, the Safari Park will have new Indian gaur calves by next year to bolster the fight for conservation of this unique species.

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, It’s Alive! Look Inside our Giant Pandas’ Favorite Food.

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5 Turkey Myths Busted

There are a lot of myths floating around out there about the bird that defines the holiday season, the iconic North American turkey. It’s time to bust some of those myths once and for all and hook you up with some trivia to share at the dinner table to impress your cohorts.

By jimbobphoto on Flickr

By jimbobphoto on Flickr

Myth 1 – Turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving
Common folklore holds that the turkey was an important food at the first Thanksgiving, but it’s doubtful the turkey was part of the holiday tradition until the 1800s. It’s more likely that other game birds were served, such as the now-extinct passenger pigeon.

Myth 2 – Turkeys are just big chickens
Turkeys are NOT chickens. The two birds are entirely different species separated by tens of millions of years of evolution.

Myth 3 – Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national symbol
Benjamin Franklin never explicitly suggested that the US adopt the turkey as its national symbol, but he did once praise the turkey in writing as a more “respectable” bird than the bald eagle.

The ocellated turkey is native to Yucutan Peninsula, Mexico.

Myth 4 – Turkeys can’t fly
Wrong. Despite having one of the highest body-weight-to-wing-area ratios, turkeys can fly up to 55 m.p.h. and have been observed nesting in trees.

Myth 5 – Turkey makes you sleepy
It’s true that turkey contains tryptophan (an amino acid that produces serotonin, which helps regulate sleep), but most other meat has similar amounts of tryptophan. The sleepiness you’re feeling after that Thanksgiving feast is your body’s exhaustion from consuming an insane amount of calories.

Do you have any other turkey facts or myths to share? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 11 Orange Animals To Get You In the Spirit of Fall.

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It’s Alive! Look Inside Our Giant Pandas’ Favorite Food

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun this morning demonstrating her bamboo-eating skills.

Panda Cam caught Bai Yun this morning demonstrating her bamboo-eating skills.

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Jennifer Parsons, an associate nutritionist at the San Diego Zoo. Although she manages diets for all of the animals at the Zoo, her specialty is a particular diet for a highly specialized species: bamboo makes up 99 percent of a wild giant panda’s diet.

A wild giant panda may roam the bamboo groves of China all day eating 25 species of bamboo, but not a zoo panda. The San Diego Zoo’s Horticulture Department grows bamboo for the giant pandas in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s parking lot. Every day, the horticulturists harvest the bamboo with chain saws coated in peanut oil, which is edible, unlike grease. After harvesting, they truck it to the Zoo’s panda exhibit, where it’s put in large coolers to wait for panda mealtime.

The keepers feed the giant pandas three times per day. At each feeding the pandas are offered twice the amount of bamboo that they will actually eat. This allows the pandas to selectively “sniff test” the bamboo, as they would in the wild. The pandas spend the entire interval between feedings processing and eating bamboo.

Bamboo is a colonial organism. An entire bamboo grove behaves likes one organism, which presents challenges for the Horticulture Department. Bamboo is actually a type of grass, and it’s the fastest-growing plant on Earth. Bamboo can grow up to 98 inches (249 centimeters) in 24 hours!

Bamboo has a seasonal cycle that determines where the plant’s nutrients are stored. This cycle may drive a giant panda’s preference for the leaves or the culm, the woody central stalk of the plant. In the winter and spring, when temperate bamboo produces shoots, nutrients are stored in the culm, so giant pandas favor this protein-packed stalk. When bamboo grows new leaves in the summer and fall, photosynthesis stores sugar and protein in the leaves; therefore, the giant pandas prefer the nutrient-rich leaves.

In the wild, pandas only eat temperate bamboo, so a wild giant panda’s home range is larger in the winter, giving the panda access to more food. But zoo pandas cannot seasonally change their territories, so the keepers feed both tropical and temperate bamboo species to the pandas at the San Diego Zoo. These bamboo species have opposite reproductive cycles, so the pandas can eat leaves and culm year-round. Strangely, however, both adult giant pandas at the Zoo, Gao Gao and his mate Bai Yun, prefer to eat the hard culm year-round instead of the easily digestible leaves. Pandas are a puzzle!

Pandas aren’t the only ones that use bamboo. In the bamboo forests of China (and at the San Diego Zoo) red pandas, takins, and golden monkeys also eat bamboo. Asian cultures use bamboo for food, medicine, construction, clothing, paper, musical instruments, bicycles, and fishing rods. Bamboo is also being used as a green resource all over the world. For example, the building housing the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is built from sustainable bamboo.

Take a shoot out of a giant panda’s book and buy environmentally friendly bamboo products. And be sure to say hello to giant pandas Gao Gao, Bai Yun, and juvenile Xiao Liwu at the San Diego Zoo or on Panda Cam.

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Northern White Rhinos in Peril.

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Taking Care of Tusks

A screen shot from our Elephant Cam taken on November 11 shows 10 of our elephants. Can you find them all?

A screen shot from our Elephant Cam taken on November 11 shows 10 of our elephants. Can you find them all? Click to enlarge.

As you know, there have been a lot of things going on with our African elephant herd this year at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. For instance, you may have seen our trainers working with the elephants in different areas. You may have wondered what they doing with the elephants’ faces! Well….

Some members of our herd have broken or chipped their tusks, and our veterinary staff has had to perform pulpotomies (think root canal) to clean out any infected pulp. All of our elephants are pretty active, especially the little ones, so we have had to put extra protection on the tusks that have fillings. This protection is in the form of a gray material called Technovit (pronounced Techno–vite), and you may have seen us putting it on the tusks of Musi, Macembe, and Luti periodically. Swazi recently broke off a small part of her tusk. No pulp was exposed, and you may see us filing the jagged end of her tusk.

Unfortunately, Khosi and Emanti’s tusks broke and exposed too much pulp, and we were not able to save their broken tusks. For them, we have been flushing their sulcus (skin and cavity surrounding a tusk) to keep the cavity clean and to aid in the healing process. We use a diluted mixture of anti-bacterial solution and water sprayed out of a one-gallon sprayer. Our trainers have worked patiently with Khosi and Emanti to make them comfortable with this process. I am happy to report that they are doing well and healing nicely.

Our elephants are also given vitamin E every day. We’ve trained our elephants to perform a swallow behavior so that they will be able to swallow any medication or vitamin supplements as needed. Because they have such a well-developed sense of smell and taste, we give them their vitamin E followed by mango juice, as the vitamin E doesn’t taste very good!

Qinisa and Inhlonipho are growing up and asserting themselves. Qinisa’s milk tusks are starting to come in. Inhlonipho is wrestling with Emanti and Ingadze any chance he gets. He even charged Msholo (who was quietly eating hay). Msholo looked at him and then went back to eating the hay. When Inhlonipho gets older, he will be wrestling with the big boys.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the herd, either in person or on Elephant Cam!

Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephant Qinisa Turns 2.

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How to Take a Panda’s Blood Pressure: 8 Easy Steps

Liz offer Xiao Liwu a treat while his blood pressure is taken.

Liz offer Xiao Liwu a treat while his blood pressure is taken.

You may recall that in early June, keepers began training giant panda Xiao Liwu to have his blood pressure taken (see post Xiao Liwu: Star Student!). “Mr. Wu” learned to put his forelimb (arm) in the metal sleeve and lightly grab the bar at the end of that sleeve with his claws the first day of training. That was Step 1. But what were the next steps? Keeper Liz Simmons filled me in.

Step 2: Panda to keep arm in metal sleeve for increased lengths of time.

This was easy, says Liz. As long as Mr. Wu was getting rewarded for calmly staying in one spot with his arm in the metal sleeve, he was happy to sit there all day! Squirts of honey water were the big ticket items for our boy, but he was (and still is) also willing to do this step for pieces of apple, carrot, sweet potato, and biscuits (soaked, not dry).

Step 3: Get panda used to having arm touched.

Talk about a fun task! Keepers touched, poked, and rubbed Xiao Liwu’s arm while it was in the sleeve. He, of course, had been touched a lot when he was small, but now that he’s such a big bear (almost 100 pounds), keepers might give his ears or head a scratch through the metal mesh but don’t usually touch his arms. He had to get comfortable with them touching his arm. No problem!

Step 4: Wrap blood pressure cuff around panda’s arm.

We use the same type of blood pressure cuff used for humans, but in Mr. Wu’s case, a child-size one. This step involved pulling apart the Velcro strips and attaching the cuff to our two-ear-old bear’s arm so he could get used to the feel of the cuff. YIKES—Wu did NOT like the sound of the Velco ripping apart! He had never heard that sound before.

Step 5: Get panda used to sound of Velcro ripping.

Liz ripped the Velcro in Xiao Liwu’s vicinity every chance she got to get him used to this new sound. She even called him over to her while he was on exhibit and ripped that Velcro. It didn’t take long for Mr. Wu to become desensitized to the sound of Velcro. (Now, when I hear Velcro ripping, I’ll always think of our panda boy!)

Step 6: Wrap blood pressure cuff around panda’s arm (again)

With Velcro issues a thing of the past, keepers could now proceed to wrap the cuff on his arm. No problem this time!

Step 7: Get panda used to having his arm squeezed.

Once the cuff was in place, a keeper squeezed her hand around the cuff to simulate the feel of a blood pressure squeeze. No problem there!

Step 8: Hook up cuff to blood pressure machine, place cuff on panda, and take a reading.

On November 3, 2014, Xiao Liwu had his first blood pressure reading. Actually, he was so comfortable and calm during the procedure that keepers took three readings. Mr. Wu has passed!

For now, these blood pressure readings will provide a baseline for our medical team. They will be done every week or so, as time allows. Xiao Liwu is happy to cooperate. Liz says he “really like to work!”

Next up for our star student? Blood-draw training.

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Pandas On and Off.

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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
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Condors Saticoy and Cuyamaca Flying Free

Saticoy wears his new GSM unit on his wing tag. Photo credit: Geoff Grisdale, USFWS

Saticoy wears his new GSM unit on his wing tag. Photo credit: Geoff Grisdale, USFWS

While observing this year’s Condor Cam chick, Su’nan, many of our regular viewers have been inquiring about the status of the two previous years’ Condor Cam chicks, Saticoy (from 2012) and Cuyamaca (from 2013). Recently, we have received updates from the field biologists that are monitoring and caring for the young birds, and we are excited to share the updates with you!

Saticoy was the first California condor to hatch on Condor Cam. He was released to the wild in November 2013 at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California. Now 2½ years old, we are happy to report that he is thriving and still flying free. Most recently, the field crew was able to trap him in the flight pen at Bitter Creek for a routine health check and to change his transmitters. The field biologists periodically catch the free-flying condors to monitor levels of lead in their blood, since lead poisoning is still their #1 threat.

The condors—and any other carnivore, for that matter—can get lead poisoning from eating an animal that has been shot with lead ammunition. When an animal is shot, the lead bullet fragments and embeds itself throughout the meat. Those fragments are then swallowed as the meat is consumed. Lead is a toxic, heavy metal that is easily absorbed by the digestive system into the bloodstream, resulting in painful and damaging lead poisoning. Any animal that ingests lead can suffer lead poisoning, including eagles, vultures, wolves, coyotes, bears, skunks, snakes, and humans. The California Condor Recovery Program and its partners encourage people to use non-lead ammunition during activities like hunting, pest control, and ranching to help reduce the amount of lead available for consumption by humans and wildlife.

Devon Lang Pryor, Santa Barbara Zoo, hold Saticoy during a blood draw. The blood is taken from the leg. You can see his leg between Devon's knees. Photo credit: Katie Chaplin, USFWS

Devon Lang Pryor, Santa Barbara Zoo, hold Saticoy during a blood draw. The blood is taken from the leg. You can see his leg between Devon’s knees. Photo credit: Katie Chaplin, USFWS

Happily, when Saticoy’s blood was tested during his exam, his field blood lead level was below the threshold for treatment! His original tracking devices stopped working during the summer, so he needed some new transmitters. He received a small telemetry transmitter that was attached to one of his tail feathers , as well as a new GSM GPS transmitter on each wing tag. The GSM transmitters collect a location every 15 minutes during daylight hours, giving us a more complete range map than other GPS units that collect a location every hour. As you can see on his range map, he has been spending the majority of his time this autumn around the Tejon Ranch area, 40 to 60 miles (60 to 100 kilometers) away from his release site in Bitter Creek.

Cuyamaca, the 2013 Condor Cam star, was released in northern Arizona at the Vermilion Cliffs, just north of Grand Canyon National Park, in June 2014. After release, she demanded minimal maintenance from the field biologists. She was flying and feeding well, as well as finding safe and proper roost sites. She blended into the wild population easily! She has yet to range too far from the release site, making the 50-mile (80 kilometers) radius around the site her favored territory. She regularly takes multi-day trips to the Colorado River corridor of Marble Canyon as well as some regular foraging trips to the Kaibab National Forest adjacent to the Vermilion Cliffs. The field crew did observe her being chased by a competing golden eagle. The eagle hit her in the air, and they both tumbled to the ground, but she rebounded immediately and showed no signs of injury. Other than that, Cuyamaca has had a fairly stress-free transition to the wild.

Saticoy's fall 2014 range map was provided by Laura Mendenhall and Joseph Brandt of the USFWS.

Saticoy’s fall 2014 range map was provided by Laura Mendenhall and Joseph Brandt of the USFWS.

Many thanks to our partners in the California Condor Recovery Program for providing these updates, photos, and maps! Devon Lang Pryor of the Santa Barbara Zoo provided Saticoy’s photos and update information. Laura Mendenhall and Joseph Brandt of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provided Saticoy’s range map. Eddie Feltes of The Peregrine Fund provided Cuyamaca’s update information.

As you can see, it takes a lot of time, effort, and people to prepare young condors for a release program. Without help and enthusiasm from people like you, none of this would be possible. All of us at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (including all of the condors!) thank you so much.

You can follow the Arizona condor population, which is monitored by The Peregrine Fund, on Facebook via the “Condor Cliffs” page, as well as The Peregrine Fund’s website. You can follow the Southern California condor population, which is monitored by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, on Facebook via the “Condor Cave” page.

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Moving Day for Condor Su’nan.

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Helping Vaquita Porpoises

We are working with teachers and students in San Felipe, Mexico, to address the human dimension of conservation.

We are working with teachers and students in San Felipe, Mexico, to address the human dimension of conservation in an effort to help save the vaquita.

What do Sonoran pronghorn, desert bighorn sheep, and California condors have in common? They are threatened, priority species for San Diego Zoo Global conservation initiatives in Baja California, Mexico, and are united under a new community-based conservation initiative of the Conservation Education Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

The extraordinary Baja California peninsula contains a unique array of biodiversity that is a nature lover’s paradise. However, much of the biodiversity is threatened due to increasing human activities, and we must place ever-more importance on working with the local people to become protectors and stewards of the land. You may have caught wind of the program “From the Ridge to the Reef” (Del mar a las montanas in Spanish) in the September 2014 issue of ZOONOOZ, as we are excited to team up with researchers working all over Baja to help address the human dimension of conservation of these important species.

Teachers work together to review a curriculum designed specifically for the region with their help and with priority species in mind.

Teachers work together to review a curriculum designed specifically for the region with their help and with priority species in mind.

There is one species, in particular, so close to extinction that we felt compelled to begin work with communities immediately. On the eastern side of the Baja peninsula in the northern Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortez) exists the most endangered porpoise in the world. The vaquita marina Phocoena sinus is inadvertently caught in nets intended for fish and shrimp, including a lot of illegal fishing, and recent population estimates are at fewer than 100 individuals.

We have begun working with teachers and students in San Felipe, BC, and our last trip to San Felipe was a huge success. Our new postdoctoral fellow, Jenny Glikman, and I conducted a teacher-training workshop with 15 teachers from 4 different schools. This involved brainstorms and discussions on current and future implementation of environmental education activities, the adaptation of curriculum developed specifically for the Ridge to Reef program, and teacher-led creation of conservation project proposals that their students will implement and share with the community. We have also begun collaborating with local organizations already on the ground and part of the community, including the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans.

Teacher attendees of the Ridge to Reef workshop pose with facilitators while sporting a parting gift:  "Del Mar a las Montanas" hats.

Teacher attendees of the Ridge to Reef workshop pose with facilitators while sporting a parting gift: “Del Mar a las Montanas” hats.

We are working with UCSD’s Engineers for Exploration (E4E), who are developing technologies to take photo and video of vaquitas, as we have nearly none. In September, David O’Connor of Conservation Education collected water visibility measurements to get an idea of clarity where the cameras will be deployed. Read more about this in a special blog by the E4E crew themselves!

This is still the beginning of what is shaping up to be an exciting collaboration between a variety of scientists and local teachers, students, and those who make a living from fishing, and there is hope for the future of the vaquita and Baja’s treasures. You can help by sharing information about the plight of the vaquita (find out more here), supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy, and purchasing products coming from sustainable fisheries (the United States is one of the largest markets for Mexican fish and shrimp). With less than 100 of these beautiful, mysterious, and ecologically important porpoises left, urgent action is required, and culturally conscious, grass roots, community-based conservation—whether local to San Diego or international—is how we’re going to make a stand against disappearing species.

Samantha Young is a research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Across the Pacific in 60 Days.