San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park


What Name Will You Choose?

Vote for the little guy's name!

We received 1,019 exceptional suggestions from all of you to help us name Umoya’s 3-month-old male calf. The Park’s elephant keepers reviewed each and every one of them and had quite a few chuckles along the way.

Thank you to all of those who suggested that the calf be named after themselves! And thank you to all those who offered a tie to this year’s largest sporting event, the World Cup held in South Africa. Personally, I really liked “vuvuzela,” but it sounded a bit feminine. However, that’s just my opinion, and I didn’t vote. One of the several people who suggested this word offered this reasoning: “apropos, as the instrument is long and trumpets loudly, like an elephant’s trunk.” Cute!

He loves a good squirt of water!

Because the calf seems to love playing in water and having it poured into his mouth, many people suggested names that incorporated water, including “waterspout.” One person offered the name “Loxi” based on the African elephant genus of Loxodonta; someone had their thinking cap on!

But in the end, the keepers meticulously narrowed the choices down to three names that would translate well into SiSwati, the language of the Kingdom of Swaziland, the country the calf’s parents were rescued from in 2003.

The final three names are:
1. Emanti, a word that means “water.”
2. Usutu, which is a large river in Swaziland.
3. Mnakabo, a word that means “their brother.” This word was chosen to represent the herd’s growing population.

Beginning Monday, August 9, and until August 12, you’ll have the chance to vote for your favorite of the three final choices. Voting will be online only, and all you have to do is go here to cast your vote. We’ll reveal the name at 11 a.m. on Thursday, August 26, at the Park’s elephant exhibit. Join us if you can, or watch it on Elephant Cam.

Follow this link to help name the elephant calf: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/africansummerfestival/calf_contest.php


Creating an Enrichment Garden

Cassidy, at right, helps the crew.

There was no way that we were going to get everything done.

“We aren’t expecting to finish this project today, so just do what you can,” the supervisors said.

We were standing on a small hillside just above the okapi barn at the Wild Animal Park, starring at what seemed like miles of unplanted trees and bushes. In reality it was probably only 200 feet and it wasn’t that wide but who’s keeping track?

The Enrichment Garden: a wonderful plan that has been in the works for three years. This garden would provide the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park with its own enrichment—its own home-grown source—for some of the animals right on grounds. We had the location, we had the space, we even had the plants, but we needed the manpower (or in our case, the man + woman power).

A diverse group of us was standing on the hillside: keepers, interns, horticulture staff, and development officers all showed up to help make this idea a reality. None of us really knew what we were doing (except horticulture staff, hopefully!) but with teamwork we figured it out. We learned how to divide up the work to be most effective, we learned how deep the plants needed to go, how far apart they were to be spaced, and just how much water was needed to dig the holes (a lot).

Our garden hose girl was always at the ready when water was needed to loosen the stiff ground. Our diggers were constantly moving from hole to hole to get deep enough. Our planters were all willing to get down on one knee and get muddy. We had 50 plants, 10 people (coming and going), 7 shovels, 3 hours, and 1 hose.

We had everything worked out, except there was one thing we didn’t count on—the ground was dry and hard as a rock. And only about two inches into digging we found there were large roots from trees that had previously been there.

Uh oh. I began to think we wouldn’t finish it today, tomorrow, or ever. Just too tough…

Well, how did it go? you might ask. Did we finish? Give up? Try again later?

We did it. Bit by bit, shovel-full by shovel-full, the hill transformed from a barren wasteland to a beautiful enrichment garden where the keepers would be able to go and get special treats for their animals. In 3 hours, in 180 minutes, or in 10,800 seconds, our wonderful team finished.

The experience of providing enrichment for our animals proved to be an enriching one for us all.

Cassidy Horn is a student at Stanford University and a summer intern at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Read her previous post, What’s that Smell?


What’s that Smell?

An Indochinese sika deer engages a scented spool.

Ever passed an animal exhibit at a zoo and thought, “Wow. That smells!”? Me too.

For the past few weeks it has been my job to sit in front of deer, antelope, and wild horse off-exhibit enclosures at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and watch the animals react to enrichment items I’ve placed there (see previous post, Enrichment Study: Who Likes What?). Every once in awhile I get a whiff of the animals’ natural scent. I’ve tried putting perfume on myself—even right under my nose—but that didn’t work. People just didn’t sit next to me anymore because I was “too strong” (and it wasn’t because of my bulging muscles). So I had to come up with a better idea.

I thought, “What do people spray perfume on? Why, what smells, of course!” So, naturally, I figured it would be a good idea to spray the enclosures. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out, but I had seen and been told about studies that other people were doing on scents. Apparently the animals have shown a particular interest in “Obsession” by Calvin Klein. They have good taste. So I tried it.

I put perfume on a small green spool and put it in each one of the 17 off-exhibit enclosures I am studying. I was sure that I would get some kind of response from the horses, but I was most interested in the reactions of the deer. The first Indochinese sika deer that I tried it with enjoyed it! This was the first real reaction to anything I had given them (things like other scents, balls, and big brushes). The male was the first to go over. He sniffed it and then knocked the spool down. The most interesting part is that he wouldn’t let the female sniff it—or get anywhere near it. He chased her, seemingly “interested” in her. Apparently perfume is good for animals as well as humans.

A Przewalski's wild horse investigates the new scent.

After this success (I was starting to get excited!), I moved on to the Mandarin sika deer. There are four deer in this enclosure, and they were only interested for a minute. A little less exciting. But the Malayan sambar deer liked it: I barely made it out of the pen before the hand-raised ones and some of their friends were rolling the spool around and rubbing against it. The Przewalski’s wild horses and the Somali wild asses loved it as well. They played with the scented spool for nearly the entire 30 minutes.

An unexpected lover of the Obsession scent was the nyala: he spent the entire 30 minutes sniffing, licking, biting, rolling, pushing, rubbing, and kicking the spool.

It was wonderful to see the deer react (even slightly) to the enrichment. I was so pleased with my experiment that I decided to try it on myself just before my boyfriend came to visit.

His reaction? Clueless. 🙂

Cassidy Horn is a student at Stanford University and a summer intern at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.


Okapi Activity Patterns

You know those animals you see at the zoo that look like a combination of several other animals? Have you ever seen the one with the giraffe-like face, horse-like body, and zebra-striped rump? Well, that’s an okapi (oh-cop-ee), and they are going to be spending all summer with me.

Contrary to the eye, the okapi is not a combination of a giraffe, a horse, and a zebra; they are indeed their own species. Their closest living relative is the giraffe, with which they share many similar physical characteristics such as their long necks, extremely long tongues, and even ossicones (horn-like structures that only male okapis develop). While the giraffe has the height, the okapi has the longest tongue: it’s long enough to reach its eyes and ears! Not much is known about the behavior of the okapi because they are very elusive creatures where they reside in the Ituri Forest of Congo in Africa. This is where I come in.

The goal of this project is to study the okapi’s use of its environment at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. We are particularly interested in the daily behavior of this species, as it is solitary in the wild and little is known about its activity patterns. Our project will investigate how certain odors (which mimic the presence of other okapis in the enclosure) will affect an individual’s activity. Specifically, we will be placing urine-soaked wood shavings from one male in different parts of the exhibit and conducting daily behavioral observations. We will also analyze associated levels of a key stress hormone, cortisol. I will be working with all seven okapis at the Wild Animal Park as well as one okapi at the San Diego Zoo.

I’ve just started observations at the Wild Animal Park. I’ll keep everyone posted on my findings. And remember, if you want some more fun okapi facts, look for me! I’ll be the girl with the clipboard and a stopwatch. Can’t wait to see everyone out there!

Lizzy Lopez is a recent University of California, Davis, graduate with a degree in wildlife, fish, and conservation biology, emphasis in behavioral ecology, and the Bonner Endowed Summer Fellow in the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.


Bottle-fed Giraffe

Part of my job as lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is to take care of the animals, even those that may not have a good mom. This is Majagi the giraffe’s story:

On April 28, 2010, Crystal the Uganda giraffe had her first calf. Crystal is only 3½ years old, quite young for a normal giraffe mom; most female giraffes don’t give birth until they are 4 or 5. Since she was a first-time mom, we kept a careful watch to observe her for maternal instinct and nursing the calf. Our keeper doing the watch, Jennifer Minichino, named the giraffe Majagi, which means “tall glass of water” in Swahili.

During our observations we noticed that Crystal would nuzzle, lick, and care for her baby, but would not let her nurse. We watched all day but never saw nursing, and Majagi seemed to be getting weak since she wasn’t getting any milk from her mom. We separated her from her mom and took her to the Wild Animal Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Hospital overnight. Her mom didn’t seem to mind.

The veterinary staff and keepers worked hard to get her healthy enough to go back to her mom the next day. Majagi weighed in at 176 pounds (80 kilograms) and was 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall. We offered her bottles overnight and got her drinking giraffe formula from us.

We then teamed up with the Park’s Animal Care Center (ACC) staff to take care of Majagi. The ACC is in charge of preparing her bottles and doing the evening feedings, while we do the morning feedings. Several keepers volunteered to be her surrogate mom, even a couple of the guys! (Thanks, Steve and Matt!)

Jane uses a giraffe-patterned towel to lure Majigi

The next day we introduced her back to her mom; Crystal accepted her but still would not let her calf nurse. Since Crystal was a good mom in other ways, we let her stay with her calf and took over the feedings for Majagi. We initially fed Majagi five times a day, with her last feeding at 7 p.m. Majagi is now going on three months old, so she only eats three times a day. We feed her over 3 gallons (11 liters) of milk each day! Majagi now weighs over 300 pounds (136 kilograms) and is almost 8 feet (2.4 meters) tall!

We hope to introduce Majagi and her mom to the rest of the giraffe herd early next month and finish bottle feeding her in the field where she can interact with the other giraffe kids (three boys and three girls with three more moms due this summer!) and learn to be a part of the giraffe herd in the East Africa exhibit at the Wild Animal Park. Come visit the Park this summer to see the giraffe calves play together!

Jane Kennedy is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Watch video of Jane feeding Majagi.


Okapi Zuri Grows Up

Zuri enjoys an ear rub during a hoof trim.

How quickly time passes at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park! It seems as if just yesterday our young okapi, Zuri, was a wobbly little calf, but on June 17, he turned two years old. Our little guy is practically an adult now!

A recital of his accomplishments to date seems in order. As one of the few halter-trained okapis in the world, he has broken new ground in the field of okapi husbandry. (See Exciting Times at the Okapi Barn.)

Zuri demonstrates the hoof jack.

Historically, okapis have needed general anesthesia to periodically have their hooves trimmed. We have patiently accustomed Zuri to all the tools used for hoof work and do minor work ourselves. Recently, we introduced him to a really neat tool called a hoof jack; it consists of a stand with a sling on top made of webbing that provides a place to rest his hoof so we can comfortably work on the foot without having to hold it up. Zuri seems to find this pretty comfy, too. Of course, his foot is not secured in any way, and he is free to put it down whenever he wishes. His reward for all this silliness is constant rubbing, scratching, and massages in all the right places!

Zuri has become extremely trusting of his regular keepers. In general, if we ask something of him, he tries to oblige. We have always been very careful not to ask anything unreasonable of him. Case in point: our Reproductive Physiology Division is exploring the possibility of collecting semen from him for possible artificial insemination use. This would require training him to stand with his front feet on an elevated platform. We decided that hay bales with rubber matting on top would be about the right height. As we led him up to this strange thing for the first time, he sniffed it and then looked at us as if to say “Now what?” Just for the heck of it, we asked him to step up, and up he went! He held the pose until we asked him to get down. Needless to say, he got the rubdown of his life! The same thing happened when he saw a trailer for the first time: even though the step up was kind of high, he followed me in on the first try. We’re so proud of our boy!

At two years of age, Zuri is considered sexually mature. He has been selected to breed with three females in the future. I hope his offspring will all be as wonderful as he is!

Marcia Redding is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Read her previous post, A New Okapi!


Dholes: Whistling Dogs

We are all familiar with the barks, growls, woofs, and whines that members of the canid family produce. But have you ever heard a dog whistle? Would you believe there is a group of canines that uses this call so frequently that they are famous for their whistling? The canines I’m alluding to are dholes, or Asiatic wild dogs! If you haven’t heard of a dhole (pronounced “dole”), you are definitely not alone. Just a short while ago I didn’t even know what a dhole was, and now I am spending over 20 hours a week with these magnificent whistling canines!

Dholes are a medium-size dog but actually look rather fox-like—with a red-brown coat, a white neck and stomach, and a thick, bushy tail. In the wild, dholes are rarely seen; this is because dholes are extremely skittish, often taking cover in the brush whenever they sense anything (and I do mean anything!) remotely out of the ordinary. But besides their anxious disposition, dholes are hard to locate because they are endangered, and their numbers in the wild are only decreasing.

This is where I come in! By studying the behaviors of the nine dholes at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, I am adding to what is currently only a small knowledge base about dholes, especially dholes living in zoos (the Wild Animal Park is one of just a few institutions in North America to house these animals). This information can then be used at other facilities that have dholes in order to maximize care for this endangered species, helping them to live healthier lives and to produce more offspring to increase the population.

The Park’s dholes are housed at an offsite facility—which, unfortunately, means that the dholes are not viewable by the public. At this facility, the dholes are split into three enclosures: a family group (father, mother, and four six-month-old puppies), a male/female pair, and then a single male dhole. Their yards are next to one another and divided only by chain link fencing. The separation of the dholes is necessary for social reasons and breeding purposes, but being such social animals, this layout might affect how they behave. My study is focused on examining dhole behavior and seeing how those behaviors, as well as the space utilization of their yards, changes when visual barriers are constructed between the enclosures.

My past research experience includes behavioral studies of Asian elephants and hormonal studies on African lions. I am excited to be working with the Institute this summer, and I am truly enjoying studying the dholes. I am interested to discover how removing visual access to other enclosures will affect the dholes’ behavior over time—and I hope I’ve got you interested, too! I will keep you posted throughout the summer as I find out more through my observations, so check back for updates!

Katie Graham is a biology major at the University of Portland and the 2010 Neeper Endowed Fellow working in the Behavioral Biology Division at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read a previous post, Chinese Dholes.


Elephant Manners

Swazi's son, born April 2010

In my last post, Umoya’s Calf, I mentioned that due to the social hierarchy within the African elephant herd at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, the newest elephant calf, born May 12, 2010, to Umoya, has learned to “watch his step” around Swazi. Let me explain:

All the calves have to learn and establish their social rank in the herd, just as they would in the wild. Since Umoya is the second-ranked female, her calf benefits from his mother’s rank as long as she is nearby. Since Swazi is the top-ranked female, she doesn’t have to be submissive to any of the other females or their calves. Umoya’s calf is learning that around Swazi in particular, there is a submissive way to approach her, and there is the wrong way to approach her. He’s learning that the wrong way to approach her is head-on and that he should get out of her way when she’s moving about.

A submissive posture for an elephant is to turn around and back in toward the more dominant elephant as if “asking permission” to be in the dominant elephant’s space. It also appears to me that when the submissive elephant is startled by a situation that involves one or more dominant elephants, they will not only turn around, but they’ll vocalize and urinate as if to punctuate that they’re being submissive. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “Sorry, sorry, it wasn’t me, I’m sorry!”

Each encounter that I’ve observed has its own subtle nuances. Depending on which animals are involved and the situation, it gives me new angles in which to deduct its meaning. Someone else may interpret it differently as well. It’s all very fascinating to observe!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.

Watch the Park’s elephants daily on Elephant Cam!


Elephants: Calf of Umoya

Umoya and her son

As many of you know, there were some difficult circumstances following the birth of Umoya’s calf on May 12 of this year (see post, A May Elephant Baby) at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, so it’s been a big relief to their adoring and caring public, their keepers, and our veterinary staff that things have worked out so well for the both of them.

The little guy currently weighs 290 pounds (132 kilograms) as of July 4. He’s figured out some of the social hierarchy within the herd, namely “watch your step” around Swazi. He’s learning to play with half brothers Ingadze, Lutsandvo, and Swazi’s calf, born in April (see Newest Elephant Calf).

Nap time!

Umoya’s son is very easy to entertain if you have a hose in your hand. Big sister Kami shares the babysitting duties with Mom, but for the most part he stays pretty close to Umoya. Because of this, whenever Umoya ventures into the big pool, junior follows right behind her without any hesitation. If the water level is such that he can remain standing, he’s usually right underneath her, dipping his mouth into the pool for a drink or three (he likes to drink). If the pool level is higher, he’ll actually swim around her. If his head goes under, he’s already figured out the trunk-periscope thing, which is just hilarious to observe. He really loves the water, more than any of the other calves have at this age.

If you get the chance to come to the Wild Animal Park, make sure you visit the Elephant Viewing Patio for the 11 a.m. Elephant Rush and also later in the afternoon, when the elephants are more likely to be swimming in the pool. You might be lucky and get to observe a “Baby Pool Party” from a great vantage point. And if Umoya decides it’s time to cool off, you’re sure to see little munchkin #3 sliding in right behind her!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.


Elephant Rush!

Moya and her son, with Kami (left) and Litsemba

Most of the time when we think of the word “rush,” we don’t think of fun; instead, the word brings to mind being in a hurry (or in a panic!). “Elephant Rush” at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is quite different, yet there is one similarity. The big difference is how much fun you will have: you can’t help but smile. The similarity? The elephants are indeed in a hurry!

As you know, our keepers offer fun and interesting enrichment for the elephants every day. However, what you may not know is that now, every day right before 11 in the morning, the keepers finish placing all of the enrichment out into the elephant yard. Then at 11 a.m., the elephants hastily make their way out to play with and explore all of that great enrichment. This has become known as Elephant Rush, and, let me tell you: it is a sight to behold and one you MUST see!

Although we don’t get to enjoy playing like the elephants do, we can get a great view from multiple spots around the Wild Animal Park. As most of you know, the Park’s Elephant Overlook has a great vantage point, but did you know you can see the majority of the yard from the Elephant Viewing Patio just east of Tembo Stadium? There is even some remote viewing as you walk to Kilima Point.

Who has more fun with this daily activity? Well, as much as all of the humans seem to love watching this event, I can honestly say I think the elephants have the most fun. However, I am not sure if the adult elephants or the youngsters are enjoying it most: you’ll have to go see them and try to figure that one out on your own. Between the rolling, playing, exploring, and even swimming, it kind of makes me wish I was an elephant, too!

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s ambassador. Read his previous post, Polar Bear Plunge: Re-Opened!

Watch the Wild Animal Park’s elephants daily on Elephant Cam.