San Diego Zoo Safari Park Is Hand-raising African Steenbok Calves in Effort to Increase, Diversify Population

Lissa McCaffree, lead mammal keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, bottle-feeds one of two steenbok calves at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s nursery.

Lissa McCaffree, lead mammal keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, bottle-feeds one of two steenbok calves at the  Park’s nursery.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is bottle-feeding two African steenbok in its nursery, in an effort to increase the population of this antelope species. The Safari Park is home to six of just 16 steenbok in North America. The steenbok calves were born at the Safari Park during summer and have the same father. The calves are fed a bottle of formula several times a day, but these feedings will decrease as they age. They are also offered hay and trimmings from plants that will be part of their diets as they mature.

The Species Survival Plan program for steenbok suggests that animal care staff hand-raise these fragile calves to increase their survival rate, as well as help make them calmer animals. Very little is known about this genus of antelope, which herd in pairs, rather than the large groups that are typical of other antelope species. Steenbok also have a running gait that is more similar to a rabbit’s “hop” than the run of other antelope species; and they have very large ears, in comparison to their body size. The Safari Park hopes to increase the size of the steenbok herd and to learn more about this genus of antelope.

Steenbok are historically found throughout Africa, occupying drier savannas, grasslands and scrublands. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the steenbok population as stable in the wild, but recognizes that they are no longer found in some of their native habitat, including Uganda. Their habitat ranges are becoming widely separated geographically due to habitat changes. The IUCN also notes that population surveys of this species are not reliable.

Guests visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park can see the two calves in the nursery, near the village area of the Park. The other steenbok are in an exhibit across from the African Tram Safari station.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on Oct. 8, 2015, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.



An Aussie in San Diego

Brent with a lesser kudu

Brent with a lesser kudu

G’day! My name is Brent, and I am one of the Sumatran tiger keepers from the Melbourne Zoo in Australia. For the next three months I am lucky enough to be working at the San Diego Zoo, participating in a keeper exchange with a great guy named Adam. I’m working in the San Diego Zoo’s hoofed animals team, while he looks after our native animals at the Melbourne Zoo. It has been an outstanding experience so far! (Read Adam’s previous blog, Hopping along the Exchange.)

Now, most of the information I knew about America came from watching Jerry Springer on Australian TV, but so far I have not even seen ONE dwarf fighting with a large security guy. In fact, every single person I have met here at the San Diego Zoo and around San Diego have been absolutely fantastic. Californians seem like very relaxed and friendly people, just like back home in Australia. I think I might stick around and run for mayor.

One of the reasons I came to the San Diego Zoo was to learn more about ungulates (animals with hooves), and there is no better place in the world to do that than here at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Being a tiger keeper, most of my hoofed animal knowledge revolved around how to prepare meat to feed to the tigers…but I needed more.

Adult dik dik

Adult dik dik

The animals that I get to care for are amazing. I’m learning about reindeer, Calamian deer, Sichuan takins, Japanese serow, Soemmering’s gazelles, red-flanked duikers, Cape blue duikers, hairy armadillos, lesser kudu, pronghorn, tufted deer, steenbok, and my favorite: the dik diks. They are amazing little African antelope weighing about six pounds (2.7 kilograms) and their name comes from the alarm call they make when they are startled. Visitors to the Zoo will be lucky enough to see our one-week old baby dik dik near the west end of the Skyfari aerial tram. He could be the cutest animal in history!

Speke's gazelle

Speke's gazelle

Another animal that I look after and I’m really enjoying learning about is the Speke’s gazelle. These guys are another African antelope weighing around 40 pounds (18 kilograms), and they are super quick. But their most unique feature is their nose: they have folds of skin over their nostrils that inflate when they get excited. If I am working in their enclosure and they think I’m getting a bit close, they will stamp their hoof on the ground and their nose inflates like a small tennis ball! Visitors to the Zoo can see the Speke’s gazelle in our large mixed species exhibit just before you get to the polar bears. And you shouldn’t have to wait too long to see a Speke’s gazelle inflate its nose sack, because these guys don’t mind fighting out of their weight division, and you could see them trying to intimidate much larger animals like lesser kudus, and gerenuks, all with the help of an inflatable nose!

So, I hope the great people of San Diego get a chance to come into the Zoo soon, and if you see an Australian going walkabout, then come and say G’day.

Brent Clohesy is a keeper at the Melbourne Zoo.