Wild Animal Park


Love at the Zoo

Commercialism aside, Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love. We like it because it reminds us that love is in the air at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Wild Animal Park), not just with our animals, but with our guests, too. And not just on Valentine’s Day—love is in the air all year round. The Zoo and Park are places where people come to enjoy the wonders of the natural world with the people dear to them, the people they love and cherish. We think that’s a beautiful thing, and in honor of that spirit we asked our Facebook fans to share their stories of love at the Zoo and Park with us. Below are the stories they shared. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. Much love!

Ellen Brown Got the first kiss from my favorite boyfriend in front to the koalas. He knew I loved the zoo–and that I love the koalas most. He said ‘you never get a second chance to have a first kiss.’ In all the years since, I have never been back to the koala enclosure that I don’t think of that day 18 years ago.

Cathy Souza Culbertson My husband proposed to me, on my birthday, after a fantastic surprise picnic lunch on the lawn overlooking “East Africa” at the Park. I was thinking what a wonderful birthday I was having, when he went on one knee and started with a beautiful speech about how grateful he was to have me in his life when the ring box came out of his pocket, I was as excited as one of those proposal commercials they are playing on TV! We have been married for 7 years and have had many more wonderful memories of the Zoo and Wild Animal Park since.

Sheila Kirby Cavanaugh My husband & I had our first date at the SD Zoo on August 25, 2004 (which also was my birthday)… It was a beautiful summer evening. We walked around, had dinner & got to know each other. We also shared our first kiss there too!! Best date ever… Exactly 2 years later he proposed to me and we are happily married with 2 beautiful little girls. I love the zoo!!

Amy Fullerton After 6 years of dating, my husband took me for a picnic in Balboa Park. He’s Irish so much earlier in our relationship I received a Claddaugh ring, which I wore faithfully. At some point during our lunch he said you know I love that ring but I have one I think you might like even more and he proposed under one of the fabulous old trees. After I said yes… 🙂 we walked around for hours and just let it all sink in. The zoo has always been my favorite place… now it’s just extra special! ♥

Jessica Foster My husband and I met at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. We met for the very first time in front of the crowned cranes at the entrance to the park. Exactly a year later, he proposed to me at the very spot. 😀

Mara Peters McLeod My husband and I used to go on play dates at the zoo together when we were two with our Grandmas (1981). They were friends and used to take us there. Who knew 21 years later we would start dating, get married and have 2 girls. We now go to the zoo as a family together all the time. Awesome!

Ana Hartman When I was 16, I went to the zoo with my then boyfriend for one of our first “real” dates. My good friend had given us free passes. It was an awesome day where we saw all of our favorite animals. He bought me a red panda t-shirt with Bai Yun, it was the first gift he ever bought me. Fast forward to 11 1/2 years later and that boyfriend is now my husband and I still have that panda shirt. Our first son wore the shirt until he grew out of it and I can’t wait until our second son fits into it! Our whole family loves the zoo and we’ve been members since 2001.

Stacey Atkins My fiancé and I met online, but decided to meet face to face in Balboa Park. After wandering through the park for a while, he asked me if I would like to go to the zoo. So, off to the zoo we went, and then he took me to lunch at Albert’s. Obviously we had a wonderful time there, as many of our weekends have been spent wandering through the zoo, and as members, special zoo events have often served as date nights. The zoo will always hold special memories for us as the place where we began our relationship, and every trip to come will remind us of how our love blossomed there.

Steven Cerda My girlfriend and I had our first date at the zoo almost four years ago..=]. We still call it Tiiiiiiiiiiiger River..♥. I love you Carolyn..♥.

Joshua P. Romero My now boyfriend and I shared a wonderful night together at Jungle Bells, courtesy of my Diamond Membership. We’d become the best of friends over the previous year and a half and I’d never really considered us being more than fiends. But something magical happened that night at Jungle Bells where I began to see him as someone more dear and special to me than just a friend. The San Diego Zoo will always be a special place for me because of the role it played in the start of our relationship.

Jennifer Anne McCroskey Weyenberg My husband is my 2nd. So we started dating in May, and over the early summer decided it would be fun to go somewhere for a weekend…a test to see if we could stand each other that long. Ok, not really, but that was what we joked. We soooo enjoyed the zoo, it was the best day in SD for us. We wandered, saw the shows, looked at the amazing animals, and fell even deeper in love with each other. A year later we went back with my kids and had another amazing time!!!

Brittany Knutson My fiance proposed to me at the San Diego Zoo in May 2010! I made it quite difficult for him, but he finally did it in front of the serval on the lion statue there 🙂 We are getting married June 4th at the Denver Zoo and are then going back to San Diego for our honeymoon!

Susanne Ruthsatz My husband contacted SDZ for his marriage proposal to me. He wanted to put a sign saying: “Susanne will you marry me” in the terrarium of the Burmese python, as she was the animal I wanted to see. Ever since I read the book “Sandeagozu” by Jannan V Jenner, visiting the zoo was my dream and he knew that. The people at SDZ were totally helpful and would have done it for him/us. Unfortunately our trip to USA went from LA to Vegas and then to San Diego, so we got married just before we went to SDZ, so he couldn’t do the proposal like he planned, but it’s the thought that counts! It was the best honeymoon ever!!!!! I will cherish my memory of SDZ forever, hoping someday I have enough money to return.

Laura Rosenthal Benz Had my first date with my hubby there, now we bring our daughter.

Ashli Krasznavolgyi My husband and I went to San Diego on our honeymoon (we lived in New Jersey at the time). We spent so much time at the zoo, the weather was amazing and we had so much fun and at the other parts of Balboa Park. We visited the Japanese Tea Garden and the Cottages and just have great memories. For our one year anniversary I took all of our paper memorabilia and put it in a shadow box to celebrate our one year “paper” anniversary. 🙂 We have been married 5 years now.

Ruka Micheletti My boyfriend and I had our first date at the San Diego Zoo during the Hunte show. We also had our first kiss at the Safari Park by the cheetahs. The zoo will always have a special place in our lives.

Nora Harris Watson I didn’t get engaged at the zoo, but, I did get my ring at the zoo. I have a cute series of pix of me pretending to be ignoring the animals and looking at my ring instead. 🙂

Rachel Carpenter My husband proposed to me at the zoo while we were on the Skyfari. He even managed to get down on one knee in the little car. The car number was 42, and every time we visit the zoo we look for it!

Timothy A. Schenck Got engaged at the SD Zoo Safari Park in ’03. Every couple weeks we were visiting the Park that summer but as soon as I was ready to propose, she was always too busy to make ‘1 more visit.’ So, I had to create a scheme with my sister-in-law to get her to go and even when we did go it was like pulling teeth to get her to visit her favorite spot up near the babbling creek in the conifer forest.

Sandy Jarrett At age 49 my husband and I married, a second marriage for both. Four months later, we helped caravan AWANA kids from our church to the zoo. Fifteen minutes later a kid had been lost then found resulting in a strong talk from the leader. Keep an eye on each other! So my husband and I put our faces together, someone took our picture and we sent that to his 90-year-old mother. She loved us keeping an eye on each other. We love the zoo!

Mandy Dahl I had never seen the ocean and always dreamed of going to the San Diego Zoo. Before my fiancé deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, he surprised me by telling me to pack my suitcase. We arrived at the airport and that’s where he revealed that he was going to take me to San Diego to see the zoo and ocean. The man of my dreams made my dreams come true! We had the best time that weekend, and I will never forget it!

Rebecca Sefl My husband and I got married at the Wild Animal Park…it was beautiful.

Michelle O’Neill I had my first date with my husband at the Wild Animal Park 10 years ago. We were stuck on the tram ride for almost an hour in the dark. 😉

Deborah Carp-Mandelblatt I did get engaged at the zoo. I was so surprised and my husband (now) adopted a pair of meerkats (my favorite animal) and I got to spend some time with kala and hari!!!! All this happened before the park opened.

Shaun Ivory My very first date with my wife of 22 years was at the San Diego Zoo, in March 1988. She didn’t think it was a real date at the time, but I guess I ended up being right! 🙂

Breanna Hough My boyfriend and I have been coming to the Zoo once a month for over a year and we call it our monthly get-away date 🙂

Ben Liebner My wife and I honeymooned in San Diego, and went to Sea World, San Diego Wild Animal Park and the San Diego Zoo, among other places. We had a fantastic time all-around!

Tricia Bayless Browne My husband & I got married in Dec. So San Diego was the obvious choice for our honeymoon. It was his first time there & of course we had to go to the zoo. We had a wonderful time & 36 years later are still having wonderful times together.

Heather Wright Met my husband at the Zoo, in the old panda exhibit, three years later we were married and had our reception in the Rondaval.

Nicholas Newman My best friend got engaged at the wild animal park, right in front of the Okapis. We were visiting our friend who’s a keeper there, it was soo cute and fitting since we are all zookeepers.

Katia Stanford My fiancé and I had our first date at the zoo, and he took me back there to propose to me! He knows that I don’t like public scenes, so he kept waiting for a quiet place without any people. We ended up on the trail in front of the tapir, who was the only creature to witness our engagement. 🙂 Such a special moment. The zoo holds such great memories for both of us. We love our annual memberships and keep coming back. Such a great San Diego institution and you are truly making a difference in this world. Hopefully the kids we have one day are going to see animals that would otherwise have been extinct because of your efforts. xoxo

Jennifer Russell When I was a teen back in 1987, I had the best date ever that started at the zoo. It was some sports Padre/Charger thing day, so the zoo was almost empty. After we went to lunch, and then miniature golfing at the La Mesa Family Fun Center, which is now a freeway…such a LONG time ago!

Suzanne Hanna My Fiancée’ and I went on many dates at the zoo, we took many pictures which we proudly hang in our condo. We buy a pass every year because it’s the perfect place for us to talk, take pictures, and see all the wonderful animals! Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!!!

Judy Fink My husband and I met when we worked at the zoo 47 years ago. Got engaged and still enjoy romantic strolls around the zoo with two little grandsons.

Carmen Van de Kamp My “husband-to-be”;) got the tickets and hotel night for his birthday in August 2010. The SD Zoo had always been a dream from his childhood to visit, so it was a big surprise. But even bigger was my surprise when we were in the San Diego Zoo on the 2nd day when we went into the Skyfari and right there above the Zoo he asked me to marry him, this was last December 1st. He had been preparing that since I got him the tickets in August last year for his birthday…
Coming year on the day between our birthdays (August 25 & August 27, so on August 26) we are getting married…The San Diego Zoo was always special to him as a dream from his childhood, but now it will be special for us for the love that we have for each other, which will always be connected with those 3 great days we had in the Zoo & the Wild Animal Park…& the Skyfari 😉

Scott Daugherty My wife and I grew up in San Diego together, and are both avid animal people (I’m a zookeeper, she a vet tech). We both have very fond memories of the SD Zoo, and I figured ‘what better place?’ We had lunch at Albert’s and she knew something was up, but I kept her waiting, and popped the question on a quiet back pathway, near the koi pond. I can’t imagine a better place for the both of us. 🙂

Alyssa Brislin My manager got engaged at the zoo! Her now husband proposed by the ducks at the lagoon terrace. He was trying to get her attention and get down on one knee but she was too busy rushing along to look at other things. He finally popped the question and they are now happily married.

Sarah Thatcher My husband and I, after we eloped in Vegas, came to live in San Diego. The first place we went on our honeymoon was the San Diego Zoo. I love animals so he surprised me with passes.


A Sensitive Guy

Indian rhinos meet Ride on the Wild Side participants.

I remember the day I fell in love with Indian, or greater one-horned, rhinos: August 8, 1980. Only one week earlier, I had started working as a mammal keeper at the Wild Animal Park, assigned to the field exhibits. On that morning, when we arrived at the enclosure in the Asian Plains exhibit, we discovered a brand-new male Indian rhino. Except for the fact that he did not have a horn and was a little bit pink around the edges of his distinctive skin folds, he looked like a miniature of his mother: indescribably adorable. It was love at first sight!

The larger importance of the birth was not lost on me. Native to northern India and southern Nepal, Indian rhinos are endangered as a result of habitat loss and the continued threat of poaching. To further the conservation of this species, the Wild Animal Park provides support and funding for rhino conservation in India, in addition to the breeding successes on site at the Park—we have now had 59 Indian rhinos born, which is a world record for births under human care! And the Wild Animal Park participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Indian rhinos. For those rhinos born here, this means that someday they will be relocated to another facility where they can start their own families.

In preparation for the eventual move, rhinos are moved out of the 45-acre Asian Plains field exhibit and into a behind-the-scenes area where they can get acclimated to the type of environment they will likely experience in their new, more traditional zoo home, with closer proximity to keepers and visitors. In this behind-the-scenes area, keepers work very hard to desensitize rhinos headed off to other zoos. From my experience, I discovered that each rhino has a distinct personality: some are naturally more comfortable around people. Years ago, as a keeper at the Park, I worked with Lasai, a herd sire from a zoo in Basel, Switzerland; he was so comfortable being around people that he actually sought us out as if to see what we were doing!

Other rhinos are a little bit more aloof around people. In such cases, keepers work to help the rhino feel more content. By bringing food and enrichment rewards for being in close proximity to people, the rhino learns to feel comfortable in the new environment. The next step in the process is to introduce the rhino to more people every day, especially those not wearing the usual keeper uniform, to further increase the animal’s confidence in remaining social. The enrichment rewards might be different for different rhinos. One rhino that recently went through this “rhino prep school program” loved getting showers with the garden hose!

Now that I’m part of the Park’s Education Department, I’ve learned how important (and how much fun) it is to connect our members and guests with our animals. By sharing stories and inside information about our animal collection, and sometimes making personal introductions, I get to watch them fall in love, too.

So, are you looking to meet a sensitive guy, be a partner in rhino prep school, and maybe fall in love? Look no further! Meet Jontu, a male Indian rhinoceros born in the Asian Plains exhibit at the Wild Animal Park on January 25, 2008. Jontu is now being set up for success in his new home at a yet-to-be determined zoo. You can help with Jontu’s desensitization by participating in the Ride on the Wild Side: For the Love of Animals tour, which not only takes visitors to meet Jontu and get a closer look at how keepers care for him, but also visits two other behind-the-scenes areas.

Ready for your visit with Jontu? Ride on the Wild Side: For the Love of Animals occurs daily at 1:30 pm. For more information, visit our Web page or call 800-407-9534.

Nancy Clark is a lead educator at the 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


Black Rhino Calf!

Kym has been a carnivore keeper for eight years, but recently switched to caring for herbivores and is writing a series about her new experiences. Read her previous post, New View of Enrichment.

The Wild Animal Park welcomed a new baby boy to our family on July 19, 2010. An eastern black rhino calf was born to mother Lembi and father Jambia at approximately 12:45 p.m. All four subspecies of black rhinos are endangered, with an estimate of only 4,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Only 639 to 700 eastern black rhinos are thought to be left in Africa. This new little guy is the 14th black rhino to be born at the Wild Animal Park and the fourth to these proud parents!

I was next door leading a training session with an Indian rhino when a call came in from a Journey into Africa tour guide informing us that we had a baby. It took me all of about 30 seconds to end the training session (sorry, Jontu!) and climb up onto the top of the black rhino compound to have a look! Although unsteady, the little guy was already up and following Mom around.

The gestation period for a black rhino is 15 to 16 months, so we had been expecting this new arrival for quite some time. Keepers separated the sire, Jambia (see post Making Friends with a Rhino), to a yard next to the exhibit a month ago to prepare for the birth. In the wild, a mother would keep her calf away from other rhinos, so we are allowing Lembi this same opportunity. Jambia has done well living with Mom and baby before, so he will most likely be let back into the exhibit in the next couple of months. Males do not take any part in the rearing of offspring, and Lembi will no doubt remind him of this! With her previous calves she has been quite protective, keeping Jambia at bay. No one wants to mess with a rhinoceros mother, rhinoceros fathers included! The time away from Jambia will also allow the calf bonding time with Mom, and, of course, growing time!

Keepers had been watching Lembi’s mammary development very closely. As with most animals, a rhino’s mammary glands will not swell with milk until a birth is imminent. For the past month we have been calling Lembi into a chute every day so we could get a good look at her “bag” (“keeper-speak” for mammary glands). Additionally, a photo of her bag was taken once a week so that we could track the development. Behaviorally, Lembi gave no indication of labor other than being slightly more aggressive the day of the birth. As the keepers fed and cleaned the exhibit, Lembi was much more active than usual, even charging the truck (but never making contact) a couple of times. Being as large as she was and with skin as thick as a rhino, it was impossible for us to see contractions, but I am sure any mother will tell you they don’t want to be bothered while in labor!

We gave Mom and son a day to settle and bond before we drove our vehicles back into the field exhibit again; all was calm. Lembi has been very cooperative and has come up to the training areas for biscuits and apples, little one in tow. We have not attempted to bring her into the chute where the scale is located since the birth but hope to do so in the next week. We don’t want to push things and want to be sure baby will follow Mom calmly. Not only would we like an updated post-pregnancy weight on Lembi, but we would love to record the weight of the calf.

Black rhino calves weigh an average of 80 pounds (36 kilograms) at birth, and we suspect he is right on target. By all accounts he seems very active and healthy. He is nursing well, follows Mom and imitates her every move as best he can on his pint-sized legs!

I will be sure to keep you posted on his progress and development. If you are out at the Wild Animal Park, be sure to take a tour on the Journey into Africa tram: you just might catch a glimpse of the cutest baby rhino ever!

Kym Nelson is a senior keeper at the Wild Animal Park.


National Zoo Keeper Week 2010

Keeper Leticia Plasencia with a young Wolf' guenon.

Did you know that the third week of July is recognized as National Zoo Keeper Week? Well, you probably did if you were at the San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park(or just about any other zoo facility in the nation) this past week!

If you are a San Diego Zoo member, you may recall in the July 2010 ZOONOOZ there was an article about National Zoo Keeper Week. Here in San Diego, there were several things set up to celebrate the unique career of being a professional zoo keeper. A big event not at the Zoo or Park was being part of the opening ceremonies for a Padres home game on July 17—we even brought along some of our animal friends for the pre-game activities.

This past week we had zoo keepers on hand to answer questions and talk to our guests about what they do and why. I had the opportunity to bring animals out and about and talk to guests one on one about National Zoo Keeper Week. One of the main things I heard from our guests was, “I had no idea there was a National Zoo Keeper Week. Is it really a nationally recognized week?”

You bet it is!

In fact, it all started right here in San Diego with an idea that there was a need to bring national attention to what zoo keepers do. In 2006, then lead keeper and president of the local American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) board, Bob Cisneros started working toward making this idea a reality. By 2007, the 110th Congress officially passed House Resolution 509, “Supporting the goals and ideals of National Zoo Keeper Week”.

Though recognized by the House of Representatives, that first year’s celebration was primarily located here in San Diego. Now, just three short years later, there was news coverage from around the nation as zoos everywhere brought awareness to the dedication and unique work zoo keepers do every day.

If you missed out on this year’s fun, make sure to keep your eyes open for next year’s National Zoo Keeper Week, always the third week in July. Also keep in mind that the San Diego Zoo has countless keeper talks every day at both the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park. Feel free to ask our keepers about their animals and what they do as zoo keepers. And, of course, feel free to thank them for all of their hard work and dedication to animal care, education, and conservation.

Rick Schwartz is a zoo keeper and the San Diego Zoo’s ambassador. Read his previous post, Elephant Rush!

For those thinking about a career as a zoo keeper, see So You Want to Be a Keeper?


Okapi Youngster Uche

Recently, all the news at the Wild Animal Park’s okapi barn has been about our two-year-old prodigy, Zuri. While he has been a trailblazer and a great “spokes-okapi” for our training program (see Okapi Zuri Grows Up), he has some competition: an eight-month-old calf named Uche (oo-chay), whose name means “dawn” or “daybreak” (see A New Okapi!).

After an “interesting” few months, during which we all sported bruised shins (kicking being the first skill he mastered), he has come along beautifully with his training. Uche has been wearing a halter since he was a day old and now leads very well. He has started the first step in trailer training, which consists of following us into our bedding storage container. This provides an enclosed space with a wooden floor that’s not quite as small as an actual trailer. Uche follows us in with no objection and enjoys sniffing around in there. His favorite training reward is a good rubdown; he especially enjoys having the underside of his neck gently rubbed.

Marcia adjusts Uche's halter

We are able to handle most of his body without objection, but still need to be careful with his lower legs, as he hasn’t completely lost his fondness for kicking! We are confident that with patience he will improve in this area and that eventually we will be able to work on his feet, a major objective of this training.

While Zuri was growing up, we kept careful training and behavioral records to track his progress. These have proven to be invaluable as we work with Uche; we are able to refer back to them to see what Zuri was doing at particular ages, and it’s been very interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two boys.

Uche is now weaned and is shedding the last of his fuzzy baby coat. He is well on his way to becoming a sleek, shiny young male like his role model, Zuri. I will keep everyone posted on his progress!

Marcia Redding is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.


Name the Elephant Calf!

The calf born in April to Swazi has been given a name courtesy of one of our donors: eMacembe La Lu Hlata; keepers call him Macembe (ma KEM bay). Now, after naming seven elephants born at the Wild Animal Park over the past six years, we’re out of ideas! Well, maybe not, but we still want you to suggest names for our youngest African elephant. Our blog readers have been kind enough to help us find very suitable names for Yun Zi, our youngest giant panda, and Zoli, a silvered leaf langur, but now you’ve reached the big time!

We like to think that these naming opportunities have given you an occasion to learn more about species like pandas and langurs. Now it’s time to study up on pachyderm biology, because from July 13 to 25, you’ll have a chance to submit your suggestions via the Zoo’s Web site. Remember: the suggestions should relate symbolically to the calf or elephant conservation. Open up the science books, read through our Animal Bytes elephant page, visit the little guy at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, and get inspired.

Keep in mind that we will continue the tradition of translating the name into SiSwati, the language of the Kingdom of Swaziland where the calf’s mother and father were rescued. We’re not going to ask you to submit it in siSwati (we’ll do that for you), but if you can—well, bonus points for you!

Here are a few tidbits about the kid: Born May 12, 2010, he is strong, playful, loves the water, and enjoys spending time with the other boys, including his papa, Mabu.

The best way to really get your creativity flowing is to visit the youngster. Now is a great time to do so, because during the African Summer Festival at the Wild Animal Park we have a special treat for the elephants at 11 a.m. daily: Elephant Rush! Come out to watch the elephants eagerly head out into the exhibit to enjoy the snacks, search for treats, and play with items—and each other! It is easy to confuse the three calves born this year, in February, April, and May respectively, but a staff member is on hand at 11 a.m. to talk with guests about what’s happening and answer questions.

Still need more help? Read the latest blog (Elephants: Umoya’s Calf) written by Curtis Lehman, the animal care supervisor who looks after the elephants, to learn more about the calf’s personality. You can also check out the Meet the Elephants page on our Web site. Here you’ll find the names of the rest of the herd and what they mean. For example, the newest calf’s mother’s name, Umoya, means “spirit” because of her extraordinary personality. In 2004, Vus’musi was named by the King of Swaziland. Since he was the first calf born at the Wild Animal Park, the king chose a name that means “to build a family.”

So get to it. Submit your ideas July 12 to 25. In August, we’ll post our favorite names for an online vote. The name with the most votes will be announced at the Park at 11 a.m. on Thursday, August 26.

Yadira Galindo is a senior public relations representative for the San Diego Zoo.


Newest Elephant Calf

As of May 11, the Wild Animal Park’s newest calf (born on April 12, 2010) weighs 312 pounds (142 kilograms) and continues to gain about 2 pounds a day. Son of first-time mother Swazi, he was our biggest baby at birth at 268 pounds (122 kilograms). The as-yet-named calf has become an efficient “nurser” and also enjoys “nursing” from #1 Auntie, Lungile (who’s not lactating), and occasionally his dad, Mabu, who’s definitely not lactating and has this bewildered look on his face! The baby nurses like clockwork about every half hour and for about two minutes total each time.

Just like Lutsandvo before him (born February 14, 2010; see post New Elephant to Love), he’s learned that older half-sisters Khosi and Kami are really nice and Lungile especially so. He’s enjoying playing with Lutsandvo more and more each day, and they get into a lot of head-to-head shoving matches to see who’s tougher. The little guy is not quite independent like Lutsandvo is, but he’s starting to participate with him in the mud bog pile-ons with half-brothers Ingadze and Impunga, and Khosi and Kami.

The calf has become very good at letting us getting a weight on him, but he’s now refusing to leave the scale area afterward. Every baby has gone through this phase; it’s like they realize they can finally control something, such as the gate that would shut behind them when they were younger but now will not shut if they linger in the doorway. It only lasts a few weeks at most, but it comically chaps our hides every time. We’ve called every baby “bad baby” during this phase! Ah, the joy they bring.

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


Picking One from the Herd

A herd of impala at the Wild Animal Park.

Kym has been a carnivore keeper for eight years, but recently switched to caring for herbivores and is writing a series about her new experiences. Read her previous post, Making Friends with a Rhino.

One of the most difficult skills I have had to learn since transferring to the West Run at the Wild Animal Park has been animal identification. I know you are probably wondering why this would be a new skill; don’t we need to identify the tigers and lions? Well, of course we do, but our methods are very different when it comes to identifying hoofed animals.

With a tiger, identification is easy: they have stripes and each tiger’s set of markings is unique to that individual. Simple enough. So what about lions? Generally speaking, keepers have a much closer relationship with lions than with a slender-horned gazelle, for example. Keepers learn to see differences in bone structure, coloring, and behaviors to help them identify the lions. With antelope and gazelle, it is quite common that a herd will number at 20 plus individuals, all of which are quickly running around a large exhibit. In this setting, building individual relationships can be near impossible! So how do we it? A series of ear notches and a colored tag in the right ear identify each animal.

My first step in learning this new identification system was to memorize what number corresponded with each tag and notch. The color of each tag denotes a number: Red=100, Yellow=200, Orange=300, Blue=400, White=500. The placement of the notch and the ear it is on lets you know its value. You can try it for yourself using the diagram at left.

So if I asked you to identify animal #369, could you? Now try to imagine having to pick this animal out of the herd, and it never stands still! It is definitely harder than it sounds. The field keepers who have been at this for a while simply glance at an animal and can identify it in seconds, while it takes me a lot longer to be sure I have read the notches correctly. It can be explained most simply as if you were learning to read a new language; at first you probably do a lot of translating in your head to be sure you have the right word, but once you are fluent you no longer need to do this, you just read the word. When I look at an animal I see each notch separately and then have to add them up; an experienced keeper sees the whole number in one glance.

When a calf is born, keepers must “process it,” which means they give it a quick health check, determine its sex, and identify it. This has to be done quickly for a few reasons: some mothers can be quite protective of their newborns, and we do not want to threaten the solidity of the bond the new calf has with its mother.

The first step in the processing is to find the baby. Some species of antelope and gazelle are classified as altricial and are hidden by their mothers; you would be surprised at how camouflaged a newborn red-fronted gazelle is when resting next to a rock pile! Other youngsters are much easier to locate, but a lot harder to catch! These babies are called precocial, and this means that within a few hours they are up and running at their mother’s side. With these babies there is an extra step to the processing—catching it! This is usually done from the back of a truck driven alongside the herd; the baby is scooped up to the waiting keepers. Being on the back of a truck does not insure a peaceful time, as some mothers are so protective that they try to jump into the truck with their baby. Because of this, it can take up to five keepers to process a single baby: one to drive, one to hold the calf, one to process the calf, and two to defend the truck from unwanted additions!

The tagging and notching happens very quickly and is similar to having your own ears pierced. I have learned that one of the most important preparations is to ensure that the front and back of the tag lines up so that the piercing will be straight and fast. I have not had to tag a baby yet but have had some practice loading the tag and piercing some cardboard “ears.” I am confident that when the time comes I will be ready. As for the notching, placement is key: a low 4 notch can resemble a 7 and alternatively a high 7 notch could be misread as a 4. I have had to notch two babies and took my time positioning the notch before being speedy with the execution. Neither baby seemed to notice the notch, and both were happy to be returned to their mothers afterward. In all, the processing takes between two and five minutes and provides a lifetime of valuable information to the animal care staff!

Kym Nelson is a senior keeper at the Wild Animal Park.


Making Friends with a Rhino

A black rhino

Kym has been a carnivore keeper for eight years. She recently switched to caring for herbivores and is writing a series about her new experiences. Read her previous post, Meet a Mammal Keeper.

I never realized how much personality the black rhinos have. When I thought of animals that would have favorite keepers, be resistant to change, and challenge a new face, I thought of gorillas and lions, not rhinoceroses. But after a month on the West Run at the Wild Animal Park working with Jambia, our male black rhino, I can assure you that rhinos are now at the top of that list!

The first couple of times that I worked in the black rhino area, I was told by the other keepers to just stand back a little bit and watch. It was explained to me that Jambia sometimes took a while to warm up to new keepers. “Not me,” I thought. “Animals love me!” But I stood back, nonetheless, and Jambia didn’t pay me any attention, just what I was expecting.

Jambia has to be moved out of the exhibit every day into an adjacent yard so that the keepers can enter the exhibit to clean it. He has been known to challenge our trucks; if you don’t believe me, keep your eyes peeled for our keeper truck driving around the Wild Animal Park; you’ll know it’s the right truck when you see two holes in the passenger side from his horns!

Finally, I was handed an apple, and once Jambia was secured in the adjacent yard I approached with my peace offering, and he took the apple with no hesitation. It was like I had been doing this for years! Feeling confident, I reached out my hand to pet him. I had never touched a rhino before; his skin is very rough and thick. Just as I was thinking that things were going perfectly, something changed: Jambia backed away from the gate and let out a large huff (rhinos blow out air as a sign of aggression). Next, he came forward very quickly, charging the bars and me on the other side. That was enough to let me know that, despite my best efforts, we were not going to become instant friends. Still, I thought as I walked away from him, that it was not too terrible for a first meeting; a few more apples and we would be buds.

The next day I returned, apples in hand, ready to be greeted and make fast friends. Well, Jambia apparently had something else in mind. As I approached the door and held out a tasty treat, he charged the bars without the least bit of interest in the apple. He proceeded to kick his hind feet in the dirt, knocked his food tub over, and then pooped everywhere! This was NOT the greeting I had envisioned. It got worse from there, not better. As big as Jambia is (1,070 kilograms or 2,359 pounds!), he needed to be sure that I always remembered who was going to be the boss in our relationship. The next week was full of displays, feet kicking, horn rubbing, and sometimes charging right up the walls of the exhibit! These behaviors are similar to ones seen exhibited in displays between Jambia and his mate, Lembi; at least I am not the only female dealing with this temperamental male!

I have learned now that patience is the only way to make a rhino feel comfortable. Each day I returned with apples, and slowly, I was allowed to stay for increasing periods of time. In a way it was quite comical: I would feed him treats, talk to him, and brush him for a few minutes, and then it was as if he suddenly remembered he didn’t like me, a switch went on in his mind, and the posturing began. Today, things are going well; more often than not he is accepting of me and doesn’t pay me much attention. I expect that in a couple of weeks I will finally be one of “his” people. Now that’s a title to be proud of!

Kym Nelson is a senior keeper at the Wild Animal Park.