Animal Stories

Animal Stories

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California Condor Chick: 30 to 45 Days of Age

A Condor Cam screen capture of the fluffy, growing chick.

This Condor Cam screen capture shows the California condor chick to be developing nicely.

At approximately one month of age, our California condor chick should weigh around 4 pounds (2 kilograms). The parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, may start leaving the chick alone overnight, sleeping near the nest instead of in it. If the weather is still cool or it’s raining, the parents may continue to brood overnight until the weather improves. Even though the parents are increasing their time away from the chick, they remain VERY vigilant and protective of their nest and especially their chick. Some field biologists have even seen wild condor parents chasing black bears away from the nest area!

Up until now, the chick has been scooting around the nest on its tarsal joints. We refer to that as a “tarsal crawl.” It’s not uncommon, at this age, to see the chick standing all the way up on its feet, teetering around the nest, holding its wings out for balance. As its legs get sturdier, the chick may even approach the parent, begging for food. The “wing-begging” behavior we’ve been seeing will get more pronounced: lots of wing flapping, head bobbing, and trying to position itself in front of the parent.

It is possible that the parents, who are offering larger quantities of food per feeding session, might be providing a small amount of fur/hair in the chick’s diet. (Part of the adults’ diet includes mammals, like rats and rabbits.) Condors can digest just about every part of the animals they eat, except for fur. This fur accumulates in the digestive tract and is eventually regurgitated as waste. We refer to this as “casting.” A condor’s cast is composed of predominantly fur, whereas a cast from an owl has fur and bones; owls can’t digest bones, but condors can. We have seen condor chicks cast hair pellets as young as three weeks of age. When the chick casts, it throws its head forward several times, mouth open, until the pellet is ejected from its mouth. It can look like the chick is in trouble, but it is perfectly normal, and good for the chick.

At 45 days of age, the chick will get its first health exam. We will obtain a blood sample for the lab to make sure it is healthy and send a portion of this sample to a lab in the Genetics Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, located adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. From this blood sample, the geneticists can determine if the chick is male or female. Also, during the exam, we will weigh the chick—it should weigh between 7.75 to 8.75 pounds (3.5 – 4 kilograms)—and inject a transponder chip as a form of identification. It’s the same kind of chip you can get for your dog or cat at the veterinarian. Most importantly, this exam allows us to administer a vaccine for West Nile Virus. West Nile Virus is disease that originated in Africa and was accidently introduced to North America by humans. North American wildlife, including condors, usually doesn’t have a natural immune response to West Nile Virus, so we are trying to give the chicks as much of a head start as we can.

This exam will be the first time that the chick will see humans, so it will naturally be disturbing for it. We try to be as quick as we can be (9 to 10 minutes) to minimize the disturbance. Additionally, we will keep the chick covered with a towel to reduce its exposure to humans and to provide it a bit of security. Sisquoc and Shatash are usually away from the nest when we perform the procedure in order to keep them as calm as possible, as well. We have to keep in mind that we don’t want the chick to become accustomed to or feel reassured by our presence; we want it to be a wild condor, uninterested and wary of humans, so that it may someday fly free in California, Arizona, or Mexico.

The chick will look very large at this age compared to how big it was at hatch, but remember that it is still less than half of its adult weight. There is much more growth and fun to come!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, Guide to Condor-chick Watching: Ages 1 Week to 1 Month.

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Heeere’s Devi!

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Our river hippo calf has a name—say “hello” to Devi!

The river hippo baby announcement many have been waiting for finally came on May 12: “It’s a girl!” We named her Devi, in honor of Dave Smith, a zookeeper and a friend to both animals and humans. We (hippo keepers along with several volunteers) had been doing our best to see the calf’s belly to determine gender since her birth on March 23, 2015. It took nearly two months to determine without any doubt that she is a girl. We had caught glimpses here and there, but as you can see in the photos with this blog, she has a few wrinkles. And while they are adorable, those wrinkles often hide certain characteristics we look for in determining a calf’s gender.

For the past two months, we have been watching Devi grow into her wrinkly skin—and develop quite a personality! While she is often shy, hiding by her mom’s head and tucked under the plants, she is also starting to get more comfortable with this whole being-a-hippo-thing, and it is magical to watch. The connection she has with her mom is amazing. Funani is constantly teaching little Devi: how to maneuver through deeper water, how to get in and out of the pool in different spots, even how to interact with keepers. The first time Devi approached me at their barn stall gate was due to a gentle push from Funani; oh, how my heart melted!

As Devi continues to gain confidence she is becoming more curious of her surroundings. But she always sticks close to mom, just in case. Sometimes, she reacts to a sound, movement, etc. and runs back to mom, but if Funani wants to use that as a teachable moment, you might see her nudge Devi back to that area.

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Fun and learning with Mom leads to naps in the sun.

Now, the hippos’ neighbors have definitely not gone unnoticed by Devi. The okapi and black duikers that live on the other side of the fence have all been quite curious about their new little neighbor. When Funani and Devi are on the beach, you will probably see the okapi and black duikers peering from their side. The first time she spotted the youngest okapi, Subira, Devi opened her mouth towards her and made a few hops in her direction. Subira didn’t budge, probably trying to figure out what was wrong with this little thing, and Devi retreated to mom.

These great interactions along with watching Funani mold Devi into a wonderful river hippo are the perfect reasons to come visit them at the exhibit on Hippo Trail in Lost Forest. Of course, keep in mind that all that exploring and activity requires lots of naps, and as nocturnal animals, many hippo naps take place during the day. But if you are patient or have perfect timing you can be in for quite a treat! Currently, Funani and Devi are on exhibit Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Devi’s father, Otis is on exhibit Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but please keep in mind that this schedule is subject to change.

Jennifer Chapman is a senior keeper at the Zoo. Read her previous blog, Hippo Birth: A Private Event.

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May 9 Is World Binturong Day!

Binturongs are also known as "bear cats" because they look like a cross between those two animals.

Binturongs are also known as “bear cats” because they look like a cross between those two animals.

A bintur-what? A bintur-right? No, a binturong. Most people have never heard of a binturong let alone seen one in person, which is a good reason zoos everywhere are celebrating the very first World Binturong Day on May 9, 2015.

Binturongs are mammals about the size of a medium-size dog. They are native to the forests of China, India, Indonesia and Southeast Asian forests, including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Borneo. Something really unusual about them is their scent—they smell like hot buttered popcorn! But more about that later…

Binturongs have delighted guests at the San Diego Zoo for many years. Currently we have three in our collection and they are all animal ambassadors. Phuket (Foo-KET), a young three-and-a-half-year-old male binturong, lives in the Children’s Zoo. Called “Phu”, by his keepers and trainers, he always delights kids during school programs and impresses Zoo visitors with his playful antics during his walks around the Children’s Zoo. Another young male, three-and-a-half-year-old Khi, (Kee), lives in Urban Jungle. He loves early morning walks  through his “neighborhood.” The elder of the Zoo’s binturongs, 14-year-old Bap Rang (“Bop Rong) meets hundreds of guest each month as a regular star of our Backstage Pass experience.

Binturongs are in the Viverridae family. Some of their relatives include civets and genets, even though they don’t look anything like them. Many people think binturongs look like a cross between a bear and cat, which is why they are sometimes called “bear cats.”

Taxonomists have grouped binturongs, civets, and genets together because they have something in common: the perineal gland (located under the tail). This unique gland secretes a thick substance that smells just like hot buttered popcorn—although some people think it smells like over-cooked rice. And here’s where that special scent comes in: the secretion, called civetone or musk, carries hormonal information that allows the male binturongs to find the females in their dense jungle habitat. A binturong’s home range can be hundreds of acres in size, which would make it hard to find one another if it weren’t for civetone. By rubbing the perineal gland against branches and tree trunks, female binturongs leave scent marks in the treetops throughout their territory.

A female binturong’s estrus cycle lasts 80 days. During this time, she is looking for Mr. Bintur-right—and he is very busy looking for her! The estrus cycle is the only time a male binturong is welcome into a female’s foraging area without a fight.

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A binturong’s tail provides balance as it moves along tree branches, but the animal can also hang from it!

An adaption that allows binturongs to live comfortably up in trees is their prehensile tail. Binturongs and kinkajous (from South America) are the only two carnivores with a prehensile tail. A binturong’s tail is strong enough to support the animal’s body as it hangs from a branch—when it needs to dangle to reach ripened fruit or bird eggs. Binturongs are considered carnivores, yet their diet looks more like that of an omnivore because they eat things other than meat. They will dine on just about anything that doesn’t eat them first, including small birds, small reptiles, amphibians, carrion, and seasonally ripened fruits.

A binturong’s  gastrointestinal tract doesn’t completely digest meals—food travels quickly through their system. But that short time is just long enough for the outer layer of a seed to break down, allowing it to germinate quickly when expelled. A binturong’s scat or waste helps more plants to grow!

Now that you know more about binturongs, we hope you’ll celebrate the very first World Binturong Day by helping us preserve their future. All nine subspecies of binturong are listed as “vulnerable with decreasing populations.” Today, the biggest threat to binturongs (and so many other animals) is loss of habitat for the creation of new palm oil plantations.

Palm oil is the number one ingredient in over half of the products in the average American household today. It’s in just about everything you can imagine: crackers, lipstick, detergent, margarine, shampoo, chocolate, and more! Living without palm oil is not a viable option, but buying products made with a sustainable source of palm oil is. Certified sustainable palm oil and certified sustainable palm kernel oil are produced on plantations that comply with globally agreed upon environmental standards.

There are more than 80 different names for palm oil. This fact alone makes it very difficult for consumers to decipher ingredients on labels. But two free apps—available for all types of smart phones—will help you find and purchase products from companies that use sustainable sources of palm oil.

To find these free apps, search “palm oil” in your app store. Once you learn which products are binturong-friendly, it will make shopping easier and you will not only help the binturong but all the other animals—like orangutans and clouded leopards—that share the same habitat. Happy World Binturong Day!

 

Maureen O. Duryee is a senior animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Clouded Leopard Success.

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Guide to Condor-chick Watching: Ages 1 Week to 1 Month

The condor chick is knows what it wants (food) and knows how to get it from Shatash!

Condor Cam screenshot: Now that the condor chick is a little bigger, it will be easier to get a glimpse of Shatash (seen here) and Sisquoc feeding it.

At approximately two to three weeks of age, the real fun of condor chick-viewing begins! The chick is getting bigger, weighing between 17 and 42 ounces (500 and 1200 grams), and can often be seen poking its head out from under the parents’ wings. The parents might be spending less time sitting on the chick, weather permitting, leaving it unattended for longer periods of time (possibly 30 minutes or so). Never fear—the parents are nearby, often just out of the camera’s view, approximately six to eight feet away.

It is usually easier to observe feeding behavior at this age, as well. The parents stand a little to the side of the chick while feeding now, so you may catch a glimpse of food actually being transferred from the parent to the chick. The chick’s crop—a bulge in the esophagus where food is stored—may be visible when it’s full. Look for a bald patch of skin between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. You will also witness a very common behavior called “wing-begging.” This is when the chick is begging for food, flapping one or both of its stubby little wings and bobbing its head excitedly. This behavior can persist until after the chick fledges, or leaves its nest, at four to five months.

The chick hatched wearing a fluffy coat of white down feathers. The main function of down is insulation—it can keep a bird cool or warm, whatever its body needs. At this stage, the chick’s white down is starting to transition to gray. Sometimes this can make the chick look dirty or scruffy, but it is still as healthy as it ever. Both the chick and its parents frequently groom the feathers to make sure they are working the way they should be. These dark feathers also help the chick blend in with the substrate and the nest cave walls, since the parents are not covering the chick as much as they were right after hatching.

Some viewers may notice what look like scabs or wounds on its head, neck, and torso, matting its down feathers. No need to worry—what you’re seeing is regurgitated food stuck to the chick’s face or body. Feeding can be quite exciting for the chick and some food doesn’t always end up in its mouth (sound familiar, parents?). The chick obviously can’t take a bath at this age, but the food dries up, gets crusty, and flakes off —a major benefit of having a bald head! Anyone that has seen the big condors eat on exhibit at Condor Ridge at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park or at the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey can attest to the condors’ ability to keep clean after a messy meal.

Also, the presence of flies in the nest is nothing to worry about. Keep in mind that condors are carnivores, feed their chicks via regurgitation, and nest in cavities (caves, crevices, etc.) that are often sheltered from the wind. All of these components add up to a very comfortable environment for flies as well as condors. Never fear – condors have excellent immune systems and are only mildly annoyed by the flies!

At three weeks of age, 2 pounds, 10 ounces to 3 pounds, 4 ounces (1.2-1.5 kilograms), condor chicks can start to thermoregulate, or control their own body temperature. This is when the parents can start leaving the chicks on their own during the day. Depending on the ambient temperature, the chick may be seen shivering or panting in an effort to warm or cool itself. Also, on warm days, the chick may inflate the air sacs in its chin and neck to cool down. Air sac inflation can also occur after a particularly filling meal. Often, the parents may spend time in the nest with the chick, but they may not necessarily sit on the chick.

At this stage, too, the chick is more mobile, scooting around the nest on its haunches, or tarsal joints. We refer to this as a “tarsal crawl.” It’s not quite standing up on its feet, but it can move about, following the parents and investigating different parts of the nest. You may see the chick start to gather items (feather, scraps of old food) from around the nest and move them to one corner. The chick likes to sit or sleep on this pile and play with the different items. These feathers and old food scraps are often brought to the nest by the parents. Birds replace their feathers through a process called “molting,” similar to when mammals shed their hair or fur. We don’t know if the parents are bringing these items to the nest specifically for the chick or if it’s just happenstance, but the chick loves to investigate and play with them!

As the parents start leaving the chick alone for longer periods of time, it will be easier to watch the chick when it sleeps. Just like all growing youngsters, condor chicks sleep A LOT. With longer legs and gawky bodies, they often will be sprawled out, wings askew, in odd positions when they sleep. Do not worry! The chick is perfectly fine.

At approximately 1 month of age, the chick weighs around 3 pounds, 15 ounces (1.8 kilograms). The parents may start leaving the chick alone overnight, sleeping near the nest. If the weather is still cool or it is raining, the parents may continue to brood overnight until the weather improves. Even though the parents are increasing their time away from the chick, they remain VERY vigilant and protective of their nest and—especially their chick.
Happy viewing and thanks so much for your support!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, A New Condor Chick on Condor Cam.

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11 Bellies You Really Need To Rub

Disclaimer: These are wild animals, and must be treated as such. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. :)

You know you really want to rub this little spotted belly…

Photo by Cheryl Thiele

Photo by Cheryl Thiele

and this meer belly…

Photo by Helene Hoffman

Photo by Helene Hoffman

and this Andean bear belly…

Photo by Craig Chaddock

Photo by Craig Chaddock

and this polar pot belly…

and this panda paunch.

Aisha’s little red tummy is just asking for a good rub.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Jaguar cub Maderas (born at the Zoo in 2012) had perhaps the most rub-able belly of all.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

But Nindiri’s latest cub definitely gives Maderas a run for her money in the belly department.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

When Mr. Wu was a cub had the cutest panda pot belly ever.

And he still does.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Joanne’s fuzzy little tummy is just screaming “rub me!”

Just look at it.

Photo by Angie Bell

Photo by Angie Bell

Lion cubs Ken & Dixie were not lacking in the cute belly department.

See?

Izu seems to disagree.

But seriously, Mr. Wu just might be the winner of cutest belly ever.

Case in point.

Actually, maybe it’s a tie.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

Yep, definitely a tie.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

 

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 7 Animals That Look Like Star Wars Characters.

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Little Sisters Spoil Everything!

Qinisa took the lead in the race to her brother Macembe's birthday "cake".

Qinisa took the lead in the race to her brother Macembe’s birthday “cake”.

Siblings…what can you do? Macembe turned five years old on April 12. It was a beautiful day. The keepers had spent a lot of time making two cakes for Macembe and his family. The frozen cakes were made of alfalfa, mango juice, bran, and other goodies. The “decorations” were delicious ficus branches placed around the east holding yard for the family to enjoy. Then the keepers called Swazi’s family into the yard.

Qinisa saw Macembe’s cakes first and ran full speed past her brother to get to them. But Macembe was close behind, determined not to let his little sister have any cake. Qinisa got to the first cake, kicked it over and headed to the second one, which was placed on a box. The higher cake startled her! She spun around, smashed the second one and kicked it backwards. Macembe didn’t seem to mind—smashed cake is just as good as a whole one— and proceeded to eat the rest of it.

Macembe’s birthday was a family affair with Qinisa and Swazi joining in the birthday fun. They ate ficus branches and smashed cake. What a great day!

Laura Price is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous blog, A Tusk Task.

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Springtime for Polar Bears

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Logs of all sizes are one of the enrichment items keepers provide for our polar bears.

Another breeding season has come and gone for our polar bears. Chinook and Kalluk bred this year in February, so the waiting game begins once again.

Sometime in late September or early October Chinook will be brought inside and given access to her private air-conditioned den where she will hopefully rear her first cubs. She has already started to show signs that she wants some “alone time,” so on most days you will see her on exhibit in the morning and in the “polar bear penthouse” in the afternoon where she has her own private pool! If you take a look behind the exhibit on the far left you may be able to get a glimpse of her through the pine trees.

Kalluk is just now starting to come out of his annual post-breeding season malaise and is once again playing with his sister Tatqiq. They have been wrestling both on land and in the pool!

The keepers are hard at work providing as much novel enrichment as possible for the bears. If you have been watching our Polar Bear Cam recently, you may have seen interesting things like a log-and-palm-frond shelter, foraging piles, and burlap sack “seals”. The bears love it when they tear into a “seal” and find things like favorite toys, bones, and melons. In the near future we hope to bring in a crane to move around the large logs and root balls in the exhibit as well as bring in new furniture. It is the goal of the Polar Team to provide a dynamic and ever-changing space for our bears. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a snow day sometime in the next couple of months!

We invite you to come down to see what the bears are up to!

Matthew Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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Gather the Goslings Before the Gale!

Staff used binoculars to get a better look at the nest without alarming the birds. Since the 1940s when there were fewer than 50 nene remaining, this species has made a remarkable turn-around, in part due to captive breeding efforts by San Diego Zoo Global.

Staff used binoculars to get a better look at the nest without alarming the birds. Since the 1940s when there were fewer than 50 nene remaining, this species has made a remarkable comeback, in part due to captive breeding efforts by San Diego Zoo Global.

On a cold and foggy winter morning, a group of Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) staff stood alongside biologist Kathleen Misajon and ecologist Darcy Hu, from the National Park Service. Just a few yards away under the umbrella of a sizable hapu‘u (tree fern) was a nene nest. The nene, (pronounced nay-nay), is Hawaii’s state bird and also happens to be the world’s rarest goose primarily due to excessive hunting and predation by introduced mammalian predators, like feral cats and mongooses. Underneath the incubating female nene we hoped to find four newly hatched goslings. A raging wind storm was headed straight for the Hawaiian Islands that night. If the nene family wasn’t moved that day, we feared the vulnerable goslings might not make it through the night. If any goslings were still in the process of hatching then we would need to postpone the move until the next day. We anxiously waited and watched as Kathleen slowly walked up to the nest…

Life at the KBCC gets a little more interesting when nene breeding season rolls around. Nene territory disputes are a common sight and consist of a lot of raucous honking. Sometimes there are even a few feathers floating around in the aftermath. Over the years we’ve kept close tabs on nene that visit our grounds. Female PA and male FL (named for their leg band combinations) are no strangers here and we have been closely following their interactions. It’s almost like watching a popular reality TV show!

PA hatched on KBCC grounds in 2003 and was moved, along with her previously released parents, to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. She was over a week old when her family was moved, and she returned to nest at KBCC. In an effort to avoid establishing a breeding population amongst the facility buildings, roads and parking areas, nesting families are now moved right after hatch to ensure that the goslings imprint on, and later breed in, the National Park. PA had a mate named FS and in 2008 and they had a nest of 4 eggs that failed to hatch. Unfortunately FS disappeared, never to be been seen again.

Male FL was also hatched in captivity and released into the wild. He originally paired up with a female named FX. Sadly, in 2008, just as FX and FL’s eggs were hatching, FX was mysteriously found dead near her nest and an egg had gone missing! FL was left to be a single dad to the three brand-new goslings. PA and FL paired up later that year and have been inseparable ever since. Last year, they successfully hatched and raised four goslings. (Read Nene Nest Fest 2014 to learn more.) We were anxious to see if they would repeat history this year.

We could tell female PA was about to lay eggs because the white area of her abdomen became much bigger and rounder than the male's.

We could tell female PA was about to lay eggs because the white area of her abdomen became much bigger and rounder than the male’s.

In early November, PA started to look gravid, meaning we could tell that she was carrying eggs. Nēnē don’t start sitting on the nest until they’ve laid all their eggs. This ensures that all eggs develop and hatch at the same time. Over the span of a few days PA would briefly disappear from FL’s side to lay her eggs but we weren’t sure where the nest was.

Eventually, Rosanna, our research coordinator, found the nest in a slightly startling way. Walking down a dirt road that leads to some of our alala aviaries Rosanna saw FL by the road, peacefully nibbling grass. Suddenly FL looked up and quickly took flight—flying low and straight at Rosanna’s head! Luckily, Rosanna has quick reflexes. She held up a clipboard to protect her head and thankfully, FL stopped short of his aerial attack, landing between Rosanna and a hapu‘u just off the side of the road. Nervously, Rosanna called out “I think I found PA’s nest!”

FL weighs in at no more than a bag of flour and stands less than 16 inches tall, but that doesn’t stop him from being a cutthroat protector of PA and her nest. He can instill fear in any stranger that dares to walk by his nest. The staff and interns have learned that FL is more bark than bite, but those less familiar with his antics, like the big burly contractors who have been working on our new alala aviaries, were wary about going down the road FL guarded. It was a funny sight to these grown men shaking in their boots because of FL!

This adorable ball of fluff is a one-day-old nene gosling, peeping loudly for his mother. Currently the wild nene population stands at about 2500 birds.

This adorable ball of fluff is a one-day-old nene gosling, peeping loudly for its mother. Currently, the wild nene population stands at about 2,500 birds.

On that cold and foggy morning, Kathleen slowly walked up to the nest. FL was having none of it. He spread his wings and started angrily hissing. We knew that Kathleen had spotted four goslings when she and Darcy quickly snatched up PA and FL in their arms. With the parents subdued, KBCC team members swooped in to scoop up the four goslings. The family was then gingerly placed in carriers and transported to their new home in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the goslings would be able to grow up among other nene and become truly wild birds.

That night, intense gale-force winds slammed many parts of the Hawaii islands. The KBCC facility lost power and sustained some tree damage. The aftermath of the storm was hectic, but Kathleen was quick to send us an e-mail update on the nene family. PA, FL, and their goslings were safe and sound in their new home!

The staff eagerly waits for the day when PA and FL decide to come back and visit the KBCC property!

Amy Kuhar and Donnie Alverson are Research Associates at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center in Hawaii.

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Hippo Birth: A Private Event

mom and baby

Although born in the water, Funani’s newest arrival was soon soaking up the San Diego sunshine.

There were only four keepers present when Funani, the San Diego Zoo’s resident female river hippo, gave birth to her newest calf in the pool of her exhibit. I was one of those keepers—and it is a moment I will never forget!

As the birthing window approached, we began watching for physical changes in Funani and noting her interactions with Otis, the male river hippo. A couple of weeks ago, we began to see some changes: Funani was starting to push Otis away, signaling to us it was time to separate them.

We set up Otis’s ‘bachelor pad’ in the back pool and barn area. It’s equipped with a water-misting system above the pool for the warmer days, and he gets lots of attention from keepers and special behind-the-scenes tours in this area!

Funani continued to show signs of an impending birth. A week prior to delivery, we noted another marker: Funani had developed the large udder that would hold the 500-calorie-per-cup milk for her calf. Then, on March 22, a very important and exciting change occurred!

Funani wasn’t as hungry as normal that morning, leaving much of her breakfast uneaten. She seemed uncomfortable—not “in labor” uncomfortable, but restless. I talked to her and sprayed her lightly with the hose (one of her favorite enrichment items!). All these efforts seemed to help. Her restlessness eased for a while, allowing me to clean the beach area while our water quality staff vacuumed the pool. We both did a meticulous job, as we predicted we might not have the opportunity to do so again for a few days.

At 9 a.m., I opened the door to let Funani into the exhibit. Normally, she slowly walks into the area, takes a big drink from the shallow end of the pool before wading in to sit on the large rock in the center, and eventually does her “morning laps”along the pool bottom. On this day however, she ran out, went straight into the pool and began running laps. It was pretty clear that she was getting extremely close to going into labor. I checked on her all day long, as did other keepers, veterinary staff, and supervisors— and each time she was running laps. At the end of my shift, I checked on her one last time. As she surfaced, I said goodnight and asked,her to please wait until I came back in the morning. The lead keeper of the area had arranged to have supervisors, late keepers, and security do spot checks and to contact us if she showed signs of labor. Funani kept doing laps.

underwater

Hippos can’t swim or float! Instead, they walk along the bottom of their aquatic habitat.

When I got to the exhibit on Monday at 5:45 a.m., it  still dark but thanks to underwater lights, I could see Funani in the shallow of the pool…in obvious labor! I called the lead keeper, and he and two other keepers headed over quickly. By the time they arrived, I had witnessed three contractions. While I was updating them, we saw the calf’s feet emerge. I ran to the back fence, knowing that once Funani gave birth she would push the calf to the shallowest spot for its first breath offering the best view to assess the calf. I barely made it in time. At 6:26 a.m., I saw the calf’s wiggling ears and heard the first breath, followed by snorting as the little one cleared its airways. My heart melted.

The most amazing part of this experience has been watching Funani. She is an excellent mom: protective, nurturing, and taking advantage of every teachable moment. She offers the calf abundant nursing opportunities and the little one gets stronger with each sip. It will be about three to five days before she and the calf are comfortable enough to come into the barn while keepers are present. They have access to the barn at all times with a bounty of food waiting when Funani is ready. Once she and the calf are reliably and comfortably shifting into the barn, we will begin rotating them and Otis on exhibit. This is journey has truly just begun! We are all looking forward to the moment Funani pushes the calf up to the window at just the right angle so we can determine whether it is a boy or girl, and to watching her do what she does best, being an incredible mother.

Jennifer Chapman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Okapi: Early Arrival.

5

A Very Happy First Birthday

Joanne's first birthday is, well, the icing on the cake in her amazing story.

Joanne’s first birthday was, well, the icing on the cake in her amazing story.

March 12 was a big day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Baby gorilla Joanne turned one year old, and the staff threw her an epic birthday party! Joanne’s first few weeks in this world required a giant team effort. Unable to deliver Joanne on her own, mom Imani had to undergo a C-section. Subsequently, due to minor health complications, Joanne needed around-the-clock care from a team of veterinary staff, keeper staff from both the Safari Park and the Zoo, and human neonatal specialists.

Fittingly, one year later, a second team of enthusiastic people assembled to help celebrate this joyful milestone. Safari Park volunteers and staff from the forage, horticulture, and mammal departments worked hard to transform the gorilla exhibit into a lively birthday bash. Decorations included ice cakes and cupcakes, fresh browse branches, streamers, papier-mâché balloons, colorful chalk drawings, cardboard box gifts and animals, and even an over-sized dollhouse large enough for Joanne and the other two youngsters in the group, six-year-old Frank and three-year-old Monroe, to climb on!

The entire troop partied all morning long, spreading out and claiming different areas of the exhibit and clusters of decorations to explore and enjoy. A lively and vibrant one-year-old, Joanne was able to partake in the festivities right alongside the rest of her family. Her favorite treat items seemed to be the flowering browse branches and the ice cakes, but she was also greatly entertained simply by bouncing around investigating all the colorful décor.

These days we see Joanne becoming a more active member of her gorilla troop. She interacts more often with other individuals besides her mom—including play sessions with Frank and Monroe. She has also shown brave interest in Winston, her rather stoic dad who is not often seen breaking character to fool around with the kids. When not playing with others, Joanne easily entertains herself. You can often see her using Imani as a jungle gym, or climbing up and sliding down ropes and smooth rocks around the exhibit. To a one-year-old gorilla, the world is your playground!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Baby Joanne’s Growing Diet.