Animal Stories

Animal Stories

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For World Wildlife Day: Talking Trafficking

We think the tusks look better on the elephant, don't you agree?

We think the tusks look better on the elephant, don’t you agree?

Today is World Wildlife Day! The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed this day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as an important one to highlight one of the most serious threats to wildlife across the globe: the illegal trade in wildlife, also called wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is the illegal sale or trade of animals or plants, in part or in whole. For some wildlife, trade is legal: harvesting fish from the sea to feed people is a common practice. In the western world, it typically occurs in accordance with regulations and quotas to ensure that this commercial enterprise does not doom the fish to extinction. Your kitchen may contain mushrooms or morels that were harvested from the wild for your consumption. Some medicinal plants harvested in the wild might infuse your cup of tea. These are legal examples of trade in wildlife and plants.

This black rhino was fortunate to not be one of the more than 1,200 killed for its horn in 2014. How long will its luck hold?

This black rhino was fortunate to not be one of the more than 1,200 killed for its horn in 2014. How long will its luck hold?

Illegal trade in wildlife occurs when local and international laws are broken for the purpose of commercial enterprise. Often, the laws come about to support CITES, whose objective is to prevent commerce from threatening the survival of plant and animal species. Typically, laws are broken when that commerce proves exceptionally lucrative, as has proven to be the case for species like elephants and rhinoceros. Unfortunately, elephant ivory and rhino horn can bring big financial returns for poachers and the crime syndicates who fund them. Ounce for ounce, rhino horn is worth more than drugs like cocaine on the black market, drawing as much as $60,000/kilogram. This is the primary reason that rhino populations are suddenly experiencing steep declines, as poachers slaughtered 1,215 across the globe in 2014. That’s one rhino killed every eight hours for the purpose of making money for criminal organizations. And elephants are victims, too. Killed for their ivory tusks, about 96 elephants a day fall victim to illegal trafficking. These deaths draw both rhinos and elephants closer to the threat of extinction.

As stated by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “Illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law and threatens national security; it degrades ecosystems and… combating this crime is not only essential for conservation efforts and sustainable development, it will contribute to achieving peace and security in troubled regions where conflicts are fueled by these illegal activities.” This is a serious conservation issue. Its time we all get serious about wildlife trafficking.

Know before you buy, and don't purchase ivory items or anything made from rhino horn.

Know before you buy, and don’t purchase ivory items or anything made from rhino horn.

What can you do? Start by informing yourself. Though China is one of the primary destinations for most trafficked goods, you might be surprised to learn that the US is the second leading recipient of illegal ivory. So take the next step: refuse to buy trafficked goods. Never, ever buy ivory statues or jewelry, or rhino horn products and powders. Ending the demand for these items is an important part of the offensive to end the slaughter of rare wildlife across the globe, and a crucial part of preventing extinction.

San Diego Zoo Global is in the business of ending extinction. Combating illegal wildlife trafficking is an important part of meeting that objective. We hope you’ll join us this World Wildlife Day by getting serious about wildlife crime.

Suzanne Hall is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Who You Calling Sloth?.

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Good Weather, Good Food

Gao Gao has been in fine form lately, climbing trees and scent marking.

Gao Gao has been in fine form lately, climbing trees and generally giving keepers quite a show!

Lately, as I have been narrating down at the panda enclosure, I’m seeing the bears relax, sit back, and enjoy the food. As many of you know, we feed several different types of bamboo to our bears, and in recent days they have really been enjoying themselves! Bai Yun will often eat for a few hours at a time, and even Mr Xiao Liwu has been doing very well ripping the bamboo apart. And it seems while they’ve been relaxing, panda fans have been thinking; we have been getting a lot of questions about breeding the bears this year.

As of last week we have not seen any change in Bai Yun hormone reading or physical state. However, on a fairly regular basis we have observed her scent marking repeatedly around the enclosure, and even engaging in “water play”, a behavior we typically see when there is a hormone shift. As it is still early for her regular breeding season, we expect to continue watching her closely over the next couple of months and will monitor any progression towards an estrus. She is extremely healthy; one of the benefits about being captive born is a fantastic health package!

Gao Gao has been eating extremely well in his off-exhibit digs, and has been climbing up and down the trees giving our keepers quite a show in the back area. Engaging in handstand scent markings is always fun to see, and having him this active is a nice change of pace.

Now, please remember: even though he is quite vigorous right now and showing a lot of enthusiasm, we cannot put him in with Bai Yun unless we have positive evidence showing her in estrus. Our vet staff will ultimately have the final word on breeding the bears, and rest assured they always keep the animals’ best interests in mind and at heart.

Little Mr. Wu has also been showing lots of energy and spunk. On a daily basis we see him run around the enclosure, playing with enrichment that keepers have put out for him. Our guests have enjoyed watching him and his moves, and it has been great to show our guests what these bears are capable of. Over the next few months we may see more activity and more growth spurts!

Come see us soon!

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From Conflict to Coexistence: Part 2

There are only about 3,000 of the endangered Grevy’s zebra left in the world, so it was great to see a foal at West Gate Conservancy!

There are only about 3,000 of the endangered Grevy’s zebra left in the world, so it was great to see a foal at West Gate Conservancy!

Read Conflict to Coexistence: Part 1

Christy and I spent a month traveling across Kenya at the end of 2014. We journeyed from the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro at the Tanzania border in the very south, up to northern Kenya and the Mathews Range. Our purpose was to meet with researchers and conservationists in the field who are leading the fight against extinction, battling not only poaching, but also working alongside communities to address localized conflicts and habitat fragmentation. We were inspired by their passion and innovation, and returned to San Diego to start planning several collaborative projects focusing on elephants, lions, rhinos, Grevy’s zebra, cheetah, leopard, giraffes, and other species.

We take a collaborative approach to conservation, which cannot ultimately be successful unless communities support, participate in, and benefit from it. As such, we were lucky to meet with some of the most inspiring communities, groups, and researchers that are working together in creative ways to bring success for people and wildlife. It is alongside these groups that San Diego Zoo Global will stand and partner with as we save species.

We cannot do any of this work without your continue support—thank you so much, because together we can end extinction! Become a Hero for Wildlife and join us in this important work.

Here are some of the groups we met, and are excited to be exploring conservation research partnerships with:

African Conservation Centre partners with communities on conservation initiatives, and is coordinating the Borderlands Conservation Initiative. Saving the richest wildlife populations on earth by working with communities and landowners along the Kenya-Tanzania border between the National Parks to establish viable, interconnected elephant and lion populations by strengthening community conservation capacity, generating jobs and income, and end poaching.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy:  A 55,000-acre conservancy in northern Kenya. Initially focused on protecting rhino from poaching, it has grown as a leader in wildlife conservation, and spreads the benefits of wildlife conservation through community development programs to 40,000 people regionally.

Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust:  Encompassing the unique and bio-diverse Mathews Range, this million-acre Samburu community conservancy is the jewel of northern Kenya. Previously home to an estimated 3,000 black rhino and numerous other species, today wildlife are returning, including elephants, reticulated giraffe, leopards, cheetah. Sarara Camp, a glorious community-owned eco-lodge that gives guests a unique intimate experience, while generating wildlife income for the community It also partners with Samburu leaders on a number of innovative conservation projects.

West Gate Community Conservancy:  Recognizing this Samburu community’s vision for conservation and co-existence, San Diego Zoo Global has supported the 100,000-acre West Gate Conservancy since its inception. Ten years later it is a leader in community-based conservation, battling land degradation, collectively managing grazing, and runs innovative community programs benefitting local people and the growing population of wildlife. West Gate is also home to two extremely effective community-based conservation organizations: Ewaso Lions and Grevy’s Zebra Trust who use innovative, multi-dimensional approaches to conserve lions and endangered Grevy’s zebras and secure wildlife corridors in West Gate and beyond.

The Safari Collection:  Through its four world-class lodges, and in full partnership with the communities, the Safari Collection is a leader and innovator in sustainable ecotourism. At each location, the lodges provide income and employment locally and work collaboratively with community members to enact conservation and capacity-building programs. These include direct conservation research on cheetahs and rhino and community initiatives such as health clinics, education and sport programs. We met with the Owner and Community and Conservation Manager in the elegant Giraffe Manor, to plan potential exciting future conservation efforts.

Save the Elephants is the pioneer group for elephant research and conservation in East Africa. Save the Elephants continues cutting-edge elephant conservation research through its collaring program, and community conservation by reducing conflict and poaching. They are also tackling ivory poaching head-on across Africa and curbing demand in China and Asia.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation:  Giraffes are the forgotten giants of Africa. They have declined by 40% since 1999, from 140,000 to less than 80,000 today. All nine types of giraffe are in decline, but some are in real trouble. The reticulated giraffe has declined by 80% over the past fifteen years from 28,000 to less than 4,700 today. Most of reticulated giraffe’s range is outside of protected areas, in addition to habitat loss, they are being relentlessly poached for meat, decoration and in response to a recent myth that giraffe bone marrow and brains cure HIV/AIDS. In close partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, we are working to rapidly develop community-based conservation initiatives to stem this decline, before giraffes vanish.

David OConnor is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Understanding Wildlife Trade in Asia.

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From Conflict to Coexistence: Part 1

A mother elephant and her calf surprised the author in Kenya.

A mother elephant and her calf surprised the author in Kenya.

“Don’t worry”, came the calm tones of my passenger (and Institute colleague) Dr. Christine Browne-Nunez, as my foot pressed hard on the clutch. I had slammed the Land Cruiser into reverse, ready for a rapid retreat back through the weave of Acacia shrubs. However, not without unease, I returned to neutral and shut off the engine.

Staring at us, having emerged from the bush onto the track in front of us, was a mature female African savanna elephant Loxodonta africana and her young calf. Despite being the most massive terrestrial mammals on the planet, elephants are surprisingly invisible in dense vegetation, and momma elephants can be very protective when surprised…

Christine and I have both worked on conservation research in East Africa over the years, but our reactions to encountering elephants in the wild were miles apart. Me: “How quickly can I backup?” Christine: “Let’s be among them, and wait for them to pass.”

The elephants passed peacefully, purposefully going about the business of consuming their daily requirement of 220 pounds (100 kilograms) or more of vegetation. In that moment, we realized that our differing reactions to encountering elephants underscored a much larger conservation dynamic in the region. The very dynamic that had led us to be in the car on that track in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.

Christine Brown-Nunez, PhD a human dimensions of conservation specialist talking about wildlife interactions with a maasai warrior just outside Amboseli National Park.

Christine Brown-Nunez, Ph.D., talks about wildlife interactions with a Maasai warrior just outside Amboseli National Park.

Christine’s prior research focused on the human aspects of elephant conservation around Amboseli National Park. When inside Amboseli’s boundaries, the elephants are well protected [thanks to the elephant researchers, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and others]. As a result they are less stressed, and do not feel as threatened in the presence of humans as do elephants in other parts of Kenya. The elephants there accept researchers, who can approach a herd and be among them. This has allowed researchers to gather the most intimate behavioral and social portraits of elephants anywhere—vital knowledge that has informed conservation.

Thanks to the equally pioneering and long-term work of Save the Elephants, when inside Samburu National Reserve, elephants now have a growing sense of security. They know that while within Samburu they are safer from human threats.

Watchful eyes of members of an elephant family group in Amboseli National Park. We know a lot about these elephants thanks to the research of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

Watchful eyes of members of an elephant family group in Amboseli National Park. We know a lot about these elephants thanks to the research of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

In contrast, my previous experiences in East Africa are among elephants outside of formally protected areas. Where elephants face daily threats such as poaching, harassment, lack of access to resources, spears and bullets—a very negative environment. For instance, while working not far from Samburu, over in Laikipia, when I encountered elephants at such close range either in my vehicle or on foot, they’d immediately charge and I’d have to make a very rapid escape. Those elephants were stressed, feeling threatened, and so they would react in kind. What is interesting, however, is that these aren’t different animals we’re talking about. When the same, calm elephants in Samburu move into less-safe environments, they become aggressive in response to close human presence.

It’s not just elephants that act differently when they know they’re in riskier areas, overlapping with humans. I’ve experienced similar reactions in giraffes. In well-protected areas, they are less concerned about close proximity to humans and livestock, whereas outside those areas, it is hard to get within 110 to 218 yards (100-200 meters) of them, creating quite a challenge for giraffe researchers like me.

One of about 60 endangered black rhino in Lewa Conservancy. Lewa’s work has dramatically reduced poaching in the area, giving these rhino a fighting chance.

One of about 60 endangered black rhino in Lewa Conservancy. Lewa’s work has dramatically reduced poaching in the area, giving these rhino a fighting chance.

This is not to vilify the people who live among elephants and other large wildlife. Living with these giants is challenging. Elephants raid crops and can destroy a family’s livelihood (often their only income for the season) in a few hours. They also damage wells and can injure and kill people and livestock. So like the elephants, people need to defend themselves, their families, and livelihoods.

However, the more concerning threats are caused by the poachers who are responsible for the shocking decline in populations of elephants, rhino, giraffes, and other wildlife for trinkets and traditional medicine. They often mow down elephants and rhinos from a distance with automatic weapons or set neck snares for giraffe. It is these external drivers that cause the most conflict. They are also the reason for plummeting wildlife populations outside protected areas, and explain why wildlife are stressed and aggressive.

Two maasai warriors get some refreshment by the new water pump near their boma just outside Ambsolei National Park, surrounded by a wall to protect against elephant damage.

Two Maasai warriors get some refreshment by the new water pump near their boma just outside Ambsolei National Park, surrounded by a wall to protect against elephant damage.

East African pastoralists, or livestock herders, historically coexisted with wildlife. In fact over the millennia, both wildlife and human systems evolved in synch. Today, pastoralism remains a primary form of livelihood in East Africa. This complementary land use is key to successful wildlife conservation. Pastoralism leaves a porous landscape where herbivores and carnivores can live, access resources, and can travel between parks in search of resources, territory, or mates. Without such spaces and corridors, populations in protected pockets will atrophy and vanish, as isolated parks are too small for large, wide-ranging species.

The downside is that it is also in these vital areas where wildlife encounter their greatest threats, not only from poaching, but also from localized conflicts and ever-increasing habitat fragmentation.

It is in these complex settings that innovative conservation efforts are needed. As conservationists we need to understand not only what is happening with wildlife, but with the people living alongside and interacting with wildlife. This is the reason for our visit to Kenya, to move from conflict to coexistence between wildlife, people and livestock.

To be continued… Check back tomorrow to get to know the groups David and Christy met with, and what the future holds for collaborative conservation.

David OConnor is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Understanding Wildlife Trade in Asia.

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Wild Romance

Anytime is the right time for "romance" among rhinos.

Anytime is the right time for “romance” among rhinos.

“There’s a rhyme and reason to the wild outdoors,” sings Elton John in The Lion King. Disney’s Simba and Nala aren’t the only ones who “can feel the love tonight” during the Valentine’s Day season. Perhaps you want to know about the wacky, wild, and sometimes familiar romance rituals of the Safari Park animals? During this season of love, now’s your chance.

Some of the largest lovers at the Safari Park are southern white rhinos. Instead of mating seasonally like deer, breeding females can go into estrus any time of the year. Solitary, territorial males horn-wrestle one another for the privilege of mating with an estrus female. The winner approaches his intended mate with a wheezy, hic-throb noise—kind of a “Hey baby. How you doin’?” a la Friends character Joey Tribbiani. In an attempt at seduction, the male rests his head on the female’s rump. If she’s willing, mating lasts about 30 minutes. Over the years, “love” has definitely been in the air among the southern white rhinos at the Safari Park: they have produced 93 calves and counting.

Get the Party Started: Once their courtship ritual is rolling, all the flamingos in this flock will have their wings out.

Get the Party Started: Wing-spreading is one part of a flamingo flock’s courtship ritual.

In contrast to the rhinos’ cumbersome courtship, greater flamingos look like a precision drum line during their elaborate courtship rituals. The flamingo colony, or flamboyance, marches together in shallow water while honking, abruptly switching directions. The birds also head-flag, rhythmically turning their heads side-to-side, and salute each other with outstretched wings to display their contrasting colors. When a female finds a desirable male, she leaves the flamboyance and heads to slightly deeper water. The male vaults onto the female’s back and plants his feet on her wing joints, followed by an acrobatic dismount over her head. After mating, the pair begins building a volcano-shaped mud nest. Females lay a single egg, and both parents take turns incubating it for 28-32 days. Flamingo mating is seasonal, occurring during the rainy season to take advantage of the abundant food and mud.

Unlike flamingos, African lions don’t have a breeding season. Instead, mating usually occurs when a male assumes control of a pride. Lionesses only have a four to seven day estrus window, and the male makes the most of it. Although lions are world-renowned for their marathon sleep sessions, they also break records in the mating category. Lions usually mate for eight to 68 seconds at a time every 25 minutes over a four-day period; pairs may mate up to 100 times in one day! During this time, the male guards the female to keep the competition away. If the mating is successful, three and a half months later the female delivers a litter of one to four cubs. The females in a pride communally nurse their cubs for about seven months.

It may look like he's blowing a kiss, but this male is checking to see if the female is ready to mate.

It may look like he’s blowing a kiss, but this male is checking to see if the female is ready to mate.

While lions have some of the longest mating sessions in the animal kingdom, giraffes have some of the shortest. Copulation lasts barely a second, but it’s no “stretch” to say that giraffes are foreplay nerds. Interested males practically do a litmus test to evaluate females! A male closely follows an estrus female, waiting for the right moment to nudge her hind leg—her cue to urinate. Next, he sips a sample of the urine and curls his upper lip, opening the Jacobson’s organ on the roof of his mouth in a behavior called the Flehmen response. This allows him to test the female’s hormone levels to see if she is ready to breed—picture a connoisseur sampling a fine wine.

This year, forget the fancy dinner and flowers for Valentine’s Day. Come to the Safari Park and marvel at wild romance. Maybe you’ll even imagine strains of Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” playing in the background…

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gaur Game Plan.

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Baby Joanne’s Growing Diet

Little Joanne is exploring a whole range of new tastes as she begins to add solid foods to her daily diet.

Little Joanne is exploring a whole range of  tastes and textures as she begins adding solid foods to her diet.

Baby gorilla Joanne continues to grow and develop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Baby gorillas will continue to nurse until mom chooses to wean them, usually between ages three to four years. Still, at 10 months old and with a full set of baby teeth, Joanne has developed quite a healthy appetite for solid foods!

Western lowland gorillas are herbivores, meaning that they eat only plant material. Each day, we offer the gorillas at the Park a variety of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, tree branches harvested from the our browse farm, and high-fiber primate biscuits. Little Joanne is developing a taste for her favorites, favorites, although her opinion seems to change almost daily! When Joanne either eagerly devours or spits out something we have offered her, we consider ourselves “updated” as to her preferences.

Keepers feed the gorillas in different ways throughout the day. We spread food items around the exhibit to allow the gorillas to forage at their own pace in addition to calling them to a spot or “station” to receive individual diets specifically measured out for each gorilla. During these station-feeding sessions, Joanne has learned that it benefits her to put some distance between herself and mom, Imani. While Imani is generally patient about letting Joanne finish chewing whatever food is in her mouth, anything in Joanne’s hand or on the ground around her is fair game!

At lunchtime on exhibit, Imani and Joanne station on the upper right-hand hill of the gorilla exhibit, and keepers can toss items to each individually. Morning station feedings in the bedrooms are set aside for training and generally occur as a one-on-one keeper to gorilla session. Since Joanne has become interested in participating in these sessions, she often gets her own keeper with to interact with while Imani focuses on her training on the other side of the bedroom.

For now, these sessions with Joanne are helping her form relationships with her keepers and build up her confidence away from mom. As little Joanne grows older, keepers will begin training her to offer different behaviors useful in our care of her, using her favorite food items as positive reinforcement. As for what those favorite food items will be, Joanne will certainly let us know in her own way!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Joanne: Little Miss Personality.

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Siamangs Play Nice With Baby Orangutan Aisha

Aisha learning the ropes

Aisha learning the ropes

All day long, Aisha can be seen on exhibit with the rest of the orangutans and now the siamangs, too. In December, after careful consideration, the introductions were made between Indah and Aisha and the siamangs. In the weeks prior, visual introductions were done inside where the siamangs could come near mom and baby but remain separate. We saw no negative interactions and even some interest from Aisha toward the siamangs. This lead us to believe that this time around should be different (ten years ago, the siamangs aggressively chased Indah and her baby, Cinta). And for sure, this time around was completely different.

Indah was in charge of the introduction from the beginning. Whenever she thought the siamangs were getting too close or too inquisitive, she chased them off and made them leave her. There wasn’t any aggression or fighting ever during the entire process. The siamangs were interested in Aisha and continue to be.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

We see Unkie and Ellie play with Aisha (under Indah’s close supervision). They will grab her hair or arm or leg and Aisha will work at getting away and then as soon as she is ‘free,’ she goes right back to them. We also see them swing their foot near her trying to get her to grab it.

Karen has been interacting with Aisha more, hanging near her on the climbing structures. Aisha is spending more time away from Indah and Karen will go up into the tree to be near her. Janey hasn’t had much interaction with her but I figure once Aisha is on the ground more Janey will be playing with her and checking her out.

At 15 months, Aisha is near 15 lbs and has 2 canines coming in-16 teeth in total.

The orangutans can be seen in the exhibit from 9am to 4:30pm.

BONUS: Watch the video of Aisha’s first birthday

 

Tanya Howard is senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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Party Time: Leroy the Giraffe Turns One!

Safari Park keepers created a special celebration for a special giraffe.

Safari Park keepers threw a party for a special giraffe.

January 8, 2015 was a day for celebration at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. After a long bout of illness and recovery, giraffe calf Leroy turned one year old! To celebrate the thriving “Birthday Boy,” we threw him a little party, complete with banana-apple-carrot cupcakes for him and chocolate cupcakes for the staff.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since this very special giraffe calf was born to female Shani. Every one of our giraffes special to us, but this birthday milestone is cause for celebration because while he had a bit of a rough start, he’s doing great today! Although he spent the first few months of his life in and out of our Harter Veterinary Hospital receiving care for multiple health concerns, Leroy remains one of the most cheerful and easy-going giraffe I’ve ever met. He continues to receive excellent follow up care from our veterinary and keeper staff, which is helping him thrive.

After our little party, Leroy spent the rest of the afternoon doing what he loves most—eating acacia leaves from the hands of guests on the back of caravan safari trucks, cruising the exhibit with the rest of the giraffe nursery group, and getting special attention from the keepers who have been there with him every step of the way.

Party Prep: Giraffe treats on the left, keeper treats on the right

Party Prep: Giraffe treats on the left, keeper treats on the right

And in case you’re wondering, the other giraffes let Leroy have all the glory during the party, but were quick to clean up afterwards. Chuku, Leroy’s 20-year-old “auntie”, scarfed down what was left of the “cupcakes” shortly after the festivities ended!

Cheers to Leroy! We wish him a many more years of good health, great fun, and delicious leafy browse!

Amanda Lussier is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous blog Giraffes: A Creche Full of Cuties!

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Sweet, Juicy Papaya‚—for the Birds!

What's on the menu? Egg, commercial diet, and juicy, sweet papaya!

What’s on the menu? Scrambled egg, commercial diet, and juicy, sweet papaya!

As people recover from their holiday feasting, now is a nice time to reflect on feeding Hawaiian birds in a captive breeding program.

One of the biggest challenges of managing a captive propagation center for Hawaiian birds is providing a nutritionally balanced diet replicating foods the birds would eat in the wild. Ideally, a captive diet is composed of the exact same natural fruits, nectars, and animal and insect proteins birds forage on while wandering in native Hawaiian forests. But collecting the exact food items these birds eat in the wild is impossible!

Although wild diets cannot be perfectly recreated, we strive to fashion a representation offering the same nutritional components. Prior to working with any new bird species, Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP) staff review data on a species’ nutritional requirements and foraging behavior in the wild, to create diets for the birds in captivity. For instance, wild alala historically consumed many native fruits, and supplemented their fruit-heavy diet with invertebrates as well as the occasional egg and nestling of other bird species.

For birds in managed care, we replicate what is contained in wild alala diets by providing apple, melon, mixed veggies, and papaya in place of native fruits. The alala also receive scrambled egg, mealworms, and bird pellets that offer a balance of carbohydrates, fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. As you can see, these captive diets heavily feature food items available from commercial retailers.

Unfortunately, even commercially available foods can be difficult or expensive to obtain. This is where we benefit from close relationships with generous local supporters in our communities. For example, Kumu Farms in Wailuku, Maui, regularly donates organic, GMO-free papaya for the birds at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC). Although the MBCC is a relatively small facility, providing enough papaya for all almost 70 birds (representing 4 species) being bred in captivity is no small feat—but Kumu Farms donates papaya to help make this possible. And all the birds at MBCC eagerly devour Kumu Farm’s sweet, juicy gift!

Joshua Kramer is a research coordinator at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, operated by San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Maui Bird Conservation Center: Open House 2013.

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Happy Anniversary, Gao Gao!

Celebrating a dozen delightful years with Gao Gao!

January 15, 2015 marks a dozen delightful years with Gao Gao at the Zoo!

Gao Gao’s 12th anniversary (he arrived in San Diego Jan. 15, 2003) is coming up at the San Diego Zoo and what a glorious time it has been. He has been the perfect mate for Bai Yun and has fathered five cubs (Mei Sheng, Su Lin, Zhen Zhen, Yun Zi, and Xiao Liwu). He may be small but he has a huge personality and presence among his keepers. As he always enjoys and demands his daily scratches from us.

This Thursday, Gao Gao will have a quiet anniversary celebration in the Classroom Exhibit with some special enrichment throughout the day that will include his favorite scents: cinnamon spice, ginseng root perfume, and rubbing alcohol!. He does not get an ice cake anymore due to his old teeth, but he will get extra apples and honey, and my favorite part of the day—extra scratches from his keepers.

Lately, Gao Gao has preferred the quiet life of living in the classroom exhibits with access to his bedroom whenever he desires. His exhibit is not open to the public and only gets visits by early morning tours and special behind the scenes events. You can see him on Panda Cam Daily from 6:30a.m. until 2:30p.m. PST.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Party for Mr. Wu.