Apes and Monkeys

Apes and Monkeys

7

Orangutan Aisha is One!

We hope Aisha and her mother have a wonderful birthday celebration!

We hope Aisha and her mother have a wonderful birthday celebration!

The past year has flown by! Our little orangutan Aisha is celebrating her first birthday on Saturday, October 25, 2014, at the San Diego Zoo. Aisha’s growing confidence is evident every day. She is very active on exhibit now, climbing and hanging around the tree structures. We even see her move away from Indah to a different tree to play. A few months ago her personality really became apparent. She plays with the enrichment in her room by throwing it up in the air, forages just like her mom, Indah, practices nest building, and eats everything she can get her little hands on.

Orangutan babies grow very slowly. Aisha weighs only about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) and will be considered a baby for 4 years. Even though she has 12 teeth now and eats solid food from her mom’s diet, she will continue to nurse that entire time. There continues to be little interaction between Aisha and the other orangutans.

We will be celebrating Aisha’s birthday with extra enrichment for the whole group: painted boxes, gourds, treats, and more. Since Aisha is still staying on Mom when they are on the ground, Aisha will have to wait until Indah gets the treats and shares with her! Stop by the exhibit first thing Saturday morning to see everyone enjoying Aisha’s birthday, or watch the action on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan: 10 Teeth and Counting.

4

Understanding Wildlife Trade In Asia

A sign outside a store in Luang Prabang, Laos, advertises ivory for sale.

Typing this from a café in Laos, I am thinking about and facing one of the greatest threats to biodiversity: the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts. I’m looking at a sign in a shop across the road, advertising elephant ivory for sale. Recently, I walked through the local night markets, with wildlife parts such as muntjac horns, turtle shells, pangolin scales, bear teeth, leopard cat teeth, and wild pig tusks, among others, for sale. Earlier I passed a restaurant that had two macaques in tiny cages. Last week, I passed a house in an upscale neighborhood of Phnom Penh where a brave wild bear cub (its mother killed by a snare in the forest) escaped its tiny cage, scaled the wall, and landed in the pool of the boutique hotel next door. Thankfully, the cub was rescued and is now being rehabilitated in the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.

Recently, I walked through the local night markets, with wildlife parts such as muntjac horn, turtle shells, pangolin scales, bear teeth, leopard cat teeth, wild pig tusks among others for sale. Earlier I passed a restaurant that had two macaques in tiny cages. Last week, I passed a house in an upscale neighborhood of Phnom Penh, where a brave wild bear cub (its mother killed by a snare in the forest) escaped its tiny cage, scaled the wall, and landed in the pool of the boutique hotel next door (see photo). Thankfully the cub was rescued and is now safe and being rehabilitated in the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.

A three-week-old Asiatic black bear cub is one of a pair of cubs rescued from the wildlife trade and now being cared for at the Phnom Tamao Bear Rescue Centre in Cambodia. It is destined for a wonderful life in the forest.

Of all the species we work with at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, by far the most complex and dynamic are humans! Numbering over 7 billion, with countless cultures, motivations, and world views, humans are an extremely complex, yet central element in conservation initiatives. Successful conservation requires a multipronged approach, tackling the biochemical, ecological, and behavioral aspects of wildlife and the cultural and economic countenance of humans.Our Conservation Education Division focuses on the socio-ecological aspects of conservation across three main themes: conservation education, conservation social science, and community-based conservation. As a community-based conservation ecologist, I focus on the intersection of wildlife and humans, using both ecological and sociological research methods to inform our projects, which is why I am in Southeast Asia.

Three of the 20 Souphanouvong University students who, after participating in our training workshop, partnered with us to conduct wildlife surveys in Laos. They are conducting surveys at the Tat Kuang Si Reserve in Laos.

With its dense, tropical forests, rich biodiversity, and large human populations, Asia is a center of wildlife trade. Despite many countries having made capturing, poaching, killing, and exporting of wildlife illegal, poaching and consumption of wildlife still abounds. The history of wildlife use in Asia is a long and ingrained one, where for over 3,000 years wildlife has been used for food, traditional medicine, entertainment, and decoration. It’s embedded in many cultures here.

Couple that history to the rapidly developing economies and expanding middle class here, and it has meant a continued (and growing) demand for wildlife products, many of which are regarded as status symbols. Tackling such normative aspects of culture to try to curb this tide of wildlife use, and to eliminate demand, is a big challenge!

The Free the Bears team designs and refines the survey instrument for Cambodia.

Since the beginning of September, I’ve been in the field collaborating with our partners at Free the Bears. They are dedicated to conserving Southeast Asian bears, specifically the Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus and the sun bear Helarctos malayanus. These species are poached from the forest and killed for their gall bladders. The cubs are captured and placed in bile-harvesting farms where, confined in small cages, bile is periodically withdrawn from their gall bladder using a large needle over the next 10 years or so. Both species are also killed for their paws, which are used in bear paw soup and bear paw rice wine, and for their claws and teeth, which are used for decoration. Lastly, cubs of the killed parents are taken for the pet trade.

A recently rescued sun bear is in quarantine before being released to the forest enclosures in the Phnom Tamao Bear Rescue Centre in Cambodia

Free the Bears staff patrol for and remove snares from the forest and actively rescue bears from confinement. We are supporting this work by developing and conducting human dimension surveys about wildlife in Cambodia and Laos. Our collaborative project employs a novel approach to understand people’s knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs toward wildlife and to learn about their usage of bears for parts and pets. Understanding how people think about and view wildlife is vital for developing conservation interventions, especially when tackling wildlife consumption. It will also form the foundation of future communication and education efforts about wildlife. People’s attitudes often drive their behaviors; by better understanding attitudes, we can more effectively affect behaviors.

A sun bear does what it does best: living a free life in its native habitat.

In Cambodia, we are conducting face-to-face interviews with people about their knowledge and attitudes toward wildlife. We are using a randomized response technique (RRT) to ask about wildlife usage. Why? When you ask people about illegal activities (such as drug-use, DUI, etc.), they may not answer truthfully, so data may be biased or unreliable. RRT uses a randomizing device (such as dice or coin flip) that allows the respondent to answer truthfully while maintaining anonymity. Even the interviewer does not know their response! For Cambodia, we are basing our RRT around a local dice game called khla-kluk.

Students at Souphanouvong University in Laos are excited to help out conservation after our workshop.

In Laos, we’re using a different approach. We’re asking people to complete a self-administered questionnaire, which we have translated into several languages (see images). We partnered with the Women’s Union and Souphanouvong University students, whom we trained to conduct surveys. With this wonderful team of 30 citizen scientists, we have collected over 700 surveys. By the end, we will have over 1,000. This is a fantastic response and the first of this scale in Laos.

We are grateful to the governments of Cambodia and Laos for their bold action around making wildlife trade illegal and for allowing us to conduct these surveys. We are also grateful to our many local partners, who are doing the hard work of administering the surveys in the coming months. It is hoped that we can adapt this survey for use across Southeast Asia and India in a comprehensive assessment of wildlife usage.

David gives a lecture (via a translator) about conservation in Laos.

It is through efforts like this, and the incredible work of the Institute, San Diego Zoo Global, Free the Bears, and others that I can stay hopeful, even as I look at wildlife products for sale. Why? Because we’ve not given up, and we are working in smart, complementary, and sustainable ways to tackle these threats so that humans and wildlife can co-exist.

Thanks to you for your continued support, which makes this work possible.

David OConnor is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, World Giraffe Day.

16

7 Animal Facts You Didn’t Learn In School

You don’t have to be an animal expert to appreciate the natural world. In fact, simple short cuts like the fun facts listed below, can be very conducive to gaining a better understanding of the Animal Kingdom. Enjoy!

Monkeys have tails and apes don't.

1. Monkeys have tails and apes don’t.
Since we have more in common with our great ape cousins than we do with monkeys, a good way to remember this fact is to simply look at your rear end.

There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.

2. There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.
Contrary to pop culture and older versions of Encyclopedia Britannica, snakes are venomous, not poisonous. If they were poisonous, touching or licking a serpent would be the more appropriate fear than death by snakebite. And that’s even debatable, since statistics show that out of 7,000 to 8,000 snakebites per year in the U.S., only 5 or 6 are fatal. Call it semantics, but the truth is only 10 percent of the 3,000 species of snake are venomous, meaning they inject toxins into their prey (biting or stinging). The difference is skin deep.

7

Gorilla Frank Turns 6

Frank enjoys one of his birthday popsicles.

Frank enjoys one of his birthday popsicles.

Frank, the biggest gorilla brother at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, turned 6 years old on September 4, 2014! Keepers threw a birthday party for Frank and the entire troop, complete with paper streamers, decorated cardboard box presents, popcorn, sugar-free popsicles, and a big birthday banner.

With so much to explore out on the exhibit that morning, the members of the troop all quickly spread out and selected their own treats. Frank’s grandmother, 36-year-old Kamilah, claimed the largest decorated box and the popcorn forage pile inside it, while the Birthday Boy preferred the colorful popsicles. Lately, Frank has been trying to demonstrate how grown up he is by carrying his 6-month-old “sister” Joanne around the exhibit. (Joanne’s mother, Imani, had cared for Frank as a baby when his own mother was not able to do so.) Frank enjoys this responsibility so much that he is sometimes reluctant to give Joanne back when her mother thinks it’s time!

Before we know it, Joanne will be big enough to enjoy running around the exhibit on her own and keeping up with her big brother Frank and 3-year-old half-brother Monroe!

He found goodies in each box.

He found goodies in each box.

Winston and little Monroe had fun with the birthday gifts, too!

Winston and little Monroe had fun with the birthday gifts, too!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Baby: Movin’ and Groovin’.

28

World Orangutan Day

Today is World Orangutan Day! On this day, organizations around the globe are highlighting the plight of one of our closest living relatives, the tree-dwelling “person of the forest.” These special creatures are not important just because they are large mammals, or because they remind us of ourselves, but also because they are so integrally connected to the forests they inhabit. With more than 500 known plant species encompassed by their diet, this red ape is a significant factor in seed dispersal in the ancient forests of Indonesia and Borneo.

But the forests, and the orangutans that depend on them, are dwindling. Habitat loss is occurring in Southeast Asia at an alarmingly rapid rate, with Indonesia and Malaysia losing more than 6.5 million hectares (more than 25,000 square miles) in the last few decades. As a result of this habitat loss, the two orangutan subspecies are experiencing a steep decline. The Sumatran Orangutan is critically endangered; the IUCN estimates that no more than 7,300 remain in fragmented patches of forest, primarily in Aceh, Indonesia.

Forest loss in orangutan habitat has a number of causal factors: mining operations and tree harvesting for the pulp and paper industry are two of the usual suspects. But one of the most significant reasons for deforestation over the last twenty years was the rampant growth of the palm oil industry. Production of oil palm, an agricultural commodity that grows only in tropical regions, has skyrocketed: between 1990-2010, Indonesia experienced a 600% increase in land dedicated to the crop. To protect and preserve orangutans, and other species dependent on these forests, conservation biologists have been searching for a way to stem the tide of deforestation due to palm oil expansion.

San Diego Zoo Global has joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and has been working with other North American zoos and RSPO stakeholders to strengthen and improve its efforts to move the palm oil industry toward sustainability. Along with other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the accrediting body for North American zoological institutions, we are exploring ways to ensure the preservation of biodiversity in areas impacted by oil palm.

Today, on World Orangutan Day, the AZA has announced its support for the development of a sustainable palm oil marketplace.  AZA member zoos, including San Diego Zoo Global, collectively educate and entertain 180 million guests each year. That is a significant audience that can help push for change that will “break the link between palm oil and deforestation,” a move necessary to preserve orangutans and other wildlife into the future. As RSPO members, SDZG stands alongside the AZA in recommending that North American consumers help to increase the uptake of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in our supermarkets. Currently, there is more CSPO produced each year than is purchased for consumer goods. Since CSPO is produced in accordance with sustainable principals and criteria as set forth by the RSPO, orangutans would benefit if demand for CSPO were to rise. You can learn more about CSPO, and the product lines containing it, here.

We have a long way to go to ensure that the beautiful, long-haired “person of the forest” remains in wild places in the future. On World Orangutan Day, we ask you to consider how you might actively participate in efforts to preserve our red-haired cousins by beginning your own journey to sustainability. A good first step? Find ways to modify your habits to include more CSPO in your purchases. Together, we can help secure the forest home for the orangutan, and all its jungle brethren.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

 

21

Orangutan: 10 Teeth and Counting!

Aisha knows Mom Indah is never far.

Aisha knows Mom Indah is never far.

It seems that orangutan youngster Aisha is getting a new tooth every two weeks! At almost nine months old, she now has a mouth full of teeth and is putting them to use. All day long Aisha is finding food and trying it out. On exhibit she tries the leaves on branches, lettuce, and anything else she can get away from her mom. Indah has gotten better about sharing her food with Aisha; she is even letting Aisha have a couple of pieces of her fruit in the morning. When inside, Aisha tries all of Indah’s food, even the biscuits. Yet with all this food exploration, Aisha’s primary source of food is from nursing.

Aisha can often been seen climbing on the ropes and hammocks in the exhibit, spending an increased time off of Mom. There are times when Aisha wants to climb, but Indah won’t allow her. Yet there are occasions when Indah prefers Aisha to climb rather than hang on her, but Aisha won’t let go. Sounds familiar, right moms? Aisha still spends most of her time on exhibit hanging onto Indah, so you might need to spend some time at the exhibit to see Aisha climbing and hanging around.

Inside the orangutan bedrooms, if Aisha is awake, she is off and running. Well, not running exactly, but she doesn’t stay idle for long. She is climbing and moving all around her bedrooms. Indah is now comfortable enough that she does not immediately pick up Aisha when we come into the building. Aisha is curious about people and will come over to the bars and reach out to us if we have something that she wants or is curious about. While Aisha is off Mom a lot, she still will not leave her or go anywhere without her.

I often get asked when we will be putting the siamangs and Indah and Aisha together. At this time, we do not want to rush the process and have not yet set a date for introductions. If we put them together too soon, we run the risk of Unkie, the male siamang, being aggressive and potentially hurting Aisha or causing Indah undo stress. We want to avoid any negative interaction. It is best to wait until Aisha is more mobile and Indah is confident in Aisha’s safety. This is still months away from any consideration.

I truly appreciate everyone’s support for our orangutans, and with your support, we can help save this species for future generations.

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans: Why the Burlap?

14

Orangutan Baby Playing, Trying Out New Teeth

Orangutan AishaAn orangutan youngster at the San Diego Zoo is now a little more than 8 months old and has begun to switch to solid foods. The playful youngster, named Aisha, was born at the Zoo October 25, 2013. Although continuing to nurse, Aisha’s emerging teeth are leading her to experiment with solid foods like apples, mangos and bananas.

In addition to her nine new teeth, Aisha is continuing to grow and develop. The little orangutan climbs and plays in the outdoor habitat, never venturing more than 10 feet from her mother. Animal care staff at the Zoo indicates that Aisha is taking advantage of the opportunities provided her to learn and grow as a young orangutan would in the wild.

Photo taken on July 7, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.

CONTACT: San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations, 619-685-3291

6

Gorilla Baby: Movin’ and Groovin’

Imani & Baby

Joanne, the littlest gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is in the process of learning how to crawl. So far she has mastered rolling over onto her stomach and has gotten very good at propping herself up on all fours and scooting forward inch by inch. During this independent time, her mother, Imani, usually keeps a watchful eye on the other kids in the group, 5-year-old Frank and 3-year-old Monroe, who are eager to play with their new sibling, sometimes a bit too roughly. Growing up with older brothers will certainly help to make Joanne one tough little girl!

The biggest adventure the little one has had on her own so far was witnessed by ecstatic keepers during the gorillas’ lunchtime. Using fistfuls of grass as leverage, Imani’s little girl was able to crawl about three feet uphill, a bit more rock climbing than crawling, while Mom munched on broccoli and watched her baby’s feat from over her shoulder. Worn out, Joanne plopped down on her stomach and let Mom retrieve her.

Every day brings an exciting new accomplishment for this 3-month-old!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Baby: Chew on This.

11

Gorilla Baby: Chew on This

Can you see those baby teeth yet?

Can you see those baby teeth yet?

At two and a half months old, gorilla Imani’s little girl is starting to get her first teeth. Much like human infants, the first teeth to come in for a baby gorilla are typically the front teeth. Imani’s baby’s two bottom central incisors have already appeared, and the top two are showing signs of poking through.

To help the process along, the baby has been chewing on everything she can get in her mouth. Pretty much anything will do: her own hand, arm, the giant piece of browse that Mom is holding…

It’ll probably be a month or two before we see this little one eat solid foods, but in the meantime, she is developing the tools she will need to do so. What fun to watch her grow here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Baby Yoga.

18

On the Palm Oil Path: A Journey to Sustainability

Making informed palm-oil decisions can help Indah and Aisha's wild brethren.

Making informed palm-oil decisions can help Indah and Aisha’s wild brethren.

When you watch the San Diego Zoo’s orangutans brachiating from branch to branch, it’s easy to picture the movement of wild apes through the canopy of those big trees in Borneo and Sumatra. Watching our sun bear Marcella sleep high in her climbing structure, you can envision a wild sun bear resting up in the canopy close to the fruit of a monstrous tree. There are a number of species that depend on the lush forests of tropical Southeast Asia, and these species are now at risk due to rampant deforestation and loss of habitat. As mentioned in a previous post, The Palm Oil Conservation Crisis, one of the major drivers of that deforestation is unsustainable palm oil cultivation.

The palm oil conservation crisis is a highly complex problem that cannot be solved overnight. However, San Diego Zoo Global has waded into the issue and hopes to contribute to a solution that can preserve forests and the wildlife that depends on them. Our first step was to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a multi-stakeholder organization that has produced a series of criteria aimed at altering the palm oil supply chain to produce a sustainable crop. (See press release Three US Zoos Take Leadership Role in Supporting Sustainable Palm Oil Practices.) The goal of the RSPO is to make certified sustainable palm oil the norm, thus ending the unsustainable practices that endanger forests. The RSPO is a young organization, and though it has made great strides in its 10 years, there is still a long way to go toward ensuring that palm oil is deforestation-free.

This is the reason North American zoos and aquariums are stepping up to address this issue, too. As conservation entities, we want to ensure a wild future for the species many of our guests see at our facilities. I just returned from the first Sustainable Palm Oil Symposium, hosted by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. Cheyenne Mountain was the first North American zoo to join the RSPO, and in hosting this symposium they helped to facilitate a dialogue among concerned zoos about what we can do, collectively and as individual institutions. We got an on-the-ground perspective from attending NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that work in Malaysia and Indonesia, and this allowed us to have a better understanding of what parts of the industry are likely to be most responsive to our efforts. It was really inspiring to be surrounded by like-minded folks who are as passionate about the palm oil conservation crisis as we are. Zoos around the world are raising awareness of the problem and are trying to encourage the transformation of the palm oil industry to sustainability. At the symposium, we realized that we might wield a powerful voice if we unite in our efforts.

That is very much our goal now. I hope to share with you some of our efforts and accomplishments over the next several months. In the meantime, you can help by supporting the RSPO’s vision to transform the palm oil industry. Think of this transformation as a journey toward sustainability. Zoos, corporations, and even the RSPO are on a journey, each of us in a different place, but the goal is clear. San Diego Zoo Global supports those companies that are making progress toward a sustainable palm oil industry. We encourage you to support the RSPO and those RSPO-member companies that are taking steps along their journey to sustainability, too.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.