Meet Kitai the Endangered Snow Leopard Cub

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A blue-eyed bundle of fluff arrived at Tierpark Berlin on June 13: Kitai the Snow Leopard cub!

Kitai was born to parents Maya and Bataar, both six years old. This is their third litter together.

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20526225_10155408276985149_2119039406350702236_nPhoto Credit: Berlin Zoo

The now two-month-old cub recently had a health check, at which he received vaccinations and an ID chip. The vaccinations are the same as all housecats receive for protection against distemper and other feline diseases.

Kitai’s name was chosen from among more than 1,000 suggestions made by zoo fans. The word “Kitai” or “Catai” is a variation of  “Cathay,” which is what China was called during the times of Marco Polo. Snow Leopards are found in the mountains of Central Asia. The largest population resides in China.

At eight weeks old, Kitai weighed about eight pounds. As an adult, he may weigh 100-150 pounds. For now, Kitai spends nearly all his time with Maya in their den, but last week the staff opened the door into the main exhibit to give mother and son the chance to explore outdoors. It is completely up to Kitai and Maya to decide if and when they go outside.

Snow Leopards are among the most endangered of all big Cats. Recent data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that there are between 4,000-6,500 mature Snow Leopards spread across 12 Asian nations. A Global Snow Leopard Forum has been established to address the threats facing Snow Leopards, which include depletion of prey, illegal trade, and conflict with people.

Zoo Berlin is active in protecting Snow Leopards, and a total of 13 cubs have been born there in the last 20 years.

See more photos of Kitai below.

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Zoo Welcomes First Okapi Birth in Four Years

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The San Diego Zoo recently welcomed a handsome new resident. Okapi mom, Mbaya, gave birth to her first calf—adding one more individual to a population that is in steady decline worldwide.

Only a few zoos in the United States house the endangered Okapi, and four-week-old Mosi (pronounced MO-see) became the first of his species to be born at the San Diego Zoo in four years.

Animal care staff said Mosi (Swahili for first-born) is a robust little guy who exhibits many of the same personality traits as his mom, including a calm and easygoing demeanor.

“This is her first calf, and she is allowing us to interact with this calf because she trusts us,” said John Michel, senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. “It was a relationship we had developed over a long period of time prior to this calf being born. And so, the relationship we have with her is the same relationship we have with the calf—very trusting.”

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3_36723774405_6eda7ab79d_hPhoto Credits: San Diego Zoo

The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), the only living relative of the giraffe, is a large animal that lives in the Ituri Forest: a dense rain forest in central Africa, located in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). The species’ zebra-like white-and-black striped hindquarters and front legs give them added camouflage in the partial sunlight that filters through their rainforest habitat.

A very cautious animal, Okapis in the wild use their highly developed hearing to alert them before humans can get close. In fact, while natives of the Ituri Forest knew of Okapis, scientists did not know of the animal until 1900.

Today, the Okapi is listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, due to hunting and continued habitat loss.

San Diego Zoo Global, and other zoos and conservation organizations, work with local residents to protect and support this rare and unusual forest dweller in its native habitat. In 1992, one-fifth of the Okapi habitat in the Ituri Forest was protected to create the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a World Heritage Site providing the species a place removed from most human interference.

Okapis first arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1956, and since then, there have been more than 60 births at both the Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Zoo guests can visit Mosi, his mom, and the other Okapis in their habitat along Hippo Trail in Lost Forest. Their exhibit is designed to let guests enjoy a good look at these beautiful animals without disturbing them.

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


Point Defiance Zoo’s Penguin Siblings Swim On-Exhibit

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The two juvenile Magellanic Penguin chicks, at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, recently slipped into the water of their on-exhibit pool and excitedly darted from end to end.

Members of the adult Penguin colony stood watch on the rocks above, squawking loudly, acting as black-and-white sentries warily guarding their turf from these upstart juveniles. “That’s normal behavior,” staff biologist Amanda Shaffer said. “Eventually, the adults will welcome the younger Penguins into their midst.”

In just 12 weeks, the chicks have grown from fuzzy balls, weighing just under 6 ounces, to recognizable Penguins almost as large as the adults from whose eggs they hatched.

According to zoo staff, the chicks have been off exhibit for a few weeks, gaining strength, getting accustomed to feeding schedules, and growing the coarse feathers and stiff wings needed for swimming. Point Defiance zookeepers have kept careful watch over the brother-and-sister pair as they learned to swim.

The siblings are now on-exhibit daily in the Penguin Point habitat at the zoo.

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4_95A0228Photo Credits: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium /Brian DalBalcon

ZooBorns eagerly shared news and adorable pics of the Penguin siblings when their birth was announced earlier in the summer: Point Defiance Zoo Welcomes Magellanic Penguin Chicks”.

The chicks broke out of their shells on May 23 and May 25 and are the first Magellanic Penguins to hatch at the zoo since 2006.

The little Penguins aren’t given names. They are known by the colors of the bands on their wings. These two are the offspring of mother “Pink” and father “Red.” The male chick is banded as “Red/White” and the female is “Pink/Black.”

Point Defiance Zoo’s Penguin colony now numbers a total of ten: five males and five females.

“I’m pleased with their progress,” said Shaffer, the zoo’s lead Penguin keeper. “They are healthy and they did great while learning to dive into the off-exhibit pool, swim and then pull themselves out.”

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Kangaroo Joey Given Bright, Shiny New Name

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About three months ago, a little Kangaroo joey at Allwetterzoo Münster lost her mother. Ralf Nacke, zookeeper, has since been foster parent to the joey, and he has lovingly devoted himself to her care.

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4_20645191_10159100335080263_3390958574437080484_oPhoto Credits: Allwetterzoo Münster 

According to zoo staff, bottle breeding does not always work with Kangaroos, particularly when the baby is transitioning from breast milk to bottle. There were initial difficulties for the joey at the Münster Zoo, but she is now developing magnificently.

The female was recently named Alinga, which is the Aboriginal word for “the sun”. Although Alinga still requires bottle-feedings and likes to spend time in Papa Ralf’s “pouch” (backpack), keepers are introducing her to solid foods and are hopeful she will one day be integrated with the other Kangaroos at the zoo.

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Rare Four-Eyed Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

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The Tennessee Aquarium recently celebrated the successful hatching of four endangered turtles.

When it comes to breeding some turtles, making even small changes to their environment can be like trying to introduce new foods to an especially picky eater.

“You don’t want to go changing a lot of stuff, or you may unsettle them and have to wait until next year to try again,” says Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes. “With some turtle species, it doesn’t matter. With others, you move them to a different space, and they don’t lay eggs for five years. It throws them off track.”

Because of their fickleness and tendency to be slow to reproduce, every successful turtle-breeding season is significant, especially for imperiled species. At the Aquarium, Hughes recently celebrated the successful hatching of a pair each of endangered Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia quadriocellata) and critically endangered Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia bealei).

The hatchlings emerged from their shells in the Tennessee Aquarium’s rooftop turtle nursery on June 13 (Four-eyed) and July 2-3 (Beal’s) from eggs that had been incubating at 82 degrees since being laid in April.

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4_Beal's Four-eyed Turtle (Sacalia bealei) hatchlingsPhoto Credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The Aquarium is home to the largest collection of freshwater turtles in North America. In 2007, it received national attention as the first North American zoo or aquarium to successfully hatch a Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle.

In the last decade, the Aquarium has had continued success in hatching these “four-eyed” species, which are native to Southeast Asia and named due to eye-like markings on the top of their heads. Including the most recent babies, the Aquarium has successfully hatched 15 Beal’s Four-eyed and 37 Four-eyed Turtles since 2007.

In all, just 47 Four-eyed and 24 Beal’s Four-eyed are housed in North American facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Hatchlings raised at the Tennessee Aquarium have been shared with other caretakers in an effort to shore up their captive population. In 2015, a trio of Beal’s Four-eyed were sent to the Knoxville Zoo — the only other AZA institution to house them — and Four-eyed hatchlings have been shipped to facilities as far as New York, Texas and California.

In light of these turtles’ limited numbers, both in the wild and in captivity, Hughes says he’s largely opted to avoid tampering with his breeding setup for fear of derailing programs that are helping to significantly bolster their overall populations.

“The only thing I’ve really changed is cooling them off more in winter and incubating them a degree or two warmer,” he explains. “They’re all still in their same space they’ve been in for years, which is helping.”

Like many Southeast Asian species, both the Beal’s Four-eyed and Four-eyed Turtle wild populations have been in free fall in recent decades. This decline is thanks to a combination of human-induced threats, including habitat destruction and capture for use as a food source or to supply the pet trade.

According to a 2014 study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 50-60 percent of the 335 modern turtle and tortoise species are either extinct or threatened with extinction. That gives them the dubious distinction as the most imperiled major group of vertebrates on the planet.

The Aquarium’s successful rearing of Beal’s Four-eyed and Four-eyed Turtles is crucial to their survivability. Hughes serves as the coordinator of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the Four-eyed Turtle since that plan became active in 2012. This year, the Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle became a candidate for the program, and Hughes says the turtle’s conservation status puts it on the fast track to achieving full SSP status in the future.

Even after years of success in raising them, Hughes never tires of seeing new turtles emerge from their eggs. And as you would expect from such dogged creatures of habit, they tend to arrive almost like clockwork, he says.

“They lay at the same time or year, and the eggs hatch at the same time of year, so it’s like a floating holiday that doesn’t float that much. You know when it’s coming,” Hughes says. “It’s still a thrill to see them.”

Photo below by Todd Stailey, Tennessee Aquarium photographer, showing the ocelli, "false eyes", of the Four-eyed Turtle5_FOUREYEDTURTLE


Rhino Birth Viewed Live at Burgers' Zoo

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As thousands of viewers watched via live webcam on August 10, Izala the Southern White Rhinoceros gave birth to a healthy female calf at Burgers’ Zoo.

Zoo staff members were anxious about the birth because Izala’s first calf was stillborn in January 2016. It is not uncommon for a White Rhino’s first pregnancy to be unsuccessful. Fortunately, this calf appears healthy and strong, and she was walking and nursing within just hours of birth.

The lively calf, named Wiesje, runs and plays in her large exhibit, with Izala usually trotting close behind.

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LI9A9453Photo Credit: Burgers' Zoo

 

Seven Rhinos have been born at Burgers’ Zoo in the past 17 years, and around 12 are born each year in European zoos. Last year, 22 Rhino births occurred in European zoos, due in part to increased cooperation among zoos. This cooperation resulted in more Rhinos being transferred among zoos into more favorable breeding situations.

While other Rhino species live mostly solitary lives, White Rhinos live in small social groups which typically include adult females and their young.  Males’ territories overlap those of females. Researchers have learned that the hormonal cycles of lower-ranking females in these groups are suppressed, resulting in only higher-ranking females being bred.

In zoos, this research has a practical application: moving a young female to a new environment increase the odds that her hormonal cycle will be restored, which improves the odds that she will breed. Thus Izala, who lived at the Kolmarden Zoo with her mother, was brought to Burgers’ Zoo so she could successfully breed and rear her own baby.

Southern White Rhinos are the largest of all five Rhino species, and are also the most numerous in the wild, with about 20,000 individuals found mainly in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. 

Southern White Rhinos are listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The main threat remains poaching for the illegal Rhino horn trade. As prices for Rhino horn increase, hunting increases as well. Rhino horn, which is used for ornamental purposes and in Traditional Asian Medicine, is made of solid keratin, the same material in human fingernails.  It has no proven medical benefits, yet has driven some Rhino species to the brink of extinction: only about 60 Javan Rhinos and 200 Sumatran Rhinos remain in Asia.

See more photos of Wiesje and Izala below.

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Meet Nala the Serval Kitten

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On July 1, Colchester Zoo welcomed a baby Serval named Nala. The kitten currently lives behind the scenes, where she is under the expert care of zoo keepers.

Like most kittens, Nala is playful, as you can see in the video below. During play, she exhibits the amazing skill that Servals are known for: leaping into the air to pounce on top of their prey.

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IMG_9662Photo Credit: Colchester Zoo

Servals live in much of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Weighing 20-40 pounds as adults, these medium-sized Cats have the longest legs relative to body size of any feline. Their super-sized ears help them locate prey. Because Servals favor habitats with tall brush, long legs give them an advantage when tracking small mammals, birds, frogs, and reptiles through the grass. Once prey is within reach, Servals can leap more than six feet upward and ten feet forward to forcefully pounce on prey with their forepaws. A quick bite to the prey animal’s head or neck delivers the fatal blow.

Much of Africa’s Serval population lives on protected land and hunting of Servals is prohibited in many, but not all, countries. Though Servals are currently listed as a Species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, continued degradation of habitats, especially wetlands and grasslands, could pose a threat in the future.

See more photos of Nala below.

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Amazing Birth of Two Rare Foals at Dallas Zoo

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For the first time in Dallas Zoo’s 129-year history, they are proud to announce the birth of two extremely rare Somali Wild Ass foals. Born ten days apart, the little girls and their moms are doing great and have been bonding beautifully behind-the-scenes.

The first foal, named Kalila (“dearly loved” in Arabic), was born on July 9 to 13-year-old mom Liberty. This is dad, Abai, and Liberty’s third foal together; the pair previously welcomed two offspring at their former home, the St. Louis Zoo.

The second foal, named Naima (“calm” in Arabic), was born July 19 to the same dad, Abai, and first-time mom, five-year-old Hani. Just like her older half-sister, little Naima was standing, walking and nursing within minutes after birth.

“This is a big moment for our hoof stock team. Somali Wild Asses are critically endangered, with less than 600 left in the wild,” mammal curator John Fried said. “Only nine institutions in the U.S. care for this rare species, and to be able to welcome two babies is truly one of the highlights of my career.”

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4_IMG_9502Photo Credits: Dallas Zoo

The Somali Wild Ass (Equus africanus somaliensis) is a subspecies of the African Wild Ass. Native to the arid regions of the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea), there are many reasons the Somali Wild Asses’ numbers have dropped drastically in the wild. Locals hunt this species for food and traditional medicine. Some believe their fat treats tuberculosis. Somali Wild Asses also directly compete with livestock for limited land and water sources. Additionally, wild assess are crossbreeding with domestic asses, hurting the genetics of this species.

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Zoo Hatches First Horned Puffin Chick

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A tiny Horned Puffin is doing well at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The chick hatched in July at the Rocky Shores habitat for sea birds.

This is the first Horned Puffin ever hatched at the zoo, which has been home to four adult members of this species since October 2014.

The chick will be visible, periodically. However, zoo guests are likely to only catch glimpses of its tiny beak as it ventures to the front of its nesting area.

“The chick’s parents take turns feeding it, and visitors can see them going to and fro with food, or watching over the nest box,” said staff biologist, Cindy Roberts.

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4_Puffin 4Photo Credits: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (1-4) / Ingrid Barrentine (5-7)

Earlier this year, zookeepers took the initiative to build nest boxes for the Horned Puffins. They consulted with experts at the Alaska Sea Life Center to build boxes for the mating pair.

Zookeepers at Point Defiance Zoo give daily feeding presentations and talk to visitors about Horned Puffins, Tufted Puffins and Common Murres.

“Staff won’t know whether the chick is male or female, until it’s old enough for staff to collect a small blood sample from which gender and general health status can be determined,” Roberts continued.

A “well-chick-check-up” from a zoo veterinarian recently found the baby Puffin to be in good health.

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Bristol Zoo Gardens First to Breed Rare Spider

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One of the rarest spiders on earth has bred at Bristol Zoo Gardens in a world first.

Over 1,000 tiny Desertas Wolf Spiderlings have hatched in the Zoo’s Bug World. So valuable are the babies, some have even been hand-reared by dedicated keepers from tiny eggs.

The hatchings are a huge boost for the species, which is only found in one valley on one of the Desertas Islands, near Madeira, Portugal. There is thought to be a single population of just 4,000 adult spiders left in the wild – an alarmingly small number for an entire invertebrate species.

It is hoped that some of the spiderlings can be returned to their native island in the future to boost dwindling numbers in the wild.

2_An adult female Desertas wolf spider with young on her backPhoto Credits: Bristol Zoo Gardens

Desertas Wolf Spiders (Hogna ingens) are classified as “Critically Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species but are not protected by any specific legislation.

The baby spiders are just 4mm in diameter but grow to be huge, impressive-looking black and white adults up to 12cm in size with a body size of 4cm. They are under threat from habitat loss, due to invasive grass binding the soil where they burrow and blocking their natural shelters.

Bristol Zoo has joined forces with Instituto das Florestas e Conservação de Natureza (IFCN) and the IUCN to develop a conservation strategy to protect the species in an effort to prevent it becoming extinct.

As part of the vital conservation effort, Bristol Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Mark Bushell, travelled to Desertas Grande last year with Zoo vet Richard Saunders and collected 25 Desertas Wolf Spiders to be brought back to the Zoo to breed as a ‘safety net’ population.

The effort has been a great success, as Mark explains: “Because this was the first time this species had ever been taken into captivity to breed, it was a steep learning curve. After some of the female spiders were mated, it was an anxious wait to see if they would produce egg sacs. We were thrilled when they did, and to see the tiny spiderlings emerge was fantastic – a real career highlight.”

Such was the keepers’ dedication, that when one of the female’s egg sac broke, eggs were carefully transferred into a miniature incubator for rearing. Once the eggs hatched, they were put into separate containers with sterilized soil, kept in quarantine and individually fed with fruit flies.

Bristol Zoo now plans to send hundreds of the tiny spiderlings to other Zoos in the UK and Europe to set up further breeding groups as part of a collaborative conservation programme for the species.

Mark added: “Establishing the world’s first captive breeding programme for this species is a fantastic step towards protecting it for the future. It is a beautiful and impressive creature, but its natural habitat is being altered by invasive plants. There are simply not enough rocky and sandy areas of habitat left for the spiders to burrow and hide in. The result is a deadly game of musical chairs, whereby the spiders are competing for fewer and fewer burrows.”

Mark added: “In addition to the loss of habitat, one single catastrophic event could wipe out the species entirely. Now we have successfully created a ‘safety net’ population here at Bristol Zoo to help safeguard this impressive creature for the future.”

In future it is also hoped that Bristol Zoo’s team of horticulture experts can visit Desertas Grande to work with park rangers to control the invasive grass, which is destroying the spiders’ habitats and help restore the original landscape.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public, not only to fund its important work in the zoo but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.

For more information about visiting Bristol Zoo Gardens, visit their website at www.bristolzoo.org.uk .