San Diego Zoo

Sweet Surprise for San Diego Zoo Gorilla Keepers


Gorilla keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park arrived to a surprising workday on October 19. They discovered that their expectant Western Lowland Gorilla mom-to-be, Kokamo, had given birth to a tiny female!

The baby weighed approximately 4 pounds at birth, and staff observed her nursing with her new mom. After a health assessment of mom and baby, the Zoo reports that keepers kept to their normal routine and released all of the Gorillas from the troop back into the exhibit.

Aside from the initial assessment, animal care staff don’t intend to have contact with the baby (which has not yet been named) until she is much older.

Keepers report that Kokomo is a very protective and attentive mother. She is also allowing the other members of the troop to check out the new baby, but the Zoo stresses that visitors to the Park should expect the newborn to be held by her mother constantly, making it difficult to see the baby in the arms of her 229-pound, protective, mom.

This is the second baby for mother Kokomo and father Winston, at the Safari Park. Winston doesn’t have a direct role in caring for the baby at this point, but he will continue to be protective of the rest of the troop of eight Gorillas, which consists of: one adult male, three adult females, 5-year-old Monroe, 8-year-old Frank and 2-year-old Joanne.

GorillaSafari_002_LGPhoto Credit: Ken Bohn/ San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) is one of two subspecies of the Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) that lives in montane, primary and secondary forests and lowland swamps in central Africa in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. It is the Gorilla most common to zoos.

The main diet of the Gorilla species is roots, shoots, fruit, wild celery, tree bark and pulp, which are provided for in the thick forests of central and West Africa. An adult will eat around 18 kg (40 lb) of food per day. Gorillas will climb trees up to 15 meters in height in search of food.

Females do not produce many offspring, due to the fact that they do not reach sexual maturity until the age of 8 or 9. Female gorillas give birth to one infant after a pregnancy of nearly nine months. Unlike their powerful parents, newborns are tiny (weighing about four pounds) and able only to cling to their mothers' fur. The infant will ride on mother’s back from the age of four months through the first two or three years of life. Infants can be dependent on the mother for up to five years.

The Western Lowland Gorilla is classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. Population in the wild is faced with a number of factors that threaten it to extinction. Such factors include: deforestation, farming, grazing, and the expanding human settlements that cause forest loss. There is also said to be a correlation between human intervention in the wild and the destruction of habitats with an increase in bushmeat hunting.

Reptile Hatchings at San Diego Zoo Boost Rare Species

Two rare reptile species native to two delicate island ecosystems—the Black Tree Monitor, native to the Aru Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea; and the Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko, native to Madagascar—have reproduced at the San Diego Zoo and offer hope for two little-known, yet important species.

Monitor_001_WebPhoto Credit:  San Diego Zoo

Four Black Tree Monitor babies hatched from eggs laid in January and are the first ever hatched at the zoo.  The young lizards weigh about two-fifths of an ounce each, and are doing well.

Black Tree Monitors live in the hot, humid forests and mangrove swamps of the Aru Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea. They are dependent on the forest canopy to survive, but most of the regional forest on the Aru Islands has already been lost. Other threats to the species include the pet trade and non-native predators, such as foxes and cats. With the threats the Black Tree Monitor faces in the wild, establishing insurance populations in accredited zoos will help ensure the survival of the species.

Mossy Leaf-tailed Geckos face similar challenges in the wild, and have also experienced recent breeding success. The zoo received a confiscated group of mossy Leaf-tailed Geckos in 2010. The geckos have since produced eight hatchlings, with several generations now thriving at the zoo.

Leaf-tailed Geckos have evolved to resemble leaves, blending into their forest surroundings to avoid predators and better ambush their insect prey. However, more than 80 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been decimated by logging, agriculture, housing development and other human activity, threatening the future of the species. With these ongoing threats, keeping healthy satellite populations outside of Madagascar is increasingly important as a safeguard against extinction.

Rare Lemur Born at San Diego Zoo

Red Ruffed Lemur (2)
On May 18, 2016, a male Red Ruffed Lemur was born at the San Diego Zoo’s behind-the-scenes Primate Propagation Center. It has been 13 years since the last Red Ruffed Lemur was born at the zoo, and excitement is in the air.

The San Diego Zoo has a successful history of breeding Red Ruffed Lemurs; in fact, more than 100 born have been born here since 1965. That success is attributed to the zoo’s Primate Propagation Center, a facility specifically designed for breeding Lemurs.

Red Ruffed Lemur (1)
Photo Credit:  San Diego Zoo

"Red Ruffed Lemur Morticia is a first-time mom, but she has proven to be a great mother,” said Kristen Watkins, a primate keeper at the San Diego Zoo. For the first week after the birth, it was important for keepers to get daily weights on the infant, to make sure he was gaining weight. A rising weight indicates that the baby is successfully nursing and that mom is taking good care of him. Morticia is willing to let keepers borrow her infant in exchange for some of her favorite fruits, but she is eager to get him back, Watkins said. The infant has been gaining about one-third of an ounce (10 grams) a day and is getting more active and aware of his surroundings. Although he currently weighs only 6.6 ounces (188 grams), Red Ruffed Lemur babies grow up fast. During his first month, keepers expect him to be exploring outside of his nest, with Morticia watching closely.

This rare species is included in Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature SSC Primate Specialist Group, and every birth of a Red Ruffed Lemur is a critically important one. They are only found in one region in the entire world: the Masoala Peninsula in Madagascar, which is undergoing deforestation.

San Diego Zoo Global leads on-site wildlife conservation efforts 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.

Baby Giraffe Drops In At San Diego Zoo


The San Diego Zoo’s Masai Giraffe herd grew with the addition of a male calf at the end of May. 

The newborn calf stood six feet tall and tipped the scales at 146 pounds.  Like all Giraffes, Harriet, the calf’s mother, gave birth to her baby while standing up.  The baby emerges front feet first and drops to the ground.  The fall helps separate the calf from the placenta and stimulates breathing.

13330921_10154334515882147_6760609746357196707_nPhoto Credit:  San Diego Zoo

Masai Giraffes are one of nine Giraffe subspecies that range across Africa.  Populations have fallen by nearly half in the last decades to about 80,000 individuals today, mainly due to habitat loss.  Giraffes must also compete with livestock for resources.  In some parts of Africa, armed conflicts have complicated conservation efforts and put Giraffes further at risk.


Snow Day for Jaguar Cub at San Diego Zoo


April 28th was a rainy morning in San Diego, but at the San Diego Zoo, the forecast called for snow! One-year-old Jaguar cub Valerio and his mom, Nindiri, woke up to an unexpected surprise: piles of fresh, glistening snow blanketing their habitat.

According to staff, the duo appeared cautious when they entered their exhibit, stepping gingerly on the snow, unsure how to react to the novel substance. However, after a few minutes, the pair started exploring, climbing, searching for buried meatballs and showcasing their natural behaviors while enjoying their chilly enrichment surprise. Animal care staff said the cats’ personalities really shined through, and it was fascinating seeing them venture to parts of their habitat they normally wouldn’t explore that early in the day.

The 8-tons of fresh powder was provided through a generous donation, to the Zoo’s animal care wish list, as an enrichment item for the Jaguars. The San Diego Zoo provides enrichment for the animals in its care, in an effort to encourage their natural behaviors and an attempt to provide them opportunity to thrive. The snow day marked the first time this mom and cub have ever encountered snow.


3_JagSnow_01_LGPhoto Credits: San Diego Zoo


The Jaguar (Panthera onca) is a feline in the genus Panthera and is the only extant species native to the Americas. It is the third largest feline after the tiger and the lion. Their native range extends from the Southwestern United States and Mexico, across much of Central America, and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Apart from a possible population in southern Arizona and the lower south of New Mexico, the species has been largely extirpated from the U.S. since the early 20th Century.

The Jaguar resembles the leopard, but it is usually larger, with behavioral characteristics closer to those of the tiger. They prefer dense, forested habitation. The Jaguar is largely solitary and is a stalk-and-ambush predator.

Gestation for Jaguars lasts 93-105 days, and females will give birth to up to four cubs (typical litters consist of two). The mothers do not tolerate the presence of males after giving birth (due to fear of infanticide). The young are born blind, and their eyes open at about 2 weeks. The cubs are weaned at three months, but they remain in the den for six months to learn hunting and life skills from the mother.

Unfortunately, demand for the Jaguar’s beautiful rosette-pattern fur is one of the reasons this species is listed as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In addition, Jaguars are losing precious habitat, and human-Jaguar conflicts are causing their numbers to decrease rapidly. There are only an estimated 10,000 Jaguars left in the wild.

San Diego Zoo Global partners with the Wildlands Network and Latin American conservationists to study, monitor and protect Jaguars. Through those efforts, combined with educational outreach to local communities, the San Diego Zoo hopes to decrease human-Jaguar conflicts.

Zoo guests can visit Valerio, his mother Nindiri and their next-door lion mates, M’bari and Etosha, in their habitats at the Zoo’s Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey.

Trouble Comes in…Fours?

1_Meerkat pup & Adult_LG

The “cute meter” hit an all-time high the morning of April 18, as the Meerkat mob at the San Diego Zoo showed off four new additions to the family. Mom Debbie gave birth to four adorable baby Meerkats, and the pups have left their den to explore the interesting world above ground.

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3_Meerkat Pups_LG

4_Meerkat pup Feeding_LGPhoto Credits: San Diego Zoo


Animal care staff became excited when they realized Debbie was pregnant with a new litter, and they began to diligently monitor her weight to estimate when the pups would arrive.

In March, Zoo staff noticed Debbie was spending her time underground, indicating it was time to give birth. Normally, Meerkat moms keep their newborns secluded underground for up to a week before allowing them to meet with the rest of the family; however, Debbie surprised everyone by introducing the babies after only three days!

The four youngsters are now regularly out of their den playing, eating and exploring their habitat. Animal Care staff explains that in Meerkat society, everyone has a job, whether it’s being a sentry or babysitting. Now that the pups are old enough, every member of the family (under the direction of Debbie, of course) will provide the babies with important survival training, including the most important Meerkat behavior: digging.

Zoo staff says that, for Meerkats raising new pups, it takes a village—or, in this case, a mob. “The rest of the family, made up of older siblings, is also very involved with raising the pups,” says Liz Johnson, keeper. “They are great babysitters and are constantly checking on them. The pups are very vocal, and their siblings are quick to respond if they call out.”

Although their name may cause some confusion, Meerkats are not cats. The Meerkat, or Suricate (Suricata suricatta), is a small carnivoran belonging to the mongoose family. They are native to all parts of the Namib Desert in Namibia and southwestern Angola, and in South Africa.

Gestation for Meerkats is about eleven weeks. In the wild, Meerkats give birth in underground burrows to help keep the newborns safe from predators. To shield the pups from dust in their subterranean homes, they are born with their eyes and ears closed. Meerkat babies are also nearly hairless at birth, though a light coat of silver and brown fur begins to fill in after just a few days.

The babies nurse for about nine weeks, and they grow very quickly. Though they weigh only about an ounce at birth, by six months old, the pups are about the same size as the adults.

These desert-dwellers are highly social critters and live in groups, called mobs, which can include dozens of individuals from multiple families.

Meerkats have scent pouches below their tails and will rub these pouches on rocks and plants to mark their territory. The dark patches around their eyes act to cut down on sun glare and help them see far into the distance.

Meerkats have four toes on each feet and very long, non-retractable claws to help them dig. They can also close their ears to keep dirt out while digging.

As a species they have an interesting feeding approach as they will always maintain visual and vocal contact whilst foraging, with one of the group standing on its hind legs and acting as sentry on the lookout for predators. They feed mostly on invertebrates and plant matter.

They are currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In the wild, they are present in several large and well-managed protected areas. However, population densities can fluctuate due to predation and rainfall variations.

Wild populations are currently stable. However, over the past couple of decades, movies and television shows have brought Meerkats a lot of attention, with many people wondering if they can keep a Meerkat as a pet. Although they may look cute, Meerkats, like all wild animals, do NOT make good pets, and they are illegal to own without the proper permits and licenses!

San Diego Zoo guests can see mom Debbie, her four adorable pups and the other 12 members of the mob play, nap and eat in their habitat.

*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.

Brown Kiwi Chick Thriving at San Diego Zoo


The San Diego Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center is caring for a Brown Kiwi chick for the first time in more than a decade. The female chick hatched from its egg March 11, and as is typical of this species, it didn’t eat for the first six days. The chick began eating and gaining weight, and on April 5, 2016, it weighed 11.8 ounces (333.6 grams).

It is typical for this bird species to lose weight for two weeks after it has hatched. San Diego Zoo animal care staff report the female chick lost 26 percent of her body weight before she began gaining weight the last week of March.

The Kiwi has several unique and unusual traits: it does not fly, the mothers do not feed their chicks, and the egg is four times the expected size for a bird of the Kiwi’s proportions.

Animal care staff will continue to monitor the Brown Kiwi chick, measuring its weight and observing the young bird in a brooder over the next several weeks.

The San Diego Zoo successfully reared its first Brown Kiwi in 1983, and the recent hatching marks the Zoo’s 11th chick. The San Diego Zoo is one of just six zoos in the United States working with these endangered birds.

Kiwi_002_LGPhoto Credits: Ken Bohn/ San Diego Zoo

The North Island Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli; Apteryx australis or Apteryx bulleri) is a species of Kiwi that is widespread in the northern two-thirds of the North Island of New Zealand and, with about 35,000 remaining, is the most common Kiwi. This bird holds the world record for laying the largest eggs relative to its body size.

Females stand about 40 cm (16 in) high and weigh about 2.8 kg (6.2 lb). Males weigh about 2.2 kg (4.9 lb). Their plumage is streaky red-brown and spiky. The North Island Brown Kiwi is the only species of Kiwi found internationally in zoos.

They feed on invertebrates. They have two-three clutches a year with two eggs in each clutch. Chicks are fully feathered at hatching and leave the nest and can fend for themselves within one week.

The North Island Brown Kiwi is classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their major threats come from predators, such as dogs, cats, and stoat Mustela erminea.

Nationwide studies show that, on average, only five percent of Kiwi chicks survive to adulthood. However, in areas under active pest management, survival rates for North Island Brown Kiwi can be far higher.

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 important conservation and science work of these entities is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Sensational Six Cheetah Cubs at San Diego Zoo

1_Faces of Addison and two cubs

San Diego Zoo Safari Park visitors can now see a female Cheetah and her six cubs. The cubs were born at the off-exhibit Cheetah Breeding Facility at the Safari Park on November 21, 2015.

This is the second litter for mother Addison, and it is the largest litter ever raised by a Cheetah at the Safari Park. There are four female cubs (Darlene, Geisel, L.C., and Mary Jane) and two male cubs (Donald and Copley).

Mother and cubs live in their exhibit just off the African Tram Safari route, and while they have access to their “bedrooms” at any time, mom and cubs often choose to stay outside and explore their new surroundings---which include a view of the East Africa exhibit with Rhinos, Giraffes and African Crowned Cranes.

2_Six Sibling Cheetah Cubs

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4_Addison mom cleaning cubPhoto Credits: Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo Safari Park


The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one of nine breeding facilities as part of the Cheetah Breeding Center Coalition (BCC). The goal of the coalition is to create a sustainable Cheetah population that will prevent extinction of the world’s fastest land animal.

San Diego Zoo Global has been breeding Cheetahs for more than 40 years, with more than 150 cubs born. It is estimated that the worldwide population of Cheetahs has been reduced from 100,000 in 1900 to just 10,000 left today, with about 10% now living in zoos or wildlife parks.

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.

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Once Believed Extinct, Rare Insects Hatch at San Diego

Once thought to be extinct, 73 critically endangered Lord Howe Island Stick Insects hatched at the San Diego Zoo as part of an international breeding program to save these rare Australian insects.

24847567383_d87daa6a15_oPhoto Credit:  Tammy Spratt/San Diego Zoo

Lord Howe Island Stick Insects – also known as Tree Lobsters – was believed to be extinct after rats invaded the Australian island from cargo ships in the 19th century and ate all the insects.  But in the 1960s, scientists found one small colony – fewer than 40 individuals – living on a single shrub on a remote volcanic island off the coast of Australia.

From this fragile colony, scientists from the Melbourne Zoo collected a few individuals to begin a captive breeding program to save the species.  From those offspring, colonies were established at zoos around the world, including the San Diego Zoo, as insurance populations should a disease or natural disaster strike the original group.  The population has since grown to more than 9,000 individuals. 

Three hundred eggs went to the San Diego Zoo in January 2016, and the first 73 have hatched.  At this stage, the green insects are called “nymphs” and are experiencing their first “instar” or growth period between molts. They will molt their hard exoskeletons several more times, becoming darker each time, until they reach maturity at about seven months of age.  Adults are dark brown and measure five to six inches in length.   

Scientists hope to eventually reintroduce these insects to their former home on Lord Howe Island.

San Diego Zoo Welcomes Pygmy Hippo


The San Diego Zoo recently released a photo of a tiny Pygmy Hippo, nestled in straw a day after his birth. The calf was born November 11th and is an important addition to the population of the world’s smallest species of hippo. This is the first surviving Pygmy Hippo birth at the San Diego Zoo in more than a decade.

The tiny youngster, weighing just 12 pounds, 2 ounces (5.5 kg), was born to its mother, Francesca, in the early hours of the morning. Mom and calf are doing well, and they are taking some quiet time in a barn, out of the public eye, until keepers think the youngster is ready to try the larger pool available for swimming in the main exhibit area.

Photo Credit: Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo

The Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaptrotodon liberiensis) is a species from the forests of West Africa.  Reclusive and nocturnal, it is one of only two extant species in the Hippopotamidae family (the other being the larger cousin: Hippopotamus amphibious) Like its larger cousin, the Pygmy Hippo is semi-aquatic. It is herbivorous and feeds on ferns, broad-leaf plants, grasses, and fruits.

Gestation for the Pygmy Hippo ranges from 190 to 210 days, and usually results in the birth of a single calf. Common hippos mate and give birth only in water, but the Pygmy Hippo will mate and give birth on land or water.  Young Pygmy Hippos can swim almost immediately after birth. They are fully weaned between six and eight months of age.

The Pygmy Hippo is classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There were estimated to be about 2,000 left in the world a decade ago, when the last population survey was done. Since then, political unrest, habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking in their native habitats are likely to have reduced the wild population to critically low numbers.