Smithsonian National Zoo

Lively Litter of Seven Cheetahs Cubs Born

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The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) welcomed a litter of seven chirping Cheetah cubs July 9.

The cubs were born to first-time mother, Erin. Staff members report she has been attentive and immediately started caring for the cubs after they were born. The cubs appear to be healthy and doing well. Keepers will perform a health check on the cubs when Erin is comfortable leaving them for an extended period of time. In the meantime, the keepers will continue to monitor the mother and cubs closely through den cameras and visual checks to ensure they are growing and developing normally.

“It is really exciting to have such a large and healthy litter of cubs, especially from first-time parents,” said Adrienne Crosier, cheetah biologist. “Two of these cubs’ grandparents also live at SCBI, so they are the third generation from some of the first Cheetahs to ever live and breed here. That’s really good news for the Cheetah population worldwide. A global self-sustaining cheetah population in human care is becoming even more important with the continued decrease of animal numbers in the wild.”

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4_img_20180719_111536Photo Credits: Adriana Kopp/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The cubs are important to the population of Cheetahs living in zoos because Erin’s genes are not well represented in the population of Cheetahs living in human care in North America. This is also the first litter of cubs sired by the cubs’ father, Rico. It is the 12th Cheetah litter bringing the number of cubs born at SCBI since 2010 to 53. Erin's cubs will likely move to other zoos or facilities accredited by the Association of Zoo and Aquariums (AZA) when they are mature and join the AZA Cheetah Species Survival Plan.

SCBI scientists are using a new fecal hormone test to determine pregnancy in cheetahs. Fecal samples from Erin will contribute to this research. Cheetah pregnancies last approximately 90 days, and it is difficult to tell if a female is pregnant until 60 days have passed. However, SCBI scientists are developing a non-invasive test to detect levels of IgJ, a protein synthesized by the immune system, in cheetah feces to determine if a female is pregnant in the first 30 days of her pregnancy.

Cheetahs are currently listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are only about 7,000 Cheetahs in the wild living in very fragmented habitats. SCBI is building a healthy and genetically diverse population of Cheetahs in human care using natural breeding and assisted reproduction techniques.

SCBI plays a leading role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to save wildlife species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability.  


National Zoo Welcomes Western Lowland Gorilla

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For the first time in nine years, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is celebrating the birth of a male Western Lowland Gorilla. The baby boy was born on April 15 and has been named Moke [Mo-KEY], which means “junior” or “little one” in the Lingala language.

The 15-year-old mother, Calaya, and 26-year-old father, Baraka, bred in summer 2017 following a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP).

Keepers have observed Calaya nursing the clinging infant, and they are cautiously optimistic that the newborn will thrive. The Great Ape House is currently closed to provide Calaya a private space to bond with her infant.

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4_img_4503_15apr18_msPhoto Credits: Matt Spence/ Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Using a human pregnancy test in the Fall of 2017, keepers confirmed that Calaya had successfully conceived. The team also trained Calaya to participate voluntarily in ultrasounds, so they have been able to monitor fetal growth and development throughout the pregnancy. On November 3, the Zoo finally announced her pregnancy and has been providing updates via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #GorillaStory. The Zoo will continue to share updates, photos and videos of the infant’s development.

“The birth of this Western Lowland Gorilla is very special and significant, not only to our Zoo family but also to this critically endangered species as a whole,” said Meredith Bastian, curator of primates. “The primate team’s goal was to set Calaya up for success as best we could, given that she is a first-time mother. Doing so required great patience and dedication on the part of my team, and I am very proud of them and Calaya.”

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Help Name This Endangered Brown Kiwi Chick

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The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, and the Embassy of New Zealand in the United States are asking animal lovers to help name an endangered female Brown Kiwi chick.

Members of the public can submit name suggestions, until November 5, via the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s website: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/name-kiwi-chick . The top suggestions will be put up for a worldwide public vote via the Zoo’s Twitter account (@NationalZoo) on November 13.

Keepers describe the Brown Kiwi chick as fairly calm and laid-back, though she could become more cautious as she matures. She readily eats all of her food, but mealworms appear to be her favorite food. In the past three months, she has tripled her weight and now weighs about 2 pounds (908 grams), which is normal for a young Kiwi. Since Kiwi are nocturnal, she spends most of her day sleeping and only interacts with keepers during routine health checks and weigh-ins.

2_kiwi_chick_fp9a4882Photo & Video Credits: Roshan Patel/ Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The chick hatched at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) earlier this summer between July 29 and July 30. She is the fifth chick for her parents “Ngati Hine Tahi” and “Ngati Hine Rua”, and she is their first female offspring.

Ngati Hine Tahi and Ngati Hine Rua were both gifts from New Zealand in 2010. Their three older male offspring who hatched at SCBI in 2016 are named Kaha, Hari and Kake. New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser, named Kaha (“strong” from Maori). The name Hari translates as “joy”, and Kake translates as “to overcome.”

Kiwi are sacred to the Maori people in New Zealand. SCBI repatriates feathers molted from its Kiwi to New Zealand.

SCBI’s Kiwi participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Brown Kiwi. The chicks born there enter a breeding program when they are fully mature. The SSP makes breeding recommendations to match the birds with mates that will increase the genetic diversity of the population living in human care.

Brown Kiwi are monogamous and usually mate for life. Kathy Brader, bird keeper at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, serves as the SSP coordinator for Brown Kiwi living outside of New Zealand.

Brown Kiwis (Apteryx mantelli) are flightless nocturnal birds that are native to New Zealand. They are classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN, due to non-native predators introduced by humans. They lay the second-largest eggs for body size of any bird—an average 20 percent of the female’s body weight.

In 1975, the Zoo became the first facility to hatch a Brown Kiwi outside of New Zealand. SCBI* has hatched six Kiwi eggs since 2012.

*SCBI plays a leading role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to save wildlife species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Va., the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability.


Zoo Welcomes Baby Boom of Endangered Gazelles

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After a five-year hiatus, Cheetah Conservation Station keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo are celebrating a baby boom of critically endangered Dama Gazelles.

A male calf was born in an off-exhibit enclosure on August 30 to ten-year-old mother, Adara. The second calf, a female, was born during the night of September 16 to eight-year-old Fahima. A third and final calf, a male, was born September 18 to seven-year-old Zafirah. The Zoo’s three-year-old male, Edem, sired all three calves.

Edem arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in July 2016 from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) following a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP scientists determine which animals to breed by considering their genetic makeup, nutritional and social needs, temperament and overall health.

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3_zafirah_and_calf_2Photo Credits: Michelle Chatterton/Smithsonian's National Zoo (Image 1: female calf (L) born to Fahima; male calf (R) born to Zafirah); Gil Myers/Smithsonian's National Zoo (Image 2: male born to Adara / Image 3: Zafirah and her male calf)

Keepers have been closely monitoring the calves, who appear to be healthy and behaving normally. For the next several weeks, the calves will remain in a quiet, off-exhibit area where they can bond with their mothers and acclimate to the habitat. They will make their public debut in mid-to-late October, weather permitting.

For now, visitors to the Zoo can see proud father, Edem, at the Cheetah Conservation Station in the morning before 10 a.m. The Zoo will provide updates on the new calves via their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Native to Chad, Mali and Niger, Dama Gazelles (Nanger dama, formerly Gazella dama) are listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Less than 500 Dama Gazelles remain in the wild due to habitat loss from human and livestock expansion, hunting and drought. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) conducts veterinary and reproductive research in order to maintain Dama Gazelle populations.


Tiger Orphans Meet at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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A 9-week-old Sumatran Tiger cub was introduced to a 7-week-old Bengal Tiger cub at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Ione and Paul Harter Animal Care Center on September 11.

The Sumatran Tiger cub arrived from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and was introduced to the Bengal Tiger cub, currently residing at the Safari Park.

The Sumatran Tiger cub was born at the National Zoo on July 11 and was rejected by its mother a short time later. After numerous attempts to keep the mother and cub together, the animal care team decided it was in the cub’s best interest to separate them.

The Bengal Tiger cub was confiscated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on August 23 during a vehicle inspection at the U.S./Mexico border. His story attracted worldwide media attention. Back in early September, ZooBorns introduced readers to the little cub and how he became a resident of the Safari Park: “Confiscated Tiger Cub Finds Refuge at San Diego Safari Park

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3_21731710_1983111141705552_1410871529957508442_oPhoto Credits: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Both the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the National Zoo are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and in a collaborative effort, both zoos’ animal care teams determined the best solution for the well-being of the two cubs would be for them to become companions.

The cubs took to each other immediately, and interacted by wrestling, jumping and engaging in a lot of friendly roughhousing—things tiger cubs do.

Park staff explained how they are able to differentiate between the two tigers. Although Sumatran Tigers, in general, are the smallest subspecies of tiger, the opposite is currently the case with the two cubs. The Safari Park’s Sumatran cub is currently the larger and darker colored of the pair, however, it won’t be long before his new companion is larger.

Guests at the Safari Park can now see them through the nursery window at the Animal Care Center during Safari Park operating hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

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Screaming Hairy Armadillo Pups Are a First For National Zoo

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The Smithsonian’s National Zoo welcomed two Screaming Hairy Armadillo pups on August 11. The pups are the first ever born at the zoo.

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The two little ones spend all of their time in the nest, and their eyes have not yet opened. However, the bony, armor-like plates that cover their bodies are already visible, and are covered with very fine hairs. At their last weigh-in, the pups weighed between five and six ounces each. It is still too early to determine if they are male or female.

The pups’ parents, Amber and Dylan Walter, were recommended to breed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Screaming Hairy Armadillo Species Survival Plan. These are the first pups for both parents. Visitors will be able to see the pups at the zoo after they have grown larger and have acclimated to their enclosure.

Screaming Hairy Armadillos are native to South America and are listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They get their name from the squealing noise they emit if they are threatened and the greater amount of hair they have compared to other Armadillo species. At less than two pounds fully grown, Screaming Hairy Armadillos are the smallest of the three species of Hairy Armadillos.

 


‘Boy!’… This Sumatran Tiger Cub Is Adorable

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Great Cats keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo have some big news to share about their new Sumatran Tiger cub…it’s a boy!

Over a period of a few days, keepers were able to get a quick look at the cub and weigh him when mother, 8-year-old Damai, left the den to eat. The cub appears to be healthy and strong. Shortly after his birth on July 11, he weighed about three-and-a-half pounds. A week ago, he weighed six-and-a-half pounds.

“It can be difficult to determine the sex of a neonate cat because genitalia can look very similar for the first few weeks,” said Craig Saffoe, curator of Great Cats. “However, at a glance, it appears that Damai has a male cub! His first veterinary exam will take place in a couple of weeks, which includes a physical exam and vaccinations. We should be able to confirm the cub’s sex during that exam.”

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The cub’s birth marked an important milestone for the Zoo. This is the second litter for mother, Damai, but the first for 13-year-old father, Sparky. Keepers are monitoring Damai and her offspring via a closed-circuit camera, allowing the family time to bond. Although the cub will not make his public debut until later this fall, Zoo visitors can see Sparky and the cub’s half-sibling, 3-year-old male Bandar, at their Great Cats habitat. The Zoo will also provide updates on the cub via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Keepers Celebrate Critically Endangered Hatchlings

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Keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Reptile Discovery Center are celebrating a conservation success five years in the making: a pair of Bourret’s Box Turtle hatchlings.

These young are the first of their species to hatch, both at the Zoo, and as a part of the North American Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Bourret’s Box Turtle.

Ever since the turtles emerged from their shells June 12, keepers have closely monitored them to ensure they are eating and gaining weight. They appear to be healthy and thriving, weighing 25 grams each (about 1/52 the size of their mother, who weighs 1,300 grams).

Staff have not yet verified the 10-day-old turtles’ sex, as they show no sexual dimorphism at this age. The young turtles, as well as the adult female and two adult males, will remain off-exhibit while under observation.

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The Bourret’s Box Turtles’ parents arrived at the Zoo in 2012 following a SSP breeding recommendation. From October to March, adult Bourret’s Box Turtles undergo a period of ‘brumation’: a hibernation-like state based on temperature cycling. It is only after completing this annual process that successful reproduction occurs. Despite the female producing eggs every year since 2013, this was the first year the eggs developed fully and hatched.

Bourret’s Box Turtle eggs can be difficult to hatch in human care, in part because the incubator’s humidity and temperature must be set at a specific range in order for embryonic development to occur. Keepers checked on the incubated eggs daily and made minor adjustments to maintain this range. The female laid her first clutch of this year on March 22, and these hatchlings emerged after a 12-week incubation. Keepers are cautiously optimistic that a second clutch, laid April 29, will hatch with similar success. The Zoo will share the information gathered about this species’ breeding and development with AZA for the benefit of other institutions that exhibit and want to breed this species.

Scientists estimate only 2,300 Bourret’s Box Turtles (Cuora bourreti) remain in their native habitat, the evergreen forests of Vietnam and Laos. These terrestrial turtles are classified as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as their populations have declined more than 90 percent since the mid-1950s due to habitat deforestation and illegal trafficking in the food and pet trade.


Clouded Leopard Cub Opens His Eyes

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A Clouded Leopard Cub that made history when it was born on March 1 now has a name and has opened his eyes.  The cub was named Niron, which means eternal and everlasting in Thai.

Niron was conceived through artificial insemination using frozen/thawed sperm, the first time this technique was successfully used in Clouded Leopards.  The project is a collaboration of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the Nashville Zoo, where the cub was born.  The procedure is explained in the cub’s birth announcement on ZooBorns.

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Dr. Maragartia Woc Colburn17426228_10154867782260622_8801842816958139571_nPhoto Credits:  Kelsey White (2,3), Dr. Margarita Woc Colburn (1,4,5,6,7,8) 

All Clouded Leopard cubs are reared by hand at the Nashville Zoo, a technique that prevents predation by the parents, enables cubs to be paired at an early age, and allows the normally nervous species to become acclimated to human interaction. 

Clouded Leopards are one of the rarest and most secretive of the world’s Cat species, and little is known about them.  They inhabit remote areas of southern China and other parts of Southeast Asia.  Clouded Leopards are listed as Vulnerable to Extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 10,000 adults remaining in the wild.

See more photos below.

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Clouded Leopard Cub's Birth Is History Making

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Nashville Zoo and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute are pleased to announce the birth of a male Clouded Leopard on March 1.

The cub was conceived from an artificial insemination (AI) procedure using frozen/thawed semen. This accomplishment is a first for this species and a giant step for global conservation efforts.

“This is an enormous accomplishment for both Nashville Zoo and the team at the Smithsonian,” said Dr. Heather Robertson, Director of Veterinary Services at the Zoo. “It means we can collect and preserve semen from Clouded Leopard populations around the globe and improve pregnancy outcomes from AI procedures in this species.”

Dr. Robertson and Nashville Zoo Associate Veterinarian, Dr. Margarita Woc Colburn, used hormones to induce ovulation in a female named Tula who was born and raised at Nashville Zoo. The Smithsonian’s research staff, Adrienne Crosier, Ph.D., Pierre Comizzoli, D.V.M., Ph.D., and Diana Koester, Ph.D, collected semen a week earlier from a male named Hannibal at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The team used a new technique depositing a very small volume of semen into the oviduct where the eggs normally rest after ovulation.

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32823941010_97cf2149c6_oPhoto Credits: Amiee Stubbs Photography

After birth, the cub was removed for examination and will be hand-raised by keepers to ensure survival and wellbeing. This process also lowers animal stress for future hands-on care. The cub will stay at Nashville Zoo with plans to eventually introduce him to a potential mate.

Nashville Zoo and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute have a long history of working together on Clouded Leopard conservation. Since 2000, they have collaborated with Point Defiance Zoo and Thailand’s Zoological Park Organization to form the Clouded Leopard Consortium and develop breeding programs as well as field monitoring projects for Clouded Leopards in Thailand.

Because the captive Clouded Leopard population is not self-sustaining, it necessitates the need for intensive reproductive management techniques to maintaining captive populations not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world.

“This cub, the first Clouded Leopard offspring produced with cryopreserved semen, is a symbol of how zoos and scientists can come together to make positive change for animals and preserving global biodiversity,” said Dr. Crosier. “Collaboration is the key to conservation of Clouded Leopards, along with so many other rare and endangered species we care for and study.”

The first successful Clouded Leopard AI was performed at Nashville Zoo in 1992 by Smithsonian scientist JoGayle Howard and Nashville Zoo President Rick Schwartz. In 2015, Dr. Comizzoli contributed to a successful birth using cooled semen and the new AI technique at the Khao Khew Open Zoo in Thailand.

Clouded Leopards are among the most rare of the world’s cat species and one of the most secretive. Due to limited knowledge of this species, they have proved difficult to breed in captivity. They are sensitive to auditory and visual disturbances, increasing the stress levels during captive breeding programs. This factor leads facilities, such as Nashville Zoo, to work with artificial insemination specialists to increase the size and diversity of the captive bred population.