Smithsonian National Zoo

‘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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4_16_sumatran_tiger_cub_dell_guglielmo_clip0027.00_01_05_22.still002Photo Credits: Roshan Patel/ Smithsonian's National Zoo

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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4_20170616-07roshanpatelPhoto Credits: Smithsonian's National Zoo

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.


New Gray Seal Pup at Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s American Trail team is celebrating the arrival of a female Gray Seal pup. She was born January 21 to mother Kara.

Keepers have been closely monitoring the pup, which appears to be nursing, moving and bonding well with mom. At 33 years old, Kara is the oldest Gray Seal to give birth in a Zoo. This pup is the third for Kara and 26-year-old father, Gunther.

Animal care staff are cautiously optimistic that the pup will thrive, and Kara is caring for her pup without interference. On January 24 the pup weighed-in at 37 pounds.

Around three weeks of age, the pup will wean and shed her white lanugo coat, revealing a gray and mottled pattern similar to that of the adults. Once she is weaned, keepers will slowly introduce the new pup to the other members of the colony. She will join the Zoo’s adult Gray Seals and two Harbor Seals, Luke and Squeegee, on exhibit and public view in the spring.

Kara_and_pup_day_2Photo Credits: Jacqueline Conrad/ Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Keepers initially suspected that Kara was pregnant based on her physical changes, appetite and weight gain, among other cues. They have trained the seals to voluntarily participate in radiographs and ultrasounds, with veterinarians present, as part of their routine medical care. An ultrasound in August confirmed Kara was pregnant, and animal care staff had been conducting bi-weekly ultrasounds to track the pup’s development. The Zoo will continue to provide updates on the Gray Seals through its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo received a recommendation to breed Kara and Gunther from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP). An SSP matches individual animals across the country for breeding in order to maintain a healthy, genetically diverse and self-sustaining population.

Although once endangered, Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) are now listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In the wild, they range from North America to the Baltic Sea.


National Zoo’s Fennec Fox Kits Have Names

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The Smithsonian's National Zoo welcomed two Fennec Fox kits to their Small Mammal House February 4! The male and female were born to seven-year old mother Daisy and two-year-old father Charlie.

At her previous Zoo, Daisy had little success raising her own babies. Because of her valued genetics, the National Zoo received the recommendation, from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan, to breed Daisy with Charlie.

Prior to Daisy's pregnancy, Small Mammal House keepers teamed up with Zoo veterinarians and nutritionists to create a kit care plan. National Zoo staff anticipated having to hand-rear any new kits born to Daisy, so they began work on a nursery in the Small Mammal House. As soon as the babies were born, they were removed them from the exhibit and placed in the incubator to regulate and monitor their body temperature.

The National Zoo’s nutrition team developed a formula made of Esbilac (puppy milk replacer) and KMR (kitten milk replacer) to simulate the composition of a fox mother's milk. Initially, the kits were fed every two hours for their first ten days. As the kits grew stronger, feedings were reduced to every two hours (beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at midnight).

The six-week-old Fennec Fox kits now have names! The male has been dubbed Teddy (short for Theodore) and the female has been named Hokees (“my love” in Armenian). The kits are now transitioning to solid foods, including beef, vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, carrot, corn, beans, squash), fruits (apple, banana), wax worms, and kibble. Little Hokees appears to enjoy the addition of veggies to her diet.

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Fans of the Fennec Fox siblings can keep up-to-date on their progress via the National Zoo's social media and web pages.

The Fennec Fox is a small nocturnal fox that is native to the Sahara of North Africa. It is the smallest species of canid in the world. Their coat, ears, and kidney functions have adapted to high-temperature, low-water, and desert environments.

The large ears are indeed indicative of heightened auditory abilities. Its hearing is sensitive enough to hear prey moving underground. The Fennec Fox eats mainly insects, small mammals and birds.

Fennec Foxes mate for life, with each pair, or family, controlling their own territory. The species usually breed only once each year. Following mating, the male is known to become very aggressive and protective of the female, providing her with food during her pregnancy and lactation periods. Gestation usually lasts between 50 to 52 days. The typical litter is between one and four kits, with weaning taking place at around 70 days. When born, the kit’s ears are folded over and its eyes are closed. The eyes open at around ten days old, and the ears lift soon afterwards. The captive lifespan of a Fennec Fox has been recorded at up to 14 years.

The Fennec Fox is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. Their fur is prized by the indigenous peoples of North Africa, and in many parts of the world, the animal is considered an exotic pet.

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Meet the National Zoo's Newest (and Prickliest) Baby

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On October 5, Smithsonian’s National Zoo welcomed its newest (and prickliest) baby: Charlotte, the Prehensile-tailed Porcupine!

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23573662281_6acbefd0a8_kPhoto Credit:  Jen Zoon/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Whenever the zoo welcomes a baby animal, keepers work closely with veterinarians and nutrition staff to ensure newborns are healthy. For Charlotte, this meant regular weigh-ins to ensure that she was nursing and gaining weight. Vets gave her a clean bill of health during her first wellness exam, but then she began to lose weight. The animal care team determined that Charlotte was not able to nurse properly and was therefore not receiving enough milk.

The zoo’s nutrition staff created a formula using a mixture of puppy milk replacer, exotic milk replacer,  and egg whites, which resembled the composition of North American Porcupine milk. Once they were able to express milk from Charlotte’s mother, nutrition staff compared it to the formula to ensure Charlotte was getting the nutrition she needed.

To manage Charlotte’s dietary and medical needs, zoo vets surgically inserted an esophagostomy tube and fed her formula every three hours, around the clock, for five days. The feeding tube was removed on November 11 because Charlotte was consistently eating all of her diet by mouth. Today, at 2.8 pounds, Charlotte is healthy and developing normally.

Native to the forests of South America, Prehensile-tailed Porcupines feed on leaves, flowers, and tree bark.  Their prehensile (grasping) tails are not covered in spines and help these animals climb about in trees.  When threatened, these rodents curl into a ball, erecting their spines to appear larger and more intimidating.  They cannot shoot their spines (nor can any Porcupine), but the spines are loosely attached and can become painfully embedded in an attacker.


UPDATE: Latest on Giant Panda Cub at National Zoo

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In August, ZooBorns excitedly shared news of the birth of twin Giant Pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo. The cubs were born on August 22 and the story quickly spread worldwide. Unfortunately, the smaller and weaker of the two cubs died just a few days after birth. Keepers at the National Zoo have continued their diligent care of the remaining cub.

In one of the latest updates from the zoo, keepers reported that, on a recent evening, Mei Xiang decided to eat some sugarcane and drink diluted apple juice left for her. Two hours later, she left the den to urinate and defecate, which was only the second time she had done so since giving birth. Keepers expect that she will become more comfortable leaving her cub in the den for increasingly longer periods of time to eat and drink over the next few weeks.

During these times Mei Xiang is away from the den, veterinarians and keepers often take the opportunity to give the cub quick checkups. On September 5, he weighed 409.6 grams, which was 119 grams more than he weighed on Sept. 2. On September 14, he was up to 881.5 grams (1.9 lbs.). Cubs at this stage usually gain between 40 and 50 grams per day. Veterinarians also listened to his heart and lungs, which all sounded normal. 

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4_21255859399_c9ced62049_oPhoto Credits: Smithsonian National Zoo & Meghan Murphy (Images 1,2) ; Erika Bauer (Image 7)

Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics confirmed that the Giant Panda cub born Aug. 22 at the National Zoo is male. A paternity analysis showed that Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN) is the cub's father. Scientists also confirmed the deceased cub, delivered by Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), was a male, also sired by Tian Tian. The cubs were fraternal twins.

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Panda Twins Cause Giant Stir at Smithsonian’s Nat. Zoo

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Giant Panda Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) gave birth to twins at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on August 22. The panda team witnessed the first cub’s birth at 5:35 pm.  A second cub was born at 10:07pm. 

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4_20191285443_22e6b35e63_kPhoto Credits: Smithsonian's National Zoo / (Images 9 & 10: Connor Mallon)

A panda team of three keepers retrieved one of the cubs per the Zoo’s Giant Panda Twin Hand-Rearing protocol. The cub was placed in an incubator and was cared for by veterinarians and panda keepers. At this time, it has not been confirmed if the retrieved cub was the first born or second born. The retrieved cub was vocalizing very well and appeared healthy. It weighed 138 grams.

Giant Pandas give birth to twins approximately 50 percent of the time. This is only the third time a Giant Panda living in the United States has given birth to twins.

The panda team will alternately swap the cubs, allowing one to nurse and spend time with Mei Xiang, while the other is being bottle fed and kept warm in an incubator. The sex of the cubs won’t be determined until a later date.

As of this morning (August 24), the zoo reports that the panda cubs are doing well, but the panda team had a challenging night. When they tried to swap the cubs at 11p.m., Mei Xiang would not set down the cub she had in her possession. Consequently, the panda team cared for the smaller cub throughout the night until 7:05 am, when they successfully swapped the cubs. The panda team supplemented the smaller cub with formula by bottle-feeding. They were concerned that the smaller cub was not getting enough volume, so they moved to tube feeding which went well and quickly.  Their goal is for each cub to spend an equal amount of time with their mother.  Keepers stated, the newborn cubs are vulnerable and this first week is incredibly important and the risk remains high. The panda team is doing great work, around the clock, and will continue to keep the public posted.

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Endangered Crocs Hatch at Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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Five critically endangered Cuban Crocodiles recently hatched, at the Reptile Discovery Center of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, between July 29 and Aug. 7. Dorothy, a 57-year-old genetically valuable crocodile, laid the eggs. The hatchlings are less than a foot long, but they could reach up to 10.5 feet long when fully grown.

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4_19893839283_12d67c93ac_kPhoto Credits: Amy Enchelmeyer/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Dorothy laid a clutch of 24 eggs in a hole nest on May 12. Crocodiles build either mound or hole nests. Hole nests are not always easily visible after females dig them; however, keepers had been monitoring Dorothy carefully and noticed physical changes indicating she had recently laid eggs. After a week of searching the exhibit for her nest, they found it and excavated the eggs. Ten of the eggs were fertile and moved to an incubator. Half of those fertile eggs continued to develop during the entire gestation period.

A crocodile embryo will develop into a male or female depending on the incubating temperature of the eggs. Only eggs incubated between 89.6 and 90.5 degrees Fahrenheit will hatch out males; any temperature higher or lower will result in females. The surface temperature of Dorothy’s nest was 84.7 degrees Fahrenheit when keepers reached it, and it was seven inches deep.

Keepers incubated the eggs in the temperature range to hatch out males, but it is too early to definitively determine the sex of each crocodile.

The Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Cuban Crocodiles requested that the Zoo hatch all males to ensure that the Cuban Crocodile population in human care continues to be sustainable. In the wild, a Cuban Crocodile’s nest will range in temperature. Depending on an egg’s temperature in the nest, some eggs could incubate at much warmer temperatures than others, resulting in males and females hatching out of the same clutch.

Keepers are behind the scenes, at the Reptile Discovery Center, caring for the baby crocodiles. Guests can see adult Cuban Crocodiles: Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Jefe, on exhibit as usual.

Cuban Crocodiles are listed as “Critically Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are threatened with habitat loss, hybridization and illegal hunting. They are only found in two swamps in Cuba.

More pics, below the fold!

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