Smithsonian National Zoo

Rare Tortoise Hatches at Smithsonian's National Zoo

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The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is celebrating a conservation milestone; for the first time, a rare Spider Tortoise has hatched in the Reptile Discovery Center. Animal care staff are closely monitoring the hatchling, which emerged May 10 in an off-exhibit area. 

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17944965865_0fc188c3db_kPhoto Credits: Connor Mallon, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Staff have not yet verified the three-week-old tortoise’s sex, as when they are young they show no sexual dimorphism. Keepers report that it appears to be thriving and are encouraged by its growth. If the tortoise continues to progress, it will be on exhibit this summer. In the meantime, Zoo visitors can see a family group of adult male Spider Tortoises on exhibit.

The tortoise’s parents came to the Zoo in January 2014 per a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan. Female Spider Tortoises do not lay a clutch of eggs; rather, they lay one egg at a time, over a period of months. The Zoo’s female laid her first egg in August 2014, but that egg did not hatch. The second egg was laid in September 2014, and this hatchling emerged. A third egg, laid in October 2014, has yet to hatch. 

Spider Tortoise eggs can be difficult to hatch in human care, in part because they must be incubated, cooled, and incubated again during the embryo’s development. 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.

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A Happy Ending for Two Rescued Red Panda Cubs

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With four breeding pairs, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has one of the most successful Red Panda breeding programs in the United States.  But even strong programs experience challenges:   Earlier this year, two Red Panda cubs – named Henry and Tink – almost didn’t make it.  But thanks to expert care, these two little ones are thriving, and you can see their story in this video.

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Photo Credit:  Smithsonian's National Zoo

 

Henry was so sick at birth that keepers weren’t sure he’d survive his first day of life.    Because Henry is genetically valuable to the Red Panda Species Survival Plan, the zoo put as many resources as necessary into saving this little cub.  Henry stopped breathing, and he was on oxygen for one month.  He later overcame a bout of pneumonia, and by the time he was three months old, Henry had increased his weight ten-fold – a huge accomplishment given his rough start in life.

Tink was cared for by her mother for a short time, but she was not growing.  Keepers determined that her mother was not producing enough milk.  Again, the National Zoo’s staff swung into action and removed Tink from her mother’s care.  Today, Tink is gaining weight and growing just as she should.

Henry and Tink are constant companions, and even though Henry is much bigger, the staff says he is extremely gentle with his friend.  The two play, explore, and simply hang out together.

You can see Henry and Tink’s story in this web episode of Wild Inside the National ZooView the entire series to learn more about the behind-the-scenes operation of the National Zoo.


Four Litters of Red Panda Cubs Born at SCBI

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All four Red Panda pairs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., successfully bred and had cubs this year. Of the 10 cubs, more born at SCBI than any other year, seven have survived.

The latest pair to have cubs was Shama and Rusty, who are best known to the public. Rusty gained national attention in June 2013 after he escaped from his enclosure on Asia Trail at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Shama, an experienced mother, gave birth to three cubs June 26. This is the first litter Rusty has sired. Keepers had been monitoring Shama closely the past few weeks since her behavior indicated she might be pregnant. Keepers are observing the cubs via a closed-circuit camera, and the cubs appear healthy.

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Rusty and Shama’s three cubs join three other litters born within the past five weeks. Two cubs were born May 27 to female Yanhua and male Sherman. It was their first litter.

Two more cubs were born June 16 to female Regan and male Rocco. One cub was stillborn; the other is being hand-reared to increase chances of survival. The surviving cub is currently in critical condition and receiving round-the-clock care. Keepers took extra steps to prepare for the birth of Regan’s cubs. She has given birth before, but has neglected cubs in the past. As a result, keepers trained her to voluntarily participate in ultrasounds, and they moved her to the veterinary hospital before the birth and monitored her 24 hours a day when she began showing signs consistent with an impending birth. Regan is very genetically valuable to the red panda population in human care, and keepers took every precaution to increase the likelihood of a successful birth.

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Sloth Bear Cub Gets TLC 24/7 at National Zoo

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A Sloth Bear cub is alive today because keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo decided to hand-raise the cub rather than leave her with her mother, Khali.  The cub is now active and growing thanks to the round-the-clock care she receives from zoo keepers.

The photos below chronicle the cub’s growth from two weeks old to two-and-a-half months old.

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13288359815_cf0b861f6f_oPhoto Credits:  Smithsonsian's National Zoo, Courtney Janney, Connor Mallon

The cub was one of three born to Khali on December 29, 2013, and she is the only cub that survived longer than seven days. Khali ingested the first cub about 20 minutes after she gave birth. It is not uncommon for carnivores, including Sloth Bears, to ingest stillborn cubs, or even live cubs if they or the mother are compromised in some way. Khali, an experienced mom, appeared attentive to her two remaining cubs, and keepers monitored her closely via closed-circuit cams before, during and after the births. However, she ingested a second cub seven days later and spent several hours away from her remaining cub in the early morning hours of January 6, which is not normal for a Sloth Bear with a newborn cub.

Read more and see additional photos below.

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Watch a Blue Dart Frog Grow Up at Smithsonian's National Zoo

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Check out this young Blue Dart Frog morphing from a tadpole to a froglet at Smithsonian's National Zoo! It takes about 80 days to go from fertilized egg, to tadpole, to fully-formed tiny frog.

Poison Dart Frogs are native to Central and South America. In the wild, the blue frog secretes poison from its skin due to chemicals from its diet. But at the zoo, without rainforest ants to eat, this bright blue frog is harmless. Visitors can see froglet and its family on exhibit at the zoo.

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Photo credit: Justin Graves / Smithsonian's National Zoo 

Blue Dart Frogs are found in a few isolated 'islands' of forest in the savanna of southern Suriname. Because their habitat is so difficult to reach, there is little data to tell us whether their population is in decline. Some species of Dart Frogs are Threatened or Endangered, and Blue Dart Frogs are certainly at risk as a result of their small ranges.

Did you know that worldwide, over 32% of amphibians are listed as globally endangered, and almost half of all known amphibian species are declining? 


When Mom's Away, the Cubs Get Weighed!

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Last week at Smithsonian National Zoo, African Lion mother Naba spent some time away from her cubs and enjoyed a special oxtail treat with her sister, Shera. Keepers took the opportunity to get their first in-person look at the cubs. Their report: they are adorable! 

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6 lionPhoto credit: Smithsonian National Zoo / Karen Abbott

In order to distinguish the two, keepers shaved a small mark on each cub. The smaller cub, who weighs 7.6 pounds (3.4 kg), has a shave mark on his/her left shoulder. The larger cub, who weighs 8.26 pounds (3.7 kg), has a small shave mark at the base of his/her tail. Animal care staff have not yet verified the cubs’ sex. (Just shy of 2 weeks old, the cubs’ genetalia have not fully developed.) 

When Naba returned to the cubbing den, she groomed and nursed the cubs. She didn’t show any signs of stress. Keepers gave her the option to move the cubs to a different set of cubbing dens, but Naba choose to keep them where they were. 

Watch the little lion family grow on the zoo's Cub Cam.


Endangered Micronesian Kingfisher Hatches

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The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute rung in 2014 with the hatching of the most endangered species in its collection—a Micronesian Kingfisher— on January 1. The chick, whose sex is unknown, is the first offspring for its 8-year-old father and 2-year-old mother. This boost brings the total population of Micronesian Kingfishers to 129 birds. They are extinct in the wild.

Micronesian Kingfishers are extremely difficult to breed due to incompatibility between males and females, and the inability of some parents to successfully raise their own chicks.  Animal care staff are hand-raising the chick, which involves feeding it at two-hour intervals, seven to eight times per day.

Visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo can see these critically endangered birds on exhibit in the Bird House.

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See a video of the hatchling:

 

Micronesian Kingfishers flourished in Guam’s limestone forests and coconut plantations until the arrival of the brown tree snake, an invasive species that stowed away in military equipment shipped from New Guinea after World War II. Because these reptiles had no natural predators on Guam, their numbers grew and they spread across the island quickly. Within three decades, they had hunted Micronesian Kingfishers and eight other bird species to the brink of extinction.

In 1984, Guam’s Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources captured the country’s remaining 29 Micronesian Kingfishers and sent them to zoological institutions around the globe—including the National Zoo—as a hedge against extinction. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums created a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the birds. The SSP pairs males and females in order to maintain a genetically diverse and self-sustaining population in captivity.

As the captive population increases, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Guam’s Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources continue to look for suitable release sites in Guam. The availability of release sites continues to shrink, however, due to deforestation and human expansion. Controlling the brown snake population remains a significant challenge as well. Scientists are hopeful that initiatives for snake control and forest protection signify that the reintroduction of the Micronesian Kingfisher may soon become feasible. Additionally, field studies of a different subspecies of wild kingfishers are underway on Pohnpei, another Micronesian island, to secure essential biological information on wild populations and to test various reintroduction techniques for use on Guam.


Two Cheetah Litters Born at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

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The Smithsonian's National Zoo celebrated International Cheetah Day (December 4) with ten genetically valuable cubs! They were all born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute last month. First-time mother Miti birthed a litter of seven cubs on November 12. Six of her cubs made it through those critical early days—five females and one male. Experienced mother Ally gave birth to a litter of four cubs on November 26. Animal care staff have not fully examined Ally’s cubs yet but both litters are doing well so far. Staff are keeping an eye on the litters with closed-circuit webcams, and will have more updates in the coming weeks.  

The birth of these ten cubs is excellent news for this Vulnerable species; according to the Internation Union for Consservation of Species, there are an estimated 7,500 adult Cheetahs in the wild. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, launched in 2010, works to conserve endangered species and train conservationists. 

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Photo Credit: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute / Amber Dedrick (1) 


Tiger Cubs Pass Their Swim Test at Smithsonian's National Zoo

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Two Sumatran Tiger cubs took a brisk doggy paddle at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on November 6 and passed their swim reliability test. The male and female cubs, named Bandar and Sukacita (SOO-kah-CHEE-tah), were born at the zoo on August 5. All cubs born at the zoo's Great Cats exhibit must undergo the swim reliability test to prove that they will be safe on exhibit. Bandar and Sukacita were able to keep their heads above water, navigate to the shallow end of the moat and climb onto dry land. Now that they have passed this critical step, the cubs are ready to explore the habitat with their mother, 4-year-old Damai.

“Tigers are one of the few species of cats that enjoy taking a dip in water,” said Craig Saffoe, curator of great cats. “The moat exists for the safety of our visitors, but it could present an obstacle for young cats. Our job is to make sure that if the cubs venture into the moat, they know how and where to get out. These cubs represent hope for their critically endangered species’ future, so we need to take every precaution to ensure their survival.”

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Click here to see video. 

Both cubs took the test under the guard of animal keepers Dell Guglielmo and Marie Magnuson, who gently guided the cubs in the right direction. The shallow end of the moat is approximately 2 ½ feet (.75 m) deep. The side of the moat closest to the public viewing area is about 9 feet deep and is an essential safety barrier that effectively keeps the cats inside their enclosure.

This is the first litter of Tiger cubs born at the zoo since 2006, and the first litter for mom Damai. The cubs were sired by the zoo’s 12-year-old male Tiger, Kavi. Friends of the National Zoo hosted an opportunity to name one of the zoo’s Tiger cubs on the website Charity Buzz. On November 1, the winning bidder elected to name the female cub Sukacita, which means “joy” in Indonesian. The $25,000 donation supports ongoing research and education outreach at the Great Cats exhibit. Keepers selected the male cub’s name, Bandar, in honor of Bandar Lampung—a southern port city in Sumatra.

Starting Monday November 18, keepers will decide on a day-to-day basis whether Sukacita and Bandar will spend time in the yard and for how long they will be out. This decision will be based on weather and how the cubs adjust to being outdoors.

See more photos after the fold!

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UPDATE! National Zoo’s Giant Panda Cub is a Healthy Girl

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The Giant Panda cub born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on August 23 received her first veterinary exam on September 16. (See our first story here.) She was given a clean bill of health. Mother Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), who has spent much of the past three and-a-half weeks cradling the cub, put down her baby and left her den at 4:11 p.m. The panda team, which has been preparing for an opportunity to perform a full veterinary exam, retrieved the cub while Mei Xiang ate bamboo and drank some water in the adjacent enclosure. The speedy exam was completed by 4:31 p.m.

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“It’s amazing to see how much she has grown in less than one month,” said Brandie Smith, senior curator of mammals and Giant Pandas. “Mei Xiang continues to be a great mom, as she was with her first cub, Tai Shan, and it shows.”

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Since her preliminary health check on August 25, the cub has more than doubled her weight. She now weighs slightly less than two pounds (.9 kg), up from 4.8 ounces (146 g), and has the signature black markings of a Giant Panda. Her heart rate was 130 beats per minute, and her respiratory rate was 42. From nose to tail she is 10.6 inches (27 centimeters) long and 9.8 inches (25 centimeters) wide around her belly. Her eyes have not opened yet.

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After the exam was completed, Mei Xiang returned to her den and immediately picked up her cub and began grooming her. The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat has been closed to the public since August 2, and will remain closed until further notice to provide quiet for Mei Xiang and her cub. Both are visible on the live panda cams

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Photo Credits; Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo