Blacktip Reef Sharks Make a Splash at National Aquarium

Blacktip reef sharks at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md. Copyright National Aquarium

Blacktip reef sharks at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md. Copyright National Aquarium

Sleek, fast-moving blacktip reef sharks dove into their new home at the Blacktip Reef exhibit in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Twenty sharks s have taken up permanent residence in the National Aquarium’s new centerpiece attraction.

Just as they are a vital element to coral reef ecosystems found in nature, the blacktip reef sharks are one of the final and most important pieces to the new exhibit, which came to life throughout July. Their introduction marked the creation of one of the most comprehensive recreations of an Indo-Pacific coral reef in the country.

“A coral reef like this would take hundreds of years to develop in nature, and it has likewise been a major undertaking to create an Indo-Pacific reef for these blacktip reef sharks to call home,” said John Racanelli, National Aquarium CEO.  “The result tells the same story here in the aquarium as it does in nature – that coral reefs are stunningly beautiful but incredibly fragile ecosystems that need our care.”

Known for their distinctive and prominent black tips on their fins, the sharks, along with 65 other major marine life species, have been fully integrated into the self-contained 260,000-gallon ecosystem, making the exhibit the closest way to experience an environment of sharks and an endangered coral ecosystem without traveling thousands of miles or getting wet.

The $12.5 million coral reef exhibit is the first stage of a project to renew and refresh National Aquarium, which draws more than 1.4 million visitors each year. Several upgrades have been made to the aquarium to improve visitors’ ability to get close to the animals of the Blacktip Reef exhibit, including a 27-foot viewing window that curves four feet into the underwater reef itself, and daily diver presentations and feedings.  On the upper level, visitors are able to look down onto the reef from viewing platforms, while the entire exhibit can be viewed on three sides.

The exhibit’s attractions include five-foot wide whiprays, camouflaged ornate wobbegong sharks, aquarium favorites such as Calypso, the 500+ pound green sea turtle, and the beloved zebra sharks Zeke and Zoe.

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Animal Health, Aquarium, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Enrichment, Exhibits, National Aquarium, Sea Turtle | Tagged Blacktip Reef Shark Exhibit, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Coral, , National Aquarium, Sea Turtle | 1 Comment

Eastern Black Rhino Calf Thrills Visitors at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoos eastern black rhino calf make its first appearance in its outdoor exhibit. Copyright Todd Rosenberg, Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo’s eastern black rhino calf make its first appearance in its outdoor exhibit. Copyright Todd Rosenberg, Lincoln Park Zoo.


Lincoln Park Zoo’s newborn Eastern black rhinoceros calf thrilled zoo guests as he took his first steps outside at the Harris Family Foundation Black Rhinoceros Exhibit.

A little timid at first, the calf quickly followed his mom’s lead and trotted around the yard, occasionally stopping to explore the new sights and scents. Since his birth on August 26, the 200-pound calf and new mom Kapuki (8) have been bonding behind the scenes at Regenstein African Journey.

It was a big day all around for the little calf, as the public also learned his name for the first time – King.

“King the calf is named for King Harris, a long-standing and generous supporter of Lincoln Park Zoo with his wife, Caryn, who sits on our Board of Trustees,” said Lincoln Park Zoo President and CEO Kevin Bell. “The Harris family’s support of the 2008 renovation and expansion of our rhino habitat made it possible for us to bring in an additional rhino and breed the species.”

Young King is certainly animal royalty. Eastern black rhinos are critically endangered in their native Africa due largely to poaching. The latest estimates place the number of wild rhinos at only around 5,000.

“Breeding programs at zoos are of crucial importance to the survival of these remarkable animals, particularly as the numbers in the wild continue to dwindle,” said Lincoln Park Zoo Curator of Mammals Mark Kamhout. “King will serve as an excellent ambassador for his species.”

Lincoln Park Zoo is dedicated to rhino conservation and has been housing critically endangered black rhinos since 1982. It is currently home to three adult rhinos, including King’s dad, 27-year-old Maku. In addition to working closely with the Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding and management strategy overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Lincoln Park Zoo supports rhinos through field work in their native South Africa. The information zoo scientists gather on rhino hormone levels, parasites, and sleep patterns increases global understanding of how to manage and conserve the species.

September 22 is World Rhino Day - check the website out for activities going on around the world and at AZA accredited zoos to raise awareness about the plight all five species of rhinos are facing.

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Animal Management, AZA, Black Rhinos, Crime, Exhibits, International Rhino Foundation, Lincoln Park Zoo, Rhino, Wildlife, Zoo | Tagged , , Harris Family Foundation Black Rhinoceros Exhibit, , , World Rhino Day | 2 Comments

Saint Louis Zoo’s Three Generations of Asian Elephants

Saint Louis Zoo's new Asian elephant calf Priya. Photo credit Ray Meibaum, Saint Louis Zoo.

Saint Louis Zoo’s new Asian elephant calf Priya. Photo credit Ray Meibaum, Saint Louis Zoo.

Contributing to the Conservation of Elephants at Home and in the Wild

After a 688-day gestation, the Saint Louis Zoo’s Asian elephant family welcomed a new member this past spring.  The female calf, named Priya, weighed 251 pounds at birth and is the third daughter for 42-year-old-mother, Ellie.  Priya’s father is 20-year-old, Raja.

The Saint Louis Zoo has been caring for, breeding and studying elephants under the guidance of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Elephant Species Survival Plan® (SSP) since its inception, and Priya’s birth is the result of a recommended pairing based on genetic and demographic data. Giving birth is a very natural occurrence for female elephants in the wild and in zoos, and the Saint Louis Zoo is now caring for a growing multi-generational elephant family in a way that encourages the expression of the full range of elephant behavior and the development of a social structure mirroring that found in the wild.  The tight-knit, three-generation family offers many diverse and enriching social opportunities for the elephants including play, mentoring, socializing with the opposite sex and collaborative rearing of the family’s youngest elephants.  The Saint Louis Zoo’s Asian elephant family includes three generations ranging from newborn to 42 years of age – one adult male, five adult females, three juvenile females and one newborn female.

Pearl (42) grandmother to all of the Zoo’s younger elephants, has lived at the Saint Louis Zoo for most of her life.  Her son, Raja, was the first elephant born at the Zoo in 1992.  Ellie helps Pearl lead the family herd. She is mother to Rani (18) Maliha (7) and newborn Priya, as well as grandmother to Jade (6), and Kenzi (2).  Extended family members, Donna (42) and Sri (33) have an important support role in the family and serve as friends and mentors.

AZA-accredited elephant care facilities have a unique opportunity to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge about elephants.  Currently, the Saint Louis Zoo is participating in many elephant-related research projects focused on improving the health, nutrition, care and welfare of elephants in human care and in the wild, including in-depth studies of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, or EEHV, a virus that can affect elephant calves in zoos and in the wild.

Long before the Zoo’s bull elephant, Raja, became a father for the first time, the Zoo was providing funding, labor and samples to support ongoing EEHV research, and this support continues to this day.  The Zoo is proud that the observations and studies of the elephants at the Saint Louis Zoo are adding to the growing body of scientific data on elephants and are contributing to global conservation efforts on behalf of the species as a whole.  The Zoo also provides annual financial support for the operation of the National EEHV Lab which is based at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

The Saint Louis Zoo’s conservation efforts may begin at home with the ten elephants in its care, but the Zoo’s conservation efforts also extend all the way to Asia and Africa to ensure a future for elephants worldwide.  The situation for wild elephants in range countries is extremely concerning.  African elephants are being slaughtered by the hundreds for their ivory by out-of-control poaching.  Asian elephants are being evicted from their homes by the rapidly growing human population as forests are turned into farmland.

Priya enjoying herself at the Saint Louis Zoo. Photo credit Ray Meibaum, Saint Louis Zoo.

Priya enjoying herself at the Saint Louis Zoo. Photo credit Ray Meibaum, Saint Louis Zoo.

With the situation for wild elephants so precarious, those who truly care about elephants have an obligation to take action before it is too late.  The Saint Louis Zoo continues to answer this call to action by providing funding and other resources to elephant conservation in multiple ways all around the world.  The Saint Louis Zoo supports Asian elephant conservation efforts in Sumatra and other countries in Asia and Indonesia, as well as African elephant conservation efforts in Kenya and Mali.

The Zoo provides annual financial support to the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), a non-profit conservation organization that has devoted over two million dollars to elephant conservation to date.  Nearly a decade of support has been provided to elephants in Sumatra to improve the care and welfare of elephants in camps through improved veterinary care, nutrition and elephant care training for mahouts.  Wild Sumatran elephants are protected by Conservation Response Units using these camp elephants to help monitor and protect wildlife and forests in and around the Kerinci Seblat National Park.    Also through IEF, the Zoo has funded elephant conservation projects benefitting Asian elephants in Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Since 2004, the Saint Louis Zoo has supported community-based conservation in Kenya, which restores habitat and provides protection to all the wildlife found in this community conservancy, including African elephants.  The Zoo’s collaboration with the Northern Rangelands Trust has helped create a mosaic of 26 such conservancies working together to re-establish conservation areas for wildlife and restore historical migration routes for elephants.  A decade ago, when the Saint Louis Zoo first began supporting the Kalama Community Wildlife Conservancy to create a protected wildlife area, African elephants were the first footprints found around the newly constructed waterhole, and they continue to regularly visit to this day.  The Zoo’s support for African elephants doesn’t stop at the Kenyan border – active support is provided to an emerging community-based desert elephant conservation program in war-torn Mali, providing critical funds to help protect the northernmost population of African elephants.

The Saint Louis Zoo shares a common vision with other professional elephant conservation organizations and with its elephant care colleagues – a vision that includes elephants in the world’s future forever, both in zoos and in the wild.  For more information on the Saint Louis Zoo and its elephant conservation programs, please visit

Guest blogger: Martha Fischer, Curator of Mammals at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Posted in Animal Health, Asian Elephants, AZA, Conservation, Enrichment, Exhibits, Research, Saint Louis Zoo, Zoo | Tagged , , Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, Sain Louis Zoo, | Leave a comment

Buffalo Enrichment for Lions at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Buffalo enrichment for the lions at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Buffalo enrichment for the lions at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

I have worked as an artist in the zoo and conservation world for 18 years now and have always enjoyed when that association leads me down new avenues not previously taken, or allows me to meet friends that share the same passion. This is one of those occasions.

I traveled with my husband, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Director Bob Chastain, to the AZA’s Director’s Policy Conference in February, kindly hosted by the Audubon Nature
Institute in historic New Orleans.  Our first stop was to the Insectarium
right in the heart of downtown.  As we roamed, I was immediately
sidetracked by people working on an animatronic centipede, I am always
fascinated by new materials and how things are made. Hence started my
friendship with Robby Gilbert & Corey Simmons from Billings Productions
Inc.  If you don’t know them, they are an AZA supplier of life-sized
animatronic dinosaurs and giant insects.  Good people to know!  You
will not want to miss seeing them in Kansas City this year.

Some time ago, I developed an enrichment piece at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Spring, Colo., for the vulture’s feeding area.  A zebra carcass was designed, allowing visitors to see these carrion eating raptors display their natural feeding
habits.  A huge success, that I replicated for a several other zoos.
The creative minds at the zoo are always looking for interesting ways to
incorporate enrichment pieces into the exhibits.  With the development of
the new Encounter Africa exhibit the lions deserved a special enrichment toy, a
Cape Buffalo!  We envisioned something that would again thrill and educate
the guests, but also strengthen the message of just how awesome the power
associated with these beasts really is.  We wanted a full sized buffalo,
able to stand the abuses our lion pride would give it.  As with any
exhibit, time and budget play a huge factor.  Recalling my conversation
with the Billings team, I reached out to them for some friendly advice which I
immediately received.  Once they heard about it, they offered to save me
time and money by scanning my small clay maquette into their CNC machine, in
turn sending me back a full sized foam replica of the basic shape and features
of my sculpt!  Prior to this I have always hand carved my own foam. It was
like Christmas morning when I opened that crate, seeing my maquette blown up in
foam. Technology and friends are truly amazing.

The result is what you see in these pictures.  Not only did the male lion
Abuto respond immediately by attacking him, he showed first hand the hunting
DNA that courses through his body.  He avoids the front end of his natural
enemy and prey, clawing at the haunches in classic “king of the
beasts” style. The buffalo was built so that over time the keepers will
use it to attach rawhide, hide meat and play sounds from, further enhancing
their enrichment and experience for the lions!  Thank you Billings
Productions, I can’t wait to start on the next project.”

Guest Blogger: Antonia Chastain

Posted in Animal Health, Audubon Nature Institute, AZA, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Enrichment, Exhibits, Wildlife, Zoo | Tagged Audubon Nature Institute, Billings Productions Inc., Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Enrichment | Leave a comment

Endangered Indian Rhino Calf Conceived by Artifical Insemination Becomes World’s First

The young Indian rhino calf, Ethan, is the first surviving rhino calf of any species to be bred through artificial insemination. Copyright Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

The young Indian rhino calf, Ethan, is the first surviving rhino calf of any species to be bred through artificial insemination. Copyright Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) and the Montgomery Zoo, in Montgomery, Ala., announced the birth of a male Indian rhino calf produced by artificial insemination (AI). This is the first known calf, of any rhino species in the U.S., to be produced by AI and be born and thrive in captivity.

In February 2012, CREW’s Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Monica Stoops worked in partnership with Montgomery Zoo’s staff to perform a standing sedation AI procedure, inseminating Jeta, the Montgomery Zoo’s 12-year-old female, who is on an extended breeding loan from the San Diego Zoo Global, with frozen-thawed semen from the resident male rhino, Himal. Dr. Stoops collected Himal’s sperm in 2004 and stored it at -320°F in CREW’s CryoBioBank in Cincinnati for eight years before it was brought to Alabama, thawed, and used in the AI procedure. The Montgomery Zoo staff monitored Jeta’s pregnancy over the 15-16 month gestation period and on June 5, 2013 she gave birth to a healthy calf. This is the second calf born to Jeta at the Montgomery Zoo and it weighs approximately 90 pounds.

“Everyone at the Cincinnati Zoo and the scientists at CREW are incredibly excited to watch this calf grow up,” said Dr. Stoops. “The scientific significance of the birth and the successful upbringing by Jeta are a lifetime of work in the making.”

This is a significant birth and scientific achievement for the Montgomery Zoo and CREW  since the Indian rhino is an endangered species. Jeta’s calf demonstrates using AI science, developed by CREW’s Dr. Stoops, as a repeatable and valuable tool to help manage the captive Indian rhino population. With only 60 Indian rhinos in captivity in North America and approximately 2,500 remaining in the wild, successful breeding between rhino pairs is important to maintain the genetic diversity necessary to keep a population healthy and self-sustaining. Unfortunately, natural breeding attempts in captive Indian rhinos frequently result in severe aggression between the male and female. Because of this behavioral incompatibility, genetic management of the Indian rhino is a challenge. Artificial insemination can be used to improve the genetic health of captive Indian rhinos by infusing genes from non- or under-represented rhinos.

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Animal Health, AZA, Cincinnati Zoo, Conservation, Research, Rhino, San Diego Zoo Global, Wildlife, Zoo | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Suli’s Story: A Kangaroo’s Battle With Cancer

Suli 2

To treat a 16-year-old red kangaroo’s cancer, veterinary staff at the Racine Zoo performed a surgery–the first known of its kind–to remove the kangaroo’s pouch. Suli (pictured here) is recovering well and is now back on exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Racine Zoo.

January 29, 2013 started as a normal day at the Racine Zoo in Racine, Wis.  Two red kangaroos were scheduled for their routine veterinary exams and keepers were busy preparing.  Suli, a 16-year-old red kangaroo, and Coing, a 13-year-old red kangaroo were in their holding stall so that the Zoo’s consulting veterinarian, Dr. Nelson could anesthetize them for their check-up.  A few minutes later, Suli was sleepy enough for us to start her exam.  During routine exams, Dr. Nelson checks the animals’ eyes, ears and mouth, listens to their lungs and heart and takes a blood sample.  A few years earlier, a routine exam had revealed that Suli has spinal arthritis.  This causes her to be a little unsteady on her feet, though she has shown no signs of pain.  Radiographs were scheduled for that January day in order to assess Suli’s spinal condition. Suli appeared to be in good health, until Dr. Nelson looked inside of her pouch.  What he found was a mass on her mammary glands. This was not a good sign.  A biopsy was taken to determine if it was cancer.  Suli recovered well that day from her exam, but a discussion was necessary in order to figure out what steps we would have to take next.

A few days later, we found out that the test results indicated it was a carcinoma.  Dr. Nelson’s first impressions of the mass were that it was possible it could be removed, though another exam would have to be scheduled so that more preparations could take place.  Dr. Nelson also contacted other kangaroo experts to consult on this unusual case.  The response was not very uplifting.  Many who have seen this type of cancer before noted that the outcome was usually not very good.

At Suli’s next exam, pictures and measurements of the mass were taken.  The mass had grown since her last exam just the week before.  We had two options: try to remove the tumor, which as far as we were aware, had never been done before; or decide that the risks were too high and do nothing.  After some tough conversations, the surgery was scheduled for the next week.

On surgery day, Suli’s keepers were nervous.  We wanted to do all we could to help her, while keeping in mind that we did not want to put her through unnecessary suffering.  Once Suli was anesthetized, things got more complicated for her, and heart wrenching for Zoo staff.  Suli’s mass had continued to grow and was much bigger than the first day it was found.  Surgery and recovery would now be more difficult.  The size of the tumor also meant that we might have to remove most of her pouch.  Keepers, curators and the veterinarian now had to decide how to proceed.   Dr. Nelson laid out our options, which included trying surgery, knowing that at any time we may have to decide the course of action while Suli was on the operating table.  If the surgery proved to be too much, we would have to euthanize her. Alternatively, we could let the cancer take its course and then make the decision to euthanize her at the first sign of discomfort. Our last option was to euthanize her right away, knowing the cancer would eventually take her life.  Her prognosis was grim, regardless of the option we chose.  After much discussion (and fighting back tears), we decided that we would fight for her.

Suli was transferred to the hospital and prepped for surgery.  Dr. Nelson removed the whole mass as well as most of her pouch.  Now we had to decide again how to proceed.  Did we want to put her through the stress of waking up, knowing her prognosis would still be grim?  Recovery from the surgery would be hard.  She would have to stay inside to be monitored and kept on medication.  The tumor was likely to return.  Would not having a pouch cause more issues?  Would her surgery site heal properly?  Were we making her suffer more than we should?  After another tough conversation–one of the hardest many of us have had in our careers–the questions that hovered in my mind were: “What if she pulled through and beat the odds? What if? What if we are taking her away too soon?  What if she is ready to fight and prove us all wrong?”

In the end, none of us could ignore the “what ifs” that lingered in our minds.  Dr. Nelson closed the surgery site, and we began the long recovery process.  The rest of that day, we sat with Suli.  We monitored her vitals and kept her warm while she recovered from surgery.

Zookeepers are often faced with these hard decisions. These animals are under our care and are our responsibility.  They can’t tell us when something is wrong or what hurts.  It is our job to pay attention to the details and be their voice.  We work closely with these animals and form deep connections.  We take pride in giving these animals, who are here to teach others, the best care possible.  We must always have their best interest in mind.  It is rare that a day goes by that we do not think about these animals.  We often spend our free time reading and learning about them.  Many of us spend our vacations traveling to other zoos to learn from other keepers.  We take pride in our jobs, knowing we are playing a part in educating the public about disappearing species. Zookeepers are oftentimes kept up at night, worrying about animals under their care.  I know the night after Suli’s surgery was a rough one for many of us.  I was up early the next morning and rushed to work to check in on her.

We took the following weeks one day at a time.  Suli was eating well and had recovered fully from the surgery.  She had weekly check-ups with the vet.  Those days were often stressful, and I was always a ball of nerves.  We all waited silently as Dr. Nelson checked on the surgery site and waited for an update.  On most days, it was good news.  Things were healing.  As we often said, “things could be worse.”  We didn’t want to get too excited and knew that at any time things could still go downhill.   Suli was on long-acting antibiotics to fight any infections that occur.  She needed one more surgery to help her now-pouchless stomach heal.  If all went well, she would be moved back down to Walkabout Creek.  On her last scheduled exam, we all held our breath.  The surgery site had healed well.  There were no signs of infection or any new lumps.

Three and a half months after first finding the mass, Suli returned to Walkabout Creek.  She would have to recover from her most recent exam before she would be back on exhibit.  On the trip back to Walkabout Creek with Suli, we fought back tears of joy, happy that she would feel the grass on her toes and the sun on her face again.

Suli Luminary

Ever popular with visitors and Racine Zoo staff, Suli received many well wishes. (Photo courtesy of the Racine Zoo)

Thinking back over the last several months, we couldn’t believe how far she had come, and how far we had come.  Removing a kangaroo’s pouch had never been done before, as far as we were aware.  When this kind of cancer was found in other kangaroos, it was normally too late.  Through our great vet, the dedicated aftercare and many big hearts, Suli got a second chance at life.  She proved us all wrong and reminded us that anything is possible.  When released back onto exhibit, she greeted the other kangaroos and spent the rest of the day exploring her exhibit and grazing on fresh grass.  We couldn’t have been happier for her!

Now, one may ask if not having a pouch will be problematic for a kangaroo.  In Suli’s case, it shouldn’t be an issue.  A kangaroo’s pouch is where a joey will spend the first (approximately) 235 days of life.  To have a joey, there needs to be a male kangaroo around.  Since we do not have any male kangaroos at the Racine Zoo, Suli should not need her pouch!

We still may have some difficult decisions ahead of us.  This cancer could return.  The spinal arthritis could get so bad that it adversely affects Suli’s quality of life.  Those are all things we will deal with professionally and with her best interest in mind if and when they come up.  But for now, Suli can be seen enjoying life in Walkabout Creek!

Always have hope!

Guest blogger: Angie Kutchery, Primary Kangaroo Keeper, Racine Zoo

Posted in Conservation, Kangaroos, Racine Zoo | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Horned Puffins Stretch Their Wings at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Horned puffin in flight. Three horned puffins recently arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Copyright Brent McWhirter.

Horned puffin in flight. Three horned puffins recently arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Copyright Brent McWhirter.

A new species of the feathered kind debuted at the Oregon Coast Aquarium this week when three horned puffins waddled out of their carrier into the Seabird Aviary.

This is the first time the Aquarium has exhibited horned puffins. These birds needed a home after a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service seizure, and the Aquarium was glad to open its Seabird Aviary to them.

Carrie Lewis, president/CEO of the Aquarium explained, “The Aquarium is happy to provide a permanent home for these important ambassadors of their species in their time of need.”

The horned puffins will share the Aquarium’s Seabird Aviary, which is one of the largest outdoor aviaries in North America, with black oystercatchers, common murres, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and tufted puffins.  To maintain a balanced population between different species, the Aquarium is currently coordinating with the Alaska SeaLife Center to adopt a few of their horned puffin chicks that will hatch later this year.

The two females and one male are juveniles, meaning they are not downy pufflings anymore, but are not quite adults yet either. They did not develop full breeding plumage this season and will not be interested in mating for at least one more year.

Horned Puffins can live to be over 20 years old, so the Aquarium’s three new feathered friends will be a fixture in the Seabird Aviary for decades to come.

Like the other members in its taxonomic family, Alcidae, horned puffins evolved to fly underwater and in the air. The birds soar through water, diving up to 80 feet deep, to hunt for small fish, squid and crustaceans. To take off into the air puffins need a good runway, but once aloft their rapidly beating wings propel them as fast as 40 miles per hour.

In the wild, horned puffins spend most of the year out on the open sea diving for fish and bobbing on the ocean’s surface. They only come to land to breed on talus slopes and cliff faces, and occasionally in burrows on remote islands from northwest Alaska down to the southern border of British Colombia. The birds then migrate south for winter to the offshore waters of Washington, Oregon and even California. Although they are not listed as a species of concern, horned puffins are the least common of the puffin species.

CJ McCarty, curator of birds for the Aquarium, said, “We are excited to add this adorable species to our Seabird Aviary.  We look forward to providing the public a unique chance to learn about these wonderful birds and to see them up close!”

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Alaska SeaLife Center, Aquarium, Horned Puffins, Oregon Coast Aquarium | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Human Dimensions of Conservation: Global Conservation Leadership Program for Youth-Botswana

11-1041 CZS Botswana 1Botswana’s subsistence farmers often lose their crops, their property, and sometimes their lives when elephants move outside protected areas. The country’s economy has become increasingly reliant on wildlife-based tourism, but most community members lack opportunities to benefit from this industry.

With funding from the AZA Conservation Endowment Fund (CEF), the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) and Elephants for Africa launched the Global Conservation Leadership Program for Youth‑Botswana in 2012. This capacity-building project focuses on children ages 8 to 12 and their Environmental Club mentors in the villages around the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.

The long-term goals of this program are to develop inquiry skills and engage students in monitoring projects, using those skills to solve challenges relevant to them and their families. We expect to see increased capacity for innovation, increased chances for students to access higher education and better jobs related to conservation, and, ultimately, coexistence with elephants and other wildlife.

The very successful first year of this project was conducted in 2012 in the villages of Moreomaoto and Khumaga, in the area with the highest human-elephant conflict in the country. CZS’s Cycle of Inquiry workshop, which forms the basis for this program, develops the mentors’ capacity to facilitate learning through small-scale research projects based on the interests of the students. Two Elephun Weekends brought local children into the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park across the Boteti River for two days of fun, team-based research. Students learned to identify evidence of elephant presence, track elephants, explore ecological interactions, discuss elephants’ relationships with humans, and reflect on how they relate to elephants and wildlife.

This first year of the Global Conservation Leadership Program for Youth‑Botswana opened doors for dialogue with civic, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations that share a common, overarching goal of developing conservation capacity in Botswana.

Guest Blogger: Ricardo Stanoss, DVM

Posted in Brookfield Zoo, Chicago Zoological Society, Education, Elephants, People, Zoo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oregon Zoo Breaks Ground on Elephant Lands Habitat

Oregon Zoo recently broke ground for it new Elephant Lands habitat that is scheduled to open in 2015. Copyright Oregon Zoo.

Oregon Zoo recently broke ground for it new Elephant Lands habitat that is scheduled to open in 2015. Copyright Oregon Zoo.

Golden shovels were on hand, but the Oregon Zoo broke ground elephant-style: with a 30-ton excavator.

Construction of the 6.25-acre Elephant Lands habitat — the most ambitious project in Oregon Zoo history — officially kicked off with massive displacement of earth, making way for the Asian elephant herd’s new home and a new era of animal welfare.

“We’ve designed a world-class home that honors this amazing species,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “Elephant Lands is all about elephants having choices and activity. We think it’s going to be a game-changer for elephants worldwide and help raise the bar for animal welfare.”

An artist's impression of the Oregon Zoo's Elephants Lands Habitat as it will appear. Copyright Oregon Zoo.

An artist’s impression of the Oregon Zoo’s Elephants Lands Habitat as it will appear. Copyright Oregon Zoo.

Five years in the making, the $53 million habitat — part of the community-supported zoo bond measure — will extend around the eastern edge of the zoo, from south of the current elephant habitat north into the area that formerly housed Elk Meadow.

“We started in 2008 by surveying the best elephant habitats in the world,” said Mike Keele, the zoo’s director of elephant habitats and one of the foremost Asian elephant experts in the country. “We took the best elements from each of those, and then we added our own half-century of elephant experience to give Packy, Lily and the rest of the herd everything they need to thrive.”

For Keele, who will retire later this month after 42 years at the zoo, the groundbreaking is especially meaningful: “To know how far we have come — how much we’ve learned over the years about elephants and their complex needs — and now to be able to pour all that knowledge into this project that will make their lives that much better… This moment feels historical to me, yet it’s consistent with the zoo’s commitment over the last five decades.”

With rolling meadows, 4-foot-deep sand flooring and one of the world’s largest indoor elephant facilities, the new habitat will also offer unique views of the zoo’s herd. Within Forest Hall, visitors on elevated walkways will view elephants within a vast airy arena lit by filtered sunlight with a backdrop of native fir forest.

“The habitat will encourage elephants to be active throughout the day,” Smith said. “They’ll have the freedom to choose when and what they want to do, and who they want to spend time with. These elephants are cherished in our community, and our goal was to create a meaningful experience for visitors to connect with them. We want people to be inspired by Elephant Lands to take action for wildlife.”

To learn more about Elephant Lands, visit

At the groundbreaking event, the Oregon Zoo Foundation announced the public launch of its $3 million Campaign for Elephants, which will fund education and conservation activities at Elephant Lands. The foundation has already raised $2 million through the silent portion of its campaign, including a recent challenge grant of $150,000 from the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund, which will match all Elephant Lands donations up to $10,000 per donor. To learn more or to make a gift, call 503-220-5707 or visit

The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its Asian elephant program, which has spanned more than 50 years. Considered highly endangered in their range countries, Asian elephants are threatened by habitat loss, conflict with humans and disease. It is estimated that fewer than 40,000 elephants remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo.

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Asian Elephants, Enrichment, Exhibits, Oregon Zoo, Zoo | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Spotted Newts at Home at Prospect Park Zoo

Kaiser's spotted newt at the Prospect Park Zoo. Photo by Julie Larsen-Maher. Copyright WCS.

Kaiser’s spotted newt at the Prospect Park Zoo. Photo by Julie Larsen-Maher. Copyright WCS.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo is now home to five Kaiser’s spotted newts (Neurergus kaiseri) a colorful amphibian found only in a five-square-mile region in Iran. The critically endangered species may be extinct in the wild.

Habitat loss including damming of local waters, combined with the illegal trade in these rare amphibians has driven the species to near extinction. Because of these environmental and social threats, the IUCN has designated the Kaiser’s spotted newt as critically endangered.

In addition to the debut of Kaiser’s spotted newt, five Anderson’s crocodile newts (Echinotriton andersoni) are on exhibit.

Native to Japan, China, and northern Taiwan, Anderson’s newts are not endangered but unique in that they have a dull, armored appearance.

The Kaiser’s spotted newts live in the Animals in Art exhibit while the Anderson’s newts live in the Amphibian Crisis exhibit, which highlights the serious challenges amphibians face around the world. WCS’s Bronx Zoo also breeds and maintains Anderson’s crocodile newts.

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Bronx Zoo, Exhibits, Kaiser's spotted newt, Prospect Park Zoo, Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zoo | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment