Seahorse Survey in Hong Kong

A researcher doing measurement on a sighted seahorse.

A researcher doing measurement on a sighted seahorse. Copyright Ocean Park Conservation Foundation.

Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong (OPCFHK) recently showcased its leadership in seahorse conservation by reporting the results of a seahorse survey in local waters, where six seahorses of one species were found. The Foundation also revealed significant new milestones slated to be achieved in 2013, including expanding the scope of the survey to include embarking on a seahorse tagging initiative, the first-ever in Hong Kong. The tagging technique, already widely adopted internationally, will take the study of local seahorse populations to a more systematic level, thereby enabling researchers to better track changes to particular populations and gain a better understanding of their long-term sustainability as well as the threats they face. The ultimate goal is to formulate more effective conservation management plans to protect the local seahorse populations and their habitats.

OPCFHK sponsored a seahorse survey in 2010 and found five seahorses in Hong Kong’s eastern waters, including areas around Sai Kung and Tung Ping Chau. Species found in the 2010 survey were: yellow seahorse (Hippocampus kuda) and three-spot seahorse (Hippocampus trimaculatus); whilst an additional species, namely great seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi) has also been previously sighted in Hong Kong. According to data reported ten years ago, yellow seahorses were moderately abundant in Hong Kong waters down to a depth of seven metres. However, different factors threaten the survival of seahorses, with 11 out of 54 species of seahorse being listed as Vulnerable or Endangered in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species. They are typically threatened by overexploitation for uses in traditional Chinese medicine, loss or degradation of natural habitats and bycatch in trawling fisheries as a result of the lack of comprehensive and effective fishery management plans. In order to further understand the current status of seahorses in the area, OPCFHK conducted the first systematic seahorse survey in Hong Kong, covering 31 sites in local waters from September 2011 to October 2012.

A researcher taking photos of a sighted seahorse.

A researcher taking photos of a sighted seahorse. Copyright Ocean Park Conservation Foundation.

Ms. Shadow Sin, senior scientific officer of OPCFHK said, “For each sighting, the species and sex were identified, whilst body measurements, exact GPS location and the substrate at which it was found were recorded. A total of six individual seahorses, comprising one male and five females belonging to one species, yellow seahorse (Hippocampus kuda), were observed at two diving sites in Sai Kung waters during the survey. Their overall height (from “crown” to tip of the tail) ranged from 40-to-154mm. During the course of our survey, we also found three fish species, including flagfin prawn goby (Mahidolia mystacina), humpnose big-eye bream (Monotaxis grandoculis) and emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) that have never been sighted in Hong Kong before.”

OPCFHK will extend the field survey to include more sites in Hong Kong and monitor known seahorse sites for in-depth studies of site fidelity, long-term survivorship and growth within Hong Kong waters through tagging and follow-up monitoring. A non-invasive external tagging technique involving collar tags has been chosen, whereby a small green oval PVC disc (3X5mm) with a three-digit number on one side will be attached to each individual seahorse found during the survey using a soft vinyl cord. This tagging method has been applied on various seahorse species worldwide, including the spiny seahorse and the yellow seahorse. The results of the survey will help inform strategies for the conservation of seahorses within Hong Kong waters.

Suzanne Gendron, director of OPCFHK, said, “All seahorses are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and seahorses in Hong Kong are only protected under Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance to restrict their trade. They are currently not entirely protected by law in Hong Kong waters, so it is critically important for us to learn more about its local population to work with the Government and strengthen the preservation of this precious species. Since Hong Kong is a major regional hub for the seahorse trade with over 2.2 million seahorses imported each year, OPCFHK, as Hong Kong’s leading conservation advocate, has an important role to play in seahorse conservation. The seahorse survey we conducted, and our planned tagging initiative, will generate valuable data to share with the government, other conservation groups and the general public to help make effective conservation management decisions.  We also recommend the government to document the sites with a record of seahorse sighting so that an ecological survey for the species would be taken into consideration in relation to any future development at those sites.”

Over the years, the Foundation has funded over HK$500,000 in support of four seahorse-related conservation initiatives in Asia, including arranging for local university students to gain fieldwork experience in seahorse conservation. As the number of seahorses found in the previous round of seahorse survey was very low, OPCFHK will continue the survey in 2013 to cover more sites within the eastern waters of Hong Kong. More surveys and participation by the public will also be needed for sites with previous seahorse sightings to verify their presence.

Posted in Aquarium, Conservation, Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Research, Seahorses, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Colo!

Colo, the world's oldest known gorilla, will celebrate her 56th birthday at Columbus Zoo & Aquarium on Saturday! Photo courtesy of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

Colo, the world’s oldest known gorilla, will celebrate her 56th birthday at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium on Saturday! Photo courtesy of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

December 22 is a day that has a long list of historical significance. Some of these events include Ludwig van Beethoven premiering his Fifth Symphony at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna in 1808; the Lincoln Tunnel opening to traffic in New York City in 1937; and Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate re-opening in 1989 after 30 years, effectively ending the division of East and West Germany. However, it’s the milestone that happened 56 years ago that the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium will be celebrating on Saturday!

On December 22, 1956, Colo, a female western lowland gorilla, was born at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. Since becoming the first gorilla ever to be born in human care, she has continued her record-setting legacy.

Colo was born at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium on December 22, 1956. Photo courtesy of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

Colo is the first gorilla ever to be born in human care. Photo courtesy of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

Colo is currently the world’s oldest known gorilla. There are 342 gorillas in AZA-accredited zoos, and the median life expectancy for female western lowland gorillas in zoos is 37.4 years.

Colo is the mother of three offspring—Emmy, Oscar and Toni. Emmy was the first second generation gorilla born at a zoo. Colo’s son, Oscar, sired Mac and Mosuba in October 1983, which made Colo the grandmother of the first surviving twin gorillas born at a zoo. Colo’s daughter, Toni, gave birth to Cora, who was the first third generation gorilla born at a zoo. All in all, Colo is the mother of three, grandmother of 16, great-grandmother of eight and great-great grandmother of two.

In celebration of Colo’s 56th birthday, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium will provide her with a specially-prepared cake and other presents that will likely include tomatoes (her favorite food) in her indoor habitat. Guests are also invited to join in on the fun by singing “Happy Birthday” to her.

There are currently 15 western lowland gorillas at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, including Colo, her daughter Toni, grandson Mac, granddaughter Cassie and great-granddaughter Dotty.

In 1983, Colo became the grandmother of Mac and Mosuba--the first surviving twin gorillas born at a zoo. Photo courtesy of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

In 1983, Colo became the grandmother of Mac and Mosuba- the first surviving twin gorillas born at a zoo. Photo courtesy of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

In the wild, habitat loss, deforestation and the illegal bushmeat trade are constant threats for this critically endangered species. The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium helps protect western lowland gorillas, supporting conservation efforts and distribution more than $1 million annually in conservation grants worldwide.

Jennifer Fields

Posted in Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Conservation, Gorillas, Zoo | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Volunteer Jeff Stewart Recognized as a 2012 “10 Who Care Award” Recipient

Virginia Aquarium and Marine science Center Volunteer Jeff Stewart at the Who Care awards. Copyright Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

Virginia Aquarium and Marine science Center Volunteer Jeff Stewart at the Who Care awards. Copyright Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center volunteer Jeff Stewart was recognized as a 2012 “10 Who Care Award” recipient at a banquet in Portsmouth, Virginia in mid November. Each year, WAVY TV-10 recognizes ten outstanding volunteers for their service to the community in which they live. Nominated winners are chosen by a panel of five judges who represent the Hampton Roads area.

For the past six years, Stewart has volunteered for the Virginia Aquarium Mentoring Young Scientists (MYS) program which helps over 100 local middle school students interested in science and environmental education. He was nominated by the MYS Coordinator Jovonne Vrecheck who said, “Jeff brings warmth, humor, and a great attitude to all of the students, fellow mentors, and Aquarium guests with whom he works.”

Stewart recently surpassed his 1,000 Aquarium volunteer service hours while working as a full-time teacher at Landstown High School. He also teaches environmental science at Tidewater Community College as a part-time professor. When asked why he enjoys being with students in his spare time Stewart said, “When I come to MYS, I am in a different mode with no worry about grades or holding my ground. I can just have fun teaching them what I love about science and, sometimes, I learn with the kids too.”

In addition to working with youth at school and the MYS program, Stewart is an Aquarium volunteer diver, and he works many special events throughout the year. He said, “Diving has become a new hobby so I love the opportunity to dive. Plus it’s important to maintain the aquariums for the public – to make sure guests see them clean along with the healthy fish.”

For more information on the Aquarium’s volunteer program call (757) 385-0274 or visit

Posted in Aquarium, Education, People, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Images of Africa: Wild Namibia

Coming into the holiday season, I thought I would do a simple post and share some of my favorite shots from a recent trip I took to Namibia in southern Africa. All the photos were shot with a Nikon D80 with a 70-300mm lens.  I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures of wild animals – and I hope you enjoy this glimpse of wild Namibia!

Tim Lewthwaite

Burchelle's zebra in Etosha National Park. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Burchelle’s zebra in Etosha National Park. For obvious reasons, I have always found zebras to be striking animals who make for great photos.  Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Impala running to catch up to herd mates in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Impala running to catch up to herd mates in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Guinea Fowl in the bush at Etosha National Park. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Guinea fowl in the bush at Etosha National Park. The standing joke about these guys in Namibia is that they are called government chickens – I’ll let you guess as to why.  Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

The Cape griffon vulture Nesher at the Rare and Endangered Species Trust near Otjiwarong in Namibia. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

The Cape griffon vulture Nesher at the Rare and Endangered Species Trust near Otjiwarongo in Namibia. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Male lion resting in the shade in Etosha National Park. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Male lion resting in the shade in Etosha National Park. Surprisingly enough, a couple of people went right by this fellow without noticing him – not that he seemed to mind one way or another. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Giraffe in Damaraland. I liked the light colors of this particular group of giraffe. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Giraffe in Damaraland. I liked the light colors of this particular group of giraffe – particularly the red in their manes. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Desert adapated elephant browsing on a mopane tree in a dried river bed in Damaraland. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Desert adapated elephant browsing on a mopane tree in a dried river bed in Damaraland. These are not a separate species or sub-species of elephant, but they do have less body mass, longer legs and larger feet than their savanna cousins.  Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

An African sunset. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

An African sunset. One of my favorite shots, the light was changing so rapidly, that a couple of minutes after I shot this, the vibrant orange had gone.  Copyright Tim Lewthwaite

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Elephants, Giraffes, Photography, Vultures, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enjoy Family Time at Your Local AZA-Accredited Zoo or Aquarium This Holiday Season!

Celebrate the holidays at your local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium! Photo courtesy of Denver Zoo.

Experience holiday magic at your local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium! Photo courtesy of Denver Zoo.

Over the holidays, families come together in the spirit of the season. Whether you are the one traveling or playing host, you might be looking for something to do that the whole family can enjoy.  This year, we invite you to consider spending quality family time together, supporting a local organization and experiencing holiday magic all at the same time—by visiting your local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium!

From Breakfast With Santa events to spectacular holiday light displays, the 223 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are all celebrating in their own ways.

To find the contact information for your local accredited zoo or aquarium, please visit

Be sure to visit the zoo or aquarium’s website or call ahead for information about holiday events and hours.

Here are some examples of the festivities taking place:

Denver Zoo: Zoo Lights

Guests of Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights, Presented By Your Neighborhood Toyota Stores, will experience the event in a whole new light this year. In addition to featuring a brand new layout, the 22nd annual celebration, running nightly November 30, 2012-January 2, 2013, from 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., will celebrate cultural traditions, introduce a special train ride and illuminate the Zoo’s newest exhibit, Toyota Elephant Passage, with lanterns.

Denver Zoo will be transformed to a wild winter wonderland as guests wander under the canopy of lights throughout themed regions at this year’s Zoo Lights. Families can journey to the North Pole region to visit with Santa, enjoy tasty treats at Ms. Claus’ Sweet Shop and take a spin on the carousel. In this region kids can also take Denver Zoo’s historic train ride, revamped this year with a special theme. Kids can help spot animals from long ago at the Yesterday’s Zoo Train Experience. During the ride they will hear the story of Yesterday’s Zoo, a place where now extinct animals roam, while learning why it’s important to help today’s animals and seeing characters from the book.

Also new this year is the Festival of Lanterns illuminating Denver Zoo’s new award-winning exhibit Toyota Elephant Passage. More than 200 Asian lanterns of various shapes, colors and sizes will shine above the exhibit’s walkways with LED light, while guests can get warm and see elephants, fishing cats and small-clawed otters in the indoor buildings. The Celebration! Pavilion will also celebrate cultural traditions from around the world through dance, music and storytelling every evening of the event. Entertainment will include African storytellers and mariachi bands.

The holiday tradition is made complete with 40 brilliantly-illuminated acres of lights, featuring more than 150 animated animal sculptures that swing through trees, jump across lawns, hide in bushes and appear in places where they’re least expected. Numerous Denver Zoo animals also can be seen throughout the experience including polar bears, sea lions, arctic foxes, Komodo dragons, giraffes, hippos and rhinos. Penguins can also be seen at a nightly demonstration.

Festivities also will include live animal demonstrations, carolers, instrumental groups, ice carvers, delicious holiday treats at warming stations throughout the Zoo and the ever-popular Zoo Year’s Eve party.  For more information, please visit

Mystic Aquarium: Winter Waterland

Mystic Aquarium’s Winter Waterland holiday celebration returns Saturdays and Sundays in December and Thursday, December 27 – Tuesday, January 1 with festive entertainment for all to enjoy. This month-long series of events features visits from Santa, elves diving among fish, live music by local artists, seasonal crafts and scavenger hunts–all against a backdrop of fascinating marine animals and holiday décor.

This year’s holiday décor reflects the native habitats of aquarium animals. The Arctic Coast, home to four beluga whales, glimmers with a cluster of trees covered in snowflakes, icicles and silver ornaments. The Pacific Northwest, home to sea lions and seals, features trees with pine cones, bird nests and berries, while trees at the Roger Tory Peterson Penguin Pavilion celebrate resident African penguins. Additional festive décor throughout the aquarium is inspired by Hanukah, Kwanzaa and Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below, the aquarium’s exhibit dedicated to the historic ship.

Guests can also enjoy The Polar Express 4-D Experience, a holiday favorite brought to life with the visual drama of a 3-D film and a variety of sensory effects, including wind, snow and scents. The Polar Express 4-D Experience is included with Mystic Aquarium membership and the value ticket option, or tickets may be purchased inside the aquarium for $6 each.

For more information, please visit

Nashville Zoo: Historic Home Christmas Tours

This holiday season, celebrate a traditional Victorian Christmas by touring the Nashville Zoo’s Historic Croft Home! Yuletide tours will be held December 15-16.

The home is decked for the holiday season with greenery, ribbon and vintage decorations that had been collected over the years by Margaret and Elise Croft, the former tenants of the Grassmere property whose family owned the land and home for five generations. The tour not only highlights these items but also explains how some Christmas traditions that started during that time period are still honored today.

Tours start daily at 10 a.m. and run on the half hour, with the last tour beginning at 3 p.m. The tour is included with Zoo admission. Private tours are also available on weekdays. To book a private tour, please complete an online reservation request, or contact Tori Mason, historic Croft House manager, at or 615-833-1534 ext. 316.

Celebrate a traditional Victorian Christmas with a tour of the Nashville Zoo's historic Croft Home. Photo courtesy of the Nashville Zoo.

Celebrate a traditional Victorian Christmas with a tour of the Nashville Zoo’s historic Croft Home. Photo courtesy of the Nashville Zoo.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: “Noon Year”

The entire family can celebrate the New Year a little early at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s annual Noon Year’s Eve party from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, December 31 featuring kid-friendly versions of year-end traditions.

The seventh annual Noon Year’s Eve will ring in 2013 with a dance party hosted by Radio Disney, a countdown to noon complete with a ball drop on the Welcome Plaza, crafts, Get Close animal encounters, “Safe Rides for All Kids” activities and plenty of photo opportunities with the Zoo’s costumed characters.

Visitors also can make their New Year’s ReZOOlutions and see a special holiday performance of Professor Wylde’s Live Animal Show.

Visitors to Noon Year’s Eve are encouraged to arrive early as traffic delays around the Zoo may occur before the noontime countdown and ball drop.

For more information, visit  

Jennifer Fields

Posted in Aquarium, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Denver Zoo, Mystic Aquarium, Nashville Zoo, Uncategorized, Zoo | Leave a comment

2012 AZA Photo Contest Winner: Paul Selvaggio at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

The 2012 AZA Photo Contest Winner, a photo of a pufferfish by Paul Selvaggio, on the cover of the December issue of AZA’s CONNECT magazine.

AZA 2012 Photo Contest Winner: Paul Selvaggio, Creative Director at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Paul has been the creative director at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium for 18 years. He is responsible for the graphic design, visual branding, and photographic representation of the Zoo, both internally through signs and artwork around the Zoo, and externally in advertisements and publications. Over the years he has photographed thousands of the Zoo’s diverse animals, resulting in hundreds of thousands of stunning images. His winning image of a pufferfish appears on the cover of the December issue of CONNECT magazine.

He has documented several conservation projects with which the Zoo is involved through his photography for initiatives such as Project Frozen Dumbo in South Africa, Sea Turtle Second Chance Program in North Carolina, Key West Truman Pier Coral NOAA Rescue in Florida, and Coral Conservation efforts with SECORE in Curaçao.

Paul Selvaggio, creative director at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquairum, is the winner of the 2012 AZA Photo Contest.

As both an artist and professional, Paul has always had a passion for photography. For over 30 years as a Pittsburgh-based photographer, he has captured brilliant images for a veritable plethora of publications including Time Magazine, USA Today, Pittsburgh Magazine, Forbes and the New York Times. He has also worked with with renowned clients such as Heinz, PNC Bank, Mellon, MSA, Alcoa, and Westinghouse.

Paul Selvaggio, winner of the 2012 AZA Photo Contest taking his talents under water!

Paul’s remarkable versatility in the art of photography has allowed him to capture a dazzling array of images over the course of his career in genres such as product, food, fashion, nature, wildlife, advertising, and editorial photography. Although he prefers ambient light, he also uses studio strobe equipment to create dynamic lighting effects in controlled settings.

Paul is always looking forward to the next opportunity to tell a story, further an initiative, or document history through his photographs.

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Aquarium, AZA, People, Photo Contest, Photography, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Profiles | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tennessee Aquarium and Partners Reintroduce 2,600 Endangered Lake Sturgeon to Natural Habitat

Biologists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)–with help from Gap Creek Elementary students–reintroduced 2,600 endangered lake sturgeons into the species’ native habitat. Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Aquarium.

Thanks to a collaborative conservation effort, biologists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) reintroduced 2,600 lake sturgeons into the species’ native habitat on Thursday, 1 November.

The reintroduction took place near Knoxville at the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge. This location on the French Broad River was identified as favorable habitat for this freshwater fish species, which has become endangered due to overfishing and environmental challenges, including pollution.

Students from a 5th grade class at Gap Creek Elementary near Knoxville are also very excited to help with the reintroduction of these lake sturgeons (Acipenser fulvescens). Since the beginning of the school year, they have been caring for “Spike,” a juvenile lake sturgeon. Each day, the Gap Creek students recorded data about the fish, including feedings, water temperature, pH, ammonia levels, length and behavioral observations. Their role in these hands-on activities, as well as the release, is designed to increase the students’ understanding of freshwater conservation. They also discover how the health of the river and human health are connected.

This lake sturgeon is one of more than 125,000 reintroduced to the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and its partners since 1998. Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Aquarium.

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (the conservation and research arm of the Tennessee Aquarium) and its partners have reintroduced more than 125,000 lake sturgeons to the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers since 1998. The long-term goal of this “Saving the Sturgeon” program is to restore a self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon in Tennessee. So far, this effort has proven to be very successful with anglers reporting these fish downstream in Alabama and Kentucky. Biologists have also been encouraged by recent surveys to monitor the population between Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Of this recent “year class” of lake sturgeons that were released, 600 of them came to the Tennessee Aquarium as babies that averaged less than one inch in length. They have been growing to a releasable size of approximately five inches, with some already reaching one foot in length. These impressive fish are true river giants and can eventually grow to more than eight feet in length! Lake sturgeons have also been known to live nearly 150 years, feeding mainly on bottom-dwelling crayfish, mussels, aquatic insect larvae and small fishes.

The working partners of this successful “Saving the Sturgeon” program are:

Conservation Fisheries, Inc.
Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute
Tennessee Tech University
Tennessee Valley Authority
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
University of Tennessee Knoxville
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
U.S. Geological Survey
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
World Wildlife Fund

Contributing writer: Thom Benson, Communications Manager, Tennessee Aquarium

Jennifer Fields


Posted in Aquarium, Conservation, Lake Sturgeons, Tennessee Aquarium | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Worry! It’s Just a Black Rhino

The desert adapted black rhino Don’t Worry surveys his surroundings in Damaraland in northwest Namibia. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite.

Ears cupped forward listening and eyes staring myopically through the surrounding mopane trees, the black rhino looked over the dried river bed for any signs of danger. Cream colored grass, bleached white by the sun, spreads out in front of him. It was close to noon and he looked ready to lie down and sleep. I didn’t blame him, as the sun was beating down and the cool of the morning was rapidly dissipating, being replaced by a hard, dry heat that compelled even the most heat tolerant animals to seek the shaded comfort of the trees.  

I was in Damaraland in the northwest of Namibia – an arid and rugged region that is home to the desert-adapted black rhino and elephants. I had walked into the dried bed of the seasonal river with the Save the Rhino Trust scouts who track the shy black rhinos every day.  I was staying at the tented Desert Rhino Camp, which is managed by Wilderness Safaris, a company that partners with the Save the Rhinos Trust, an NGO that has been instrumental in bringing the Damaraland black rhinos back from the brink of extinction.

Poisinous euphorbia bushes and basalt rocks dot the Damaraland landscape. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite.

The landscape here dwarfs the animals, even the rhinos and elephants.  Desert Rhino Camp is in the 450,000 hectare Palmwag Concession – a region of stark beauty, surrounded by plateau mountains, and dominated by dried plains covered in basalt rocks and dotted with poisonous euphorbia bushes.  Everything about the land is harsh, but a surprising number of desert-adapted animals call it home: Hartman’s zebra, oryx, kudu, springbok, giraffe, lion, hyena, cheetah, elephant and the black rhinos that I have come to see.   

I turn to one of the scouts and whisper, “What’s the rhino called?”  The scouts know most of the animals by sight.  

“Don’t worry,” comes the reply.  

That’s an odd answer I think to myself.  The rhino is a 100 yards away and doesn’t seem to be agitated. What is there to be worried about?

“I am not worried, but was wondering about the ID of the rhino?”  

“Don’t worry,” came the reply again. 

I was about to ask if he understood what I was asking. The scouts are Damara, and although English is the official language in Namibia, it is only used by about 7 percent of the population. It would be far more likely that he would speak one of the Damara dialects, Afrikaans or even German. 

Just then he smiled at me and said, “The rhino’s name is Don’t Worry.”

Don’t Worry is a 22-year old sub-dominant male with a 110 km2 home range.  He’s named Don’t Worry because he is one of the more approachable rhinos in the population. The rhinos in Damaraland barely survived an onslaught of poaching in the 1980s and 1990s, but since the formation of the Save the Rhino Trust, the population has more than doubled.  

Don’t Worry lies down in the shade of a mopane tree and starts his afternoon rest. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite.

Smiling, I turn back to snap some more photos, Don’t Worry is living up to his name and is moving under one of the mopane trees where he lies down in the shade and falls asleep. We walk quietly back out of the dried river bed, leaving Don’t Worry in peace to enjoy his afternoon rest.

The encounter has taken less than five minutes, but the thousands of miles I have traveled to see the animal seem a small price to pay to witness such a magnificent and endangered animal in its natural habitat. Seeing it with a scout in possession of a dry sense of humor was just a bonus. 

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Black Rhinos, Conservation, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Endangered Mexican Gray Wolf Leaves Brookfield Zoo to Prepare For Reintroduction to Native Habitat

Ernesta, an endangered female Mexican gray wolf, recently left Chicago Zoological Society – Brookfield Zoo to prepare for reintroduction to the wild. Photo by Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society


Ernesta, an endangered female Mexican gray wolf, will soon be making great strides for the future of her species.

With only 58 Mexican gray wolves living in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, the 4 ½-year-old wolf left Brookfield Zoo, which is managed by the Chicago Zoological Society, to prepare for reintroduction to her species’ native range.

On October 27, Ernesta relocated to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. At the facility, she will then choose a mate to be paired with for potential release. They will receive survival skills conditioning through a pre-release “boot camp” to prepare them for life in the wild.

“Just a few decades ago, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Mexican Gray Wolf Species Survival Plan® (SSP) was put in place to save the wolves from absolute extinction,” said Joan Daniels Tantillo, associate curator of mammals for the Chicago Zoological Society. “Ernesta’s potential transfer into the wild is an important step to help foster genetic diversity within the reintroduced population to allow this species to survive.”

The purpose of the pre-release conditioning is to make sure wolves are good candidate for re-introduction to their native range. Wolf biologists with the USFWS wildlife refuge will observe Ernesta as they slowly transition her to feedings that mimic the typical wolf food patterns found in the wild. She will transition to eating native prey (including road-killed deer and elk) and experience conditions that imitate their natural eating patterns in which prey kills happen only every several days. She will also be subjected to conditioned taste aversion to avoid eating beef so that if she is reintroduced into the wild, she does not cross paths with cows and ranchers.

While Ernesta may have some skills to learn at boot camp, her natural wolf behaviors have been encouraged since her first day at Brookfield Zoo and will help ensure a safe and healthy transition for her potential release to the wild.

Regenstein Wolf Woods, the wolf exhibit at Brookfield Zoo, includes design implementations to cultivate these behaviors, including:

  • Wolves socialize only with each other. Keepers do not interact directly with wolves.
  • Wolves receive native prey species such as elk hide, bison meat, and whole prey items.
  • Climbing logs, a pool, heated rocks, and loose dirt encourage natural behaviors like playing, lounging, and digging.
  • Dens and tunnels are the size, shape, slope, and length of those in the wild, and there is space for the wolves to dig their own dens.
  • Buildings blend in with the natural surroundings so that the wolves don’t associate manmade structures with shelter or food.

“We are committed to the highest level of animal care, and Regenstein Wolf Woods ensures that wolves participating in the release program will be successful in their transition into the wild,” Daniels said.

Accompanying Ernesta to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility were two potential mate choices from the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri, where Ernesta was born in April 2008 before coming to Brookfield Zoo in 2010 with her litter mates (three brothers and four sisters). The rest of her pack remains at Brookfield Zoo.

The flight to New Mexico was sponsored by LightHawk, a volunteer pilot organization that sponsors flights of animals partaking in reintroduction programs. LightHawk also participates in other conservation-related monitoring in North America to provide aerial views of the land and assist in environmental protection.

Ernesta arrives at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Photo by Tom Buckley/USFWS

Mexican gray wolves are part of a breeding program that is managed by the USFWS in coordination with the AZA under its Species Survival Plan® (SSP) and the Mexican Technical Advisory Subcommittee for the Conservation of Mexican Gray Wolves.

Mexican gray wolves are the rarest and most genetically distinct subspecies of the North American gray wolves. The USFWS first listed the species as endangered on the Endangered Species List in 1976. There are 283 Mexican wolves living in 52 institutions across the United States. The 2011 census recorded a minimum count of 58 individuals in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, and in October 2011, five wolves were released for the first time in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.

If all goes well during boot camp, Ernesta and her selected mate will be reintroduced to their native range sometime in the spring of 2013.

Contributing writer: Nina Martines/Chicago Zoological Society


Jennifer Fields

Posted in Brookfield Zoo, Conservation, Wildlife, Wolves, Wolves, Zoo | 1 Comment

Rocky Shores Exhibit at Utah’s Hogle Zoo

Visitors enjoying the polar bear pool at new Rocky Shores exhibit at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. Copyright Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

Utah’s Hogle Zoo has experienced record attendance for 2012, thanks in no small part to the addition of the beautiful new Rocky Shores which opening on 1 June.

Covering 3.5 acres, Rocky Shores is an $18 million, state-of-the-art facility that features a polar bear, three grizzly bears, harbor seals, California sea lions, river otters and bald eagles.

Hogle Zoo is nestled along the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. That beautiful landscape was utilized in the layout and design of the new exhibit, designed to look and feel like the Northwest Coastline and Cannery Row.

The polar bear and pinniped pools are filled with 320,000 gallons of temperature-controlled salt water and 95 percent of that water is recirculated. Miles of pipes rest below Rocky Shores and provide the filtration for the pools.

Harbor seal enjoying a swin in the new Rocky Shores exhibit at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. Copyright Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

Rocky Shores has numerous view points and different perspectives: A boardwalk overlooking the pinniped pool lets guests spot the speckled seals swimming upside down; Tide Water Cove Amphitheater allows keepers to do demonstrations with the pinnipeds and also offers a great place to rest tired feet and eat ice cream; and floor-to-ceiling windows in the underwater viewing building offer impressive views of both pinnipeds and, next door, the polar bear.

The polar bear pool was designed with different depths and levels in mind so guests get the best views of the bear whether she’s wading or diving.

Big Bear Meadow has a fresh water stream – a favorite of the three yearlings who often entertain visitors wrestling, and dunking each other’s heads underwater.

Rocky Shores also features Shoreline Grill, a gourmet hamburger stand offering homemade fries, burger and brats.

Posted in Education, Enrichment, Exhibits, People, Polar bear, Utah's Hogle Zoo | Tagged , Harbor Seals, , Rocky Shores Exhibit, Sealions, Utah's Hogle Zoo | Leave a comment