Bronx Zoo, New York, U.S.A.
It has been known for some time that large felids are attracted by perfumes, probably due to the musk that is used in many of them. Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have now tested 24 different perfumes by spraying them on the trees in the zoo’s tiger, snow leopard and cheetah enclosures. The perfume Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein proved the most popular: both male and female cats rubbed, sniffed and pawed at objects previously sprayed with the fragrance. The perfumes Charlie by Revlon and Beautiful by Estée Lauder were not liked, and were sniffed for only a few seconds.
Obsession for Men is also being used in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. Among the largest protected areas in Central America, the reserve is one of the most important jaguar refuges in the Americas. The perfume lures wildlife towards motion-sensitive cameras that photograph the animals as they pass by (or, in this case, as they stop and sniff). The photos help conservationists estimate the population numbers of shy species, such as the jaguar.
‘Jaguars are highly elusive creatures, and for years WCS researchers struggled to develop more effective methods for estimating how many there were in the forest, hidden amongst the ancient Maya temples,’ says Roan McNab, country director for WCS-Guatemala. ‘Now, due to the fact that jaguars love Obsession for Men, WCS field conservationists are getting more precise estimates of jaguar populations.’
The original experiments at the Bronx Zoo were the idea of general curator Pat Thomas. He comments, ‘This work is a great example of how the Wildlife Conservation Society’s living institutions and global conservation programs work together to save wildlife and wild places.’
Chester Zoo, U.K.
One of the zoo’s amphibian pods [see IZN 55 (3), 171] houses a large and growing population of the black-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis moreletii). Collected from Belize as spawn, the 40 founder frogs not only represent a healthy starting point for a conservation breeding programme for this highly threatened frog but, in partnership with Manchester University, are also the subject of a complex Ph.D. study investigating the role of dietary carotenoids in skin coloration, mate choice and reproductive success (clutch size, fertility, viability and larval growth, development and survival). This research is taking place both ex situ at the zoo and in situ back in the forests of Belize.
Since June this year Chester has been hugely successful in reproducing this species, and we are currently rearing countless larvae and froglets produced from adults reared on three diets differing in catotenoid content. We look forward to seeing the results of the study and incorporating any recommendations into the future husbandry of these and other tree frogs to make them as ‘fit’ as possible for the long-term benefit of the programme. In 2011 we hope to be supporting further field work investigating the current distribution and population genetics of black-eyed tree frogs in Belize, Honduras and Guatemala.
Another pod at the zoo is home to the only ex situ population of green-eyed frogs (Lithobates vibicarius). This species was feared extinct until a population was found at a solitary pond near Monte Verde in the highlands of Costa Rica in 2005. A small quantity of spawn was collected by the Manchester Museum in 2007 as a precaution should this population be on the decline, and was subsequently moved to Chester Zoo. The zoo works with the Association for the Conservation of Monte Verde, on whose land the breeding pond is located. Ongoing monitoring has confirmed regular successful reproduction but also a low level of chytrid fungus infection, the impacts of which are as yet unknown. A few further localities have recently been discovered within and to the south of Monte Verde, at least one of which is being studied by University of Costa Rica personnel. Perhaps this is one of those lucky species making a comeback from the brink of extinction. Unfortunately attempts to breed this beautiful frog at Chester have so far failed to meet with significant success, but we remain hopeful of a breakthrough in the near future.
Chester Zoo’s amphibian conservation programme also supports research on the extraordinary Darwin’s frog in Chile [see below, p. 384] and caecilians in Sumatra, and is about to initiate a second Manchester University collaborative Ph.D. investigating the impact of UVB radiation on frog fitness, behaviour and reproduction.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, U.S.A.
The zoo houses a mixed colony of African and roseate spoonbills (Platalea alba and Ajaia ajaja) in an outdoor, uncovered exhibit. The setting consists of a shallow-water area with beaches and islands that facilitate the natural wading lifestyle of the spoonbills. This arrangement presents a challenge which is common in managing open exhibits – the influx of ‘freeloading’ native species into the habitat. Over the last few years there has been a gradual increase in the number of native white ibis (Eudocimus albus) calling the exhibit home, resulting in interspecific competition for food and space. The ibises’ aggression towards the spoonbills during feeds forced us to alter the feeding strategy several times. Originally, the birds were fed in bowls located throughout the exhibit. As the native ibis population grew, this method of feeding became ineffective. Collection birds were outnumbered and outcompeted by the visiting ibises. In response, we attempted hand-tossing food directly to the spoonbills. This resulted in only limited and short-term success. The feral birds quickly overcame their apprehension of keepers and showed their talent for intercepting any tossed food item. The aggressive and persistent behavior of the ibises and the impracticality of a species-specific feeder required us to take a different approach.
Our new strategy was to develop a training program that would facilitate successful feeding of our spoonbills, despite the presence of native birds. The first step was acclimation of our birds to hand-feeding. While the African spoonbills were somewhat accustomed to taking fish by hand, when nesting, the new roseates were reluctant to be in such close proximity to the keeper. Incrementally, the birds were asked to come closer and closer to the keepers before the food was presented, and after about five months they were all consistently accepting being fed by hand.
This acclimation process was just the first step. We also had to change how we managed this feeding/training program. Due to the size of the spoonbill group, it became clear that more than one keeper would be needed at each feed, to successfully maintain the hand-feeding behavior. Adding keepers to the process would also offset any intraspecific aggression during feed sessions. For the new program, we had to introduce and train a l6-person keeper team fairly quickly. Obviously, identification of individual birds within a colony is critical for monitoring training progress. To facilitate this process, we needed a different primary identification system – our birds were banded, but we wanted everyone in the team to recognize individual birds by their habits and behavior within the social dynamics of the group. Involving the keeper staff in a ‘naming’ process created the starting point for team investment in the project. Through group discussion, voting, etc. the whole team arrived at some themes for naming the individuals in our colony. Our 3.3 roseate spoonbills were named for characters in the movie The Fifth Element: Corbin, Dallas, Cornelius, Ruby, Lilu, and Laguna. The African spoonbills were named for ‘things that are white’, potato products, and a couple of unique submissions: Cotton, Snow, Pearl, Tater, Pringles, Sunny, and Platypus (keepers’ favorite spoonbill misidentification by guests at the park). Also, to motivate our team and maintain their involvement in the project, we implemented a game that made learning to recognise the individual spoonbills more enjoyable.
With our team fully engaged in the training plan and all the spoonbills hand-feeding, we progressed to the next step: stationing our birds. This would help us to establish a more controlled feeding opportunity and allow for better monitoring of individual food consumption and reduced competition within the group. Based on historic monitoring of food consumption, we decided to limit each bird to ten pieces of food per feed (three feeds per day). This increased training opportunities by keeping the birds motivated to come to every feeding, rather than gorging themselves at one feed and skipping the next. We needed to assign birds to particular areas of the exhibit. These ‘stations’ were selected based on each individual bird’s historic feeding behavior and tendency to position itself in a particular area. Therefore, the assignments had minimal impact on the social structure of the group. Seven birds had stations on the left side of the exhibit and six on the right side. Keepers were encouraged to learn and to train birds on both sides. This prevented the spoonbills from assigning themselves to a keeper instead of to their assigned side.
The criterion for the behavior was for each spoonbill to go to the assigned station in order to get a food reward. Just like training the hand-feeds, we used approximations and occasional baiting to get the birds to their stations. An object such as a rock or log helped to provide some birds a visual aid to define their station. As the spoonbills became more confident in obtaining their food, the wild ibises were able to steal less and less of the food. The native population in the exhibit slowly decreased as the ibises found it more worthwhile to get food elsewhere. Within five months of the start of the program, all the spoonbills were successfully stationing for the feeding sessions.
We also had to work around the nesting season. Our spoonbills tend to nest at the farthest point from where they’re fed, so we had to design new criteria for this time. Basically, the stationing group is fed first and one member of a nesting pair usually comes to this feed. After the main feed, any nesting/sitting birds are then fed on the nests. When chicks are weaned or nests are pulled, all the birds readily come back to stationing. Our ability to hand-feed parents at the nest allows us to start acclimating parent-reared chicks earlier. We successfully integrated 3.0 roseate chicks into the program in 2009. This gave us a consistently-stationing group of 16 spoonbills.
The development of a training program to station our spoonbills was a creative solution to the challenge of feeding our collection birds in the presence of native white ibis. While we still contend with the presence of a few native residents, the result of our successful program has been the enhanced management of the colony. Stationing has improved the efficacy of feeds and reduced food waste. It has also provided us with the foundation for further training, such as the birds’ voluntarily stepping onto a scale for weighing.
In addition to benefiting animal husbandry, our spoonbill training program also enhanced our keeper integration process and stimulated interactions with guests. The time commitment required to make the program successful forced us to look at new ways to motivate and engage the entire keeper staff towards a common training goal. Without the team’s full support and participation, our program could not have been initiated or consistently maintained. Guests also enjoy watching the training/feeding sessions. They are engaged by the activity and are stirred to ask questions about the spoonbills and the feeding process. The nightmare that had been our spoonbill feeds has turned into a dream realized through training.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Jersey Zoo), Channel Islands, U.K.
Our 50th anniversary in 2009 provided a unique opportunity to look back and celebrate. Durrell’s rich history demonstrates the vital importance of our practical, hands-on conservation approach, our willingness to take on the seemingly impossible and our determination to succeed.
Our longest-serving collaboration came to a culmination in 2009. Durrell first became involved with the St Lucia parrot (Amazona versicolor) in 1974, when the population was estimated to be down to 100 individuals and declining. Back then a captive population was established, as the threat of extinction was very real. A long-term restoration programme coupled increased protection with education and awareness-raising, and together these led to the recovery of the species. But due to the mountainous terrain and the difficulty of working in St Lucia’s dense rainforest, measuring the extent of the upturn proved extremely problematic.
In January 2009, we launched the largest and most challenging population survey we have ever undertaken to establish a reliable estimate of today’s numbers. A team of 35 volunteers, including 17 from the U.K., Jersey and the U.S.A., worked alongside forestry staff from St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent. The survey was a major success: not only did the whole process work without any major hitches, but feedback from volunteers was very positive. Preliminary estimates show that the parrot now numbers around 2,000 individuals and is distributed over a much wider area of the island compared with the 1970s. This long-standing conservation effort has been a remarkable success.
Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland, U.K.
The zoo’s Sclater’s lemurs (Eulemur macaco flavifrons) are on a diet. Since November last year keepers have been changing their diet to encourage weight loss, and in recent weeks have been trying out experimental new feeders that make the animals work for their food but also allow them to feed on smaller quantities over a 24-hour period.
Initial results from the diet changes have been positive, and reports from the researchers who placed the feeders in the enclosures for four weeks suggest that the lemurs spent an increased amount of time moving about, as they were unsure when or from which feeder the next meal would arrive. The keepers are now considering if the feeders should be put in the enclosure over a longer period to help shift the lemurs’ lingering last few pounds.
As Lorna Hughes, the zoo’s head keeper for primates, says, ‘In the wild, lemurs feed on seasonally available wild fruit which is naturally lower in energy than the cultivated fruit which is often fed to them by zoos all year round. So we have now introduced a new diet that focuses on low-calorie healthy alternatives and have moved from a fruit- to a more vegetable-based menu. The results have been really positive, but we decided we needed to look at additional options to maximise the animals’ weight loss. ‘The second phase of the programme was designed to complement the diet changes by providing ways to stimulate the animals and encourage greater activity levels. Just as with humans on a diet, watching what you eat combined with increased exercise will result in a higher weight loss. In the wild, lemurs have a 24-hour activity cycle and would eat little and often, so by using the feeders we were able to try this out by giving five smaller feeds instead of three larger ones over a 24-hour period.’
Working with Brendan Duggan, a trainee researcher studying for an M.Sc. in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at Edinburgh University, purpose-built automated feeders were introduced to the lemurs’ enclosure at the end of June and were placed in high locations. ‘In the wild,’ says Brendan, ‘lemurs will spend 32% of their day foraging and feeding as opposed to 14% in captivity [Goodchild and Schwitzer, 2008], so it was important that we made these otherwise laid-back lemurs work for their food. Our results showed that once the feeders were introduced the time the lemurs spent resting decreased. The unpredictable nature of the feeding regimes meant that instead of waiting for the sound of dinner approaching with the turn of a keeper’s key, they were constantly checking the feeders, never knowing when or where they might find food being dispensed. As the feeders also keep dispensing food, the novelty never seemed to wear off.’
Originally weighing in at 3.58 kg, the female, Noemie, has already lost nearly three-quarters of a kilo (now 2.87 kg), but has another 290 grams to go before she reaches her target. The male, Bobby, has struggled as many others do and is still battling the bulge despite now having lost 300 g off his pre-diet weight. He currently weighs 3.1 kg as against his target weight of 2.6 kg.
Sclater’s lemurs – which are held in only two British zoos (the other being Colchester) – are prone to weight problems. Obesity in lemurs has health implications, such as coronary heart disease and diabetes, and is also a major obstacle to breeding. This species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN, so captive breeding could play an essential part in its conservation.
Houston Zoo, Texas, U.S.A.
For the past year, the zoo has been working with researchers at Baylor College of Medicine to study the elephant herpes virus. In the last several years, six baby Asian elephants born at Houston Zoo have died from the virus. Now researchers think they have found a better test.
At just four months old, infant elephant Baylor – a member of one of the most screened herds of elephants in North America – is already helping combat the disease. ‘By the time they get sick, it’s too late,’ says Dr Lauren Howard, the zoo’s associate veterinarian. ‘That’s why with our testing with Baylor we’re able to diagnose the problem before it’s even clinically apparent.’
It was following the death of another baby elephant, Mac, who died in 2008, that the zoo paired up with Baylor College of Medicine. Their goal was to develop a way to detect the virus before elephants got sick. The solution they found was to use not just blood samples, but fluid from the elephants’ trunks and their tears to catch it quicker. Since the collaboration began, researchers say they have gained a whole new understanding of the virus, learning that it’s not as rare as once thought. ‘What we’re learning from all these tests is that having herpes virus in the system appears to be somewhat normal for a lot of elephants, if not all of them,’ says Dr Howard.
And it’s that understanding that has zoos across America excited. Many have already shipped samples to Baylor College to test their animals. They’re monitored just like little Baylor, who’s offering a lot of hope. ‘It’s really significant. It’s research that is going to help elephants all over the world,’ says Steve Feldman of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. ‘Zoos and other facilities around the world are looking forward to this research and testing, and it’s going to make a difference for elephants everywhere.’
Living Coasts, Torquay, Devon, U.K.
The eyesight of marine creatures is crucial – which is why Living Coasts often calls on the expertise of veterinary ophthalmologist Jim Carter. Jim treated South American fur seal Grace for a corneal ulcer in 2008. Among his recent patients was a male puffin with a poorly eye. An abnormal layer of cells – including salt crystals – had built up on the surface of the eye. This was ‘debrided’ – dead material removed – to encourage healing, and the bird is doing really well.
Jim also treated a female penguin with a deep ulcer in the cornea of her left eye. A special medical ocular tissue glue was applied to seal it in the same way we would put a sticking plaster on a cut. ‘She is eating well and taking medication,’ says head keeper Lois Rowell. ‘Her recuperation will take longer, but she is on the road to recovery.’
Living Coasts is home to over 400 birds, 250 fish, 12 invertebrates and five mammals, which adds up to over 1,200 eyes to care for – although, despite their name, the four-eyed fish have only two eyes each! (Four-eyed fish float with the upper half of the eye in air and the lower half in water: the two halves are divided by a band of tissue and the eye has two pupils, connected by part of the iris.)
Eyes do not vary that much between terrestrial and aquatic species, but there are differences. Penguins, for example, can see a greater range of colours than humans. Many marine mammals have relatively large eyes to make up for the decrease in light underwater. Their eyes are cushioned from high water pressure at depth by a layer of fat. In addition, sea birds can be very aggressive towards each other, which can lead to eye injuries.
‘There are practical challenges associated with treating marine species,’ says Ian Sayers, Jim’s partner at the Abbotskerswell Veterinary Centre. ‘Eye medication can get washed away when they enter the water, but keeping them on dry land for the period of treatment can be stressful for them. Marine mammals are difficult to anaesthetise and a thorough ocular examination often requires an anaesthetic. Water quality is important – fish can develop eye problems if the quality is poor, which is why the filtration system at Living Coasts is so vital. Birds have a well-developed third eyelid for extra protection. This nictitating membrane has a very strong action – sometimes we have to anaesthetise them in order to give a full examination. Administering the anaesthetic can be tricky: if you are not careful, sea birds can enter a dive reflex which suppresses breathing, which is not ideal!’
Loro Parque, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Some changes have been completed in the park’s lory aviaries. Previously there were 48 aviaries, each showing just a single pair of each species; but we have now created seven big aviaries, which show the same number of birds as before, but in groups. These enclosures now house birds usually separated according to their species and size, matching each group of species that get on well together. In the first aviary we have Chalcopsitta lories and dusky lories (Pseudeos), followed by the Lorius lories and the red lories (Eos). The fourth aviary is reserved for the Charmosyna lories, followed by two aviaries which include the big species complex of Trichoglossus. The last aviary houses all the small birds from the following groups: collared lories (Phigys), Vini, Glossopsitta, Oreopsittacus and Neopsittacus lories, and the hanging-parrots (Loriculus).
The very naturalistic aviaries have an artificial cliff, in which small openings lead to the concealed nest-boxes. Extensive vegetation gives viewers the impression that they are observing the lories in the wild. The most beautiful effect, however, is provided by the lories themselves, because the available space to fly and to play, for these birds which are always moving, has been expanded tremendously, and moreover the interactions between the different species contribute to the entertainment and health of the birds. They have been very peaceful, and we expect that with this aviary size the future coexistence of different species of lories will work perfectly.
The lories have been breeding very well this year – by August, nearly twice as many chicks had been ringed as last year at the same time. Among the 25 types of lory successful so far in 2010, we should mention three red-and-blue lories (Eos histrio), eight Fergusson Island lories (Lorius hypoinochrous devittatus), five collared lories (Phigys solitarius) and two Mount Apo lories (Trichoglossus johnstoniae), all of them very important results in the effort to establish self-sustaining breeding lines. These species are very rare in breeding centres, and the red-and-blue and Mount Apo lories are threatened in the wild.
A surprising event this year was the parent-rearing of two Ouvéa parakeets (Eunymphicus cornutus uvaeensis). Previously, we always had to rear the young birds by hand because they were not fed by their parents. We hope this great success will continue in the coming years.
By the end of August, 1,006 young parrots had been banded, a better result than the previous year. As in any collection, though, there are disappointments as well as surprising successes. For example, last year we had no young hawk-headed parrots (Deroptyus accipitrinus), but this year we can already report six chicks. It is particularly gratifying that our successful breeding pair of palm cockatoos started breeding again, although later than last year. Currently, the chick from the first clutch is about three weeks old and growing very well in our Baby Station, while the female has once again laid an egg, which is also fertile.
This year we are testing a new breeding method with our thick-billed parrots (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha). We have put eight individuals in a communal aviary measuring 20 m by 12 m and 3.5 m high. The idea is to use the colony to stimulate breeding. The nest-boxes were quickly occupied and the first pair has started to breed. Given that this species is known as a colony breeder in the wild, we do not want to interfere now and will wait some time to see whether this breeding system also works for us. In September 2009 the inauguration took place of one of the largest free-flight aviaries in Europe, named ‘Katandra Treetops’. This is an aviary for birds – and particularly parrots – from Australia and Asia. The walk-through aviary is 15 metres high at some points, and takes the visitors above the canopy of the trees that grow in this huge space. Trees which have been growing for decades surround the aviary with its 17- to 28-metre-high pylons and give Katandra Treetops a special and unique atmosphere, taking the visitors directly into the natural habitat of the animals.
About 150 birds inhabit the giant aviary, about 100 of them belonging to the parrot family. In particular the lories, cockatoos, eclectus parrots and Australian parakeets in all their colourful splendour astonish all the visitors. The bird population is supplemented by selected species from the same habitats, such as emus, herons, swans, several species of pigeon, Bali mynahs, masked lapwings and pheasants. After one year, we can now draw up the first balance-sheet. The coexistence of such different species of birds cannot be completely predicted in advance, so we have had to gain experience on what works or not. The aviary is large enough for there to be sufficient alternatives for all the residents, and they coexist perfectly. Only a pair of laughing kookaburras had to be moved to another aviary, because they suddenly started reacting aggressively to our lories. Some parrots had to be removed from the aviary, but for very different reasons: for example, our Moluccan and Ducorps’s cockatoos became so unafraid of the visitors that several earrings were removed. This was not acceptable, so the ‘thieves’ were put back into the aviaries where they lived previously. (We now have Major Mitchell’s and palm cockatoos in the aviary instead.) A couple of Edwards’s lories were also intrusive, always landing on the heads of the visitors. They were not dangerous, but the visitors did not know this and were frightened, so these birds also had to be replaced.
Now everything has settled down and two keepers are always available in the aviary during opening times to assure a smooth process. After one year, we can see a very positive result and can declare that the big effort was worthwhile.
Madrid Zoo, Spain
On 1 November last year a pair of the highly endangered Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti) arrived at the zoo. The birds came from a breeding centre of the Spanish Environment Ministry, and will be kept on breeding loan to be shown as flagship specimens for educational purposes, and in the hope of the first captive breeding success with the species. These are currently the only Spanish imperial eagles that can be seen in any zoo worldwide, although they are being kept out of visitors’ sight during their acclimatisation period, which will last for several weeks.
These eagles are part of the species’ captive-breeding stock, established more than a decade ago by the Spanish government as part of an ambitious conservation and recovery plan. The female had originally been taken from a nest, while the male had been lead-poisoned.
The species is rebuilding in the wild, currently with more than 250 breeding pairs, most in central Spain. Conservation measures taken years ago (new protected areas, poison eradication, modification of power lines, education campaigns, breeding support, etc.), have resulted in better chick survival and a consistent population recruitment and growth.
In 2006, a cooperation agreement was signed between the Spanish Environment Ministry and the Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AIZA), of which Madrid Zoo is a member, to take
advantage of the zoos’ potential to spread conservation information and work with captive animal populations as well as linking ex situ and in situ conservation. The agreement emphasised cooperation with regard to Iberian native fauna, the final goal being to spread the conservation message to the public, together with the captive management of Iberian endangered species.
Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch, New Zealand
In October two young tuataras (aged six and seven) were transferred from Peacock Springs (Christchurch) to Orana Wildlife Park. The transfer took place to enhance Orana’s tuatara presentation, where keepers hold the animals whilst giving a conservation-based talk to visitors. The two arrivals take the park’s population to twelve animals (two reside at our sister attraction, Southern Encounter Aquarium and Kiwi House).
‘We are committed to providing the best possible advocacy opportunities about New Zealand’s native wildlife,’ says Tara Atkinson, Orana’s Head Keeper of Native Fauna, ‘and the tuatara presentation enables us to raise the profile of native animals in general. The transfer of the two animals is particularly important considering younger animals are more suited to being handled, making for a better presentation. It also means we will have five tuataras appearing in the presentations, which takes the pressure off each individual animal.’
The tuatara presentations run from October to March, as the animals head into their burrows over winter and their metabolism slows down (they do not actually hibernate). Visitors love seeing these special New Zealand native reptiles up close, and we are able to convey key conservation messages, such as the need to control predators, keep pets inside at night and keep dogs on a leash.
Orana is involved in the managed breeding programme for tuataras as a ‘holder’ of the species: this means that the park holds the species in an advocacy role and will send its animals to other institutions for breeding purposes if required.
Ouwehands Zoo, Rhenen, the Netherlands
The zoo is calling on the services of an Olympic gymnast to teach its orang-utans how to swing through the trees. In the animals’ improved exhibit they will be able to climb up one tree screened from the public to reach an outdoor enclosure with seven other ten-metre-high trees. These seven trees provide no possibility for the apes to come back down to the ground. A special lift will bring fruit and other food to them at the top of the enclosure, and the intention is to allow the primates to swing from tree to tree in an outdoor setting above the viewing public – but the animals appear to have lost the knack of it.
Epke Zonderland, who competed in the high bar event at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, said the apes are probably a little afraid of the new situation. ‘I hope they will be relaxed enough to copy me – I have no experience with apes,’ he told a Dutch radio station. He will use a school playground-type installation to climb to the top of the enclosure, while the orang-utans will need to climb the trees. The experiment is open to public viewing.
Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, U.K.
The zoo is to become a temporary home for a large collection of reptiles and amphibians from a breeding centre dedicated to helping Madagascan fauna. The arrival of the collection – 17 species including over 120 frogs as well as snakes, geckos and chameleons – means Paignton will have the largest collection of Malagasy species in the U.K. The animals – destined for Endangered Madagascar, a wildlife conservation centre that is being built in Bath – will be housed in the zoo’s new Amphibian Ark species rescue and reintroduction centre.
‘This is an outstanding collection,’ says Mike Bungard, Paignton’s Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates. ‘We are helping out Endangered Madagascar by housing them temporarily and Endangered Madagascar are helping us by sharing expertise and providing us with the chance to work with some of the world’s rarest frogs. We can learn husbandry techniques and perhaps even breed some of them.’
‘It’s a great chance to propagate some rare amphibians using Paignton Zoo’s new state-of-the-art centre,’ says Adrian Fowler, Endangered Madagascar’s veterinary director. ‘This is a real collaborative effort.’ The collection includes over 120 frogs, including the Critically Endangered golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca), the green mantella (M. viridis), the yellow mantella (M. crocea) and the blue-legged mantella (M. expectata), which are all classed as Endangered. Mantellas are small, brightly-coloured frogs only found on Madagascar: their iridescent colours reflect their poisonous nature. The splendid mantella (M. pulchra), the Madagascan mantella (M. madagascariensis) and the green burrowing frog (Scaphiophryne marmorata) are all classed as Vulnerable.
There are also three reptile species in the collection – Madagascan tree boa (Sanzinia madagascariensis), Standing’s day gecko (Phelsuma standingi) and panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis). Paignton Zoo is also taking charge of four common tenrecs (Tenrec ecaudatus) which will be the only ones on public display in the country.
Sacramento Zoo, California, U.S.A.
A first in the zoo’s 83-year history, a giant anteater was born on 9 March 2010. A second baby was born a few hours later, but died shortly after birth. The birth of twin giant anteaters is rare and has been recorded only a few times in zoos, with only one pair ever surviving to adulthood.
The survival rate of newborns of this species is increased in captivity but complications can still occur. The surviving infant was taken to the Dr Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital when animal care staff determined it required medical attention. It was slowly warmed to a normal body temperature and handfed in an incubator overnight. As its mother has successfully raised two other infants and was still showing maternal behaviors, the staff felt the infant had its best chance being raised by its mother, so less than 24 hours later the two were reunited. Close observations through a closed-circuit video feed showed the pair to be responding well.
San Diego Wild Animal Park, California, U.S.A.
Four Chinese dholes (Cuon alpinus lepturus) were born at the park on 11 January to a pair of first-time parents, Anastasia and Lucius. This is the third successful birth of this endangered species at the park. In fact, Anastasia was in the second litter of dhole pups, born in 2004. She was paired with Lucius after his 2009 arrival from The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio. The park is now home to 6.3 dholes. Cameras installed in the den gave keepers a view of the pups from birth. Normally, seeing pups at this young age is not possible, as this species is very shy and parents do a good job of keeping the pups out of view for several weeks. Typically the mother will move the litter a few days after birth, so several additional den options are provided.
In dhole society, both parents are involved in the rearing of pups, and this group was no exception. Lucius would come to the keeper to get fed and return to Anastasia in the den. When she begged for food from him, he regurgitated. Once the pups start eating meat, both parents feed them and also cache some for later.
Seven weeks after birth, the pack could be seen playing together outside. The pups climb on anything they can, with their father being their favorite climbing toy. Lucius and Anastasia are always on alert, signaling to the group to hide at a moment’s notice. Two of the male pups are very brave, stalking keepers as they clean. The parents are forced to keep up with them and rarely get a break.
Chinese dholes are found in central and eastern Asia and India. Wild populations have been fragmented due to destruction of habitat, loss of associated prey and disease. They live in highly organized packs, usually with more males than females. Typically the dominant male and female are the sole breeders. Dholes are unique within the dog family in that they have one less lower set of molars, allowing quicker or easier consumption of prey items. Also, they have six or seven pairs of mammary glands rather than the five pairs found in other dog species.
Santiago Zoo, Chile
After the establishment of a memorandum of understanding between the Latin American Zoo and Aquarium Association (ALPZA) and EAZA in 2005, an initiative was taken together by ALPZA and the EAZA Penguin TAG to study the possibility of setting up a managed population of Humboldt penguins in South American zoos, in order to promote the establishment of a solid captive population as a platform for future in situ conservation actions.
The captive population of the species in the ALPZA zoos is very small, while that of the relevant EEP is considerably larger, exceeding 1,200 individuals. So ALPZA and the EEP agreed to launch a cooperative scheme in which birds which are surplus to EEP requirements would be sent out to South America. The goal is to establish demographically balanced and genetically healthy breeding colonies that can be permanently kept in several zoos in the region, as a managed meta-population under the supervision of the ALPZA breeding programme coordinators. The final aim is to produce birds which could eventually be transferred back to the wild in order to reinforce existing in situ populations.
With this in mind, ALPZA started a survey process to research and update existing colony data, in size and husbandry procedures. At the same time, a general request was sent out to all institutions to invite them to take part in the project, and EAZA penguin husbandry guidelines have also been distributed. The EEP selected a total of 20 (11.9) birds from two European collections. In the selection process, welfare, genetics, demographics and logistics were considered. Santiago Zoo has taken the lead in the project and the programme kicked off on 3 June with the arrival of 12 (8.4) juvenile Humboldt penguins from Beauval Zoo in France. Another group of eight (3.5) is expected from Villars-les-Dombes in order to balance the sex ratio and maximize reproductive chances.
The birds arrived early in the morning at Santiago airport. They had no problems due to the trip and were in good physical condition. After customs procedures, they were transferred to the national zoo, where they were put into their new enclosure for habituation. It was closed to the public, so that the birds could adapt to their new facility. Their behaviour was closely monitored: they were very curious, exploring their area. During the following days they were increasingly confident in their explorations, very active and showing a strong appetite. During their second week, wing bands were put in place to visually identify them.
Continuing with the collaboration programme, in the near future at least five more Latin American zoos will receive Humboldt penguins from Europe and establish stable breeding colonies, making this a first step towards conservation of the species in one of the countries where it can be found in the wild.
Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna, Austria
In late August a giant panda cub was born at the zoo. It had been conceived naturally, something which has only occurred once before in Europe. This first occurrence was with the same pair, male Long Hui and female Yang Yang: in 2007 they produced the panda cub Fu Long, a brother of the new baby. At the end of 2009 Fu Long was transferred to China, where he now lives in a panda sanctuary.
Female pandas are only able to conceive for two to three days a year. Despite the bad weather during these days, the pair mated several times, and the baby was born after a five-month gestation period. Yang Yang and her baby are staying in a maternity enclosure, which she can leave to eat and drink. Zoo visitors can follow what happens in the enclosure – there are cameras, and short films are made regularly that can be seen on television screens.
To ensure the food supply for the giant pandas, bamboo has been planted in several places at Schönbrunn. Most of the bamboo is purchased elsewhere, but the zoo’s plants can be used when deliveries are delayed.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
The zoo is becoming the foremost center for kiwi research and reproduction in the United States. For 60 million years, kiwis roamed freely over the islands of New Zealand. No longer. Deforestation drastically decreased their numbers, and stoats, introduced from Europe to control rabbits, kill around 70% of kiwi chicks. As a result, kiwis are at risk of dying out. Brown kiwis (Apteryx australis), the species at the zoo, are classified as endangered.
The zoo has long been committed to kiwi conservation. In 1975, we became the first zoo outside New Zealand to hatch a kiwi chick. Our next chicks, brothers named Manaia and Koa, hatched in 2006 and 2008. Hiri, a female, hatched this past March. That was big news, for there are few female kiwis in captivity. Yet another female, not yet named, hatched on 15 June.
The zoo’s kiwi population grew again this summer when Kathy Brader, long-time keeper and kiwi expert, brokered a rare deal in which New Zealand exported five of its iconic birds. One went to San Diego Wild Animal Park, two are slated for Frankfurt Zoo, and two will live at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia. This pair’s arrival ceremony also launched SCBI’s new kiwi breeding center, with room for six breeding pairs. SCBI scientists hope to discover the intricacies of kiwi breeding behavior. Artificial insemination has never been attempted with kiwis, and the zoo wants to pioneer the technique. Researchers are also curious about what makes a successful breeding pair, since kiwis are predominantly monogamous and the female decides whether a potential mate is suitable. Cameras will help scientists observe how the birds interact and select partners.
Another goal of SCBI’s kiwi research is to investigate whether the birds engage in scent marking. Scientists suspect they do, for the nocturnal birds have large territories and poor eyesight. Yet this has never been confirmed. Scent marking and a developed sense of smell are uncommon in birds, and proof of olfactory activities might help researchers understand the stranger aspects of kiwi behavior.
Additional research into stress levels will help with general management of the species in captivity. Scientists hope to learn whether being on exhibit and the size of enclosures contribute to stress.
Kiwis are far from being out of danger in the wild and have only bred a few times outside of New Zealand. Thanks to the work of dedicated individuals and some scientific innovation, however, their future is looking brighter.
Walsrode World Bird Park (Weltvogelpark Walsrode), Germany
The breeding of tanagers is a relatively rare occurrence and these birds are becoming more and more uncommon in aviculture. However, the main reason for the scarcity of good breeding results probably lies in lack of attention to the birds’ needs. Far too often tanagers are kept in mixed-species groups where quarrels arise with other birds, but they do best when they are on their own, kept in pairs or with other bird groups that do not cause disturbance.
The azure-headed – or blue-necked – tanager (Tangara cyanicollis) has been regularly kept at Walsrode since the beginning of the park, but until recently the species had bred only in 1994 and 2001. They have mostly been kept in the Paradise Hall in pairs or small groups, either in aviaries or in the large tropical free-flight section. Frequently they have been kept in the company of other tanager species such as golden, paradise and masked tanagers.
In the wild the azure-headed tanager is one of the few tanager species that has been studied in some detail. They have a fairly large distribution in western and central South America, principally in open scrubland and forest edges, but have also adapted well to secondary habitat and are frequently found in gardens. They are fairly abundant within their habitat and are not currently under threat. They most frequently live in pairs, but single birds or family groups are also encountered. During feeding in a fruiting tree they may gather with other species for a short while. Observations suggest that they are mainly fruit-eaters, but their stomach contents reveal that they also consume considerable quantities of insects, particularly caterpillars. Most reliable data on their breeding biology originate from captive birds. According to the literature they usually lay two eggs: incubation takes around 15 days and the chicks stay in the nest for another 20 days. After fledging the parents continue to feed the young for another three weeks.
Only a few zoos keep small tanager species although, thanks to their vivid colours, they are very popular with both the general public and specialist visitors. Currently azure-headed tanagers are only bred sporadically by a few zoos and some private breeders, and their numbers are far from sufficient to build up a sustainable population.
Once our current pair – an older male and a very young captive-bred female – had been established in 2009, they were given an aviary on their own, but for the first year the birds did not show any signs of reproductive activity. It was very difficult to determine the quality of the pair-bonding, as tanagers typically show very few obvious signs of affection, such as preening. The two did, however, keep in touch with each other through subtle contact-calls , making us hope that they would indeed be suitable breeders.
The following year the pair were moved to an aviary in the Paradise Hall. Here they shared their 10-m2 indoor accommodation with a pair of pink-headed fruit doves (Ptilinopus porphyreus) and a pair of harlequin quails (Coturnix delegorguei). Only a few weeks after their transfer the pair started nest-building together in early April. During this period the male occasionally showed some display, in particular lowering his wings and arching his back to show off his colours to the female for a few seconds at a time; his song, however, was not particularly noticeable. Otherwise the pair paid little attention to each other; at best they could occasionally be seen to follow each other around in the aviary.
The nest was placed in an open bamboo nesting basket with a diameter of 12 cm, located in a small fig tree about a metre above the ground. The material used consisted mainly of different plant fibres, including coconut fibre and fine aerial roots of the figs. They also used small amounts of mammal hairs and moss. Only the female was observed to be incubating and she scarcely left the nest. The pair regularly made a detour around the nesting tree so as not to reveal the location of the nest. Two eggs were laid, and after 14 days of incubation the parents were observed to be more nervous than normal. A few days later a begging sound revealed the presence of chicks. After approximately two weeks of nestling time the male started to carry nesting material around, apparently looking for another nesting site. Just short of three weeks after hatching the two chicks fledged, staying on the ground for the first day. At this point the fruit doves sharing the aviary suddenly and surprisingly became so aggressive towards the tanager chicks that they had to be removed; unfortunately, one of the chicks succumbed to the related stress. Within a few days the remaining chick was perching in the open, mostly waiting in a particular location to be fed. A week later it actively pursued the nearest parent, begging for food. During the nestling period both parents fed the chicks and were themselves offered fresh food by the keepers, initially six times a day and two weeks later four times a day. After fledging the male fed the chick slightly more frequently than the female: at this point they were offered fresh food three times a day. Four weeks or so after fledging the chick was no longer fed by the parents and was removed from the aviary. After a few weeks the pair showed renewed interest in the previous nest site and refurbished the nest a little before starting a second clutch. Again two eggs were laid and hatched. The two clutches were exactly 56 days apart.
The tanagers’ main diet consists of various fruits, banana and papaya being particularly favoured. A pelleted hill mynah diet (manufacture by Versele Laga) soaked in fruit juices is readily taken and was also fed to the young. The birds are also given a high-quality dried insect food that is mixed with small amounts of ground beef heart and meat from day-old chicks as well as finely grated carrots. The main live food is freshly-shed mealworms that are still soft and easily digestible. Water seems to be particularly important to the birds – they are frequently observed drinking or bathing, often from wet leaves.
Wilhelma Zoological and Botanical Garden, Stuttgart, Germany
The ribboned seadragon (Haliichthys taeniophorus) began to appear in some public aquariums a few years ago. Like seahorses and pipefish, it is a member of the syngnathid family. It can grow up to 30 cm long, its golden-greenish colour is quite charming and the numerous skin appendages give this beautiful, charismatic fish an absolutely unique appearance.
The ribboned seadragon lives in the shallow tropical waters (coastal reefs and sea-grass areas) around Irian Jaya and the northern and western coasts of Australia. Whether it is a common species or a rare one is not known – a literature search reveals little about this mysterious fish. It has no IUCN status, but neither does it appear on the lists of wholesalers (fortunately, perhaps).
In 2005 a few specimens arrived at the Dallas World Aquarium [see IZN 55 (4), 240–241]. Our experienced colleagues in Dallas were successful in breeding the species, and in April 2008 ten little ribboned seadragons from the Dallas breeding programme arrived at Wilhelma. Husbandry for this species proved to be easier than for leafy or weedy seadragons: H. taeniophorus is happy with a 2,000-litre tank, filled with 25°C artificial seawater and decorated with soft corals and algae, and will accept live or frozen mysid shrimps as food. They are not aggressive towards each other and start mating at the age of approximately six months. As is common practice in this family, the male carries the eggs in a brood pouch under his tail. In August 2008 one of our males gave birth to about 120 young. Newborn ribboned seadragons are about 2 cm long and still have a caudal fin. They feed on freshly-hatched Artemia after just one day, and grow up to 4 cm within ten days. Unfortunately, however, we lost the whole brood due to a technical accident.
Although there’s no information yet about how threatened this species might be, we assume that life is as hard for them as for their syngnathid relatives. Therefore we have tried repeatedly to breed them – so far, unfortunately, in vain. We lost some of our adults due to gas bubble problems, and, as of now, the rest are mating but not reproducing. A second shipment from Dallas brought more ribboned seadragons to Europe – now they are also exhibited in Hull and in Berlin, but unfortunately also with no breeding results.
The FAITAG (Fish and Aquatic Invertebrate TAG) is monitoring threatened aquatic species and is managing some species in breeding programmes according to the EAZA approach for birds and mammals. Initial experience was gained with ESBs for the zebra shark, blue-spotted ray and European seahorses. As some members of the syngnathid family are already managed in programmes by FAITAG, the ribboned seadragon might be a suitable species for another try – as soon as the population in Europe is big enough and ready for regular breeding. The aim is certainly to create a self-supporting population in Europe.
But why all this effort? Because weedy and leafy seadragons are gorgeous species which up to now have not reproduced in Europe and therefore have to be constantly imported for display – that’s not only frustrating but also expensive. I think that the ribboned seadragon is, due to husbandry reasons and possible breeding success, a better candidate for public aquariums than the ‘leafies’ or ‘weedies’.
The ribboned seadragon is a charismatic species and therefore a perfect ambassador for the fragile reef ecosystem. Visitors just love them, and will listen to all the stories this fish can tell about the threatened world under water.
News in brief
The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is involved in a project headed by researchers at Bioparque la Reserva in Cota, Colombia, the aim of which is to ensure the survival of the only known mountain coati (Nasuella olivacea) ever held in captivity. The small carnivore was confiscated by local environmental authorities and is currently in quarantine at the park, where experts from Durrell have been supporting local conservationists who, through studies of this individual, hope to add relevant information to the limited data available on this elusive species.
Two onagers (Equus onager) were born in late June and early July at The Wilds, a 10,000-acre (4,000-ha) conservation facility in Cumberland, Ohio, U.S.A. The foals, the first of this species ever produced through artificial insemination, were the result of a two-year study involving experts from The Wilds and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia. Fewer than 700 onagers are thought to survive in the wild.