Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

African Elephant Romance (or in scientific terms “Reproductive Strategy”)

by | February 16th, 2016

Colleen Kinzley, Founding Member Tembo Preserve & Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research Oakland Zoo

Territorial and courtship displays occur in a wide array of species. In some species, individual males have been observed to selectively favor particular behaviors and/or vocalizations, making them unique to that individual male. Male chimpanzees, for example, are known to have particular components of aggressive or territorial displays that they favor and perform more often or even to the exclusion of other display behaviors. Some have even been documented creating their own display behaviors or incorporating some unique part of their surroundings. Many song bird males create unique variations on their songs differentiating them from neighbors of the same species.

African elephants live in matriarchal societies where young males leave their family group in their early to mid-teens. During their late teens and twenties, they spend their social time in loosely formed bachelor groups. Elephants continue growing throughout their lives; males in their teens and twenties are considerably smaller than bulls in their thirties and above, so these younger males typically have little opportunity to breed. Males over 25 years of age engage in periods of sexual activity and sexual inactivity. Periods of sexual activity are simply defined as time spent with females groups. During these periods, males may or may not be found in the company of other males but are consistently seen with female family groups.

African elephants spend much of their time on the move, sometimes walking many kilometers between resources such as food, water, and shade over the course of a day or two. They are also a migratory species, sometimes moving hundreds of kilometers seasonally to take advantage of rain or other resources. For sexually active males, estrous females represent a scarce and mobile resource. Musth is a unique strategy developed by male elephants to increase their reproductive success.

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

Musth and Male Elephants

A bull is considered to be in a state of sexual inactivity when he is not keeping company with females.  In this case, he may be solitary or in the company of other bulls. Alternatively, sexually active males may or may not be in a state of musth. During musth, some individual bulls display unique behavior or behavior patterns just as males of other species are found to exhibit unique behavioral displays.

 

Characteristics of Musth

Musth is a physiological and behavioral state resulting from highly elevated testosterone levels compared to non-musth sexually inactive bulls. Musth has two outward defining characteristics: urine dribbling and the secretion of glands located in the temporal region of the head. The rate of urine dribbling, characterized by constant seepage from the retracted penis, can be variable but any amount of urine dribbling indicates that a bull is in a state of musth . From a distance, bulls in heavy musth can most easily be identified by the shiny, dark appearance to the inside of their legs, caused by the constant urine spray on their legs,

The constant seepage of urine can result in a whitish to greenish film around the opening of the penis sheath. This urine build up on the legs and sheath results in a distinct pungent odor. Musth temporal gland secretions are thick, sticky, dark in color, and have a strong odor. A bull in heavy musth may have a wide, wet, stain running from the temporal gland down to the lower jaw. Older bulls may develop very swollen temporal glands filling in the normal indentation of the skull above the temporal gland and behind the eye. These swellings increase the size of the forehead making the bull look even larger.

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Who Exhibits Musth?

The period of time in which males spend in musth lengthens as he ages and continues to grow in size age. Males may begin to show signs of musth in their mid-teens, but in these early years it may last only hours or days and the presence of a dominant male will likely inhibit musth in these younger bulls. The median age for the onset of musth is 29 years old. As males age they typically experience a longer musth period ranging from a median of 2 days for bulls 16-25years to 81 days for males 46-50 years old then declining to 54 days for males 51-60 years old. The consistency of musth periods also increases with age; for young males, their musth period is erratic, and opportunistic. They may be stimulated into musth by the presence of an estrous female then driven out of musth by the arrival of a musth male or other dominant males. As males mature, and depending on their ranking in the population, they will eventually establish a relatively predictable period of musth each year. The most dominant males in the population get the most optimal musth periods, typically during and immediately after the rainy seasons when the largest number of females come into estrous.

An older musth bull will out compete not only non-musth bulls but also younger musth bulls. In most observed matings, the bulls were over the age of 35 years and in musth. Recent genetic paternity analysis of a well –studied population confirms these observations with 74% (88/119) of the calves sired by musth bulls.

Musth is an energetically expensive condition and even the most dominant males in a population typically can only maintain musth for a few months. Musth bulls spend less time feeding, more time on the move, and more time chasing, or fighting with other males resulting in a loss of condition.

 

Female Elephants Choose Mates

Females demonstrate choice through their participation or lack thereof with a potential mate. Courtship begins with urine and genital testing; an attractive female is first followed then chased by a male suitor. Smaller and faster than most males, the female is able to out run the male if she does not chose to stand for breeding.

For females, it is advantageous to consort with musth males and they demonstrate a preference for musth males. For example, during the period of consortship with a musth male, the female is not harassed by multiple, often young, males who are also perusing her. In addition, a musth bull represents a fit male, as only older, healthy males come into musth. The increased levels of testosterone that are characteristic of the musth condition also increase the bull’s fertility by increasing his sperm count, increasing the probability of successful fertilization of the females eggs.

So for both males and females the phenomenon of musth represents an effective reproductive strategy… even if it is not suitable materials for a Hallmark Valentine’s card!

 

Learn about Birds and Save their Habitat with Golden Gate Audubon Society!

by | February 2nd, 2016

Q: What did the baby Burrowing Owl’s parents say when he wanted to go to a party in Oakland?

A: You’re not “owl’d” enough.

Seriously! Did you know Burrowing Owls (BUOW) are the only North American raptor that nests underground and may brood 4–12 eggs at a time? Mom BUOW incubates the eggs for three to four weeks while dad brings her food. After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks. The owlets fledge four weeks later and can make short flights (to Oakland, if allowed!).

My Little Cutie

Dad BUOW is also pretty smart. Instead of flying around looking for insects to feed his babies, he lays cow dung around the nest’s “front door”, which attracts insects. Dad hides just inside the front door and pops out to grab an unsuspecting insect.

Are you curious about the Burrowing Owls as well as other Bay Area imperiled birds? Oakland Zoo and Golden Gate Audubon Society are offering a special opportunity to learn more about these Bay Area birds.

DSCN2692 Black-Crowned Night Heron in Oakland in coy pose by Cindy Margulis
On Saturday, February 20, Oakland Zoo Staff, Interns, and Volunteers will partner with Golden Gate Audubon for an hour of habitat restoration. Afterwards, attendees will be treated to a bird walk with an opportunity to view some imperiled birds, including Burrowing Owls. This FREE event will take place in the morning at Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline, Oakland (time to be determined). Contact Kyla Balfour at kbalfour@oaklandzoo.org to register.

National Bison Day – November 7, 2015

by | November 3rd, 2015

On Saturday, November 7, 2015, people across the United States and Canada will be rallying to support conservation activity for Bison – North America’s largest land mammal. Their goal? Ecological restoration of vibrant Bison herds to their natural ranges in a scientific and socially responsible way, the appointment of the American Bison as our National Mammal, and establishment of the second Saturday of November as National Bison Day in perpetuity. How can you help? Vote Bison!

 

Some information about the American Bison from our partners at the Wildlife Conservation Society:

THE ICONIC BISON

Bison became a symbol of U.S. frontier culture as the massive herds inspired awe in western explorers and sustained early settlers and traders. Bison were integrally linked with the economic, physical and spiritual lives of Native Americans and were central to their sustenance, trade, ceremonies and religious rituals. Men and women from all walks of life, including ranchers, Native Americans, and industrialists, joined President Theodore Roosevelt in a monumental effort to save bison from extinction in 1905. This grassroots campaign to save bison on small refuges in Oklahoma, Montana, and South Dakota served as the world’s first successful wildlife restoration effort.

 

Bison continue to be an American icon. They are profiled on coins, depicted on the Department of the Interior’s seal and featured on logos of sports teams, businesses and academic institutions nationwide. Three states have even designated bison as their official state mammal or animal.

BISON TODAY

Bison continue to sustain and provide cultural value to Native Americans and Indian Tribes. More than 60 tribes are working to restore bison to over 1,000,000 acres of Indian lands in places like South Dakota, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Additionally, 2014 marked the historic signing of the “Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty,” establishing intertribal alliances for cooperation in the restoration of bison on Tribal/First Nations Reserves and comanaged lands within the U.S. and Canada.

 

They are also an important animal in many sectors of modern American life. Today, American Bison live in all 50 states. Herds provide enjoyment and education to millions of visitors who recreate in America’s great outdoors. Tourists eager to view both public and private bison herds contribute to the economies of rural communities. More than 2,500 privately-owned bison ranches in the U.S. are creating jobs, providing a sustainable and healthy meat source, and contributing to our nation’s food security.

VOTE BISON

Oakland Zoo is asking the public to “Vote Bison” by urging Members of Congress to co-sponsor the National Bison Legacy Act. This act would make bison the United States’ National Mammal, a symbol that will become an American icon, like the bald eagle. To Vote Bison and establish National Bison Day as a permanent day, go to: www.VoteBison.org

After voting, come to Oakland Zoo on Saturday, November 7th to get your “Vote Bison” button, and to visit our own collection of American Bison!

American_bison_k5680-1

Crazy About Bats!

by | September 27th, 2015

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Hello, fellow conservation heroes, Zena the Zookeeper here!

Hot diggity dog!  It’s Halloween again, that most fabulous, silly, little-bit-spooky, dress-up-in-funny costumes, eat-waaay-too-much-candy time of year!  I like Halloween so much that I’m having a real battle trying to figure out what great thing to talk about this month.  I mean, I’ve been batting around all kinds of ideas, but I still don’t know which to choose. Hey wait a minute…maybe I’ll talk about bats!

Bats are some of the coolest, most amazing animals on earth.  There are 1,100 different kinds, or species, of bats in the world, and they range in size from the huge Malayan Flying Fox bat with a wing span of up to 6 feet (we have those here at the Zoo), to the bumble bee bat of Thailand that is actually smaller than a thumbnail!  Not only are bats nocturnal, which is really cool in itself, but some bats even help to control insect populations by eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.  Bats are so awesome!

Here are some more fascinating facts about these beautiful, furry creatures of the night:

  1. Bats that eat fruit (like our Malayan and Island Flying Fox bats) don’t actually eat the whole fruit. They really just suck the juice out. While they are sucking the juice, they store the pulp of the fruit on the roof of their mouths.  Later, they spit out the disc of pulp, which just happens to contain fruit seeds and helps to plant more fruit trees and shrubs! Malayan_Flying_Fox_Bat If you look closely at our bats, you can sometimes see these discs of pulp lying at the bottom of their enclosure.
  2. The wings of a bat are actually its hands, and that little “claw-like” hook on its wing is really a thumb!
  3. Not all bats are blind. For example, our Malayan and Island Flying Fox bats can even see color.  That’s important because it helps them know when the fruit they eat is ripe – kinda like your mom or dad squeezes an avocado or plum to see if it is ripe.
  4. If you’ve ever wondered what the skin on a bat’s wing feels like, well, wonder no more. The wing skin feels a lot like the soft skin on our eyelids.  Imagine that!
  5. There really are vampire bats – three different species, in fact – but they mostly drink the blood of other animals, and they never sleep in a coffin or wear long black capes!

If you come out to the Zoo this month, be sure to stop by and visit our most magnificent friends, the Flying Fox bats.  You could also take yourself on a little discovery tour and see how many different kinds of nocturnal animals live here – you’ll be amazed how many there are. And don’t forget to come to Boo at the Zoo on October 24th and 25th.  Wear a costume, trick or treat for yummy goodies, and join in the Halloween Dance Party in the meadow.  This year we are even having a special family camping night to celebrate Halloween called Family Sundown Spookfari.  To find out how to register for this great overnight program or to get details about all the fun happening at Boo at the Zoo visit www.oaklandzoo.org and check out our calendar.

Hope to see you soon!

Zena the Zookeeper

Fragile Felines!

by | July 9th, 2015

world lion day3

 

Lions are the top predators within their territories; however, even they are not exempt from the pressures of the changes taking place in the world. As human encroachment into nature’s last wild places continues, the everyday struggles for lions increase. While some game parks in Africa appear to have thriving lion populations, spotting a lion in Africa outside one of these areas is increasingly rare. Without extensive human management of lion populations, these iconic cats will disappear.

Uganda Carnivore Program, located in Queen Elizabeth National Park, is one organization that is fighting to preserve African lions. Dr. Ludwig Siefert and his research assistant James use radiotracking collars to keep tabs on the small population of lions remaining in the in park. They also work with local villages to mitigate the human-lion conflicts that arise from cohabitation of lions, humans, and the cattle they both use as food.

 

world lion day2

 

Here in California, “America’s lion,” the mountain lion, continues to be a misunderstood and feared predator. However, recent legislation is beginning to positively affect mountain lions. Now, with the help of Oakland Zoo, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife may be able to relocate some mountain lions from urban areas to remote wilderness locations. Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital is approved as a temporary housing location for such mountain lions, and the veterinary staff works closely with officers when “nuisance” mountain lions are spotted.

 

world lion day4

 

On Saturday August 22, Oakland Zoo will celebrate World Lion Day with our own special Lion Appreciation Day. From lion keeper talks to lion paw prints, there will be a myriad of activities to help you appreciate and learn more about all lions! For a preview of World Lion Day, visit www.worldlionday.com

 

 

 

 

 

Big Love for Elephants with Big Life!

by | April 24th, 2015

It started with a book:  1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I was planning a trip to Kenya — my last one had been 25 years earlier — and read this:

“An Unspoiled Corner of Kenya:  Ol Donyo Wuas, Chyulu Hills. The owner and occasional resident personality, Richard Bonham chose the site for its view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Bonham himself occasionally pops up…”

Big Life, one of our Quarters for Conservation partners for 2014-15, is headquartered in the Chyulu Hills at Ol Donyo; Richard Bonham is one of the co-founders, along with photographer Nick Brandt.  Big Life protects 2 million acres of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of East Africa, encompassing portions of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Amboseli Tsavo ecosystem map
They implement the philosophy I heard about when I got there:  Wildlife Helping People.  Big Life is the largest employer of community members (predominantly Maasai) in the region, and the organization ensures that tourist revenue derived from wildlife in the ecosystem benefits the locals.

Richard Bonham grew up in Kenya, the son of a Kenya Wildlife Services ranger.  He recently received the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, and he thoroughly understands and appreciates Maasai economics and culture.

 

big life awardFor the Maasai, cattle are their wealth.  They live on semi-arid land that their cattle share with savannah grazers and browsers — elephants, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, antelopes, zebras — along with predators — lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas.  Young boys grow up herding and protecting cattle among all the resident wildlife, and they have a deep knowledge and appreciation of nature, with one exception:  lions are a traditional enemy, and when a lion kills a Maasai cow, teenage warriors retaliate — and prove their manhood — by killing a lion.

Over the last 25 years, Maasai elders — who serve as mentors for adolescents — have realized that their lion-killing tradition can’t continue.  Lions are among the iconic tourist draws, and if every Maasai warrior proved his manhood by killing a lion, tourist revenue would die with the lions.  In 2008, the elders asked Richard Bonham to brainstorm a solution with them, and together they came up with two schemes:  a predator compensation fund, from which the community partially compensates a family that loses cattle in spite of their best efforts to protect them; and the Maasai Olympics, where young men compete in traditional Maasai skills for prizes, displacing the need to kill a lion as a rite of passage.  The elders spent six months on education about the importance of the young generation in implementing a cultural change that would preserve the best of their traditions — but update their values to the realities of the 21st century.

Big Life and their partners have organized Maasai Olympics competitions in 2012 and 2014.  David Rudisha, the Maasai gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics, is a fervent supporter, and guest of honor.
2014-12-01-MaasaiWarriorJumps9.8ftduringMaasaiOlympics
During the last quarter of 2014, not one elephant, among the 2,000 that pass through, was poached in Big Life’s area of operation.  Most of the danger for elephants now lies in conflict with farmers:  elephants raid crops, or drain the water supply, potentially destroying a year’s livelihood.  Farmers retaliate by spearing the elephants.

And Big Life comes to the rescue:  a Kenya Wildlife Service vet flies to Ol Donyo when the staff spot a wounded elephant, treats the wound and sends the elephant back to the wild, hopefully wiser about where and what he chooses to eat and drink.

 

elephant down
The community around Ol Donyo now Gets It about conservation.  Big Life’s latest story:

They arrived with a just cause, eight construction workers to build a classroom. They must have wondered at all the animals, living in peace and not terrified of humans. Clearly they didn’t take the time to find out why.

And this led to a very bad decision. If no one else was eating all these animals, well then they would. They chased down a lesser kudu, an uncommon and shy antelope, and snuck the carcass into the school through a hole in a fence.

But they misjudged the people around them. The message went from a set of community eyes, via the Big Life control room, and straight to the rangers. The cooking fire wasn’t even warm by the time the ranger team arrived, and the men found themselves on their way to the police station. A bad end to their day.

Despite the on-going conflicts with elephants and predators, this is a community that has decided to conserve wildlife, and the sooner visitors get the message, the better for them.

Note: Big Life will be presenting at our annual Celebrating Elephants event on May 16th. Join us!