Posts Tagged ‘Quarters for Conservation’

Conservation On-Site: The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog

by | January 29th, 2014

As you visit Oakland Zoo this winter and spring you may notice that the animals and projects we are supporting at our Quarters for Conservation booth in Flamingo Plaza have changed.   I would like you to pay special attention to the developing partnership with the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog project.   This project teams up Oakland Zoo with San Francisco State University in bringing awareness to and supporting the recovery of this critically endangered species that is found right here in the mountains of California.

Yellow-legged_frog_Point_Reyes

Once one of the most numerous species found in their alpine habitat in the Sierra Nevada, Transverse, and Peninsular ranges they are now one of the rarest despite this habitat being found in some of the most well-managed and inaccessible areas of the state.    During some of the initial research looking into this decline the focus was on the impact and removal of game fish that were introduced to their alpine habitats, such as trout.   The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog evolved in a habitat where such efficient predators were not common and the eggs, tadpoles, and frogs themselves became easy prey.  With the management and removal of these introduced fish species some areas showed rapid recovery of frogs.    However, some did not, and in fact the overall population continued to decline.    The emerging disease known as the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) was found to be the cause of this continued decline and was attacking the frogs during one of their most sensitive transitions in life, the one between tadpole and juvenile life stages.    The chytrid fungus works by attacking the keratin in the skin of juvenile and adult frogs preventing them from being able to use their skin to respirate and exchange water leading to their deaths, wiping out whole populations.   For some reason the disease does not affect the tadpoles of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, but it will remain with them through the several years they spend as a tadpole.    This makes the tadpoles, along with several other frog species that are not affected, a means to not only infect their own kind with this deadly fungus, but to make it almost impossible to eliminate from the environment.

With this revelation the focus to save the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog changed to not only manage and remove non-native fish, but to support the frogs in gaining resistance to the chytrid fungus during this transition in their life.   The support comes in the form of a bacterium called Janthinobacterium lividum.    The bacteria was discovered on the skin of a fellow amphibian, the red-backed salamander, and later discovered to also be present on the skins of Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog in varying levels.   This bacterium has the unique feature of having anti-fungal properties and when found in greater numbers on amphibian skin can help to increase resistance to the chytrid fungus.    Now, in steps Dr. Vance Vredenburg and the San Francisco State University Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog Project.   Dr. Vredenburg has been pioneering skin bio augmentation treatments using Janthinobacterium lividum to support juvenile frogs that are being rereleased or will be re-released into their habitats in both Northern and Southern California.     Through a partnership with San Diego Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, and soon Oakland Zoo, San Francisco State University is hoping to tip the balance for these frogs by collecting them as eggs from their habitat, hatching them in captivity, raise them to juvenile frogs, treating them with this anti-chytrid bacterium, and release them back into their natal ponds and streams.   It is hoped that not only will this prove to provide long term resistance to chytrid, but will be naturally passed between frogs as they naturally congregate together in the shallows off the banks of the rivers and lakes they live.

If you are interested in learning more about the plight of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and supporting them as well during their most vulnerable transitions you can join us on Wednesday February 5th at 6:30 p.m. in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium at our Conservation Speaker Series event when Dr. Vance Vredenburg joins us to discuss his work with the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and the implications his research has to save this and potentially numerous other amphibian species worldwide.

 by Victor Alm, Zoological Manager

 

Stepping Through ZAM: Day 7, Savannah Module

by | April 5th, 2012

Franette Armstrong is taking us with her on her adventures in Zoo Ambassador Training.

 

 

 

Elephantasia…. The condition of being delirious with love for Elephants after tonight’s two-hour lecture on the world’s largest land mammals. Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research has been working with Elephants for over 25 years and played a major role in changing the way zoos take care of them today…and in the near future. We’ll be seeing the results of that on Saturday.

Colleen Kinzley, a recognized expert in humane Elephant care.

But first, let me introduce you to some things you might not know about these massive walking wonders and see if I can make you fall under their spell the way Colleen did for us.

 

 

Major Bigness

Elephants have huge heads, as we can see, but their skulls are light because they are honeycombed with open sinuses. The lower jaw is very dense, however, to support their heavy trunks.

Inside that skull is the largest brain of all mammals. It weighs about eleven pounds but is only about one-third developed at birth, so it has enormous learning potential, like humans do. Most animals are born with all the brain connections they will have their entire lives, while Elephants and humans learn as they go, create memories, and act on those memories. It might not be true that an Elephant never forgets, but we know for sure they are capable of creating vast memory banks over their 60-70 year lifespan.

An Elephant head is a major marvel. Photo credit Steve Goodall

The heart of an Elephant weighs up to 40 pounds. Their huge kidneys make about 13 gallons of urine daily! One hundred feet of intestines only absorb 40-60% of the nutrients they eat, which is one reason they eat constantly. In the wild, Elephants forage up to 17 hours a day. Here at the Zoo our Keepers feed them hourly from dawn ‘til nearly midnight and then put them to bed with snacks.

Major Specialization

We have already learned that Elephants are Keystone animals in their environments: If they disappear, the entire ecosystem around them is likely to collapse. One reason for this is that they bulldoze everything in sight, clearing young trees from the Savannah so that grasses can grow and grazing hoofstock will have food.

But eating branches all day long requires special chewing molars and Elephants get six sets of four over a lifetime. A single tooth can weigh about five pounds. Go lift a 5-lb barbell and imagine having a bunch of those in your head. Each oblong tooth starts in the back of the mouth and gradually moves forward until it breaks off and gets pushed out by another. This “teething” goes on for about 50 years!

This Elephant lower jawbone shows two molars. Photo credit Honolulu Zoo

 

Elephants also have huge ivory tusks, as we know. The tusks are extended incisor teeth made up of calcium phosphate soft enough to be carved, and that is the root of all their troubles. As useful as they are for breaking branches, fighting and digging, these tusks have led to more elephant deaths from poaching than any natural cause.

We only see 2/3 of the tusks as the rest is embedded in the skull. They can grow about 7 inches a year and weigh 130 pounds each, but if they break, the broken end doesn’t grow back and a break can lead to a jaw infection because the tusk is full of nerves and veins like our teeth.

Since Elephants don’t have chainsaws or shovels, their highly evolved trunks take the place of tools for reaching, digging, and clever manipulation of anything they want to turn into food, or tools. Their trunks are an extension of their nose and upper lip and contain over 150,000 muscle parts.

Elephants are either right- or left-tusked the way most people have a dominant hand. You can tell which is the dominant tusk because it will be shorter and smoother from the extra use. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

 

 

Elephants can breathe underwater, using their trunks as a snorkel, and the trunks become showers, shovels and gentle hands to care for their calves, themselves and each other.

African Elephants have a “two-fingered” trunk unlike Asian Elephants which only have one finger. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

 

 

 

 

These giants tred lightly on feet that walk like cats and dogs—on the balls of their toes—which are protected by a spongey pad and thick nails. When they step down their feet expand and when they lift them they get smaller, so this is why, as heavy as they are, they don’t get stuck in their mudbaths. Those feet, capable of holding up a 9000-pound animal, are very  important and our Keepers take foot care very seriously, giving each of our Elephants a pedicure every single day.

Elephants can stand up all day long without getting tired because they can lock their leg joints so their muscles stay relaxed. Though they can’t run, hop, or gallop, they can move nearly 25 miles mph in a gait that takes three of their feet off the ground at one time.

 

Elephant feet, capable of holding up a 9000-pound animal, are very important. Our Keepers give each of our Elephants a complete pedicure every single day. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

Elephants communicate with infrasound— calls and rumbles that are so low in  frequency we can only “hear” them with electronics. These calls can travel several miles and Elephants use them to warn each other of danger (like bees and lions) and let each other know where they are.

 

Major Mating

Musth. That’s Hindu for “intoxication” and a male Elephant in musth is pretty much out of his mind with a sudden testosterone surge that can last two months or more. He’ll stop eating, rip through forests yanking out trees, fight any male that crosses his path, and concentrate only on getting every female to himself. He can lose 2000 pounds from all this excess energy.

And females actually consider these crazed musth males desirable—as mates, and as protection from the other suitors who would just as soon bug them night and day. All this works out because only the most fit males go into musth and the healthiest females get them for their mates, producing calves with the best chance of survival.

Elephant herds are nearly always made up of females and their young because males are pushed out to fend for themselves when they hit puberty and start playing too roughly with younger calves. While the females are cooperatively caring for the kids, the males battle each other for dominance and the rights to mate females from other herds. What else is new?

Major Problems

African and Asian Elephants are all that are left of their 600 now-extinct ancestors, including the Wooly Mammoth which actually lived right here in the Oakland Hills an Ice Age or two ago. Asian Elephants are highly threatened at this time and, if we don’t watch out, we could someday lose our African Elephants too.

These Elephants can live free without fear of culling in the Amboseli National Reserve in Kenya.

Ivory poachers continue to take more Elephants than any natural or accidental causes of death: Even the strongest Elephant is no match for automatic weapons, high-speed vehicles and new laws that allow much more killing.

On top of this, culling (killing) has become the solution of choice in areas where Elephants and people have different ideas about how the land is to be used.

Traditionally, Africans were nomadic people who lived harmoniously with their wild animals, but ranching and farming changed all that. Now you have a situation where 800 million people are trying to survive on land that is not that hospitable to start with. In fifty years that population will more than double and what will become of Elephants then?

This situation is similar to the near-extinction of millions of American Bison in the 1800s when barbed wire cut up their territories and gunpowder did the rest of the work. Human/animal conflicts occur everywhere, so no society can point fingers of blame. What we can do is help find alternatives before it’s too late. Projects like beehive fences are proving it doesn’t have to be an us/them proposition.

Major Efforts

Colleen, and our Zoo’s President & CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott, have led efforts here to raise over $100,000 since 1988 for the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Next time you are at the Zoo, you can use your Conservation Quarter to “vote” for this research project that is helping to protect the amazing wild Elephants of Africa.

On Saturday our class is getting an incredible treat: a visit to the Elephant barns to see our groundbreaking methods of getting Elephants to participate in their own care. More about this later.