Vol. 54, No. 2, Summer 2015
“But why?” Any parent or teacher is familiar with those two challenging words as curiosity sets a child’s brain in motion to solve some of life’s obscurities. Working in a zoo, that same challenge comes from all age groups and frequently we ask the question ourselves as we stare at the long neck of a giraffe or the huge beak of a hornbill. The adaptations of animals are perhaps the most fascinating aspects of the natural world and they make us mere humans seem quite inferior.
So what can we learn from the adaptations of animals? New research is showing that sharks and rays are adapted to produce a staggering array of antibacterial and anti-cancer chemicals. One third of the
500 species of shark are threatened with extinction. We need sharks: they are the ocean’s top predator and when they die, so do the coral reefs. As we change climates, the oceans become more acidic and marine life is destroyed. Is it not ironic that mankind may just be destroying the species that hold the key to saving humans from medicine’s greatest challenge to date: a cure for cancer? Join us in this issue of Maagizo on a discovery of the greatest designers and inventors on Earth.
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Announcing New Director & CEO
After an extensive search and interview process that included candidates from around the country, the Sacramento Zoological Society’s Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Kyle Burks, former chief operating officer of the Denver Zoo, as the new Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Sacramento Zoo. Kyle will assume the position beginning June 15, 2015.
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Estate Planning Safari
Saturday, July 11
11 am – 12:30 pm
This free, informative seminar will navigate through a jungle of estate planning topics presented by local attorney Mark S. Drobny, California State Bar Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. Mr. Drobny is widely regarded as one of the top experts on estate planning, providing information on a variety of topics in an entertaining manner that will help you design a plan that fits your needs.
Topics will include, but are not limited to:
- Living Trusts vs. Wills
- Probate – How Can it be Avoided?
- Who Needs Durable Powers of Attorney for Financial Management and Advance Health Care Directives?
- Charitable Gift Annuities
Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Amanda Cable at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916.808.8815 by July 1st to guarantee your seat.
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The Eyes Have It
By: Meagan Edwards
Take a look around you…what do you see? The animal kingdom has many different ways of seeing things—including some we may not think of as eyes at all.
Animals like the Southern White-faced Owl and Henkel’s Leaf-tailed Gecko search for their food at night, so they need eyes that are adapted to see in the dark. Owls have eyes that allow them to see even the tiniest movement on a dark night. But even owls that can see 100 times better than humans at night have nothing on the nocturnal Leaf-tailed Gecko. They can see 350 times better than we can in dim light due to their specially adapted vertical pupils. Imagine how helpful that could be when trying to navigate around furniture in the middle of the night!
Animals that need to keep a lookout for predators can also have some remarkable eye adaptations. Grevy’s Zebras have a very interesting pupil shape – horizontal. This shape, along with the placement of their eyes on the sides of the head, gives them peripheral vision of nearly 360 degrees to keep a lookout for hungry lions. Their only blind spot is directly in front of them. Oustalet’s Chameleons, however, can see a full 360 degrees around themselves. Instead of eyelids, they have a cone-shaped piece of skin with an opening just big enough for the pupil. These cones move independently from one another, allowing chameleons to watch all around for predators and also tasty insects to eat.
The animal kingdom even has some eyes that are not really eyes. Sumatran Tigers have white spots on the back of their ears called “eye spots” which serve more than one purpose for these big cats. Since tigers are camouflaged in their natural environment, these spots help young cubs keep track of their mother as they move through the forest. They also serve as false eyes to make a tiger look larger to any potential threat approaching from behind. Next time you visit the Zoo, take a look at the eyes of the animals you see and try to imagine what you look like to them.
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From the Field
By: Leslie Field, Supervisor of Mammals
One of the many questions we are asked by Zoo guests is how the animals “adapt” to living in a zoo environment. Of all the animals at the Sacramento Zoo representing every taxa, only 10% were born in the wild. Of those animals, 37% are rescues or could not be released back into the wild due to injury or other issues that would make it difficult for them to survive on their own. For the rest of the animals, living in a zoo setting is all they have known.
So it is not really a question of how well the animals “adapt” to a zoo environment but how well we are able to make all of their lives comfortable and enriching. Toward that goal, Zookeepers work at many levels: social needs of the species and the individuals, enrichment, and habitat are just a few.
The Sacramento Zoo is involved with 55 Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs which encompass 40% of the species at the Zoo. Most of the other 60% are managed by the associated AZA Taxon Advisory Groups (TAG) for that species. One of the important jobs of SSPs and TAGs is to advise zoos in the high standard of care for those species including exhibit design, nutrition, breeding, enrichment, veterinary care, and a host of other topics.
All the animals at the Sacramento Zoo play an important role. They are ambassadors for their species from which we can all learn and then become impassioned to act toward conserving them and their habitats in the wild.
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The Whole Tooth
By: Brooke Coe
One varied and interesting element of vertebrate life is the many types of teeth, or even lack thereof, that enable animals to catch, grind, or tear their food. Each animal group has its own unique set of chompers, and certain species have developed some truly wild dental adaptations to help them survive.
A carnivore is a type of animal characterized by large shearing teeth, called carnassials, used specifically to tear meat from prey. Formed from the joining of a pre-molar and molar tooth, these carnassial teeth are fundamental in removing flesh from their food. Let’s not forget the most obvious of the carnivores’ teeth, however, the canines. A lion’s canines can be as large as 2.5 inches long, and these formidable teeth are used for killing prey and piercing meat.
Where a carnivore needs help tearing meat, an herbivore needs more assistance manipulating and breaking down plants. Many of the truly herbivorous animals have modified canine and incisor teeth and some, like giraffes, are lacking them all together. Instead, these animals have a hardened dental pad, which helps with cutting grasses and leaves, and molars in the back to grind the materials down.
Many members of the animal kingdom find themselves with reduced or even missing teeth. The Giant Anteater and other related species are completely lacking teeth. Instead, they use their long tongues and dexterous lips to pick up small insects as well as fruit that has fallen to the ground.
Birds are also completely without teeth, yet they have developed a wide array of beak specialties to counteract this. Birds of prey have sharp hooks in their beak used for tearing meat, whereas ducks and other waterfowl have ridges in the sides of their beaks to assist with sifting food from the water.
Apart from eating, teeth in the animal kingdom provide of a variety of uses, and many animals have developed adaptations to assist with daily tasks, defense, and display behaviors. Lemur species have specially-arranged incisors and premolars to better assist with combing their fur. Pigs and others have tusks used for defense, display, or food collection. Each animal species has its own unique dentition based on how it can best survive in its habitat. As you tour the Zoo see how many different adaptations you can discover
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By: Tonja Candelaria
Sharp claws would not be as useful on a giraffe as they are on a tiger, just as an Emu would have trouble with the small hands of a Straw-colored Fruit Bat. Many animals have developed specific body parts adapted to survival. Types of feet alone vary from paws with sharp claws or hands with opposable thumbs to hooves.
If your lunch depends on catching prey, it helps to have some pointy projections to help you hold on to it. A number of zoo predators rely on claws and talons to grip onto their next meal. As you’d imagine, the large cats have some sharp nails at the ends of their paws that are great for catching and holding on to prey. These cats can also extend and retract their claws on command. Birds of prey like vultures and hawks always have their talons ready. Smooth-fronted Caimans have claws in front to help grab prey in the water, with their back feet webbed for stronger swimming.
On your next visit to the Zoo, you may be surprised to see the Giant Anteater walking on the knuckles of its front feet with its nails tucked underneath to protect them. While it doesn’t snag prey with its paws, this species’ impressive claws act like a powerful shovel to dig ants and termites out of their mounds.
Grazing species throughout the Zoo have hooves. Composed of keratin, hooves are modified nails that lengthen the stride of an animal and reduce contact with the ground, boosting speed and endurance. Hoofed mammals (also known as ungulates) are commonly divided into two groups. The hoofed odd-toed ungulates, like Grevy’s Zebras, have one main hoof on each foot. Even-toed ungulates, like Red River Hogs, typically run on two hoofed toes, called cloven hooves.
Most primates have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. They use their dexterous fingers to gather food, groom or hold on to branches as they move about. Chameleons also have five toes on each foot that are highly adapted to arboreal locomotion. On each foot, the five clearly distinguished toes are fused into two fascicles, allowing them to grip tightly on to branches. Feet, paws with claws, hooves, webbing, and talons all represent the variety of animal tracks that can be found around the globe.
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Zoological Profile: Ryan Richards
Ryan Richards is a PhD candidate with George Mason University and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) – the research arm of the National Zoological Park. He is currently based in the Cantareira Region of Brazil which supplies water to half of the residents of the São Paulo metropolitan area. His research focuses on farmer responses to incentives that promote forest restoration in the watershed, and the potential for these forests to improve water quality.
I first visited the Sacramento Zoo around 1990 when I was around 6. I always loved wildlife and nature, and in addition to visiting Sacramento and Micke Grove Zoos (I was born in Stockton), I grew up in “the woods” of Calaveras and Siskiyou counties.
My professional involvement in the Zoo started while I was working on my bachelor’s degree at UC Davis. I studied wildlife biology, and a classmate who had a summer job teaching zoo camp suggested I apply. I did, and worked for Education Director Ann Geiger for two summers, writing curricula and walking campers around the zoo to learn about different species and habitats and meet some of the Zoo’s residents.
In addition to talking about wildlife, which is something I’d always found rewarding, the job also provided an opportunity to learn more about the role zoos were developing for themselves to support conservation efforts in the field. Zoo Director Mary Healy and Dr. Ray Wack were especially generous, allowing me to attend meetings with the Zoo’s Conservation Committee. Mary also suggested that I attend a new-ish conference that was being held biennially, called Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation, or ZACC.
With the benefit of hindsight, Mary’s advice had a far-reaching effect on my professional life. After several months of field research and graduation from my Master’s program, I received a job developing training courses with the Smithsonian Institution.
After two years with the Global Tiger Initiative, a fellowship became available to pursue a PhD as part of a joint program between SCBI and George Mason University. I am now working on the issues farmers face living with nature in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, one of the most biodiverse and imperiled ecoregions on the planet.
There’s still a great deal of work in front of me before the PhD is complete, but I look back on my experiences with the Sacramento Zoo as an important influence on where I am today.
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Heritage Oak Trees
The Sacramento Zoo is home to some of the city’s oldest residents; three approximately 300-year-old Valley Oak trees, also known as Heritage Oak trees, which are environmentally protected in Sacramento. The Valley Oak is the largest oak tree in California and this drought-resistant tree can grow to over 100 feet tall and live for almost 500 years. In order to protect the trees, the Sacramento Zoo has placed a fence around them. The fence impacts the space available on the Reptile House Lawn and some of the activities and events that have previously been held under the drip line of the trees.
One of the biggest concerns is the effect of foot and vehicle traffic on the roots of the trees. Compacting the earth around the tree reduces the gas exchange that is necessary for the roots to live. Also, watering under the trees can cause root rot and would aid in the demise of the majestic tree. Moving forward, the Zoo will work diligently to maintain the health of the protected oaks while also efficiently utilizing space for events and Zoo programing.
The Valley Oak trees are a part of the Sacramento Zoo’s diverse collection of botanical specimens that contribute significantly to the landscape and habitats enjoyed by visitors and animals alike. As stewards of the earth, it is important that the Zoo protect these graceful giants that carry great historical importance in the region and are home to local wildlife. Collectively, Valley Oak riparian forests support 67 nesting bird species including the Swainson’s Hawk which is threatened with endangerment in California. Valley Oak riparian forests also provide homes or cover for several other species endangered statewide or federally and Valley Oak seedlings, acorns or roots are nutritional staples for many indigenous species.
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By: Brooke Coe
Wings are a truly unique adaptation, allowing animals to reach new heights, travel the world, and perform physical maneuvers not possible on land. But what about winged birds who can’t fly? Why has only one type of mammal developed the ability to fly? How can a different wing shape affect the nature of flight? Many species at the Sacramento Zoo can help us answer these questions.
There are various species of flightless birds throughout the world, and while they cannot fly, they still retain their wings. Why? For a number of these species, their wings are a functional adaptation for their habitat and lifestyle. The ostrich, for example, uses its wings as a stabilizer while running at high speeds; they also act as a rudder to turn and brake quickly and perform zigzag escape maneuvers. Penguins have turned their wings into powerful fins for swimming which utilize the same muscles as flighted birds.
Flight is almost exclusively restricted to birds and insects, yet one species of mammal has found itself with the same set of skills. In fact, bat flight is more efficient than bird flight, with their flexible wing membrane and multiple wing joints providing more lift with less effort. Bats fly to forage for or catch their food, find suitable nesting sites, and to migrate when food is scarce. In multiple parts of the world, these mammals have developed the ability to fly to acquire different food sources out of reach to other animals and to more efficiently migrate long distances when following plentiful food sources.
Birds exhibit a variety of different wing shapes and feather structures based on their lifestyle in the wild.Falcons like the African Pygmy Falcons at the Zoo have a distinct v-shape in their wings, allowing for faster, more aerodynamic flight with high speed dives. The Himalayan Monal Pheasant lives in densely-wooded areas, and while it doesn’t need to fly quickly or at high altitudes, it needs maneuverability through the trees.
Wings, whether being used for flight or for stabilization, are a beneficial adaptation throughout the animal kingdom. They come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they help to make every animal truly unique.
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Tales of Tails
By: Meagan Edwards
On your visits to the Zoo, you have probably taken note of the tails on some of your favorite animals, but have you ever wondered just what those tails do? From anteaters to zebras, most of the animals in the Zoo have a tail that is specially adapted for its needs. The Snow Leopards and Wolf’s Guenons both have very long tails, especially in relation to their body size. For these animals, the tail helps them to balance as they make gravity defying leaps in rocky terrain or run through trees. The Red Kangaroos’ tails not only help them balance, but also act as a “fifth limb” on occasion. When kangaroos are resting, they will often lean back and use their tails as a tripod to give their back legs a break or if they are hopping very fast, their tails become a rudder for balance, aiding them to reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour!
Some animals’ tails can even help them gather food or hang from the branches of trees. The Southern Tamandua has a prehensile tail which can wrap around and grasp branches to help it move through the forest canopy. This adaptation is “extra handy” for this arboreal mammal.
Not all tails are used to help in locomotion, though: hoofed animals such as giraffes and zebras use their long, thin tails with tufts of hair at the end as swatters to protect themselves from biting insects; a rattlesnake’s built-in noisemaker sends an alarm to potential predators or large animals; and the Fennec Foxes use their bushy tails as blankets to keep themselves warm during the cold desert nights. Whether it’s about sending an alarm or getting ahead, an animal’s tail tells a tale about its natural habitat and behavior.
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