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Vol. 54, No. 4, Winter 2015/16

Directors Den Passionate about the Zoo? Estate Planning Safari
A Glimpse Behind-the-scenes Animal Chatter Primate Communication

Conservation Corner

Animal Profile

Calendar of Events


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Directors Den

Kyle Burks PhD, Director/CEO

As 2015 winds down, all of us at the Zoo find ourselves looking forward to 2016 and beyond...and there are incredible things in our future! In the next year we will truly be defining a new future for the Sacramento Zoo, and I couldn’t be more excited to lead us through the process. In addition to providing the wonderful animal experiences you love from your Sacramento Zoo, we’ll be working hard in 2016 on three big initiatives. First, we will be focusing on and completing the final design concepts for our new Biodiversity Center – a complete renovation of the existing Reptile House that will celebrate the astounding diversity of animals across the planet. The old facility built in the 1970’s will be transformed into a state of the art immersive experience that will get us up close and personal with animals and animal conservation in a new way for the Zoo! Next, we’ll be zooming out and our quest to define the next phase of the Sacramento Zoo will have us developing and implementing a new Strategic Plan. Transforming the Zoo requires a plan that will make sure we have everything in place to create a new reality and keep us on the right path. Finally, to bring it all home, we’ll be working in 2016 to develop a new Facility Master Plan for your Sacramento Zoo. This comprehensive plan will literally redefine the future animal exhibits and buildings on the Zoo’s 14-acre campus – it will showcase everything from new species and exhibits to all of the details needed to make sure our animals, our staff and our guests have an unparalleled experience every single day at the Zoo. Altogether not a bad way to spend a year, no? I hope you look forward to is as much as I do!

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Passionate about the Zoo?

Are you interested in raising that passion to the “next level?” The Zoo Docent Program opens unique opportunities for you to share your knowledge and love of animals with visitors to the Sacramento Zoo.

The Sacramento Zoo offers specialized training to individuals dedicated to supporting the Zoo’s public education programs by serving as Docents. The next ten-week course will begin in January 2016. If the notion of being one of the legendary “yellow-shirt” Zoo Docents appeals to you, contact the Zoo’s Education office at 916.808.5889 for details about the upcoming training classes and course requirements. Applications to be admitted to the 2016 Class are available online now.

Docents at the Zoo

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Estate Planning Safari

Wednesday, January 20
10 – 11:30 am
Kampala Center

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 or 916.808.8815 by January 15th to guarantee your seat.

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A Glimpse Behind-the-scenes at the Zoo

Big cat toys

Have you ever wondered what happens behind-the-scenes at the Zoo? Peek into some areas of the Sacramento Zoo rarely seen by the public.

Big Cat Toy Storage: Big cats love to play with these industrial-sized toys. We have to have lots on hand to keep things interesting for the residents.

Keepers feeding chicks

Hatching and Rearing Rooms: Bird eggs are sometimes incubated and then monitored in this room. After hatching, chicks spend the first part of their lives in a brooder where they are cared for by zookeepers and veterinary staff.

Fennec Fox House: The Fennec Fox sisters use this house as additional shelter, a place to rest and a place to play.Foot Bath: Zookeepers use these foot baths to disinfect their shoes when entering and exiting certain animal areas. This keeps the tracking of germs and organisms to a minimum.

Venomous Alarm Phone: We take safety very seriously. Housing venomous reptiles means having many specialized safeguards and procedures in place, including this phone with a direct line to the fire department in case of venomous bites.  

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Animal Chatter

The Zoo is proud to welcome three new female Grevy’s Zebras to our herd. These animals came to us from the Los Angeles Zoo and have adjusted very well to their new surroundings and the Zoo’s resident two female zebras. These new additions have not only been a welcome sight to our Zoo visitors, but have also provided new visual stimulation to the curious neighboring giraffe herd. The Sacramento Zoo has a 39-year history with this species and is a proud supporter of Grevy’s Zebra conservation efforts through the Grevy’s Zebra Trust based in Kenya, Africa.

One of the long-term success stories at the Sacramento Zoo has been efforts coordinating and managing the Thick-billed Parrot AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP) program under the guidance of Susan Healy, the Zoo’s Supervisor of Birds and Herps. The Zoo has held this species since 1975 and is the most successful zoo in the world in breeding Thick-billed Parrots. This year continued on that success with a male chick hatching in August. Thick-billed Parrot chicks, including ours, fledge from the nest at around 2 months of age. Although fledged, the chicks continue to receive care and feeding from parents, occasionally up to a year’s time.

The Zoo holds a collection of native Western Pond Turtles. Reptile keepers opportunistically collect and incubate eggs from the Zoo’s turtles, listed as a “Species of Special Concern” in the State of California. These eggs are incubated in the Reptile House in a special incubator for anywhere from 90–130 days. So far, seven eggs, one in September, four in October and two in November, have successfully hatched. The young turtle hatchlings are doing well and are being reared by the keeper staff. These tiny turtles weigh only around 5-6 grams at hatching.                                         

Tick-billed Parrot juvenile, October 2015
                                                                                                        Thick-billed Parrot Chick                                                                                                                           

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Primate Communication

Chimpanzee with lettuce

Primates (humans are primates too!) have an array of communication methods that include vocalizations, body posture, gestures, facial expressions and olfactory signals. People often misunderstand ape and monkey communication because they interpret it the same way they would interpret another human’s communication style. Here are a few examples of primate communication styles you might see and hear on your next visit to the Zoo.

Black and White Ruffed Lemurs have 13 documented, distinct calls, six of which relate solely to predators. They are most infamous for the loud, raucous bark given by all members of the group to announce their territory, a vocalization that can be heard several times throughout the day at the Zoo. 

Scent Marking – Lemurs communicate through scent marking. They mark their territories and pathways by rubbing their scent glands on branches, rocks and other things in their environment. This type of information is especially important if you are a nocturnal prosimian. It can give information about a female’s cycle, how many individuals have been by, and more.

White-handed Gibbon
Gibbons are very vocal and perform duets at different times of the day. The female starts the call with the male joining in. The duets not only serve to further strengthen the bond between the pair but also to advertise their location and warn other gibbon pairs to stay away from their territory.

Relaxed Posture – Due to their long arms used for brachiation (swingling from tree limb to tree limb), a gibbon’s posture when relaxed looks slouched.

Chimpanzees can live in large groups of up to 100 individuals. Living in such numbers means you need to have ways to communicate effectively. Therefore, chimpanzees must be able to “read” other members as well as tell group members what they are thinking or intending to do. They do this by using a combination of communication skills - body posturing, gestures, vocalizations and facial expressions. These all play an important role in everyday Chimpanzee life. There are over 40 distinct vocalizations documented (varying from soft grunts to pant hoots) and 66 different gestures. When you combine those with body postures, physical displays, hair standing on end (pilo erection), etc. … the communication possibilities are endless. What might look like a “smile” to humans, often represents anxiety or excitement, depending on the context.

Orangutan displaying a lip flip

Orangutans live in much smaller groups, so their communication, especially compared to chimpanzees, is much more subtle. One way orangutans excel in communication however, is their very flexible lips. Those lips can be used to make a kiss-smack sound to show their annoyance all the way to a lip flip (of the upper lip to under the nose) to show extreme displeasure. Vocalizations and body language are also used by adult males making “long calls” or individuals shaking limbs or throwing objects to convey their thoughts.

Wolf's Guenon
Every species of Guenon has unique contrasting markings on their face and body. These markings contribute to facial patterns that can be moved up/down and side to side. The speed and direction of facial movement conveys various information to the rest of the group. Adding to this, guenons will raise their eyebrows, and even add body posturing to accentuate a message. This communication may be used as a warning to other guenons to stay away from their group, protecting their territories or thwarting a potential enemy.

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Conservation Corner

SAFE banner

Did you know that the Western Pond Turtle is not only an endangered species throughout much of its range, but it is also the only turtle native to California? The Western Pond Turtle is found in the most western of the United States. In Washington and Oregon it is designated as “Endangered”. In California (and Baja California) it is a “Species of Special Concern” and listed as “Threatened”. Their population is drastically declining primarily due to habitat loss from urbanization and conversion to agricultural needs. Another cause of decline is due to non-native turtles being released into Western Pond Turtle habitats, thus out-competing them.

The Sacramento Zoo is home to one of the largest populations of Western Pond Turtles housed within a zoo. The Zoo is also an active participant in the AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for them. Part of the Zoo’s animal conservation work with this species includes weighing and measuring each individual as the turtles are found on the Zoo’s lakes. This data set, compiled over the last two decades, adds to the body of knowledge on growth information for this species. In addition, the Zoo incubates eggs discovered in the lake exhibits. Once hatched, they are kept in the Reptile House until they are large enough to be released into the lake exhibits.

The Zoo is also a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction); partnering with the entire AZA community to focus conservation science, wildlife expertise and visitors in saving species such as the Western Pond Turtle, in the wild. Stay tuned for more information on ways that the Sacramento Zoo is becoming more involved in efforts to save this species.

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Black and White Ruffed Lemur Profile

The Sacramento Zoo is home to a family of Black and White Ruffed Lemurs. At the head of the family is 16-year-old Ravenala, the matriarch. Ravenala and her mate, Jacque, both came to the Zoo in 2004 and they have had 14 offspring born at the Zoo. The group on exhibit currently consists of Ravenala, Jacque and six of their offspring. 

All lemurs species are matriarchal societies where the adult females are in charge. Ravenala takes that role very seriously. She is an excellent mother and leader who makes sure to remind zookeepers and the other ruffed lemurs (especially any male) that she is in control.

Black and White Ruffed Lemurs are, like all lemurs, native only to the island of Madagascar off the southeastern coast of Africa. There are not a lot of primate species that have been able to be re-introduced into the wild. However, Black and White Lemurs happen to be one of those rare success stories. The first release took place in 1997 when five, zoo-born lemurs were released into the Betampona Nature Reserve in eastern Madagascar. This release was followed by two other releases in 1998 and 2001. Not only were these releases successful but some individuals even integrated into wild lemur groups.

Female Black and White Ruffed LemurRavenala

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Wow! Earlier this year, as I considered relocating to Sacramento from Denver to join the team at the Sacramento Zoo, I knew I’d be coming to a special place. It’s turned out to be even more amazing than I had imagined! Throughout my career, I have been one of those lucky people who gets to go to their dream job every day. I’m formally trained as a scientist—I jokingly call myself a “reformed animal behavior researcher.” For the first 15 years of my career, I studied the behavior of some of the most amazing animals on our planet – from lemurs to giant tortoises to gorillas and elephants. And, all of my research was conducted at zoos around the country that were accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Sure, I’ve observed and studied animals in the wild, but I have always found myself in the zoo in one way or another. Zoos are full of incredible animals being cared for by the most dedicated and passionate professionals that I have ever met. I have worked at some truly great zoos, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to work at another world class institution. Our zoo has an amazing collection of animals that you just can’t see everywhere, even in the biggest zoos—animals like Aardvarks, Thick-billed Parrots and Sifakas, just to name a few. And, it’s located in a beautiful park in a vibrant and welcoming city. Combine that with a top-notch group of professionals all focused on providing amazing and educational guest experiences, uncompromising animal care and an unparalleled commitment to conservation of wildlife and wild places, and you have our Sacramento Zoo. Wow! I hope all of you are as proud of our zoo as I am to be a part of the team.



The Sacramento Zoological Society  // 501(c)(3) nonprofit
3930 West Land Park Drive, Sacramento, CA 95822  //  916-808-5888
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