Newsletter Archives

Vol 49, No. 2, Summer 2010

In this Issue of the Zoo's Quarterly Newsletter

Year of the Tiger Directors Den From the Kitchen
Animal Chatter Education Bulletin Conservation Connection
Social Media Zoo Parent Calendar of Events

Year of the Tiger
By Harrison Edell, General Curator

Early this morning, I received a radio call from a Senior Keeper with a brief update: “She’s got teeth!”  The birth of a Sumatran tiger and her subsequent care have proven to be both challenging and rewarding, and significant milestones (eyes that are open, increasing body weight, or the eruption of her first set of tiny tiger teeth) have taken on new meaning.   While every new animal at the Sacramento Zoo is exciting, some are particularly moving.

Tiger cub with motherThe Species Survival Plan (SSP) for this species recommended that our pair (Castro – our male, and Baha – our female) should breed, a decision based on their genetic relationships to both one another and the rest of the North American captive population.  These same tigers successfully bred in 2006, and Baha raised three male cubs; a recent SSP update suggested we try again.

Our newest Sumatran tiger was a surprise.  In a typical scenario, keepers’ careful observations allow us to monitor the behavior and health of the animals.  These observations become increasingly important as we approach a potential birth date.  In December, we thought that some of the behaviors we’d seen might indicate that Baha was pregnant.  Our veterinary team conducted an ultrasound; unfortunately, she was not pregnant.  Over the last few months, none of the tigers’ behaviors indicated we should be on the lookout for cubs.  Baha’s body weight remained steady, while Castro’s behavior (usually a very clear indicator of a female’s hormonal cycles) did not change significantly.  As a result, we were shocked to find two tiny cubs in our tiger exhibit early one morning in March.  In retrospect, it seems likely that our pair bred very soon after the ultrasound was performed.

Both Castro and Baha, trained by their keepers to shift into their dens on cue, were moved off exhibit to allow animal care staff access to the cubs, and veterinary exams were performed on both.  Unfortunately, extreme injuries to the male cub were obvious, and the decision was made to euthanize him.  The female cub was weighed and carefully examined, and appeared healthy; she was quickly placed into a nest box in one of the tigers’ dens.  At times like these improvisation is sometimes necessary.  The only nest box available had been designed for snow leopards (thus, was a bit tight for a tiger).  When given access to the box, Baha immediately settled in with her cub, giving us every hope that she would again succeed as a mother.

Thanks to the speedy efforts of our Maintenance Department, we were able to provide Baha with a much larger nest box on Day 2, but we noticed the cub’s body weight had not increased.  We had not seen Baha nursing, and over the next day or so, the difficult decision was made to supplement the cub’s diet with formula from a bottle.  While Sumatran tigers are known to be shy and often reclusive, Baha is unique in that she seems willing to engage keepers in both playful behaviors and frequent training sessions.  Each morning, while Baha performed simple behaviors (like touching her nose to a target) in the adjacent den for small food rewards from keepers, animal care staff could safely weigh the cub and offer her formula.  Within a week or so, her weight on the rise, the cub was slowly weaned off of the bottle as her nutritional needs were met by milk from her mother.

As of today, the cub continues to gain weight, her eyes are open, her teeth are growing in, and keepers have even seen Baha and her cub quietly playing together outside of the nest box.  With each milestone reached in our newest cub’s development, we rejoice in her progress and are proud of the Sacramento Zoo’s commitment to the conservation of one of the world’s most endangered cats.  We look forward to introducing you to our newest addition, and hope that she’ll inspire you just as she’s inspired all of us!

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Directors Den
By Mary Healy

Mary Healy

If there ever was a weasel with a good press agent, it would be the North American River otter. The two otters at the Sacramento Zoo receive an inordinate amount of attention from visitors. And, yes, they are members of the weasel family. Wilson, the male, and Percy, the female, are always scrambling in and out of the water, chasing each other, tumbling around and having a great time! Watching them is pure joy, as is obvious by the smiles of Zoo visitors.

Although they appear playful, swimming with them is definitely not recommended. River otters are carnivores with very sharp teeth. Combine those sharp teeth with a smart, fast-moving animal and you can get a pretty dangerous critter! Zookeepers work with our River otters on a regular basis to train them to stay at their stations when caretakers are in the exhibit. These animals are quick studies, and it is quite remarkable to see how fast the otters learn training enrichment activities.

Knowing how much Zoo visitors enjoy Wilson and Percy, the Zoological Society Board of Directors has decided to take on the renovation of the otters’ home as their 2010 fundraising project. The Board is committed to providing quality environments for the Zoo animals and their fundraising efforts help provide essential funds for such projects. (Have you seen the new Tall Wonders giraffe habitat?)

You will be hearing more about plans to renovate the River otter exhibit over the next few months. Please stop by for a visit with Wilson and Percy the next time you are at the Zoo. You’ll walk away with a smile on your face and a new respect for weasels.

P.S. Did you know the den of an otter is called a holt?

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From the Kitchen

Truly, When the thermometer tips past one hundred degrees, the first thing most people want to do is find a nice shady spot. Zoo animals are not much different, although they sometimes prefer more than just a cool resting place. They also enjoy the opportunities that water and ice provide in the hot summer months.

Giant anteater bathingIce can be a fun treat to roll on or eat … or just simply to enjoy the breeze that runs off the ice cubes. Most of us have had those great frozen treats, “Otter Pops,” in the summer with those amazing flavors: light blue, red, light green (whatever these names mean). The Zoo’s actual River otter pops have very different flavors: shrimp, smelt, trout. Many animals enjoy treats (juice, fruit and vegetables) inside blocks of ice or the ice can contain fish or meat juices as an added treat for the carnivores. Often, we freeze just the fruit; a handful of frozen grapes makes a nice cooling treat.

Some animals enjoy a cool bath. The Giant anteaters have a pool in their habitat that allow them to lay on their backs or haunches, scratch and rub … followed by a nice roll in the dirt and grass. For a Tawny frogmouth, a nice spritz of water will make their head pivot until it appears that they may actually fall off the branch.

There are mister systems in certain areas of the Zoo that not only cool off the animals but are enjoyable for the visitors as well. When it’s roasting outside, head for the Snow leopards! Our staff is intrigued with the idea of creating a special treat for the Chimpanzees—a system where the animals actually can blow air on the guests! Consider it the pinnacle of chimp enrichment, and visitors get to be cooled off as a bonus!

Note: If you would like to add to the animal enrichment fund, call 916-808-5888 for more information.

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Animal Chatter

Bird Area:
Our flamingo flock has increased with the addition of 10 birds from San Diego Zoo … come see all 44! A temporary privacy wall was assembled along the public walkway, and throughout the summer you will see the flamingos around their nesting area building dirt mounds. Watch for parading, strutting, flagging, and other breeding behaviors from these colorful birds!

Carnivore Area:
Most Sumatran tiger mothers are very shy and ultra-protective about their cubs, therefore, zoos don’t have much information about Sumatran tiger infant growth patterns (weights and body measurements). Our adult female is an exception and although she is a fabulous and attentive mother, she is not stressed when she is moved from her cub for short periods of time. While we are weighing and measuring the cub, Mom is getting rewarded for doing some simple training behaviors. Staff has been able to get valuable infant information this way, passing the data on to the Tiger Species Survival Plan® to help us gain more knowledge about the endangered Sumatran tiger.

Ungulate Area:
News flash: there are now THREE giraffes outside on exhibit in the new Tall Wonders habitat. This is definitely cause for celebration! One of the female giraffes did not feel comfortable moving through the doors in the new barn, and it took her several months to get used to the new setup. Some giraffes are extremely cautious with new surroundings, and in talking to other zoos, we are not alone in this type of situation.

Keepers continued to work to help the giraffe adjust, using daily positive reinforcement training. Then, early one Sunday morning, surprised staff came in to find the reluctant giraffe outside exploring the grounds with her two roommates!

Another note: as you wander around the new giraffe viewing platform, take a look below and see Spur-thighed tortoises in their new home!

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Education Bulletin
Goodnight Zoo

Animal Encounter with kids and a Animal Ambassador snakeEvening is one of the busiest times of the day for wildlife. So what are wild animals doing that keeps them so busy in the evening? Do they take a bath, brush their teeth and lay out their clothes for the next day? Not quite, but they are using this time to prepare. Many insectivorous animals are busy gorging on as much food as they can gather. Anyone who’s been out enjoying a midsummer evening can attest that there is no shortage of bugs! Many wild animals, like birds and mice, are also gathering nesting materials to get ready before the temperature drops at nightfall.

Most people never get to see all of this activity at the Zoo because the gates close well before the summer sunset begins. That’s what makes the Overnight Safaris such a special experience. Groups and Families who come to the Overnight Safaris get to enjoy that busy time of the day with our unique and very wild family! In addition to observing the bustling Zoo residents, guests also attend special keeper talks and animal encounters throughout the evening and morning. This is a great opportunity to see some of our more nocturnal animals up close. Groups and families looking for a fun, personal, and extended Zoo visit will love the atmosphere from your own sleeping bag in the Zoo as the sun sets during an Overnight Safari.

Sign up at for Family Overnight Safaris on: June 12, 18, July 2, 10, 16, 31, August 6 and 13. Group Safaris can be booked by calling the Reservation Specialist at (916) 808-8814.

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Conservation Connection

The Sacramento Zoo is partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help build awareness about ocean-friendly seafood choices. The Seafood Watch guide makes it easy for consumers to choose seafood that has been sustainably harvested. The guide lists dozens of types of seafood and gives one of three ratings - Best Choice, Good Alternative, and Avoid - based on where and how it's caught. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, for instance, is marked a best choice, followed by wild-caught Washington salmon, which is listed as a good alternative. The guide says to avoid any farmed or Atlantic salmon.

Why It Matters
Nearly 75% of the world's fisheries are either overfished or fully fished.

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Social Media
Hot Deals on Cool Events! 

Look for giveaways and discounts to some of the Sacramento Zoo’s best summer events on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook –
Find us on Facebook to win ticket and food packages to Twilight Thursdays.

Twitter –
Follow us on Twitter for more Twilight Thursdays giveaways and an invitation to the Third Zoo Tweetup on Thursday, July 22nd.

Foursquare –
Do you foursquare? If so, check in on your phone when you are at the Zoo, and show the Visitor Services office for a free carousel ticket! If you are the Zoo’s foursquare mayor, you get a special gift!

Do you love your Zoo? Review us on!

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