Latest Zoo & Conservation News
Week ending July 23, 2011

Compiled by:
Talitha Matlin & Amy Jankowski
San Diego Zoo Global

Baby parrots learn names from their parents
July 13, 2011

While scientists have known that individual parrots have their own "signature calls [which] others use when addressing it" and which individual birds use themselves in "avian 'conversation' ", they have not known if individuals chose the calls themselves or are somehow "assigned" them. Researchers at Cornell University performed a study on wild parrots that shows "that even before chicks can 'talk,' their parents have provided them with a [name], which they will tweak and then use throughout their lives." The scientists set up recording devices in the middle of a large wild population of green-rumped parrotlet (Forpus passerinus) nests in Venezuela and compared "the calls made by the parents before the chicks were of squawking age and all the calls made by the chicks once they began to call." Additionally, to determine whether the calls were innate or taught, the researchers swapped the eggs around so that many parents were raising chicks not genetically related to them. The researchers found that "parents started making signature calls when the chicks were very young, providing a template that the chicks imitated and added their own flourishes to in order to create their names." The chicks imitated the parrots who raised them, even the ones who swapped nests.

Full article:

CITATION: Berg KS, Delgado S, Cortopassi KA, Beissinger SR, Bradbury JW. 2011. Vertical transmission of learned signatures in a wild parrot. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.0932

Acidifying oceans could threaten California mussel population
July 14, 2011

Researchers at UC Davis have conducted a study that shows California mussels (Mytilus californianus) may be in trouble if current climate change trends continue. Acidity in ocean water has "increased by almost a third since the mid 18th century" due to increased levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed into the ocean. To determine the effects of this increased acidity on California mussels, Brian Gaylord, associate professor of evolution and ecology at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, and colleagues raised mussels in normal seawater and in water with two different levels of elevated acidity (based on projections of possible climate change scenarios). They found that "...compared to those raised in normal seawater, the young mussels living in the more acid waters had smaller, thinner, weaker shells, and as much as a third less body mass." This could make them more susceptible to predation and drying out in low tides. The study raises concerns about the future of California mussels, as it is a "vital coastal species because so many other marine creatures depend on it for food and habitat."

Full article:

CITATION: Gaylord B, et al. 2011. Functional impacts of ocean acidification in an ecologially critical foundation species. Journal of Experimental Biology 214:2586-2594. doi:10.1242/jeb.062125

Bornean rainbow toad spotted after 87 years
July 14, 2011 By Chloe McIvor

From the blog post:

The striking Bornean rainbow toad (Ansonia latidisca) has been seen for the first time since the 1920s and finally caught on camera. Previously, the only image of the toad was a black and white drawing, but we can now see that the toad clearly deserves its title. The spectacular species was one of Conservation International’s (CI) ‘ten most wanted amphibians’ and was rediscovered in Malaysia by a team led by Indraneil Das from Malaysia Sarawak University (UNIMAS).

The discovery comes as part of a CI search for lost amphibian species launched in August 2010, which, in its first five months, supported expeditions by 126 researchers in 21 different countries. The search mission is targeting 100 amphibians not seen for more than 10 years and aims to update the conservation status of these elusive species.

Full article and photos:

Respiratory virus jumps from monkeys to humans
July 14, 2011 By Zoe Cormier

A new strain of adenovirus has for the first time "been shown to jump from animals to humans — and then to infect other humans." After a "deadly outbreak of respiratory illness spread through a colony of titi monkeys (Callicebus curpreus)" at a research center in UC Davis in 2009, researchers at the UC San Francisco identified a previously unknown adenovirus which they are calling TMAdV (titi-monkey adenovirus). By culturing the virus in human and monkey cell lines, the researchers found that it grew much better in the human cells, suggesting "that the virus could infect humans as well as titi monkeys." Interviews with staff at the UC Davis research center revealed that the main caretaker for the monkey colony, who "had the closest daily contact with the colony," had experienced "flu-like upper-respiratory-tract symptoms for four weeks." Also, this researcher had infected one of his or her own family members, showing that TMAdV could spread between humans. UCSF scientists are still trying to determine the original source of the infection in the titi monkey colony. They do not "suspect that there will be a pandemic of TMAdV," as random blood samples from the general public found two healthy people with significant levels of antibody to TMAdV.

Full article:

CITATION: Chen EC, et al. 2011. Cross-species transmission of a novel adenovirus associated with a fulminant pneumonia outbreak in a New World monkey colony. PLoS Pathogens 7:e1002155. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002155

Deal may speed listing process for plants and animals
July 12, 2011 By Laura Zuckerman

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has struck a deal with the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity that would require the government until 2018 to make "preliminary decisions...on whether to set aside critical habitat or provide other protections for more than 750 species...." The Center for Biological Diversity has been battling with the USFWS for over a decade, claiming "that the government has been too slow in assigning federal safeguards to various species on the brink of extinction."

From the article:

The settlement would address a backlog of 250 animals and plants the government says warrant protections but which have been placed on a waiting list behind species deemed a higher priority. Some mammals, birds and fish have been on the so-called candidate list for decades. The deal would require those animals be approved or denied listing as threatened or endangered by the 2018 deadline.

Full article:

Conservationists sound alarm over long-tailed macaque
July 15, 2011

Trade of the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) has more than doubled in the period from 2004-2008 compared to the rates in 1999-2003. Ian Redmond, chairman of the SSN Primate Working Group, said, "The long-tailed macaque is the most heavily-traded mammal currently listed on the CITES appendices and our research findings raise alarming questions concerning the long-term viability of targeted populations of the species if this trade is allowed to continued at current levels." From 2004-2008, over 260,000 macaques were traded in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, and Vietnam, compared to 120,000 between 1999 and 2003. In addition to illegal trade of these animals, they are threatened by "hunting, habitat loss and degradation, and human encroachment."

Full article:

Male and female giant pandas prefer different habitats
July 15, 2011 By Matt Walker

Researchers at the Institute for Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing studied the movement of giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and discovered that male and female pandas prefer different types of habitats. Dunqu Qi and Fuwen Wei "conducted transect surveys recording the presence of pandas by sight or by their droppings..." and studied the DNA in fecal samples to determine the sex of the pandas in the studied areas. While both male and female pandas tend to live in "highly fragmented montane forests in remote China" that are rich in bamboo, their main food source, the researchers found that females are much more picky about their habitats.

From the article:

[Females] tend to limit their movements to within high altitude conifer forests and mixed forests, as well as historically clear-felled forest. They also prefer habitat that slopes at between 10 and 20 degrees. Such areas are better for raising young. Female pandas are selective about their den sites and often make dens in stands of large conifer trees more than 200 years old. That also suggests that den sites may be limited in logged areas. Males, in contrast, range more widely, covering areas that overlap the ranges of several females.

The scientists hope their study can aid in continuing conservation and reintroduction efforts.

Full article:

CITATION: Qi D, et al. 2011. Different habitat preferences of male and female giant pandas. Journal of Zoology. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00831.x

Scientists to assemble 'knowledgebase' on plants and microbes
July 15, 2011

Excerpt from the article:

In the decade that has passed since the completion of the first draft sequence of the human genome, biologists have grown increasingly aware of a problem ironically generated by the success of their work. Biological experiments in the age of genomics -- including DNA sequencing, gene expression profiles, studies of cell-signaling pathways, protein binding, and other information-rich inquiries -- generate quantities of raw data so immense that they threaten to overwhelm researchers' ability to make sense of them.

Two Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) investigators are among the leaders of a multi-institutional effort announced this week by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to address the problem in one particular area of research involving plant and microbial life. The team has been awarded funding to create out of many separate streams of biological information a single, integrated cyber-"knowledgebase" (called Kbase, for short) focused specifically on these two fundamentally important forms of life.

Continue reading:

SeaWorld Orlando builds hospital for wild dolphins
July 16, 2011 By Jason Garcia

SeaWorld Orlando will be opening a facility in the upcoming weeks that will serve as a rehab hospital for stranded dolphins. SeaWorld staff hope to help more of the animals by providing a closer location to many of the strandings. The new complex will be located on the edge of the park and will have separate filtration and sewage systems, food-prep areas and employee showers from the main park. The separate systems are in place to prevent any spread of disease from the wild animals to the captive collection, as an outbreak about 20 years ago at the Miami Seaquarium wiped out a number of captive marine mammals after they contracted morbillivirus from rescued pilot whales. The new facility will have a 40,000-gallon pool that "is large enough to hold cetaceans as large as a 13-foot pilot whale or as many as five bottlenose dolphins at once." According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, " average of 51 live cetaceans...are stranded on Florida shores every year."

Full article:

First radio-collaring of Bornean slow loris
July 17, 2011

Conservationists wokring at the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Borneo have fitted a Bornean slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis) with a radio collar for the first time. The Bornean slow loris is unique in that it is "the only species of its kind which is equipped with toxic defence and a hunting mechanism to snare its prey." The researchers will "record its every movement, ranging from sleeping habits and preferences to behavior..." with the tiny radio transmitter, which weighs less than three percent of the animal's body weight. The research is being done as part of the Nocturnal Primate Project, which is funded by the Columbus Zoo and Cleveland Zoologicla Society. There isn't that much known about the Bornean slow loris, so researchers hope the data will add to the understanding of this species' behavior in the wild, in addition to raising awareness "on the importance of protecting nocturnal primates."

Full article:

Vet performs mouth-to-beak resuscitation on bald eagle
July 17, 2011 By Lynn Curwin

Dr. Jeff Cooney, an Oregon veterinarian, was performing surgery on a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) to treat "several injuries, including a fractured wing and wounded leg," when the bird stopped breathing. Cooney was able to perform mouth-to-beak resuscitation to save the bird's life. Cooney said of the bird," He has gained 10 percent of his body weight and is eating fish like crazy. His attitude is greatly improved, and he's starting to act like a normal, rambunctious bald eagle." The bird is still recovering from a dislocated shoulder and paralyzed right leg. According to the website Exotic Pet Vet, the following procedures should be followed when performing CPR on birds:

If a bird is found unconscious, the same parameters are evaluated: respiration (looking for the breast rising and falling, see if the abdomen is rising and falling, as well), airway (open the beak and examine the oral cavity, clear if necessary with a finger or cotton-tipped applicator, taking care to not have a finger bitten) and heartbeat (since it would be difficult to find and evaluate a pulse on a bird, listen to the chest on either side of the keel bone for heartbeat, or use a stethoscope, if available).

Read more:

San Diego Zoo's one-week-old silver leaf monkey removed from mother's care
July 17, 2011 By Tammy Spratt

Excerpt from the article:

A one-week-old silver leaf monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus) benefits from a little human care at the San Diego Zoo. The female named "Thai" was born on July 3 to a first-time mother. Unfortunately Thai's mother was not holding the newborn in a way that allowed her to nurse naturally, so animal care staff intervened and are bottle-feeding the baby several times each day. The small, orange monkey continues to spend time with her family between feedings so that social bonds remain strong.

Continue reading:

From Good Care to Great Welfare symposium
July 17, 2011

The Detroit Zoo will be holding the From Good Care to Great Welfare symposium on August 6-7.

From the announcement:

From Good Care to Great Welfare will include presentations, posters and panels focusing on four primary topic areas: Understanding and bridging the gap between providing good care and ensuring great welfare; Understanding the impacts of captivity; Multidisciplinary approaches and assessment techniques to better understand and enhance zoo animal welfare; and Welfare of non charismatic vertebrates - birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Additional information on the symposium and instructions for registering and for submitting abstracts for presentations and posters can be found at Dr.Cynthia Bennett, Director of Animal Welfare, Detroit Zoological Society, can also be contacted directly by e-mail ( or phone (248) 541-5717 ext. 3720.

Full announcement:

Recovery of blue iguana population on Grand Cayman island
July 18, 2011 By Jeremy Hance

Blue iguanas (Cyclura lewisi) used to roam in great numbers on the Grand Cayman island in the Caribbean. However, it was brought to the edge of extinction due to predation from cats and dogs, human encroachment, and habitat destruction. In 2002, scientists estimated the wild population at only two dozen individuals. Today, thanks to the work of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, there are 500 wild blue iguanas "roaming [the] Salina Reserve." The program raises young iguanas in captivity until they are large enough "to keep feral cats at bay" (approx. at two years of age) and then releases them into the Salina Reserve. They hope to increase the numbers of blue iguanas in protected areas to over 1,000 individuals within the next few years. The program is supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the International Reptile Conservation Foundation.

Full article:

Amazon drought and forest fire prediction system devised
July 18, 2011

A group of researchers led by Katia Fernandes of Columbia University has developed a correlative model to anticipate drought and subsequent forest fires in the Amazon rainforest.  “The model could be used to forecast drought up to three months in advance, giving authorities a window to alert ranchers and farmers about the increased risk of using fire to clear land during the dry season.” According to another related study, droughts have increased in the region since the mid 1970s, with 2005 and 2010 marking the most severe years on record.  Scientists predict continued environmental fluctuation as a result of climate change, deforestation, forest degradation, and fragmentation.

Full article:

K. Fernandes, et al. (2011), North Tropical Atlantic influence on western Amazon fire season variability, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L12701,

Marengo, J. A., J. Tomasella, L. M. Alves, W. R. Soares, and D. A. Rodriguez (2011), The drought of 2010 in the context of historical droughts in the Amazon region, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L12703,

Hundreds of critically endangered white-cheeked crested gibbons found in remote Vietnam
July 18, 2011 By Jeremy Hance

Approximately 455 northern white-cheeked crested gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys)—a new population made up of 130 gibbon groups—have been found in Vietnam’s Pu Mat National Park by researchers with Conservation International (CI).”  This new group, which triples the species’ global population, is the “only known viable population of this species in the world,” however road development through the Park threatens the group’s stability.

From the article:

"We don’t think we can stop the roads, so the best solution is targeted gibbon protection in key areas for this population," Primatologist Luu Tuong Bach, a consultant to CI, said. "The major issue will be the hunting of these gibbons that were previously protected by the harsh terrain; so gun control will be vital. Without direct protection in Pu Mat National Park, it is likely that Vietnam will lose this species in the near future."

Full article:

Whitebark pine in danger of extinction
July 18, 2011 By Bettina Boxall

The USFWS announced that the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is "in such widespread decline that it deserved a place on the endangered species list," although the agency "instead designated whitebark as a candidate species, saying that the funding and resources were unavailable to grant the pine protections under the Endangered Species Act." The trees are threatened by the federal government's "long-standing policy of fire suppression," as low-intensity fires help to maintain healthy whitebark stands, as well as white pine blister rust. Scientists also expect climate change to have an adverse effect on whitebark pine, as the species' habitat will be "warmer and drier and more hospitable to other species."

Full blog post:

BP pipeline leaks oily mixture onto Alaskan tundra
July 18, 2011 By Yereth Rosen and Tom Bergin

On Monday, BP announced that a pipeline at its oilfield in Lisburne, Alaska—currently closed for maintenance—“ruptured during [valve] testing and spilled a mixture of methanol and oily water onto the tundra.”  According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, “the spill occurred on Saturday and amounted to 2,100 to 4,200 gallons, affecting 4,960 square feet of gravel pad and about 2,040 square feet of wet and aquatic tundra.”

Efforts are focused on containment and cleanup, after which the pipeline will be excavated to determine the cause of failure.  Production at the Lisburne field remains shut off.

Full article:

Being a dominant breeder is costly for female banded mongooses
July 18, 2011 By Tamera Jones

Scientists studying the relationships among females in banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) societies have long known that they operate on a hierarchical structure through which older females are permitted to breed while younger females must wait.  New findings from researchers in Uganda now suggest that older females who try to prevent younger females from having pups also experience considerable stress and adverse growth conditions for their own young.

From the article:

They found that dominant females are more likely to get injured, they spend less time foraging and eating, and rowing with younger members of the group means investing less time with their own pups. The fact that dominant females endure these costs suggests that letting subordinate females breed must be even more costly for them. "Our results show that dominant females have to balance how much they invest in suppressing subordinates," says Bell.

Full article:

CITATION: Bell MBV, et al. 2011. The cost of dominance: suppressing subordinate reproduction affects the reproductive success of dominant female banded mongooses. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Female elephant seals mate at sea, outside of the harem
July 18, 2011 By Rebecca Kessler

Researchers at the University of Pretoria have discovered that female southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) sometimes mate outside of the traditional harem. Typically, the elephant seal breeding system involves "one big, pumped-up male [who] jealously defends a harem of females" from other potential mates in "thunderous, bloody battles." By fighting off his competition, the "beachmaster" gains "exclusive mating rights to the...females in his domain." Every year, females return to the beach two times: once to molt, and once to give birth to a pup and then mate. However, what confused scientists was that some females were arriving for the first time at the mating location and giving birth to a pup, meaning that they must have mated somewhere out of the harem.

From the article:

The clincher came when the team looked at data from satellite tags they'd attached to 53 females. Two of the tagged females skipped a breeding season at Marion Island, then showed up pregnant the following year. Except to molt, the AWOL seals had stayed at sea for their entire gap year. They must have bred at sea as other seal species do. "The females have got a real choice here," says de Bruyn, whose paper will appear in the September issue of Animal Behaviour. "They're employing this totally nonpolygynous alternate mating strategy, which really opens our eyes to the whole study of polygyny in mammals and in other vertebrates as well."

Full article:

CITATION: de Bruyn PJN, Tosh CA, Bester MN, Cameron EZ, McIntyre T, Wilkinson IS. 2011. Sex at sea: alternative mating system in an extremely polygynous mammal. Animal Behaviour. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.06.006

USFWS denies listing Grand Canyon cave pseudoscorpion
July 19, 2011 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 138
FWS-R2-ES-2011-0044; MO 92210-0-0008-B2

From the announcement:

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 12-month finding on a petition to list the Grand Canyon cave pseudoscorpion (Archeolarca cavicola) as threatened or endangered with critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). After review of the best scientific and commercial information available, we find that listing the Grand Canyon cave pseudoscorpion is not warranted at this time. However, we ask the public to submit to us any new information that becomes available concerning the threats to the Grand Canyon cave pseudoscorpion or its habitat at any time.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on July 19, 2011.

ADDRESSES: This finding is available on the Internet at at Docket Number FWS-R2-ES-2011-0044. Supporting documentation we used in preparing this finding is available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours by contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Ecological Services Field Office, 2321 W. Royal Palm Road, Suite 103, Phoenix, AZ 85021; telephone (602) 242-0210; facsimile (602) 242-2513.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Spangle, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Ecological Services Field Office, 321 W. Royal Palm Road, Suite 103, Phoenix, AZ 85021; telephone (602) 242-0210; facsimile (602) 242-2513. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at (800) 877-8339.

Full announcement:

Zoo Keeper Olympics at Santa Fe College in Florida
July 20, 2011 By Jackie Alexander

Zoo keeping students at Santa Fe College's Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week by competing in an event they are dubbing the "Zoo Keeper Olympics." Johnathan Miot, the zoo's director, said that "...teams of students will take the field in front of the zoo in relay races, a matching game of pictures and scientific names of animals, and animal handling with fake snakes." They will also hold a one-year birthday party for Dulu, a gibbon who is one of the zoo's newest members.

Full article:

Balboa Park makeover moves forward
July 20, 2011 By R. Stickney

The San Diego City Council approved a memo of understanding (MOU) this week that would restore the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park to allow for pedestrian use before the centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California International Exposition. The plan, put forth by the Plaza de Panama Committee and funded in part by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, would "replace the cars, roadways and parking spaces that currently cram the park's inner core with landscaping, trees, and pedestrian-friendly gathering places." With the approved MOU, the committee can now conduct an environmental impact study. Opponents of the plan include the Save Our Heritage Organization, a group that "is critical of the bypass bridge, paid parking garage and other alterations of the park."

Full article and photos: