Koalas are not bears, despite the common phrase, “koala bear”. Koalas are actually marsupials, like kangaroos and wombats. This means female koalas have pouches where their young stay until fully-developed.
Koalas are well-adapted to sitting in trees. They have a curved backbone and two fewer pairs of ribs than most mammals (11 instead of 13) creating a curled skeletal structure that fits well into the forks of branches.
Although there are 600 types of eucalyptus trees, koalas generally limit their diet to two or three favorite kinds.
Koalas have a special kind of bacteria in their stomachs that break down the fiber and toxic oils in eucalyptus leaves. This bacteria is passed down from mother koala to joey via a substance the mother produces called pap.
A koala’s pregnancy lasts 35 days. When the joey is born, it is only 2 cm (less than an inch) long. Although hairless and blind, the newborn uses its strong forelimbs to climb from the birth canal into the mother’s pouch.
Today is World Elephant Day, a day focusing on the conservation of elephants across the globe. The two main species of elephant are African elephants and Asian elephants. Both species are in danger of becoming extinct in the wild due to poaching and habitat loss.
Although many countries have banned the killing of elephants, the illegal ivory trade has skyrocketed in recent years. Decreasing the demand for ivory is essential. Never buy, sell, or wear ivory. Write to your politicians to speak out against poaching. (Americans can write a letter to the Secretary of State on the Wildlife Conservation Society website.) For information on organizations that combat the illegal ivory trade, see National Geographic’s page, Blood Ivory: How to Help.
In addition, you can help provide captive elephants with the best possibly life. Boycott circuses, whose unethical treatment includes chaining elephants up by their feet and trunks, as well as beating them frequently. Encourage zoos to create environments similar to African elephants’ native habitat. They should be able to encompass elephant families and their travel patterns, and they should be located in a warm climate so that the elephants can spend all year outside.
A recent study of zoo elephants found that the best way to promote elephant well-being in captivity is to ensure they can spend time in groups, and not be socially isolated. Human interaction was also beneficial. The study, titled Epidemiological Investigations of North American Zoo Elephant Welfare, is available online and is accessible to the public. (See journals.plos.org.)
First hops! A baby wallaroo emerged from its mother’s pouch recently. Photo by Oakland Zoo.
A baby wallaroo took its first hops at Oakland Zoo recently. Keepers estimate the joey was born in October-November (although it’s impossible to determine its exact birth date). The joey now comes out to graze and explore its surrounding, but hops back into its mother’s pouch for safety.
The joey feels safe and cozy back in the pouch. Photo by Oakland Zoo.
Zippety-do-dah! This bouncing baby zebra skips around her enclosure at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Photo by Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo, outside Sydney, Australia, welcomed a female baby plains zebra to their herd at the end of July. The energetic little foal is named Zina, which is Swahili for “free spirit”.
“Both mother and foal are doing really well which is to be expected from an experienced mother like Kijani,” said keeper Carolene Magner. “Zina is staying close by her mother’s side at present but does enjoy a gallop around the paddock in the morning.”
Photo by Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
Photo by Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
In the wild, plains zebras (or common zebras) inhabit the grasslands of eastern and southern Africa.
Adia and her new foal, born June 18. Photo by Lincoln Park Zoo.
The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago celebrated Father’s Day weekend with the arrival of a female Grevy’s zebra foal. It was the first zebra birth at the zoo since 2012! The baby zebra is the third foal for mother Adia and the first for father Webster.
In the wild, Grevy’s zebras are considered endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. They are native to eastern Africa, ranging from Ethiopia to Kenya.
Lincoln Park Zoo participates in the Grevy’s Zebra Species Survival Plan, a shared conservation effort by zoos throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
“Research tells us that fostering an emotional connection between humans and animals is key to creating a real commitment to wildlife conservation,” said Lincoln Park Zoo Vice President of Education and Community Engagement Dana Murphy. “Species like zebras, with which we are relatively familiar—and become so at an early age—help us forge that connection and inspire our guests to care about their future.”
On May 9, a male baby Bactrian camel was born at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. It is the first camel calf born at the zoo since 1998!
Weighing 81 pounds at birth and standing at 4 feet tall, the calf joins his mother Nassan, his father Scooter, and two adult female camels at the zoo’s Antelope Zebra Area.
“We’re ecstatic to welcome a Bactrian camel calf to the zoo,” said Curator Diane Mulkerin. “He is still a bit wobbly on his feet but remains quite strong and is ready to begin meeting the rest of the herd.”
When the calf matures to an adult size, he could weigh as much as 1,500 pounds and stand as tall as 7 feet.
Bactrian camels have two humps (as opposed to dromedary camels, which have only one hump on their back). The humps are filled with fat, which provides energy to the camel when food is scarce. The camels also have thick brown fur to keep them warm in the winter. During the summer months, they shed fur to make their coat thinner.
President Obama signed a law on Monday declaring the bison as America’s national mammal. For those bald eagle fans, don’t worry! The bald eagle remains the national animal (and national bird) of the United States.
The new law, called the National Bison Legacy Act, creates an additional designation for a special native mammal in America. Animals are classified as mammals when:
they are warm blooded vertebrates
they possess hair or fur, and
they nourish their young with milk produced by mammary glands
The bison is an excellent choice for the honor of national mammal. Bison once numbered in the millions in the United States. Their range stretched from Canada to Mexico.
Many Native American tribes relied heavily on bison as a source of food and clothing, and they considered it of great spiritual significance. When white settlers spread into the Great Plains, they decimated the bison population, and the bison nearly went extinct.
Due to conservationist efforts starting in the early 20th century, the bison was saved from extinction. But they are still classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. You can help in their preservation by adopting a bison via the Defenders of Wildlife or donating toward the purchase of prairie land for reserves at the American Prairie Foundation.
Oakland Zoo staff perform regular checkups on the newest members of the river otter family. Photo by Oakland Zoo.
On Mother’s Day, two North American river otters at the Oakland Zoo had lots to celebrate. The two new moms have had their paws full with three pups each for the past few months.
Rose, the younger of the two moms, gave birth to a litter of two males and one female on January 25. A few weeks later, on February 20, Ginger gave birth to a litter of two females and one male.
Zoo staff has been monitoring the pups and administering regular checkups to ensure they are in good health. The pups have remained off exhibit while they nurse, grow, and learn to swim. (Swimming is not instinctual for otter pups.)
A Hoffman’s two-toed sloth was born on March 24 to mother Grizzly and father Teddy. The little one only weighed 186 grams (6.6 ounces) at birth and wasn’t nursing regularly. So the animal care team at Busch Gardens decided to hand-nurse the baby via syringe every two hours. Currently, the baby is healthy and under 24-hour watch.
The animal care team feeds Grizzly’s baby by syringe. Photo by Busch Gardens.
A Linne’s two-toed sloth was born on April 2 to mother Daisy and father Mario. Weighing 550 grams (19.4 ounces) at birth, the baby is currently healthy and being cared for by its mother. The animal care team is monitoring closely.
The animal care team checks Daisy’s baby, who is still under her daily care.
Watch a video below of the two baby sloths:
One interesting fact about two-toed sloths is that they actually have three toes. (All sloths have three toes per foot.) But two-toed sloths have only two claws per foot. For more interesting sloth facts, see our article about the brown-throated three-toed sloth.