Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day! There are many small steps you can take to help the environment, starting today.

Tomato plants in backyard garden

Here are a few examples:

1. Use public transportation, walk, or ride a bike instead of using a car.
2. Grow your own fruits and vegetables in a backyard garden.
3. Plant a tree or three!
4. Bring reusable bags with you when you go shopping.
5. Swap out household cleaning products with biodegradable/eco-friendly versions.

What steps will you take today?

For even more ideas, see the EPA’s page, “Pick 5 for the Environment.”

English Zoo Welcomes Baby Orangutan

Orangutan babyThursday, April 11 saw the birth of a Bornean orangutan at Paignton Zoo. Mother Mali and baby are doing well. This is the first orangutan birth at the zoo since 1997.

Orangutans are in declining populations in the wild, and the birth will help increase numbers of orangutans living in zoos.

Paignton Zoo is located in Devon, England. For more info, visit their site.

Read more about the Bornean Orangutan here.

The Decline of Forest Elephants

Photo by Peter H. Wrege

Photo of an African forest elephant by Peter H. Wrege

A new study has revealed that from 2002 – 2011, 62% of forest elephants had been wiped out in central Africa. Organized criminal gangs have been slaughtering whole herds of elephants to profit from a rapidly expanding illegal ivory trade.

Elephants, who are highly intelligent creatures, are aware of the danger they face and have tried to adapt.  They avoid roads and travel silently during the night. But these tactics are not enough when facing the onslaught of gangs wielding automatic assault weapons and grenades.

If nothing changes, African elephants are on a short path to extinction.

To learn more about the plight of African elephants, see:

If you would like to help elephants, you can 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.

Learn more about African elephants on our African Elephant Facts Page.

Rare Turtle Hatched at Oklahoma Zoo

Madagascar flat-tailed tortoise hatchling.

Madagascar flat-tailed tortoise hatchling. Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman

The Oklahoma City Zoo welcomed a Madagascar flat-tailed tortoise hatching last week. Although the baby turtle will not be on display at the zoo, the birth marks a significant step in preserving a critically endangered species.

In the wild, Madagascar flat-tailed tortoises inhabit the closed-canopy, dry forests of Madagascar. They are highly threatened by habitat loss, due to agricultural and highway development, mining, and petroleum exploration.

The turtle birth was part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan. For more information, see The Oklahoman.

Featured Animal: Narwhal

Meet our featured animal, the narwhal!

Narwhal

Here are five facts about narwhals:

  • The horn on a narwhal is actually a giant, spiraled tooth.
  • The long tooth can reach up to 3 m (10 ft.) in length and grows continually to replace wear.
  • The name narwhal derives from the old Norse word nar meaning corpse.
  • Narwhals travel in groups (or pods) of 15-20 whales.
  • Preying on creatures primarily on the bottom of the sea, they dive on average 800 m (.5 mi.), but can go twice that.

Learn more about narwhals >

Exploring Panda Bear Cuteness

Prompted by the public debut of Xiao Liwu at the San Diego Zoo, NPR’s The Two-Way discussed why we find panda bears utterly adorable.

For example, why do we find pandas so cute…

…while eating bamboo?

…while eating leaves?

…while hanging on a fence?

…while sleeping on a branch?

…while sleeping on some logs?

…while sleeping on a rock?

…or while just plain sleeping?

The reason according to NPR is that their big eyes, button noses, round faces, and clumsy yet cuddly bodies invoke parenting instincts in humans.

Read more about various panda bear cuteness research at NPR’s The Two-Way.

Learn more about pandas in Animal Fact Guide’s article, Giant Panda.

Tiger Diaries: Sumatran Tigers at the National Zoo

Two Sumatran tigers

Kavi and Damai are the National Zoo’s resident Sumatran tigers.

Will Kavi and Damai hit it off? Will we see babies in the near future? The Tiger Diaries takes you behind the scenes at the National Zoo, following the lives of their resident Sumatran tigers, Kavi and Damai.

In the wild, Sumatran tigers are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Only 400 Sumatran tigers exist today. The National Zoo’s program to breed Sumatran tigers plays a major role in preserving this rare species.

Learn more at the National Zoo website.

Baby Pygmy Hippo at Tampa Zoo

Baby pygmy hippo and mother

Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida welcomed a baby pygmy hippo on November 15. The female pygmy hippo calf weighs about 10 pounds. As an adult, she will grow to be about 350-550 pounds and stand about three feet tall at the shoulder. Pygmy hippos are much smaller than their relative, the Nile hippo.

The little calf has not yet been named, but the zoo is launching a naming contest on its Wild Wonderland website. The zoo’s animal care team has selected several African names starting with the letter Z in honor of mother hippo “Zsa Zsa.” The name that receives the highest number of votes through Monday, December 3, will be declared the winner.

The birth is the second in the zoo’s history and a great step in preserving the population of these rare hippos. “The birth of this rare and endangered nocturnal forest species marks only the 55th individual in the managed population within North American and underlines the importance of our
conservation efforts with this species,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, vice president of animal science and conservation. “With fewer than 3,000 pigmy hippos in the wild, each birth is vital if we have any hope of saving this truly unique species.”

In the wild, the pygmy can be found in West Africa in lowland forests. The species is mainly confined to Liberia, with small numbers in neighboring countries. The animals are comfortable both on land and in water, but rest and forage near waterways. They can most often be seen in shady sites near swamps, riverbanks or muddy areas.

Hurricane Sandy and the Effect on Wildlife

Over the past week, Hurricane Sandy blasted through the East coast of the United States and made her way into Canada. Many people suffered extraordinary losses as their homes were destroyed or damaged by storm surges, flooding, and downed trees. Many lost (and continue to be without) power, leaving them without heat, warm showers, transportation, and fresh food.

Dead tree with broken branches

Here at Animal Fact Guide headquarters in New London, Connecticut, I looked out the window of my darkened house on Monday afternoon. The wind was shaking the building, and big branches cracked as they snapped off a tree and then thudded to the ground. I noticed a squirrel perched on one of the tree’s lower branches huddled against the trunk, bracing himself against the powerful gusts. I wondered if animals were as adversely affected by hurricanes as we were.

I think that with people’s complete dependence on their homes and technology for safety and for their way of life, hurricanes do have a more devastating effect on people. But hurricanes also deeply impact wildlife in several ways:

Wind Dislocation
While songbirds and woodland birds can usually ride out a storm by holding on to their perches, powerful winds from a hurricane can blow migrating birds hundreds of miles off course or push shore birds inland.

Downed tree branchesTree Loss
Downed trees can be devastating to species who rely on certain types of trees for food and shelter. Food sources are also lost as the seeds and fruits get blown off trees.

Storm Surges
Storm surges destroy seaside habitats. Nest sites can be washed away by rising tides. In certain cases, entire beaches can be washed away. (This happened here in New London when Hurricane Sandy washed away Osprey Beach.) The influx of seawater also disrupts the balance of salt in wetlands, causing harm to marsh grasses, crabs, fish hatchlings, and minnows. Furthermore, the flooding causes sediment and pollutants to enter waterways, which negatively impacts marine animals.

What You Can Do
During a hurricane, the best thing you can do is stay safe.  Listen to government officials and heed their advice. Evacuate your home before the storm if necessary and seek shelter in a safe location. Stay inside during the storm to keep safe from falling branches and flying debris. After the storm, avoid going near downed power lines.

In terms of helping wildlife, if you see any rare species or injured animals, report them to your local wildlife agency. You can also fill your bird feeders to help tired songbirds recover after the storm.

But in the grand scheme of things, the increasing frequency of storms like Sandy remind us of the effect global warming is having on our planet.  A warming planet means more extreme weather headed our way more frequently. It means more storms and more droughts. With that in mind, it’s important to renew our efforts to curb our carbon emissions on a personal level and appeal to our politicians to instate policies that will cut back on carbon emissions on a global scale.

Learn more about how hurricanes and wildlife:

Baby White Rhinoceros at Busch Gardens

Baby white rhino at Busch Gardens

A rare white rhino was born at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay welcomed a female baby white rhinoceros on Tuesday, October 23, 2012. The baby is the second calf born to mother Kisiri and the seventh calf born to father Tambo. Busch Gardens has celebrated a total of seven white rhino births since October 2004. The new baby weighed an estimated 140 pounds at birth. The newborn – who has yet to be named – will gain approximately four pounds each day until it reaches an adult weight of approximately 3,500 to 4,000 pounds.

Baby white rhino

Busch Gardens participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) to ensure genetic diversification among threatened and endangered animals in zoological facilities. The birth brings the total white and black rhino population at the adventure park to eight.

Kisiri, Tambo and another female white rhino were airlifted from Kruger National Park in South Africa in 2001 through the efforts of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of rhinos. Fewer than 15,000 white rhinos remain in the wild, and approximately 200 live in zoological facilities across North America.