Pygmy Three-Toed Sloths……

(repost because this is the most common blog to turn up in search engines and my friend just became head vet at DWA)

Isla Escudo is home to this pygmy sloth, one of four species of three-toed sloths. These folivores (suborder: Folivora), also known as Escudo sloths are not only smaller than mainland species, but they are considerably more docile. They are  threatened by the loss of mangrove habitat, and are  consumed by local fisherman. The fisherman will camp out on the island and cut down mangroves for fire. They feed on these xenarthrans when fishing is deemed unsuccessful. By the way, the brown-throated three-toed sloth may still be the only publicly displayed three-toed sloth in the US.  You can see one at the Dallas World Aquarium and Zoo, Texas.  Although sloths are known for their menacing claws I do remember a colleague who was seriously bitten by a two-toed sloth.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

Dream Daddies from the Rock (good read)

I saw my last family of Barbary apes (macaques) at the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park ( The Las Vegas Zoo). I believe this is the only captive group left in North America.  Barbary macaques have vestigial tails, and hence they have been given the dubious nickname “ape.” These monkeys are the only free-ranging, non-human primates  in Europe.  They are also the only macaques among the twenty or so extant species to originate outside of  Asia with a historic range throughout North Africa. Barbary macaques live in mixed groups of both sexes and among macaque households the males do play an active role as parents.

A noted Spanish historian wrote that the monkeys of the Rock (of Gibraltar) were dedicated inhabitants of Gibraltar:

-Neither the incursions of Moor, the Spaniards nor the English, nor cannon nor bomb of either have been able to dislodge them-

I’m glad to know that they are well cared for today. In fact, the apes are the most popular attraction in the area among tourists.

The monkeys are currently managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS) and veterinary services are  provided by the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (GVC). The macaques receive a daily supply of fresh water and vegetables, fruit and seeds as supplement to natural food resources (leaves, olives, roots, seeds and flowers). The animals are caught on a regular basis in order to check their health status….  The animals are given a tattoo number and a micro chip as a means of identification.  All monkeys are photographed and the pictures together with individual characteristics catalogued. Cataloguing work is carried out by the GONHS…….

Once every year, a census is conducted in order to actualise data and monitor reproductive success of the whole population. These demographic data are important for the management of the population generally, but also when it comes to the point of fertility regulation in selected individuals. Since Barbary macaque females reproduce well, the population on Gibraltar is steadily increasing, which in turn puts pressure on the limited habitat. Animal population control is therefore an essential part of the effective management of the Gibraltar monkey population.”- GONH

Happy Father’s Day

Polar Frontier Exhibit; Hyper or Hypercarnivore

I recently shared this with two highly esteemed bear biologists. It’s not evidence-based research (it’s a Zoo Peeps blog), but was fitting for a correspondence that ensued among us, and it reminded me that I should revise this popular post.

“Ursine ADHD, the Zoo Keeper Emeritus Paradigm”

April 23, 2010 · 

I came across a blog that I don’t want to give any more undeserved recognition to than it may already have received, but two of the issues that the anonymous blogger(s) ridiculed were Climate Change (specifically global warming trends) and ADHD, a neurobehavioral developmental disorder that manifests itself in children and adults.

There is strong empirical evidence to support these two vastly disparate, but high- profile topics among contemporary scientific research circles. In reading a post from the blog, I was reminded of a presentation I gave to a USFWS center in Alaska where I think I successfully  conveyed how the range of behaviors, particularly foraging behaviors among bear species can be described by drawing a parallel to people with ADHD and people who don’t have this “gift.”  Some of those with the disorder perceive it as a gift and some  don’t.  I should mention that although most people like to claim they have  it, the greater majority of Homo sapiens on earth don’t have ADHD or at least a severe enough case that it serves as an impairment (approximately 95.6% of adults do not meet the diagnostic criteria of the simian- morphed energizer bunny).   Here are some of the gifted who received a posthumous honor, a belated honor, an appreciated honor, and recognition unappreciated. I don’t have empirical evidence to support my ursine ADHD  claim. It either it’s intuitive or not. I was just trying to share an analogy to better illustrate my point in speaking to this audience which included biologists and non-scientists.  It’s much harder to engage an audience in discussion about frugivory or hypercarnivory in a carnivoran clade that shares the same dentition and digestion system and make it resonate with people  than it is to share something that the media throws at us with good reason on a daily basis that is widely broached in conversations. The hunter vs. gatherer construct, as you will see, is something that is relevant to both human cultures and “bear cultures.”

One researcher suggests that ADHD evolved among hunters in some nomadic tribes and that the rest of human civilization was composed primarily of gathers. Again, intentionally simplistic. This is a very basic construct of  the author’s much more complex paradigm and insight into early human cultures and division of labor. The point is that hunters were adapted to high energy, and high stress lifestyles where they needed an ability to hyper-focus on potential prey and typically exhibited their most responsive behaviors to circumstances which were deemed to provide great deal of external stimuli. These ‘hunters’ would have been poor candidates for assignments like basket weaving or some refined details of taxidermic work, etc (unless of course these tasks were of great interest to them).

Today, examples that might compare in intensity that rivals hunting might be an exhilarating ride on a roller coaster or an adventurous safari or even a riveting feature film, or any high intensity athletic event (particularly as an athlete, not a spectator) . Even a video game. So it shouldn’t surprise you that both athlete, Michael Jordan, and actor, Will Smith, both have ADHD, as did Albert Einstein Jack Hanna, the iconic celebrity conservationist admits that as a child he would have been a poster boy for Ritalin, the stimulant commonly used to treat people of all ages with the condition.  Jungle Jack very much demonstrates how an unyielding energy, and sense of adventure, if harnessed appropriately can not only make you the most enterprising zoo director in the world, but deserving of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a recipient of the prestigious Marlin Perkins Award (AZA).  In fact, it is not unusual for ADHD to draw people to nature or to the out doors. I know zoo vets and animal trainers with ADHD. They thrive in a fast paced stimulant rich environment. All of these individuals were/are highly skilled at activities they found most exciting. They were a lucky few with ADHD where indeed it really served them as a gift. Albert Einstein couldn’t find his own house and often lost his way, but part of that was because he was lost in thought concerning complex mathematical models which were of was of great interest to him. Most would agree that he excelled in that area.

Now my point will hopefully make some sense to you. Polar bears, the hypercarnivore (impressed by well-cited blogs) and other ursids get easily bored in captivity and so we provide them with as much environmental enrichment as possible.  They are easily distracted by interesting stimuli, and anything novel (essentially anything that breaks up any monotony of the day like a person climbing into their exhibit).  Compare their response to how a giant panda may respond to an individual climbing into an exhibit.  How long would it take for a giant panda to walk over and investigate someone crazy enough to climb into their exhibit. When feeding time comes around for a polar bear their sensory equipment (ears and noses) are on high alert, as they eagerly await that opening guillotine  door. Now if you have ever watched giant panda feeding on bamboo in a zoo or in the wild, you could argue that they are perfectly content sitting in the same place for hours on end foraging on bamboo.  Excitement thresholds for them for them are  far different from excitement thresholds for a polar bear and this makes sense. Is a panda adapted to ambushing a ringed seal on an ice flow. Do they require an ability  to hyper-focus to be able to consume bamboo. Again, I am providing a very simplistic version of my hypothetical behavioral model.  My objective is not to prove that polar bears have ADHD or that pandas represent the rest of the world, but rather share an analogy with those of you who could perhaps better appreciate ADHD.  My ursine model asserts that bears exemplify a taxonomic group that is unique among carnivorans (mammalian carnivores). On one extreme you have giant panda. They don’t require much if any reason to focus and although I have not trained giant panda, I have watched sessions and can see their attention potential for engaging stimuli.  Most other ursids probably represent the majority of people. They don’t require too much excitement to sustain their attention.  Giant panda are lucky to show up to class, polar bears show up and fall asleep and the remaining 6 species, I contend, make for pretty good note takers (more or less).

You won’t see either a polar bear or Michael Jordan signing up for a job as an accountant or a database manager. However you might find, given my proposed paradigm, that a giant panda may very well be suited for such a job. Most people probably fall somewhere in between and exhibit behavior more similar to the truly omnivorous ursids like American black bears.  We could complicate things by looking at frugivory among  some other bear species, but I will keep it simple.  Brown bears as more opportunistic predators are probably on the cusp of a formal diagnosis.

I don’t know this for sure, but my guess is that in a zoo there are a few excellent elephant trainers with ADHD who can hyper-focus on their job, and would be less suited for work as a registrar or a behavioral researcher which might require long hours of observing animals that may not be particularly active.  Likewise ADHD may be more common in some carnivore keepers and marine mammal trainers who do well in high intensity, high action roles than in other vocations in a zoo. They are suited for more high intensity experiences. Now, just because I made assertion does not mean that I think all elephant trainers have ADHD or that all registrars and behavioral researchers should be likened to giant pandas. Like anything else it’s just a theoretical construct that might or might not apply and has yet to be tested, if it’s even possible to examine. You either have ADHD or you don’t  and you’re either a polar bear or a panda. You may have some tendencies that suggest you are more like one than another, but there are few polar bear-giant panda hybrids walking around.

Video w/ Jack at Polar Frontier exhibit (Cols. Zoo)

Hunter/ Gatherer


Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo  Keeper Emeritus

Jordan Schaul, Katmai, AK (2004)

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