Riveting Piece About NGS Photographer & Vanishing Species



Both the New York Times & CNN seem to be reading the Zoo Peeps blog. I’m so flattered. I won’t distract you with my thoughts, but read my article on the re-branding of African wild dogs and other endangered species. The new field of conservation marketing and brand development is taking off.


“We’ll Skip the Small Mammal Building”


Rarely do you hear the zoo visitor soliciting directions to the small mammal exhibits from docents, guest services, or other zoo personnel.  Most people are eager to get right to the big guys.  Guests hastily try to orient themselves with respect to some key locales with the help of the printed zoo maps.  They are challenging for some people to use at first, but they are actually quite useful if you have some patience. Yes, some people are most eager to visit the restroom, the gift shop, or perhaps the restaurant.  Others quickly embark on a journey to see the high-profile species. Among these people some are too excited to fumble with the schematic map and  start following patrons who appear to know where they are going. Although many seek out the quickest route to the mega-fauna on display (e.g., big cats, apes, marine mammals, and elephants, etc.), a few are probably more systematic in their approach to comprehensive zoo animal viewing.

But once the visitors, regardless of their interests or enthusiasm, catch site of the crowds hovering over something seemingly insignificant, their curiosity over rides the impulse to pass up anything of potential interest and temptation leads them to follow others.

BBC News

The most popular exhibits that may serve as the impetus for visiting the zoo in the first place may eventually take a back seat to the lesser known and underappreciated displays of charismatic min-fauna.  By the time you leave the zoo, your party may have all but forgotten the lions and tigers and bears. While reflecting on your zoo visit the interest in mega-fauna is  somehow superseded by discussion of meerkats, and prairie dogs, and naked mole rats.  These semi-fossorial and fossorial species are highly social, perceived as “cute” and their high energy levels make them particularly interesting to watch. Even those distracted by ADHD or cotton candy find these animals to be fascinating. Their impromptu “pop up” performances are riveting.

True fossorial mammals live their entire lives virtually underground, but due to some fantastic exhibit design zoos now offer subterranean viewing of these eusocial, true fossorial mammals.  The African mole rats or blesmols, including the naked mole rat (which is commonly displayed in zoos) use their incisors to dig through soil.  The smallest of  the fossorial rodents may burrow at a rate of 4m/h. This energy expenditure comes at a cost, but indicates just how much energy these animals can expend in a short period of time. To restore energy small mammals are typically voracious eaters and consume a lot of food .

Energy expenditure is determined by body size, climate, and foraging habits.  The physiological parameters considered in the measurement of the metabolic activity and the general energetics of small endotherms (animals that regulate their own body temperature) must be considered when comparing wild animals to zoo animals. Even captive small mammals will be quite active and captivating to watch. The abundance and distribution of food resources in captivity are far different from what is available to wild animals.  This may permit visitors with more of an opportunity to observe a certain spectrum of behaviors.  This is purely speculation.

Without concern for predators or other coteries (harems) of prairie dogs, the behavioral repertoire of captive prairie dogs may differ or be limited compared to wild prairie dogs. None-the-less, their social interactions are most interesting.  I should mention that prairie dogs are very important to prairie ecosystems, and they are actually ground squirrels. They do bark like dogs.

Today prairie dog exhibits allow kids and adults to view these animals under ground and are also designed to simulate fossorial activities.  I first worked with a black-tailed prairie dog enclosure with a bottomless enclosure.  In an effort to deter the animals from burrowing out of the exhibit, I placed long white, plastic tubes above ground to encourage the animals to spend more time at the surface. This alone won’t discourage burrowing activity, but it provides secure above ground retreats.

Black-tailed prairie dogs which one numbered in the billions were candidates for the endangered species list. They are highly susceptible to plague and human activity has heavily fragmented their habitat.  Today they are commonly displayed in zoos. A mentor of mine, Dr. Penny Bernstein began studying black-tailed prairie dog communicative behavior at the Philadelphia Zoo in the 1970’s.  The Philadelphia Zoo continued to study the behavior of these animals as have other living institutions.  More recently, the Denver Zoo has dedicated an entire day to prairie dog awareness.  A good reference for prairie dog information is the following website http://www.prairedogcoalition.org

Dr.  Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

Vanishing Felid of the Wakhan Corridor

Time Article

Time Article

(No commentary or supplemental info provided at this time)

Hyenas Laughing

(Follow Link to BBC Report)

From BBC Report

The spotted or laughing hyena is the largest member of Hyaenidae inhabiting open areas throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These highly social predators are often erroneously labeled as strict scavengers like other members of this clade of hyaenid carnivorans. Other species include, striped hyenas, brown hyenas, and aardwolves (earth wolves).

Unlike other hyaenids, the foraging ecology of spotted hyenas is often considered similar to that of large African felids and canids with respect to their prey base and predatory behavior. They are certainly known for being indiscriminant  scavengers with robust digestive systems permitting the consumption of  very large ungulate bones. However, they hunt their fair share of ungulates, competing heavily with lions. Common prey include wildebeests, zebra and Thompson’s gazelles, but as predators they are also quite indiscriminant. Spotted hyenas have been reported to catch fish, tortoises, pythons, pangolins, and prey on black rhinos, hippo calves, young elephants, as well as humans, among other species, including a host of different ungulate species. They will avoid some of the largest of adult ungulates.   In captivity, they may live as long as 10-12 years, but have been known to live as long as 25 yrs.  These nocturnal animals are not rare is zoo collections, but are on display primarily for educational purposes, as their conservation status places them at a lower risk than many other members of their large African carnivore community.

The San Diego Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, the St. Louis Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Miami MetroZoo, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, the Milwaukee County Zoo, the San Antonio Zoo, the Denver Zoo, the Honolulu Zoo, the Sacramento Zoo, the Oakland Zoo, the Rio Grande Zoo (NM), the Seneca Park Zoo (Rochester, NY), and the Oklahoma City Zoo are just some of the living institutions where you can see spotted hyenas in North America.

I welcome you to join  wildcanidkeepers@yahoogroups.com, a mailing list that serves global husbandry and health professionals working with canids and hyaenids managed in captive facilities for behavioral/endocrinological research and for educational exhibition.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

The Coveted Common Hippopotamus

About a week ago I posted an article which didn’t quite surface on Associated Press outlets as I suspected it would, but never-the-less it received positive feedback from distinguished guest contributing authors to the blog, subscribers and Zoo Peeps followers on Facebook. I’m talking about the post on the  under-appreciated mega-camelid, the Bactrian camel.

Although more people are probably fans of the common hippo than Bactrian camels, they too, in my opinion are underappreciated. There are certainly exceptions at zoos around the world where resident hippos are the most popular and beloved animals in the collection. People are toured behind-the-scenes and offered a chance to watch the keepers brush their teeth. Incidentally, they too are poached for their tusks, but they are formidable targets for poachers.

In East Africa they may be feared, if anything, but unless they are displayed in contemporary exhibits, they often are over-looked and underappreciated.  In the mid 1980’s Toledo’s hippoquarium was unveiled and was soon ranked as one of the top ten zoo exhibits in the country. The exhibit was featured in National Geographic and has since received great acclaim for visual recordings of underwater births of hippo calves.

Still, more people are interested in rhinos and elephants. This is due in-part to conservation efforts and publicity surrounding the plight of these more endangered pachyderms (e.g.,more so than rhino species) and the obvious popularity of elephants. However, these semi-aquatic pachyderms are the second largest terrestrial mammals by weight, following the elephant and perhaps even more dangerous in some regards. Their ill-temperment towards humans makes them less than popular and detracts from their reputation.  They are often considered the most dangerous animals in Africa if you consider data on the reported lethal encounters with people. They certainly aren’t reluctant to chase off Nile crocodiles, lions, or hyenas. They not only attack people, but they attack people and the water craft they are riding in. Hence, hippo eco-tourism has yet to flourish, although logistical restraints can preclude wild viewing.

Hippos are still regarded as a species of concern. In  2006 the common hippopotamus was listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, with an estimated population of between 125,000 and 150,000 individuals left in the wild. Their numbers have decreased by as much as 20 % since the last census studies were reported in the mid 1990’s.

Regardless of their popularity or concern for their conservation status, they have most interesting life histories and I consider them quite the charismatic mega-vertebrates. In the zoo, it’s much more interesting to view them underwater where they spend much of the day. They conserve energy by doing almost nothing unless they leave the water to feed. So at most  zoos where hippos are displayed viewing is limited to watching a submerged individual in dung contaminated pools.  This doesn’t compromise  their health as the pools are regularly drained and refilled, but it may compromise their popularity as exhibit animals.   I would agree that there’s not always much to see with hippos. With that said, Obaysch, a celebrity hippo at the London Zoo who debuted in the late 1800’s drew 10,000 visitors a day.  But again, he was a novel exhibit animal at the time.

Hippos live to be half a century in age, outliving their wild counterparts by just a few years. Today, many hippos in zoos  are of a generation where they are nearing the end of their lifespan.  To zoo staff they become legendary and hopefully there will be a time when more of these animals are replaced in zoos as more institutions can afford to build contemporary exhibits that do justice to these magnificent animals. Both San Diego and Toledo have phenomenal exhibits, and other zoos display pygmy hippos very well. Louisville Zoo, for example, has a fantastic pygmy hippo exhibit.  The captive gene pool is healthy enough that recruitment of wild individuals is unnecessary. However, as I  mentioned, it’s very expensive to build a contemporary hippo exhibit because water filtration that can handle hippo excrement is quite costly, not to mention the volume of water needed to house hippos. They can be exhibited with fish as they are not piscivorous, but rather herbivorous. Some fish species are particularly adapted to feed on the dead skin and other debris found on hippos. In the wild the hippos literally walking into cleaning stations where different species of freshwater fish tend to different regions that need cleaning.

They recently gained international attention when the late  Pablo Escobar’s herd of hippos was discovered to be living free in Columbia after escaping the confines of their enclosures on his compound’s ranch. They apparently adapted quite well to foraging on the native flora in the region. Unfortunately, they were deemed a great danger to civilians and most, if not all of the animals in the herd were killed.  At least we know that they were coveted collection animals by someone (i.e., drug baron). I can’t think of many people today with resources available to manage private collections who seek out it hippos. I certainly don’t condone private ownership of hippos, but it’s interesting to know that they were of interest to someone.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

*Note: With the exception of one of my own illustrations posted below, all photos that accompany previous blog posts from myself and Dr. Laurel Neme are from random browser image searches for generic photos.  As soon as I can track down the original sources, I will credit the photographer and welcome any information that the readership is privy to.  Contributing author Diana L. Guerrero provides her own photos from her stock footage. If you have any questions about photo credits please email me at jcschaul@aim.com.   Thank you.  If you have a photo that you would like to share we welcome those as well.