“Rarest of the Rare”


Please read my post on the State of the Wild (WCS 2010). The white-headed langur like the Indo-Chinese tiger and other tiger subspecies has been driven to near extinction in-part because of wildlife trafficking. Traditional Chinese Medicine continues to promote the practice of zootherapy.  Zootherapeutic agents include parts and derivatives of whole carcasses, tissues and byproducts of wildlife. There are approximately 100 white-headed langurs left in the wild. One subspecies occurs in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam and the other in Guangxi, China.  This partially albinistic langur was considered a subspecies of Francois’ langurs as recently as 1995.  One day I may share my experience with captive Francois’ langurs. If I had to pick a favorite Old World monkey, I might just pick Francois’ langurs.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus


“The Dirty Dozen”



Last year I got an opportunity to work with my colleague, Dr. Angela Glatston, on PR initiatives for the (European Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s (EAZA)) Carnivore Conservation Campaign. Angela is the Curator of Mammals at the Rotterdam Zoo and an authority on red pandas among other small carnivore taxa.  She is a member of the IUCN SSC Small Carnivore Specialist Group. She recently shared this petition to help save the “Dirty Dozen.”

IUCN Red Panda Publication

Jungle Yellow Fever

I’m scheduled to give a talk to an audience at the Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut next month on topics relevant to ecological health and conservation medicine. These emerging field disciplines are popular right now, just as veterinary epidemiology has become a hot topic among interdisciplinary collection-based research programs.  They are not just popular. These health science disciplines are vital areas for researching the implications of the human-wildlife interface in regions of the world where wildlife coexists closely with human populations.

While perusing wildlife health resources I realized that I missed some recent epizootics or at least notable reports of disease outbreaks in wildlife.  The Wildlife Conservation Society just released some news regarding the cause of a 2007-2008 die-off  among two of the 9 extant species of howler monkeys.  Altogether 59 monkeys in northeastern Argentina succumbed to this arbovirus (arthropod-borne virus) some of which were a subspecies of brown howler monkeys (Alouatta guariba).  Although found in relatively high densities even in fragmented habitat, hunting and disease have impacted otherwise sustainable populations of these large leaf-eating monkeys.

Muller, Frankfurt Zoo

Jungle Yellow Fever refers to the sylvatic or wild life cycle which persists with in New World monkey populations in forest habitat.  The acute viral hemmorhagic disease which has it’s origins in Africa is also now endemic in Latin America. Infected Old World primates are typically asymptomatic, but the virus takes it’s toll on the more susceptible Central and South American primates which have not co-evolved with the disease.  Aedes spp. mosquitoes serve as vectors of this viral pathogen and if they feed on unvaccinated populations of humans, the disease is easily transmitted and may persist in “urban” transmission cycles.

Yellow fever refers to the jaundice that affects some human patients. The disease, if not treated, can be lethal.  As people continue to encroach upon wild lands and deforestation rates increase in tropical regions, the potential for the sylvatic disease transmission cycle to evolve into an intermediate and/or urban transmission cycle becomes increasingly likely.  As people and monkeys increasingly attempt to co-exist, threats to human health from Yellow Fever will persist without the intervention of immunization  and mosquito control programs.   Yellow fever exemplifies a human health risk that can be assessed and addressed though surveillance programs targeted at wild primates.  In this case brown howler monkey populations which are already threatened by human activities serve as indicators of disease outbreaks in areas inhabited by humans.

Some zoos in Latin America, including facilities in Belize warn people not to purchase monkey as pets, mentioning several reasons, one of which is concern over diseases like Yellow Fever.  Yellow fever like all arboviruses is considered a zoonotic disease because the transmission cycle involves   insect vectors and people. However,  no direct transmission occurs between primates and people.

According to ISIS  the only pair of  brown howler monkeys (Alouatta guariba guaribaNorthern Brown Howler) in captivity (on record) are housed at the  Fundacao Zoo-Botan. de Belo Horizonto. I believe the animal photographed above is a red howler monkey.

Vanishing Felid of the Wakhan Corridor

Time Article

Time Article

(No commentary or supplemental info provided at this time)

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.