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

Failed CITES Proposal Highlights Need for New Approach

This week at the CITES Conference of Parties, several proposals, including those to list Atlantic bluefin tuna & polar bears in Appendix I and red & pink coral in Appendix II, were rejected.  Opponents of the proposals intimated the reason behind their lack of support was their concern that increased regulations would negatively impact poor communities.  Whether or not that was the true motivation behind their votes, these statements emphasize the need to find ways to sustain species while also sustaining the communities that depend on them.

A relatively new eco-label, called Wildlife Friendly, does just that.  It certifies “wildlife-friendly” products that conserve threatened wildlife while at the same time contributing to the economic vitality of rural communities.  Take the example of certified “Elephant Pepper.” To stop elephants from raiding their crops, farmers in Kenya plant pepper plants as natural fences around their fields. In addition to keeping elephants out (did you know elephants dislike and thus avoid pepper?), the plants provide a new cash crop for farmers that is then certified and sold for use in salsa and other products.

Another example is Ibis Rice.  Sustainable rice growing in the habitat of the endangered Great Ibis in Cambodia both earns local farmers substantial income while avoiding conversion of the land habitat and ensuring it’s maintained in its natural state.   Perhaps zoos and other wildlife-oriented institutions can help promote these types of products as well as foster public awareness about them and create markets by exploring options to use certified products in their own restaurants?

You can hear more examples of win-win-win situations that support a “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profits, as well as what goes into wildlife friendly certification, on this week’s The WildLife broadcast & podcast with Julie Stein of the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) which will air on Monday, March 22, 2010 from 1-2 pm on WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont.  (Live stream on www.theradiator.org.  Podcast available on iTunes and www.laurelneme.com.)

More information:   The WildLife Radio & Podcast:  http://bit.ly/7lTzpZ Certified Wildlife Friendly: http://www.wildlifefriendly.org/ Predator Friendly: http://www.predatorfriendly.org/about/index.html

Dr. Laurel Neme (http://www.laurelneme.com)

Laurel will be a featured lecturer at the St. Louis Zoo this Spring. Check page for dates.

“Captivity on Camera”

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Amazonia/default.cfm………(link to Andean bear cub cam)

Web cams are not new to zoos. They have broad appeal among the generation of people born after Al Gore invented the internet. Hopefully you agree that it  is pretty amazing to see live feeds of spheniscid penguins and sun bears on display (separately, of course).

It’s even cool to see the charismatic mini-fauna on your computer monitors. Who is not captivated by watching the eusocial naked mole rats (also known as  sand puppies) on exhibit. Fossorial and arboreal web viewing is also very popular for zoo and wildlife enthusiasts. You can visit the zoo while you are drinking a Cappuccino (sometimes confused with a ‘capuchin’) at Starbucks. The remote monitoring of captive wildlife is not new. Panda research units in zoos often remind people of something out of a NASA spacecraft with more monitors accessible to behaviorists than actual animals . Aviculturists have carefully studied condor chicks sequestered in nests and neonatologists have observed a host of species through the use of these unobtrusive surveillance tools. However, today’s animal keeper can leave the zoo and make it home just in time to watch the crepuscular activities of their charges.

Some of our most prominent living institutions designate webcams for use by husbandry and health care staff- cameras that are not intended to provide footage for patrons. Keepers simply login to their respective accounts and chose what camera angle they want.  Well before a press release of  new offspring, animal keepers may have been watching webcams from remote locations immediately following parturition.

If a zoo has the resources to install web cams, it’s possible to monitor individual animals in zoo collections from any place at any time as long as one can find an internet connection. When you think about it this is pretty amazing. Just like camera traps have provided footage of the most rare and elusive carnivores in the densest jungles on earth, zoos now have the capability to observe behaviors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from a laptop or a cell phone. This greatly enhances the potential to carry out collection-based studies on our most imperiled species.

Internet technology progresses at lightening speed.    Zoological parks are now embracing these technological developments to expand our knowledge of zoo biology and improve upon their high standards for animal welfare.  I can’t imagine what tools will be available to study wildlife in the next decade. We just need to remain committed to saving vanishing species and our natural heritage for generations to come.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

The Underappreciated Camelid


Congratulations to the St. Louis Zoo. The zoo recently celebrated the birth of a Bactrian camel calf.

I remember as a young keeper being tasked with exercising a Bactrian camel calf in the early mornings of a typically hot Midwestern summer. Just like many neonates of large ungulates, this animal was pretty big despite his age. You may not realize this until you have one on a lead and he’s running you to exhaustion.

If you have ridden or worked with dromedary camels and/or have experience working with Bactrians camels you can well appreciate the differences between these two true camel species, and their special adaptations for the environments they inhabit. Notice the humps of course.  The smaller New World camelids are also sometimes referred to as camels (e.g., guanacos, alapacas, etc). Hybrids of  Old World (true camels) and New World camelids also exist (e.g., Dromedary X Llama = Cama).

With the exception of  approximately 700,000 feral dromedary camels in Australia (introduced by the Afghans in the 19th century), the greater majority of these animals living today are domesticated. The majority of Bactrians are also domesticated.  However,  the declining wild population of Bactrian camels may number as few as 800 or less. This remnant population from the Gobi desert (Mongolia/China) has drawn much attention from conservationists making the Bactrian camel a species of special concern.  Bactrian camels were listed as one of the top-10 “focal species” in 2007 by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project.

Working with Bactrian camels in captivity can be quite dangerous and hence, precautions may be taken to work these animals in a “protected contact” environment such that keepers and handlers train and care for the animals, but do not enter the enclosure with them.  Bactrians may not look that big until you stand next to one.

I recommend a colleague’s site for ungulate resources:


Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus