The World's Largest Rodents - Two Female Capybaras - Back at the Santa Barbara Zoo

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Two young capybaras are back at the Santa Barbara Zoo after a four-year absence of the world’s largest rodents from the Zoo. The sisters, who are less than one year old, share an exhibit near the Zoo Train Station with the Zoo’s three female giant anteaters.

The two female capybaras were born August 5, 2018 at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, where they were hand-raised after their mother passed away. A total of five siblings were hand-raised.

“They don’t have names yet, but do have personalities,” said Melanie Story, the mammal keeper who has cared for them during their 30-day quarantine. “The one that is currently lighter in color is more comfortable around people and braver in new situations, even though they were both hand-reared. But they are still not mature and it will be exciting to see how they change as they grow.”

A temporary fence currently separates the capybara from the giant anteaters, and keepers are making careful introductions in hopes that the two species will co-inhabit the exhibit in the future.

The Zoo’s adult female giant anteater Anara is currently on exhibit with her female twins, Fancy Nancy Drew and Maria Luisa, who were born at the Zoo in November 2017. The Zoo’s male giant anteater Ridley has his own quarters but will soon return to the adjacent exhibit, which was most recently occupied by two koalas who were on a one-year loan. Adult male giant anteaters do not interact with females unless they are breeding.

The sister capybaras, like many of the animals at the Zoo, can be sponsored and even named by making a donation to the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Foster Feeder fund which covers the cost of the animal food bill at the Zoo each year. For more information, contact the Zoo’s Institutional Advancement Department for details at 805-962-5339 or visit www.sbzoo.org.

About Capybaras

They have been called “swamp hogs” and “water pigs,” but capybaras are more closely related to guinea pigs than actual pigs – they are rodents. Adult capybaras can weigh as much as 150 pounds and stand as tall as 2.5 feet. They come from Central and South America where they live near standing water like riversides, ponds, and marshes.

Capybaras are most active on land, but are also skilled and graceful swimmers. Their feet are partially-webbed (like otters’ or beavers’) which allows them to dive deep and swim underwater for long distances. Water is also where capybaras prefer to defecate; they rarely “go” on land.

Just like fellow rodents such as porcupines and squirrels, capybaras’ long front teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime. The teeth tend to wear down from chewing food, but some older capybaras end up with very long teeth. Like camels, they chew from side-to-side, and like cows, they regurgitate their food to re-chew it.

Animal experts generally agree that in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find this shy and sometimes nocturnal animal in the wild. Deforestation and habitat destruction are factors, and until recently, hunting and poaching as a food source contributed to their decline. New captive farming programs have helped relieve poaching.

The Santa Barbara Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; general admission $18 for adults, $13 for seniors 64+, $11 for children 2-12, and free for children under 2. Parking is $11. The Santa Barbara Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA zoos are dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great visitor experience, and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and is the public’s link to helping animals in their native habitats. Visit www.sbzoo.org.

Santa Barbara Zoo Announces Bradley The Golden Retriever, the Zoo's First Ambassador Dog

Bradley, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s first Ambassador Dog.

Bradley, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s first Ambassador Dog.

The Santa Barbara Zoo announced today that its latest addition is a ten-month old Golden Retriever named Bradley, who is in training to be the Zoo’s first Ambassador Dog.

As Ambassador Dog, Bradley’s overall duty “is to connect with Zoo guests so they can understand and care about all animals, especially those in the wild animals.”

“Bradley can connect with people in ways many of our other animals can’t,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the Zoo’s Vice President of Animal Care & Health. “If people care about animals, then they are more likely to want to save them in the wild by preserving habitat, making sustainable choices, and other actions we talk about here at the Zoo.”

Dr. Barnes reports that Bradley is still young, so the training is takes place at his pace and is going quite well.

Bradley with Kristen Wieners

Bradley with Kristen Wieners

If it goes as hoped, Bradley will eventually participate in keeper talks on subjects like responsible pet choices and animal training using positive reinforcement. He may be involved in education programs such as Zoo Camp. He might provide outreach to local schools, retirement homes, hospitals, and elsewhere.

“Though they might catch sight of him with his handlers and wearing his ‘In Training’ vest, Bradley is not ready to meet the public,” adds Barnes. “Currently, we tell people not to make a special visit to the Zoo just to see him. He’s rarely visible and not on a regular schedule.”

About Bradley’s Training

As with the Zoo’s other animal residents, Bradley is trained using positive reinforcement, meaning he is rewarded for good behaviors and following instructions, and ignored or redirected for negative behaviors. The Zoo has retained a professional dog trainer who works with Bradley most days and is training specific staff to work with him as well.

“The goal is to guide him into making the right choices on his own,” says Dr. Barnes. “The training is currently going well, but will last as long as needed. Some training will continue indefinitely, to keep Bradley engaged as an ambassador dog.”

About Bradley

Bradley is an English Cream Golden Retriever who was born on May 12, 2018. The “English Cream” refers to the light color of his fur. His original family lived in Northridge and had him as a young puppy. A family member’s unexpected medical development made it impossible for them to care for a puppy. The Zoo adopted him when he was nine months old.

“Zoo staff spent six months visiting dog rescue facilities and following leads for a dog with the right temperament to be trained as our ambassador,” said Dr. Barnes. “Bradley has what we were looking for.”

Bradley lives at the Zoo. It is hoped that he will eventually make visits to local schools, retirement homes, hospitals, and community events, but that depends on his training.

His sleeping area is in a heated office. The Zoo’s security guard checks on him several times during the night and gives Bradley toilet breaks. Bradley has a fenced exercise and play area on Cabrillo Lawn, across from Cats of Africa. There he is allowed to run free and play, and have play dates with specially selected dogs. During breaks from training, Bradley also has “Sniff Time” while on the leash, when he is allowed to follow his nose and explore the Zoo.

“Zoo animals are not unfamiliar with dogs, as service dogs sometimes accompany guests,” says Dr. Barnes. “However, his presence does help reinforce that the sight or smell of a dog is normal. So far, Bradley has responded well to zoo animals by remaining calm in their presence. Acclimating him to the other animals that live at the zoo is part of his training.”

Bradley is sponsored by a local family that wishes to remain anonymous and is recognized at the Zoo simply as “Jackson and Alaia.”

Dogs in Zoos

Ambassador dogs are not uncommon in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). The Oklahoma Zoo debuted canine animal ambassador Max, a two-year-old terrier mix, in summer 2018. Other zoos with ambassador dogs include the Denver Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (Tacoma, Washington) and Rosamond Gifford Zoo (Syracuse New York).

While dogs are sometimes used as companion animals for specific species, Bradley does not go into any animal enclosures.

The Santa Barbara Zoo provided dog companions for African lion cub Kiki when she was being hand-raised in 2004. The San Diego Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, and Metro Richmond Zoo, among others, have had companion dogs for cheetah cubs.

The Santa Barbara Zoo

Known as one of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of botanic gardens and is home to nearly 500 individual animals in open, naturalistic habitats. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), representing the highest level of animal care, and participates in AZA endangered species programs for Asian elephant, California condor, island fox, and Western lowland gorilla, among others. A private 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, the Santa Barbara Zoo depends on community support, not tax dollars, for operations and improvements. Visit www.sbzoo.org

The Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; general admission $18 for adults, $13 for seniors 64+, $11 for children 2-12, and free for children under 2. Parking is $11.

Elderly Female Snow Leopard Zoe Passes Away at the Santa Barbara Zoo

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An elderly snow leopard named Zoe passed away on Thursday, February 14, 2019, at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Though she was advanced in age and being treated for related ailments, her death was sudden and unexpected. A keeper in the vicinity alerted the Zoo’s veterinary team, which attempted to resuscitate the 15-year-old big cat, but were unsuccessful.

“Zoe was being treated for osteoarthritis of her hind legs, early renal failure, and hypertension, which are common in geriatric large cats,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the Zoo’s director of animal care and health. “Given the suddenness of her death, I suspect a heart attack or a stroke.”

A necropsy was performed Friday, February 15, but revealed no specific findings to explain Zoe’s sudden death. Tissues have been submitted to a lab for analysis, which may provide more information, but the results will not be available for two to four weeks.

Zoe’s body has been sent to Midwestern University in Arizona as part of a vascular anatomy study in snow leopards, which is supported by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival plan for snow leopards. The species is highly endangered it its home range of Central Asia.

“This study will contribute to the knowledge of snow leopard anatomy which has not been documented in detail,” adds Dr. Barnes.

About Zoe and Snow Leopards at the Zoo

Zoe was born on May 18, 2003 at the Akron Zoo in Ohio. She arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in 2010. Everett is six years older and arrived at the Zoo in 2011 from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois.

Though Everett has a genetic disorder that made him sterile, he showed an unusual amount of interest in Zoe when she first arrived. Keepers did careful introductions, and the two became contented companions.

“In the wild, adult snow leopards are solitary unless it is mating season or a female is raising young. So it was a rare treat for our guests to witness the two snow leopards not only get along, but actually romp and snuggle together,” says Dr. Barnes.

Dr. Barnes notes that animals under human care are living longer due to the high quality of geriatric care now available. Gingerbread, an African lion, lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo for 13 of her 18 years before passing away in February 2017. Her lifelong mate Chadwick, now aged 20, currently receives special care related to age and poor vision. Zoo staff has decided to have him live out the rest of his life at the Zoo without the stress of introducing new lions.

At age 21 years and seven months, Everett is currently the oldest snow leopard in any accredited AZA zoo.

“Given his age and current geriatric medical conditions, it is not in Everett’s best interest to be moved,” says Dr. Barnes. “As with Chadwick, we will continue to care for him for the rest of his life.”

Snow Leopards are Critically Endangered

Snow leopards are critically endangered and currently number between an estimated 3,900 and 6,400 in the mountains of Central Asia. They have long been prized as hunter’s trophies, destroyed as predators of domestic flocks, and sought as a source of valuable fur.

Adapted for the extreme weather, snow leopards have been viewed at elevations as high as 19,600 feet in summer. Their furry feet help them to stay on top of the snow by providing a greater surface area – like snow shoes – and their fur keeps their paws warm and dry, providing traction as well. Unlike most big cats, snow leopards don’t roar, but they do make vocalizations.

About the Santa Barbara Zoo

Known as one of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of botanic gardens and is home to nearly 500 individual animals in open, naturalistic habitats. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), representing the highest level of animal care, and participates in AZA endangered species programs for Asian elephant, California condor, island fox, and Western lowland gorilla, among others. A private 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, the Santa Barbara Zoo depends on community support, not tax dollars, for operations and improvements.

It is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; general admission $18 for adults, $13 for seniors aged 65+, $11 for children aged 2-12, and free for children under 2. Parking is $11. Visit www.sbzoo.org.

Prognosis is Good for Lucky, the Shoe-Wearing Penguin at Santa Barbara Zoo

Lucky shown wearing one of his high-tech shoes designed by Teva, which allowed him to walk, swim, and be a part of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s penguin colony. (Photo Credit: Tony Luna)

Lucky shown wearing one of his high-tech shoes designed by Teva, which allowed him to walk, swim, and be a part of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s penguin colony. (Photo Credit: Tony Luna)

Lucky, a Humboldt penguin at the Santa Barbara Zoo who made national headlines for wearing a specially designed shoe, has undergone surgery to remove the foot on his affected right leg. His prognosis is good, according to Director of Animal Care and Health Dr. Julie Barnes, who assisted on the surgery conducted this morning (Friday, October 19) by Dr. Stephen Klause, a veterinary orthopedic specialist from the Los Angeles Zoo. Dr. Klause has consulted with Dr. Barnes on Lucky’s condition for several years and has a lot of surgical experience with birds.

“Although this is a fairly straightforward surgery and used for cats and dogs with a similar condition, there are some other considerations for performing this in a bird,” said Dr. Barnes. “We feel he has a good prognosis and this procedure will give him the best quality of life. Our goals are to lessen Lucky’s pain, retain his mobility, and have him rejoin the Zoo’s Humboldt penguin colony.”

Why Lucky Needed Surgery

Lucky’s need for this surgery stems from the deterioration of a malformed ankle joint, which caused his right foot to point up at an angle, rather than lay flat. This caused Lucky to walk on the point of his ankle, rather than on his foot. The abnormality was discovered as soon as Lucky left the nest in 2010 and walked with a shuffling gait. He was unable to walk properly and began to develop life-threatening infections from pressure and chafing.

In 2011, local shoe company Teva designed a high-tech shoe for the penguin, and since then has further refined and provided custom shoes for Lucky, free of charge. The footwear has been effective for the past eight years, allowing him to be an active member of the Zoo’s penguin colony. In 2017, he sired a chick with his mate Nica.

But Lucky’s intertarsal (ankle) joint was undergoing a continual, slow deterioration as expected with this type of deformity. The joint was collapsing and becoming inflamed, causing swelling and pressure. Excess bone (or calcification) had formed in the joint, causing painful bone-on-bone contact.

Lucky’s treatments when his ankle and foot were swollen included pain medications, bandaging, and poultices such as iodine and sugar. But the bouts of swelling had recently become more frequent despite treatment. He was spending more time in the Animal Hospital due to flare-ups, and was exhibiting signs of discomfort. (See below)

“Lucky’s condition had reached a critical stage as it was difficult to manage his pain effectively,” adds Dr. Barnes.

Lucky will recover in the Animal Hospital for several weeks, accompanied by his mate Nica, with the focus on healing from surgery. Once he is healed, efforts will begin with Teva to develop a new shoe.

Chilean Flamingo With No Toes is Part of the Flock

The Zoo also is home to a Chilean flamingo that was hatched with a deformed foot, which necessitated the amputation of its toes in January 2018. That bird, Nugget, wears a special sock and returned to the flamingo flock within six weeks of her surgery.

“We have experience with this, having worked with Nugget, who is doing quite well,” said Dr. Barnes. “We look forward to when Lucky is recovered, out of pain, and back with his colony-mates.”

How Did Lucky Show He Was in Pain?

The Zoo’s Animal Care Staff were able to determine Lucky’s level of discomfort by his behavior. They report that at first he would limp. As the discomfort increased, he “bicycled” or moved his leg in a circular motion. If he was very uncomfortable, he would not walk and he might bray (vocalize). When handled, he would react to having his foot touched. During painful flare-ups, he was moved to the Animal Hospital for treatments, accompanied by his mate Nica.  

The Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of botanic gardens and is home to nearly 500 individual animals in open, naturalistic habitats. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), representing the highest level of animal care, and participates in AZA endangered species programs for Asian elephant, California condor, Channel Island fox, and Western lowland gorilla, among others. A private 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, the Santa Barbara Zoo depends on community support, not tax dollars, for operations and improvements. Visit www.sbzoo.org.

Two Koalas to Begin a One Year Stint at the Santa Barbara Zoo on April 28th

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Two furry, eucalyptus-loving marsupials will soon take up residence at the Santa Barbara Zoo for a one-year visit to increase awareness of the challenges facing them and other native Australian species.

Koala “ambassadors” Edmund and Thackory go on view in a special outdoor exhibit near the Zoo Train station beginning Saturday, April 28, 2018 during regular Zoo hours.

“Koalas are iconic animals for Australia, as it’s the only place they are found in the wild,” says Dr. Julie Barnes, the Zoo’s Director of Animal Health and Care, who was born and received her veterinary degree in Australia. “But there are major challenges there that threaten koalas and other native animals and plants in Australia. Having Edmund and Thackory in Santa Barbara for a year allows our guests not only to appreciate these two little guys, but also to discover the changes affecting their native habitat.”

Dr. Barnes names habitat destruction and fragmentation, prolonged drought and other extreme weather events, and predation by feral cats and dogs as major issues affecting koalas and other native species.

“But it’s not just on land. Animals in Australia’s oceans, including the Great Barrier Reef, also face the impacts of sea level rise, ocean warming, and increasing seawater acidity, among others,” she says.

About Edmund and Thackory

Edmund and Thackory are on loan from the Los Angeles Zoo (LAZ) and San Diego Zoo (SDZ), respectively. As with all koalas in American zoos, the pair officially “belong” to Australia. In addition to obtaining standard permits to bring them to Santa Barbara, the Zoo was required to make a formal request to the Australian government (which was approved) including details of their accommodations, plans for their dietary needs and any medical needs.

The Santa Barbara Zoo has committed $2,500 per month during the koalas’ residency to Australian koala habitat conservation as part of the SDZ’s Koala Loan Program. While LAZ does not have a loan program, they have a thriving koala population and need temporary housing for young male koalas, like Edmund, to mature before moving to another zoo.

Edmund was born on September 1, 2015, at LAZ. His sire, Lincoln, was born at the Taronga Zoo in Australia. Thackory was born June 15, 2011, at SDZ and his name is the Aboriginal word for “heavy,” as he was a particularly large joey when he first emerged from his mother’s pouch. He has represented the SDZ Koala Loan Program at Zoo New England in 2013 and Indianapolis Zoo in 2015.

“Koalas are solitary by nature, and adult male koalas are very territorial and don’t do well in groups when other males are present. So there are single males that need homes,” says Dr. Barnes. “Edmund and Thackory are part of a cooperative breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), but not breeding at this time. So, our zoo provides a home for them, much like we have a bachelor troop of Western lowland gorillas.”

The two will be housed separately in adjacent outdoor covered enclosures, separated by a wall. They also have heaters, but the elements should not be a factor. “Santa Barbara’s climate is similar to that of the east coast of Australia, part of their native range,” notes Dr. Barnes.

Their food will come from a eucalyptus plantation in Arizona, where it is grown specifically for koalas, is approved by the SDZ’s Koala Loan Program, and used by other zoos across the country. Their diet may be supplemented with local eucalyptus, if the proper species and sources are identified.

Though they appear cuddly, the public will not be allowed to hold these koalas. Dr. Barnes explains, “Even though Edmund and Thackory were both born in zoos, they are not trained to be held. Some koalas raised by humans become accustomed to being held, especially in Australia, including orphaned or rehabilitated wild koalas. It is dangerous for anyone other than a trained zoo professional to attempt to hold either of these two.”

Other “Aussie” Species at the Santa Barbara Zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo already houses a number of Australian species. Birds include black swans at the Zoo’s entrance, laughing kookaburras and tawny frogmouths that share an enclosure in the courtyard, a blue-faced honeyeater in the Tropical Aviary, and sulphur-crested cockatoos only visible from the Zoo Train that regularly come out with keepers to meet guests.

Of the four Australian reptile and snake species at the Zoo, three also leave their holding areas in the Eewww! exhibit for meet-and-greets with guests: blue-tongued skink, bearded dragon, and woma python. A frilled dragon is on view in Eewww!, near the entrance to Tropical Aviary.

About the Santa Barbara Zoo

Known as one of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of botanic gardens and is home to nearly 500 individual animals in open, naturalistic habitats. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), representing the highest level of animal care, and participates in AZA endangered species programs for Asian elephant, California condor, Channel Island fox, and Western lowland gorilla, among others. A private nonprofit corporation, the Santa Barbara Zoo depends on community support, not tax dollars, for operations and improvements. 

The Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; general admission is $18 for adults, $13 for seniors aged 65+, $10 for children 2-12, and children under 2 are free.  Parking is $8 weekdays and $11 on Saturdays and Sundays. Visit www.sbzoo.org.