August 20, 2013
In a summer marked by the meowing of new tiger cubs and the heady anticipation of a successful panda pregnancy, the National Zoo announced today another huge gain to its growing population. Next spring, three female Asian elephants will come to live at the National Zoo on long-term loan from Canada’s Calgary Zoo. The move comes at a time when the National Zoo is greatly expanding their elephant habitat with the building of Elephant Trails, a habitat that spans 8,943 total square meters. In 2010, the initial portion of Elephant Trails debuted. Earlier this year, an indoor portion, the Elephant Community room opened. “One of our major goals of this project is to create an environment where elephants can live as a more natural social unit,” elephant manager Marie Galloway told Around the Mall when the renovations for the community room were completed. “That means creating a multi-generational related herd of elephants.”
The addition of the Calgary Zoo’s three female elephants is a step toward realizing the Zoo’s goal of a multi-generational herd. The three females range in age by about a decade in a half, with the youngest, Maharani at 23 years and the two elders, Kamala and Swarna at 38 years. They will join four other Asian elephants already at the National Zoo, three females 65-year-old Ambika, 38-year-old Shanthi and 37-year-old Bozie—an elephant which the Zoo acquired in May from the Baton Rouge Zoo – as well as one male, Shanthi’s 11-year old son Kandula. For two of the Zoo’s existing elephants, the addition will be more of a reunion: records indicate that Kamala, Swarna, Bozie and Shanthi all spent time together at the Pinnawala Elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka before departing for new homes in North America in 1976.
The announcement first came from the Calgary Zoo in April 2012 that they would be relocating their elephants, opting to move the animals to a facility that could offer them greater social interaction and physical mobility—but the search for the perfect home was long and exacting. “Given the wealth of practical and scientific expertise we have at Calgary in the welfare of captive elephants, we were very specific about the expectations for our herd, and so we took time to ensure we could find the best possible home for them,” said Calgary’s Jake Veasey, director of animal care, conservation and research in a report. Eventually, the team settled on the National Zoo, thanks in large part to the wealth of expertise offered by Smithsonian researchers, and the expanded facilities that the Zoo could offer the animals. “We wanted them to go to a facility where their social group can expand, where they can be part of a breeding program and where they can have greater freedom to spend time in the open air year round, 24 hours per day,” Veasey said.
Before the three elephants come to the National Zoo next spring, Zoo staff will travel to Calgary, to become acquainted with the elephants on their turf. In turn, elephant specialists from the Calgary Zoo will escort the elephants to Washington, to ensure a smooth transition.
Preserving Asian elephants through zoo conservation is an important task for elephant experts. The Asian elephant is currently listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Animals—only around 30,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants are alive today. In the wild, Asian elephants can live up to 60 years; Ambika, the matriarch of the Zoo’s elephant family, is one of the oldest elephants in North America.
June 24, 2013
UPDATE: According to the National Zoo’s twitter account, the search that began this morning when staff discovered Rusty the red panda was missing has ended. The Zoo says Rusty has been found, crated and is headed back to the Zoo. He was found in the Adams Morgan neighborhood around 1:30 p.m. and will get an exam from the Zoo’s veterinary staff before settling in back home. The wait until he’s reintroduced to his home and fellow red panda, Shama, could be up to week, says Sarah Mulligan with the office of communications. “We just want to make sure he didn’t pick anything up,” she says. While the Zoo still isn’t sure how exactly Rusty got out, she did say that they received plenty of help from social media and were happy with that result.
The National Zoo reported that Rusty, a not yet one-year-old red panda, was missing from his enclosure after staff discovered his absence early Monday morning. They began a thorough search for the small creature, who has been with the Zoo since April.
Spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson told the Washington Post it was possible the red panda was sick, dead or stolen, saying they had to consider all possibilities. It was also possible the creature is hiding in a tree.
Rusty was finally spotted by a young woman in Adams Morgan who tweeted a photo of the little guy sneaking between some greenery. The Zoo came and collected him shortly after.
Watch the drama unfold on Twitter, from the start of the search to its happy conclusion:
June 18, 2013
UPDATE 12/12/2013: Two photos—of the yonahlossee salamander and the gray-cheeked salamander—in this essay, were attributed to the wrong photographer. We regret the error.
Appalachia may be known for many things: its music, its industry, its culture, but what about its salamanders? It turns out, of the 550 known salamander species in the world, 77 can be found in this mountainous area, more than any other one region in the world. Many of them can only be found there. But this global hotspot of salamander diversity is in danger, according to the National Zoo; global warming, which dries salamanders’ naturally wet habitats, and water pollution are the two biggest threats. All of which is why the Zoo is bringing 10 different species to an upcoming exhibit, “Jewels of Appalachia,” even as observation in the field continues.
Salamanders are known to be a hardy bunch, having survived for more than 200 million years through three mass extinctions. But, because they have relatively long lifespans, it’s unclear if the rapid pace of climate change will leave them time to adapt.
May 1, 2013
UPDATE: The results are in. The Zoo’s new adorable sloth bear is now officially named Hank, a combination of his parents’ names—Hana and Francois. Voted most favorite on the Zoo’s Facebook page, winning 830 votes, the name Hank beat out the other two options Ravi (615 votes) and Bandar (219).
Born on December 19, 2012 and busy bonding with his mom ever since, the Zoo’s sloth bear cub is need of a name. The Zoo opened up its Facebook poll to fans May 1 to allow everyone to weigh in before noon on May 3. So, does the little cutie look like a Ravi, a Bandar or a Hank? You decide.
Because the cub was born in December just before the winter solstice, maybe Ravi, which means sun in the Hindi language, fits the furry creature. Or perhaps his adventurous spirit and mad climbing skills have earned him the name Bandar, the Hindi word for monkey. Or, in the tradition of Brangelina and Bennifer, perhaps a combo-name to honor his parents Hana and Francois is in order, hence, Hank.
We offer up these photos to help you make your selection.
March 19, 2013
Last week, National Zoo officials spotted several black-crowned night herons roaming the property. Within two weeks, they expect to see hundreds more because the birds are the one species that come and go as they please at the Zoo. The black and white birds have been nesting there since 1889, before the Zoo was founded, and every year around mid-March, they fly in and visit until around mid-September.
Though the population is doing fine worldwide, in the mid-Atlantic region the status of the birds is threatened due to habitat loss. According to biologist Sara Hallager, the big draw that keeps the birds coming back to the Zoo year after year might be the plentiful free food and lush grounds.
At first, the breeding birds competed with the Zoo’s own collection of animals at the Bird House, she says. But then staff began feeding the herons separately. Now, with daily 2 p.m. feedings, the visiting animals have actually become a bit of an attraction when they get their handouts out behind the Bird House.
The first scouts typically arrive in mid-March, returning with the group two weeks later. Around the Bird House, they can be seen building nests for the next generation. One month later, the chicks are born. The group stays through mid-September and disappear suddenly just before the chill in the Fall. They are believed to winter in southeastern states or even the Caribbean.
Other than the occasional false alarm when a visitor thinks that that perhaps one of the Zoo’s birds has escaped, the annual visit is a welcomed sight–the Zoo’s very own sign of spring on its way.