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Smithsonian’s National Zoo Celebrates Giant Panda Bei Bei’s First Birthday

National Zoo
The National Zoo and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China celebrated giant panda cub Bei Bei’s (BAY-BAY) first birthday this morning with a Zhuazhou (dra-JO) ceremony. During a traditional Zhuazhou ceremony, symbolic objects are placed in front of a baby. The item that the baby reaches for first foretells something about his or her future. The Zhuazhou for Bei Bei was slightly modified for a panda cub. Mother Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) chose the red knot on behalf of Bei Bei, which means he will serve as an ambassador for scientific collaboration.

Coral Reefs: 60 Seconds of Science

National Zoo
Healthy oceans produce 50% of our oxygen, and they can’t do it without coral reefs. Reefs nurture more than a quarter of all marine life. They protect cities and homes from storms. They produce pharmaceuticals to fight disease. And they add $300 BILLION annually to the global economy. We need healthy oceans and coral reefs. 2. Dr. Mary Hagedorn is a coral fertility specialist. She pioneered techniques, similar to those in human sperm banks, to freeze and store coral sperm and stem cells. That banked genetic material is potentially viable forever. Frozen sperm can be used to generate new corals, and strengthen small populations by adding genetic diversity. #WeSaveSpecies #ScienceSavesSeas

Atelopus Limosus Release Trial: Panama

National Zoo
Smithsonian Scientists Release Frogs Wearing Mini Radio Transmitters Into Panamanian Wilderness First Release Trial To Help Pave the Way for Reintroduction Programs for Critically Endangered Frogs Ninety Limosa harlequin frogs (Atelopus limosus) bred in human care are braving the elements of the wild after Smithsonian scientists sent them out into the Panamanian rainforest as part of their first-ever release trial. The study, led by the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, aims to determine the factors that influence not only whether frogs survive the transition from human care to the wild, but whether they persist and go on to breed. “Only by understanding the trials and tribulations of a frog’s transition from human care to the wild will we have the information we need to someday develop and implement successful reintroduction programs,” said Brian Gratwicke, international program coordinator for the rescue project and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) amphibian conservation biologist. “Although we are not sure whether any of these individual frogs will make it out there, this release trial will give us the knowledge we need to tip the balance in favor of the frogs.” The Limosa harlequin frogs, which were released at the Mamoní Valley Preserve, have small numbered tags inserted under their skin so researchers can tell individuals apart. The scientific team also gave each frog an elastomer toe marking that glows under UV light to easily tell this cohort of frogs apart from any future releases. Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation doctoral student Blake Klocke is currently monitoring the frogs daily at the site, collecting information about survivorship, dispersal, behavior and whether the warm micro-climate in the area provides any protection against disease. The study is also looking at whether a “soft release” boosts the frogs’ ability to survive. Thirty of the newly released frogs spent a month at the site in cages, acclimating to their surroundings and foraging on leaf-litter invertebrates. Eight of these frogs, and eight that were released without the trial period, are wearing miniature radio transmitters that will give Klocke and the team a chance to look at differences in survival and persistence between the two groups. The researchers also collected skin-bacteria samples from the soft-release frogs to measure changes during their transition from captivity to the wild. “The soft release study allowed us to safely expose captive-bred frogs to a more balanced and varied diet, changing environmental conditions and diverse skin bacteria that can potentially increase their survival in nature,” said Angie Estrada, Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech and a member of the team leading the soft release, which was funded through a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) grant. “It allowed us to monitor health and overall body condition of the animals without the risk of losing the frogs right away to a hungry snake.” Limosa harlequin frogs are especially sensitive to the amphibian chytrid fungus, which has pushed frog species to the brink of extinction primarily in Central America, Australia and the western United States. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project brought a number of individuals into the breeding center between 2008 and 2010 as chytrid swept through their habitat. The Limosa harlequin frogs in this release trial are the first captive-bred generation of the species and only part of the rescue project’s total insurance population for the species. “After all the work involved in collecting founder individuals, learning to breed them, raising their tadpoles, producing all their food and keeping these frogs healthy, the release trial marks a new exciting stage in this project,” said Roberto Ibáñez, in-country director of the rescue project and STRI scientist. “These captive-bred frogs will now be exposed to their world, where predators and pathogens are ever-present in their environment. Their journey will help provide the key to saving not only their own species, but Panama’s other critically endangered amphibian species.” The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a project partnership between the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Houston Zoo, Zoo New England, the SCBI and STRI. SCBI plays a leading role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to save species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Va., the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability. # # #

Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation: Training the Next Generation

National Zoo
The complexity of today’s world and the ever-evolving threats to biodiversity demand proactive and innovative approaches to conservation biology learning. In response, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and George Mason University have established the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. Together, we are training the next generation of conservation leaders. Learn more: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/conservation/smithsonian-mason-school-conservation

Ovenbird Pinpoint-GPS Tracker Retrieval: Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

National Zoo
Read more in Scientific Reports: http://www.nature.com/srep/2015/150609/srep11069/full/srep11069.html For the first time, researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center have tracked small migratory ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) to their tropical wintering grounds with unparalleled accuracy which significantly improves our understanding of migratory connectivity. Understanding migratory connectivity is key to future conservation efforts. SCBI scientists have studied migration patterns of birds for decades. However, their studies are often hampered by their equipment: tracking tags were often too large for small birds, and too unwieldy, expensive or unreliable. Now, SCBI scientists Michael Hallworth and Peter Marra, reporting in Scientific Reports, have now tested a new pinpoint GPS tag device that tracks migratory birds more reliably than ever before. The miniaturized pinpoint GPS tags give the birds’ location with extraordinary accuracy: within about 10 meters (33 feet), rather than 150 to 200 kilometers (93-124 miles) from light-level geolocators.

Zoo Jobs: Meet a Curator

National Zoo
Middle school students watch the last video in the series, “Other Duties as Assigned: The Secret World of Zoo Jobs” If you wondered about what it’s like to work with great cats, bears and other animals, meet Curator Craig Saffoe! #STEM #WeSaveSpecies

Giant pandas in the snow Feb. 20, 2019

National Zoo
Snow in Washington, D.C. today, Feb. 20, brought out the playful side of the giant pandas at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Twenty-year-old Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and three-year-old Bei Bei (BAY-BAY) spent their mornings eating bamboo and rolling in the snow. Giant pandas are adapted to cold weather and their thick woolly fur keeps them warm and dry, even in snow. The Zoo is inviting visitors to celebrate pandas Saturday, Feb. 23. The Zoo and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China are hosting a giant panda housewarming party, sponsored by Airbnb. The party to celebrate the new visitor exhibit inside the panda house will run from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will include free dumplings until 11 a.m., free hot chcolate until 2 p.m., and special scientist and keeper talks. For the first time ever, visitors will receive a free special limited edition print of an original painting by Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), Mei Xiang and Bei Bei. The prints will be available in the Panda Plaza gift shop, one-per-family, while supplies last.

Training: Measuring Sloth Bear Blood Pressure at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

National Zoo
Dec. 3, 2015. When sloth bear Francois's lips mysteriously turned blue, Zoo veterinarians diagnosed him with high blood pressure. Now, with ongoing treatment and medication, his condition has improved and he seems his old self. But what is the average blood pressure of a geriatric sloth bear? Asia Trail keeper Stacey Tabellario is hoping to learn exactly that, as she trains Francois to use a blood pressure cuff. The information gathered from his medical training will help other zoos that care for elderly sloth bears!

Smithsonian's National Zoo: We Save Species

National Zoo
Learn how the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute saves species, both here and around the world.

Elephant Poaching Crisis Emerging in Myanmar

National Zoo
Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have found that poaching is an emerging crisis for Asian elephants in Myanmar. Researchers first became aware of the crisis while conducting an unrelated telemetry study in which they fitted 19 Asian elephants with satellite GPS collars to better understand elephant movements and reduce human-elephant conflict. Seven of those 19 elephants were poached within a year of being fitted with the collars. The findings suggest that human-elephant conflict, which was thought to be the biggest threat to Myanmar’s wild elephants, may be secondary to poaching. And conservation efforts to help the 1,400 to 2,000 wild elephants in Myanmar should prioritize anti-poaching efforts. For more information, please visit: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/news/smithsonian-scientists-find-elephant-poaching-crisis-emerging-myanmar

#OrangutanStory: A Redd Winter

National Zoo
At 16 months old, Bornean orangutan infant Redd is growing stronger and more independent every day. Read all about Redd’s progress and favorite activities in the latest Q&A with animal keeper Erin Stromberg. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/news/orangutanstory-update-redd-winter

Restoring the North American Prairie

National Zoo
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and American Prairie Reserve (APR) are collaborating to protect and restore one of North America’s greatest treasures—the prairie. Together, they will work to better understand how changes to the grasslands affect the wildlife that call it home—from the mighty bison to the tiniest insects—and ultimately reintroduce native carnivores onto APR lands in northeastern Montana. This collaboration is made possible by the generous support of John and Adrienne Mars. SCBI scientists will help APR study the link between land management and biodiversity, focusing on important species such as bison and prairie dogs. These landscape engineers shape the prairie ecosystem for other bird and mammal species such as burrowing owls and swift foxes. SCBI ecologists will measure the diversity of breeding birds and large mammals, map the mosaic of landscapes and test survey methods for birds and mammals. The Smithsonian’s research will be used to develop planning tools that highlight how different long-term management strategies will affect biodiversity.

Annual Houseguests at Smithsonian's National Zoo

National Zoo
One local bird makes itself right at home at the Zoo. The black-crowned night heron is native to the Washington, D.C. area, and nearly 400 of them return to the Zoo each year. Every day at 2 p.m., the herons gorge themselves on fish and mice placed in the outdoor enclosures by animal care staff. These feeding demonstrations will take place until the herons fly south for the winter.

Bei Bei goes outside

National Zoo
Feb. 4, 2016—Bei Bei ventured outside for the first time this morning with his mother Mei Xiang. He attempted to climb a few trees and played with his mom. After about an hour both headed back inside the panda house. #WeSaveSpecies

B-roll: Guam Kingfisher Chick Hatching

National Zoo
A female Guam kingfisher, a brightly colored bird and one of the most endangered bird species on the planet, hatched at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Va., May 17. The Guam kingfisher is the most endangered species living at SCBI. There are about 140 Guam kingfishers in the world and they all live in human care. The chick has been living in an incubator that mimics the conditions of a nest. A closed-circuit camera inside the incubator caught the exact moment the chick hatched. It has been four years since the last chick hatched at SCBI. Guam kingfishers are notoriously difficult to breed. They are territorial and it has been difficult to match compatible breeding pairs. The chick’s mother and father moved to SCBI from the Saint Louis Zoo in 2016 and 2014, respectively. This was the first fertile egg they have produced together. However, since the pair did not display appropriate parenting behaviors, keepers artificially incubated the egg and are hand-raising the chick. The incubation period for Guam kingfishers is relatively short—only 21 to 23 days. The chick hatched after 22 days. During the incubation, keepers candled—or shined a light against the shell of the egg—to track the chick’s development. When it hatched, the chick weighed 5.89 grams. For the first seven days, keepers fed it every two hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The chick eats chopped mice and crickets, mealworms and anoles. Keepers are gradually decreasing the number of feedings until the chick is 30 days old and ready to fledge the nest. All existing Guam kingfishers are descended from 29 individuals. They were taken from the wild into human care in the 1980s to create a breeding program to save the species from extinction. SCBI hatched its first chick in 1985. Since then, 19 chicks have hatched at SCBI as part of the Guam Kingfisher Species Survival Plan. SCBI plays a leading role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to save wildlife species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Va., the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability.

B-Roll: Sumatran Tiger Cub at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

National Zoo
As the world prepares to celebrate Global Tiger Day this Saturday, July 29, Great Cats keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo have some big news to share about the 2-week-old Sumatran tiger cub in their care: it appears to be a boy! The cub’s birth July 11 marked an important milestone for the Zoo: this is the second litter for mother Damai but the first for 13-year-old father, Sparky. Keepers are monitoring Damai and her offspring via a closed-circuit camera, allowing the family time to bond.

Giant Clams Debut at the Invertebrate Exhibit

National Zoo
The Smithsonian's National Zoo has welcomed several new additions to its Invertebrate Exhibit. Ten giant clams arrived in February from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and after six weeks in quarantine are now on exhibit in the coral tank. These giant clams are of the Tridacna crocea species, the smallest of the giant clam species, and can grow up to nine inches. The clams currently range in size from three to six inches and are estimated to be between 3 and 4 years old. Native to the warm waters of Indo-West Pacific coral reefs, T. crocea come in a variety of patterns and color mixtures. They have multicolored designs, and their mantle is usually decorated with iridescent blue, yellow or green blotches, spots or lines. "The giant clam is an iconic South Pacific reef invertebrate and this particular species is absolutely beautiful," said Mike Henley, an animal keeper in the Invertebrate Exhibit. "To some people, the giant clams might not be the most exciting invertebrates, but because they are so content to stay in one place, they make great photo subjects and learning tools." Care of these clams involves clean salt water, strong lighting and plenty of "flow," or water movement. Zoo staff use filters to clean the water, water pumps to simulate ocean currents and waves, and various combinations of high-intensity lights to provide as much of the sun's wavelengths as they can. Although the giant clam is classified as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, it faces many population threats and is close to being considered vulnerable, according to Henley. Fishers hunt these clams for their meat and shells, and because they are so colorful, they are frequently collected for the pet trade. Giant clams are also threatened by the increasing destruction of their coral-reef habitats. "If we lose coral reefs, this is one of the beautiful denizens we could lose," said Henley. "Our hope with the giant clams is that visitors will learn about the amount of biodiversity that coral reefs contain and appreciate their beauty. Anything we can do to demonstrate that is very exciting."

Lek the Fishing Cat Gets a New Home

National Zoo
The National Zoo has welcomed a new addition to Asia Trail. Lek, a 1-year-old male fishing cat from the Cincinnati Zoo, arrived in December and is now in his exhibit. Lek is set to breed with 6-year-old Electra, the Zoo's only female fishing cat, who for now is in the enclosure next to him. The Zoo aims to breed these fishing cats as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan, which matches animals across the country to ensure genetic diversity in the population. Of the 38 fishing cats in the United States, the SSP considers only 30 of them to be reproductively viable. "Fishing cats are terribly difficult to breed in captivity, and unfortunately we didn't have success with Electra and the male we recently moved off exhibit," said Erika Bauer, a Zoo biologist and head of the Zoo's Animal Behavior Group. "It's exciting to have a new breeding recommendation for Electra and Lek, especially because their genetic combination will be a very valuable addition to the SSP population." Lek will be part of a multi-institutional study looking at the effects of breeding introduction and strategies for moving cats among institutions on the reproductive success of fishing cats. Researcher Jilian Fazio is examining reproductive and stress-related hormones of the fishing cat to determine the effects that different management techniques used in transferring a fishing cat from one place to another may have on these cats. She is also looking at how introduction techniques used to pair two fishing cats, along with their individual personalities, affect reproductive success between those individuals. This information could help zoos across the country implement more effective management tools. Twenty-two fishing cats from 13 zoos are currently part of the study, including the Zoo's three fishing cats. A drastic decrease in the fishing cat population in the wild in the past five years prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature to change the species' status from vulnerable to endangered. The species' biggest threats include water pollution, deforestation and poaching. They are native to riverbanks from India through Southeast Asia. "Fishing cats are a species that we don't know a lot about yet," said Courtney Janney, animal keeper at the Zoo. "Unlike other cat species, fishing cats aren't known for being climbers or jumpers; instead they go in to the water on a regular basis. They have unique adaptations that allow them to live in the underbrush of riverbanks. They're really a unique species." As their name suggests, the cats hunt by fishing. They will swim and dive for their prey or try to scoop them out of the water with their partially webbed paws. By tapping their paws on the surface of the water, they trick fish into thinking the water ripples are from an insect. When the fish is close enough, the cat dives in after it. In addition to fish, their diet includes birds, small mammals, snakes and snails.

Meet the New Elephant: Asian Elephant Bozie Arrives at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

National Zoo
Video of Asian elephant Bozie's arrival to the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Video includes an interview of one of the elephant managers present during Bozie's arrival to the park.

Koa the Kiwi

National Zoo
Early in the morning on March 7, 2008 one of the worlds most endangered species—a male North Island brown kiwi chick called Koa—hatched at the Smithsonians National Zoo Bird House. Keepers had been incubating the egg for five weeks, following a month long incubation by the chicks father, carefully monitoring it for signs of pipping: the process in which the chick starts to break through the shell. The chick remained in an isolet for four days before moving to a specially designed brooding box. The box is not on exhibit, but is accessible by web cam on the Zoos Web site at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Birds/. Since kiwis are nocturnal, the best time to view the chick exploring and foraging in its box will be in the evening. This is only the third time in the Zoos history that a kiwi has successfully hatched. The first hatching occurred in 1975 and was the first outside of New Zealand. The National Zoo did not have another successful hatching until 2005; that male bird, Manaia, may currently be seen Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the 11 a.m. Meet a Kiwi program at the National Zoos Bird House. Kiwis in captivity are extremely rare—only four zoos outside of New Zealand have successfully bred kiwis, and only three U.S. zoos, including the National Zoo, exhibit them. There are five species of kiwi and all are unique to New Zealand. The North Island brown species of kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand. They are widely thought to be the most ancient bird and have existed in New Zealand for more than 30 million years. Kiwis typically mate for life, and both parents share the responsibility of caring for the egg. After kiwi chicks hatch, however, they receive no parental care. Unlike other bird species, kiwis hatch fully feathered and equipped with all of the necessary skills they need to survive. The North Island brown kiwi species is classified as endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature. The wild population is declining at a rate of approximately 5.8 percent a year. Nearly 60 percent of all wild North Island brown kiwi chicks are killed by stoats, a species of weasel and an introduced predator. The remaining wild population of the North Island brown kiwi is roughly 24,000, down from 60,000 in the 1980s.

Sea Lion Demonstrations on American Trail

National Zoo
American Trail is home to several North American species - including sea lions! Every day visitors can see a pinniped training at 11:15 a.m. with the Zoo's three California sea lions. Training sessions help keepers care for Summer, Cali and Sidney. By asking the sea lions to open their mouths, present their flippers, or turn around keepers can check to make sure they are healthy. Participating in a training session the sea lions' choice, and they can choose not to partake. If they do choose to participate they get treats in the form of fish! #WeSaveSpecies

African Lion Luke Update

National Zoo
Visitors to the Great Cats exhibit may have noticed that our 12-year-old African lion, Luke, has had an on-again, off-again limp. Over the past year, our animal care team has been closely monitoring him for mobility issues in his right forelimb. A CT scan revealed a lesion on Luke’s spine. However, staff elected not to perform surgery due to significant complications that could arise related to post-surgical care. To help improve his mobility, vets prescribed anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications. As part of his treatment, our veterinary team is performing deep tissue laser therapy and electro- and dry-needle-acupuncture on the affected areas. We’re happy to share that Luke is showing good progress and has resumed walking on all four limbs. While we don’t know for how long the treatment will be effective, our animal care team will continue to monitor Luke and keep him comfortable. Visit Luke and our African lion pride at our Great Cats exhibit.

Great Apes Receive Flu Vaccines at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

National Zoo
Just like humans, great apes can catch the flu. That’s why the Smithsonian's National Zoo’s primate keepers train our gorillas and orangutans—like Iris, featured here—to participate in their own preventative health care!

FIELD IN FOCUS | Elephants in Myanmar: Tracking Elephants

National Zoo
Follow our scientists as they track endangered elephants in Myanmar with GPS collars. They have collared about 35 elephants during the past 17 years. The more they learn about how Asian elephants travel and move through the landscape, the better they can protect them.
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