A New Angle(r)

If you’ve visited the aquarium recently, you might’ve noticed the mother-son fishing cat duo has disbanded. But no need to worry, this is a good thing for both animals. Read on to learn why.

Earlier this month, keepers decided there was sufficient evidence that Tallulah was no longer getting along with her son, Angler. This was obvious in that her aggression was higher, along with other signs of stress being observed while they were on exhibit together. These signs led the animal care team to their decision to move Angler to what is called our “large quarantine” area. Contrary to how that sounds, the move does not mean Angler is under quarantine. Instead, the large quarantine space is currently being used for animal holding.

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Angler

As mentioned before, this separation is not a bad thing and is actually quite normal! In the wild, fishing cat mothers and their offspring separate after anywhere from 9 months to a year. Since February is the one-year mark for Angler and Tallulah, this change has arrived right on time. In addition, fishing cat males reach sexually maturity at 1.5 years of age, so it was extra important that Angler move out before reaching that stage of his life.

Keeper Rachael tells us Angler is doing great in his new space – eating normally, training daily, and conducting his regular antics of using his pool as a house cat would use a litter box. His current neighbors are giant anteater Eury and cassowary pair Dodo and Moa. Though they cannot see one another, they can smell one another, and all are doing well with the new situation.

Mako (our adult male) and Tallulah will continue being rotated on exhibit daily. At the time of this writing, there is not yet a schedule in place as to who will be on exhibit and when; the team is working to figure out what will be best for Tallulah, as Mako does not care where he is, provided that he has been fed. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right?

We have not yet heard from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) about future plans for Angler, nor whether or not Tallulah and Mako will be recommended to breed again. You can learn more about AZA’s Species Survival Plan Programs by clicking here.

Maned Wolf Pups Born at the Greensboro Science Center

On December 11, 2018, the Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC) 5-year-old female maned wolf, Anaheim, gave birth to four puppies. This is the fourth time she and 11-year-old Nazca (the GSC’s adult male maned wolf) have been recommended to breed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Maned Wolf Species Survival Plan. This litter, comprised of two males and two females, is the second successful litter from the pair.

The maned wolf exhibit has been closed since early December as keepers began “pup watch”. During this time, Lauren Davis, the GSC’s Wolf String Lead Keeper, has worked to ensure that Anaheim’s four den boxes (two inside and two outside) are well-heated and filled with appropriate bedding. She has also installed Bluetooth baby monitors in the outside den boxes so she can monitor the mother wolf from a distance. Closing the exhibit to guests has provided Anaheim with a quieter, calmer environment in which to give birth and raise her new family.

Davis says, “Sometimes, we are able to observe the breeding behaviors, which allows us to count the days and determine a solid window for when Anaheim will give birth. For the last two years, though, the wolves have been very secretive, so it’s up to me to be observant of her body condition and behaviors.”

As a part of their ongoing care, the wolves are weighed once each month. If Davis sees Anaheim exceeding her normal weight range, she begins weighing the animal weekly to get a more accurate estimate for a potential due date. Davis says Anaheim also becomes very pushy when pregnant. During the last half of pregnancy, Davis looks for a round belly and visible teats as milk develops.

“This year, I was about 2 weeks off,” Davis says. “I thought she would have Christmas babies, but when that huge snow storm was rolling in, she started to look very, very round. It is not unusual for animals to give birth during bad weather, so I knew it would be that weekend — and I was right!”

Davis says Anaheim is currently doing well taking care of four hungry mouths and Nazca is a fantastic father. She says, “He is protective and does a very good job supporting Anaheim. Once the pups get older, he will regurgitate for them and play with them, but for now his job is to stay out of the way and make sure I don’t mess with his family.”

The pups received their first veterinary exam on Thursday, January 10. Each wolf was thoroughly examined, microchipped and weighed, and all received a clean bill of health from the GSC’s veterinary team. The pups will receive their first vaccines in about two weeks, followed by routine exams every three weeks until they are 12 – 14 weeks old.

The maned wolf exhibit will reopen to the public on Monday, February 11. The pups may or may not be visible immediately after reopening, as they will continue to spend much of their time in their den boxes until they get a little older.

ABOUT THE SSP

The mission of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) cooperatively managed Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program is to oversee the population management of select species within AZA member institutions (i.e., AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, Conservation Partners, and Certified Related Facilities (CRFs)) and to enhance conservation of this species in the wild.

Cassowaries Arrive at the Greensboro Science Center

GREENSBORO, NC — The Greensboro Science Center (GSC) is pleased to announce the arrival of the very first animals acquired for Revolution Ridge, the GSC’s zoo expansion (expected to be completed in 2020). A sibling pair (a male named Dodo and a female named Moa) of southern cassowaries have recently arrived from California and will be spending the next few weeks in quarantine.

Hospital and Commissary Keeper Jennie Burleyson is charged with caring for the cassowaries as they complete their quarantine period. “Quarantine is a mandatory period of time that all new animals go through to make sure they are healthy enough to join the current collection,” Burleyson says. “It’s also a great way to learn about the individuals and their preferences. For example, we’ve learned that our cassowaries’ favorite food is grapes!”

At just 5 months old, the cassowaries are currently sporting their light brown juvenile plumage. Brightly colored feathers come with maturity and typically appear by age 4. The young birds are only about 3 feet tall, but adults can reach up to 5.8 feet in height. The male currently weighs approximately 24 pounds and the female weighs about 16.5 pounds. Adult weights average around 121 pounds for males and 167 pounds for females. Once fully grown, the cassowaries will loosely resemble a modern-day velociraptor and possess specialized feet and claws capable of inflicting serious damage, if threatened.

Burleyson tells us that currently, the male is relatively shy while the female is much more dominant. The birds have enjoyed playing in pools indoors and getting a little exercise outside. “At least 30 minutes of exercise is recommended for cassowaries at this age,” Burleyson says. “That’s why it’s so great having two young ones — they can play together!”

The cassowaries will remain in quarantine until cleared by the GSC veterinarian. After that time, they will be placed in a temporary holding space until their new exhibit in Revolution Ridge is complete. Thanks to The Dillard Fund, Inc., the new cassowary exhibit will combine a dense forest with the open field habitat necessary for breeding this highly unique, shy and rarely-observed species.

GSC CEO Glenn Doborogosz says, “The blends of color, beauty, speed and ferocity of this primitive flightless bird will inspire awe and interest in our guests. The goal is to transform that awe into knowledge, because knowledge and appreciation are the keys to conserving species across the globe.”

Octopus Eggs and the Story of Senescence

If you’ve visited the GSC in the last couple of weeks, it’s likely you’ve heard from a staff member or volunteer that our Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) recently laid eggs. While this is very exciting news, it also means that the end of our female’s life cycle is drawing near.

Our Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO) has been here for about one year, weighing 9 lbs. at the time of her arrival. As of May 2018, she weighed 30 lbs. and stretched 6 ft. from arm tip to opposite arm tip. We can estimate from these numbers that at the time of laying eggs, she weighed around 40 lbs. Though ours is slightly below the average weight (around 50 lbs.) for GPOs, she’s very healthy. It’s always difficult to determine the age of an octopus, but we estimate her to be roughly 2.5 years old.

The average lifespan for a GPO is about 3 years, near the end of which they enter a stage referred to as senescence. Senescence occurs at the end of a mature octopus’ natural life; this is a roughly month-long period in which they mate. GPOs are one of many octopus species that are “semelparous,” meaning they reproduce once and then die. Salmon are another example of a marine species that does this. Senescence is characterized by several things, including loss of appetite, retraction of the skin around the eyes, laying and brooding of eggs (in females), uncoordinated movement or undirected activity (in males), and the appearance of white lesions on the body.

The process of laying eggs can be taxing on the female octopus, unfolding over the course of approximately a week. Eggs resemble grains of rice on strings, woven together to create a holdfast that attaches to a hard surface. The female octopus will lay eggs in her den (in which she’ll spend a good portion of her time) and prefers to attach them to an overhang. Brooding of the eggs occurs for five months to a year, during which time the female will aerate and clean them until her body succumbs to the stress of this process. During the brooding process, an octopus will start to lose her appetite and refuse food – all due to hormonal changes in the body. This leads her to becoming anorexic during the egg-guarding period – losing between 50-71% of her body weight – eventually leading to her death.

Octopus Eggs

As all Giant Pacific Octopuses are wild-caught, it is unknown if the eggs are viable. Mating can occur early in life, with the female holding on to the spermatophores deposited by the male until she is mature and ready to use them. To date, only one successful rearing attempt has been recorded in captivity, occurring in 1986. This one male (who came from a population of 200 individuals from approximately 20,000 eggs) lived to 38 months. The process of keeping him alive was heavily labor intensive, requiring 6-8 hours per day for feeding and fastidious cleaning during the first 9 months of his care.

As for us, we’re excited for this opportunity to learn more about how Giant Pacific Octopus females behave while caring for their eggs and will be recording our observations extensively.  Though we are not likely to have viable eggs, we’re excited to share this unique stage with all of you as the Greensboro Science Center experiences our first female octopus’ life cycle completion. Please feel free to find a volunteer or staff member during your next visit to ask questions. We look forward to seeing you.

Source: AZA Aquatic Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group (AITAG) (2014). Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) Care Manual. Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Silver Spring, MD.

Where’s Angler?

Angler, the baby fishing cat born at the Greensboro Science Center in February, will be off exhibit for six to eight weeks as he recovers from a broken arm. Last week, keepers noticed the kitten limping, prompting two immediate actions: 1 – our veterinary team performed a physical exam in an attempt to identify the injury and 2 – our animal care team reviewed camera footage to see how the injury occurred.

Upon palpating the animal’s forearm, GSC veterinarian, Dr. Sam Young, found the broken bone and promptly scheduled a visit with the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Cary, NC.

The forearm is made up of two bones – the radius and the ulna. Radiographs showed the kitten has a broken radius, but the ulna is still intact, which Dr. Sam tells us is good news as it acts like a splint for the fractured bone.

The orthopedic surgeon at VSH inserted a k-wire to align the bones, then plated the fracture, as you can see in the image below.

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Upon reviewing camera footage, our animal care team saw Angler stick his paw under the barrier between his holding space and his father, Mako’s holding space. Although the cats have been separated since birth by this barrier, on this occasion, Mako grabbed Angler’s paw. It appears the kitten broke his arm when he quickly pulled away. Our animal care team has now added an additional barrier – metal sheeting that fills the gap under the wall – to prevent future incidents.

Angler’s arm is being kept bandaged and in a splint to prevent him from licking or chewing on the injury, which could cause additional harm. Our animal care team is changing his bandage daily as well as providing him with pain medications and antibiotics. In order for our team to change his bandage, Angler must be sedated, brought from his behind-the-scenes exhibit space to the hospital, where his bandage is changed, then brought back to his exhibit – and his mom, Tallulah. He is currently being trained to go into a crate to make the transport process easier and less stressful for him.

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As he continues to heal, keepers are ensuring all toys and furniture in his space are kept small or low to ground, so as not to encourage climbing. Keeper Rachael tells us Anger is eating well and taking all of his medications, which will aid in a speedy recovery. We’ll be sure to share any changes in Angler’s condition on our Facebook page, so stay tuned for updates!

 

Armadillo Burrows: A Great Way to Beat the Heat

Notes from the Field – in cooperation with Dr. Arnaud Desbiez of the Giant Armadillo Project

You may be familiar with the nine-banded armadillo or even the screaming hairy armadillo at the GSC – but did you know there is a giant armadillo? These giants can weigh as much as 70 pounds! Little is known about giant armadillos, but Dr. Arnaud Desbiez’s pioneering work on the Giant Armadillo Project is bringing to light the ecology and biology of these prehistoric-looking creatures. Since 2011, Dr. Arnaud and his team have spent hours seeking out giant armadillos. These unique animals are native to South America, where they spend their days foraging on termites and other insects, worms and spiders.

The Greensboro Science Center is a proud supporter of Dr. Arnaud’s work. His research in Brazil’s Pantanal has proven that giant armadillos are true ecosystem engineers. In other words, they’re organisms who create or modify habitat for the benefit of other organisms. In the case of giant armadillos, they build burrows that provide shelter and cool temperature for other species. Dr. Arnaud’s team uses motion sensing cameras to film burrow entry points. In this way, the team has observed more than 25 other species making use of giant armadillo burrows. Check out these amazing photos from the field that Dr. Arnaud and his team recently shared with us:

From top left: Crab eating fox, agouti, lesser anteater, nine-banded armadillo, ocelot

What makes these burrows such appealing spaces? They hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while air temperature outside of the burrows can reach highs into the 90’s. The stable environment the burrow provides is appealing to the many species looking to get out of the hot sun. Given the large sizes of giant armadillos and the fact they cannot roll into a ball like other armadillos can, the burrows are large and have gaping entry holes well suited to animals of varying sizes. Giant armadillos are nocturnal, so other animals can stay overnight while the armadillos are away. Also, armadillos don’t remain in the same burrow for long; therefore, other animals can make themselves at home in the abandoned burrows.

Saying Goodbye to Ara

Late last week, we said goodbye to Ara, our 33-year-old red ruffed lemur. Based on the information available to us, at the time of her death, she was believed to be the oldest female red ruffed lemur in captivity. During this sad time, we’d like to take a moment to tell you about the tireless efforts of our animal care team as they worked diligently to ensure Ara had the best possible quality of life, through to the end.

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Although Ara had been considered geriatric for the last 13 years of her life, her lead keeper, Lauren, tells us it wasn’t until the last seven months or so that she started to see a dramatic decline in the lemur’s health. In October, Ara began showing signs of neurological distress. She had what Lauren describes as “seizure-like episodes.” Due to the fall risk associated with these episodes, our team decided to retire her from the exhibit and moved her into her blockhouse with access to the side yard, where the heights are less extreme.

Ara began receiving an anti-seizure medication three times each day. She continued this medication for several months until she began to refuse it, at which time our team weaned her off the medication and watched her closely for any additional signs of neurological episodes. None were observed until Ara’s last week of life. In addition to this anti-seizure medication, Ara also received painkillers to keep her arthritic body comfortable.

Despite these medical challenges, Lauren says, “She always kept a perky, interested attitude – even as her body started to decline.”

In addition to arthritis and neurological symptoms, like all elderly animals, Ara began to lose weight as she became more fragile. Ara was weighed every other week so Lauren and our vet team could track exactly how much weight she was losing. In addition to her regular diet (where her veggies were steamed to make them easier to eat and the fruit was cut small enough so that her elderly teeth didn’t need to work so hard at chewing), our team blended up her favorite fruits into smoothies on a daily basis.

To help her gain (or at least maintain) her weight, our team also offered her every type of food imaginable, including pancakes, muffins, popsicles, whipped cream, gummy bears, power bars, and baby food. Lauren tells us Ara was initially interested in these new offerings, but stiffly refused them by the next day. Ara’s taste buds changed on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis, so food items had to be kept novel and exciting.

Lauren says, “I always joked that she liked her food by the colors: one week, she liked all things blue/black (blackberries, blueberries), and the next, it was everything orange (orange, cantaloupe, peaches). She kept us on our toes, and I frequently requested odd, unusual foods from our commissary to keep her happy.”

Lauren tells us Ara’s care took up the majority of her time during the day. “If I wasn’t preparing her food, I was hand feeding it to her or trying to convince her that her medications were necessary and would make her feel better. She always ate best if she was hand fed – me, a servant for the queen. As animals age, they require more time. I’ve always had a soft spot for the oldies, so it wasn’t a burden to me – more of an honor to be able to take care of such a sassy, friendly, old lady who had great demands.”

Throughout all of this special treatment, it’s important to note that our vet staff, keepers and curators evaluated Ara on a regular basis to ensure everything they did was in the lemur’s best interest. Late last week, after seeing Ara’s health continue to deteriorate, our dedicated team of animal professionals decided it was time to humanely euthanize Ara.

Lauren says, “In the end, her body definitely gave out before her spirit, which always makes a quality of life decision harder. We’re with these animals more than our pets at home sometimes. Blood, sweat and tears go into their care on a routine basis to make sure our animals always have the very best. The hardest decision will always be when to let them go, and it is not taken lightly. In the end, I am so grateful I was able to be there with her, to comfort her when the decision was made to humanely euthanize her.”

“Ara was legendary,” Lauren says. “Everyone will tell you she was full of spunk and personality. When she was on exhibit with the ring tailed lemurs, she could often be seen chasing them and keeping them in line. I hope people were awed by her beauty. Red ruffs are a very rare species of lemur, one of the most endangered in the wild. In captivity, the average life span is 25, but she made it all the way to 33 – that in itself is inspiring to me. Hopefully, she inspired people to care about lemurs and look into how they can help them escape extinction.“

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Ara leaves behind her fellow senior lemurs, Jethys, a 26-year-old female red ruffed lemur, and Che, our elderly male mongoose lemur. Lauren says Jethys is going through a mourning period and will be monitored closely. She tells us, “Ara might be gone, but I still have more elderly lemurs to spoil rotten.”