International Polar Bear Day 2020

February 21, 2020

The official International Polar Bear Day is February 27. #PolarBearDay #KeeperTakeover
 
We are so lucky at the Saint Louis Zoo to take care of a remarkable polar bear. Kali is big, smart and full of personality. Kali has a nice home here in St. Louis, but not all polar bears are as lucky. Climate change is causing Arctic sea ice to melt faster than ever, causing polar bears to lose their hunting grounds and habitat. But melting sea ice doesn’t just affect polar bears. There are lots of animals and people who call the Arctic home. The changes that have occurred in recent years have dramatically altered this part of the world.
 
It may seem hopeless, but there are small things that we can do—even here in St. Louis—to help mitigate the negative effects of climate change. My goal is to ride my bike to work every day April-October. I am saving up to eventually buy a low-emissions vehicle, but in the meantime, riding my bike to work and walking to do errands allows me to fill up my gas tank once every one and a half to two months. This cuts back on carbon emissions and saves money. Little changes like this can help to make a difference—for everyone on this planet, including polar bears and people. – Carolyn Kelly, Carnivore Keeper
Polar bears are among the largest land carnivores and amazingly adapted for their Arctic habitat. Their thick under-fur, guard hairs and ability to store significant fat all helps with their ability to keep warm and stay powered up over the cold winter months. Polar bears prey mostly on marine mammals, including seals and the occasional beluga whale. Patiently watching by breathing holes in the sea ice, the bears snatch prey from the water when the animals come up for air. Sea ice loss due to climate change is the single biggest threat to polar bears. They rely on sea ice to hunt seals, breed and sometimes to den.
 
All of us can help polar bears and their Arctic habitat by taking actions in our daily lives to mitigate the negative effects caused by climate change. I take into consideration the carbon footprint of what I eat. Often, you can find me growing my own food and visiting local farmers markets. –Carrie Felsher, Carnivore Keeper
I have a lot of favorite things about Kali and all polar bears! Topping this list is the challenge he provides us every day. His size and intelligence make everything a little more interesting for us as keepers. He weighs about 1,200 pounds right now but can get up to about 1,400 pounds! With that size, we cannot give him some of the other toys that we give our other large carnivores—he could break them too easily! We have to get pretty creative to make toys that will stand up to his weight and strength. We give him “challenge items” multiple times a week, which often involve combining toys together and hiding food to encourage him to work for it. Don’t worry, he has an incredible sense of smell, and it usually takes him minutes to get things out!
 
Taking care of Kali every day gives us a lot of things to think about. All of us, as members of Kali’s care team, work hard in our work and personal lives to be better for wild polar bears and the environment. I personally drive a hybrid car, and I walk or ride my bike if possible, to help reduce my carbon footprint. I also try not to leave my car running, unless absolutely necessary. We can all make simple changes to help save polar bears and their Arctic habitat. – Jackie McGarrahan, Carnivore Keeper
Most people will never see a polar bear in the wild due to the extreme and remote locations that they inhabit. Fortunately for myself, I get to work with an exceptionally large, goofy and playful 7-year-old polar bear named Kali every day.
 
Even here in St. Louis, there are ways I can help polar bears that live in the Arctic.
 
I make an extreme effort every winter season not to turn on my heat in the house. Yes, I can see my breath on those frigid nights, and yes, my thermostat reads between 46 and 56 degrees most of the winter season. The only form of heat I do use is an electric blanket when I sleep at night, otherwise I wear sweaters, wool socks and thermals to stay warm. Over the years, my body has adjusted to the temperature, and now I don’t even think about it anymore. It might be a little out there, but it’s something I am proud of. It’s just one thing I can do right here in Missouri to help polar bears in the Arctic. How can you help make a difference? – Travis Shields, Carnivore Keeper

One of my favorite things about Kali, and polar bears in general, is their large paws. They are so massive in size, measuring up to 11.81 inches across! Their paws are specifically designed for traveling in the Arctic. The size of their paws allows them to evenly distribute their body weight on thin ice. In between their paw pads, they have tufts of fur that help with warmth and stability on the ice. They also have small bumps called papillae on their paw pads, as well as thick, sharp claws that help them to grip the sea ice and not slip. Polar bear paws aren’t only designed to help on land, but also while swimming. Their forepaws act like large paddles and hind paws serve as rudders while navigating throughout the water.

I stay informed on local and global issues that may impact my community as well as the Arctic. I am sure to make my voice heard on matters that are important to me. – Mary Witucki, Carnivore Keeper

Being able to care for polar bears means having the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for not only a threatened species, but one that is symbolic of the climate change crisis. As a keeper, I take this role to heart, especially when I get to interact with guests. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to educate people about the extraordinary natural history of polar bears, while at the same time being able to connect with them about climate change. Kali gives us a platform to talk about issues that are historically hard to talk about. I truly believe that he has single-handedly been one of the most impactful forces of positive change throughout the region.
 
Personally, I really focus on the amount of waste my house produces and have gone to great lengths to understand what can and can’t be recycled. I started using sustainably produced reusable bags a number of years ago and have probably saved thousands of plastic bags from going to the landfill. By simply researching local recycling processes, I learned where it is best to take certain products, and by sorting and dropping off myself, I do it all for free. You can do it, too! Nate Aalund, Carnivore Keeper
 

Love Birds

February 18, 2020

By Sydney Oliveira, Zoological Manager of Birds

We often use the term “lovebirds” to describe an openly affectionate couple in public. The term could probably be traced to the bird species as they are known for being extremely caring toward one another; lovebird is the common name of a small genus of parrot, Agapornis.

We do not have lovebirds at the Saint Louis Zoo, but we do have several pairs of birds that you could call “lovebirds” for the affection and care they give one another.

Crested Wood Partridges: Big Red (male) and Little Green (female)

Crested wood partridges have a strong bond between their partners. The males are nothing but gentlemen. With this pair of birds at our Zoo, we often see the male offering the female food items. When they are fed their daily diet or treats, he offers her food until she is full and then will eat some himself. If they wander too far away from one another, they will vocalize and then one quickly returns to the other.

Photos: JoEllen Toler

Bali Mynahs: Several Pairs

It is very common to see this species allopreen, which is when birds will preen one another. To preen is when birds clean their feathers with their beak. This species is also not shy about showing their affection for one another. They have a unique courtship display: they point their bill to the sky, raise the crest of feathers on their head, and bob up and down on the perching. While doing this, they also make unique vocalizations.

Photo: JoEllen Toler

Trumpeter Swans: Charlie and Marilyn

Talk about couple’s goals! This pair takes the cake. Though Charlie and Marilyn are a newly formed pair, only having been together for one year, they already have a strong bond. Usually they are seen moving around the lake, side by side. They often engage in a courtship display where they spread their wings and shake them, sometimes while bobbing heads and trumpeting in unison. In the future, when eggs are laid, we predict that Charlie will be very protective and will defend Marilyn and their offspring by charging at any threat while hissing and smacking his wings. This can be very intimidating due to the size of trumpeter swans. It is dangerous to any threat; the force of the birds’ wing smack is strong enough to break bones.

Photo: JoEllen Toler 

Rhinoceros Hornbills: Mom and Dad

These birds are very devoted to one another. We often hear them calling back and forth to each other. They also like to mirror each other’s behaviors. If one is bathing or preening, the other will then start bathing and preening. When one is eating, the other usually joins at the feed site. The males will often feed the females as part of their courtship. Once the female has laid an egg, she will seal herself into a log with mud and food items. She relies solely on the male to feed her while she is incubating the eggs and caring for the young chick(s). As the chick(s) grow, the space in the nest log gets tight, and the female will then break out of the log. She and the male will seal the chicks back in and continue to feed them until they are adult-sized and able to break out of the nest on their own.

Photo: JoEllen Toler

Humboldt Penguins: Cabo and Loca, Juan Thomas and Pequena, Argus and Coco, Selma and Paco

These couples can all be seen preening one another on habitat. These couples like to hang out near one another for most of the day. When the sun is out, you might even see them basking next to one another. To keep their bonds strong, they also stand upright and vocalize back and forth while fluffing their feathers up around their face and neck.

Pictured: Cabo and Loca

Helmeted Curassow

The male loves to serenade his female with low humming noises. He picks a nice open area to stand, then bends his head down, and puffs his chest up while making this low humming or booming vocalization. If that does not get his mate’s attention, then his treat sharing sure does. These birds love shelled peanuts as a treat. When offered these items, the male promptly breaks them open, holds them in his beak and runs over to feed his mate while making a high-pitched whistling noise. It is quite a sight to see.

Photo: KR Frey 

Conservation Hearts

February 13, 2020

Valentine’s Day is this Friday, and one of the most popular valentine’s candies is Conversation Hearts. This week, we are switching up Conversation Hearts with our “conservation” hearts – highlighting some of the Zoo’s many conservation efforts. You can learn more about our efforts and how you can help here.

 

Wild 4 U

At the Saint Louis Zoo, we are dedicated to caring for animals. We care about animals here at the Zoo, and we care about their wild counterparts around the world. Our commitment to saving endangered species and their habitats is exemplified through the work of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute and Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine.

The WildCare Institute consists of 17 centers and 11 conservation programs. With the support of its partners, the WildCare Institute takes a holistic approach to troubled ecosystems by addressing three key pillars in conservation success: wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife. From the streams of the Missouri Ozarks to the Sahara desert in North Africa, the Zoo supports critical initiatives in places where animals are threatened by shrinking habitats, poaching and disease.

 

 

The Institute for Conservation Medicine takes a holistic approach to wildlife conservation, public health and sustainable ecosystems to ensure healthy animals and healthy people. The Zoo's conservation medicine research focuses on diseases that affect the conservation of threatened and endangered wildlife species. Scientists study the origin, movement and risk factors associated with diseases. This helps them to better understand the impact of diseases on the conservation of wildlife populations; the links between the health of zoo animals and free-living wildlife populations; and the movement of diseases between wildlife, domestic animals and humans.

Love Birds

Save birds with a blooming backyard! A bird-friendly backyard may include: a water source (such as a bird bath), which gives a place for birds to bathe and drink; native gardens that attract hummingbirds as well as insects, which birds can then eat; and fruit trees to provide birds a place to nest.

After habitat loss, another significant threat to wild birds is glass. Estimates show that up to 988 million birds are killed each year in the U.S. when they hit glass windows. Decorate your windows so that birds can see and avoid them. The reflection in windows can be confusing for birds, and they can accidentally fly into the windows and hurt themselves. Make it a family project and decorate your windows with beautiful suncatchers! At the Zoo, we have put striping on many of our windows to help keep birds safe.

Bye, Bye Love

We encourage people to break up with plastic bags and make the choice to switch to reusable bags instead. #byetobags was designed and organized by our Zoo ALIVE teen volunteers in January 2016 through a partnership with The Ocean Project. Subsequent support for the project has been provided by generous donors to the Saint Louis Zoo. The project highlights our ability to impact ocean health, even from the Midwest, through a simple, solution-oriented action—using reusable bags instead of plastic. #byetobags reminds us that individuals are the forces of change. It’s been estimated that one person switching to reusable bags can keep about 500 plastic bags out of the environment every year! As of December 2019, 13,249 Saint Louis Zoo visitors have pledged to make the switch to reusable bags. Join us today by pledging to say goodbye to plastic bags!

 

Bee Mine

Did you know that one out of every three bites of food you eat depends on pollinators? Insects like honeybees and bumble bees, as well as birds and small mammals, pollinate over 90 percent of the planet's flowering plants and one third of the human diet. Our world would be a lot less colorful and flavorful without pollinators! Of the estimated 1,330 crop plants grown worldwide for food, beverages, fibers, condiments, spices and medicines, approximately 75 percent are pollinated by animals. In the U.S., honeybee and native bee pollination accounts for approximately $19 billion worth of crop production. You can help native pollinators, especially bees, by planting a pollinator-friendly garden.

Sustain 4 Ever 

Orangutans and many other animals are in danger due to unsustainable palm oil plantations, which destroy their forest homes. Palm oil plantations are not a natural part of the rainforest. Palm oil is an introduced agricultural crop. Over 30 million tons of palm oil are produced in Indonesia and Malaysia per year. This demand is increasing rapidly due to recent trans-fat health concerns and bio-fuel development.

Palm oil can be found in many products—even candy! We are dedicated to caring for animals, so we encourage you to consider purchasing candy that contains sustainable palm oil. Visit this link to print out your cheat sheet, or download the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's palm oil shopping guide app.