Friday, September 13, 2013

Zoo News Digest 1st - 13th September 2013 (ZooNews 874)

Zoo News Digest 1st - 13th September 2013 (ZooNews 874)

Ye Olde Civet Cat

Dear Colleagues,

It's true that some criticism can be spooned upon some members of the AZA but this is but a drop in the ocean when compared to what can be poured upon the majority of the members of the ZAA. The only reason that the ZAA exists is because most of its members cannot hope to achieve the correct and exacting standards set by the AZA. I say 'most' because some collections are members of both. This is easy because any AZA member could become a ZAA member tomorrow. The opposite is not true. The ZAA is largely made up of what I would term 'conservation criminals' who really have no concern about the correct welfare of their charges other than how it gets them their next dollar. In fact I would find it embarrassing to be listed as a ZAA member alongside some of those others on the membership list.

A similar situation used to exist in the UK. There was the Zoo Federation (now BIAZA) to which some zoos were members. Those zoos which wished to join were expected to pass an inspection. If they passed then all well and good, it proved their standards and commitment were high. If it failed then they knew what they had to put right. Then along came Associated Pleasure Parks in its various guises (bought out a few times) taking over zoos here and there. Some of their purchases were Federation members. They liked that because it added credibility to their pure money grabbing commercialism. They wanted to add the coveted Zoo Federation badges to their other zoos too. They failed to pass muster. So accusations of elitism and 'old boys club' were bandied about (and still are) and APP set up their own association. The new association was made up of collections which had not a hope in hell of passing a Federation inspection. This is exactly the situation as exists in the US today. ZAA members, for the most part, have not a hope of passing an AZA inspection. I know that I will be attacked for saying this because I have been before but it’s the truth. If the ZAA are really concerned about conservation, education and research then they need to prove it and go through an AZA inspection and pass it. Most will have to be re-educated.

Things in the UK have changed since the introduction of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. The Federation (BIAZA) is still going strong and zoos can choose whether to apply for membership or not. The Zoo Licensing Act ensures that ALL zoos are making a genuine commitment to conservation, education and research. This is something which the US lacks and desperately needs. Current USDA inspections are not enough.

My criticism here is not of the zookeepers in ZAA collections because I know that many of these really do care. Many stay for years because they are attached to the animals they care for. Those that know, who truly understand what a good zoo stands for want change but their hands are tied.

I returned last week from the 8th International Penguin Conference. It is a long time since I was back in England and I was worried that I would be warm enough. As it happens the sun shone every day and it was a pity to be stuck indoors listening to presentations. I did manage two trips out. One to Bristol Zoo and another to Bristol Aquarium, both of which I have visited before. It got me thinking. The first time I visited Bristol Zoo it was famous for its White Tigers. It has come a long way from those days. Bristol Zoo was beautiful. The 'mind bite' educational signage just how I like it because I know it works with the curious visitor. The new Gorilla house looked good and it was a pleasure to see the young Gorilla playing in the sun with its mother. I am not a fan of dinosaurs, possibly because I have seen so many poor representations, but here in Bristol they worked well and in no way compromised the zoo exhibits. Well done Bristol. All looking good. A truly enjoyable and interesting afternoon.

The Penguin Conference itself was interesting. An opportunity to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. Although the majority of presentations were about the Penguins in the wild I did learn from them. Much fascinating information on new methods of research. I would like to have had more talks on husbandry in captivity and this may have left me feeling less 'penguined out' as I was at the end of day three. I found it sad that with over 220 delegates attending the conference that it was impossible to get round and meet everybody. If I had to take away one message from the Penguin Conference it would be about Climate Change. It is there and doing more damage than people realise. World Governments need to take this issue a lot more seriously. Waiting for five or ten years just won't work. It may already be too late.

I met a colleague yesterday who had just returned from a holiday in the UK. He said he had made a visit to Longleat Safari Park whilst he was there. Apart from having an extremely enjoyable day he left feeling he was 'empowered with new knowledge'. This is what good zoos should be about…empowering our visitors.

Interested to note that the South Lakes Wild Animal Park have been required to employ a full time vet. One wonders if this will now be a set standard for all zoos over a certain size in the UK.

So Doha are planning a new zoo. It seems just like last year that they were building the first one. I recollect twice being offered employment there.

It would appear that Australia Zoo had a huge number of applicants for their advertised "TigerHandler" vacancy. Good luck to them and I truly hope they got the right person for the job. That said I remain totally and utterly against hands on with big cats. It is never necessary and portrays the wrong picture of what a good zoo should be. It needs to be phased out. Again this is a point of view I have been attacked upon on more times than I can count. I know I am not alone however. It is just that many others around the world (and a big number of these in Australia) are not in a position to speak out.

Glad to see the poor old Palm Civet getting some attention. Although I have drunk Kopi Lurwak. I never would again.

Panda Poo may save the world? Now there is food for thought. I'm not keen on the 'Panda Haters' header. There are definitely people who don't think they should get the attention they do but I don't believe anyone hates Pandas.

Lastly I would like to say a big thank you and respect to two of my staff, Claudia van Klingeren and Erin McGeady who have given separate Penguin Training presentations at the IMATA conference in Las Vegas this week. The team is proud of you both.


I remain committed to the work of GOOD zoos, not DYSFUNCTIONAL zoos.

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What’s the Difference Between the AZA & ZAA?
More than can be included in this article, but here are two of the differences that are most important to saving big cats.
Origins of AZA vs ZAA
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) was founded in 1924.  The Zoological Association of America (ZAA) claims to have been founded in 2005, but appears to have just been an idea that never really took off until the Lowry Park Zoo, under leadership of Lex Salisbury, lost its AZA accreditation in 2008.  Online sources show that Salisbury had hosted the ZAA at the Lowry Park Zoo in 2007 and began using the zoo’s facilities to run the ZAA in 2008, presumably to maintain the appearance of being accredited by someone.

Civet cat coffee's animal cruelty secrets
Animal cruelty during the production of one of the world's priciest coffees has been exposed by a BBC investigation.
Kopi luwak is made from coffee beans excreted by Indonesian palm civets - small, mongoose-like creatures.
But undercover reporters in Indonesia witnessed civets held in battery-cage conditions to produce the coffee.

Coffee with a Lift a Nation on the Rise

Can you worry about an animal you’ve never seen? The role of the zoo in education and conservation.
“He had black fur and a horn on his head,” my sister said. She came to DC for a few weeks and spent many afternoons visiting our local zoo. After one of those visits,  she hurried to Google Chat to report that a big tall bird was chasing her behind the fence of his enclosure. My sister described the bird as having long fur-like feathers and a horn. She has never seen anything like that before and was genuinely curious. She was familiar with the belligerent bird’s neighbours', the rheas (ratite birds like ostriches and extinct moas). Rheas are native to South America, as are we, and we’ve seen them before while growing up in south Brazil. “Mystery bird” was about to become a perfect example of zoo education.

Zoo leader taking conservation message to international audience
Lee Ehmke has spent years telling Minnesotans their zoo in Apple Valley is about much more than exhibiting animals from around the world.
Now Ehmke will now take that message to a larger audience.
Next month, Ehmke begins a two-year term as president of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or WAZA, an international group with 250 members. Once a professional organization for zoo managers, WAZA has evolved over the past two decades into an umbrella organization supporting zoos and aquariums and their growing role in conservation efforts around the world.
"My interest in zoos stems from my interest in conservation," Ehmke said. "At the zoo, we believe conservation is at the core of why we exist."
WAZA's growing focus on preserving animals and habitat will fit nicely with Ehmke's day job as director and chief executive of the Minnesota Zoo, which has conservation efforts that span the state and stretch as far away as the black rhinoceroses in the deserts of Namibia and dholes, the wild dogs living in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia.
"This is a recognition of that work by our peers," Ehmke said of his election to lead WAZA. "I hope Minnesotans will see their zoo

Worldwide Researchers Flock to Penguin Meeting
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. Just about everybody loves penguins, right? They're funny on land. They're amazing underwater, and they're very photogenic, so they show up in lots of ads and movies. But beyond the screen, prospects for the birds are not entirely good. This week, over 200 researches from around the world met in the U.K. to talk penguins, from the prospects of conservation of species to how penguins are able to stay under water so long, to the properties of penguin poop.

Joining me now to talk about it is Peter Barham. He's a professional teaching fellow in physics at the University of Bristol. He's also the chair of the organizing committee for the Eighth International Penguin Conference, which wrapped up today. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

PETER BARHAM: Good afternoon, I think it must be, Ira.

FLATOW: Thank you. First let me ask you: What's a physicist doing studying penguins?

BARHAM: Oh, physicists, of course, we turn our hands to anything. But I have had, through my wife, an obsession with penguins for quite some time. And a while back, must be - it was about 15, 16 years ago now, I went to the Third International Penguin Conference for fun and discovered that there were things to with tagging and marking and following penguins which a physicist's skills were helpful for, and got involved then, and it's since become a major part of my research career.

FLATOW: Yeah. You know, we see penguins in so many ads on TV and the movies, cute little fellows. We don't think of them as endangered at all, but they are, according to...

BARHAM: They are very much endangered, yes. There are 18 or maybe 19 species of penguin. It depends on how you do the genetics. and of those, all but three are listed on the IUCN red listed as being at least threatened, and three - no, four now are listed as being actually endangered. And

A NEW vet has been employed at the South Lakes Wild Animal Park following an inspection.
Four recommendations were made to zoo bosses following a government inspection.
They have been given until November to ensure the matters are addressed – but say the relevant measures have already been put in place.
A team visited the Dalton zoo for its six-year Defra inspection on May 20 to assess its day-to-day running policies and practices.
The zoo was asked to find a full-time vet, regulate temperatures in freezers, put in place a screening policy for abandoned animals taken in by the zoo and erect a barrier around a perching area for parrots.
Councillors were told on Thursday, in a letter from Karen Brewer, marketing manager at South Lakes Wild Animal Park, that the demands had been fulfilled.
The council’s report raised some concerns about public walkways, particularly over the giant otter pool and recommended the park’s management get professional advice and record any alterations or modifications.
The Defra report shows around 275,000 people visit the zoo each year and it praised “substantial” fi


Simon Husher beats 900 applicants to be big cat handler at Australia Zoo
Qualified floor and wall tiler Simon Husher, 36, has beaten 900 job applicants to become Australia Zoo's new big cat handler.

Resumes poured in from all over the world but it was this lad from Townsville who won over the boss.
Head tiger keeper Giles Clarke said the public response to the job advertisement had been overwhelming.

"There's some wacky ideas out there, people are very creative and inventive as to what they think will make them stand out from the crowd," he said.

"We would have had everyone ranging from 'I'm leaving school next year can you hold the job for me?', to grannies you would think were well and truly retired decades ago."

Mr Husher, who changed careers at age 31, said he was proof that it was never too late to pursue your passion.

As a schoolboy he dreamed of working with animals but was dissuaded by his teachers who warned him it would be too difficult.

"I listened to them and ended up becoming a tiler and 10 years later I thought 'I can't do this'," he said.

Five years ago he started volunteering at Newcastle's Blackbutt Reserve before scoring his first job at Dubbo's Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

Although he has never worked with tigers, he impressed Australia Zoo with his animal experience and enthusiasm to learn.

For the next few years, Mr Husher will learn the ropes as the Sumatran tigers get used to his presence.

It can take at least five years to becom

ASHGHAL SEEKING BIDS FOR DOHA ZOO PROJECT: Qatar's Public Works Authority (Ashghal) has invited contractors to submit their bids for demolishing the existing buildings at Doha Zoo and prepare ground for a new facility, the Peninsula has reported. The 30-year old zoo comprises a cluster of old structures that accommodate the animals and birds. The other buildings are used as offices and staff accommodations. According to the plan, the new zoo is to be three times bigger and once the renovation is completed, visitors will be able watch the animals from a close distance in a natural environment. The demolition is scheduled to be completed by the end of May 2014.

Enhancing Zoo Elephant Welfare
 A ground-breaking study announced today revealed that analyzing the daily lives of zoo elephants -- ranging from when and how they are fed to how they spend their time both at night and during the day -- provides new, scientifically based information that zoos can use to improve the welfare of their elephants. "Using Science to Understanding Zoo Elephant Welfare" is the largest and most comprehensive, multi-institution study ever conducted to collect and assess data on the welfare of any species in North American zoos.

 Why We Don’t Need Pandas
Now I know what you are thinking. Don’t need Pandas!? How dare he! On some days I might even be inclined to agree with you. Even now as I write this I feel I am getting some pretty judgmental looks from the stuffed panda toy at the other side of the room. Well calm down; I love pandas, perhaps even more than most. Pandas are among the most interesting, charismatic and culturally significant animals in the world and ones that need our protection if they are to survive. So why would I write such a thing? Well as much as I like pandas, I like conservation even more.

The fact is that conservation biology suffers from a phenomenon known as taxonomic bias. It has been long acknowledged that popular species such as lions, eagles and pandas receive disproportionate amounts of funding and public attention over others. This shouldn’t be surprising; you don’t have to look much further than the city zoo to see how the famous animals draw in crowds of people, eager to catch a glimpse of an orangutan de-felting himself. They are the faces of conservation charities around the world and they appear all the time on the covers of magazines. They are on our clothes, they have their own movies, heck, they even show up in breakfast cereal.

However, many in the conservation community have taken off their panda cap long enough to realise that while focusing our attention on popular mammals may attract public support and funds for these particular animals; it results in a significant lack of interest in less ‘glamorous’, yet often more endangered species. Less ‘exciting’ groups like invertebrates, amphibians and fungi are particularly unacknowledged by the public at large, often finding themselves relegated to the bin of creepy-crawly-sticky-slimy crap. There’s no cereal for them, and as far as I know nobody has ever wanted this guy on a T-shirt (a shame in my opinion).

Despite increasing recognition of the importance and conservation status of these species, it simply doesn’t seem to be translating into actual interest in less well known plants and animals. What’s worse is that the bias of interest runs right down to the academic literature, where species like amphibians are particularly underrepresented. For example a 2002 study in Science found that invertebrates are perhaps one of the most understudied groups of organisms in terms of papers relative to their number. Despite making up 79% of all species on earth, research into invertebrates mak

Panda Poop Microbes Could Make Biofuels of the Future
 Unlikely as it may sound, giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le in the Memphis Zoo are making contributions toward shifting production of biofuels away from corn and other food crops and toward corn cobs, stalks and other non-food plant material.

Scientists presented an update today on efforts to mine Ya Ya and Le Le's assets for substances that could do so during the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). And if things work out, giant pandas Er Shun and Da Mao in the Toronto Zoo will be joining the quest by making their own contributions.
"The giant pandas are contributing their feces," explained Ashli Brown, Ph.D., who heads the research. "We have discovered microbes in panda feces might actually be a solution to the search for sustainable new sources of energy. It's amazing that here we have an endangered species that's almost gone from the planet, yet there's still so much we have yet to learn from it. That underscores the importance of saving endangered and threatened animals."
Brown and her students, based at Mississippi State University, now have identified more than 40 microbes living in the guts of giant pandas at the Memphis Zoo that could make biofuel production from plant waste easier and cheaper. That research, Brown added, also may provide important new information for keeping giant pandas healthy.
Ethanol made from corn is the most common alternative fuel in the U.S. However, it has fostered concerns that wide use of corn, soybeans and other food crops for fuel production may raise food prices or lead to shortages of food.
Brown pointed out that corn stalks, corn cobs and other plant material not used for food production would be better sources of ethanol. However, that currently requires special processing to break down the tough lignocellulose material in plant waste and other crops, such as switchgrass, grown specifically for ethanol production. Breaking down this material is costly and requires a pretreatment step using heat and high pressure or acids. Brown and other scientists are looking for bacteria that are highly efficient in breaking down lignocellulose and freeing up the material that can be fermented into ethanol.
Bacteria in giant panda digestive tracts are prime candidates. Not only do pandas digest a diet of bamboo, but have a short digestive tract that requires bacteria with unusually potent enzymes for breaking down lignocellulose. "The time from eating to defecation is comparatively short in the panda, so their microbes have to be very efficie

Science Explains Why the Panda Hate Must Stop: Biofuel Researchers See Promise in Their Poop
Pandas are stupid. They are amazingly bad at sex. They're fat, lazy, and poop way too much – up to 40 times a day.

Well, guess what, panda haters: In regard to that last point, panda dung could be the very thing that saves civilization from wars, famines, and doom.

Bear with me here. As the planet creeps closer and closer to depleting its petroleum stocks, scientists are scrambling to find alternative fuels to keep machines humming and governments secure. One promising energy source is ethanol made from converted organic matter. Manufacturers can whip up big vats of this vital fluid by fermenting crops grown around the world, such as corn, sugarcane, and soybeans.

There's a problem with that strategy, though: It makes food more scarce and drives up the prices at the grocery store. Refineries can use inedible or "garbage" organic matter to make ethanol, like switchgrass and corn cobs, but doing so involves more expensive and tedious methods. That's because the stringy, tough lignocellulose in this unpalatable stuff cannot be fermented, and must undergo conversion processes that can involve high temperatures, high pressures, and slow and unstable catalysts.

Enter the giant panda, or rather what comes out of the giant panda. Evolution has honed these monochrome mammoths into four-legged garbage disposals for bamboo. Their guts are teeming with microbes that attack woody cellulose and break it down in no time flat. If biofuel makers had that kind of technology at their fingertips, turning corn husks and wood chips into ethanol would be so much easier. Look in shame over at your future providers of cheap fuel, antipandaists, and mutter: I'm sorry.

Scientists are already poking around in panda poo to try to understand how its myriad possibilities. A joint team from universities in Mississippi and Wisconsin collected fecal samples from giant pandas in the Memphis Zoo, Ya Ya and Le Le, and subjected the stuff to a barrage of lab tests. This week, one of the scientists involv

UK's rarest lizards return to sand dunes
Rare sand lizards have been released on sand dunes in North Wales in a bid to revive ailing populations.
 Seventy juveniles have been released on the Flintshire coast and a total of 400 will be reintroduced through the week to sites in Merseyside, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset.
 The sand lizards were bred at 10 specialist breeding centres, including Chester Zoo, over the summer.
 The animals have suffered dramatic declines due to habitat loss.
 Native populations now only remain in Merseyside, Surrey, and Dorset but even in these areas populations have dropped by 90% or

Zoo appoints new chief exec
THE board of trustees of a popular zoo has appointed a new chief executive. 
Sharon Redrobe, 44, a vet with a distinction in zoo medicine, will start her new role at Twycross Zoo in October. 
She had previously worked as head of veterinary services at Bristol Zoo Gardens as well as a clinical associate professor at the University of Nottingham. 
Susan Bell, chairman at Twycross Zoo, said: “After a lengthy, rigorous and independent selection process, we are confident that we have a capable and enthusiastic new chief executive with the right skill set and experience to lead Twycross Zoo through the next phase of its development.” 
She added that the board of trustee

What Created This Mysterious “Picket Fence” in the Amazon?
It’s probably the only picket fence in the Amazon, but scientists have no idea what made it or what its purpose might be. 
Georgia Tech doctoral student Troy Alexander stumbled upon these two-centimeter-long white structures growing on trees in Peru on June 7. (

Duke of Cambridge and David Beckham join forces to fight illegal wildlife trade
The Duke of Cambridge has enlisted David Beckham in the fight against illegal wildlife products as he launched a new global conservation organisation.
On the day the Duke announced he was quitting the Armed Forces, he revealed that he has created a partnership called United for Wildlife, which brings together seven of the world's most influential conservation organisations, as well as The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

The body will initially focus on the illegal wildlife trade, and is likely to take up a large slice of the Duke's time after he announced today that his seven-year operational career in the forces was at an end. The Duke will be president of the new organisation.
Earlier today the Duke was joined by Beckham and the former Chinese basketball star Yao Ming to record two public service videos on behalf of the anti-wildlife trade charity WildAid. The videos are aimed at the Far East, which has the biggest market for banned wildlife products such as rhino horn and ivory, and will be released later this year.
An estimated 25,000 elephants are killed every year by ivory poachers and 618 rhinos have been killed so far this year for their horns. The Duke has warned in the past that the "catastrophe"

CAPS: Taking the law into their own hands?
Captive Animals Protection Society (CAPS) Director Liz Tyson is attending the 2014 Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg where she is presenting 'Taking the law into our own hands' a presentation to the faithful on how current welfare laws could be used against circuses, zoos and other animal enterprises.  Ms Tyson has a degree in Environmental Law and is now undertaking further academic study in animal welfare law.

However, it is a great a shame she and her fellow CAPS members do not have a clear understanding of some other laws, namely the UK's Malicious Communications Act 2003 (amended by Section 43

Orangutans Plan Their Future Route and Communicate It to Others
Male orangutans plan their travel route up to one day in advance and communicate it to other members of their species. In order to attract females and repel male rivals, they call in the direction in which they are going to travel. Anthropologists at the University of Zurich have found that not only captive, but also wild-living orangutans make use of their planning ability.
For a long time it was thought that only humans had the ability to anticipate future actions, whereas animals are caught in the here and now. But in recent years, clever experiments with great apes in zoos have shown that they do remember past events and can plan for their future needs. Anthropologists at the University of Zurich have now investigated whether wild apes also have this skill, following them for several years through the dense tropical swamplands of Sumatra.
Orangutans communicate their plans
Orangutans generally journey through the forest alone, but they also maintain social relationships. Adult males sometimes emit loud 'long calls' to attract females and repel rivals. Their cheek pads act as a funnel for amplifying the sound in the same way as a megaphone. Females that only hear a faint call come closer in order not to lose contact. Non-dominant males on the other hand hurry in the opposite direction if they hear the call coming loud and clear in their direction.
"To optimize the effect of these calls, it thus would make sense for the male to call in the direction of his future whereabouts, if he already knew about them," explains Carel van Schaik. "We then actually observed that the m


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