Happy Holidays All! December is upon us and with it, the season of family, togetherness, generosity, and fun! Winter is a beautiful time here at Safari West. There’s a late-season flush of green on the hills and the animals are excitable and active. This end-of-year energy is due in part to cooler weather and in part to the holiday courtship that results in some of our springtime babies.
We’re running tours all winter long (except the 25th) so if you and your family feel like getting out of the house this holiday season, come down and say hello. Grab a cup of coffee (or hot chocolate if you prefer), snuggle up under a blanket, and safari out into our wild winter wonderland. As a special seasonal gift, we’re offering free overnight stays for all new reservations for kids on any Sunday through Friday tent reservation made through the end of the year. Also, for all new reservations, those of you looking for a day-trip, we’ve got an end-of-the-year gift as well as kids can climb aboard a weekday Classic Safari Tour for only $20!
If your holiday season is packed and you can’t make it out any time soon, check out our Safari West Gift Cards. Good for safari tours, behind the scenes adventures, and just about anything else here at the Safari West Wildlife Preserve, Safari West Gift Cards make wild stocking stuffers!
As we close out 2016, we just want to say thank you to all of you who helped make this year truly amazing. Happy Holidays and best wishes in 2017. See you next year!
The Many Babies of 2016
The end of the year is always a time of taking stock. It’s a chance to take a breath and get reorganized after the hustle and bustle of summer. That makes it the perfect time to step back and reflect on the ever-growing, ever-evolving conservation breeding program here at Safari West.
Each year our keepers work diligently and endlessly, not just to keep our animals healthy and happy, but to ensure that their lives are as naturalistic as possible. There is a very straightforward motivation driving this goal. When animals are allowed to live out their natural behaviors, those behaviors tend to include courtship and breeding, and that is something we very much want. Safari West is and always has been a conservation breeding facility. Our mission is based on the never-ending work of keeping the most vulnerable species in existence alive and genetically viable.
In the case of critically endangered species like the addax or the Waldrapp’s ibis, this work is incredibly important simply to keep the species’ numbers up. As a useful side-effect, captive born animals breeding in captivity preclude the need to go out and capture wild specimens.
This of course leads to the question so often asked of why we need captive animals in the first place. First of all, captive populations can and do serve as reserve populations in the case of the extinction of their wild cousins. We’ve seen this in action with the scimitar horned oryx; an antelope that was hunted to extinction in the late 1980’s. Since some specimens had been captured and a successful captive breeding program developed, the species survived even though there have been none outside of human care for nearly thirty years. In March of 2016 an ambitious scimitar horned oryx reintroduction project was initiated that is even now working to re-wild hundreds of descendants of those once-captured scimitar ancestors.
The other reason why it’s important to have captive specimens in properly run and accredited zoos and wildlife parks is because of the well-documented tendency of humans to only protect the creatures and places we’re familiar with. It is doubtful that the world would’ve worked as hard as it has to preserve the giant panda if the creature had remained unknown to all but the Chinese who live in the panda’s native range. There is something about a face-to-face encounter with a polar bear, an elephant, a giraffe, or a cheetah that inspires compassion and dedication in our species.
There is a famous quote that comes up frequently here at Safari West. It comes from Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum in a paper he presented to the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1968.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
It is the role of facilities like Safari West to be educators and leaders in the field of wildlife conservation. Everyday we strive to inspire that so-critical passion and understanding even as we work to advance and refine our captive breeding programs.
The year, 2016 has been fantastic for many of our programs. Among our famously reproductive species, we had a banner year. We saw seven new wildebeest and even more cape buffalo. The serval cats had another litter of kittens and the southern screamers (South American water birds) came in with eight downy hatchlings.
Speaking of birds, they ran away with it this year. Between the American and African greater flamingos we had a whopping fourteen grey, puffball babies. Though they’ve already grown to the size of their parents, their famous pink coloration is only just starting to come in. The newly renovated Amani Oasis Aviary proved particularly productive and this spring we were inundated with a variety of ducklings, pigeon chicks, and both African and roseate spoonbill babies. While our scarlet ibises nested en masse as usual, they didn’t even come close to the sacred ibises that together hatched seventeen youngsters!
Among our more endangered species we had exciting reproductive successes as well. Our critically endangered addax antelope and dama gazelles produced four and two babies respectively. We also greeted six newborn Nile lechwe.
Some of our happiest moments came with the births of three new giraffes; each of whom made the news. Nikki, Dubs, and TJ are all around a year old now and growing taller by the day.
Finally, we experienced success with species we haven’t seen reproduce successfully before. Safari West is currently home to four thriving warthog piglets who, other than the fact that their tusks haven’t come in yet, are the spitting image of their piggy parents. We also have two reclusive striped hyena cubs tucked away behind the scenes. Timid and shy animals, the arrival of these two babies marked a huge step in our hyena breeding program.
As we look forward to 2017 we expect to see similar results from a number of our species. We also have some high hopes for a few other programs. Our critically endangered Waldrapp ibises have never successfully reproduced here but our flock increased in size this year and there’s a chance that these colony nesters will feel more at home with their greater numbers and make 2017 another year of firsts. Likewise, our long single hamerkop—a fascinating bird explored in this month’s Safari Spotlight—was recently introduced to a potential mate. They’ve been seen spending a great deal of time together in and on the massive nest these birds are famous for. Will we see baby hamerkops next year? Only time will tell.
At Safari West, we’re very proud of our conservation breeding programs. The work is rewarding and the results are often adorable as well as being important to the work of conservation. In the upcoming year, please accept our invitation to come out on safari with us. These creatures, whether babies or adults, are fascinating and vulnerable pieces of our world and we should all take the time to know them better.
Conservation Corner: Looking Back, Moving Forward
By: Jared Paddock
It’s a festive time of year; a time of holidays and office parties, of family and feasting. The year’s end is a time for celebration, but also a time to step back and take stock. As the New Year approaches, we are encouraged to set free the past and level our sights on the future. We make our resolutions and lay out our hopes and goals for the year to come. This tradition is an important one, especially when it comes to the work of conservation.
The goal of Conservation Corner has always been to introduce readers to topics and ideas that aren’t yet part of the national discourse. We want to illuminate ongoing issues in the world and hopefully, incite some critical thinking and discussion on these topics. When it comes to conservation, progress only takes place when demanded by an informed public.
To that end, we try to cover a broad spectrum of topics. While we often write about specific events such as the death of Nola the white rhinoceros, we’ve also been known to delve into more esoteric fare, like migratory adaptation. Regardless of the topic, we always try to drive the conversation deeper and to explore the broader ramifications of the concept under discussion.
The death of Nola was perhaps the biggest news item so far covered by Conservation Corner. When she passed away at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the number of northern white rhinos left on the planet was reduced to three. The story blew up online and on TV for all the usual reasons; it was dramatic, it was traumatic, and it illuminated a gigantic and obvious conservation problem. People responded in droves and that can only be counted as a win for the forces of wildlife conservation.
In our coverage of the loss of this beautiful animal, we tried to refrain from focusing on the depressing and macabre and instead investigated what her species’ decline had meant for the particular ecosystem.
That article led directly to our opening piece of 2016, entitled “Settling for Second: The Evolutionary Cost of Trophy Hunting”. This piece focused on a frequently unnoticed side-effect of human hunting. While it’s well-documented that such pressures can eliminate a species (as seen in the dodo, Stellar’s sea cow, and others). What has been largely ignored is the effect it can have even on well-managed target populations; such as those of bighorn sheep or mule deer. Whereas standard predatory practice targets the old, the sick, and the weak thereby weeding out undesirable genetic traits, trophy hunting specifically targets idealized specimens. This has the side-effect of leaving less-qualified individuals to reproduce and carry on the species.
From there we covered another topic related to anthropogenic over-hunting; a novel reintroduction project enacted by the Sahara Conservation Fund and their partners, Environment Abu Dhabi, and the Government of Chad. This ambitious project aims to reintroduce into the deserts of Chad, a species of antelope that has been extinct in the wild for nearly three decades. The scimitar horned oryx (which roam in the enclosures here at Safari West) are one of the many victims of unrestricted human hunting discussed above. Luckily, forward-thinking conservationists were able to establish functional captive breeding programs before the last wild individual was shot in 1989. Thanks to that foresight and the ongoing work done by so many, including our own hoofstock keepers, the species is now getting a second chance to thrive in their natural habitat.
This is not to say however, that the re-wilded scimitars are being released into an Edenic, human-free environment. Quite the opposite in fact. They will be competing for resources with domesticated goats and cattle. They will need to contend with roadways and vehicles. Undoubtedly, hunters, human and otherwise, will also be a concern.
We explored this intersection of humanity and our wild neighbors deeper in a piece focused on the ways in which animals are adapting to us. In the long history of this planet, life has always had to evolve to deal with challenges; climate change, sea level rise and fall, the invasion of novel species, and natural disasters galore. While the ubiquity and industry of the human species may be unprecedented in nature, life appears to be up to the challenge.
In that article we focused primarily on the fascinating and mysterious monarch butterfly. This world-famous pollinator makes the longest migration of any insect species, traveling up and down the United States; from the border of Canada to the forests of northern Mexico. Although they’ve always been forced to fly around the Gulf of Mexico—sticking doggedly to the coastlines along the way—they’ve recently begun to make surprising use of offshore oil rigs. Normally a symbol of environmental exploitation and degradation, these machines of industry are increasingly becoming stopover points, allowing millions of delicate but determined butterflies to rest their weary wings as they make the arduous trip south.
Discussion of this migration must’ve stuck in our minds because the very next edition of Conservation Corner furthered the discussion. Dovetailing into the centennial of the National Parks Service, we discussed their incredible success at protecting specific areas of the wilderness and the sedentary species that make their homes there. What the park system has been less successful at is creating safe havens for migratory animals like the monarch. Their focus as they move into their second century is centered on how to address the needs of migrating birds, pronghorn antelope, salmon, butterflies, and more.
The National Park Service is one of the world leaders in human management of the ecosystem, but the example they’ve set is being followed by others. The Pepperwood Preserve—Safari West’s neighbor to the east—is among those pioneering forces. Earlier this year they held a prescribed burn. They intentionally set fire to a portion of their vast acreage. This technique is increasingly used to reduce the potential for wildfires across the world, but Pepperwood’s experiment had a different aim. They were hoping to reduce the spread of an invasive grass. Medusahead grass has exploded beyond its original range and continues to flood into novel environments at an alarming rate. The Pepperwood experiment is part of an increasing trend toward utilizing natural processes rather than synthetic ones—like toxic herbicides—to help control and restrict environmentally destabilizing invasive species.
Ecosystem engineering of this sort is looking more and more like it will be a necessity in the world of tomorrow and further exploration of the idea lead us to explore the kind of bioengineering that takes place even without our intent. We looked into how species like beavers can transform an entire forest with their teeth and tails as effectively as we can with chainsaw and bulldozers. This exploration revealed how ecosystems that have adapted to the activity of bioengineers like beavers suffer at their loss, whereas ecosystems that experience novel engineering, such as that so frequently brought about by human industry, tend to suffer.
Tying into this idea of environmental resilience, we then discussed invasive species more directly. Invasive species have become one of the largest conservation issues dealt with by facilities like Safari West. The term “invasive species” is one that has established itself in the common discourse and is familiar to any farmer, rancher, any boater, or any traveler who’s crossed a state line. They’ve become the boogeymen of modern conservationist thought which is a bit of a mixed blessing. While public awareness of the problems of invasive is by all accounts a good thing, the underlying fact is that invasive species are also critical to the process of evolution. Ecosystems are by their very nature dynamic and novel influences help keep populations healthy and strong. To an extent. In isolated ecosystems like those found on many islands, the much slower pace of invasion leaves them vulnerable to extreme disruption when something new appears. As with the bioengineering article, our exploration of invasive species revealed a concept in which frequency or intensity made the difference between what is a stabilizing influence, and what is catastrophically destabilizing.
That article brought us into back-to-school season and so we came out of the deep weeds on conservation philosophy and presented a targeted piece that aspired to illuminate the vast and growing problem of rampant consumerism. We now live in a culture that constantly tells us that every occasion requires a purchase and that last year’s model can’t compare to this year’s. In a world of more frequent buying, products must be cheaper and more disposable. This leads inevitably to exploding waste, primarily of cheap and easy to produce plastics.
Ecosystems may be able to adapt to a novel species in their midst, but thus far, no system has come up with a cure for plastics. Plastic polymers persist almost eternally, don’t biodegrade, and are detrimental to virtually all forms of life. We are filling our planet with plastics and most of the human race is so far unaware that there’s a problem.
The last two articles of the year continued the theme of illuminating largely invisible problems. The first piece focused on palm oil; an ingredient nearly as ubiquitous as plastic and one which has an equally detrimental impact. The oil palm is an amazing plant that produces—quite efficiently—a product which has found use in everything from food to cosmetics. Many studies have suggested that over fifty percent of all products on store shelves contain palm oil derivatives. The problem with palm oil is that it grows best in the same places that tropical rain forests do and coincidentally, those tend to be the very same locales that have the least amount of legal protection. The high and growing demand for palm oil has led to unrestrained deforestation on an apocalyptic scale. Slash-and-burn land clearing techniques and unrestricted persecution of local wildlife has led to precipitous declines in hundreds of irreplaceable species like orangutans, Sumatran rhinos, and elephants. Luckily, there is progress even on this front and it is now easier than ever to track you palm oil usage and direct your dollars toward companies that supply it sustainably.
The most recent issue of Conservation Corner focused on yet another widely unknown but absolutely critical conservation issue; that of our seafood supply. Fish arrive in our supermarkets daily and almost none of us question where they come from. The oceans are vast and fished by massive fleets representing hundreds of nations. The difficulties in regulation, the loopholes in labeling, and a complete and utter lack of transparency have all helped to lead us where we are today. Worldwide, fishing stocks have been depleted by anywhere from seventy to ninety percent. Our oceans are becoming deserts and the vast majority of us don’t even know there’s a problem.
Over the last year we’ve covered a long list of topics that range from land to sea, and from practical to philosophical. We’ve made an effort to be illuminating rather than depressing and to offer solutions wherever possible. As we close out this year, and in case we failed in that goal, I’d like to point out a few of the bright rays of hope that have 2016 shine.
Safari West became partners with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program. This program is one of the leaders in combating the issues with our seafood supply. Simply by downloading their app onto your phone, you become instantly equipped to make informed choices in your seafood purchases, whether in a restaurant or at the grocery store. Experience has shown again and again that industry follows the money. If we’re buying sustainable supplied products, they will shift to capitalize on that trend.
On a similar note, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has an app that accomplishes the same thing with palm oil. The app includes a bar code scanner that will tell you at a glance whether the ice cream in your hand is produced by a member of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil. It’s a great tool for identifying sustainability-minded companies that you may want to support.
This was also a year which saw the meeting of nearly two-hundred nations in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss and regulate trade in endangered species. This conference of parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) not only shut down several proposals to re-legalize trade in ivory and rhino horn, but also established new protections for many species including elephants, rhinos, pangolins, and numerous species of sharks and rays. The conference was a big step forward for many endangered species and ecosystems.
Lastly, I want to take a moment to mention some of the practical things that’ve been accomplished right here at Safari West. We updated the plumbing system throughout our luxury tent camp. While this update in no way impacted guest experience, it did reroute all grey water (water draining from sinks and showers) to be used in our landscaping. Thousands of gallons that would otherwise have drained away wastefully are now being put to use among our vegetation. In a state stricken by drought, this is a valuable conservation action.
We’ve also initiated a brand new wildlife monitoring project. Our enclosures aren’t only home to our exotic collection, but also to all manner of local wildlife. At Safari West our safari guides and keeper regularly encounter hawks, vultures, snakes, turtles, deer, otters, and countless other member species of the Mayacamas Mountains biome. This wildlife monitoring program will help us to better understand how these species are adapting to our presence and how to make the environment of Safari West more welcoming to them.
As we close out this chapter and begin the next, it is with a palpable sense of excitement and motivation. Many challenges await—both those we know about and the inevitable surprises waiting in the wings—but every year, our species gets smarter and more ambitious. We figure out what we’re doing right and how to correct what we’re doing wrong. We continue to improve our ability to live effectively within our ecosystems, rather than struggling to dominate them. Progress is being made and it’s thanks to people like you. We at Conservation Corner thank you for your support throughout this year and we look forward to working with you to make the next one even better.
Happy Holidays to you and a very Happy New Year!
A Whole New Conservation Corner
The Safari West Gift Gallery is a great place to find gifts for that wildlife enthusiast in your life and that’s especially true during this festive time of year. We’ve always had an extensive collection of stuffed animals and toys for the youngsters as well as an impressive array of fine jewelry, collectibles, and accent pieces. Earlier this year we introduced the Safari West Gem and Mineral gallery; the largest collection of gems, geodes, and crystals in Sonoma County!
We’re now proud to introduce a whole new corner for conservation. One section of the gift gallery has been transformed with a focus on everyday conservation. The goal of this new development is to promote simple and effective conservation action. Taking steps to help the planet and its wild places doesn’t need to be complex and expensive; it can be as easy as going shopping. You’ll find a variety of amazing gifts in the Conservation Corner. You will find gifts that either supports some of our conservation partners in their dedicated work or that encourage sustainable living here at home.
Included in the products on display in the Conservation Corner are great stocking-stuffers like bamboo travel silverware that tucks easily into a purse or backpack and cuts down on the usage of plastic utensils. There are also beautiful handmade gifts produced in association with some of our conservation partners. These artisan items are made by the people on the ground where our partners work. This means that your dollar goes directly to supporting Safari West sponsored programs while providing income and jobs to the indigenous people in those parts of the world.
This treasure trove of environmentally responsible and largely one-of-a-kind merchandise provides a unique opportunity for holiday shopping. Each item on the shelves has signage to indicate what organization your money is supporting and what their particular mission is. This holiday season; give a unique gift to the conservation hero in your life while promoting sustainability across the globe.
Safari Spotlight: Hamerkop
This month we are spotlighting a very special and under-appreciated bird; the hamerkop. The hamerkop is an African bird slightly smaller than a raven and a uniform brown in color. The name “hamerkop” comes from Afrikaans and translates to “hammer-head”. As the name suggest, the hamerkop’s head is in fact hammer shaped. They have long, dark brown bills that are straight and sturdy and end in a hook. The bill is countered by a long crest of feathers protruding from the back of the birds head.
Other than the oddly shaped head, hamerkops are not the most striking of birds. Our hamerkop, here at Safari West, is easily overlooked. He lives in the walk-through Amani Oasis Aviary where he has to compete for attention with brilliant scarlet ibises, vibrant blue crowned pigeons, and the magnificent Lady Amherst’s pheasant. Amongst such colorful company, our little brown hamerkop is a bit underdressed. Though he may be easy to miss, our industrious little hamerkop’s nest is not.
Hamerkops construct some of the largest and most elaborate nests in the world. Ours is no exception and his current masterpiece is located in a tree on the south side of the enclosure. When he started construction, it looked like he was building a broad platform nest like those used by many storks and eagles. Soon however, high walls curved up from all sides of the platform. As the walls rose it became clear that he was building an opening in one side of the nest; a round portal into what would become a completely enclosed chamber. After four to five weeks of construction, he began to put a roof on the structure. The roof is typically the sturdiest part of a hamerkop nest and is visibly thicker than any other portion. When he completed the basic construction, our hamerkop went to work plastering the interior of the nest with collected mud and leaves. It’s quite a lovely home he’s built.
In the wilds of sub-saharan Africa where hamerkops are found, these massive nests tend to average four to five feet in diameter and are incredibly resilient. They are nearly always built in the crook of a sturdy tree although occasionally some nontraditional hamerkop will construct their nest along a cliff ledge instead.
There hasn’t been much study done on the hamerkop and so the purpose of this fortress of a nest is to date, poorly understood. Surprisingly however, in spite of the labor-intense nature of building such a structure, hamerkops are relentless carpenters. They tend to form long-term pair-bonds and on average, each pair will construct three to five of such nests in a given year. In one study a single pair of hamerkops constructed eleven nests in four and a half years. They moved regularly between two old nests and the eleven new ones and in that same span of time relocated a total of seventeen times. This behavior is also not well understood.
With such a hectic and relentless pace of nest-building, it may come as no surprise that hamerkops abandon many nests half-built and many of those they do complete they never occupy. Which is not to so that nobody else does. Several bird species, ranging from barn owls to Egyptian geese are known to take up residence in hamerkop nests. Other common squatters include genets, monitor lizards, mongooses, a whole variety of snakes (including spitting cobras), and swarms of bees. These sturdy nests can persist for years even without the regular maintenance of their original builders.
Hamerkops are found across and immense range and are common throughout the entirety of sub-saharan Africa and Madagascar. They don’t seen too concerned about the overall environment—whether tropical forest, scrubby grassland, or semi-desert—so long as there is a shallow water source nearby. The hamerkop is an avid fisher and their diet consists almost entirely of fish, amphibians, shrimp, worms, insects, and perhaps the occasional small mammal.
The combination of their wide-ranging distribution, generalists diet, and the fact that they aren’t normally persecuted by humans means that these birds are abundant in the wild and their population is currently under no threat. The reasons why they aren’t persecuted by humans are both fascinating and mysterious. There is a great deal of mythology and folklore surrounding the bird. Anecdotes abound relating the bird’s role in the traditional beliefs of many African cultures and tribes. These stories are largely apocryphal and unattributed, but they paint a broad picture of a bird that is widely revered in tropical regions and widely feared in much of the south of the continent. Among the stories told are many painting the hamerkop as an omen of evil or death. Others describe the hamerkop as symbolic of human vanity and futility.
The birds are often seen standing in the shallows raking at the mud with their clawed feet. They do this to drive out prey species hidden in the mud, but some anecdotes claim they’re actually stirring up visions of the future and prophesizing tragedy and death. The long and short of it is that across the continent, most cultures advocate leaving a hamerkop to its own devices; either out of reverence or fear. The birds benefit tremendously from the general lack of conflict with the humans they live alongside.
These are exciting times at Safari West as we have recently introduced a newly arrived female to our once lonely hamerkop male. They are highly gregarious birds and so the introductions went quite smoothly. Since meeting one another, the two birds have been spending a great deal of time together. They’re highly vocal and seem to have adopted the male’s pre-built nest. There appears to be some courtship behavior happening, but in truth, it’s not always easy to tell with hamerkops. The mounting behavior that usually signifies breeding in birds is also part of a common hamerkop social display. Among wild hamerkops, “false-mounting” is common and includes not only males mounting females, but females mounting males as well as same-sex mounting displays. As with so much of hamerkop life, the motivations driving this behavior are not well understood.
It’s much too soon to know whether or not these two will breed or reproduce successfully, but simply having the two of them together opens up opportunities for observation and study that weren’t possible with just our stalwart male. Join us at Safari West as we watch these two fascinating birds interact, court, and live out their lives in our open-air aviary.
The Safari West Wildlife Foundation is proud to announce the graduation of two long-standing Junior Keepers! Zach Welch and Loren Gillogly entered the Junior Keeper program in 2011 and spent the last five years learning the ins and outs of animal husbandry, educational presentations, and all the skills necessary to make a place like Safari West work. On Saturday, November 19th, both Zach and Loren graduated from the Junior Keeper program. These two talented individuals have elected to continue to work with us here at the Safari West Wildlife Preserve. Both Zach and Loren will be moving into the Safari West Internship Program!
Loren, with his encyclopedic knowledge of local flora and fauna and exuberance for wildlife will enter our African Hoofstock Internship while Zach will kicks off our brand new Information Technology Internship. As technology advances, the nation’s zoos, wildlife parks, and conservation organizations need not only dedicated scientists, keepers, and educators, but gifted IT specialists as well.
We also celebrated the graduation of Lidia Tapia from the Safari West Wildlife Preserve Avian Internship on that same date. We’re especially excited and proud of Lidia who is our very first graduate to complete the entire program, from Junior Keeper through internship. Having completed a behavioral study of our flock of white-cheeked turacos, Lidia is now fully prepared to pursue a career in the industry or continue her studies at a collegiate level!
Please join us in congratulating these hard-working Junior Keepers and interns as they prepare to take the next step in the ongoing work of conservation and wildlife science. Congratulations Lidia, Zach, and Loren!