Tails From The Zoo

Not-so-stupid Animal Tricks April 6, 2010

Filed under: Biodiversity,Uncategorized,World News — Scott Gray @ 12:58 pm

I couldn’t pass up posting this article from Mental Floss!


Not-so-stupid animal tricks

By David Goldenberg, Mental Floss

April 2, 2010 10:05 a.m. EDT

Mental Floss


  • Some animals use tools to get their dinner or drinks
  • Some dolphins use sea sponges as masks when they fish
  • Crows shape sticks into hooks and spears to probe for insects
  • Green-backed herons drop insects or feathers into waters they “fish” for fish

(Mental Floss) — For centuries, philosophers claimed that the ability to make tools separated man from beast.

But in 1960, a young wildlife researcher named Jane Goodall told her boss,anthropologist Louis Leakey, that she’d witnessed chimpanzees stripping leaves from twigs and using them to “fish” for termites.

A stunned Leakey responded,”Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.” Of course, we now know that chimps were only the beginning.

1. Elephants drink bottled water

Not only do elephants use branches to swat flies and scratch their backs, but they also use tools to plan for the future. In South Africa, biologist Hezy Shoshani observed a pachyderm chewing bark into a large ball and then using the ball to plug up a nearby watering hole. The result was an elephant-size water bottle! Later, the animal came back to the spot, removed the ball, and quenched his thirst again.

2. Dolphins cover their mouths

In addition to bouncing balls on their noses, dolphins are also handy with sponges. Georgetown University researcher Janet Mann reported that bottlenose dolphins in Australia’s Shark Bay have been seen carrying sea sponges in their mouths while fishing along the ocean floor.

When they dig into the sand to stir up hidden fish, the sponges apparently act as a kind of mask. But, of the thousands of bottlenose dolphins identified in Shark Bay, only 41 have been observed doing this. Almost all of them were female, and the behavior seems to be something mothers teach their daughters.

3. Owls make the most out of cow poop

Some burrowing owls have a strange habit of scattering cow manure around the entrances to their homes in the ground. Until recently, scientists thought this behavior evolved as a way to mask the owls’ scent from potential predators.

But researchers recently determined that the cow manure actually functions as bait to lure dung beetles, one of the owls’ favorite foods.

Mental Floss: 7 creative uses for poop

4. Vultures cast stones

Egyptian vultures love the taste of ostrich eggs, but they can’t break the thick shells by just pecking at them. So hungry vultures go in search of rocks for the job, sometimes venturing up to 50 yards away. When they return, they dip their heads violently and hurl their rock at the egg, smashing open the shell.

Surprisingly, this technique appears to be an innate behavior. When presented with tasty eggs, even vultures raised alone in captivity will go hunting for stones.

5. Crows have a lot to crow about

New Caledonian crows are widely renowned as the tool-using champs of the bird kingdom. To hunt for insects, they shape sticks into hooks and spears that allow them to probe tree crevices. They also modify those sticks into the correct size and shape by whittling them with a complex process of snips and tears.

What’s more, New Caledonian crows can make new tools out of old ones and pass along their new inventions to others.

Mental Floss: 10 technologies we stole from animals

6. Chimps build nutcrackers

Chimpanzees of the Ivory Coast’s Tai Forest are the Bob Villas of their species. In order to crack open the hard oil-palm nuts they adore, the chimps use two tools at once. First, they place a nut on a flat stone for traction, then they smash it with a pointed hammer-like stone.

The skill takes young chimps several years to master, but once they get the hang of it, they’ll store their favorite tool sets in certain places and bring their nuts there for cracking. A recent archaeological dig found that Tai Forest chimps have been making nutcrackers like these for 4,000 years.

7. Herons go fishing

Like Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees, wild green-backed herons “fish” for their food. Using insects, feathers, or even flowers, they drop their clever bait into the water and then gobble up the curious fish that come to the surface for a meal.

Herons can be remarkably persistent fishermen, too. Reportedly, one researcher in Africa watched a heron drop the same bait into the water 28 times in a row before a fish finally bit.

Mental Floss: Is a dog’s mouth cleaner than a human’s?

For more mental_floss articles, visit mentalfloss.com

Entire contents of this article copyright, Mental Floss LLC. All rights reserved.

Original article link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/wayoflife/04/02/mf.animals.using.tools/index.html?hpt=Sbin


Zoo Enrichment Club March 15, 2010

Filed under: Eco-Projects,Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 11:58 am

The University of Winnipeg Enrichment Club members are passionate students from a variety of fields and faculties within the university. The focus of the club is to help improve the welfare of the animals at the Assiniboine Park Zoo through the implementation of various enrichment projects. These projects may include environmental, feeding or sensory enrichment and are created in collaboration with keepers. The club has regular meetings to discuss new ideas and “create” the projects. At the February meeting the club worked on phase one of paper-mache treat feeders and constructed several treat boards for the macaques, squirrels and other animals. Club members are also working on a tunnel system for the meerkats. The Enrichment Club can be contacted at uofwenrichment@hotmail.com

Large seed board

Macaque with large treat board


Pet Valu Helps the Zoo January 22, 2010

Filed under: Exhibits,Fund Raising,Uncategorized,Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 9:44 am

On December 21, 2009 the Assiniboine Park Zoo Animal Enrichment Committee received a wonderful Christmas present from the staff of the Pet Valu Better Nutrition stores.  The six Pet Valu stores, located at 963 Henderson Hwy., 1670 Main St., 1600 Ness, 3326 Portage Ave., 200 Meadowood and 27 Marion St. banded together to raise money to assist the animals at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.  Pet Valu staff held Halloween Pet photos and Pet photos with Santa and generously donated the proceeds to the Zoo’s Animal Enrichment Committee.  Close to $1,900 was raised and the staff and animals at the Zoo were thrilled to receive this generous donation.

The Zoo’s Animal Enrichment Committee is dedicated to improving the health and welfare of our animals by giving them new experiences to benefit their physical and behavioural health.  Enrichment can also be used as a tool to assist in animal management and to enhance visitors experiences while at the Zoo.

Behavioural enrichment involves variation of the animal’s daily routines using items that require the animal to search for their food, adding new scents in their enclosure, introducing toys to play with, water misters for hot days and items to help alleviate stress.   Enrichment comes in many forms from simple recyclable items such as cartons, sheets and towels to larger items such as fire hoses, lumber, PVC pipe and used street sweeper brushes for the Camels and other hoofed stock to rub against.   Natural substances to enrich enclosures include items such as wood chips, burlap, soil, limestone blocks, logs and food items such as pumpkins, spices and exotic fruit.

Pet Valu and Zoo Staff

The donation from the Pet Valu stores will go toward purchasing balls, toys, play tubes, enclosure enhancements, specialty foods and other items for our fish, birds, reptiles, small animals and monkeys.



Bear Stories at the Zoo June 8, 2009

Filed under: Education Programs,Presentations — Scott Gray @ 3:18 pm
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Winnipeg welcomed Else Poulsen, Canadian bear behaviourist and former zoo keeper at the Calgary and Detroit Zoos, this past weekend. Else was in town for the first time to promote her book “Smiling Bears” and to share her stories with zoo visitors.

I had an opportunity to tour Else around the Assiniboine Park Zoo on Saturday morning. We spent quite a bit of time in the bear exhibits and I had a wonderful, personal introduction to Else’s vast bear knowledge and experience. Else also spent time talking to many of the zoo keepers and providing insights about animal enrichment and animal care.

If you missed Else bear presentation on Saturday evening but would still like to read her stories, her book “Smiling Bears” can be found at McNally Robinson booksellers. I would also like to wish Else the best of luck as she begins a new job managing the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (www.aspenvalleywildlifesanctuary.com)

The Zoological Society is looking at developing a monthly “Speaker Series” as many of us feel that networking with other zoo and animal professionals is not only good for staff, but will be of interest to zoo members and visitors. Keep an eye on our website (www.zoosociety.com) in the fall.


World Turtle Day May 18, 2009

The Zoological Society of Manitoba’s Education Department will be celebrating World Turtle Day at the Assiniboine Park Zoo on Saturday May 23, from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. World Turtle Day was initiated in 2000 by the American Tortoise Rescue, a turtle and tortoise rescue organization founded in 1990 in Malibu, California.

We are profiling these wonderful creatures as part of our International Biodiversity Day celebrations. Our turtle table will be set up next to the Tropical House and will feature interpretive artifacts and live turtles. Education staff will be on hand to talk to zoo visitors about the diversity of turtles, as well as their disappearance due to destructive fishing methods, over harvesting, the pet trade, pollution and development.

  • The Canadian Wildlife Services conducted a study at three sites in the Great Lakes region found deformities in male snapping turtles, believed to be the result of chemical pollution.
  • “Half of all the green sea turtles off of the Hawaiian coasts are thought to be infected by a deadly disease called Fibropapilloma. It is caused by chemical pollution.” (fromwww.hsus.org)
  • “A scientific team monitoring the blood plasma of loggerhead turtles along the U.S. East Coast consistently found significant levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). PFCs are used as nonstick coatings and additives in a wide variety of goods including cookware, furniture fabrics, carpets, food packaging, fire-fighting foams and cosmetics.” (from: http://www.physorg.com/news122662971.html)
  • 86% of sea turtle species threatened with extinction (from http://news.mongabay.com/2007/1114-fws_turtles.html)

The Assiniboine Park Zoo displays the spur-thighed tortoise, red-footed tortoise, yellow-footed tortoise, star tortoise, red-eared slider, and more. We hope to see you at the zoo!


Animal Enrichment Donations March 19, 2009

Filed under: Fund Raising,The Zoo and You — Scott Gray @ 1:53 pm

The Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Animal Enrichment Committee would like to send out a huge THANK YOU to the Portage Avenue, Dominion Centre, Main St. and Dakota PET VALU Better Pet Nutrition stores for their recent donation of toys and food for our animals. The wonderful staff at these four stores donated all the money that they earned from Halloween Pet Pictures and Pictures with Santa to the Animal Enrichment Committee.

Zoo staff sent in a wish list of items they wanted for their animals and the goodies were delivered March 12th. Over $800 was raised (!) which equated to six boxes of enrichment items, toys and food.  The keepers were very excited by the gifts and quickly cleaned out the boxes to try out the new goods with the animals.  With kong-balls for the monkeys, a ferret tent for the meerkats, stuffed animals for the lemurs, bird toys for the parrots, a watering station for the bearded dragons and perches for the birds in the Animal Hospital, everyone was happy.

So again a huge thank you to the staff and management of the Pet Valu stores – the staff and animals of the Assiniboine Park Zoo really appreciate the donations and the ongoing support. If you would like to make a donation to the Assiniboine Park Zoo for the enrichment program, please contact the Zoological Society of Manitoba. Here are a few things on the list:

Astroturf (new)

Balls, Boomer, heavy plastic/rubber

Barrels, heavy plastic

Boxes, large no staples/tape

Burlap, untreated

Bungee cords

Cardboard tubes

Carpet pieces

Clips, snaps, carabineers in various sizes

Compact discs

Concrete sewer pipes

Decoy ducks

Deer, Elk scent

Dowels, wooden (all various sizes)

Drill, cordless with drill bits


Fridges & freezers (small)

Grommets & grommet punch



Hooks (swivel)

Hoses (fire hose & rubber hose)


Knives, utility

Leather pieces

Landscaping materials (stone, soil, wood chips, rock)

Logs, bark on, various sizes

Lumber (all sizes)

Mattress (crib size)

Mirrors (small to medium, unbreakable)

Nails, screws, bolts, wing nuts, eye hooks in various sizes

Pails, 5 gallon with lid

Perfume, scented oils

Piñata, paper mache

Pine cones, natural & scented (no sparkles, paint)

Pools (Kiddie)

Propane torch

PVC pipe, various sizes

Rawhide bones (large)