Tails From The Zoo

Animal News from Around the World December 19, 2009

Capybara enjoy a traditional Japanese hot bath:




Extinctions on the rise in the Galapagos: fishing and global warming devastating islands’ species

“If marine species are going extinct in one of the most famous, and most cherished World Heritage Sites, what is happening in the rest of the world that has been so little studied?” asks report coauthor Scott Henderson, Conservation International’s Regional Marine Conservation Director in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.




Rhino Poaching Surges in Asia, Africa

ScienceDaily (Dec. 2, 2009) — Rhino poaching worldwide is on the rise, according to a new report by TRAFFIC and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).




When baboon troops go to war: (video contain disturbing images for some people)


“Baboons are one of the most aggressive primates out there”

Miss Rosie Thomas, BBC Life production team member


Amur Tigers – CJOB Zoo Knew December 4, 2009

Amur tigers were discussed on “Zoo Knew”, Sunday November 29, 2009 on the CJOB 68 Weekend Wakeup Show with Chris Reid and Scott Gray.

Amur (Siberian) Tigers

Tigers at the Assiniboine Park Zoo:

  • Kendra – 10 years old. Arrived in 2007 from St Louis zoo via Memphis Zoo.
  • Baikal – 13 years old. Arrived in March 2009 from Toronto Zoo via the Cherrybrook zoo.

Tiger Subspecies and Population Estimates (from the IUCN Red list):

Living subspecies:

Amur tiger = ~500 (with a biologically effective breeding population of ~35)

Sumatran tiger = 400

Northern Indochinese tiger = 1000

Indian (Bengal) tiger = 1850 – 2460

Malayan tiger = 400 – 500

South China tiger = 30 (functionally extinct)

Extinct subspecies:

Caspian tiger – Extinct in 1970

Javan tiger – Extinct in 1976

Balinese tiger – Extinct in 1930


Timeline Highlights:

1900: Estimated population of 100,000, which included 40,000 in India

1906: Last known tiger shot in Pakistan

1922: Last known tiger shot in Georgia

1930’s: Bali(nese) tiger becomes extinct

1940’s: Amur tiger (in Russia) fell below 30 animals

1950’s: Tigers disappear from South Korea

1959: Chinese government declares the South China tiger a pest and encourages its persecution

1970: Last known tiger killed in Turkey

1970’s: The Caspian tiger goes extinct

1976’s: Javan tiger goes extinct

1996: Amur tiger listed critically endangered


Tiger Ecology:

Amur Tiger Distribution: Russian far east and Northern China

Habitat: Boreal forest

Life span: 10 -15 years in the wild, up to 20 years in zoos

Speed: 65km over short distances (house cat = 50km/ cheetah = 100km)


  • Their main diet includes deer and wild pigs. Will also take birds and carrion.
  • Requires 150kg of meat a month
  • Kill with a bite to the back of the head or neck

Size and Weight:

  • 95 to 300kg (250 to 650lbs). The Amur is the largest subspecies
  • Average 2.2 lbs at birth
  • Males can reach 3 metres in length (that’s as long as a station wagon)
  • Stand 3 ft at the shoulder

Sexual maturity: 4-5 years for males and 3-4 years for females


    Fast Facts about tigers:

    • Amur tigers have the palest colour and the fewest stripes
    • Can eat 30 to 40lbs of meat in one sitting
    • Must catch prey at least once a week to survive
    • 5% to 10% success rate in hunts
    • Were once known as Siberian tigers, but have been reclassified as Amur tigers because they are only found there.
    • Good swimmers, often found near streams and lakes
    • No two tigers have the same stripe patterns and each side of the tiger is different.
    • They are stalk and ambush predators
    • Require lots of cover and lots of space to roam and hunt
    • There are 36 species of wild living cats (22 of which are listed as vulnerable or endangered)

    Compiled by Scott Gray, Education Director, Zoological Society of Manitoba

    References: IUCN Redlist, Arkive, San Diego Zoo, National Zoo, APZ Reference books


      Funding Announcement for Polar Bears at the Assiniboine Park Zoo December 3, 2009

      Premiere Greg Selinger was on hand at the Assiniboine Park Zoo today to announce a huge commitment to polar bear conservation at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Here are a few news articles for more information:

      Big Funding for Polar Bear Exhibit, Rescue Shelter

      Dec. 03, 2009 at 2:30 pm CDT in News

      Posted by Sarah Klein

      A big funding announcement was made Thursday for major upgrades to the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s polar bear exhibit.

      A $31-million investment will help create the world headquarters of Polar Bears International and a state-of-the-art rescue shelter right here in Winnipeg.

      The International Polar Bear Conservation Centre will conduct and co-ordinate polar bear rescue research, conservation and public-education initiatives, Premier Greg Selinger and Hartley Richardson, board chair of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said in a statement.

      A new arctic exhibit will feature a polar bear enclosure with underwater and above-ground viewing opportunities to enable visitors to come face to face with up to six bears. Current plans call for the exhibit to also feature caribou, arctic fox, snowy owls and musk oxen, said Selinger.

      Winnipeg hasn’t had a polar bear since Debby passed away last November.

      Construction is slated to begin in 2011.

      Polar bear exhibit, shelter eyed for Winnipeg zoo

      Last Updated: Thursday, December 3, 2009 | 12:30 PM CT

      CBC News

      Debby is seen in her enclosure in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo in December 2006, during celebrations of her 40th birthday. (CBC)

      A new polar bear rescue shelter and polar bear exhibit will be the centrepieces of a conservation centre to be constructed at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo.

      Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced the plan, as well as a contribution of $31 million, on Thursday.

      Construction on the centre, which will include a state-of-the-art polar bear enclosure, will start in 2011, said Hartley Richardson, board chair of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy.

      The enclosure will have underwater and above-ground viewing opportunities to enable visitors to come face to face with up to six bears, he said.

      It will be part of a new arctic exhibit that will also feature caribou, arctic fox, snowy owls and musk oxen, said Selinger.

      The zoo has been without a polar bear since its long-time resident, Debby, died in 2008 at age 42. The zoo has not been able to get another polar bear because its enclosure no longer met provincial standards.

      Polar bear research

      The first of its kind in North America, the polar bear centre will conduct and co-ordinate polar bear rescue research, conservation and public education initiatives, said Selinger.

      It will also co-ordinate a relocation network that will facilitate the process for permanently placing orphaned or injured animals in qualifying zoos.

      “As the home of Churchill, the world’s polar bear capital, there is no better place than Manitoba to host this centre of research and education on the impact climate change is having on our polar bears,” Selinger said.

      ‘As the home of Churchill, the world’s polar bear capital, there is no better place than Manitoba to host this centre of research and education on the impact climate change is having on our polar bears.’—Premier Greg Selinger

      Added Richardson: “Manitoba has been a world leader in the management of polar bears, which have become an international symbol for climate change’s effects on the world. We are very pleased to see this exciting initiative is moving forward.”

      Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of polar bears and their Arctic habitat, applauded the province on the plans and leadership involving the animals.

      “The Polar Bear Alert program and the Manitoba standards for polar bears in zoos are just two examples of this leadership,” said Robert Buchanan, CEO of Polar Bears International.

      “By providing funding for the international polar bear conservation centre, Manitoba will remain on the cutting edge in terms of polar bear research and stewardship.”

      Assiniboine Park Conservancy is a non-profit corporation mandated to establish a vision for the park, create a plan to ensure it realizes its visions and govern the implementation of strategies toward the revitalization and transformation of the park.

      Polar bears’ early arrival eyed

      Province to announce funding; construction could start in 2011

      By: Bartley Kives and Bruce Owen

      3/12/2009 1:00 AM

      The Assiniboine Park Zoo has been without a polar bear since Debby died last year at age 42.

      The Assiniboine Park Conservancy may begin building a state-of-the-art polar-bear enclosure in 2011, years earlier than previously expected.

      This morning, the Manitoba government plans to announce a contribution toward the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, a $5-million enclosure and education facility slated for Assiniboine Park Zoo.

      The largest zoo in Manitoba, the self-proclaimed polar bear capital of the world, has been without a member of the iconic Arctic species since 2008, when 42-year-old zoo resident Debby died. The zoo is unable to acquire another adult polar bear because its existing bear enclosure, built in the 1950s, no longer meets Manitoba Conservation standards for the species.

      Young polar bears, however, could be housed at the zoo temporarily as part of a plan to make Winnipeg the centre of international polar-bear education as well as rescue efforts for orphan polar bears found anywhere in the Arctic.

      The non-profit Assiniboine Park Conservancy plans to build a polar-bear centre that will include a new enclosure with an underwater viewing area, an interactive link to polar-bear denning grounds near Churchill as well as a polar-ecology and climate-change research facility.

      Young polar bears could arrive even before construction begins.

      “If a polar bear becomes available, we’ll do our best to ensure it finds a home,” zoo co-ordinator Gordon Glover said in June, when the plan was first announced.

      “We will have a facility that will allow them to survive in way that’s decent and respectful for them,” Premier Greg Selinger said Wednesday.

      Zoo visitors likely won’t be able to see the orphan cubs, which will be fed and cared for behind closed doors in order to acclimatize them for life in other zoos.

      Orphan polar bears are never returned to the wild, where they would die of exposure, starvation or cannibalistic predation.

      “We’re not doing this to show people polar-bear cubs, as cute as they are. We’re doing this to keep cubs alive,” Bob Williams, the Canadian chairman for Polar Bears International, also said in June.

      Selinger would not say Wednesday how much the province will contribute to the new polar-bear centre. No federal funding is involved, but the conservancy is seeking private donors.

      The polar-bear facility is the most dramatic aspect of a $90-million Assiniboine Park Zoo revitalization plan.

      bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

      Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2009


      Amur Tigers on the Brink July 5, 2009

      The following text was taken from http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8128000/8128738.stm. All rights are reserved by the author.
      The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is also commonly known as the Siberian tiger.

      Amur tigers on ‘genetic brink’

      Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News

      A wild Amur tiger is a rare sight. The world’s largest cat, the Amur tiger, is down to an effective wild population of fewer than 35 individuals, new research has found.

      Although up to 500 of the big cats actually survive in the wild, the effective population is a measure of their genetic diversity. That in turn is a good predictor of the Amur tiger’s chances of survival.

      The results come from the most complete genetic survey yet of wild Amur tigers, the rarest subspecies of tiger. At the start of the 20th Century, nine subspecies of tiger existed, with a total world population of more than 100,000 individuals.

      Human impacts have since caused the extinction of three subspecies, the Javan tiger, Bali tiger and Caspian tiger, and world tiger numbers could now have fallen to fewer than 3000.

      The Amur tiger, or Siberian tiger as it is also known, is the largest subspecies which once lived across a large portion of northern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southernmost regions of far east Russia. The Amur tiger most likely derived from the Caspian tiger, recent research has shown.

      What is remarkable about the Amur tiger is how much lower the effective population size is than the census size. During the early 20th century, the Amur tiger too was almost driven to extinction, as expanding human settlements, habitat loss and poaching wiped out this biggest of cats from over 90% of its range.

      By the 1940s just 20 to 30 individuals survived in the wild. Since then, a ban on hunting and a remarkable conservation effort have slowly helped the Amur tiger recover. Today, up to 500 are thought to survive in the wild, while 421 cats are kept in captivity.

      However, the genetic health of the tiger hasn’t improved, according to a new analysis published in Molecular Ecology.

      Michael Russello and Philippe Henry of the University of British Columbia, in Kelowna, Canada led a team drawn from universities in Canada, Japan and the US in a bid to analyse the genetic profiles of the remaining wild Amur tigers.

      They sampled nuclear DNA found within the scat samples of an estimated 95 individuals found throughout the Amur tiger’s range, likely constituting up to 20% of the remaining population.

      The study sampled the amount of variation within the DNA from more tigers, across a broader geographic, than any previous research.

      “Although the census population size of Amur tigers is closer to 500 individuals, the population is behaving as if it were the size of 27 to 35 individuals,” says Russello.

      That’s the lowest genetic diversity ever recorded for a population of wild tigers.

      The effective population of any group of animals will be lower than the number that actually exist, due to factors such as non-breeding individuals or a skewed sex ratio.

      “However, what is remarkable about the Amur tiger is how much lower the effective population size is than the census size,” says Russello.

      Population split

      Another important finding to emerge from the study is that the remaining Amur tigers are segregated into two populations that rarely intermingle.

      The majority of Amur tigers live among the slopes of the Russian Sikhote-Alin Mountains, with 20 or fewer living separately in Southwest Primorye in Russia.

      The two groups are separated by a corridor of development between Vladivostok and Ussurisk, and the genetic analysis showed that perhaps just three tigers had managed to cross the divide, reducing the effective size of the wild population further.

      “There is little sharing of genes across the development corridor, suggesting that these two populations are fairly discrete,” says Russello.

      “In actuality, it seems that Amur tigers are residing in two, fairly independent populations on either side of the development corridor between Vladivostok and Ussurisk, further lowering the effective size for each from 26 to 28 for Sikhote-Alin and 2.8 to 11 for Southwest Primorye.”

      That means more work needs to be done to open up this barrier segregating the tigers.

      If that doesn’t happen, then it’s likely that the Southwest Primorye population will continue to dwindle. That could also kill off the prospect of reintroducing Amur tigers to China, as those in Southwest Primorye are living closest to their former Chinese range.

      The news is not all bad for the Amur tiger, however. Russello and Henry’s team also analysed the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA of 20 captive Amur tigers, to see if they retained any unique genetic features since lost by the wild tigers.

      “There are gene variants found in captivity that no longer persist in the wild,” says Russello, which suggests that the captive program has done a good job of preserving the genetic diversity of the subspecies.

      “Now that it is known which individuals possess which gene variants, managers will be able to selectively breed to help preserve the unique and rare gene variants,” says Russello.

      “The implication is that this variation may be used to re-infuse the wild population sometime in the future if reintroduction strategies are deemed warranted.”


      New Vision for Assiniboine Park and Zoo announced June 19, 2009

      Details unveiled for zoo makeover


      Information, which can be found at http://www.assiniboinepark.ca, on the Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s new plans for the Assiniboine Park Zoo…


      The Assiniboine Park Zoo of tomorrow will keep what is good from the old zoo and create something dramatically new and exciting. While the uncluttered, park-like atmosphere of the Zoo will remain, the visiting public will be treated to natural habitats including the Boreal forest area, the arctic and our prairie home and the diversity of animals in the vast area of Asia. But that is really only a small part of the changes to occur at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

      The orientation of the zoo will change so that public entry will be through an inviting new complex off of Corydon Avenue, with a themed restaurant that will be available to the public even when the zoo is closed for the night. This will make the Zoo more easily accessible and reduce vehicular traffic in the centre of the Park.

      The Zoo will be a more visible and active contributor to environmental and wildlife education, research, and conservation in Manitoba. The commitment to conservation will be clearly evident as the new education campus takes root.

      The Kinsmen Discovery Centre will form a part of this education campus and host a walk-through animal contact area. Also bordering the education campus will be the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC) that will provide information to the public about the arctic environment and polar bear conservation. It will also help to coordinate education and conservation / research programs internationally. The centre will actively participate in and help coordinate a rescue program for orphaned polar bears in Canada and internationally, insuring that these precious animals are conditioned to our care and that their final home is committed to their long-term well-being.

      The Arctic exhibit area will form the other boundary to the education campus with muskox and caribou, arctic fox, and snowy owls that surround a world class polar bear exhibit including inside, underwater viewing and a range of other viewing opportunities.

      Our primates and some new species will be housed in an expansive and very comfortable and entertaining new home that will feature many rare and endangered species from Asia, including leopards, red pandas, otters, reptiles, and birds.

      New to the zoo will be a heavy horse barn and paddocks. These large draft horses will be harness trained and will be used to draw wagons and sleighs for alternate transportation within the park and for special events. The barns will be open to the public and people will have the opportunity to watch as the animals are cared-for, trained, and worked.

      Clearly there is an unparalleled, exciting transformation in store for Manitobans and visitors alike, as we realize a new and much improved vision for the Assiniboine Park Zoo!


      Zoos in Our World April 30, 2009

      This is a letter from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in response to concerns from a small group of concerned citizens regarding the necessity of zoos, and is reprinted with permission.


      It’s been argued that zoos and aquariums are no longer relevant.

      To the contrary, today’s accredited zoos and aquariums are needed more than ever to help Canadians connect with our natural world. We live in a world beset by environmental problems, with animal species disappearing at an alarming rate. Climate change is wreaking havoc with natural systems. On top of all this, our urban lifestyles have divorced Canadians from the realities of the animal world.

      Our accredited zoos and aquariums are no longer the archaic pens holding sad animals in prison that have been justly criticized in the past. They conduct active programs of species survival and research and conservation, both at their facilities and in the field. They deliver education programs in their communities. Most of all, they are all required to deliver the best in care for the animals they are responsible for.

      Today’s zoos and aquariums are often the only, and the best opportunity for urbanites – particularly youth – to establish a connection with the natural world of animals. Sadly, many of us will never experience the joy and wonder of encountering animals in their natural habitat, but the next best option is to get to know them up close and personal in a modern zoo. If you’ve had the good fortune to spend time in an accredited zoo or aquarium and have seen the sense of awe and wonder on the faces of youngsters meeting a big cat, a polar bear, a sea otter for the first time, you’ll know what this is all about.

      Zoos and aquariums are supported by committed volunteers, members and donors and importantly, they’re vital contributors to our economy.

      Despite the most committed and professional care by staff, deaths do occur. They happen in the real world, and they happen in zoos and aquariums; that reality cannot stand in the way of carrying out our mission – connecting Canadians to nature.

      Bill Peters

      National Director, Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums




      Debby Continues to Inspire January 22, 2009

      Debby the polar bear continues to inspire many of us, even after her death in late 2008 at the age of 42. While she continues to be missed, her memory lives on in books and sculptures and pictures and stories. Debby and her partner Skipper were such an integral part of the Assiniboine Park Zoo for more than four decades that it’s not surprising but it is heart warming.

      Here at the zoo we are working hard to continue Debby’s legacy by launching the Polar Bear Conservation Fund. Several thousand dollars has already been raised even before our big fund raising kickoff in March. We hope you can join the Zoological Society of Manitoba on Sunday, March 22 for our first ever Polar Run. We’re hoping to raise tens of thousands of dollars over the coming months and years to allow us to build a state of the art polar bear conservation centre here at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. The zoo is poised to be the world leader in polar conservation and education but this campaign is a grassroots campaign and we need your help to make it possible. If you would like to donate, in memory of Debby, please visit www.zoosociety.com.

      And please keep your stories and pictures and tributes to Debby coming! At Portage Ave and Main St, just in front of the TD Tower, I got to see a huge new snow sculpture depicting Debby, that was just completed yesterday for Winnipeg’s Festival du Voyageur celebration. Over the Christmas holidays Debby was the inspiration for many home snow sculptures, including the photo below. Plus, the Zoo Gift Shop and other local Winnipeg bookstores will soon be selling a book highlighting Debby’s life, written by local author, comedian and celebrity, Jon Ljungberg.

      Debby during Christmas 2008

      Debby during Christmas 2008