If you haven't been following the Bengal and Sumatran tigers who are now BFFs at the San Diego Zoos Safari Park, START NOW! I'll catch you up...
Two tiger cubs, each of whom ended up in their own isolating predicament on opposite sides of the country, have been brought together in one great best friends story!
Although unfortunate, their circumstances were quite timely and have brought together the cutest pair in town. Check out some the videos of their journey and be sure to follow the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with their adventures.
Wallis is a very special addition to the Park’s rhino family. She is as part of the Park's White Rhino breeding program planned to be a surrogate for the critically endangered Northern White Rhino whose only remaining females are all too old to breed.
An article published last week by the Conversation UK presented the idea of using captive breeding to help the Asiatic (or Iranian) Cheetah in its fight against extinction. Captive breeding for bringing endangered species “back from the brink” isn’t a new concept. In fact, it has been done multiple times through San Diego Zoo Global alone, bringing back species which were once extinct in the wild. Previously, I have talked about the Scimitar Oryx. Also, in 1982 the last remaining 22 California Condors were brought to the Wild Animal Park (now the San Diego Zoo Safari Park) to start a captive breeding program which has been a smashing success, growing the total population to 435 birds, 237 of which are flying wild.
The Asiatic cheetah has a small and shrinking population with only 50-70 animals remaining within 15 reserves in Iran. Could captive breeding be the answer? When a species’ population count is this incredibly small this type of a program seems both reasonable and manageable. And, with successes like the Scimitar Oryx and California Condor, it even sounds achievable. But, are captive breeding programs a reasonable option for large carnivores?
Captive breeding programs like this are tricky and there is no guarantee for success. When the intention is releasing them back into the wild to live on their own, the animal has to be cared for in a completely different manner than their captive-living counterparts. They can’t be too habituated to humans and, when it comes to carnivores, they need to have the strength, agility, stamina and cunning to hunt for themselves. Both would be difficult to accomplish in a captive setting, especially without a wild mama-hunter to teach them the ways of the world. Not to mention the amount of space it would require. Unlike the Scimitar Oryx, an Asiatic cheetah program couldn’t take place at a zoo. It would need to be implemented within their natural habitat with enough room to emulate wild living while still being able to carefully manage breeding. It could be possible to have the entire population as the captive population (as what we population geneticists call the founding population) meaning the entire gene pool of the species would need to be managed. Care would have to be taken to prevent accidental selection for tameness while preserving the genetic variation of the species (Frankham et al 1986).
There have been captive cheetahs who have been successfully released into the wild. In 2006, the Cheetah Conservation Fund released a female cheetah, Shiraz, and her cubs, Sheya, Linyanti, Omukumo and Nehale, after “training” in a fenced game farm. While mama had been captive for many years, she was wild-born herself and was able to successfully teach her captive-born cubs how to hunt. This could have been the key element that contributed to the cub’s success after being released at Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia. A seemingly common issue which has been seen with the release of captive cheetahs, whether they were wild- or captive-born, is they have a higher propensity to become a “problem animal” hunting livestock instead of wild game. Proper “training” and placement of release could reduce this risk. As they say in dog training, “set them up for success.”
Something like this will also cost a bloody fortune, especially if it’s to be managed properly. With the Asiatic cheetah population so small, I believe a carefully managed captive breeding program could be possible as long as someone can find the funding, space and personnel needed to pull the operation off in the Middle East.
No, this isn't a unicorn, although it has been mistaken for one for centuries. In fact, lost ancient Greeks wandering the deserts of Northern Africa, drunken by dehydration from the intense heat may be the ones responsible for the myth of the magical one horned stag-like creature. The unicorn can't be found within Greek mythology, but is found in accounts from Greece's natural historians, which explains why people were so convinced of their reality. Ctesias, a Greek physician, wrote of white, one horned "wild asses as large as horses" in India. Even Aristotle wrote of the oryx as a unicorn in On the Parts of Animals (Book 3, Chapter 2) stating that they have one horn in the center of their head. The oryx, however, is simply a type of antelope which has two symmetrical horns on its forehead oriented in such a way that they appear to have one horn oriented in the center of its head when it turns to its side.
There are four species of oryx – the Arabian, scimitar, East African and gemsbok. While there are plenty of East African and gemsbok out there roaming the African deserts (in fact, I have about a lb. of gemsbok meat in my freezer. It's delicious!), the Arabian and scimitar oryx have both been extinct in the wild. The Arabian oryx went extinct in the wild in 1972 primarily due to poaching but has since been reintroduced across the Arabian Peninsula. As of 2011, the wild population is over 1000 animals with a majority having come from a herd at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park.Photo By: Klaus Rudloff
The scimitar oryx had a similar fate to the Arabian oryx but, until now, without the recovery efforts. Due to extreme conditions made worse by many years of repeated wars in Chad and Sudan, the scimitar oryx has been considered extinct in the wild since the 1980's. Luckily, the many small populations of this species being kept on private game reserves and in zoos all around the world are keeping them from going completely extinct, but, political unrest has made reintroduction efforts impossible. Things are looking brighter for the scimitar oryx though. After a restoration of harmony agreement was signed by the Chadian and Sudanese governments on January 15, 2010, organizations such as the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) took action. Surveys done by SCF and the Chad National Parks and Wildlife Services revealed the potential of the Ouadi Rime-Oudi Achim Game Reserve, an expanse of African desert the oryx once called home so many years ago, to act as a reintroduction site. And, after a stakeholder workshop facilitated by the IUCN's Conservation Breeding Specialist Group held earlier this month, SCF, with the backing of the Chadian president Mr. Idriss Deby Itno, is planning to start a reintroduction program which will be accompanied by protected area management (Wildlife Extra). If run correctly, because of the locations’ past history with oryx and an improving political climate, this program has the potential to be even more successful than the reintroduction of the Arabian oryx allowing people to once again lay eyes on the majestic "unicorn" on the sands of the Sahara.
I am a biologist and my life is crap!