Powell, OH – Recent births at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium are contributing to important species populations at risk for survival, including a Masai giraffe calf, a sea lion pup, two red panda cubs, and a siamang (gibbon) baby.
“We are extremely proud to welcome these babies as they all represent hope for the future of species that are increasingly facing challenges in their native ranges,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President/CEO Tom Stalf. “Additionally, these arrivals are extra special as our Animal Care staff has worked around the clock to ensure the animals continued to receive top quality care during our three-month-long closure to help reduce the spread of coronavirus [COVID-19] within the community. We appreciate our community’s support and as we have been able to once again welcome back our guests, we are excited to share in these successes with them as we all work together to help protect wildlife and wild places.”
A Masai giraffe calf was born on June 28, 2020 at 2:29 p.m. to mother, Zuri, in a behind-the-scenes barn of the Zoo’s Heart of Africa region.
Zuri, who is 10 years old, came to the Columbus Zoo in 2013 after living at The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, and the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, Texas, where she was born. Father, Enzi, also 10 years old, arrived at the Columbus Zoo in 2013 after first being at The Wilds and the Toledo Zoo, where he was born.
Eighteen giraffes have been born at the Columbus Zoo over the course of its history. Zuri gave birth to a calf in October 2018; however, the calf passed away from viral enteritis at 17 days old despite aggressive treatment and diagnostics from the Zoo’s Animal Health team and specialists from The Ohio State University. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the mortality rate for giraffe calves in human care is about 25 percent while the mortality rate for giraffe calves in their native range is over 50 percent. Scientists also estimate that only a quarter of giraffe calves reach adulthood in their native ranges due to a variety of threats.
The Columbus Zoo’s Animal Care team, who is observing Zuri and her newborn very closely via camera monitors, reports that Zuri is being a great mother. After many good attempts, the calf stood and took a few steps at 3:24 p.m. and was nursing by 4:44 p.m.
The sex of the calf is not yet known and as the calf seems to be healthy, staff is providing time for Zuri to bond with her calf. A well check will be done in the coming days.
The pairing of Zuri and Enzi was recommended by the Species Survival Plan® (SSP), a program coordinated by the AZA to maintain genetic diversity of threatened and endangered species in human care.
In 2019, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Masai giraffe subspecies as endangered as the population has fallen by nearly 50 percent over the last three decades. There are estimated to be only 35,000 Masai giraffe remaining due to various factors, including habitat loss, civil unrest/military operations, poaching and ecological changes.
The Columbus Zoo is a supporter of several direct giraffe conservation initiatives and has raised a total of $242,646 for giraffe projects since 2009. The Zoo also previously provided a one-time $56,679 grant to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation through the Zoo’s Wine for Wildlife Fund-A-Need.
Additionally, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado are the co-founders of the giraffe plasma bank and, along with several other collaborating zoos, work to consistently collect large volumes of plasma from giraffe to send to animals in need of a transfusion. These plasma transfusions have been responsible for assisting in saving the lives of several young giraffe across the country as the vital antibodies and critical proteins in the plasma help provide a life-saving boost to calves’ immune systems. Collection of the plasma is the result of the hard work and dedication of the Animal Care and Animal Health teams who have trained members of the giraffe herd to participate in these large volume blood collections completely awake and voluntarily.
While guests won’t yet be able to view Zuri and her calf, guests can still see other members of the herd—including Enzi—as well as participate in $3 giraffe feedings from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily to receive an up close, memorable experience.
Sea Lion Pup
During the early morning hours of June 25, the Columbus Zoo welcomed the first sea lion pup ever to be born at the facility!
The pup was born to first-time mom, Lovell, a California sea lion who will be turning 5 years old in July. Lovell arrived at the Zoo along with nine other sea lions (six males, three females) and four harbor seals (one male, three females) on May 17, 2020. Because the sea lions all live together for most of the year in a strong social group and there are several males, the father of the pup is currently unknown and will be determined through a blood test.
Lovell and her pup are in a behind-the-scenes area, where they are bonding. Staff notes that Lovell is providing exceptional care to her pup, and is protective of her little one, while still maintaining a strong, trusting bond with her trainers. A well check done by the Animal Health team determined that the pup is a female and that she weighs a healthy 8.55 kg.
The sea lions have been introduced to the Zoo’s newest region Adventure Cove, which is scheduled to fully open later in July. Three of the sea lions who came to Columbus were born at SeaWorld Orlando and have been introduced to the others to expand the group, due to sea lions’ highly social nature. Although the other six sea lions were born at different facilities all over the world, they lived together for about 10 years at a marine park in Shanghai, China called Changfeng Ocean World. The park was looking for the best possible new home for their sea lions and chose the Columbus Zoo. The animals’ social structure is a very important consideration for their wellbeing, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is in the unique position of both planning a new sea lion habitat and having the capacity to keep all of the animals together to preserve their social structure. Two of the sea lions who arrived from China also bred, resulting in one male pup, Banana, who was born to mother, Baby, and father, Nana (NAN-uh) in 2018. The sea lions had been receiving care since 2017 by the Columbus Zoo team in a custom-built interim home at a facility in Florida until it was time for them to come to Ohio.
Thanks to the support of voters who passed the last levy and contributions from generous donors, the Columbus Zoo began construction in October 2017 on this brand-new, state-of-the-art region, which features a Pacific Northwest inspired rocky coast and harbor setting for the sea lions and seals; Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village, a colorfully-themed and immersive village highlighting animals from all around the world; and updated existing attractions. The Columbus Zoo also welcomes OhioHealth as the region sponsor of Adventure Cove.
Adventure Cove will also further the Zoo’s commitment to sea lion rehabilitation initiatives led by institutions accredited by the AZA. The Columbus Zoo has provided financial support for years for rescue and rehabilitation efforts by The Marine Mammal Center (MMC) in Sausalito, Calif., and the Zoo’s Animal Health staff have trained with the MMC to nurse stranded and injured marine mammals back to health while expanding their knowledge of sea lions and seals.
Although California sea lions are not listed as a species of concern, the situation for sea lions in their native range is increasingly dire because there are a rising number of pup strandings. As climate change forces the mothers to hunt further away from shore, more of them are not coming back, leaving pups orphaned and unable to care for themselves. The MMC takes in many of these animals and works to restore them to health.
While Lovell and her pup will likely stay in the behind-the-scenes area for the near future to continue to bond and so that Lovell and the sea lion care team can ensure that the baby meets all of the important growth and development milestones (including swimming) before graduating into the larger habitat, guests who reserve a Behind the Marina Sea Lion Tour will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the pair and learn more about this intelligent, playful species. The experience is one of several new offerings designed to further inspire guests to connect with wildlife and take action to help protect these species’ future. Additional information can be found on the Zoo’s website under the Tours and Virtual Experiences page.
Red Panda Cubs
Two healthy red panda cubs were born at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a welcomed addition to this endangered species.
The currently unnamed cubs, a male and a female, were born on June 13, 2020 at 1:22 a.m. and 1:53 a.m., to 2-year-old mother, Kora, and 7-year-old father, Gen Tso. Kora arrived at the Columbus Zoo from the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in October 2019, and Gen Tso arrived in June 2014 from the Prospect Park Zoo in New York. The pairing of Kora and Gen Tso was based on a recommendation by the AZA’s Red Panda SSP.
Both are first-time parents, and Kora is the primary caregiver, which is customary for red pandas since they are mostly solitary except during breeding season. At the Columbus Zoo, Kora and Gen Tso continue to cohabitate well as Kora nurses the cubs in the nest box.
The Animal Care team is closely monitoring the mother and cubs through a camera, allowing Kora to nurse the newborns herself. Keepers are also able to visually check and weigh the cubs several times a week, through training of the young mother who voluntarily leaves her den box for special treats. Currently, the male cub weighs 403 grams while the female weighs 318 grams. Keepers note that both still appear to be strong.
These births mark the first successful red panda births at the Columbus Zoo since 2015. Once the cubs reach about 4 months of age, guests may then be able to see the cubs as they emerge from their nest and begin to explore more of their surroundings.
The red panda is not closely related to the black and white giant panda. Instead, these animals are named after their diet, as the word “panda” is believed to be derived from the Nepalese phrase “nigalya ponya,” which means “bamboo eater.”
The red panda population ranges from the Himalayas to South China. With less than 10,000 individuals remaining, their population is threatened by illegal hunting and deforestation. Over the last five years, the Columbus Zoo has provided $8,000 to the Red Panda Network based in Nepal. These funds have helped to support projects that have benefiting red pandas by determining the distribution and conservation status of red pandas in Bhutan; establishing a community-based anti-poaching network; promoting eco-tourism; and improving a database to better understand the red panda distribution, abundance and threats to the species’ conservation.
On the morning of May 29, 2020, the Australia and the Islands region welcomed a baby siamang. Mom, Olga, is being very attentive to her little one, whose sex and name has not yet been determined. Even when the baby was just a few days old, keepers noted that the baby had a strong grip on mom while she was brachiating (swinging) through the habitat.
This is Olga’s third offspring and guests can view Olga with her latest addition, along with dad, Rashid. The pairing of Olga and Rashid was based on a recommendation by the AZA’s SSP for the siamang, which is listed as endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. In July, Olga will turn 31 years old, making her one of the oldest known siamang mothers. Olga and Rashid’s previous offspring include Ohpy, who was born in April 2005 and now lives at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and Sensei, who was born in April 2009 and now resides at ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
Siamangs are the loudest and largest species of gibbon, known as a lesser or small ape. With the ability to be heard over two miles away, this species “sings” and vocalizes to establish territory, reestablish pair bonds, and communicate with one another throughout their territory. Siamangs are known for their fascinating “duets,” during which the male and female sing different but coordinated parts in sequenced patterns with a definite introduction, middle, and song end. Both male and female siamangs have a large gular, or throat, sac that acts as a resonating chamber for the vocal chords and inflates to about the size of a siamang’s head when in use during their communication.
Gibbons’ forest habitats in Southeast Asia have decreased between 70-80 percent over the last 50 years, and, as a result, the population of gibbons has decreased by approximately 50 percent throughout the last 40 years. The primary threat to their habitat is deforestation for oil palm plantations, as well as other logging activities in the area. There are many ways people can help protect these species, including using the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping Guide, which helps identify which products are more wildlife friendly due to being made with more sustainable palm oil.
The Columbus Zoo has also provided support for conservation organizations, including Education for Nature Vietnam, working to help protect siamangs and other primates by raising awareness about the illegal wildlife trade.
These recent births assist in maximizing genetic diversity and managing demographic distribution and help to further enhance the sustainability of species that are at risk and threatened in their native range. The new arrivals also demonstrate the Zoo’s unyielding commitment to conservation initiatives, both locally and globally. For more information about conservation at the Columbus Zoo, please visit https://globalimpact.columbuszoo.org/about.
For additional updates, be sure to follow the Zoo’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit us at ColumbusZoo.org. Donations to help support the daily care, veterinary care, and nutrition of the animals can also be made through the Columbus Zoo’s Emergency Animal Care Fund. More information about scheduling a visit to the Columbus Zoo can be found by viewing the Zoo’s Reopening Plan.