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Samantha: The Grand Old Lady of the Cincinnati Zoo

Today we celebrate Samantha the gorilla’s 45th birthday!

Sam and Samantha

Sam and Samantha

There are about four reptiles living at the Zoo today that have estimated ages older than Samantha, but she is the oldest animal with a confirmed birth date and the oldest non-reptile. Daughter of the legendary founder gorillas King Tut and Penelope, Samantha was born here on January 31, 1970. She and another gorilla, Sam, were born about a week apart and they were the first two gorilla babies born and raised at the Cincinnati Zoo. They were hand raised with the assistance of Good Samaritan Hospital, hence the names Sam and Samantha.They were huge celebrities featured in dozens of articles, photos, postcards and fanfare.

Samantha has been here to experience all of the changes in philosophy that have transformed the Zoo from an old school menagerie to a modern day zoo. Born in the old Ape House in 1970 where the gorillas lived inside year round, Samantha moved to the first naturalistic outdoor gorilla habitat anywhere, Gorilla World, in 1978.

Gorilla World (Photo: Dave Jenike)

Gorilla World (Photo: Dave Jenike)

She has experienced innovations in animal nutrition from a high fruit-based diet to today’s high variety bulky green fiber-rich nutritionally balanced diet. She has also experienced the start of comprehensive animal enrichment efforts at the Zoo that provide for animal welfare as much as their physical needs. Over 10 years ago, she was here when we began formal operant conditioning programs at the Zoo as well.

Samantha has also experienced the change over from primarily pulling baby gorillas for hand-rearing to encouraging mother-rearing through improved husbandry and social behavior management. She is the best mother gorilla in the history of the Zoo and has given birth to six gorillas. Samantha’s first daughter, Madge, was born in the early 1980s. She was named after the late great iconic long time Zoo Volunteer Madge Van Buskirk.

Samantha with one of her six babies

Samantha with one of her six babies

Probably the most intelligent gorilla at the Zoo, Samantha is one of the most socially savvy gorillas, too. She has long been the strong matriarchal leader no matter which individuals are in her group. Samantha has lived with over 36 individual gorillas including: Sam, Gigi, Ramses, Kamari, Amani, Rosie, Penelope, Hatari, Tara, Mahari, Bibi, Madge, Muke, Mlinzi, Babec, Ndume, Kweli, Harry, Jackie, Tufani, Colossus, Kima Kubwa, Chaka, Samson, Chewie, Mara, Kijito, Kicho, Cecil, Shanta, Jomo, Bakari, Asha, Anju, Gladys and Mondika. In recent years, she has toned her leadership role back some, but is still respected among the other gorillas.

Samantha has served as an inspirational ambassador for both ex situ and in situ gorilla conservation programs and she is revered among the primate staff and her followers. I even named my daughter after her. (By the way, if you ever should name your daughter after a gorilla, apparently you should not tell her fourth grade class that fact during a visit to the Zoo. I thought it was cool, but being called “gorilla girl” by mean little boys can be a hard thing to live with, I hear.)

At 45 years old, Samantha still seems to be going strong. She is engaged in all of our programs, including operant conditioning, and is one of the best students. In recent years, she has been trained for awake cardiac ultrasound exams and the ticker is looking good. Samantha has seen it all and hopefully she sticks around for a long while to see a whole lot more.

Samantha and her son, Samson

Samantha and her son, Samson

January 31, 2015   1 Comment

Parades, Painting and Protecting Penguins in the Wild

Penguins, Penguins, Penguins! Here at the Zoo, we celebrate our sea-faring feathered friends every day. We care for and display five species of penguins – little penguin, Magellanic penguin, rockhopper penguin, African penguin and king penguin. You can see them in the Children’s Zoo and the Wings of the World bird house, and even in the summer Wings of Wonder Bird Show.

Penguin Days at the Zoo

Throughout January and February, it’s Penguin Days at the Zoo. In addition to half-price Zoo admission, we invite guests to march with our king penguins during daily Penguin Parades. Waddle with our kings and their keepers from the Wings of the World building to the outdoor exhibit in Children’s Zoo at 11:00am and then back to the building at 2:30pm.

The best parade in town! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

The best parade in town! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

 

What’s Black and White and Red All Over?

One of our talented penguin artists creating a one-of-a-kind canvas painting for you to take home and enjoy! Offered March through October, our VIPenguin Experience is the perfect gift for your favorite penguin lover. You’ll even get to join our penguin keepers in the Wings of the World bird house to prepare and hand-feed meals to the penguins on exhibit. Register here.

Guests enjoying a VIPenguin Experience

Guests enjoying a VIPenguin Experience

Giving Penguin Chicks a Chance

Funds raised by the VIP Penguin Experience and our Saving Species program help save African penguins through the support of SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds). SANCCOB is a leading marine non-profit organization which has treated more than 90 000 oiled, ill, injured or abandoned endangered African penguins and other threatened seabirds since being established in 1968.

African penguin (Photo: SANCOBB)

African penguin (Photo: SANCOBB)

Every year between October and January, hundreds of small fluffy African penguin chicks are abandoned by their parents when they start their annual moult. During this time, the parents replace their old, worn-out feathers with a brand new set of waterproof feathers and are unable to hunt for fish and feed their young during the three to four week moulting process. As a result, the chicks that have yet to fledge are abandoned and face starvation unless SANCCOB and its conservation partners intervene.

African penguin chick (Photo: SANCOBB)

African penguin chick (Photo: SANCOBB)

This year, a total of 570 abandoned African penguin chicks have been rescued from the penguin colonies and admitted to SANCCOB’s seabird rehabilitation centres. The chicks spend between 6 to 12 weeks undergoing careful rehabilitation. Once they are at a fledging age, the correct weight, healthy and their feathers are waterproof, they receive the final nod of approval from the veterinary team and get released back into the wild. SANCCOB hopes to successfully rehabilitate and release the last of this year’s chicks in the next three to four weeks.

African penguins (Photo: SANCOBB)

African penguins (Photo: SANCOBB)

With less than 2% of the original African penguin population remaining, the hand-rearing of ill and abandoned chicks is a crucial conservation intervention to help bolster the wild population.

Just by coming to the Zoo and participating in our special experiences, you are helping us save penguins across the globe!

 

January 20, 2015   No Comments

CREW Works to Enhance Fertility in White Rhinos

White rhino with calf (Photo: James Temple)

White rhino with calf (Photo: James Temple)


In September, the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research (CREW) was awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institution of Museum and Library Services in support of a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) initiative for Indian rhinos and African white rhinos. Dr. Monica Stoops will be the Project Director for the grant work and will be working in partnership with Dr. Justine O’Brien from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center (SWBGRRC), which includes a state-of-the-art sperm sorting and cryopreservation laboratory.  CREW will undertake the project to expand access and build capacity for African and Asian rhino reproductive care within North American zoological facilities. Eight zoos have committed to building a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) in collaboration with CREW.  This project will help 1) contribute to the genetic management and propagation of captive Indian rhinos through artificial insemination (AI); 2) enhance southern white rhino fertility through exogenous hormone administration prior to natural breeding or AI; 3) build upon national rhino gamete rescue centers at CREW and SWBGRRC; and 4) provide collaborating facilities with individualized training and/or support in rhino assisted reproductive technology (exogenous hormone protocols, ultrasonography, endocrine analysis, AI, and sperm collection, sorting and cryopreservation).

One part of the proposed research will be to continue and expand upon a preliminary CREW investigation conducted to develop an exogenous hormone protocol to initiate reproductive activity in previously acyclic southern white rhinos. The African white rhino remains the most popular rhino species held in U.S. zoos (although we do not currently house them here in Cincinnati). Although captive breeding has been successful and a sufficient number of calves are being produced to consistently maintain the population, the proportion of breeding recommendations resulting in offspring is quite low. It is estimated that <30% of all wild born and <20% of captive born African white rhinos have reproduced in captivity. These numbers reflect a major impediment to achieving a sustainable captive breeding program for this species.

White rhino with calf at one of the partnering institutions, Lowry Park Zoo (Photo: Matthew Paulson)

White rhino with calf at one of the partnering institutions, Lowry Park Zoo (Photo: Matthew Paulson)

A primary reason for the low reproductive rate is that a vast majority of females display long periods of acyclicity. Significant progress has been made in initiating reproductive activity in acyclic white rhinos in Europe using exogenous hormones. However, many drugs used overseas are not commercially available in the United States. Therefore, it became necessary
to develop novel hormone protocols using U.S. drugs to similarly promote a resumption in reproductive activity for acyclic white rhinos.

CREW scientists, in partnership with several North American zoos, embarked on a preliminary exogenous hormone trial in which four acyclic female white rhinos were treated. Females responded by growing preovulatory follicles, but did not stand for breeding by a male and required an additional hormone to ovulate. This initial hormone protocol may be adequate should artificial insemination be performed, but CREW scientists and partner zoos are working to develop an alternative hormone protocol that will result in natural mating so that more individual rhinos and institutions will benefit. By enhancing the fertility of captive African white rhinos, CREW is helping to ensure the sustainability of this rhino population.

 

January 14, 2015   1 Comment