Thursday, December 1, 2016

Holiday Fun for the Animals and Staff

Sacramento Zoo staff often cite Holiday Magic as a favorite day at the Zoo. This is a special event where staff come together in a unique way to provide holiday-themed treats for the animals!

Though Zoo residents regularly receive enrichments (treats or items to stimulate natural behaviors), guests are often unaware of these activities. If you’ve ever wondered why cardboard or a coffee sack was in an exhibit, it was part of an enrichment. Keepers are always coming up with a variety of treats, puzzles and other ways to keep the animals stimulated and happy.

The enrichments for Holiday Magic are extra special because of the festive touch and the multi-department collaboration. The Zoo’s Digital Media Manager spearheads the planning. It’s a great break-from-routine for her as she works with Animal Care staff, the Education Department and the Sacramento Zoo Teens to come up with the types of enrichments and the fun ideas for how they’ll be presented.

Planning the types of enrichments includes considering individual animals’ dietary needs, their safety and what’s fun for visitors to see. Some of food enrichments include pine cones coated with yams and cranberries, handmade stockings filled with fruits and vegetables, bamboo wreaths and of course the Black and White Ruffed Lemur’s “Santa’s Village” feast. Each item must be veterinarian and keeper approved, then care must be given while assembling the treats.

Other enrichments include items the animals can play with, such as Christmas trees, ice and cardboard boxes filled with scents like cinnamon. The Zoo Teens are vital in helping design the holiday-themed piƱatas made from cardboard, newspaper and flour paste. Making sure to remove any tape and staples, Zoo Teens and staff cleverly decorate the boxes. Other boxes are cleverly decorated using nontoxic paints and Christmas wrap with safe inks after tape and staples are removed. The Grinch’s sleigh, an elf hut and a giant present topped with an elaborately crafted paper bow have all made debuts during Holiday Magic.

This year’s Holiday Magic is Saturday, December 10. During scheduled enrichments, information will be shared so visitors can learn more about the animals. Enrichments will take place every thirty minutes from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm so you’re sure to enjoy this festive day as much as staff. Visit for the enrichment schedule and more information.

Male African Lion curiously enjoys his enrichment.

Wolf's Guenon eats yam and cranberries from a festive pine cone.

Reticulated Giraffe with edible wreath. 

Holiday Magic guests peer into the Aardvark mound.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Goody the Celebrity Giraffe

*Part four of a series documenting the treatment of Goody, one of the Sacramento Zoo’s Reticulated Giraffes.

For nearly two years, Goody, the Zoo’s 18-year-old Reticulated Giraffe, has been receiving both medical and alternative treatments from zookeepers and veterinarians for arthritis and a chronic joint abnormality in her front left fetlock (ankle). Through it all, Goody has remained strong and has adapted well to her schedule of treatments.

The Arthritis Foundation looks for local honorees who embody a “Yes spirit” and they have chosen Goody as the 2016 Jingle Bell Run Celebrity Honoree! The Sacramento Zoo is grateful for this honor and thrilled the Arthritis Foundation recognizes that arthritis is something, unfortunately, both animals and humans experience. “It’s just one more way of showing how we’re all connected,” states Sacramento Zoo’s Supervisor of Mammals Leslie Field.

The Arthritis Foundation has also named 14-year-old Emily Cook as their Youth Honoree. Emily suffers from polyarticular rheumatoid arthritis, that started when she was just a toddler. Over the years, she has learned to take care of herself with medication routines, hot baths, ice, acupressure, trigger point therapy, massages, a healthy diet, stress management and rest when needed – these are very similar to the treatments Goody receives.

The Jingle Bell Run is an annual holiday-themed 5K run and one-mile walk, to raise funds for arthritis education, advocacy, research and support. This will be Emily’s seventh Jingle Bell run. Her goal is to raise funds for research and to help find a cure. “I hope it will happen in my lifetime,” said Emily. “I’ll know that I was there to contribute to the success of curing this horrible disease.”

The Sacramento Zoo wishes Emily and all those participating in the Jingle Bell Run on December 10 our best. If you would like to participate in honor of Goody, Emily or someone you know who suffers from painful arthritis, you can save $10 by using the discount code “Goody” when you register at:

Emily and Goody

Goody showing off her special boot

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Leading the Way in Veterinary Training, the Sacramento Zoo and UC Davis Partnership

Written by:  Jenessa Gjeltema, DVM, Dipl. ACZM

“I am proud to be involved in the partnership between UC Davis and the Sacramento Zoo.  It allows us to provide the highest quality veterinary care for our animals while also providing a unique educational experience for training veterinarians in the field of Zoological Medicine.”

The path to becoming a veterinarian at a zoo requires a lot of hard work and dedication! To become a specialist in the field of Zoological Medicine, a veterinarian typically completes four years of undergraduate college, four years of veterinary school, an internship for one to two years, and then pursues further training such as a Zoological Medicine Residency for an additional three to five years!

At the end of all of this training, they must pass a comprehensive and difficult examination that tests their knowledge related to caring for the wide variety of animals that reside in zoos before they are board certified in zoological medicine and considered a specialist.

Worldwide, there are currently less than 250 veterinary specialists certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine. The need for knowledgeable veterinarians in this field is rapidly expanding to provide specialized medical care for zoo animals and to meet many of the unique developing challenges related to wildlife conservation efforts.

Since the 1970s the Sacramento Zoo has had a robust partnership with the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine to provide the highest quality health care for the Zoo’s much-loved animals.

Veterinary specialists in the field of Zoological Medicine from UC Davis provide top-notch preventive care and treatment for the animals who live at the Zoo. This partnership doesn’t just benefit the animals, however! Veterinary students and residents receive hands-on, onsite training at the Sacramento Zoo, where they gain proficiency under the guidance of knowledgeable and experienced Zoo veterinarians.

The Sacramento Zoo plays an important role in the training of future zoo veterinarians. The very first zoological medicine residency program in the world was started at UC Davis in 1974 by Dr. Murray E. Fowler. This program includes providing veterinary care to the animals at the Sacramento Zoo as part of the training. This successful partnership has trained 38 residents to become specialists in Zoological Medicine as well as given hundreds of veterinary students the opportunity to gain invaluable experience working with exotic and endangered species.

Dr. Marinkovich, a veterinarian receiving training through the partnership said, “I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of the Sacramento Zoo and UC Davis Zoological Medicine Residency. Being able to train at these world-class institutions provides me with an interesting and diverse caseload that allows me to continue to grow as a clinician.”

If you’ve ever passed by the windows of the Dr. Murray E Fowler Veterinary Hospital at the Sacramento Zoo, you’ve probably seen students and residents being mentored and instructed.  It is one of only a handful of similar programs across the country designed to train the next generation of bright, innovative and compassionate zoo veterinarians.

Dr. Wack, Sacramento Zoo Veterinary Director said, “This partnership between the number one veterinary school in the world and the Sacramento Zoo is a triple win – win – win resulting in the animals receiving the best care.” In this way, the partnership between the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Sacramento Zoo fits well with the Zoo’s mission to inspire appreciation, respect, and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation.

Dr. Gjeltema providing an exam to the Zoo's sloth

Dr. Marinkovich training under the direction of Dr. Wack 

Visitors witnessing a medical exam at the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Myth-busting Bat Tales

Animals have certainly been inspiration for folklore, tales and fears. With their unique adaptations, behaviors, and physical features, it’s not surprising they conjure mystery and intrigue. Yet these adaptive qualities serve very important purposes.

One often misunderstood animal is the bat. The bat is often thought of as a blood-sucking, disease-spreading beast. But this Dracula-like picture couldn’t be further from the truth. Bats are mammals – the only mammals capable of true flight. There are 27 bat species in California and none of them suck blood.

Another myth is that bats are blind; most actually see well. Insectivorous (insect-eating) bats also use echolocation. This provides an accurate sense of their surroundings as they emit sound waves from their mouths or nose that bounce off objects and then return back as echoes. From these echoes, bats determine how large something is, its distance, how fast it’s traveling and even the item’s texture in less than a second.  A single Little Brown Bat can eat up to 500 mosquitoes in an hour – nature’s pest control!

Bats may seem creepy as some seek shelter in caves, but many species also commonly roost in tree cavities or among rock and building crevices. Like all animals, shelter is important to safely raise their young and to provide protection from predators during rest. Unfortunately, there are many threats to bats, including habitat loss, diseases and even deaths due to human fear.

The Sacramento Zoo is home to a colony of Straw-colored Fruit Bats. These are the second largest bats in Africa, ranging from Sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa and on several islands off the African coast. In the wild, colonies can range from thousands, up to a million individuals. Straw-colored Fruit bats can consume up to two times their body weight, eating fruit, seeds, nectar, flowers, buds and young leaves. Fruit bats are a significant source of seed dispersal, which helps forests regenerate. The Zoo’s colony enjoys bananas, apples, and melons. Like all fruit bats, they do not use echolocation.

You can see the Straw-colored Fruit Bats and learn other myth-busting animal facts at the All New Daytime Boo at the Zoo on Saturday, October 29 and Sunday, October 30 from 11 am to 5 pm. For more information on this rain or shine event, please visit

Straw-colored Fruit Bat

Straw-colored Fruit Bat Eating

Bat-inspired Dracula Pose at Boo at the Zoo

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hatching of Three Endangered Parrots

Thick-billed Parrots are one of the long-term success stories at the Sacramento Zoo. In 1985, Susan Healy, the Zoo’s Supervisor of Birds and Herps became the studbook keeper for this species, and in 1988 she was given the added task of coordinating and managing the Species Survival Plan® (SSP) under the guidance of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Sacramento Zoo has been a home to this species since 1975 and is the most successful zoo in the world to breed Thick-billed Parrots. The success continued this year with three chicks hatching on August 5, 6 and 10. The parents are both zoo-bred birds with the female hatching here is 2001 and the male hatching at the Queens Zoo in 2008.

Keepers were excited to see that two pairs laid clutches of eggs this season. After evaluating the pairs’ clutches they decided to move one egg (from a clutch of three eggs) into the nest of the other. The second nest contained two eggs (one known to be infertile). The newly introduced egg hatched but the seemingly-viable first egg did not. By making the decision to move an egg, keepers enabled the parents with the unsuccessful eggs to be able to still raise a baby, allowing both pairs the experience of raising healthy chicks. In essence, these three hatchlings have the same parents but were incubated by two sets of bird pairs. These chicks represent the fourth generation of successful breeding of an endangered species at the Sacramento Zoo.

Thick-billed Parrot chicks, including ours, fledge from the nest at around two months of age. While learning to navigate in their environment, the chicks continue to receive care and feeding from parents, occasionally up to a year’s time. As the chicks venture from the nest box you will be able to distinguish them from the adults by their juvenile white beaks; adults have black beaks.

Thick-billed Parrots are the only parrot native to the United States, but loss of habitat due to deforestation and fires drove them out of Southern Arizona and New Mexico in the early 1920s, to ranging only in Northern and Central Mexico.

Newly hatched chicks. 
Juvenile Thick-billed Parrot with distinctive white beak at 2 months old.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Charlie the Great Horned Owl

It is estimated that Charlie was born in 2014. He arrived at the Sacramento Zoo in early 2015. Charlie was a wild owl who found himself at the Abilene Zoo rehabilitation program. During his examination he was found to be in full health and able to go back into the wild. On release day, when the crate doors opened, all of the other Great Horned Owls flew off, but Charlie stayed right where he was. At that time it was recognized that he preferred people and was well suited for a zoo. From there Charlie found a home at the Sacramento Zoo.

Charlie is a full-grown owl and weighs just over two pounds. He enjoys admiring and hooting at the handsome bird he sees in the mirror in his enclosure. He also spends a great deal of time keeping tabs on what his neighboring Laughing Kookaburra is doing, and watching the world around him. Great Horned Owls like Charlie vocalize the classic hooting noise attributed to owls. He can be seen participating in a variety of activities including Wildlife Stage Shows, Overnight Safaris, going out to schools on ZooMobile programs and making media appearances. His training also includes walkabouts around the Zoo to desensitize him to a variety of sights and sounds.

Great Horned Owls range from the Arctic tree line in Canada and Alaska, south through the United States and Central America, and into South America. They are the second largest and one of the most common owls in North American and exert 28 pounds of pressure with their foot grip.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sapphire and Ruby, Burrowing Owl Sisters

Ruby and Sapphire both hatched at the Sacramento Zoo in 2013. Their mother is a rescue owl that can be seen on exhibit in the Zoo’s Backyard.

As with many sisters they have opposite personalities; Ruby is high strung while Sapphire is more easy going. Ruby has also been known to be very chatty with a docent or two. The pair regularly dig burrows together under the logs and various houses in their enclosure. They can also often be found sitting together on a stump. One of their favorite things to do is chase crickets that zookeepers give them. Their zookeepers will also tell you that they have the worst mouse breath that has ever been encountered.

Ruby and Sapphire and very important Animal Ambassadors that represent a species native to our Sacramento region. Also, if you happen to visit the San Francisco Zoo, you may see one of their clutch mates acting as an education ambassador in their outreach programs.

Sapphire                                                    Ruby