Flamingo Love

Written by: Animal Care Professional,  Micah Carnate

 

Summer is rolling into the blue skies overhead with the sun’s rays penetrating with its heat.  Along with the needed warmth after this past chilly winter and spring, the afternoon thunderstorms creep in to provide cool showers for all to enjoy, especially our very own flamboyance of Caribbean Flamingos! The introduction of these rainy seasons help to signify the beginning of many journeys of love, starting a family, and creating new life for all the flamingos around the world.

The first chapter in a flamingo’s journey is to find love.  At the start of the breeding season, flamingos prepare to become the best and most attractive dancers in their colony in order to catch an eye of a potential mate.  To do this, flamingos will first go through a quick molting event in which they lose their old feathers and grow in new vibrant pink feathers that drape from their backs.  Once they have their beautiful fancy feathers all in place, the flamingos are ready to show off their passion and romance in a ritual dance consisting of synchronized marching, head-flagging (turning their heads from side to side while stretching out their necks), loud short bursts of honking, and wing-flapping to show off all of their new colorful feathers.  Through this flashy dance, a female flamingo will choose the best male in the colony and both will begin to form their lifelong bond together and embark on their next chapter – starting a family.

An essential step before producing any offspring, the flamingo parents must work together to build a mound.  Contrasting to their bright pink feathers and fancy footwork in their courtship dance, they build their unexciting mounds (or nests) out of plain mud.  Typically, when you see flamingo mounds, they look like little volcanoes standing about 1 to 2 feet high to protect their eggs from any flooding from the rains and any heat from the ground. The mounds will also dip in the middle like a shallow bowl so the egg does not roll out at any point when mom or dad are incubating it.  After their mound is perfect to their standards, the female flamingo is ready to lay an egg!

The female flamingo will only lay one egg per year and both parents will be extremely devoted to the care of their chick for the next two months.  Mom and dad flamingos will each take turns sitting on the egg for 28 to 32 days until their chick emerges.  When the chick hatches, the chick will stay in the mound hiding under mom or dad for another 5 to 12 days and it is during this short time that the parents will be feeding it a milky substance called “crop milk.”  Crop milk is type of milk produced in the flamingo’s upper digestive tract.  It is highly possible that the parents may lose their pink color in their feathers during this time because most of the nutrition is given to the chick in the crop milk; however, once the chick is ready to fledge from the nest, both parents will be able to gain their bright pink colors back. While the family is on the mound, mom and dad become territorial and fend off any other flamingos from invading their space, providing their chick the ultimate protection.

At around the 12th day after hatching, the chick becomes a fledgling and begins to explore the immediate surroundings of their mound.  Mom and dad will still be nearby to keep an eye on their chick as it learns to walk and swim.  All the fledglings in the colony will then merge into a large grouping called a crèche, in which they get socialized into the flamingo community!  At this point, mom and dad will continue to watch over the group and feed their chick when it calls for them. Flamingos are a great example of exhibiting strong family bonds because despite a crèche possibly having hundreds of fledglings, both mom and dad are able to locate their own offspring by their distinctive vocalizations.  Juvenile flamingos will continue to grow up in the same colony with their parents.  At ages 3 to 5 years old, they will become mature and eventually begin their own life journeys.

 

Fla-mingle with these additional facts:

 

  • There are a total of six flamingo species around the world: Caribbean (or American), Andean, Chilean, James (or Puna), Lesser, and Greater.
  • Flamingos are social birds and live in colonies called flamboyances. Some flamboyance populations can reach well into the thousands or even tens of thousands!
  • The largest flamingo is the Greater Flamingo standing at 4 to 4.5 ft tall and weighing between 4.5lbs to 9lbs. The smallest flamingo is the Lesser Flamingo standing at 2.5 to 3 ft tall and weighing between 3lbs to 4.5lbs.
  • Flamingos get their pink colors from a pigment called carotenoids found in some of their favorite foods such as small crustaceans and algae.
  • Although no flamingo species are considered endangered, they still have declining numbers due to habitat loss from urban development.

 

A Family Plus annual Zoo membership makes it easy for your family to visit our flamingo flock in the Florida realm of the Zoo! You can learn more about memberships here.

 

World Environment Day

Happy World Environment Day! The world has been celebrating this UN holiday since 1974, making this the 45th year of shining light on environmental issues. This year, the holiday is shedding light on an ever-growing problem —air pollution— with the theme “Beat Air Pollution”. China is this year’s host, and chose this particular theme with the hope that we will consider changes we can make in our everyday lives in order to reduce the amount of air pollution we produce.

Nine out of 10 people on this planet are exposed to levels of air pollutants that are above World Health Organization (WHO) safe levels. There are five main human sources of air pollution, and they include:

  1. Household air pollution: The main source is the burning of fossil fuels, wood, and other biomass-based fuels in order to cook, heat, and light homes.
  2. Industry: Coal-burning, diesel generators (in off-grid areas) and solvent use (in chemical and mining industries) are the biggest culprits when it comes to industry/production.
  3. Transport: Air pollution emissions from transport alone have been linked to ~400,000 premature deaths, and people living in major traffic arteries are up to 12% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia in their lifetime.
  4. Agriculture: Livestock (producing methane and ammonia), rice paddies (producing methane), and the burning of agricultural waste are the biggest contributors to air pollution in this sector.
  5. Waste: It is estimated that, globally, 40% of waste is openly burned. Open waste burning, along with organic waste in landfills, release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and fine particulate matter (like black carbon) into the atmosphere. Currently, open burning of waste is practiced in 166/193 countries.

Here are some ways that you can help combat this issue:

  • Turn off electronics and lights when not in use
  • Compost organic waste
  • Use energy efficient bulbs and appliances
  • Carpool, use public transport, bike, or walk when possible
  • Avoid idling your car

Want to test your knowledge on reducing air pollution? Check out this quiz found here: https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/take-quiz

Seahorse Family

ZooTampa seahorse

By Tyson Facto, Animal Care Professional

Did you know that just like penguins, seahorses are monogamous and mate for life? Their love connection all begins with a dance.

Every day, the male lives in a small area of seagrass beds, patiently waiting for a female to find him. Once they make a connection, they will begin each day with a courtship dance that involves spinning around and twirling together, while interlocking their tails.

When they are ready to mate, the female impregnates the male with up to 1000 eggs! The male will stay pregnant for about two weeks, sometimes holding onto the same piece of grass the entire time. When ready, he will open his pouch and release all 1000 tiny fry into the ocean currents to settle throughout the seagrass beds. These little fry look and act just like their parents, except at about ¼ of an inch tall.

The pair of seahorses will then once again meet up to begin their courtship of dance.

ZooTampa is home to 2 out of the 45 different species of seahorses found around the world- the Dwarf seahorse, Hippocampus zosterae, and the Lined Seahorse, Hippocampus erectus. You can soon find our families of seahorses in Manatee Mangroves realm of the Zoo, in their newly renovated home. It's easy for your family to come back again and again with a Family Plus Membership - 2 adults, all dependent children + 1 free guest!

 

Endangered Species Day – Gift Shop Finds

We are on a mission to provide awareness and save species around the world to ensure they thrive for generations to come. Did you know each purchase at the Zoo, from a souvenir to an annual membership, helps us on our mission to preserve & protect wildlife? We are giving you this month’s top gift shop finds that make the perfect purchase for Endangered Species Day.

 

Snare Art:

These art pieces are made from snare wire found in the wild. Unfortunately snares are a threat to African painted dogs. By purchasing snare art you are helping the African painted dog population.

 

Sequence Collectible Ornament:

Skip the traditional ornament, and purchase a sequence collectible one this holiday season! Featured endangered species include: tigers, giraffes and elephants.

 

Plush:

We have over 30 different plush species to choose from that are eco-friendly, including unique and endangered species like the okapi, and komodo dragon. All plush are made with recycled water bottles!

 

Endangered Species Day Exclusive: Bamboo Straws- Buy one, get one 50% off!

Tapir Family

Known as “living fossils”, tapirs are the most primitive large mammal in the world, dating back to 20 million years ago! Although sometimes confused for an anteater or pig, tapirs are actually related to rhinoceros and horses.

Four months ago, we welcomed the Zoo’s 12th Malayan tapir, Tiga. When a tapir calf is first born, they will have a distinctive coat pattern made up of a series of spots and stripes similar to a watermelon that helps camouflage the baby.  This coat pattern will slowly change over 6 months to the black and white pattern of the parents.

A calf is born with their eyes open, can stand one or two hours after birth, and can begin to swim at a very young age! Naturally the mother is very protective of their new calf. The animal care team developed a strong bond with mom, Ubi, which is why she trusts the team to be around Tiga.

Tapirs are also solitary by nature, which is why you will find dad, Albert by himself out on the habitat. Ubi and Tiga will stay together for a few years until Tiga is ready to move on to another zoo as part of the Species Survival Plan.

Sadly, Tapirs are considered endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. There are less than 50 Malayan tapirs in human care in North America, which is why Tiga’s birth was critical to securing a safety net for this species.

A Family Plus annual Zoo membership makes it easy for your family to visit our Malayan tapir family in the Asia realm of the Zoo! You can learn more about memberships here.

You can even symbolically adopt Tiga and join us on our mission to protect wildlife, here.

Earth Day

We all know that “April showers bring May flowers,” but have you ever considered how scarce the fresh water from those “showers” actually is?

97% of all of the water that covers the Earth is salt water. That means only 3% of all the water on Earth is fresh water, and 2% of that fresh water is frozen in the form of glaciers, making only 1% (or less) of fresh water available for our everyday activities? ONE PERCENT!

With such a small amount of water available for us to use, we need to be wiser about how we use it. In honor of Earth Day, here are some things that you can do to help lessen your water footprint:

Just getting started?

  • Take shorter showers (and choose showers over a bath).
  • Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth or wash your hands.
  • Re-use water! Take water you boiled pasta in and cool it down before using it to water plants.
  • Fix your leaks.
  • Go to the car wash- many car washes use reclaimed water.
  • Water your plants/lawn early in the morning instead of mid-day — less evaporation!

Ready to take it to the next level?

  • Eat less meat (chocolate too, but I’d never ask you to do that!)
  • Install low flow toilets, faucets, and shower heads.
  • Adapt your lawn to more Florida native, sun worshipping species instead of water-hungry grass.
  • Use those dishwashers — and fill them up! They often use less water than washing by hand. Better yet, upgrade your appliances to more water-efficient ones!
  • Track your water usage and stop leaks with apps that give you feedback in real time, like Buoy, “a smart home for your water”.

Want to know what your water footprint is? Check out: https://www.watercalculator.org/wfc2

Stinkin’ cute

By Jaime Vaccaro, Animal Care Professional 

ZooTampa is home to nine Striped skunks. This family group comprises of Mia & Marcellus (Mom & Dad), along with their seven skunk babies, or "kits". When first born, kits are deaf and blind and nurse from their mom for up to two months. Most of Mia and Marcellus' kits opened their eyes and started to crawl at one month of age, and they have not stopped moving since!

Striped skunks are found only in North America. They live in every state in the United States, except Alaska and Hawaii. They are easily recognized by the white stripe pattern that runs down their back, from head to tail. The stripes start as a triangle at the head and break into two stripes down the skunk's back. Each skunk has a unique stripe pattern just like our finger prints.

This nocturnal species usually lives in underground dens/burrows that have been abandoned by other animals, or sleep in hollowed logs. Skunks are omnivores and enjoy eating rodents, insects, nuts and berries. They use their long claws to dig into logs and into the dirt to uncover insects. During feeding time at the Zoo, guests can watch as our skunk family emerge one by one from their den. Each skunk is separated into their own eating space or chute to ensure they are eating their own diet and prevent them from eating extra snacks from siblings.

Many people may not know this, but during the colder months in Florida, skunks exhibit a wintering behavior. During this time, their food consumption decreases and they rarely come out of their dens. When they emerge in the spring, they are very active and hungry!

Although our skunk family is very curious and enjoy exploring new things they do not like surprises due to their awesome defense mechanism. They have scent glands near their tails that contain about a tablespoon of pungent spray that can hit a target 15 feet away! Typically, a skunk will try to run from a predator first, but if that doesn't work, it will try to frighten the predator by arching its back and raising its tail.  As a last resort the skunk will then spray.

A Family Plus annual Zoo membership makes it easy for your family to visit this striped skunk family in the Florida realm of the Zoo!

A pack that stays together

Written by: Ashley Gaia

One of ZooTampa’s newest growing families is the African painted dogs. This growing family is critical, as African painted dogs are an endangered species. For the month of February, we are giving you the inside scoop on how their pack works together and what makes them so unique.

Painted dog society is complex and cooperative. Packs range from around 6-12 individuals, however packs of 30-50 have been documented. Each pack has an alpha male and female, chosen by the pack for their ability to lead versus their size. The painted dog is one of the greatest predators in Africa. Working as a team, the pack brings down their prey, quickly fill their bellies and rush back to their dens. There, they will regurgitate some meat to feed any puppies or dogs that need extra care.

African painted dogs are genetically unique in the world of canids. One of the features that sets them apart from other canids is their feet, they have four toes per paw instead of five! They also have specially adapted carnassial teeth that help slice meat and bone more efficiently.  All painted dogs have big round ears, a dark muzzle, and white tipped tails. The rest of the coat is mottled in splotches of ebony, white, and golden tans. Every dog has a unique pattern, just as unique as our finger prints!

Our own painted dog family is excelling at parenthood. When the puppies were first born, Dad, Hatari quickly mastered his role of staying close to the den to be a literal “watch dog” while mom, Layla devoted all of her time into raising, and wrangling, their puppies inside their den.

Currently, the puppies are doing well and growing larger every day! At almost 5 months old, these guys are weighing well over 20 pounds each and they consume roughly 15 pounds of meat every single day. This family enjoys devouring shanks, whole rabbits, and whole chicks on a regular basis. The pups are quite playful at this age and are often seen chasing each other around their yard, wrestling, playing tug of war with palm fronds or sticks, or taking a quick dip in their pool. They are getting braver and more independent and can frequently be seen running or playing without mom close by.

Your own “pack” can have fun at the zoo and watch these puppies grow all year with a Family Plus Membership. For more information click here.

African Elephants

Written By: Leah Miller

 

African Elephants live by a matriarchal system. This is where one female is the main elephant of the herd. This female is usually the oldest and most experienced out of everyone.

Our herd is unique, we do not have a matriarch, we have a circle hierarchy. Instead of having just one female in charge of everyone, all of our adult females are dominant over each other. Matjeka is dominant over Mbali, Mbali is dominant over Ellie, and Ellie is dominant over Matjeka. This is a very unique system and could change at any point!

Our herd also includes two adorable juvenile females. These young girls do not have a place in the hierarchy system yet. Over time they will fall into the hierarchy. Right now, their job is to learn from their mothers and other adult females on birthing and caring for young.  As their mothers birth more offspring they will become the “babysitter” to those younger siblings and cousins. This is important because it teaches them the roles of being a first-time mother.

Even though African Elephant females play an important role in the herd, another important role is that of the male elephants. As juveniles, they socialize and live in the herd with the females, but as they grow into adolescents they will slowly be pushed out. Male African Elephants can live a solitary life or in a small bachelor herd. When they are ready to breed, they will venture out to find a herd of females. After they are done breeding they will return to their bachelor herds not taking the responsibility of raising the calf. Our male, Sdudla, actually socializes with our females on a regular basis which allows for the calves in our herd to learn the normal social interactions males and females will have.

Bring your families and get up-close to our herd of African elephants while on the Expedition Africa Safari Tram. You can even get a closer look at the largest land animal on earth during an African Elephant Backstage experience, book one HERE.