Two Turtle-y Amazing Weeks Down Under

By Ryan O'Shea, Veterinary Team

On Friday, July 20 2018, I began my journey to Queensland, Australia to work for two weeks at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Center (CTRC).  The facility works with the local governments and boating communities to provide care for sick or injured sea turtles.  Due to their geographic location, CTRC has been able to care for every species of sea turtle except for the Kemp’s Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), a species restricted to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

My time was split between two locations the facility operates from:

  1. An intensive care facility based on the Australian mainland in Cairns, Queensland
  2. A rehabilitation center on Fitzroy Island.

As you can imagine, the intensive care facility houses turtles who are actively receiving care and treatments for diseases and injuries, meanwhile the Fitzroy Island location was designed as a final staging area prior to the turtles being released back to the wild.

There are two memorable cases from the intensive care facility:

Midge, the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas): Midge was being quarantined and treated for fibropapilloma, a condition caused by a turtle herpesvirus. While working with both local veterinarians and hospitals, the CTRC has developed a method of debriding (surgically removing) external growths caused by the virus. After being analyzed, a vaccine is created to treat each turtle. Following treatment, a turtle is kept in quarantine for 24 months and if no growths develop, they are cleared to be released. Midge was in her tenth month at the intensive care center with no regrowth!

Shazza, another Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas): Shazza is recovering from buoyancy problems as well as pollution-based injury.  When an animal like a sea turtle has buoyancy problems, it means that they have the inability to move up and down in the water column. This can be caused by ingestion of pollution, stress, and air ingestion just to name a few. In cases involving stress and air ingestion, time and supportive care resolve the problem and the turtle can be released.  In cases involving the ingestion of pollution (plastic, garbage, etc), the prognosis can be much worse! In Shazza’s case, there didn’t appear to be any foreign material in her stomach, so the team at CTRC is focusing on the time and supportive care approach. Shazza also has another old injury, a plastic was tangled around her for so long, and her shell now has the appearance of an hourglass.

Unfortunately, injuries like Shazza’s are too common- but they don’t have to be. There are simple actions YOU can take to help sea turtles including keeping beaches and waterways free of trash, along with being accountable for all belongings. Many people leave beach chairs and other furniture behind making it difficult for sea turtles to lay their eggs. You can also knock down sand castles and fill in any holes - this helps sea turtles make their way to the ocean once they hatch. Lastly, don’t forget about reducing the amount of plastic you use- plastic bags are a particular threat, since some sea turtles can mistake them for their favorite snack- jellies!

After my two weeks at the turtle rehabilitation center were complete, I spent some time exploring the east coast of Australia.  I was able to SCUBA dive the Great Barrier Reef - despite its continuing decline, the diversity of animals around each reef section was unparalleled to anything on land!  The reef truly is a sight to be seen and I encourage anyone who has an interest in seeing it to go as soon as they can! The beauty of natural environments like the reef should be seen by everyone, and maybe when this happens the world will take greater measures to protect what we are losing.

A Tail of Two Okapi

By Senior Veterinarian Dr. Ray Ball

While discussing ruminants with my animal nutrition class, I described some health challenges we have had with giraffe and okapi.  Every one instantly knows what a giraffe is, but not so much with an okapi and even in this college biology class there were a few puzzled looks.  I briefly explained what an okapi was and how it is related to a giraffe.  “But what color are they?”  One inquisitive mind finally asked.  This has always stumped me when trying to describe okapis, but looking out into class and seeing the omnipresent Starbucks cups and the students sipping, it hit me.  “Okapi are like upside down raspberry mocha lattes.”  All twenty-eight heads dropped and began to jot down notes.

There are few creatures today that truly deserve the description of mythical but the okapi is one of them.  They do resemble short robust little giraffes but are much stouter in the body and have crisper facial features.  Then of course there is the color; a raspberry mocha brown on top with white stripes on the lower body and legs.  The fur itself adds much to the mystique of the okapi and touching one is an extraordinary treat.  They feel like velour and the slight oil in their skin rubs off leaving the raspberry mocha color on your hands.

Betty and Zach are a pair of okapi who live at ZooTampa.  The pair have spent essentially their entire adult lives together.  Last week we celebrated the birth of their beautiful calf.  They have been able to achieve this due to the care - and adoration - of the staff dedicated to their wellbeing.  Betty is starting to show her age just a little and a boost of energy in her diet was insurance to make sure both mom and calf would have everything they needed to thrive. Both seem to be doing so now. The relationship between the okapi and the okapi keeper team has led to several advances in their health care, including hoof trimming and general examinations. The ultrasound exam and now the milk sample collection have allowed us to further that care with Betty’s pre-natal evaluations.

The upside raspberry mocha latte comes in two sizes, venti and grande but that is temporary.  This little girl okapi calf will grow quickly, her ears will straighten out and she will also develop the oil in her skin.  She will then be able to leave a little bit of herself with everyone she encounters.  She has already started to make everyone fall in love with her.

All About Storks

By Animal Care Professional Marcus Kowitz

 

African Open-billed Stork

This particular species stands 3-feet-tall and is characterized by its all-black plumage with hints of iridescence found on the feathers, especially on the chest. They get their name from their uniquely shaped beak, which helps to acquire food. African Open-billed Storks can remove snails with their beaks without even breaking the shell! These storks are currently classified as near-threatened due to habitat destruction and pesticides. In the wild, Open-billed Storks can be found through central Africa in rivers and swampy areas. At ZooTampa, our Open-billed Stork can be found in the large free-flight aviary near the Manatee Fountain.

Yellow-billed Stork

This stork is commonly found throughout Eastern Africa. They are mostly white with a red face and a large yellow beak. A fun fact about this species is that traces of pink coloration appear on their wings during breeding season. While most birds rely on their vision to hunt, yellow-billed storks use their sense of touch instead. They will wade through the shallows with their beak slightly open, swinging it back and forth through the water. When something touches their beak, they will snap it closed lightning fast and eat whatever they catch whole - woah! This species in particular have legs that appear to have a chalky look to them, this is due to the urates they deposit on their legs to help cool down their body during extreme heat. The water left behind evaporates and helps draw heat away, similar to how sweat helps us cool off! Although their conservation status is considered as least concern, populations have declined over the recent year due to poaching and habitat destruction. The yellow-billed storks at ZooTampa can currently be seen in our Sulawesi Aviary on the Asian boardwalk.

Wood Stork

This stork is North America’s only native stork species and can be found primarily in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. This species can also be found throughout Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Wood Storks are sometimes referred to by their nicknames (‘Wood Ibis’ or ‘Flinthead’) due to their unique beak shape and shiny scales that appear on their head and neck. Wood Storks live in swampy areas usually near water, where they feed on all sorts of aquatic animals. This species is currently classified as threatened due to habitat destruction, pesticides and disruption of natural hydrological processes, usually because of agriculture. Native Wood Storks can be seen throughout ZooTampa, around the Florida Boardwalk and Safari Africa.

Birdy Spotlight – Hornbills

Written by Josh Caraballo, Animal Care Professional

Hornbills come in all shapes and sizes here at ZooTampa! Several species of hornbills are in our care from the smallest Red-billed hornbills like Zazu from the Lion King to larger ones like Great Indian hornbills. These birds are a unique group for a couple of different reasons. For example, their first two neck vertebrae have been fused to support their large bills – whoa! They are also known for their nesting habits. The female will “mud” or seal themselves into a tree cavity with help from their mates, leaving only a small slit through which the male provides food. She will remain sealed inside the nest for 3-5 months depending on the species.  During this time, she will completely molt and re-grow her feathers. When the chicks become large and the nest becomes crowded, the female will break out of the nest, reseal it and assist the male with feedings. The chicks will break out of the nest when they are ready to fly.  At this point, the parents will teach them how to eat and hunt on their own to become completely independent.

Great Indian hornbills are found scattered throughout their range on the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The abundance of this species tends to be correlated with the density of large trees, required for nesting, and are most common in unlogged forests. These birds are 37-50 inches long with a large, lightweight casque –a helmetlike structure on top of the bill. Their plumage is boldly patterned in black, white and yellow. The yellow comes from a preen gland that is located at the base of their tails. They rub their bills on this gland and spread the yellow oil on their feathers. The male typically has a larger casque, red iris and black around the eyes and frontal area of the casque. The female's irises are white-light blue, with red skin around their eyes and no black on the frontal portion of the casque. Great Indian hornbills face many threats in the wild including deforestation, poaching, and the illegal wildlife trade.

ZooTampa is a member of The Association of Zoos and Aquariums or (AZA) and we participate in Species Survival Plans (SSP) for four hornbill species. Programs like the SSP are a way for zoos and aquariums to help protect and preserve this, and others, species for future generations.

While we have SSP programs in place for some hornbill species, their wild cousins like the Helmeted Hornbill are in need of our help as they have become Critically Endangered in a matter of a few years. They have a solid casque, unlike most hornbills that have hollow casques and are hunted for their casques to be carved into trinkets which are sold on the black market.  ZooTampa is committed to wildlife conservation efforts locally and globally. Through grants from our conservation fund, we work with our partners to help protect and preserve various hornbill species in Africa and Asia. You can help your feathered friends by visiting the Zoo and our Great Indian hornbill in the Main Aviary.

A Stunning Bird with a Stunning Surgery

Written by Dr. Lauren Smith, Veterinarian

If you’ve seen our Bird of Prey show at the Zoo, chances are you saw one of our shining stars - a red-legged seriema named Elton. He shows off the unique way he stuns his prey by using his beak to repeatedly slam prey items like small snakes on the ground. Don’t let the wispy beautiful feathers, long red legs and eyelashes of a seriema fool you - these stunning birds are effective predators!

As you can imagine, quick reaction time and visual acuity are essential for Elton’s daily life. The animal care team noticed his right eye appearing red and swollen, they also noticed he would misstep when walking to his habitat. The animal care team quickly notified the veterinary team to assist, both teams work hand-in-hand to give the best care to animals.

As part of the veterinary team at ZooTampa, it is our responsibility to work with the animal care team to examine animals for any health concerns. During our initial examination, we found that Elton had a maturing cataract of the right eye that affected his vision. Just like humans, animalsare also at risk for cataract formation which affects their vision and ability to carry out daily tasks. Fortunately for us, we knew of options to best help Elton recover.

We contacted Dr. Tammy Miller Michau of BluePearl Veterinary Specialists for a consultation. Dr. Miller Michau is a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist with specialized equipment to perform this surgery. After several evaluations and discussions with the animal care team, we agreed that cataract removal surgery was the best option for Elton. There were a few things to consider before performing surgery in a case like Elton’s:

  • The unique anatomy of the avian eye
  • The ability to properly administer eye drops post-operatively
  • Keeping Elton’s stress level down before, during, and after the procedure

A big part of my job as the Veterinarian is to make a diagnosis, evaluate the options and risks, make recommendations based on what we know, and compose a plan to address all of the above. Following a positive health assessment, the veterinary and animal care team worked to outline the plan before, during, and following Elton’s surgery.

In June, Elton was taken to BluePearl Veterinary Specialists for surgery. The ZooTampa veterinary team safely anesthetized and prepared Elton for Dr. Miller Michau to operate on his eye. Imagine the skill and precision required to make a tiny ocular incision through a microscope! Ryan, a veterinary technician with ZooTampa, and I focused on Elton’s anesthesia and vitals, while Dr. Miller Michau removed the cataract and sutured the eye closed.

Dr. Miller Michau informed us of potential risk, including infection and/or dehiscence (break down) of the sutures. It was important that just as much care went into recovery as it did during the surgery itself. Over the next few days, the animal care team worked closely with the veterinary team to ensure Elton received his eye drops for his eye to heal properly. Within two to three days, we could already tell that his vision improved on the right side and he was much more responsive when approached on his “blind side.”

One week later, Dr. Miller Michau returned to ZooTampa for follow up. Post-operative medicine compliance had been going well, and we hoped the hard work would pay off.  As Dr. Miller Michau evaluated Elton’s eye, we were elated to hear her say, “This looks amazing! And so clean!” She checked his eye pressure and performed a stain test to rule out any corneal ulceration - all clear!

We are currently in the final phases of Elton’s recovery and he continues to do fantastically. He is due for another check up with Dr. Miller Michau with the hope of being fully healed.  Once his eye doctor gives him the go ahead, Elton will be back to being an absolutely stunning bird!

A Little Florida History, Y’all

Roaring Springs presented by Pinch a Penny is the all-new, family water adventure that plays an homage to the old Florida way of life. Who better to write about that than our friends at the Tampa Bay History Center?

Tampa ‑ the Cowtown of the Cuban Cattle Trade

The ancestors of many founding families in the Tampa Bay area were "cowmen" or "cowhunters."  Interestingly, the term "cracker," now sometimes used to describe native Floridians, was probably borrowed from the Florida cattle trade.  Florida cowhunters cracked eighteen-foot rawhide whips to drive cattle down the trail.  They were so adept with these whips that they could flick horseflies off an animal's hide without breaking the skin!

In his travels, Tampa entrepreneur and ship captain James McKay learned of a huge demand for beef in Cuba.  By 1858, McKay was organizing regular cattle drives from the interior of Florida to loading stations on the Interbay Peninsula southwest of Tampa.  The venture made him a very wealthy man as the Spanish paid him in gold doubloons.

Tampa quickly became the railhead for cattle shipments to Cuba.  Cowhunters and their ponies were a common sight on 19th century Tampa streets.  "The effect of the opening of this trade is witnessed daily," noted the Florida Peninsular in the July 28, 1860 issue.  "Thousands upon thousands of dollars are thrown into our midst, and as a necessary consequence other branches of traffic and industry are proportionately enhanced."  William B. Hooker, who had pioneered the Hillsborough cattle industry in the 1840s, owned 10,000 head by 1860 and was considered the "Cattle King of Florida."  He was soon joined by other cattle barons: James Alderman, John T. Lesley, and Jacob Summerlin.

Written by Rodney Kite-Powell, Curator of History - Tampa Bay History's Center

 

Florida Cattle

Contrary to popular belief, Florida, not the American West, was the site of the first North American cattle industry.  Juan Ponce de León brought a herd of Andalusian cattle to Florida in 1521, long before the first Spanish expedition brought them to the American Southwest.  By the 1700s, Spanish vaqueros had established large cattle ranchos in Northwest Florida.

The "golden age" of the Florida cattle industry began in the 1850s.  Despite predators like wolves, panthers, bears and alligators, thousands of wiry cattle thrived in the tall brush of the unfenced interior.  By 1860, Florida "cowhunters" routinely rounded up herds from the Florida brush and drove them to ships in Hillsborough Bay for sale in Cuba.  Although there was little demand for tough and lean Florida beef in the U.S., Cubans had few cattle and were willing to pay premium prices.

Beef for the Confederacy

During the Civil War, Jacob Summerlin provided 600 cattle a week to the Confederate Army at $8 per head.  However, his job was complicated by the reluctance of Florida ranchers to part with their cattle in exchange for almost worthless Confederate currency.  Hearing of a round‑up, the cattlemen would drive their herds into the brush to avoid the Confederate contractors.  At times, they even sold cattle to Union forces and later reported them stolen.  When Summerlin could no longer round up enough cattle to meet the demand, the Confederate Army cancelled his contract and gave it to James McKay.  Despite many challenges, McKay and his men managed to provide Confederate forces with some cattle throughout most of the war.

A Cattle and Shipping Empire

The cattle industry played a major role in the Tampa Bay economy after the Civil War.  Cubans still wanted Florida beef and the Florida cattle industry was still intact.  At first, most Florida cowmen were reluctant to sell to James McKay and the other shippers, hoping to receive a better price.  They gave in and sold after a Peninsular newspaper story chastised them for stalling the state's economic recovery.  Profits from the first postwar shipments eliminated any further reluctance.  During the decade of the 1870s, 165,669 head of cattle were shipped to Cuban ports at nearly $15 per head.

A Tampa Bay shipping industry grew out of the cattle export business.  This business expanded to include citrus, phosphate, tobacco, bananas and other commodities.  The Tampa Bay sail and steamship trade was dominated by Dr. Howell T. Lykes and his sons.  In 1874, Dr. Lykes married Almeria McKay, daughter of James McKay.  Dr. Lykes and his sons created a shipping empire in Florida and Cuba that grew into the extensive operations of Lykes Brothers, Inc., and Lykes Brothers Steamship Company, Inc.  While cattle is no longer shipped through the Port of Tampa, it is the 7th largest port in tonnage in the United States.

Next Generation of Elephant Management Workshop at ZooTampa

Written by General Curator, Chris Massaro

On May 18th, ZooTampa hosted the Next Generation of Elephant Management (NextGEM) workshop. This three-day event brought elephant care professionals from around the nation together to learn from each other’s successes and address challenges in the community in order to collectively advance elephant welfare.  NextGEM was the first workshop offered for elephant care professionals to focus almost entirely on improving elephant psychological wellness through progressive, behavioral management strategies. The workshop attendees came from diverse backgrounds including universities, sanctuaries, and many zoos.

Presentations included several accomplishments in the field such as advancing bull elephant socialization and management, international travel for improving care and practices abroad, and successes achieved through positive reinforcement training. It was truly an incredible experience to be a part of a community of professionals from many different backgrounds, perspectives, and philosophies, but all united for elephants around the globe!

We were honored to be chosen to host NextGEM due to our program achievements and commitment to advancing elephant welfare. Why are workshops like these so important? This workshop focuses more on animal welfare than conservation. ZooTampa and their partnering institutions are working together to provide elephant care professionals with the latest strategies for improving the lives of elephants living in the care of people all around the globe.

ZooTampa would like to thank their partnering institutions, the NextGEM presenters and all attendees for their contributions, achievements, and dedication to advancing elephant welfare and helping to secure a bright and sustainable future for all elephants!

Transforming a Zoo

Creative Sign Designs is honored to be a part of big changes coming from Lowry Park Zoo as it transitions its brand to ZooTampa at Lowry Park.The Creative Sign Designs’ team has been trusted play a role in bringing their new identity to life in 2018 starting with their front entrance signage. Creative Sign Designs looks forward to being a part of this historic project for such an iconic Tampa Bay destination.

The new front entrance signage gives guests their first look at the monumental modifications that are happening at ZooTampa. Prior to the launch, Creative Sign Designs worked overnight installing the major masterpiece. Creative Sign Designs created a fun time-lapse video of the progress.

The new signage is only the first of many fresh changes that the Zoo will be making, as part of their contemporary rebranding. In addition to the new signage, the Zoo has debuted a new website and is in the process of revitalizing the Florida area.

Creative will also be installing newly branded in-park signage, which identifies each of the Zoo’s unique geographic areas, as well as new directional signposts and maps. They will also be installing new informational signs around key animal locations. The installations will continue through the end of April.

The Zoo’s partnership with Creative stemmed from the relationship between the two companies’ head executives. Jamie Harden, CEO of Creative, and Joe Couceiro, CEO of ZooTampa, have been friends for years and met through their affiliation with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. With Harden’s impressive roster of local clients, Couceiro chose to bring the Creative team on to be part of the Zoo’s revitalization.

Since it was founded in 1986, Creative has grown to be the leader in custom signage. This year alone, Creative has helped refresh and rebrand some of Tampa’s leading companies and organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times, the Mahaffey Theater, the Ybor City Development Corporation and now the Zoo. The Creative team is excited to continue to build relationships and partner with brands in every industry.

The Story of Tres

Written by Dr. Ray Ball, Vice President of Medical Sciences & Senior Veterinarian 

What has three bionic legs, leaps into tall trees, lived in ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and now runs in the wild of South Florida?  The only possible answer of course is Tres, the rehabilitated Florida panther.

Tres is a male Florida panther that was hit by a car, actually we believe twice.  He was found along a road with three broken legs, both back legs and his left foreleg.  The FWC biologist and veterinarian rescued him and presented him to the Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples where Dr. Mark Havig made him bionic.  After several hours of surgery, 6 stainless steel plates and 42 screws were placed into Tres broken limbs, he was on his way to Tampa.  He was still not recovered from his surgery when I pulled him out of his travel crate and got him settled in.

Figure 1 Fractured left forelimb on Florida panther Tres and the surgical repair.

Within 24 hours he was up on his feet.  Within 48 hours he was leaping.  He did this for a few days then settled in.  Several days later he started to eat and his recovery really began.

Taking care of wild animals, truly wild animals intended to be returned to the wild, is different than the rest of the animals at the Zoo.  For the wild panthers we want to keep them away from people as much as possible, and in Tres case we really want him to stay quiet and heal.  Fortunately the Katherine Starz Veterinary Hospital has just that capacity and Tres was to call this his home for the next several months.  He would need a couple more surgeries to manage his fractures but he really just needed the opportunity to heal.  It can be a delicate balance when to step in and intervene and when to allow an animal to take care of itself.  Tres told us what he needed and when to leave him alone and we listened.

Once Tres was medically cleared by the team at ZooTampa, he was moved to White Oak Plantation in north Florida to allow him some physical therapy time in a large outdoor enclosure.  He would spend a couple months here regaining the fitness he needed to better his chances at survival.  The team could also make sure he did not become too accustomed to people.  Having a releasable panther at ZooTampa was novel.  In the past we had only managed panthers that were not able to be rehabilitated.  Our approach was a little different but it made sense to us.  Only time would really tell if this would work.

Figure 2 Camera trap photo showing a very healthy looking Tres prior to his release.  His behavior also suggested he was ready to be released.

In February the team encompassing the FWC, White Oaks, and ZooTampa gave Tres one last exam and he was determined to be ready to release.  He was fitted with his radio collar and loaded up for his journey back to south Florida.  The five hour journey allowed him plenty of time to recovery from his exam and at the mid-point when I checked on him he was posed very stately in his travel crate.  He was ready.

In carrying out our mission we encounter numerous events that are extremely fulfilling such as seeing a child smile as the otters play or the birth of a rare animal.  But nothing is quite the same as watching a manatee swim away after weeks in the rehabilitation center and seeing an orphan bear cub run into the woods after you have taken care of it.  Or seeing a Florida panther race away from you, becoming invisible in an instant.  We have learned many things from taking care of Tres and seeing him back in the forest of south Florida will stand out in our memory.  We wish him well.  We also hope to never see him again.

Figure 3 Dr Lara Cusack from FWC releases Tres in south Florida.

The Bond Of A Mother & Baby, A Message From Our VP Of Conservation

Written by Lee Ann Rottman, Vice President of Conservation

We are so excited to welcome a new Bornean orangutan baby to our Zoo family!  On the morning of Saturday, January 6th, Bornean orangutan, DeeDee, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl weighing about three pounds. Dee Dee is quite the experienced mother, already successfully giving birth five times. She is very attentive and even gently pats her baby’s back when she gets fussy.

The bond between Dee Dee and her baby is so special, it resembles the unbreakable bond between a human mother and a baby. The connection between humans and apes is astounding! Like humans, baby apes are born completely dependent on their mothers and this maternal care continues for many years. For example, Dee Dee’s, nine-year-old daughter Randee, still slept with Dee Dee in her nest at night. With the new baby, Randee has taken a big step to growing up and is now making her own nest. Randee is also closely watching DeeDee and the new baby, this is an important step for her to learn how to be a mother. Orangutan mothers prefer to raise their baby on their own with no help, meaning the care and survival of a baby is solely dependent on them. These moms are the epitome of strength and devotion.

While we celebrate the arrival of our newest baby, it’s important to reflect on the perils orangutans face in the wild. Orangutans are losing their homes due to clearcutting for plant palm oil plantations leaving many orangutan babies to lose their mothers which is detrimental as babies cannot survive on their own in the wild. Palm oil is an edible oil that is found in everyday items like food, candy, soaps, etc. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has made a great app that helps consumers make smart choices at the grocery store. By downloading the Sustainable Palm Oil App, you can help save orangutans.

North America is home to only 90 animals in the Bornean Orangutan Species Survival Plan. Each birth is very significant and crucial to the longevity of this precious species. Since DeeDee is such a devoted mother, her contribution to her species goes beyond the five babies she has raised herself, it extends to the five grandbabies she has in the SSP population. DeeDee is truly an amazing ambassador for her species and her new daughter is too cute for words!

We hope that when you see the connection between mother and baby, you will be motivated to become advocates for this incredible species. Every dollar, every visit, every membership truly makes a difference.