Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

ground squirrel, face

The squirrels are different here.

This is a California ground squirrel, and I am fascinated by these little creatures. Growing up on the east coast, I was accustomed to Eastern gray squirrels (which are everywhere) and the occasional chipmunk (which is very small and stripey) but I’d never seen one of these before. The first time I encountered any kind of ground squirrel was in Canada in 2007. It was the oddest looking little fat rodent, and I took a bunch of photos of it as it ran along the sidewalk and into the grass. (Side note: the funny thing about zoo people, even just people who spend lots of time in zoos, is that we get VERY EXCITED over things like this, ignoring the zebra or whatever in the exhibit. After all, the zebra will still be there later, this is WILD NATURE HAPPENING.) Anyway, that introduced me to the idea of ground squirrels. Needless to say, my upper-midwest relatives thought I was hilarious.

ground squirrel, chewing

These squirrels range all over California, all the way to central Oregon and Washington, and can be a foot and half long when full grown. This particular ground squirrel is a juvenile, so very small compared to what it will be. It was having a snack and I enjoyed watching it forage in the plants. The ones I’ve observed have been in groups, with burrows in the ground that they hide in when people (or predators) get too close.

ground squirrel, side

You can see the almost spotted pattern of the squirrel’s fur here. There is another type of ground squirrel in the state, the golden mantled ground squirrel, but it is more in the mountains and has distinct black and white markings that make it look much more like a chipmunk. At any rate, I find these little guys very interesting. Keep an eye out for them if you’re ever out walking.

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Safari Park, cheetah

It’s been a while since I took my big camera out to the Safari Park, so one day last week I hauled it along with me. I always ride the African Tram (which is included in my membership) and I got some great photos. Here’s a little overview of the ride. One of the first exhibits you pass on the Tram is the cheetah exhibit, and this pretty girl was enjoying some shade on a very hot day. The exhibit cheetahs aren’t the ones who do the cheetah run; those are kept in air conditioning so their bodies don’t get overtaxed in the heat.

Safari Park,

After going past the black rhinos and the river areas with flamingos, you get to the first savanna-style exhibit. These are waterbuck, and they are shaggy and large and I love their faces. They are in one of the huge mixed exhibits that are part of what makes the park famous. This young one is one of many that are born every year; I learned that between the Safari Park and the Zoo, there is an average of at least one animal birth a day, all year, so seeing baby animals isn’t too uncommon.

Safari Park, wildebeest

These are gnus, or wildebeests. I always liked the word “gnu” as a kid, and it was fun to find out that wildebeest and gnus are one and the same. The striking markings on their faces warn predators that they can bite or jab with their horns if they are threatened. In the wild they live in immense herds, and as many as 1.5 million of them migrate together in late spring when the seasons change.

Safari Park, Somali wild ass

As you continue toward the back of the exhibit, you pass several more sections, including vultures and these, Somali wild ass. They look like they have zebra legs and many people mistake them for a zebra hybrid, but they are much smaller, have bigger ears and, of course, bray– wild asses are, after all, precursors to donkeys! I think they’re pretty.

Safari Park, pelican

Next as you start to round the corner at the top of the hill, you get a wide view of the park and the valley, but you also get to see more ponds and I always enjoy spotting the pelicans. There are three species of pelicans at the zoo and Safari Park, and I’m pretty sure this is a dalmatian pelican. The wide view of the park is gorgeous, but I think it’s easy to miss things like this when you’re looking too far afield.

Safari Park, Arabian oryx

Finally as you round the corner to head back to the Tram station, up on the hill they have a herd of Arabian oryx. These are some of my favorites to see, not only because of their beautiful fur and elegant horns, but because they are a conservation success story. While they still aren’t thriving in the wild at their former rate, they were extinct other than a handful in private collections just forty years ago. Two breeding herds were established in the US, and now several hundred have been born, and have started to be reintroduced into the wild. That is the point of conserving species in captivity: to educate the public and to preserve species until they can go back to their native habitat, if possible.

So that’s a little taste of the Safari Park Africa Tram. Hope you enjoyed the tour. More photos from that ride are here. ^_^

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One of the interesting things about living on both coasts is that some of the wildlife is similar… And yet not quite the same. On the east coast, white tailed deer are so prevalent that they actually pose a hazard to drivers along the roads. On the west coast, I’ve been introduced to mule deer.

Mule deer live in the Sierra Nevada mountains and in most of California. They are prey for mountain lions and feed on local vegetation, though sometimes they get into gardens.

One thing I really like about them is their antlers; mule deer antlers grow in thick and fuzzy, and one they are fully grown are often elegantly curved.

The place I’ve seen them the most is actually at the Safari Park. The come into the large grazing exhibits (like elephant and rhino) where they want be followed by mountain lions and can get the leftover hay, or eat the grass available. They’re all over the park, though.

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SD Zoo condor, people watching

This photo thoroughly entertains me. The condor is totally people watching. He (or she, I’m not really sure) kept pacing back and forth, following certain people as they walked past the glass. Sometimes he would pick up a stick and parade back and forth with it. Finally, after a very long time, he grabbed one of the sticks and ran (yes, RAN) to the back of the exhibit.

Enrichment is important for captive animals; it keeps their minds healthy and active, staves off boredom and helps prevent obesity. (Yes, animals have all the same health concerns we do, too.) But sometimes the people are a type of enrichment, too.


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SD Zoo Safari Park, natural scenery

One of the interesting things to me about California is the sheer size and scope of it. I mean, Texas is huge and all, but California is SO LONG that you’d have to drive from north Florida to just about the New York state line to get a similar trip. It’s about a thirteen or fourteen hour drive  from north to south, and there are so many different types of landscape that it’s hard to picture in some ways.

According to the Nature Conservancy, San Diego County is the most biodiverse county in the continental US. That’s easy for me to believe. Not only is San Diego County extremely large, it covers a wide span of landscapes. You have the coastal salt marshes and the bay marine life, the cliffs, the river valleys more inland, you have chaparral and desert and mountains and pine forests, all in one county. And because of development, many of them are becoming endangered.

The habitat in the photo is of native coastal sage scrub habitat, protected within the property of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are species that only live in this type of environment, and the Safari Park has dedicated about half of their property to remain untouched in order to preserve it. The amazing thing is really how little of this habitat exists: only about 10-15% of it is left from what was originally here. It’s hard to imagine a place that looks (at first glance) so brown and empty having so many things living in it, but it actually sits at a sweet spot in relation to the other more extreme local environs. The coastal sage scrub almost never freezes, and yet almost never goes about 90*F (or 32*C) and so is a perfect place for animals and plants to thrive. That’s why the hillside in the photo is so important to this area. (You can read more about what the Safari Park is doing here… it’s a .pdf, so you know.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a little local knowledge I’ve gained. If you’re ever hiking in the area, take a minute to appreciate being in such an amazing, wildlife filled place, especially because it only exists in such small pockets of the country.

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Living Coast, burrowing owl

Ever since I read Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, I’ve been kind of fascinated by these little birds of prey. This burrowing owl is from the Living Coast Discovery Center and is part of a colony they have on exhibit there. They eat insects and small mammals, or small reptiles and amphibians they find. One interesting thing I learned about them is that they actually nest in burrows made by other animals, such as ground squirrels, which are very common here. They hunt by running along the ground (which I would SO love to see, with those little legs scooting along) or by swooping and grabbing things (like insects) from the air.

Burrowing owls are locally (in Orange and San Diego Counties) almost extinct, other than a tiny population on a Navy base. The Orange County base recently started bolstering protection for the owls, which are the only nesting owls in this part of the state that anyone has found, and they are very close to another endangered species (least terns) right on the base. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, as the terns are naturally snack food for burrowing owls.

There are over twenty subspecies of burrowing owls, including the Floridian one made famous by Hoot. They used to be common all over the US but since their territory is also prime land for development (wide open areas with sparse vegetation), they are running out of places to breed in localized areas. You can read more about them at the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network site.

Personally I think they are ridiculously cute, with their fluffy bodies and long, skinny legs and I’d love to see one in the wild. I’ll add it to by California bucket list. ^_^

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SD Zoo, baby okapi

So there’s a baby okapi at the San Diego Zoo. She’s a couple of months old at this point, but I got to see her last week for the first time and she is pretty cute.

Okapis are a giraffe relative (don’t let those stripey legs fool you into think they might be zebra cousins!) and live in a very small, dense rain forest area of central Africa. There are less than 100 in zoos around the US, and several of those are here in San Diego. They’re fascinating to watch and I always make a point of going by their exhibit.

SD Zoo, baby okapi with mom

I think the most giraffe-like quality an okapi has is the head. If you look at the shape of the face, and at they way the tongue is manipulated to get shoots of grass or leaves, you can definitely see the family resemblance,  I love the huge ears these animals have. I know the photo is super over-exposed, but they were moving quickly in and out of that bright patch of light; usually they hang out in the shadows near the front of the exhibit, but baby girl there wanted to run and explore. She was awfully cute. Have I said that yet? It’s cool though because you can see how their legs blend in with the trees in the foreground, and you can kind of imagine what it’s like when they blend into their native forests.

Okapis are part of the Species Survival Plans Program and are a perfect illustration of how zoos benefit and promote species conservation. These animals are SO elusive in the wild that there is almost no way to study them. By observing them in captivity and learning about their reproduction and husbandry, we can learn to manage their populations and hopefully supplement the wild population. There is also a movement to educate people about so-called “bushmeat” which is often okapi or other endangered hoofstock and the like.

I think these animals a pretty cool, though I’ve only seen them a handful of times. If you’re interested in reading more about them, the San Diego Zoo’s website has some good stuff, as does the Okapi Conservation Project. ^_^

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