Sunday, May 31, 2020

Animal Facts and Animal Snacks---Season 1!

All of Season 1 of Animal Facts and Animal Snacks, my new animal-themed podcast, is now online! You can listen on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any of your favorite podcast apps. Each episode is accompanied by a themed snack and original artwork by my co-host, Nicole DiLeo. If you make the treats, you can snack and listen along with us!

Episode 1: Pigs
Episode 2: Tigers
Episode 3: Wolves and Werewolves
Episode 4: Bears
Minisode 1: Turkeys
Episode 5: Crocodiles
Episode 6: Sloths
Minisode 2: Animal Heroes
Episode 7: Killer Whales
Episode 8: Okapi (with special guest zookeeper!)
Minisode 3: Animal Trivia
Episode 9: Hedgehogs
Episode 10: Pandas

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Animal Facts and Animal Snacks--New Episodes!

Animal Facts and Animal Snacks, my new animal-themed podcast, has new episodes! You can listen on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any of your favorite podcast apps. Check out some of our recent episodes: if you make the treats, you can snack and listen along with us!

Episode 1: Pigs
Episode 2: Tigers
Episode 3: Wolves and Werewolves
Episode 4: Bears
Minisode 1: Turkeys
Episode 5: Crocodiles

All original art is by my co-host, Nicole DiLeo

Visit Animal Facts and Animal Snacks on Facebook
Listen to the episodes on Anchor

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Global Tiger Day 2018

Sumatran tiger Debbie. Photo courtesy of SDZG.
Get ready for Global Tiger Day 2018 on Sunday, July 29, 2018; join us at the Safari Park to celebrate these endangered charismatic big cats!
Stroll to Tull Family Tiger Trail, where our nine Sumatran tigers will enjoy special enrichment releases—mesmerizing to watch! Visitors can get to know the cats better through keeper talks, training demonstrations, and conservation displays throughout the day. To get you in a tiger frame of mind, here are updates about the “streak” of tigers at the Park.
To read more, check out:

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

World Okapi Day!

Mahameli. Photo courtesy of Todd Lahman.
Get ready for World Okapi Day 2018 on Thursday, October 18th. We will be celebrating these elusive, endangered animals all day long at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Photo courtesy of Cindie Sweitzer.
Okapi are not hybridizations of multiple animals, like most people expect. In fact, okapi are actually not closely related to horses or zebras; their closest living relative is the giraffe. But okapi and giraffes look very different from one another. Okapi are a rich chocolate-brown color with black and white stripes on their hind ends. Okapi are only about six feet tall; males weigh 440-660 pounds and females weigh 500-770 pounds. Since okapi live in forests, unlike giraffes which live on open plains, okapi have to be much smaller and more compact to navigate their dense habitats. And unlike giraffes, okapi are often solitary. However, okapi and giraffes share many common features. Like giraffes, okapi have 14-18 inch long prehensile tongues to help them browse. However, unlike giraffes which mainly eat acacia, okapi can eat about 100 different types of plants, including species that are toxic to other animals! And like giraffes, okapi communicate infrasonically. This is useful because a mother and calf can have a conversation without alerting a predator, because most predators, like humans, can't hear such low-pitch sounds. Additionally, like giraffes, okapi splay their legs to drink from the ground.  Like giraffes, okapi are ruminants. And like giraffes, okapis have a gestational period of about 14 months. But it is not just their giraffe-like features that make this species unique. 
Mahameli and Makini.
Photo courtesy of Cindie Sweitzer.

Okapi are perfectly suited to their equatorial tropical rainforest habitat  in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Because of these adaptations, they were not discovered by the Western world until the 20th century, even though they are one of the oldest mammals on Earth. Okapis' independently swiveling ears allow them to pick up the sound of an approaching human or predator. Their oily hair acts like a raincoat and protects them from constant rainfall in the Ituri Forest. This oily coat also helps the okapi evade predation from leopards--the leopards just slide right off when they try to sink their claws in! Okapis' stripes allow them to camouflage into the dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves in the rainforest. Additionally, each okapi's stripes are unique and enable a calf to follow its mother through the foliage, giving the stripes the name "follow me markings." These distinctive traits make okapi one of the most sought-after species in zoos.    

The Safari Park received our first okapi pair in 1978 and our breeding program has been incredibly successful since then. The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park participate in a collaborative breeding program with the Species Survival Plan to create genetically robust assurance populations of okapi. In fact, the Zoo and Safari Park combined have produced over 70 okapi calves, which have been transferred all over the world to participate in breeding programs of their own to support the survival of this incredible species.

Zuri wearing his halter.
Photo courtesy of Noah Eye.
Today, the Safari Park is home to six okapi. Makini, the matriarch of the group, is 20 years old and has raised five calves. Makini is friendly, patient, and a favorite of other okapi and keepers alike. Nanoki, the most genetically valuable male in human care, is 23 years old and a newer arrival at the Safari Park. Zuri, Makini's spunky son, was born at the Safari Park. He is now ten years old, halter-trained, and has produced two sons of his own. Matoke is six years old and loves ear scratches and face rubs. Mbaya, a nine year old female, is on breeding loan to the Safari Park from the San Diego Zoo. She has been a great mother in the past, so fingers crossed that she and Nanoki have a calf! Mahameli, the newest addition to the barn, is almost two years old. She loves keeper attention and okapi Makini, who acts like her surrogate mother.

In addition to our six okapi, the Safari Park is also home to three red river hogs and two yellow-backed duikers, who are all endemic to the same rainforest habitat. Okapi are only found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, primarily in the Ituri Forest. In fact, the DRC is the most biologically diverse country in Africa, and is home to 1,500 species of plants and animals, including okapi. Okapi are not only a cultural symbol in the Congo, but they are an umbrella species: protecting the okapi protects all of the animals who share their habitat, like elephants, chimpanzees, and gorillas. Okapi also play a vital role in the rainforest ecosystem. They eat 40-65 pounds of leaves each day, which prunes the foliage and allows for new growth in the forest. 

Photo courtesy of Cindie Sweitzer.
Unfortunately, due to deforestation, poaching, and mining, the wild okapi population has decreased by 50% in the last 15 years. Luckily, the Okapi Conservation Project helped create the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in 1992. The Reserve is a 13,700 square kilometer area in the Ituri Forest--four times the size of Yosemite National Park! Not only does the Reserve support the okapi and other native wildlife, but it supports the Mbuti and Efe pygmy people who depend on the forest for their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Additionally, the Okapi Conservation Project supports other vital projects in the Ituri Forest, like anti-poaching patrols, community assistance and medical care, and education programs.
Photo courtesy of Cindie Sweitzer.

But you don't have to travel all the way to the Ituri Forest to help save okapi. You can help by visiting the Safari Park or another okapi facility. The Safari Park and other accredited zoos are non-profits, so the money you spend visiting okapi goes directly towards okapi food, vet care, and conservation. You can also recycle your old cell phones. Cell phones contain a mineral called coltan, which is mined in the forests of the DRC. Coltan can be reused from recycled cell phones, which means less mining in okapi habitat. And finally, you can support okapi by donating to the Okapi Conservation Project or the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. One hundred percent of the proceeds from either donation will help end extinction and protect okapi and their disappearing habitat.
On World Okapi Day, the Safari Park has some special activities planned! Zookeepers will be stationed in front of the okapi exhibit all day to talk with visitors and disseminate conservation information. Kids can color okapi and red river hog pages, grab a fistful of candy, and touch okapi biofacts, like skulls and fur. Parents can donate their cell phones to minimize mining in wild okapi habitat.We hope you visit us at the Safari Park on Thursday, October 18th for World Okapi Day to connect with our six okapi, learn more about their behavior and natural history, and support our conservation efforts to save these amazing animals. Come chat about stripes, tongues, and coltan with us!   

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

New Animal-Themed Podcast!

I've started a new animal-themed podcast with my friend Nicole! The podcast is called Animal Facts and Animal Snacks. In each episode, we discuss an animal and eat a yummy snack themed to that animal. In future episodes, we will talk about animal careers, conservation projects, and crises facing animals all over the world. The first episode is about pigs and just officially went live. In this episode, we eat fondant pigs sitting in dark chocolate pudding mud wallows. Check it out!

Listen to Episode 1 on Anchor
Check out Animal Facts and Animal Snacks on Facebook

Sunday, July 30, 2017

World Elephant Day 2017

Have You Herd? World Elephant Day is Here!

Photo Courtesy of Kim Mcleod
Get ready for World Elephant Day on August 12, 2017, in celebration of the world’s largest land mammal! Global Conservation Force is celebrating both African and Asian elephants with brewery nights at Pacific Plate Brewery Taproom in LA on August 12th and Intergalactic Brewing Company in San Diego on August 13th. Join us in support of our conservation efforts to save these magnificent animals...
To continue reading, visit

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Global Tiger Day 2017

Get ready for Global Tiger Day 2017 on Saturday, July 29, in celebration of these incredible, endangered animals! At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we will celebrate our nine Sumatran tigers with enrichment releases, keeper talks, training demonstrations, and conservation displays throughout the day at Tiger Trail...

To read the rest of this blog post, visit San Diego Zoo Global ZOONOOZ.