A Message from the Vet - March 2011
The Honolulu Zoo

Last month we celebrated Valentine's day, and love was in the air, especially at the Honolulu Zoo! My family decided to take advantage of the evening zoo tour called Cupid's Tails. This private tour offered to zoo members only explored the courting rituals of the animals housed at the zoo.

We first checked out the flamingos at the zoo entrance. It was interesting to note that flamingos are somewhat monogamous, keeping their option to choose a more suitable mate in following years. For flamingos to breed, the conditions must be just right. Enough resources must be available, and an entire flock of flamingos must be present. Like other birds, flamingos also build nests, but theirs are mounds of mud that can be as tall as 3 feet! During the process of development, the mother and father flamingos will communicate with their offspring even before it hatches so that the chick is able to recognize and follow the parents at birth. One of the flamingos bred at the zoo was actually accidentally knocked out of the nest into the water over night. Surprisingly the chick was still alive when found the next morning, so zoo staff brought the egg indoors to incubate in the veterinary facility. During this time, the chick was exposed to the voices of humans, so when he hatched, he had imprinted to humans! The zoo had to adjust the facility to keep the little one from approaching the public.

We then visited the white-handed gibbons, which are actually an ape, not a monkey. An easy way to determine if an animal is an ape or a monkey is whether or not they have a tail. Monkeys have a tail; apes do not. Gibbons live in groups of 8 to 15 individuals. When they reach maturity, they begin to call out in search of a mate. Once a family unit is formed, they will sing a song together in the evening that starts out as low whoots and eventually ends in high pitched screeches. The gibbons at the zoo currently have a family unit that includes a male, a female, and their offspring (another female). These animals are 30+ years old and are much older than their relatives in the wild.

The gharials are crocodilians which spend a lot of their time in the water. They have long skinny snouts, and the males have a bump on the end of their snouts. This bump serves to make a buzzing sound that serve as a warning system for other males. Gharials live in a group of one male with five to six females. When the season comes to breed, the female will often approach the male and climb on his back, at which time the male will role over and pin the female. It is very difficult to breed gharials in captivity though it is currently being attempted in several places around the world. Unfortunately these creatures have been pushed very close to extinction even with few efforts being made to protect them.

Last, we visited the elephants. Currently the Honolulu Zoo houses two Indian elephants. Indian elephants are a subgroup of the Asian elephants, which are smaller than African elephants. While African elephants are taller, bigger, and have larger ears, Asian elephants can weigh from 6000-11000 lbs. Elephants are able to communicate via sound waves that are below the frequencies humans can hear. These sounds can travel several kilometers! Males are considered mature around the age of 20 and periodically enter a stage called musth. This is a period when they will compete for females and can be very aggressive. It is very difficult to breed elephants in captivity; even in the wild, an average female may only give birth to four offspring in her lifetime. The Honolulu Zoo is currently working to upgrade their elephant habitat to a much larger space with a pool for the elephants to enjoy.

These were just a few of the animals featured during this very informative tour. The Honolulu Zoo is working hard to educate its visitors and contribute to conservation efforts to save many species of endangered animals. For more information regarding the animals and the Zoo's efforts, please visit their website at www.honoluluzoo.org.

Candice Denham, DVM


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