Top 18 in ’18

By Katherine Spada

As 2018 draws to a close, join us for a look back at 18 of our favorite memories from this past year at the L.A. Zoo.

The L.A. Zoo’s first-ever female okapi calf, born on November 10, 2017, made her public debut in January 2018 after spending the first months of life bonding with her mother and the animal care team behind the scenes. She is the second offspring for mother Opey and the first for father Jackson, who were paired together as part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) program with the goal of increasing the okapi population which is rapidly declining in the wild.

The Los Angeles Zoo contributes funds to The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP). The okapi is an important flagship species for the rainforest habitat that is rapidly vanishing due to expansion of human settlement, deforestation, and forest degradation.

Among the binturongs’ unique adaptations is the uncanny similarity between the odor emitted by their scent glands and the smell of buttered popcorn! The Zoo’s new arrivals came from Zoo Boise, though the male is on loan from the Brookfield Zoo. Wild binturong populations are decreasing, and the species has been classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With Raine and Lemuel, the Los Angeles Zoo is participating in the Species Survival Plan in the hopes that the pair will breed.

The Creative Animal Foundation’s U.S. Tiny Home Tour stopped at the L.A. Zoo on March 3, in celebration of World Wildlife Day! Tour hosts Stephanie Arne and Tim Davison have embarked on a grassroots tour on behalf of their foundation’s mission to challenge themselves and others to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Four males arrived from Zoo de Granby in Granby, Quebec in September 2017 and three females came from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas in January 2018. The group was a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) program.

Seven critically endangered Peninsular pronghorn fawns were born at the L.A. Zoo between March 4 and April 8, 2018. Born on March 6 and 9, the Zoo welcomed two male Sichuan takin calves. On March 13, two female ocelot kittens were born. On April 4, two endangered Chacoan peccary piglets were born. Finally, on April 6, the L.A. Zoo welcomed a female Eastern bongo calf. General Curator Beth Schaefer says, “A majority of our offspring this season are all members of AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs which aim to keep the North American populations of these species sustainable while also creating an insurance population, so these animals don’t disappear from the planet.”

6. Sustainable Bird Gardens Planted Throughout Zoo

“In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate the ‘Year of the Bird’ and commit to protecting birds today and for the next hundred years.” —National Geographic

The 2018 Beastly Ball honored animal expert and conservationist “Jungle” Jack Hanna and featured the debut of a conservation mural diptych by artist and Beautify Earth co-founder Ruben Rojas. Rock super group Roadcase Royale‘s Nancy Wilson (one of the founding members of legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Heart) and Liv Warfield (former Prince’s New Power Generation band member/R&B singer) join rock icon Slash, renowned pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, the L.A. All-Star Band led by Music Director Martin Guigui, and others to headline an extraordinary “Concert for Conservation.” Showcasing the enormous impact the Zoo has on animal conservation both locally and internationally, this year’s signature fundraiser took place on the heels of national Endangered Species Day to underscore the Zoo’s commitment to saving animals from extinction.

The Los Angeles Zoo has successfully reproduced over 2,000 Southern mountain yellow-legged frog tadpoles, an endangered species of amphibian native to the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. The tadpoles are the offspring of two groups of adult frogs the Zoo took into its care as tadpoles in 2014 when it was asked to create an insurance colony for this species on the brink of extinction.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“For thousands of years, mountain yellow-legged frogs thrived in hundreds of streams across the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains. Since the 1960s, the species has been decimated by fires, mudslides, pesticides, fungal infections, loss of habitat and the appetites of nonnative trout, bullfrogs and crayfish.

“Today, fewer than 400 are believed to exist in isolated wild populations, including a group of about 20 clinging to existence in an upper tributary of Big Rock Creek on the northern slopes of San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.”

Wombat joey with mom Olga; photo by Jamie Pham.

A male southern hairy-nosed wombat was born on May 15 to first-time parents Olga and Murray. The joey spent some months continuing its development in Olga’s pouch after birth, and can now occasionally be seen on-exhibit in the Australia habitat’s nocturnal house. The L.A. Zoo is one of only four in the country that take care of wombats, making our little family of three one-third of the total population of wombats (just nine) in U.S. zoos!

Thanks to grants from the Los Angeles Zoo’s Ornato Animal Keeper Advanced Studies Fund, in the past year L.A. Zoo animal care staff members had the opportunity to train horses and rangers for a new mounted anti-poaching patrol unit in South Africa, attend a conservation conference about bearded vultures, and more.

In addition to the May 15 birth of a female Masai giraffe calf to mother Hasina and father Philip, there was more good news coming out of the L.A. Zoo for the giraffe population. Animal keeper Mike Bona traveled to Namibia to participate in the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF)’s longest-running project, a census of giraffes in the research area near Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.

On July 14, 2018, members of the chimpanzee care and conservation communities from around the globe celebrated the first ever World Chimpanzee Day.  The chimpanzee troop that the L.A. Zoo cares for is one of the largest in North America, and our celebration included educational “chimp chats,” a demonstration of chimpanzee enrichment (habitat features, puzzles, and playthings), and an observation station to practice primatology.

24-year-old female western lowland gorilla Ndjia arrived from her previous home at the San Diego Zoo on May 9, 2018. Ndjia was paired with the L.A. Zoo’s male silverback gorilla, Kelly, through a Species Survival Plan (SSP) program that breeds western lowland gorillas in order to ensure the survival of a species that is considered critically endangered in the wild.

13. YouTube Star James Charles Lets Zoo Animals “Pick” His Makeup

Makeup artist and teen YouTube sensation James Charles filmed a video at the L.A. Zoo as his contribution to the “animals pick my makeup” video prompt that was trending earlier this year. By learning about and interacting with animals and Zoo staff, he was able to share our conservation message with his 12-million-plus subscribers.

On September 23, 2018, Dr. Jane Goodall, a United Nations messenger of Peace and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, spoke at the L.A. Zoo in celebration of the United Nations International Day of Peace. Members of Roots & Shoots, the Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program, participated in the symbolic flying of the program’s signature Giant Peace Dove Puppet, a globally known symbol for peace. The celebration also included demonstrations by area Roots & Shoots groups, and a performance by award-winning duo Andy & Renee.

Newborn Coquerel's sifaka; photo by Jamie Pham.

A male baby sifaka was born on September 12 to first-time parents Leopolda and Nelson. Like humans, non-human babies are completely dependent upon mom, and mature slowly. This species, the Coquerel’s sifaka, is endangered, and every baby born is a success for the conservation efforts to ensure this species’ survival.

16. Arrival of New Zoo Nutritionist

Suggested beverage pairing to go with browse? Saliva. Photo by Jamie Pham.

Zoo Nutritionist Emily Schwartz joined the Los Angeles Zoo Animal Care team in September 2018. She holds a Master’s Degree in Animal Science with a concentration in animal nutrition from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Schwartz came to us from Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay, and has also worked at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens‘ commissary, as well as at various veterinary hospitals.

Pete Nelson and the crew from Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters built a custom treehouse for the François’ langur monkey habitat at the L.A. Zoo for their season eleven episode, “Climb-In Drive-In.”

Our sincere thanks go out to everyone who voted for L.A. Zoo Lights for the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Zoo Lights. Thanks to your support, we made the top ten! L.A. Zoo Lights occurs nightly through January 6, 2019.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this celebration of the wonderful things that have happened at the L.A. Zoo in 2018. We look forward to the many new memories that will be made in the new year!