Keeper Blog

Our new Keeper Blog will give us an opportunity to tell you about some of the exciting animal happenings at White Oak from an animal keeper’s perspective.  The blog will also give you a chance to meet some of the people who make our successes possible, and to find out what it’s like to care for rhinos, giraffe, and cheetahs.

You can also check out the Meet our Team page to learn more about the people that make White Oak’s mission possible.


Sunset Safari from the Keepers’ Side

Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Specialist

-March 2014-

I am excited for this week’s Sunset Safari. A Sunset Safari at White Oak is an afternoon tour of the wildlife area along with a delicious dinner. You make stops along the tour to get a closer look at some of the unique endangered species.
Sometimes, I get to do a cheetah encounter. I get to choose which cats to show off to the guest and talk to them about our cheetah program. Recently, I have been showing off Scarlet and her 3 boys. Scarlet is an experienced mother born here at White Oak. Her cubs are now 8 months old and full of energy. They took a big step last week and moved to a new enclosure – from the enclosure they were born in, to a much larger enclosure surrounded by other cheetahs and lots of enriching landscape. They have not fully adjusted to the space or neighbors but I’ll do my best to lure them closer to the people for the Sunset Safari!


An Awkward Age for a Wattled Crane

Andrew Schumann, Animal Specialist

-March 8, 2013-

On January 27, 2013, a wattled crane chick hatched at White Oak.  After spending time in our incubators, the chick, still in its egg, was put under his parents the day before he was due to hatch.  The day he hatched, the little fuzzball with baby wattles was looked over by the veterinarian and weighed to ensure he was healthy.

Since hatching, the chick has grown very fast under the watchful care of his parents, gaining an additional 10-15 percent of its body weight every day!  This rapid growth rate makes the now much bigger chick not only very delicate, but extremely clumsy.   Shown below is the crane chick in his big clumsy stage of about one month old.  Our chick has been confirmed a male by blood test (the only way zoologists can tell at his age), and is continuing to grow big and strong.  One day we hope this bird will be paired with a mate and raise young of their own, in cooperation with the Wattled Crane Species Survival Plan, and that our efforts for the species at White Oak contribute to the conservation of wattled cranes.  Wattled cranes are found in sub-saharan Africa and can stand over 6 feet tall.


The Interns First Zebra Week

Kate Harman, Animal Care Intern

-March 4, 2013-

As a new Intern at White Oak you are notified early of a strenuous, action-packed week known only as zebra week. All the keepers talk about it, prepare for it, and tell you to work out and get ready. Luckily we had some time to get our bearings after we started at White Oak in January; all the while anticipating February 18th– the week that had been marked on keeper calendars since before our arrival. And what a week it was!

Zebra week is when the White Oak animal care and veterinary staff get together to anesthetize each of the entire heard of 15 endangered Grevy’s zebra for their annual exams.  Each zebra gets vaccinations, a dental work, and their hooves trimmed.  They also undergo a thorough health check and the mares are checked for possible pregnancy.  In addition, the three foals born in 2012 are given identification tags and the new young herd stallion checked for sexual maturity.  It’s like a day at the doctor, dentist, and spa all-in-one for each zebra.

As interns we learned so much. We helped animal collections manager Scotty Wade sort out each zebra into an individual corral for the veterinarians, Dr.Scott Citino and Dr. Paige Brock, to easily dart them with the anesthetic drugs. Every single one is different, so the veterinary staff is very careful in estimating the size and weight for the proper dosage of anesthesia. It was really amazing how much experience they have, because each animal was anesthetized safely and easily.  The animal specialists (and us interns) load the 600-800 pounds zebras onto a special flat-bed trailer so that we can start trimming hooves.  Scotty and animal specialist Wane Hemphill showed us how to trim and shape the hooves so the zebra would have healthy feet for the rest of the year.  This was awesome to me as someone who has trimmed horse hooves before, but this was a totally new experience!

After all the work is done, it’s time to unload the zebra and get them back in a position for the veterinarians to give them the antidote to the anesthesia drugs, which wakes them up.  We learned well from animal specialist Tim President how to safely help the zebra back to its feet and return it to the herd. And all this is done in about an hour each!

Zebra week is very intense, but a lot of fun too. The staff is wonderful and we had a great time learning from people who are experts in the field. There is always a lot of work to be done at an animal facility this large- and during zebra week there were the rest of the animals to care for, food shipments, other animals that needed veterinary treatment, and even a neonatal exam on a new bongo calf.

This week we are back to the normal grind, and very grateful that the weather last week was warmer than it is now. White Oak staff definitely has zebra week down to a science, and thank you all so much for teaching us a ton!

The New Cheetah Cub Trio

Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Specialist

November 26, 2012

A cheetah’s gestation period is anywhere from 92-95 days.  As ‘day 92’ approaches, we are looking for signs of labor. On day 91, cheetah mother Sweeney did not come up for her morning meal and was active the entire day (some of the first signs of labor.) We do have cameras recording her den activity, but with Sweeney being a first time mom, we wanted to monitor the labor live. Karen, White Oak’s cheetah expert, stayed all night in the observation house waiting for Sweeney to show signs of labor. I was at home, with my phone in hand, waiting for updates. Sweeney had entered the den, but was peacefully sleeping.

I anxiously went into work on Monday, but did not expect anything to happen during the day because I assumed Sweeney would feel more comfortable giving birth at night when it was quiet. Unlike the previous day, Sweeney came up for her morning meal. This made us think that the day before was a false alarm. Since Karen had stayed up all night and needed some sleep, I was assigned the job of monitoring Sweeney during the day.

On Karen’s way out, she went by to check the observation house cameras and immediately called when she saw Sweeney vocalizing while frantically walking in and out of her den. When I arrived, Sweeney did a couple circles and than gave birth to a cub.  She instantly started grooming the tiny cub and being very attentive. It happened so fast, I almost missed it!

One cub was good, but not ideal. Cheetahs will usually not raise single cubs, so we needed at least one more. Within the next half hour, Sweeney gave birth to another cub. She seemed a little confused by what was going on, but maternal instincts kicked in and over powered her first-time mom confusion. Since Sweeney had not gained much weight, Karen and I were settling with the idea of two cubs. But to our surprise, she had a third. She groomed everyone clean and allowed them to nurse for the rest of the day and night. She comes out in the morning for her diet but returns to the den to care for her trio for majority of the day.

We are proud to announce Sweeney had two males and a female. She struggled a little with her leg placement during nursing, but she has quickly matured into a proud cheetah mom.

Read more about the cheetah cubs here

Time Flies

Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Specialist

November 8, 2012

The other day, I drove past Omi and Isa’s enclosure not believing it was them walking the fence line. They looked like ‘real’ cheetahs! Omi and Isa turn a year old this month. I remember sitting in the observation house watching Pia give birth to the two little girls on the tiny 10” monitor connected to the camera in their den. I watched their first nursing.  Their mother did not take care of them and at almost a week old, they had to be pulled for hand rearing.

Most animals at White Oak are well-cared for by their mothers, due in part to our large, naturalistic enclosures, biologically correct social groups, and the quiet provided by 7,400 acres.  However, occasionally issues arise and hand rearing is the only way to ensure the health of the babies.  And it takes a lot of people, time and energy to hand rear cheetahs. There was an animal keeper with Omi and Isa every minute for the first month and a half of their lives because they were so tiny and vulnerable and because they needed bottle feedings every two hours.  I, along with three other keepers, played the role of cheetah mom. I was there when they opened their eyes, and watched them bounce into everything until their vision finally became clear. I was there when we moved them to an outdoor enclosure and had to walk them around to ensure the enclosure was safe to explore. I saw them transform from brownish-black fuzz balls to beautiful spotted cheetahs. Both girls have such different personalities, which have shown through since they were only weeks old!

Today, Omi and Isa are 70 lbs. of lean agile cheetah. Like most juveniles, their day is full of stalking, running and wrestling with each other. They are still young, but it has been an absolutely amazing experience to see them grow.  We hope they will help us save cheetahs – making all the hard work worth it.

Kadir versus the palm frond

Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Specialist

October 27, 2012

Kadir is an Anatolian shepherd- a dog breed that originated in Turkey.  He is a working guard dog, possessing a superior ability to protect livestock.  At White Oak he lives with a cheetah named Hasari.  Hasari was born a single cub in 2007, and had to be hand-reared by White Oak staff.  When deciding what breed of dog to raise with Hasari to help her socialization and wellness, we looked to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia.  The Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Livestock Guarding Dog Program provides Anatolian shepherds to Namibian ranchers to protect their livestock from big cats and reduce the instances of cheetahs being trapped and killed.  The Anatolian shepherd’s large size, vicious barks and rugged nature makes them perfect for the job.  They protect livestock while conserving wild cheetahs- a conservation win-win.

One of Kadir’s favorite things here at White Oak: dead palm fronds.

Kadir waits under the palm tree for the dead frond to fall.  Once it finally drops, he carries it around like a trophy while searching for the perfect place to shred it to pieces.  Hasari slowly approaches, but Kadir has claimed this palm frond as his and only his. He barks and jumps around her, scaring her off. He goes back to his frond, tossing pieces everywhere, and then settles down to chew on the branch.  Although protective of his frond, Kadir is 125 pounds of sweetness! Come take a tour of White Oak and see Kadir.

Joey, our new cheetah male

Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Specialist                                                                                               

October 13, 2012-   

After months of planning and paperwork, Joey has finally arrived!  Joey is a 3 year old male, and a very important cheetah.  He is important because his bloodlines are underrepresented in North America.  If Joey breeds and produces cubs, the cubs will strengthen the cheetah population in North America.  He came to White Oak from Cincinnati Zoo because he is a great match for many of our female cheetahs.

Joey was fed in a crate and loaded into a van and driven straight from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Yulee, Florida.  When we released Joey from his crate into the enclosure, he burst out full speed.  Within 20 feet he froze, suddenly realizing he was no longer in Ohio! He was a statue for about 3 minutes and then his nose went to work.  He smelled every inch of the enclosure and ran around his new home.

We plan to introduce Joey to another male named Rico.  It will be a slow process, but eventually we will try to keep them together in a two-cheetah coalition.  This not only saves enclosure space, but gives us a backup male in case one of them gets “cold feet” when breeding a female.  We plan to breed him next year with two of our females and we can’t wait!

Journey through the wilderness of El Consuelo

Andrew Schumann, Animal Specialist

December 2011

White Oak animal care specialist Andrew Schumann traveled to Colombia, South Americato visit the Andean Condor release site in Belen. This is the spot in the Colombian Andes where the two condors from White Oak were released earlier in 2010. The condor release and Andrew’s trip were supported in part by a grant from the Phoenix Zoo Conservation Fund. Andrew accompanied Dr. Alan Lieberman and Dr. James Sheppard from San Diego Zoo Global, who were there to train the Andean condor guards on new methods of radio telemetry they had designed in their lab in San Diego. Their plan was to capture one of the released birds and place radio transmitters on them for monitoring while training the condor guards in the system’s usage. Andrew’s blog describes his Colombian experiences and the connections he made for White Oak with the condor recovery team.

11/30: A long day of travel. I tried to hail a cab at the airport after I landed and it was difficult. There were many “taxis” trying to give me rides. Found a good one and hopped in. I made it to Hotel Ibis and I was taken back by the size of the buildings around me. I can’t wait to see how it looks in the daytime. I was completely out of breath after the flight of stairs to the hotel. I guess it didn’t matter that I was in shape, the air was just too thin!

12/1: Woke up and hopped straight to the window- wow! A city built amongst thickly vegetated mountains? It was beautiful. Alan Lieberman had a meeting with the Ministry of Environment and so I waited for him to pick me up afterwards at the hotel. I birdwatched outside and saw a bunch of Eared Dove, Rufous Collared Sparrows, Great Thrush, and Black Vultures. I was jumping out of my skin and I couldn’t wait to see Andean Condors, even though I knew it may not happen. I looked in the lobby and saw two guys and one was pointing at me (I guess they knew it was me because I had binoculars around my neck). It was Alan Lieberman and Dr. James Sheppard. Alan was joking around and apologizing for taking so long. I was really excited to finally meet both of them. He went over the itinerary with me and said that they didn’t catch the two female condors that I helped care for at White Oak. He said that it had been raining bad and that the birds weren’t flying much. I was incredibly disappointed; I really wanted to see what they looked like now. Were they bigger? Would their behavior be different? However, I was so excited to be in Colombia that I didn’t mind much. Outside I met Miguel and Paco. These two guys worked for Fundacion Neotropical- the NGO responsible for the releases and subsequent monitoring of Condors in Boyaca. They released the birds held at White Oak. They were incredibly friendly, funny, and passionate about the Andean Condor Program. We headed off to hail a cab to get to Miguel’s truck outside the city. This is the vehicle we were taking to Tunja, the capital of the department of Boyaca. The entire taxi ride I was asking Alan all about the program. After hearing the details of the program, I was glad White Oak  was participating in the Andean Condor Recovery program in Colombia. Despite facing many challenges, the program has continued for over 20 years! We eventually got to the truck and headed out to Tunja. It was about a 3 hour drive, and the roads were rough.

12/2: Woke up and had breakfast at the hotel in Tunja. We met Juan Carlos and Fausto there. Juan Carlos worked for Fundacion Neotropical as well, and Fausto was a Ph.D. student in Boyaca to be studying the released Andean Condors. Fausto and I talked about Cracids afterwards and he certainly knew the conservation issues regarding these birds in his country. We hopped in a cab and went to the University ofTunja, where Alan presented on the Andean Condor Recovery Program and Dr. Sheppard presented on telemetry. This is where I learned of the extent of ground-breaking work accomplished by Dr. Sheppard, especially with California Condors. Fausto may be doing the same type of telemetry work as Dr. Sheppard but with the Andean Condors. There were a number of students and participants of the Recovery at the presentations. I met a number of people involved in the program like Andres, Ulga,Carolina, and many more. The Colombian biologists, veterinarians, and conservationists were exceptionally passionate about the program. The presentation was a great idea- it got people interested in the program.

Afterwards, all participants in the recovery program headed to Belen. It was there that we all met in an auditorium to go over the telemetry equipment, and in detail the telemetry software. Again, it was amazing to see everyone strictly concentrating to learn this software to help conserve a species. I felt proud to be one of the many participants of the program.

12/3: The team headed to the town square in Belen. Dr. Sheppard had the solar-powered GPS transmitter with him to charge in the sun. I gave out White Oak hats and a few tee shirts to the crew. They really loved them, and every single person wore the hats for the rest of the day. It took some time to try to explain in Spanish what White Oak does, but they really seemed to like our mission and what we do. After the transmitter found satellites and was fully charged, we got a taxi and went up into the mountain next to Belen to see if it would take appropriate readings. This was one of the highlights of my trip.

I saw so much wildlife and the unique ecosystem found above treeline, called Paramo, was incredible. We stopped on the top of the mountain and walked around. I was really excited to potentially catch a glimpse of a condor, but it was raining and I knew that it probably wouldn’t happen. The release site was only a few mountains away. We walked around and the guys taught me about the vegetation and wildlife. I saw some great birds, but no condors! I was happy in knowing they were out there somewhere. I was profoundly content and I really did not want to leave! Eventually we headed back to the taxi and descended back to Belen to check our readings. Unfortunately the transmitter wasn’t working. Dr. Sheppard was very disappointed, as was the Recovery Team. But they now knew how to use the telemetry, and after receiving a new transmitter they will be able to attach it to an Andean Condor and receive the subsequent data. This data will help the Recovery Team monitor the reintroduced Condors and therefore help conserve the species in Colombia.We headed back to Bogota that evening. I felt very fortunate to be in Colombia, to meet the Andean Condor Recovery Team, and to be involved in Andean Condor in-situ conservation. I learned a great deal on this trip. It was great to meet Alan Lieberman. He is a huge figure in the conservation field, and he showed me how to inspire people to conserve their wildlife and how to be a conservationist of action. Dr. Sheppard taught me the latest in wildlife telemetry. The Recovery Team exhibited great hospitality towards me, and taught me about their country and the Andean Condors that lie within. I want to thank all mentioned above, and of course White Oak. I was fortunate in representing White Oak in Colombia. I was very fortunate that I could introduce the work we do at White Oak to those conserving wildlife like Andean Condors in Colombia.