Our Wattled Cranes do it again…

Happy #Gruidae! Get it? Gruidae? That’s the scientific family name for cranes. And today’s featured Gruidae is our wattled cranes and their chick that hatched on January 10th of this year.

Wattled cranes (Bugeranus carunculata) are known for their distinctive ‘wattles’ and are the tallest of the African cranes. They stand almost 4 ft. in height, have a wingspan of up to 8.5 feet, and can weigh up to 20 lbs. That’s a big bird.
But wattled cranes don’t start out that way. The chick weighed 142 grams when it hatched. That’s 0.31 lbs, or about the size of a baseball. 

The chick is weighed regularly during its first few weeks to ensure it is healthy and gaining weight


After spending a couple of the days on the nest, gathering strength, the chick began to follow its parents around, accepting every bit of food they offered it. Because of the amount of food it consumes (mainly tubers, rhizomes, seeds, insects, and small vertebrates) and the amazing care given by the parents, this little one will increase its body weight by 10% every day. Every. Day. Can you imagine if your kids gained 10% of their body weight every day? No wonder it takes both parents to feed this chick! 

Speaking of the parents, this is not their first time raising a ‘baseball’. They have been raising chicks here at White Oak since 2005 and are very experienced. The female, at ~46 years old, is the oldest wattled crane in the U.S. population. Cranes are known to live a long time and she is no exception.
Want to learn more about our ‘Major League’ bird programs here at White Oak? (Oh yeah, we just said that). Check out our website: http://bit.ly/WObirds
After all ,every day is Gruidae!

Dr. Scott Citino, the Rhino Matchmaker

What do Indonesia and White Oak have in common? A veterinarian and a rhino! Indonesia is home to one of the rarest species of rhinos in the world – the Sumatran rhino. For a few years, one of them, Harapan, lived at White Oak. Harapan, who was born at the Cincinnati Zoo, went back to his home country in 2015 when rhino experts decided that he would better benefit his species at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra.Sumatran rhinos are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  There may be less than 100 of them left in the wild, according to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), so preserving the species is essential.  This is where our Senior Veterinarian, Dr. Scott Citino comes in. Dr. Citino, working in collaboration with IRF, Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI) and White Oak Conservation, traveled to Indonesia to assist with the training and capacity building of the Indonesian veterinarians stationed at the SRS.

The reason for the trip was to collect and store semen from the two adult males, Andalas and Harapan, at the SRS.  Samples had been gathered in the past and banked but were poor quality (low sperm motility, or movement) so a slightly different technique was utilized during his last trip. They were successfully able to collect higher quality samples from these males. In fact, a sample obtained from Andalas was used to artificially inseminate Bina, the oldest female at SRS, after using new techniques in hormone therapy induce ovulation.  The semen sample collected from Harapan was better, so it was frozen and stored in the Genome Resource Bank at the SRS.

Sumatran rhinos are known to prefer some mates over others.  Bina, unfortunately, does not care for Andalas, so she won’t allow him to breed with her. Saving the species by assisting the Sumatran rhinos with reproduction was the best option to help usher in the next generation of these rare rhinos.  Bina may even be introduced to Harapan in the future to see if she prefers him! Did you know that veterinarians and wildlife experts are also experts in matchmaking? Right now, they are trying to pair Harapan with Ratu – a younger female that has had two calves sired by Andalas in the past.

Dr. Citino did not undertake this monumental task alone. Reproductive physiologists Terri Roth and Jessye Wojtusik from the Cincinnati Zoo helped out, Benn Bryant from Western Plains Zoo in Australia assisted, and the three SRS Indonesian veterinarians, Zulfi Arsan, Made Fera, and Agvinta Nilam played a crucial role as well.

While in Indonesia, the team also gave lectures to the Wildlife Group from the Indonesian Veterinary Medical Association (IVMA).  Dr. Citino’s talk was entitled “Megavertebrate Anesthesia and Clinical Cases in Zoological Medicine – What’s Your Diagnosis?”

A trip to the SRS is quite a long process which takes several days on average to complete.  We asked Dr. Citino what a typical trip to the other side of the world was like and he had this to say, “This particular trip started with me getting up at 3:30 a.m. on November 13 and driving to the Jacksonville airport for a 6:20 a.m. flight to Houston International airport.  I then I boarded the long flight from Houston to Narita, Tokyo International airport.  Fourteen hours later I landed in Tokyo and waited 2 hours for my next flight to Jakarta, Java, Indonesia.  The flight to Jakarta is about 8 hours long and arrives after midnight. The next morning I took a 40-minute flight to Bandar Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia.  From the airport, it is about a 2.5-hour drive to the SRS in Way Kambas National Park.”  …  Wow!  That’s quite a trip for a matchmaker!

The park helps to protect many other species of wildlife besides rhinos because they are a large, protected habitat. When asked what other species he saw, Dr. Scott said, “ I saw lots of bird and insect life, Water Monitors, Eurasian Wild boar, Red Muntjac, Lesser Mouse-Deer, Long-Tailed Macaque, Pig-Tailed Macaque, Siamang, Mitred Leaf Monkey, Agile Gibbon, Sunda Colugo (Malayan Flying Lemur), Sunda Slow Loris, Red Giant Flying Squirrel, Prevost’s Squirrel, Lesser Tree Shrew, and the Common Tree Shrew.”

Dr. Citino, and the others he worked with at SRS, are doing their utmost to save the endangered Sumatran rhino and protect the park for the many species that depend on it for their survival. We are proud he is a member of our team here at White Oak and that through him, we can do our part to save a species a world away.


Post-Irma Update: White Oak gets a little help from our (animal) friends!

In the wake of Hurricane Irma’s destructive path across the southeastern US, we would like to take this time to offer our sincerest condolences to everyone that was impacted by this major storm. Our thoughts go out to you all as you recover from the storm, and we want to sincerely thank everyone that checked in with us before, during and after Irma to make sure that White Oak was OK.

We are pleased to let you know that White Oak is doing fine, and more importantly, so are our species! While Hurricane Irma did impact White Oak, we are quickly bouncing back and are excited that we will be able to host guests again this week.


As many of you know, White Oak is proud to be the stewards of several miles of riverfront ecosystems along the St. Marys River. In the early morning hours on Monday, September 11, the St. Marys River progressively swelled when its banks could no longer contain the massive amounts of rainfall and storm surge from Irma. White Oak experienced flooding along our roads (seen above left), forests, and swamps, but it has almost completely subsided.

The hurricane ride-out team (below) arrived on Sunday to brave the storm and be the first on the ground to handle any hurricane-related issues as soon as they were able on Monday morning. They chainsawed fallen trees to clear roads, put sensitive species (such as our birds) back into their habitats after riding the storm out in safer, concrete buildings, and paved the way for the response team to access White Oak on Tuesday morning to begin the bulk of the work getting White Oak back to normal. There were many trees down, but nothing major that our team couldn’t jump into action and handle! And, with the help of our large herds of browsing antelope species, like the roan antelope pictured at the top of this post, we have been making significant progress on getting back to normal. Some of our species, like our new cheetah cubs, are even enjoying playing some hide-and-seek in downed tree limbs in their habitats!

While we continue recovering from the storm, we wish all of you a safe, speedy recovery as well. If you need a little adventure to take the hurricane off your mind, come see us for a tour or an event. It’s sure to help relieve the stress of the storm! Take care!

Farm to Table: White Oak’s Growing Garden

Since the beginning of my culinary career 5 years ago I’ve been a big supporter of the Farm-to-Table movement. I grew up in a small Midwestern town where we relied heavily on the local farmers for everything from produce, to milk, to meat, and I’ve always been drawn to companies that operate under that philosophy. When I moved back to the area from Dallas in October and stumbled across the job posting for White Oak, it was the perfect match. I’d heard about the property before and did a little research and was ecstatic to receive the job offer less than a week after applying.

There’s something very satisfying about being able to tell our guests that most of the items on their plate began in our modest garden, and although we aren’t completely self-sustainable yet, we’ve got a great start. I drive past the garden every morning on my way to the café and although it was here before I was, there’s a sense of personal pride that I work for a company that cares so much about the quality of the food that we serve that they decided we should be responsible for it in every stage, from planting, to harvesting, to the perfect seasoning and plate presentation.


In the future we hope to be able to operate almost entirely on produce grown on property, and we’re always looking for newer and better techniques for tending to our crops, as well as new varieties to plant. I’m personally hoping to be able to have some edible lavender and roses planted soon, as well as some exotic fruits so I can really step up my flavor game in the pastry department! I’m looking forward to the day I can present a dessert sourced almost entirely from the efforts and skills of the talented staff here at White Oak.

Carmen Staudenmaier, Pastry Chef 

A Day in the Life of a Veterinary Technician Intern

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a veterinary technician… for cheetahs? Or rhinos? No, those are not the animals you see at your every day animal clinic. Unless, of course, it is at the animal clinic at White Oak. Meet Corinne Gentile, LVT, who has been the Veterinary Technician Intern for the last six months here at White Oak. Corrine was kind enough to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to share her experiences working with the animals (and the people) that call White Oak home. Enjoy.

Sometimes I have to just stop and think about the magnitude of the position that I am in. It is beyond recognition being able to work every day with a multitude of endangered exotic species while obtaining invaluable experience to further my career goal of becoming a zoo veterinary technician.

lvtIIILet’s start from the beginning, when I stumbled upon this internship listing. I knew it would be an incredible opportunity for me so I spent a couple of years building upon my small animal medicine skills, ensuring I would be ready to apply that knowledge to larger exotic animals. When the time was right, I filled out the application, sent it in, and anxiously awaited a response. After what seemed like an eternity, I had an interview and then received the email of acceptance for the position shortly after. I couldn’t believe it. I was off to Florida for six months of career building, training and knowledge.

My first week I was working with Cheetah cubs and Rhinos. lvtIIJust being able to take part in the procedures was incredible. Soon after learning my responsibilities and internship role at White Oak, I realized just how important this program was.

My first exciting, and somewhat nerve-racking, moment was a hoofstock immobilization for an annual exam, including bloodwork and treatments. The morning of the immobilization, the rest of the vet staff and I met for our daily morning meeting to discuss the proceedings for that day. I began prepping for the field procedure, and for the first time, I packed up the vet truck with supplies.

lvt Driving over to the corrals, I felt the nerves and excitement building. We met up with the keepers and I listened intently as they described how we were going to proceed. It was incredible seeing the organization of steps to make everything run smoothly. Working as one well-oiled machine, everyone stepped in and did what was needed. When it was all over and the animal was safely awake, I took a moment to reflect on how incredible it all was. I knew I would gain much more hands-on experience as I went along; experience that I could probably not get elsewhere.

Being able to play such a significant role in the health and safety of the animal was such an indescribable feeling. Knowing the amount of responsibility and trust that the staff instilled in me is beyond what I ever expected. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get the level of hands-on experience and knowledge that I did from my six months during the White Oak Vet Tech internship. The experience that I have gained from this internship has been beyond anything I could have hoped for.

Corinne Gentile – LVT, Veterinary Technician Intern, January 2016 – July 2016

Grasshopper Sparrows get a Housecleaning…

During the first week of March, White Oak staff did a prescribed burn on a field of native grasses that surround our grasshopper sparrow enclosures. The prescribed burn was an important effort to replicate the natural fire regime that this habitat, and the species that live there, requires to thrive. We also burned patches of grasses within the sparrow enclosures, as the subsequent bare patches are preferred by the birds according to wildlife biologists. The male sparrows were singing before, during, and after the prescribed burns, confirming that the process was not stressful on the birds and that it is a natural occurrence to which they are well adapted.

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In the wild, grasshopper sparrows prefer to inhabit recently burned grassland. Prescribed burning has been shown to improve flower and seed production, and insect numbers also increase after many fires. Grasshopper sparrows eat mostly insects and some seeds, so we hope that by using prescribed fire we will increase the available natural diet. This, along with conditioning the birds to natural environmental factors like fire, may help the birds survive when they’re released back into the wild, which is the ultimate goal of the project.

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It’s a Boy… and a Girl… and Two Boys and a Girl!

White Oak has had another baby boom! in the past two months we have had two rhino calves and a litter of cheetahs born. We are very excited about all of them.

Just before Thanksgiving, the third white rhino calf to of the year was born to our female, Kelly, who was also born at White Oak. The calf, a little male, has now joined the herd with his older ‘siblings’ that were born a few months ago.  IMG_0036a

Right after Thanksgiving, our Indian rhino, Chitwan, gave birth to a little female. This is Chitwan’s second calf to be born at White Oak. Indian rhino calves are born fully equipped with the distinctive skin folds that give the Indian rhino its iconic look. IMG_1024a IMG_88911

And last but not least, say hello to the latest litter of cheetahs to be born at White Oak. The two boys and one girl were born to Karamel, a five-year-old cheetah who was also born at White Oak. There have now been 133 cheetahs born here. And it never gets old. Check out this great video of our first peek at the cubs when they were only a few days old.

Yep. Babies are  booming all over the place at White Oak.

Stephanie Rutan, Senior Education Specialist.