News and Notes from Around White Oak


There20150807_145126 are things happening every day here at White Oak; from summer camp adventures to new animals and everything in between. So we thought it would be great to write some of the happenings down and share them with you. Because what happens at White Oak doesn’t necessarily need to stay at White Oak.

Welcome to our new Blog: News and Notes from around White Oak. We hope you enjoy our tales and (mis)adventures!

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.


White Oak Hosts a Workshop for Carnivore Keepers

White Oak promotes endeavors in conservation through innovative science, education, training and collaboration. Recently, we hosted a cheetah and maned wolf husbandry and management workshop involving both Dickerson Park Zoo and Denver Zoo carnivore keepers. Here is a short blog by Animal Care Specialist Sophia Tribuzio about the workshop.

We shared the successful techniques we use to manage and breed both cheetah and maned wolves. The keepers were given the opportunity to have a very hands-on training experience aiding in moves, blood draws, and even an annual exam (below).

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Many of our techniques enable us to accomplish training goals without investing massive amounts of time. For example, the design of the maned wolf enclosure allows for minimal training but optimal management. There is a small alleyway or chute with a small guillotine style door on the end. On the other side of the door is a squeeze crate. Maned wolves are known for their shy demeanor, so when they are walked into this area, they are looking for a small dark place to hide leading them into the squeeze crate (below). Once in the crate, the wolf can be weighed, hand injected for vaccination or immobilization and/or moved to another enclosure or facility. This has minimal stress on the animal and can be quickly done at any time without prior training.  (If only this could be done with a cheetah!) White Oak emphasizes the importance of natural behavior and applies it to everything from enclosure design to management style.

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White Oak Animal Care Specialists Alexandria (left) and Sophia Tribuzio demonstrate how to use a squeeze crate.

When it comes to cheetah, we rely heavily on the individual cheetah personality and willingness to accomplish a trained behavior (above). There were some procedures we demonstrated during the workshop that we had never tried with an individual, this allowed us to discuss and plan a keeper and animal training protocol during the workshop.

Some of these ‘White Oak secrets’ took years to establish but we need to work together to save species, which means sharing secrets. White Oak invites people from around the world to train with us, learn from us and help up protect wildlife and wild places. Our work is too important to do alone.

Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Care Specialist 


It wasn’t all work and no play while the staff from Dickerson Park and Denver were here. They found time to visit the beautiful beaches of Amelia Island as well! Left to right: Karen Meeks, Collection Manager, White Oak; Alexandria Sharkey, Animal Care Specialist, White Oak; Jordan Schimming, Denver Zoo; Lisl Hufford, Dickerson Park Zoo; Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Care Specialist, White Oak; and Shelia Samek, Dickerson Park Zoo.

It’s a Boy!

On August 27th, 2015, a male white rhino was born to one of our females here at White Oak. The calf is the second one to be born in less than a month! His ‘older’ half sister was born on August 12th and you can see photos of her on our previous blog.  We are pretty excited about it, to say the least.

This is the third calf for his mother, who was also born at White Oak fourteen years ago and he represents a long history of breeding white rhinos here at White Oak. To date, there have been 30 white rhinos born here beginning in 1994.

20150831_151537Did you know that white rhino calves can weigh over 100 lbs. at birth? But then their mothers can weigh almost 5,000 lbs!  Like giraffes and zebras, rhino calves get up and begin following their mothers within two hours of birth, rather than ‘hiding’ like many antelope species do. Their size of their feet at birth is partly due to the gelatinous perioplic membrane (say that five times fast) that covers the bottoms of their feet and protects the birth canal during birth. The membrane sheds off in a few days.

Rhino calves will nurse off their mothers for up to 18 months, but will start trying other foods like hay and grass at a very young age. The milk of a female white rhino is low in fat and high in lactose (a good source of energy) compared to the Indian rhino’s milk (learn more here).

This little guy will reach his full adult size in about 5 years. Hard to imagine that right now. If you get a chance to visit him, be sure to do it before he grows up. You have five years.

-Stephanie Rutan, Education Specialist