Meet Australia’s wild dogs – the dingoes

Meet Australia’s wild dogsthe dingoes

Despite their popularity within Australia itself, few outside know about dingoes and, even if they do, few know more about them than just their name.

A dingo catching a quick snooze on their habitat platform at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Video taken by Zoolife community member fireworkgirl.

Did Zoolife add… dogs… to their map? Well, sort of! Australia is home to countless amazing species – some you may be familiar with and some you may not. Despite their popularity within the continent itself, few outside know about dingoes and, even if they do, few know more about them than just their name.

At the most basic level, the dingo is Australia’s wild dog. The origin of the dingo is still a heavily discussed subject, with multiple beginnings, but the majority of research points to them having descended from an ancient breed of domestic dog introduced 4,000 years ago by Asian seafarers. Other research points to a possible land bridge introduction form Papua New Guinea. The most likely scenario, however, is a combination of the two.

Two members of Lone Pine's dingo pack keeping a watchful eye of their habitat. Photo taken by Zoolife community member tiredturtle32252.
Two members of Lone Pine’s dingo pack keeping a watchful eye of their habitat. Photo taken by Zoolife community member tiredturtle32252.

So…what is a dingo?

The ancient breed of domestic dog, like all domestic dogs, was descended from the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Depending on the source, you may see dingoes’ scientific names referred to as Canis familiaris dingo or Canis lupus dingo.

While marsupials seem to reign supreme in Australia, the dingo is a placental mammal – meaning this species gives birth to live young, feeds its young milk via mammary glands, and has fur/hair. A dingo’s coat can be a range of colours depending on where in Australia it is found. For example, in forested areas, the fur appears as a dark tan close to black; while in desert areas, the fur appears more golden yellow.

Dingoes inhabit a variety of habitats within mainland Australia but seem to have not spread as far out as Tasmania. The species is also rarely seen in New South Wales, Victoria, the south-eastern third of South Australia or the southern most tip of Western Australia.

In terms of size, dingoes are the largest mammal currently found in the wilds of Australia. The second largest being the red kangaroo.

The three dingo pack of Lone Pine laying together on their habitat platform.
The dingo pack of Lone Pine – Tanami, Jindy, and Stirling. Photo taken by Zoolife community member purplesheepbaa.

Packs of the outback

As opportunistic carnivores, dingoes will eat a wide variety of prey although they have historically preyed mostly on wallabies and kangaroos. They will also eat feral pigs, wombats, rabbits, rodents, and even birds or lizards. When native species are scarce, dingoes have been known to hunt domestic animals and farm livestock leading to farmers having a negative perception of the species. Most infamously, they are believed to be a contributing factor to the extinction of mainland thylacines due to competition for food sources. 

Despite often being seen alone, dingoes are social animals and usually belong to a pack. Strict hierarchies keep the packs in order as the dingoes within it  work together to not only hunt but also raise pups and defend their territory. Typically nocturnal in warmer areas, dingoes will lean more crepuscular (aka active in morning and evenings) in cooler areas

Like all dogs, dingoes lean heavily towards vocal communication. Dingoes use howling to defend their territory and to send warning signals to their pack. Another form of communication utilized is scent-rubbing to mark territorial boundaries.

Two of the dingoes sleeping together on the habitat platform.
Photo taken by Zoolife community member TeaLeaffe.

A changing future

Since their introduction to Australia approximately 4,000 years ago, dingoes have efficiently adapted to a wide variety of habitat types within the continent. Threats to the species, until recently, have not been too widespread – with the exception of some pushing for their eradication due to being considered farming pests. Under the Rural Lands Protection Act, the dingo is subject to government-funded trapping, baiting and hunting bounties. Additional threats exist from private culling, wild dog fencing, and contact with the domestic dog

Today, like many native Australian species, a major threat is habitat loss and human encroachment. Contact with other breeds of domestic dog can lead to disease or dilution of their existing genetics. This has been sparked by the push of urban settlement from coastal areas and into outback Australia which allows for increased interbreeding between the two.

Jindy and Stirling Play Tug-o-War with some meant. Video recorded by Zoolife community member Tealeaffe.

Meeting the Lone Pine pack

With over 90 years of experience working with native Australian species, Lone Pine is dedicated to excellent welfare for dingoes. The sanctuary collaborates with universities, government, students and other reputable organizations, and over the years has contributed to hundreds of wildlife research projects. The Zoolife cameras at Lone Pine feature the three dingoes who call the sanctuary home named Tanami, Jindy, and Stirling. With a range of personalities, they are a delight to see each day.

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit Zoolife today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

A pandemic tale: watching animals online can improve mental health.

A pandemic tale: watching animals online can improve mental health.

In a time when social gatherings were non-existent and mental health was at an all-time low, online communities created connections. These connections kept friendships alive and fostered new ones – sometimes in even the most unlikely places.

A black lab service dog wearing a vest and holding a gorilla plushie in his mouth.
Foreman, Sinéad’s service dog, joins her for all her adventures at the Toronto Zoo. He can be regularly seen bonding with Charlie through the habitat windows.

2020 was a rough year for all of us, and stress had hit an all-time high across society as we faced so many unknowns. Mental health came front and center as conversations about this topic popped up for many for the first time. Although we all experienced these challenges in many ways, there was one consistent factor; the internet.

The internet provided relief from the outside world as the pandemic hit. In a time when social gatherings were non-existent, online communities created connections. These connections kept friendships alive and fostered new ones – sometimes in even the most unlikely places.

Not only did Zoolife build a way to connect animal lovers with their zoos and each other, but also provided a mental health Sinéad, a Zoolife power user, told us that visiting the gorillas at the Toronto Zoo or watching them live on Zoolife boosts her mental wellness. During the pandemic, Zoolife allowed her to bond with other animal lovers, while watching animals safely from home. Even after reopening, Sinéad uses Zoolife to visit the Toronto Zoo virtually whenever she cannot go in person.

Sinead stopping for a quick selfie with the Toronto Zoo gorilla troop.
Sinéad taking a quick selfie with the Toronto Zoo gorilla troop.

A life-long love for gorillas

Sinéad, a Toronto-based gorilla fan, is one of the most familiar faces on Zoolife. When not at the zoo, she loves to be outside in nature. Sinéad, a very kind and caring person, is also passionate about service dog education, accessibility, and inclusion advocacy.

Known as CharliesPuppy on the platform, Sinéad and her service dog Foreman were regular visitors to the zoo prior to the pandemic closure. Few months after closure, Sinéad saw others posting photos from the gorilla habitat at the Toronto Zoo on Facebook. So she decided to check Zoolife out and immediately became a fan.

Sinéad’s passion for gorillas developed at a young age thanks to her mother. As Sinéad got older, her love for gorillas evolved to finding ways to care for them at the Toronto Zoo. Moreover, she learned how to participate in and support wildlife conservation efforts.

For as long as she can remember, the Toronto Zoo has been part of Sinéad’s life. “Some of my fondest childhood memories,” Sinéad shared “…are of my dad taking my brother and me for picnic dinners on evenings my mum worked late, as well as visiting the zoo with my cousins. We all lived in the neighborhood and had memberships!”

Sinead and her cousin Siobhan sitting next to the outdoor gorilla habitat when they were kids in 2000.
Sinéad and her cousin Siobhan visiting the Toronto Zoo on August 29th, 2000.

Creating new memories online

Those who have had these life-long connections to their local zoos felt the strains the pandemic created. Not only were they unable to financially support their local zoo, but also their mental health was impacted by losing the connection with the animals they are so passionate about.

For Sinéad, her favorite part about Zoolife is “the ability to see our gorilla troop on days I may not be feeling well physically and can’t visit them in person.” The pandemic has been extra isolating for those with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities. Virtual visits to the zoo have helped during this time. Beyond the pandemic-forced closures, virtual alternatives offered a way to stay connected with the local zoo when making trips away for the summer.

“One of my top memorable moments would have to be Charles’ big 50th birthday party!” Sinéad told us. “The Zoo has closed again this past January because of COVID but thanks to Zoolife, I was able to celebrate his big birthday virtually and capture some incredible moments featuring him and his family.” Another favorite experience she has had with Zoolife is when some fellow Zoolife members spotted Sinéad on the cameras and took photos of her posing with Foreman.

Sinéad and Foreman, a black lab service dog, sitting outside the windows for the gorilla troop habitat.
Chelseajohn, another Zoolife community member, captured Sinéad and Foreman enjoying a visit to the gorillas in person.

Watching the gorilla family online, anytime, strengthens the connection with the animals and encourages people to be more proactive about animal welfare. “I wish people knew how much can be learned by being a member,” Sinéad discussed. “Not just from the talks but, from just watching the animals and getting to know their unique personalities and habits and appreciating them.”

Making a difference for wild gorillas

One thing we know for sure is – animal lovers are incredibly passionate about conservation. Sinéad’s love for visiting the gorilla troop extends beyond the Toronto Zoo and into the wild. She loves letting others know that there are simple ways to help gorillas conservation. “A very easy way people can help…”, she explains “is by donating [your] used cell phones to the Toronto Zoo’s Phone Apes Recycling Program!”. Almost all cell phones contain a mineral called coltan.

This mineral is used to create the element tantalum. Tantalum, used in a light weight metal powder form, is able to hold a very high electrical charge. This makes it a vital element in creating the capacitors that control electric flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops as well as other electronics. By recycling your old phone, it is helping to reduce mining of Coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo where gorillas call home. The money raised from the recycled phones in the Phone Apes program also goes towards projects like Ape Action Africa where they are on the ground caring for orphaned, wounded and sick great apes in Africa.

Charlie, a Western lowland gorilla at the Toronto Zoo, holding a tree branch with leaves while resting in a hammock.
Charlie, a Western lowland gorilla at the Toronto Zoo, enjoying a quick snack of leaves and twigs! For many zoo guests, visiting a zoo even virtually helps

Other ways to support gorillas, Sinéad shares, is by symbolically adopting a gorilla through the Toronto Zoo, being mindful of the products you buy that may affect the gorilla habitats, and simply learning “about these incredibly smart and gentle beings.”

When it comes to general advice, Sinéad says knowledge is power. “Never stop learning! Zoolife is a fantastic way to learn about gorillas as well as many other endangered species! If you know better, you do better.”

Want to help support the Toronto Zoo and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit Zoolife today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

Koalas aren’t bears but they ARE an icon 

Koalas aren’t bears but they ARE an icon

Recognized worldwide as a symbol of Australia, koalas are an adorable animal thought of fondly by people from around the world. But, there’s more to them than meets the eye.

A koala munching on some eucalyptus leaves at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Clip taken by Zoolife community member chelseajohn.

Most importantly, koalas are not bears. This popular misconception likely has grown from their bear-like appearance (especially the rounded ears) but, they’re not bears. Koalas are members of a group of pouched mammals called marsupials which also includes kangaroos. Just like kangaroos, koalas have pouches and give birth to underdeveloped young. This isn’t the only misconception that we need to clear up. 

Koalas can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. Because of this, people often refer to them as lazy – but, that’s far from the truth. Eucalyptus, their main source of food, is low in nutrition so koalas need to sleep a lot to conserve energy.

Now that we have those two big facts out of the way – let’s learn more about this beloved species from down under. 

Two koalas snuggling in a ball on a tree while they sleep.
Koalas can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. Phone taken by Zoolife community member Psyckoda.

Eating and napping and repeating

With specialized teeth for chewing tough leaves and bodies shaped for napping in branches, koalas are well-adapted for life in eucalypt forests. Their specialized diet focuses on leaves, eating from approximately 50 of the 800 species that grow in Australia. Although koalas can be found in a variety of woodland types, ultimately their habitat is defined by whether it has their select group of food trees. Toxins from leaves are no problem for them as they have adapted the ability to flush out toxins from leaves, so they can chew their way through pounds of them daily without getting sick.

A koala sitting on a branch with one leaf sticking out of its mouth.
Koalas have a specialised diet of eucalyptus leaves, eating approximately 50 of the 800 species that grow in Australia. Photo taken by Zoolife community member AmusingAmur56591.

Living that marsupial life

Being marsupials, koalas give birth to underdeveloped young. They finish developing in their mother’s pouch over six to seven months. Many other marsupials, like kangaroos, have upward facing pouches but koalas do not. Instead, koalas have a pouch that opens toward their hind legs. This strange switch comes from the koalas burrowing ancestors where having such a pouch placement would help prevent dirt and other debris getting inside. Although the modern-day koalas now live in trees, they still have the primitive, back facing pouch.

As asocial animals, bonding exists only between mothers and their young. Koalas communicate by making a deep growling or grunting noise known as a bellow. This sound is used by males to attract females or intimidate rivals.

A koala lounging in the fork of a tree, sitting up and hanging out with its front arms.
The koala is native only to Australia and can be found on the nation’s eastern side from northern Queensland to Adelaide in South Australia. Photo taken by Zoolife community member TiredTurtle32252.

Meeting the world’s first koala sanctuary

The biggest threat to the existence of koalas is habitat loss caused by urbanization, agriculture, droughts and associated bushfires, and climate change. As their trees disappear, so do the koalas. But, thankfully, there are many dedicated organizations working to keep this iconic species around.

As the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine is dedicated to the species’ research, welfare, & conservation. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary opened in 1927 and is named after a hoop pine that still stands today by its front entrance. It is said that the single pine tree used to be a location marker for guests visiting the sanctuary via the Brisbane River, mooring their boats at the lone pine. The tree was originally planted in 1867 when the property was a cotton farm.

Koalas lounging awake in trees.
As the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine is dedicated to the species’ research, welfare, & conservation. Photo taken by Zoolife community member TiredTurtle32252.

Lone Pine has since grown into a world renowned location for these marsupials and more. The sanctuary collaborates with universities, government, students and other reputable organizations, and over the years has contributed to hundreds of wildlife research projects. The Zoolife cameras at Lone Pine currently feature fifteen of the koalas who call the sanctuary home. With a range of ages, unique names, and personalities, they are a delight to see each day. 

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

Coming together for conservation

Coming together for conservation

Conservation issues have presented a major challenge to the world. But, when it comes to conserving wildlife we’re up for the task!

California condors were the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Thanks to a breeding program hosted by zoos, including the Santa Barbara Zoo, they have began to recover throughout their range.

New ideas to face growing challenges

Conservation issues have presented a major challenge to the science communication world. The challenge – how can we reach larger audiences to not only introduce more people to threatened animals but also educate them about issues and what they can do to help? While there have been many proposed solutions over the years, Zoolife has become the first to try this through a virtual zoo.

This has not been a small task, of course. It has required us to think outside of the box in more ways than one. Just like The Avengers came together to save the world, we have come together for conservation.

A gorilla peering off a large round rock, with a curious expression on her face.
Johari, a Western lowland gorilla, peering over a ledge in her habitat at the Toronto Zoo. The Toronto Zoo provides 100% landfill free cell phone recycling services to help conserve gorillas and their habitats.

Finding the right partners

Before even thinking about how to grow a community or expand a team, every zoo needs animals – even virtual ones. This is where our partners come in. To ensure responsible animal experiences, Zoolife only partners with fully accredited non-for-profit zoos, sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers who demonstrate the highest standards in animal care. 

This standard has led to us meeting some amazing organizations doing amazing things. One of our partners from this last year, the Santa Barbara Zoo, is a leader in the fight to save California condors. The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary helps rescue abandoned and unwanted reptiles while educating about their importance. Toronto Zoo, our first partner, is one of the most active organizations for saving our local Blanding’s turtles. But, that’s not all of them – Orana Wildlife Park, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary are fantastic leaders in conservation for the animals they care for.

The unique perspectives, stories, and projects our partners bring to Zoolife set up a wonderful foundation for a virtual conservation product.

A close up photo of an American alligator gazing at the camera while laying on a piece of bright green grass.
Lucy, an American alligator, is one of several rescued reptiles that call the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary home. The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary is the largest reptile sanctuary in the United States.

Assembling the team

When building a product such as Zoolife, having team members with skills from diverse areas is incredibly valuable. For us, this means having people on the team who have an engineering background, people with marketing experience, and, of course, people who have worked in the zoo and aquarium world. The rounded perspective that all of these fields give a team have allowed us to accomplish great things in just the past year.

One of Zoolife’s latest product updates, closed captioning, increases the accessibility of Zoolife’s expert talks. The ability to switch camera views on some of our habitats gives the chance to see more of an animal’s area. Of course, the feeding time updates on the schedule also give a new perspective to our up-close and personal views of these amazing animals.

But, it isn’t just our team that has made this possible. Our growing community has helped tremendously along the way. 

Three koalas cuddling up and sleeping in a line via a brown tree branch.
These three sleeping koalas are only a handful of animals recently joining Zoolife from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. As the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine is dedicated to koala research, welfare, & conservation.

Building a community

You can find someone from every walk of life on Zoolife. There are teachers and students, kids and adults. Some found us through the need for relaxation while others sought out ways to stay connected to their favourite zoos from home. There are even keepers from our partner zoos who use the cameras as a way to monitor the animals while they are away.

Engaging with our community through daily talks and small chatter in the comments has helped us learn a lot about why people enjoy Zoolife. It has also helped identify bugs in record time, as our community provides active feedback for us to improve. 

An Amur leopard with bright yellow fur and large black spots gazes upwards as she is outstretch on a rock ledge.
Marta, an Amur leopard, gazing up at the trees in her habitat at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Born on August 1st, 2021, the Zoolife community has watched Marta grown up via Santa Barbara’s cameras.

Science communication around the clock

Of course, any team for conversation wouldn’t be complete without its educators. Every partner recommends people from their organization who are a good fit for sharing their projects and updates. These people meet with the Zoolife team to learn more about us as well as how to host virtual talks to our community. 

These nature experts, as we call them, also come from all walks of life. Many are volunteers who have dedicated countless years, even decades, in support of their zoo. Others are researchers who have done extensive field work protecting endangered species. Most recently, we have started bringing in outside guests – such as artists, influencers, and more – to show how anyone from any field can make a difference for wildlife conservation.

Two sea lions laying up against a fence with their heads back and eyes closed, bright sun covering their bodies.
California sea lions soaking up the rays at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center was the first marine mammal rehabilitation facility in California.

Looking forward to the future

Saving endangered species is a complex issue that requires complex solutions. Although there are many ways of doing this, educating others is a great start. Our partners, hosts, team, and community members coming together for conservation has shown us making a change is possible. We cannot wait to see where we go together in the future. 

A kiwi bird digging around under leaves at night.
A kiwi bird at Orana Wildlife Park searching for grubs in the leaf litter. Orana Wildlife Park is involved in the Recovery Programme for these remarkable birds, breeding for release back into the wild.

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

8 Eco-friendly alternative options

8 Eco-friendly alternative options

Let’s all make these mindful sustainable choices as we must remember, there is no Planet B 😉

Lightbulb around a plant in soil

1. Use natural loofahs in the bathroom.

red-cross next to plastic-based loofahs next to natural loofahs with a green checkmark beside them

Better for your skin and kinder to the planet? What more could you ask for? Switch out your plastic-based bath poufs for the biodegradable and compostable eco-friendly alternative options that are now widely available to the market. Your skin and the planet will thank you.

2. Go bottle free — opt for shampoo & conditioner bars!

red-cross next to a plastic shampoo bottle next to shampoo and conditioner bars with a green checkmark next to them

Not only do bath bars make travelling with toiletries a bit easier, but they also reduce a huge number of plastic bottles that eventually end up going to landfills. With various scent options and even some catering to different hair types, it’s a must-try eco-friendly alternative!

3. Need to wrap something? Beeswax paper is the way to go.

red-cross next to saran wrap next to beeswax paper with a green checkmark beside it

Saran wrap, what’s that? No need for more plastic in your life with beeswax paper available! You can DIY this or even purchase it in stores. Reuse it to pack your sandwiches or cover any leftovers. You’ll be surprised how durable they are with just a simple wash of soap once you’re done using them and they’re ready to be used again (and again).

4. Ditch wasteful tea bags & get some classy tea strainers.

red-cross next to single-use teabags next to a reusable tea strainer with a green checkmark beside it

Did you know that tea bags generate a lot of waste? Each one typically comes in individual packaging and the bags themselves usually contain polypropylene — a commonly used compound to form plastic. Using loose leaf tea leaves while using a tea strainer is the eco-friendly alternative. They come in the classic metal style, but some are even shaped to look like different animals, items or even characters!

5. Switch to reusable shopping bags for produce.

red-cross next to a single-use plastic shopping bag next to mesh produce shopping bags with a green checkmark beside it

Invest in these mesh produce shopping bags as they eliminate the need to use the flimsy plastic bags available at the grocery store. These bags also help maintain the fruit and vegetables’ freshness as they provide increased air circulation inside the bag!

6. No need for plastic zipper bags ’cause we got reusable silicone bags.

red-cross next to ziploc plastic bags next to reusable silicone bags with a green checkmark beside it

Do you find yourself repurchasing these plastic bags regularly? The eco-friendly alternative for these are reusable silicone bags. Give them a chance, as they’ll save you some money and reduce plastic products in our landfills & oceans.

7. Paper towel who? Natural cloths for the win!

red-cross next to paper towels next to reusable towels with a green checkmark next to them

Paper towels are easy to use for sure, but did you know they come at a huge cost for the environment? 6 million pounds of waste are generated in just 1 day! In addition, they release methane when they decompose. Opt for the natural cloth or rag eco-friendly alternative that you can wash & reuse after each use.

8. Plastic trash bags are basic… opt for biodegradable waste bags.

red-cross next to black plastic trash bags next to compostable waste bags with a green checkmark next to them

Each year, approximately 1 trillion plastic bags are used globally. That’s a lot of waste that ends up in our natural resources. Biodegradable bags that you use in your kitchen or trash bins can be decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms, which is a much better option for us and our planet!

We hope these suggestions have inspired you to choose some eco-friendly alternative options in your daily life. Try one out and you’ll find you may like it even better than the plastic version!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

We threw a birthday party for a GORILLA!

We threw a birthday party for a GORILLA!

What do zoos do when a gorilla turns FIFTY years old? They throw a big birthday celebration of course!

Zookeepers at the toronto zoo putting up a "happy 50th birthday charles" banner for Charles the gorilla
Toronto Zoo keepers work on setting up a hand-made birthday banner for Charles. Taken on

On January 19th, Toronto Zookeepers collected party streamers, wrapping paper, plushies, and more. Why? To celebrate Charles the Western Lowland Gorilla turning 50 years old. Turning this age is a significant achievement for a gorilla! The average lifespan for this species is closer to 40 years. Since Charles has been an integral part of the Toronto Zoo since its inception, it made sense to go all out for him.

Charles originally came to the Toronto Zoo from the country of Gabon in Africa. He arrived just prior to the Zoo’s opening in 1974. Since then, Charles has absolutely proven himself to be an example of what a silverback represents — from ten direct offspring to being a grandfather of six. His most recent daughter, “Charlie”, was named in his honour. According to the Toronto Zoo, Charles is an amazing father and grandfather to his family.

mother gorilla baby gorilla Charlie at the Toronto Zoo
Charlie and mother Ngozi. Credit: Toronto Zoo

Hear from the CEO

“We are both excited and proud to be celebrating this milestone with Charles” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “Your Toronto Zoo plays a vital role in supporting conservation efforts across the globe including the critically endangered Western Lowland gorilla. Thanks to funding from the Toronto Zoo Wildlife Conservancy we are very excited to be able to commit a quarter of a million dollars over the next 10 years to gorilla conservation efforts in the wild.”

Gorilla’s at the zoo

Just like humans, zoo animals require extra care as they age. In order to ensure Charles is healthy in his golden years, the Toronto Zoo’s care team has made modifications to both his diet and habitat. Harder vegetables are now steamed, to make them softer to chew, while his leaf eater chow is dipped in herbal tea every morning. Keepers take extra care to ensure Charles’ bed is extra comfy with thicker shavings. The zoo has even installed handrails throughout the habitat to ensure he is able to navigate his home with ease.

gorilla playing with a piñata in the Toronto Zoo exhibit
Charlie, now more grown up, enjoying a piñata during the celebrations. Taken on

After the gorilla family was shifted safely off habitat on Charles’ birthday, the keepers quickly got to work. Some placed out “party snacks” in the form of pomegranates, pineapples, and various other fruits. Other keepers placed various wrapped presents (yes, wrapped presents!) around with a variety of gorilla-safe gifts hidden inside. And, last, but certainly not least — many keepers focused on the party decorations themselves — from streamers to hand-crafted signs and everything in between.

gorilla at the toronto zoo looking at boxes of open presents
Ngozi eyeing the mess of presents opened by the family. Taken on

It was clear as day just how delighted all of the gorillas were. The troop split off into several directions, investigating their new enrichment. The younger ones, especially Charlie, seemed to have a keen eye for the plushies.

The endangered species

Celebrating half a century of life is sure to be a milestone for anyone, but it is especially significant considering the critically endangered status of Western lowland gorillas. Populations of this iconic species continue to decline at an annual rate of approximately 2.7% with no end in sight. This decline is mostly due to poaching but influenced by habitat loss and degradation as well as disease. Because of these factors, their population has decreased by more than 60% over the last 20 to 25 years.

close up of the face of a gorilla at the Toronto Zoo
Charles keeping a close eye on the troop, as always. Taken on

The Toronto Zoo is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Western lowland gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program, which aims to establish and maintain healthy, genetically diverse populations, and overall conservation efforts to save this incredible species. By supporting the Toronto Zoo, you are also supporting this program.

In terms of hands-on support you can do, the Phone Apes Program is a fantastic effort. If you are local, you can donate your used cell phones to the Toronto Zoo’s PhoneApes Program. If you are not local, chances are your neighboring zoo has a similar program. Cell phone recycling encourages responsible waste management of electronic materials. The e-waste sector is growing rapidly and the impacts include illegal and irresponsible mining, landfill restrictions and overuse, and habitat loss in Western Africa. Recycling old cell phones, and other small electronic devices helps reclaim valuable metals and reduces environmental social impacts.

You can also support Charles and his troop of Western Lowland gorillas by purchasing a Zoolife subscription, 50% of proceeds benefit animal conservation efforts at Zoolife’s partner zoos.

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

Going cold-blooded with the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary!

Going cold-blooded with the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary!

We’re teaming up with the largest reptile sanctuary in the United States.

Charley the American alligator laying down on brown mulch with his front legs splayed out to his sides, pointing towards his back.
Charley, an American alligator, having a snooze in the sun. Reptiles depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature.

Introducing a new partner

You may have noticed Zoolife has started to get a little more cold-blooded. Last month we introduced a new partner to the Zoolife family – the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary. This also included the addition of a new animal habitat – the American alligator. While you may have had a chance to meet the gators already, there is still a lot you may not know about the sanctuary. For example, did you know the sanctuary is the largest reptile sanctuary in the United States? It’s true! And, that’s not the only amazing fact about them!

The sanctuary features large pools for their crocodilians to swim, bask, and lounge in. Charley and Lucy can often be seen lounging in it together as seen here!

Fulfilling an animal shelter need

Animal shelters and wildlife rescues are a common sight for those seeking to help companion animals like dogs and cats. This is even true for wild mammals and birds native to a specific area. However, organizations who accept unwanted or rescued reptiles are few and far between. 

The lack of accessibility to reptile rescues puts reptile owners in bad situations. It gives them no outlet for relinquishing ownership should the need arise. It also does not give them a chance to learn more accurate, reliable information about the husbandry of reptiles. This leads to many pets being abandoned or wild animals suffering instead of having a chance to be rehabilitated.

Three long-time, passionate reptile enthusiasts decided to change that for Arizona reptiles in 2001. The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary was born. 

Lucy the American alligator seemingly smiling at the camera, with her eyes wide open and her teeth overlapping out of her mouth.
Lucy, an American alligator, is one of several reptiles at the sanctuary who have been rescued from the pet trade.

Wildlife rehabilitation, reptile rescue, and animal relocation

Over the past 21 years, the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary has blossomed into the largest reptile sanctuary in the United States. A team of over twenty volunteers provide care for hundreds of reptiles who call the sanctuary home. The team also works to rehabilitate and relocate injured native reptiles that find their way there. 

The sanctuary regularly partners with wildlife officials, law enforcement, and zoological facilities to find homes for unwanted or seized reptiles. In fact, 90% of the animals who call the sanctuary home are rehomed from the pet trade.

Lucy and Charley Alligator laying flat on their stomachs, on top of green grass next to their blue pool.
Different types of textures throughout the alligator habitat, such as mulch and grass, help mimic the natural surroundings of their wild homes.

Making a difference at the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary

In addition to reptile rescues, it is also home to an extensive schedule of various educational programs. The programs vary from hosting field trips to reptile-themed birthday parties and even classroom programs or professional development workshops. Each year PHS visits with over 250,000 school-aged children as part of that education effort. 

One of the longtime dreams of the founders was to have a wildlife education center onsite – a goal recently completed. The building’s custom design accommodates visitors with disabilities who were unable to experience reptile zoos or conservation education programs before. The sanctuary believes that everyone should be able to learn about wildlife and the environment. This center as well as other ongoing projects will continue to make this belief possible.  

The partnership between the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary and Zoolife means supporting their cause is even more possible. Access to online live streams helps us reach a larger audience and make a difference for reptiles together. 

Want to help support the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary and see American alligators from the comfort of your own home? Visit today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

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Your children’s books lied to you about snow tigers

Your children’s books lied to you about snow tigers

Those books could not be farther from the truth. So, where is the truth in the existence of snow tigers?

google image search results for the phrase snow tiger
A Google search for “snow tiger” showing members of the Bengal subspecies with the white recessive gene.

Growing up in the 90s it seemed every children’s zoology book imaginable featured snow tigers. The images are hard to forget — picturesque white tigers with dark stripes and crystal blue eyes. As a kid, seeing those photos was all the proof I needed. It made sense in my child mind, after all, that an animal adapted for life in the snow would be white for better camouflage.

Those books could not be farther from the truth.

While some animals have adapted to have white fur to aid in blending in with the snow, tigers are not one of them. Making this situation even more strange is the fact that the white gene is exclusively found in Bengal tigers, a subspecies known primarily to inhabit the dry forests of India — far from any snow covered hills.

So, where is the truth in the existence of snow tigers?

To get answers, one must travel to the remote forests of the Russian Far East. No documentation in 2022 would lead you to snow tigers or even Siberian tigers, instead, you would be pointed to the Amur tiger.

close up of an amur tiger at the toronto zoo habitat
Vasili, an Amur tiger, at the Toronto Zoo. Taken on

Amur tiger is the modern recognized name for this subspecies due to the fact that the Amur River runs directly through their habitat. The name ‘Siberian’ tiger came about because this subspecies was originally found across much of Siberia. However, habitat loss mixed with poaching has decreased their range.

In the 1940s, they were on the brink of extinction with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild. Decades of near continual political instability with the Russian Revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union is usually responsible for this decline.

In 1947 after World War 2, Russia became the first country to ban tiger hunting and offer tigers full protection. Hunting of the main prey species, boar and deer, became restricted by annual quota based on the results of population counts. Poaching of tigers became relatively rare, because there was no market for skins and other tiger products. However, hunters on occasion killed their “competitor” when an opportunity presented itself.

one amur tiger walking on snow between trees in a Russian forest
An Amur tiger exploring its home in the Russian Far East. Photo Credit: Monga Bay.

Amur tiger habitat

Their habitat ranges from tundra, to humid forests, to coniferous bush-covered mountains up to 1,200 meters or slightly under 4,000 feet. They occupy the largest tract of contiguous forest remaining on earth. Apart from the rarity of the tigers, this in itself is of conservational significance as the area is the most biologically diverse in Russia.

Lighter coloured fur throughout the year helps Amur tigers blend in better with their unique environment. More so in winter when their already pale orange fur fades even more. Their coat is also naturally longer and thicker than other subpopulations. This better aids them in the colder climate. In fact, they even have somewhat of a mane around their neck and extra fur around their paws, like a built-in scarf and mittens!

Besides their change in fur colour, Amur tigers also have a dramatically different sized body. They are the world’s largest cat species — with males weighing in between 397 to 674 lbs. Females are slightly smaller, ranging in weight from 220 to 368 lbs.

close up of an Amur tiger's fur with light orange and black stripes
Close-up look of Mazy’s, an Amur tiger at the Toronto Zoo, fur. Amur tigers are lighter in colour with fewer stripes than their more tropical relatives. Taken on

Rules of ecology

Two rules of ecology help identify what makes Amur tigers the way they are: Bergman’s Rule and Geist’s Rule. Bergman’s rule states that body size increases with latitude and hence decreasing temperature so that body surface area to volume ratios fall. Therefore in northern latitudes, bigger tigers would lose less heat and need relatively less energy than smaller tigers. Geist’s Rule states similar circumstances, noting body size increases with increasing latitude, owing to an increase in the duration and amplitude of the seasonal productivity peak.

Put simply: Amur tigers are the snow tigers of our childhoods.

an amur tiger covered in snow, lounging during a snowstorm at the Toronto Zoo amur tiger exhibit
Vasili lounging unbothered in a recent Toronto snowstorm. Taken on

So, if you can’t rely on children’s books to teach your kids the proper knowledge regarding snow tigers, where can you go? It’s possible your local accredited zoo can be a great resource! Many zoos, especially those in northern climates, house Amur tigers, including the Toronto Zoo. If you’re fortunate enough, you may even be able to catch a glimpse of them frolicking in the snow during the winter.

Want to see an Amur tiger from the comfort of your own home? Visit today to see Mazy, Mila, and Vasili as they go about their lives at the Toronto Zoo.

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

The Okapi: a living unicorn

The okapi: living unicorn

An elusive creature, and a species on the brink.

Rarely seen in the wild, a secretive forest creature exists that is the closest living relative of the giraffe. Additionally, these animals are so elusive that zero images of one in the wild existed until 2008. European colonists called it “the African unicorn”. Others referred to it as “the forest giraffe”. But, we now know it as — the Okapi.

A close-up of an Okapi feeding on some bright green grass
An okapi grazing on some grass. Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

This mysterious mammal has only been known to the western world since the early 1900s. Henry Morton Stanley has a travelogue about his journeys in the Congo. He noted the forest was home to a “kind of donkey” that the natives referred to as atti. Additional explorers only caught a fleeting view of the okapi’s backside — which resembles that of a zebra with black and white stripes. This led to further confusion on where exactly this animal lay taxonomically. It wasn’t until a group of indigenous Mbuti pygmies alongside Harry Johnston, a British explorer, acquired a complete specimen that scientists finally recognized this species formally.

The okapi habitat

Until recently, years of instability and war made it too dangerous for others to experience first hand the lush home of the okapi. With gradual stabilization, there is another opportunity to explore this magnificent ecosystem once again. The northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to The Ituri Rainforest. It is one of the most biologically diverse regions in Africa. Along with the okpai, the African Elephant, Hippopotamus, seventeen species of primates, and over 445 other known species of animals call it home.

Aerial shot of a green trees in a forest
Aerial shot of a forest, home to the okapis. Photo by Abel Kavanagh on Wikicommons

In many ways the Ituri rainforest is similar to many others throughout the world. The climate is incredibly humid with high temperatures and rainfall, that allow many plants to thrive. It is the rare species within, like the okapi, that sets it apart.

Coupled alongside their interesting coat pattern, okapi have many other strange adaptations up their sleeves. The prehensile tongues of okapi allow them to pluck food from trees with ease. It also makes them one of the only mammals capable of licking their own ears. Toxic leaves and fruit are no problem for them either. The okapi are known to source and consume clay to perform a self detox should these foods enter their systems. A black tar-like secretion from scent glands on each of their feet allow them to mark their territory. They also have another gland to produce oil to waterproof their fur.

Okapi in the forest with it's tongue sticking out
An okapi with it’s tongue sticking out.

Okapi conservation

Okapis are fully protected species under Congolese law but, the future of this striking mammal is still severely threatened. The okapi is dependent on the forest for its survival, and deforestation, along with poaching, have led to its decline. Additionally, an Okapi Conservation Strategy Workshop (2013) found that the population had plummeted over 50% in just fifteen years. For this reason, the okapi is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

John Lukas is a wildlife conservationist who founded the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) in 1987 to protect this shy animal. Today, the Okapi Conservation Project manages the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a 13,700-square-kilometer area of wilderness. This occupies one-fifth of the Ituri Forest. The reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the indigenous Mbuti pygmies. It is also home to the largest populations of forest elephants, okapi and chimpanzees in the DRC. Furthermore, the OCP relies heavily on zoos around the globe to educate the international public about this unique creature and the importance of its rainforest habitat. The San Antonio Zoo is one such place.

Two okapis standing next to each other at the San Antonio Zoo okapi habitat
Two okapis at the San Antonio Zoo, formerly streamed on

Okapis at the zoo

The Center for Conservation and Research at San Antonio Zoo seeks to fulfill the San Antonio Zoo’s Mission Statement. They do this through a variety of approaches. This includes fieldwork and captive husbandry of rare and threatened species — including the okapi. The zoo currently has two okapis it is attempting to mate — Epulu, a nine-year-old male, and Ludimi, a ten-year-old female.

Beside assisting population efforts through breeding, the San Antonio Zoo also plays an important role in educating the public about these amazing animals. As guests admire and learn about okapis, it is believed they will want to help protect okapis and their forest home — providing hope for their future.

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Orangutans and their arboreal life

The arboreal life of Orangutans

Orangutans are going extinct, learn more about why.

Orangutan mother and orangutan child sitting down in the Toronto Zoo orangutans habitat

The Orangutan

Quite possibly one of the most on brand names for an animal is that of the orangutan. Their name, translating to person of the forest, refers their relationship to us and their near strictly arboreal way of life. They have adaptations ranging from opposable thumbs to throat sacs for forest communication. Orangutans are well-equipped for whatever the rainforest throws at them — except for us. 

Sumatran orangutans live only on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They live in Indonesia with a recently identified species called the Tapanuli orangutan who lives farther south on the island. The Bornean orangutan, who is much heavier set than their Sumatran relatives, lives on the island of Borneo.

Orangutans prefer the canopies of primary rainforests and swamp and riparian areas — meaning close to water. These forests are often full of mature fruit trees which account for 60% of an orangutan’s diet. Their favourites being figs and durian. When fruit may be scarce, they will turn to leaves and flowers as well as bark and the occasional insect or egg. 

Their declining population

Unlike their larger African relatives, orangutans are mostly solitary except for mating pairs or females with offspring. This species not only grows & matures slowly but also reproduces on one of the slowest scales in the mammalian world. Orangutans only become mature when they reach 14–16 years of age. After which, they will find a mate. One orangutan will only bear one young every eight or nine years, meaning she will only raise three to four young within her lifetime. Coupled with their slow reproduction cycle and the rapid decline of their numbers from human encroachment, their population faces many threats.

Orangutan mother feeds orangutan baby in the Toronto Zoo orangutans habitat

The vanishing lowland rainforests of Sumatra are one of the last strongholds for this species as logging, forest fires, and agriculture threaten their way of life. The world operates on the law of supply and demand, so we need carefully manage this. We often hear the phrase, but it really is an important part of the answer for helping orangutans. Another way, of course, is supporting accredited zoos that educate others about orangutans and also contribute to their conservation.

The Toronto Zoo houses the only Sumatran orangutans in Canada, including a newly born baby boy. This orangutan baby is an important contribution to a genetically healthy Sumatran orangutan population in human care. Thirteen orangutans have been raised at the Toronto Zoo since 1974.

Orangutan hanging from a pole holding a Canadian flag in the Toronto Zoo orangutans habitat

Want to see a Sumatran orangutan from the comfort of your own home? Visit today to see the orangutans as they go about their lives at the Toronto Zoo.

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!