They defied the odds, reached milestones, found friendship and wound up in unlikely places. Their tales had to be told. Here's a look at some of San Diego's most memorable animal stories of 2017.
After 16 Years of Infertility, Southern White Rhino Gives Birth
After 16 years of infertility, Kiazi – a southern white rhino living at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park – defied the odds and gave birth to a calf on April 30, 2017. According to the San Diego Zoo Institute of Conservation Research, southern white rhinos born in zoos tend to be infertile, with compounds called phytoestrogens, found in soy and alfalfa fed to the animals, likely impacting the fertility of females. The diets of the rhinos were changed in 2014 and two female southern rhinos, including Kiazi, then became pregnant. The first-time mother’s calf marked the 96th southern white rhino born at the San Diego Zoo since 1972; the little one weighed 125 pounds at birth. We won’t soon forget the adorable photos released by the Safari Park of Kiazi and her daughter happily walking side by side in their grassy habitat.
Tarantula Sightings Spook Scripps Ranch Residents
Following a wet winter, parts of San Diego County experienced a rise in critters, including tarantulas found in homes in Scripps Ranch. Over the summer, two sightings of the large, creepy crawlers spooked families in the suburb. The first involved a man finding a tarantula in his garage when the critter took shelter inside his shoe. When the man went to put on his shoe, his foot didn’t fit inside. He reached into the shoe and felt something fuzzy in his hand. Days later, Scripps Ranch resident Hannah Dafferner went to open her microwave to fix herself a late-night snack and discovered a large, hairy tarantula in her kitchen. “Wait, they make spiders that big?” Dafferner thought, shuddering. She said the sighting spooked her family, who immediately called an exterminator to spray down their home.
Thin, Dehydrated Dogs Found Trapped in Pipe
In late August, the sounds of whimpers near a fruit grove in Fallbrook led a man to discover two Labrador retrievers trapped in an underground pipe. County Animal Services officials said the man followed the sounds and dug up dirt until he found the pipe. After cutting part of the pipe away, he found one of the thin dogs stuck inside. The man called animal services and, with more shoveling, the second dog was found. Officials believe the dogs fell through a hole on a hill and wound up wedged inside the pipe. They were not hurt during the rescue and were taken to a veterinary facility where they received food and treatment.
World’s Second Oldest Gorilla Turns 60
This past October, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park celebrated a milestone birthday of one of its beloved residents: the 60th birthday of Vila, the world’s second oldest gorilla. The matriarch of five generations enjoyed six birthday cakes and decorations in her habitat, including a “Tea for Two” theme. As Vila turned 60, her youngest granddaughter, Leslie, turned 1. “Sixty is a very big deal in the gorilla world because there are very few gorillas anywhere near that age,” Peggy Sexton, lead animal keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park explained. Vila is believed to have been born in the Congo in October 1957. After she arrived in the United States, she was hand-raised at the San Diego Zoo and later moved to the Safari Park. She has lived a healthy six decades, serving as a surrogate mother for many western lowland gorillas over her lifetime.
A Tale of Two Kitties: Tiger Cubs Find Friendship
With every update, this tale of two kitties warmed our hearts. Two tiger cubs – each facing challenging obstacles – forged a fast friendship at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. One tiger – a Bengal cub – was discovered at the U.S.-Mexico border on Aug. 24 during an exotic animal smuggling attempt. The other, an endangered Sumatran tiger cub, was transferred to San Diego from the Smithsonian National Zoo after his mother was unable to care for him. The tigers, close in age, were introduced to one another during playdates and quickly bonded. Now, they are roommates at the Safari Park where they live at the Tull Family Tiger Trail. Whenever these two are together, we can’t help but hear Harry Nilsson’s “Best Friend” song playing in the background.
Oldest Breeding Male Gorilla in U.S. Gets Heart Exam in San Diego
At 45 years old, Winston is the oldest breeding male gorilla in the United States and the leader of the troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The patriarch “silverback” gorilla has a lot of his plate taking care of his loved ones. Earlier this year, animal care staff at the park noticed a decline in Winton’s overall health. He was lethargic and had a decreased appetite, but they couldn’t pinpoint the root of his symptoms. In November, a large group of animal care experts united and used the latest technology to give Winston an in-depth heart exam that included lab tests, X-rays and more. The findings will help yield answers about Winton’s health so keepers can ensure he lives a long, healthy life. The images of Winston being examined is a reminder of how far animal care has come.
Kittens Found in Rubble of Lilac Fire
The wind-driven Dec. 7 Lilac Fire devastated the rural community of Bonsall in San Diego’s North County. The 4,100-acre wildfire destroyed homes and killed horses but, amid the rubble, a miracle happened. On Dec. 8, deputies patrolling a neighborhood ravaged by the blaze discovered a box holding three tiny, healthy kittens. The kittens were turned over to County Animal Services and placed in foster care. They were reunited with their owners on Dec. 21. As expected, there were a lot of smiles and cuddles. The Lilac Fire was 100 percent contained by Dec. 16.