Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation
The loss of the passenger pigeon, such a robust and omnipresent species, was, and still is, a jarring loss to the world. Despite such a loss, however, there is hope to be found in this story. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction, we recognize the importance of this story as an impetus for positive change in the world of wildlife conservation. Many other species, like the American bison and white-tailed deer, have been close to extinction, but have been pulled back from the edge by very talented and dedicated scientists, conservationists, and citizens.
In the years immediately following Martha’s death, great strides were made to protect other species in the United States and beyond, and these efforts continue today. The loss of the passenger pigeon was such a startling and significant one—mere decades before, the ubiquitous bird swarmed in flocks of billions and billions overhead—that it spurred many people into action. This extinction served as catalyst for change, from which many other species since then have reaped the benefits.
At the end of the 1800s, while numbers of passenger pigeons were quickly shrinking, the American bison and white-tailed deer were also in trouble. By the early twentieth century, unregulated overhunting and habitat loss (two of the same issues that forced the passenger pigeon into extinction) greatly threatened populations of white-tailed deer. The American bison once roamed the American west in massive herds, but, like the passenger pigeon, rampant commercial hunting and loss of habitat forced the species close to extinction. By the early 1900s, there were perhaps only a few dozen bison in Yellowstone National Park.
Thankfully, the sad example of the passenger pigeon had shown the American public and lawmakers that a seemingly common species could completely die out in a short span of time without proper protections. People began to take actions to protect species like these. Influential people like President Theodore Roosevelt, naturalist John Muir, and industrialist Stephen Mather were instrumental in creating many of the national parks we know today and protecting large areas of land, as well as the wildlife within them.
Immediate action was taken in the conservation of the American bison. In 1894, federal legislation protecting bison was passed. Game preserves were soon established. In an effort that continues to this day, public and private conservation groups moved small groups of bison to protected areas, and breeding and protection programs have slowly increased the numbers of bison from a few dozen to a more than 500,000 today.
White-tailed deer, whose numbers dropped dangerously low by the 1930s, also benefited from new protective laws, restocking of small populations into protected areas, and restoration of habitat. Had these actions not been taken so promptly, urged on by the example of the passenger pigeon, both the bison and the deer would surely have gone extinct as well.
These wildlife conservation efforts, and those we see in action today, stem in a very real way from the loss of the passenger pigeon. This loss served as a wake-up call to many, forcing us to recognize our power to threaten, but also to protect, species. As the conservation efforts of the American bison and white-tailed deer showed, the things that sealed the fate of the passenger pigeon—rampant commercial overhunting and habitat loss—do not have to dictate the fate of other species. If we use the story of the passenger pigeon as a lesson in the power of mankind, we can prevent other species from going the way of the passenger pigeon and take action to protect other vulnerable species today.
To read the other posts in this series, click here. Stay tuned next month for more on Project Passenger Pigeon and the Cincinnati Zoo’s role in this important effort in species conservation and habitat preservation.
December 9, 2013 No Comments
Guest Blogger: Zoo Academy Senior, Sarah Franklin
To start off, my name is Sarah Franklin. I’m a Zoo Academy student here at the Cincinnati Zoo, and I love every minute of it. The Zoo Academy is a branch of Hughes STEM High School, and is offered to anyone who attends.
Here’s a bit of my story on how I ended up here:
I was raised on a farm, not too far from Cincinnati, but in a small town that you’ve probably never heard of before. Growing up, my family and I had an array of animals on our farm. I used to love to go out with my father in the mornings or evenings to feed the animals. Any opportunity I had to go out with him, I’d jump right into my muck boots, (that came higher than my knees), throw on my coat or jacket, depending on the temperature, and run out right behind him. Some of my favorite memories from my hometown were right out on that farm with him.
At about the age of fourteen when my dad got remarried, I had the opportunity to move to Cincinnati and change schools. I wasn’t particularly happy with my current school system, so I began to research about public schools in Cincinnati. During one of my searches, I came across Hughes High. They talked a lot about pathways on their website, and featured a pathway they called: (you guessed it) The Zoo Academy! I called up the next day to learn more about it, and actually spent time talking to Glen Schulte, who is now my current teacher. I fell in love the minute I learned about this amazing opportunity, and decided that this was where I wanted to start my new beginning. We packed up and moved soon after and that began my story here, at my favorite place on Earth.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Hughes High School have become second homes for me. I have had experiences here that I could experience nowhere else. I became a strong leader within my school, and the biggest Big Red Athletics fan they’d ever seen. Actually, this year, (my SENIOR year), I was recorded as the first girl in Big Red history to score points for the Hughes Football team. I even did a radio interview about it. That was an experience within itself, and I am so fortunate to have been a part of that.
Here at the Zoo, I do daily work with the keepers, animals, and currently the wonderful staff within the Education Department. Some of my favorite animal encounters have been during these last two years, having the opportunity to work with animals that range from insects to elephants. One of my favorite experiences was working with the cougars this past fall while in the Night Hunters department at the Zoo. I also met the love of my life here at the Zoo, a hyacinth blue macaw named Azul at the Bird House. I’ve enjoyed every lab I’ve participated in, and learned so much from the staff here. It is really an experience that is like no other, because the Cincinnati Zoo is the only zoo in the country that allows high school students to participate in labs and work alongside keepers on a daily basis.
In the upcoming future I plan on attending the University of Cincinnati and continuing on my story here at the Cincinnati Zoo. I feel as though my experiences here at the Zoo aren’t ready to come to an end yet, so I hope I am able to continue on here after I graduate, whether it is as a volunteer or even a paid staff member. I love it here at the Zoo, and though this may not be where my career path ends, it is definitely a place that I would hope for it to begin. Thanks so much for reading my story! If you ever see me around the Zoo, stop me and ask any questions you’d like!
Best Wishes, Sarah.
November 20, 2013 No Comments
Elvis has spent the past three weeks sniffing fecal samples from polar bears around the country, making his predictions on which bears might be pregnant. Elvis is trained to pause and sit immediately when he detects a pregnancy—and does not show interest at samples from non-pregnant bears. Last week, Elvis was presented multiple times with two separate samples (collected on 10/12/13 and 10/20/13), from the Cincinnati Zoo’s female polar bear, Berit. Unfortunately, Elvis did not show interest in either sample, indicating she may not be expecting cubs this fall.
The sniffer dog project is part of a larger effort to study reproduction in polar bears. Scientists at CREW have been monitoring polar bears since 2008 and have analyzed over 14,000 fecal samples from 55 polar bears living in North American zoos. In addition to the Elvis test, we’ve been measuring Berit’s fecal hormone levels and performing ultrasound examinations in attempts to gain more information about her pregnancy status. Taken together, it seems that Berit is probably experiencing a pseudo-pregnancy, also known as a false pregnancy. Pseudo-pregnancy occurs when a female’s hormones, namely progesterone, increase to levels similar to those of a true pregnancy. However, in a pseudo-pregnancy, no fetus is present. Like pregnant bears, pseudo-pregnant females often gain weight (Berit gained almost 200 pounds this season!) and may behave like they’re pregnant, building nests and spending more time in their dens.
We’re not sure why pseudo-pregnancy occurs in polar bears but it seems to be a common phenomenon in many females we’ve monitored. A goal of CREW’s polar bear research is to develop a test to differentiate pseudo-pregnancy from true pregnancy. If Elvis proves successful, the next step is to identify the specific compound in the fecal samples that Elvis is signaling on and then develop a laboratory-based method to measure it. A test that distinguishes pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy could potentially be applicable to other species that experience pseudo-pregnancy, such as endangered cat species, otters, and red pandas.
Since the sniffer dog project is still in the testing phase, we are not making any major management changes based on Elvis’s predictions. Berit’s keepers continue to keep a close eye on her and she still has access to a den and extra bedding if she wants it. Berit has never produced offspring, so while Elvis’s predictions are disappointing, they are not a total surprise. Berit is of prime reproductive age for a polar bear (14 years) and we have not lost hope that she may have cubs next year!
November 19, 2013 No Comments