Category — Animal Sciences
Here in the Wings of the World bird house at the Cincinnati Zoo, kea are all the hype this season. And this is with good reason. The success of the new interactive flight this past summer is noteworthy, but behind the scenes something just as exciting was occurring. The Wings of the World department includes an area off exhibit dedicated to incubating eggs and hand-rearing chicks. This year we successfully hatched out and raised six kea chicks. Raising this species is a very time consuming process that requires the help of all the bird staff over the course of five months, from day one of incubation to fledging.
Artificially incubating eggs is a delicate endeavor. Eggs are fragile and sensitive; therefore it is vital to keep them in a clean environment with precise temperature and humidity settings. The bird department has four incubators dedicated to this, all set up for different species of birds that may require different parameters. Eggs are weighed and candled twice a week in order to closely monitor development. Candling is a technique used to see the developing embryo inside the egg. This technique indicates to keepers whether or not a chick is developing correctly, is in the right position for hatching, and when the hatching process has begun. Keeping track of weights is an indicator of whether or not humidity in the incubator needs to be adjusted. Kea egg incubation term is 21-28 days.
Once a chick has pipped (pierced the outer layer of the shell), it is moved to a different incubator where the temperature and humidity is ideal for hatching. It can take anywhere from 24-72 hours for a chick to hatch. All six of our kea hatched out on their own and proved to be strong and healthy when they were immediately standing upright and exhibiting a feeding response.
After a few hours, the chick can be moved to another enclosure, called a brooder. The brooder keeps the chick’s environment at a warm stable temperature. Keepers use washcloths and towels rolled up in a bowl to simulate a nest. As chicks grow and down feathers come in, temperatures and enclosures are modified to fit their needs.
Kea chicks are fed a specialized formula that meets all their dietary needs. The formula is made up fresh at each feeding and fed through a syringe. Weights are obtained daily and detailed notes are kept to ensure the chick is gaining the appropriate amount each day and hitting developmental milestones. The keas are initially fed every three hours, six times per day. That makes for a long day for the bird keepers! When the chicks start to become very mobile and curious with their surroundings, solid food is offered. Whether they play in it, walk in it, or sleep in it, it’s a good experience for them to have access to solids. The bird staff spends a lot of time hand-feeding different food items in different forms until chicks begin to show interest. Overall, the best method to wean chicks is to have an adult kea around to show them how a real kea does it.
Once the kea are fully feathered and starting to self-feed, we begin daily field trips to the kea exhibit and holding areas. This gives the chicks an opportunity to adapt to a new environment, explore, exercise, and learn how to behave around adult keas. As the chicks become more comfortable in this new environment, the longer they can stay out. The length of the trips and the need for supervision from keepers all depends on how the kea seem to be adapting. Overall, it takes around four months to hand-raise a kea and then fully integrate it into the flock. This is on par with a kea chick that fledges around 3-4 months of age in the wild.
Raising kea takes a lot of time and effort from the bird staff, but the reward is great. The Cincinnati Zoo is the only AZA-accredited institution to hatch out and raise kea in the last five years. What an accomplishment! Next time you are at the Zoo, stop by the free flight aviary next to Wings of the World and see if you can spot one of our six juveniles, all grown up.
March 2, 2015 2 Comments
In September, the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research (CREW) was awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institution of Museum and Library Services in support of a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) initiative for Indian rhinos and African white rhinos. Dr. Monica Stoops will be the Project Director for the grant work and will be working in partnership with Dr. Justine O’Brien from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center (SWBGRRC), which includes a state-of-the-art sperm sorting and cryopreservation laboratory. CREW will undertake the project to expand access and build capacity for African and Asian rhino reproductive care within North American zoological facilities. Eight zoos have committed to building a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) in collaboration with CREW. This project will help 1) contribute to the genetic management and propagation of captive Indian rhinos through artificial insemination (AI); 2) enhance southern white rhino fertility through exogenous hormone administration prior to natural breeding or AI; 3) build upon national rhino gamete rescue centers at CREW and SWBGRRC; and 4) provide collaborating facilities with individualized training and/or support in rhino assisted reproductive technology (exogenous hormone protocols, ultrasonography, endocrine analysis, AI, and sperm collection, sorting and cryopreservation).
One part of the proposed research will be to continue and expand upon a preliminary CREW investigation conducted to develop an exogenous hormone protocol to initiate reproductive activity in previously acyclic southern white rhinos. The African white rhino remains the most popular rhino species held in U.S. zoos (although we do not currently house them here in Cincinnati). Although captive breeding has been successful and a sufficient number of calves are being produced to consistently maintain the population, the proportion of breeding recommendations resulting in offspring is quite low. It is estimated that <30% of all wild born and <20% of captive born African white rhinos have reproduced in captivity. These numbers reflect a major impediment to achieving a sustainable captive breeding program for this species.
A primary reason for the low reproductive rate is that a vast majority of females display long periods of acyclicity. Significant progress has been made in initiating reproductive activity in acyclic white rhinos in Europe using exogenous hormones. However, many drugs used overseas are not commercially available in the United States. Therefore, it became necessary
to develop novel hormone protocols using U.S. drugs to similarly promote a resumption in reproductive activity for acyclic white rhinos.
CREW scientists, in partnership with several North American zoos, embarked on a preliminary exogenous hormone trial in which four acyclic female white rhinos were treated. Females responded by growing preovulatory follicles, but did not stand for breeding by a male and required an additional hormone to ovulate. This initial hormone protocol may be adequate should artificial insemination be performed, but CREW scientists and partner zoos are working to develop an alternative hormone protocol that will result in natural mating so that more individual rhinos and institutions will benefit. By enhancing the fertility of captive African white rhinos, CREW is helping to ensure the sustainability of this rhino population.
January 14, 2015 1 Comment
Happy New Year! As we look back on 2014, let’s reflect on some of the Zoo’s significant contributions to wildlife conservation in the field this past year:
Helping Lions Thrive in Kenya’s South Rift Valley
Since 2011, the Zoo has partnered with the African Conservation Centre and the South Rift Association of Land Owners in Kenya on the Rebuilding the Pride program. This community-based conservation program combines Maasai tradition and modern technology to restore a healthy lion population while reducing the loss of livestock to lions in Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Once down to a low of about 10 known lions in the area, the population has grown to more than 65 lions in 2014. This past April, a lioness named Nasha gave birth to another litter, this one containing three cubs. That the population is growing in the South Rift Valley at a time when lion populations are severely declining across the continent overall is significant and a testament to program’s community-based approach.
A Giant Step Forward for Sumatran Rhinos in the Wild
The Zoo has been committed to saving the Sumatran rhino for 25 years. Despite the devastating blow of the loss of our female rhino, Suci, back in March, the Zoo continues to work to conserve and protect the species. In 2014, a Debt-for-Nature deal was struck between the United States and Indonesia. In return for lowering the debt Indonesia owes to the United States, it will commit nearly $12 million towards the conservation and protection of critically endangered species, including the Sumatran rhino, and their habitats over the next seven years. The debt swap was made possible by a contribution of about $11.2 million from the U.S. government under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (first introduced by Ohio Senator Rob Portman in 1998) and $560,000 from other organizations funneled through Conservation International. The Zoo was proud to help secure this funding by pledging a major gift.
Saving American Chestnut Trees with Cryopreserved Pollen
The magnificent American chestnut tree once ranged over the entire Eastern United States, but was almost entirely obliterated by blight by the mid-twentieth century. Over the years, breeders have been working to develop a resistant tree, and one of their key tools is pollen. American chestnut pollen rapidly declines in viability so maintaining important lines of pollen from year to year is difficult. In 1993, pollen was cryopreserved (frozen) in liquid nitrogen at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). Last spring, some of that pollen was removed and used to successfully pollinate trees at the American Chestnut Foundation’s farm in Virginia. Paternity testing will be done at CREW this winter, but the indications are very good that cryopreservation can indeed maintain pollen viability for at least 20 years—a fact that should provide a new tool to those working to save this majestic American tree.
Committing to Kea Conservation in New Zealand
Over the past few years, the Zoo has supported the Kea Conservation Trust’s (KCT) efforts to protect and study New Zealand’s mountain parrot, the kea, in the wild. In 2014, the Zoo stepped up its efforts with a commitment to support the Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, a multi-year proactive community-focused conflict response and resolution program. Funds from the Zoo support a key personnel position, the Community Volunteers Coordinator, who can respond to conflict situations that arise. Funds will also enable KCT staff to enhance their conflict resolution skills by participating in a Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration Workshop. Additionally, Zoo aviculturists will join the KCT team for kea nest monitoring and field work over the next couple of years.
Pledging Support for Panthera’s Tigers Forever Initiative
The Zoo is committed to ensuring the survival of endangered tigers of which there are fewer than 3,200 remaining in the wild. In 2014, we have pledged multi-year support of the tiger conservation efforts of Panthera, the leading international wild cat conservation organization with a mission to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action. To ensure the tiger’s survival, Panthera works across Asia with numerous partners to end the poaching of tigers for the illegal wildlife trade, prevent tiger deaths due to conflict with humans and livestock, and protect tiger prey species and habitat. Through their program, Tigers Forever, Panthera works to protect and secure key tiger populations and ensure connectivity between sites so that tigers can live long into the future.
Restoring Native Wetlands and Wildlife in Mason, Ohio
In 1995, a 529-acre farm in Mason, Ohio, now called the EcOhio Farm, was willed to the Zoo with the guideline that it could never be developed unless it is to further the mission of the Zoo. Over the past few years, the Zoo has worked to restore 30 of the farm’s acres to its original state of a wet sedge meadow, providing refuge for a diversity of native wildlife. Since restoration began in 2012, drainage tiles have been removed and more than 200 native plant species and thousands of trees have been planted on the site. The wetland is returning to its natural state very quickly. Already, it has attracted more than 135 native bird species, including bald eagles, bobolinks and killdeer, which would never have been there when it was a cornfield. Though not currently open to the public, walking trails and a small education center may be implemented in the future to provide opportunities to explore the wetland.
Strengthening our Support for Gorillas in the Republic of Congo
Over the past 20 years, the Zoo has partnered with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in the Republic of Congo, which includes the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running study of the critically endangered western lowland gorilla. The Zoo also supports work in an area called Mondika where gorillas are habituated for up close research and ecotourism. Habituation is a process through which the wild gorillas become accustomed to and tolerate the presence of people that enables researchers and tourists to observe them up close. The Zoo recently helped facilitate the habituation of a second group of gorillas, and entered into an agreement in 2014 to support the habituation of a third group over the next three years. Special thanks goes to Gorilla Glue, our official gorilla conservation sponsor!
All of these projects and more couldn’t happen without your support of the Zoo. Here’s to you and the Zoo making more great strides for wildlife conservation in 2015!
January 7, 2015 No Comments