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Category — Animals

Manatee Appreciation Day Finds Us Cautiously Optimistic About the Future of Manatees in the Wild

Are manatees bouncing back from the brink of extinction? Recent aerial counts conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggest it may be so. A record 6,250 manatees were recorded in Florida this past winter, breaking the last record of 5,077 manatees in 2010.

Florida manatee, Crystal River, Florida, USA

Florida manatee, Crystal River, Florida, USA

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed reclassifying the West Indian manatee, which includes the Florida subspecies, from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. By definition, an endangered species is a “species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” and a threatened species is a “species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” USFWS believes that the West Indian manatee is no longer in danger of extinction throughout all of its range due to decades of conservation efforts. The proposal is available for public review and comment until April 8, and the agency will announce its final decision sometime in 2017.

If USFWS does end up reclassifying the manatee to threatened, the existing Federal protection and conservation laws should remain unchanged. However, some entities like the Save the Manatee Club think the manatee population has not recovered well enough to be downlisted just yet. Outside of the United States, manatee populations are still declining in 84% of their range countries (in Mexico, Central and South America).

Whether manatees are reclassified or not, all parties agree that they continue to face serious threats that must be addressed to ensure the species’ survival. The Florida manatee, specifically, is at risk from both natural and man-made causes of injury and mortality. Exposure to red tide, cold stress, and disease are all natural problems that can affect manatees. Human-caused threats include habitat loss, boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear.

BamBam is the newest manatee resident at the Cincinnati Zoo

BamBam is the newest manatee resident at the Cincinnati Zoo

Take BamBam, the newest and youngest manatee currently residing at the Zoo, for example. BamBam was rescued from the DeSoto Canal in Brevard County in January 2015. He was suffering from cold stress and has some tissue damage on his tail as a result. Manatees are susceptible to cold stress syndrome, which can be fatal, when water temperatures fall below 68 degrees Farenheit. Historically, manatees would overwinter in natural warm water springs. However, as development has altered or taken over many of those natural springs, manatees have become dependent on warm water discharge from power plants. As technology improves, power plants become more energy-efficient, which is a good thing except that it means they are discharging cooler water, leaving the manatees out in the cold. We need to protect and restore natural warm water habitats to alleviate this problem.

BamBam lost parts of his tail to cold stress syndrome.

BamBam lost parts of his tail to cold stress syndrome.

BamBam came to Cincinnati in October 2015 for long-term rehabilitation. The Cincinnati Zoo is one of two U.S. Zoos outside of Florida that participate in the USFWS’ Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. The goal of the program is to rescue and treat sick, injured and orphaned manatees and then release them back into the wild. Since 1999, the Zoo has rehabilitated and released 12 manatees. Once BamBam fully recovers, he will make lucky number 13. Stay tuned to keep up with BamBam’s progress.

On this Manatee Appreciation Day, we find ourselves cautiously optimistic about the future of manatees in the wild and are proud to play our part in their recovery.

March 30, 2016   No Comments

Spring Bees

Male Carpenter Bee image by Matt Ward

Male Carpenter Bee image by Matt Ward

Spring has sprung and before long the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will be inundated with school groups and Carpenter Bees. And while your first instinct will be to avoid them I promise you, the school children are not to be feared. Neither are the Carpenter Bees (Xylacopa viginica), the large, yellow and black flying insect frequently encountered on zoo grounds during spring. Though they are often mistaken for Bumblebees they can be most easily differentiated from them by their black, hairless abdomens; Bumblebees have fuzzy abdomens. Carpenter Bees were so named because the females excavate their nest tunnels in wood. But the bees only nest in the wood, they do not feed on it; Carpenter Bees feed on nectar and pollen. And while Carpenter Bees can sometimes damage wooden structures the damage is occasionally caused by woodpeckers working to excavate the bees themselves for food.

Carpenter bees overwinter as adults and are among the first insects observed in spring. Each male stakes out a territory in the vicinity of a nesting female awaiting the opportunity to breed. Any other males entering the territory will be chased away and just about anything else entering the territory will be investigated. Females will reuse old tunnels or excavate new ones. Within each tunnel is a series of small chambers. A single egg is left in each chamber along with a small amount of nectar and pollen to nourish the larvae. Young Carpenter Bees will emerge from their chambers in late summer to feed on nectar in preparation for a long winter’s hibernation. The following spring they’ll emerge and begin the cycle all over again.

The Carpenter Bees encountered on zoo grounds are generally males, who’ll investigate anything that comes into their territory. Males can be easily differentiated from females by the gold or white marking between their eyes. Carpenter Bees are large and fast flying so it’s easy to see why people mistake their curiosity for aggression. But there’s really nothing to fear; male Carpenter Bees, like all male bees, wasps or hornets cannot sting. The stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ) which males don’t have. Female Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging but rarely do unless harassed.

Carpenter Bees are probably the most common bees in greater Cincinnati. The Carpenter Bees you’ll encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden are going about their lives the way their species has for countless millennia. They just happen to be doing it at a zoo instead of in a deciduous forest.

Winton Ray
Curator of Invertebrates & Aquatic Animals
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

March 30, 2016   2 Comments

Not Just for Kids: Eight Benefits of Visiting the Zoo as a Grown-Up

Guest blogger: Education Intern, Kristina Meek

What’s your first memory of visiting a zoo? It’s likely you were on a school field trip or a family outing. If you have kids at home, you’ve probably taken them to a zoo. If you don’t have kids of your own or yours are grown up, don’t let that keep you from an amazing experience! As an adult, you can still experience the wonder and fun that you remember as a kid at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Here are eight benefits you can reap from a grown-up “field trip.”

1. Stress relief

Research shows that contact with nature lowers stress, but you probably know that intuitively. Just step outside, take a deep breath and spend five minutes watching a bird or butterfly and you’ll feel yourself relax. Now think what good a few hours, or a whole day, walking among hundreds of species of plants and animals can do for you. Make the rounds and take it all in, or just find a bench and chill. Your brain, heart, and nervous system will thank you.

Watching butterflies can relieve stress! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Watching butterflies can relieve stress! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

2. Make a difference in the world.

Ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels? Want to feel like your actions have power? Zoos today are increasingly focused on conservation and green living. Just by buying a ticket for admission, you’ve already supported their cause! Throughout the Zoo, you’ll find ideas for how you can make small changes in your life, whether it’s considering the source of materials for your upcoming home remodel or simply recycling your old cell phone.

3. Fun facts for parties (or in case you’re ever on Jeopardy!)

You won’t remember everything you read on a sign or observation you make on your trip. (What’s the name of that one bird with that thing on its head?) But you’ll probably head out with a few fun facts you can spring on your dinner guests. (Did you know an elephant can “hear” through its feet?) If you’re really serious and enjoy trivia games, or aspire to appear on Jeopardy! one day, file away those nuggets of knowledge. They might come in handy.

4. Trick yourself into exercising.

Most of us struggle to fit enough exercise into our busy schedules. As you walk around the Zoo, you’ll probably be so absorbed in the sights that you won’t even think about how many steps you’re taking. Vary your pace or choose the route that feels right for you for a personalized workout. Walking up the hill from Manatee Springs to Wings of the World is a good workout, for example. You can even try something a bit more athletic by swinging like a gibbon and balancing like a lemur in Jungle Trails.

Balance like a lemur in Jungle Trails (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Balance like a lemur in Jungle Trails (Photo: Shasta Bray)

5. Impress your date.

Anyone can suggest dinner and a movie. Show your creativity and adventurous nature by making a Zoo date. You won’t lack for things to talk about, and you’ll get to know each other in a casual atmosphere. We guarantee the object of your affection won’t forget it.

Date night at the Festival of Lights

Date night at the Festival of Lights

6. You love animals.

There’s a reason the internet is swimming in animal photos. You might not go around proclaiming it like you did when you were a kid, but the affinity you felt back then still lives in you. Tap into it! Whether bugs or birds, primates or pachyderms, find out which animal makes you say, “Aww…”

What's cuter than a couple of cheetah cubs? (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

What’s cuter than a couple of cheetah cubs? (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

7. Party like an animal.

Our Zoo offers unique adults-only events. Socialize, try a new wine or beer, and surround yourself with plants and animals. We guarantee you’ll be talking about it the next day. Click here for information on Wild About Wine, coming up in summer 2016 and sponsored by Q102; and keep your eyes peeled for Zootini in July and Zoo Brew in October!

8. Support a great Cincinnati resource.

Did you know that Cincinnati has the second oldest zoo in the country (and second by only a matter of months, at that)? It’s considered one of the best zoos in the nation and is involved in several significant international conservation efforts. It’s also rich in history; the Zoo itself was declared a National Landmark! It boasts two historic buildings (the Elephant and Reptile Houses) and was home to Martha the passenger pigeon, the last of her now extinct species. When you visit or become a member, you support a non-profit organization playing a major role in the character of our city.

No kids? No problem! The Zoo is for grown-ups, too! We’ll see you soon at the Zoo!

March 29, 2016   No Comments