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Category — Animals

Endangered Texas Ocelots: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Thanks to all who came out to AAZK’s Cinco de Gato fundraiser on May 15 to support Texas ocelot conservation! We had a fantastic time at Ladder 19. Great food and drinks, and Sihil, our ocelot ambassador, was a star as usual. With your help, we were able to raise more than $2,000 to support ocelot conservation through the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Sihil wows the crowd at Cinco de Gato (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

Sihil wows the crowd at Cinco de Gato (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

Celebrating Cinco de Gato! (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

Celebrating Cinco de Gato! (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

The endangered Texas ocelot needs our help more than ever. Over the past year, seven of the estimated 80 remaining Texas ocelots were killed by vehicles. Six of these mortalities were adult males. Among ocelots, it is not easy to be a maturing male. In order to prevent competition for access to breeding females, older males often force the younger males to leave the area where they grew up, sending them out to find females and territory of their own. Once out of protected, dense brush habitat areas, these younger males encounter the human-developed world and all of its dangers, in particular roads and vehicles. In reaction to the large proportion of road mortalities being males, Dr. Hilary Swarts, a wildlife biologist who monitors ocelots in south Texas with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said, “I can’t say it’s surprising that six of the seven deaths were males, since they have such a rough time of it once the older males start to see the younger males as competition for mates and territory.”

Ocelot Mortalities Map (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ocelot Mortalities Map (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

It is also not a great surprise to see that three of the seven deaths occurred on Highway 186, which bisects optimal ocelot habitat. Though road signs warning of wildlife were posted in the high risk stretch of Highway 186 in November 2015, thanks to actions by Willacy County officials and the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), signs alone did not reduce the threat of vehicle collision to ocelots.

Hwy 186 Wildlife Crossing Sign (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Hwy 186 Wildlife Crossing Sign (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

This terrible run of ocelot road mortalities emphasizes the crucial need for under-the-road wildlife crossings to allow ocelots and other wildlife to pass under roads to avoid vehicles.  USFWS and TXDOT have worked hard to establish ocelot road crossings in areas south of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. In the future, they plan to establish crossings in other areas where recent ocelot deaths have occurred, particularly on Highway 186.

Ocelot killed on Hwy 77 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ocelot killed on Hwy 77 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The good news is that construction of wildlife underpasses has already begun on FM106, a road that borders and runs through excellent ocelot habitat on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Ocelots have been killed there in the past. The first ocelot crossing was installed on April 27, 2016 and the next one is underway.  A series of eight crossings in total is planned for roads near the refuge.  Once installed, crossings will be monitored to see how ocelots and other wildlife respond. “This is new terrain for us, since wildlife crossings have not really been built in ocelot habitat before. It will be very interesting to see what our wildlife crossing monitoring program reveals about when and how ocelots and other wildlife use the newly installed crossings” Swarts said.

Wildlife crossing being installed on FM106 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Wildlife crossing being installed on FM106 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Another positive development is that this summer, TXDOT will begin installing a series of four ocelot crossings on State Highway 100, which has been the site of five known ocelot mortalities over the years.  USFWS is also working with partners and neighboring landowners to establish permanent wildlife corridors for ocelots and other species in the area around Highway 100. These targeted wildlife corridors are made of suitable habitat that will connect protected areas, and provide a safer travel route to the wildlife crossings that are being constructed.

With such a small population, every ocelot is important to the population’s survival. Past data have shown that 40% of identified ocelots were killed by vehicles. The new era of installing wildlife crossings on roadways in areas where ocelots live will be one of the most important ongoing actions for ocelot conservation in south Texas.

May 27, 2016   2 Comments

The Power of Connections: Endangered Species Day

Guest blogger: Kristina Meek, Wild Encounters

There are currently 16,306 plants and animals listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That’s more people than visit our Zoo on a typical spring day.

It’s Endangered Species Day, so you might hear a lot of shocking numbers like this, which could understandably put a damper on your day. If you wanted to make a difference, which of the 16,000+ would you even choose to start with? Well, you don’t have to choose. All plant and animal life is interconnected, which means that by taking small actions that support a healthy ecosystem, you can benefit all species, including our own!

If you’re visiting our blog, you’re probably passionate about animals and the environment. That passion gives you power. Let’s look at how you can harness your power to make Endangered Species Day the start of significant change.

What does “endangered” actually mean?

It’s a good idea to first understand what we mean by the term. In the 1990s, the IUCN developed the Red List of Threatened Species™, widely recognized as the standard for evaluating a plant or animal’s risk of extinction. They rank species along a continuum from “least concern,” to “vulnerable,” followed by “endangered,” the more serious “critically endangered,” and finally, “extinct.” Watch this video to learn more.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also maintains a list of endangered species, as do state and local agencies. Around our Zoo and others, you might see signs that display an animal’s IUCN classification. For example, you’ll see that the red pandas are considered “vulnerable,” while the black rhinos are “critically endangered.”

Black rhino (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Black rhino (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Taking action

As we’ve said, one positive environmental action holds the potential to affect a lot of different areas. We’re all living on the same planet, so shopping with reusable bags here in Cincinnati really does have ripple effects for polar bears in the Arctic!

Here at the Zoo, you can bring us your old cell phone for recycling, which reduces the need for mining metals in endangered gorilla habitat to make new ones. Go a step further by collecting phones at your school or around your neighborhood.

Western lowland gorillas (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Western lowland gorillas (Photo: Mark Dumont)

You can also support our many conservation field efforts. Cheetahs, western lowland gorillas, and keas are just a few of the species we’re actively involved with conserving in the wild. When we work to protect these animals’ habitats, we also benefit countless other species with whom they share space.

You don’t need to limit your choices to those you can carry out at the Zoo. Change can begin in your own backyard…literally. Plant native plant species in your yard. They’ll attract native insects which, in turn, will attract other native species that eat them, and native species that eat them. More pollinating insects means more native plants and, you see, the cycle really gets going!

Good news

As a team, organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), like ours, have made strides in restoring more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species. (Read more about AZA efforts here.)

There has been good news just over the past year. In 2015, the IUCN moved the Iberian lynx from “critically endangered” to the less severe “endangered.” The Guadalupe fur seal went from “threatened” down to “least concern.” The global community has taken new interest in restricting trophy hunting thanks, in part, to the publicity surrounding Cecil the lion’s tragic death. Change can happen.

And just last week, we received good news for a critically endangered species that is near and dear to our hearts, the Sumatran rhino. A female rhino calf was born on May 12 at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesia. The calf’s father, Andalas, was born here at the Zoo in 2001 and moved to the SRS in 2007. With fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left on the planet, this birth is significant for the species, and we are proud to have played a part in it.

Ratu and her newborn calf (Photo: Stephen Belcher)

Ratu and her newborn calf (Photo: Stephen Belcher)

There are infinite choices you can make to promote positive change, but you’ll be most successful if you start with one or two that really speak to you. You’ll help ensure that currently endangered animals are still around for your children and grandchildren to enjoy and, more importantly, you’ll improve life on Earth for all of us.

And be sure to tell your friends and family. The power of your passion is contagious!

“The quality of our life on this earth is dependent on how we treat the rest of life on Earth. We have a moral responsibility to look after the rest of the world, the future of which now lies in our hands.”  –David Attenborough

May 20, 2016   2 Comments

American Burying Beetle Reintroduction

On May 24th The Cincinnati Zoo will be releasing over 100 pairs of American burying beetles (ABBs) at the nearby Fernald Nature preserve. These beetles were reared at the Cincinnati Zoo by insectarium staff, interns, volunteers and students. They are the offspring of wild collected beetles from Nebraska. The ABB was once found everywhere in the eastern United States but because of a handful of issues (habitat destruction, increased scavenger populations, etc.) they are now only found in a few counties in a few states. The Cincinnati Zoo has partnered with the US Fish & Wildlife service and the Fernald Nature Preserve to help bring this strange but important, endangered insect back to Ohio.

A Zoo Academy student helping to rear the endangered American Burying Beetle!

A Zoo Academy student helping to rear the endangered American Burying Beetle!

This is the 4th year of reintroductions held at Fernald. We are also planning a second release of about 50 pairs of ABBs in early July. After this year we will have placed over 600 adult ABBs at Fernald in an attempt to found a wild population. 

This is a brand new beetle raised at the Cincinnati Zoo

This is a brand new beetle raised at the Cincinnati Zoo

When we release the beetles we actually set them up to breed right away so that each pair of beetles can create up to 40 offspring. It’s called a burying beetle for a reason! These ABBs will locate small animal carcasses and bury them a foot deep overnight and then raise their young on the carcass. Check-ups and post release monitoring have shown us that the beetles are breeding and creating hundreds of larvae, but unfortunately we have yet to find any adult ABBs that have over-wintered on site at Fernald. That may sound dismal, but it is my opinion that they are just dispersing beyond our ability to survey for them. These beetles can fly up to 2 miles in one night! This year however we are holding two separate reintroductions to see if it will affect their over-wintering success and their dispersal rate. We also hope to partner with neighboring parks and wildlife areas to expand our survey efforts.

The rearing facility at the zoo. Each container houses a single beetle. Pink for girls and blue for boys.

The rearing facility at the zoo. Each container houses a single beetle. Pink for girls and blue for boys.

Join the Cincinnati Zoo on June 18th from 2pm-4pm at the Fernald Nature Preserve’s Visitor’s Center for a presentation about all things ABB! I’ll be bringing specimens and going over the animal’s natural history and the reintroduction efforts. We will also be hiking out to a pit-fall trap to see what we caught overnight with crossed fingers that there might be an American burying beetle waiting in the trap!

The release site at the Fernald Preserve

The release site at the Fernald Preserve

Click here to learn more about ABBs.

May 16, 2016   No Comments