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Category — Animals

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! Meet Head Keeper, Rick Heithaus

Co-written by: Jenna Wingate, Kara McSweeney, & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! This week, we will be honoring five of our “All-Star” keepers as nominated by their peers, starting with Rick Heithaus! As one of the Zoo’s most senior keepers, Rick boasts more than 30 years of exotic animal experience, working with an array of animals from big cats to the Asian elephants he works with today.

An historical photo of Rick Heithaus with an African elephant

An historical photo of Rick Heithaus with an African elephant

Rick Heithaus visits with an African elephant

A more recent photo of Rick Heithaus visiting with an African elephant

Rick is a great team player and he is constantly mindful of the well-being of both the animals in his care and the keepers working around him. Rick’s safety-oriented leadership when working with elephants is both admirable and invaluable. Rick goes out of his way to ensure the absolute highest safety standards are in place and he models safe behavior at all times. It takes a lot of self-discipline and focus to keep safety at the forefront of your day, and Rick has both in spades!

Rick introduces an elephant to a patron of our Behind the Scenes Experience

Rick introduces an elephant to a patron of our Behind the Scenes Experience

When interviewing some of the keepers who have worked with Rick, all praised his incredible mentorship skills. He never misses an opportunity to teach the young keepers something valuable, and he genuinely seems to enjoy sharing information with the next generation of keepers. Though he may seem soft-spoken and unassuming, once he opens up he is easy to talk to and more than happy to share. Young keepers who have had the pleasure of working with Rick love to hear his stories from “back in the day”. From camel rides to mixed-species elephant and hippo exhibits, Rick carries with him the experience and knowledge of a keeper who has lived through our industry’s “Wild West” days.

Rick during a Behind the Scenes Elephant Experience

Rick during a Behind the Scenes Elephant Experience

One of Rick’s coworkers describes him as the “Comedy Ninja” of his department, with hilarious jokes that come out of
nowhere! Rick never seems to complain, or even get mad. Rick has been involved with the “Adopt-a-Class” initiative for several years, and he is great with children.

In his personal life, Rick enjoys taking adventurous vacations with his wife, modeling a solid work/life balance for the rest
of us. His patience and humility are legendary and he models many of the Zoo’s core values on a daily basis. We are so proud to have Rick representing our amazing profession at the Cincinnati Zoo!

July 20, 2015   No Comments

Using Cameras to Protect Keas in the Wild

Modified from an article written by Jackie Bray, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and Tamsin Orr-Walker, Chairperson, Kea Conservation Trust

The Zoo supports the conservation of kea, the world’s only alpine parrot species, in New Zealand through the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT). Fewer than 5,000 kea remain and face threats such as conflict with people, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, predation by introduced invasive species such as stoats, brush-tailed possums, cats and rats, and unintentional by-kill by poisons used to control these invasive species.

Kea (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Kea (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

One strategy of the KCT to conserve kea in their natural environment involves the protection of nesting sites. During the past breeding season (July 2014 to January 2015), video trail cameras were used to monitor nest sites and document breeding activity and conflict events.

Kea outside a nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

Kea outside a nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

A total of 33 female keas were monitored over five research sites, resulting in five successful nests producing 12 chicks, which is more than were documented in previous years.

Kea chicks in a nest (Photo: Mat Goodman)

Kea chicks in a nest (Photo: Mat Goodman)

Once active nest sites were identified, cameras were placed at the entrance to monitor breeding activity, predator visitation and chick development. A series of predator control traps were also deployed around the nesting areas to help protect the birds until the chicks fledged. The cameras documented several nests being visited by predators. KCT used this information to extend trapping systems, resulting in decreased predator visitation.

A brush-tailed possum caught on camera visiting a kea nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

Brush-tailed possums caught on camera visiting a kea nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

The cameras also provided valuable information on kea survivorship and repellent effectiveness during the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s (NZ DOC) scheduled 1080 poison drops in the Kahurangi National Park. In 2014, New Zealand experienced an intensive mast (seeding) event which resulted in a significant increase in numbers of mice, rats and stoats. A previous major mast in 2002-2003 appears to have been the cause of an 80% decline in kea numbers at Nelson Lakes. Current population numbers could not sustain another such event, making the widespread use of 1080 poison necessary. The kea’s inquisitive nature makes them more likely than other native avian species to investigate the poison baits, so the use of chemical kea repellents in the 1080 baits is being studied to reduce unintentional by-kill. Unfortunately Ceejay, one of the most productive females in the area, was found dead after ingesting 1080 poison.

The cameras also proved useful in March 2015, when keas were blamed for damaging bicycles and other property in a residential area. Cameras set up in the area were able to capture noisy nighttime activity (which was attributed to kea) generated by at least two possums and three cats on multiple occasions. One possum was actually caught on camera damaging property. The cameras helped defuse conflict between community members and the kea by allowing the KCT to accurately document conflict events.

Kea (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Kea (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Video trail cameras have provided the KCT with an incredible amount of valuable data which has been used to protect kea nesting sites and mitigate several human-kea conflict situations. The cameras also significantly reduced the amount of hours necessary for personnel to spend in the field collecting data, allowing the saved resources to be used in other conservation projects.

 

 

 

June 26, 2015   1 Comment

Moe, the Two-toed Sloth, and Her Keepers Help Save Sloths in Costa Rica

Do you know Moe? You should! She is the star of the Discovery Forest exhibit in our Education Center. As a two-toed sloth, Moe spends her days hanging out in her favorite tree. While she does rest a lot (she is a sloth, after all), Moe can be quite active at times and she is very curious.

Moe (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Moe (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Moe has become a favorite with the thousands of kids and families that participate in Education programs and camps. You can’t come and go to Summer Camp without passing by to say hello and good-bye to Moe. At the end of the day, Moe climbs down a special ladder made just for her into the arms of one of her keepers, who carries her to a behind-the-scenes suite for the night.

Moe heading in for the night

Moe heading in for the night

These days, Moe is doing more with her celebrity status beyond inspiring our guests. She and her keepers are helping to save sloths in the wild. Between April and October, guests can schedule a private, up close 30-minute encounter with Moe and her keepers. A portion of the proceeds from the ‘Moe’mentous Sloth Encounter support The Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI) and its mission to ensure a peaceful coexistence between sloths and people.

Moe interacts with guests during a Sloth Encounter

Moe interacts with guests during a Sloth Encounter

The Sloth Institute LogoThe Sloth Institute Logo jpg

The Sloth Institute (TSI) was established in August of 2014 by Sam Trull and Seda Sejud to enhance the well being of captive and wild sloths through research and education. In collaboration with Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR), TSI helps to rescue, rehabilitate and release the sloths of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. In the area near Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica’s smallest yet most popular tourist destinations, roads and development have fragmented the natural forest habitat, increasing the threats to the very wildlife people come to see. The most common injuries to sloths are electrocutions from touching electrical wires and orphans separated from their mothers. Sloths are also vulnerable to vehicle strikes and dog attacks when they descend from the trees. In addition, TSI helps KSTR hand-rear baby sloths that are orphaned because the mother abandoned them or the mother was injured or killed. Sloths can be very difficult to raise due to their sensitivity to infection and incomplete information on what wild sloths need to survive.

TSI Founder, Sam Trull, with orphaned sloths, Locket and Chuck

TSI Founder, Sam Trull, with orphaned sloths, Locket and Chuck (Photo: The Sloth Institute Costa Rica)

When possible, the goal is to rehabilitate and release the sloths that are healthy and capable enough to survive and thrive again in the wild. In order to monitor each individual’s success post release, TSI plans to fit each sloth with a tracking device that will allow them to be monitored post-release and contribute to knowledge about sloth ecology and how to successfully raise and release orphaned and injured sloths.

TSI is beginning its first release project of 2 two-toed and 2 three-toed sloths. The release process involves selecting and obtaining permits for an appropriate forested area for the release that is safe from development, electric wires and cars. Once a site is secured, the sloths will be transferred from the KSTR rescue center to a soft-release enclosure in the forest to let them get used to their new environment. During this time, TSI will provide leaves from the forest to get the sloths more used to the diet found at the release site while still supplementing them with captive food. After about a month, TSI will open the door, allowing the sloths access to the surrounding forest. They will be able to choose when to explore the outside world. This “soft release” gives the sloths as much time as they need to get used to their new environment and learn how to find food before going off completely on their own, which is the most appropriate method for hand-raised orphans that require a lot of maternal investment.

Volunteer research assistant observing a young sloth practicing its climbing skills (Photo: Sam Trull)

Volunteer research assistant observing a young sloth practicing its climbing skills (Photo: Sam Trull)

With funding from the Cincinnati Zoo, TSI was able to purchase four of the VHF tracking collars for this project. Fitted with the collars, the sloths can be tracked around the clock to collect behavioral data, locational data and health status information.  Simultaneously, TSI will also track wild sloths for comparison and to provide parameters for evaluating the success of the release.

Tracking collar purchased with funds from the Zoo (Photo: The Sloth Institute Costa Rica)

Tracking collar purchased with funds from the Zoo (Photo: The Sloth Institute Costa Rica)

Furthermore, TSI will also start a long-term field station for studying wild sloths in Manuel Antonio. They hope to learn more about sloth ecology in this region of Costa Rica, including information on diets, home range, carrying capacity, health status and social structure.

Keep up with the latest happenings at TSI through its Sloth Diaries blog, and consider supporting sloths in the wild by booking your own Sloth Encounter at the Zoo. And next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop into the Education Center to say hello to Moe.

Moe (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Moe (Photo: Kathy Newton)

 

 

June 15, 2015   1 Comment