Category — Birds
Kneeling on the white sandy shore of San Cristobal Island with camera in hand, I must have snapped a dozen pictures of the newborn Galapagos sea lion pup as it waddled over to sniff my knee, decided I wasn’t its mother, and moved on. Where is the pup’s mother? Out fishing, most likely. Since there are no land predators larger than the Galapagos hawk here on the islands, she is free to leave her pup alone for awhile without fearing that it will be snatched up as a meal.
I’ve been home from my Lindblad Expedition to the Galapagos for a month now and I am still reeling with wonder as I recall the beauty of the islands and the amazing wildlife we encountered. The Galapagos is a very special place and has given rise to a unique diversity of wildlife, many species of which are endemic to the islands (found nowhere else in the world). I am honored to have been selected as a 2015 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with National Geographic, which provided me with this hands-on professional development opportunity to learn about the Galapagos Islands from direct experience.
Over the course of the week aboard the National Geographic Endeavour, we explored a handful of the western islands, all of which offered incredible opportunities for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and, of course, photography.
You see, in the Galapagos, the animals have evolved little to no fear of people. They accept our presence just as they would that of any other creature, and it’s a surreal feeling. People are a part of the natural world, and I felt that more in the Galapagos than anywhere else I’ve been. At home, wildlife is much more wary of people, and for good reason. We are just as much of a threat, if not more, to wildlife than their natural predators.
Yet even though we can have negative impacts on wildlife and our environment, we also have the ability to solve the problems we cause. Conservation is not so much about managing wildlife as it is about managing people. In the Galapagos, it was clear that the way to preserve its unique biodiversity was not to exclude people entirely, but to regulate our actions to ensure sustainability. People are only allowed to visit certain islands at certain times of the year in a limited number of groups of a limited number of people, always with a trained naturalist and only to specific designated visitor sites. You must stay on the trails and leave no trace – and I mean nothing; if you have to go to the bathroom, you go back to the ship. While visiting, you may not approach wildlife any closer than six feet (though sometimes they approached you). In essence, wildlife has the right of way.
What if we showed that level of pride in and respect towards our wildlife and environment here at home? It would take a huge cultural shift, but I think it’s doable. In fact, I think we are making progress. People, in general, seem more aware of the issues and the impact of their actions now than they did when I started working at the Zoo 16 years ago. The sustainable living trend continues to gain traction. We are starting to realize that conservation is more than just saving any one species in particular; it’s about maintaining whole ecosystems and considering our place in them.
I am recharged and even more motivated than before to continue my work here at the Zoo. I plan to use the Galapagos as a model for how people and wildlife can coexist, specifically at our Galapagos tortoise exhibit. My goal is for guests to recognize that they are part of the natural world and have an important role to play in it both locally and globally.
I am extremely grateful to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for providing me with the opportunity to advance geographic literacy by engaging in this field-based experience and incorporating it into my work at the Zoo through the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program.
November 9, 2015 2 Comments
For years, the Zoo has supported scarlet macaw conservation in Guatemala through the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre (ARCAS). ARCAS is pleased to announce the first ever release of endangered scarlet macaws (Ara macao cyanoptera) in Guatemala.
On October 5th, 2015, nine individuals were released in the Sierra Lacandon National Park in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the northern Peten region of the country with the objective of reinforcing the local macaw population there. These nine macaws are graduates of ARCAS´ captive breeding program, initiated in 2004 utilizing birds confiscated in the illegal pet trade. They are the result of years of hard work, including determining the genetic origin of the founder animals, developing successful captive breeding methodologies, and establishing rehabilitation protocols. Laboratory exams were carried out to confirm the health of the birds and prevent the spread of illnesses into wild populations.
In this program, the chicks are raised by their parents so they are less likely to become imprinted on humans and will have a better chance at surviving in the wild. They are fed wild food so that they know what to eat once they are released. Five of the macaws were fitted with satellite transmitters in order to monitor their movements and success in adapting to the wild. Funds were raised for the necessary equipment for the monitoring of released birds, and an environmental education program was established in order to gain the support of local communities at the release site.
The release of these parrots can be measured in years of hard work, in hours without sleep, in days of research, and in high costs; but its real value is in boosting the population of this endangered species, which currently stands at 300 to 400 birds. ARCAS will work hard to continue monitoring the animals to determine their success at adapting to life in the wild, and the Zoo will continue to support and cheer them on!
October 20, 2015 2 Comments
The Zoo continues to support the Bird Endowment’s Nido Adoptivo Saving the Blues program to enhance the reproduction of blue-throated macaws in the wild in Bolivia.
The critically endangered blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis) is only known to survive on private ranches in one small region of northern Bolivia known as Los Llanos de Moxos with a population estimated at 350-400 individuals. It relies on cavities in palm trees as nest sites, but often loses out on nest sites due to competition from other macaws, toucans, bats and large woodpeckers.
The goal of the Nino Adoptivo Saving the Blues program is to increase the annual reproductive output of blue-throated macaws by providing nest boxes. The first nest boxes were installed in 2007, and more have been added over the past eight years to total 60 nest boxes in 2014-2015 season. Nest boxes are monitored twice a month by a field biologist who records the nest box contents, usage and inter-species interactions.
The 2014-2015 season was the program’s most successful year to date. A total of 10 blue-throated macaws fledged out of four nest boxes. An additional nest box was used by a pair of blue-throated macaws, but no chicks were fledged. This brings the total to 56 macaws fledged from nest boxes since the program’s beginning.
Other species continue to use the nest boxes as well, including blue-and-yellow macaws, white-eyed parakeets and black-bellied whistling ducks. However, changes made in the design of the wooden nest boxes to better suit blue-throated macaws over other species, such as reducing the size of the entrance hole, seems to be curbing some of the competition.
For this upcoming breeding season (2015-2016), the program will expand by placing 15 additional nest boxes in a new area. The program will also experiment with new, wider nest box designs to see if giving them more space will lead to a larger number of eggs laid per clutch. Another experiment will try using a more natural-looking nest box, essentially a hollowed out chunk of a dead tree trunk, to see if it is more attractive to the macaws since 36 of the current nest boxes were not used this past season.
September 9, 2015 No Comments