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Category — Birds

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

Saving the Kea

Hello! My name is Ke’Yasha Lumaine and I am a senior at the Zoo Academy. That’s right, the ZOO ACADEMY! I have been fortunate enough to actually go to school at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden my junior and senior years of high school. It has been an amazing life experience. There is a particular memory at the Zoo Academy that I will always think of fondly – my first encounter with the kea.

keyasha kea

During my senior year, I had the chance to do a lab rotation in the Aviculture (bird) department. It was the coolest experience that I have had with any department at the Zoo. Lab is where we spend two hours every day taking care of animals or maintaining Zoo grounds. I’ve had lab in Night Hunters, Maintenance, Commissary, Conservatory, Manatee Springs, Reptile House, Education and Education Interpretive Collection, yet no lab compared to the Aviculture department. At the time of my lab rotation, I had the chance to go into the Flight Cage which has kea, lorikeets, pigeons, and geese that are free to fly around the whole exhibit. To me, the most exciting birds in the exhibit were the kea. When Kim (an Aviculture keeper) and I walked into the enclosure, they all came wobbling towards us. They can look very intimidating with their long, sharp beak, strong claws and are pretty big in size for a parrot. I was a little uneasy about this at first but I felt sort of safe since Kim was there. They just swarmed around and played with us, climbing on my boots and following me around. They were like puppies, just with large beaks and wings! After my lab rotation, I learned that kea are the world’s only alpine parrot, that they live in the mountainous regions of South Island, New Zealand and that they were almost hunted to their extinction. Between the years of 1870 and 1970, it is estimated that 150,000 kea were killed by hunters who were paid bounties by the local government. Keas were hunted because their actions indirectly killed sheep. They would bite the backs of sheep and eat the fat stored near the kidneys. The sheep would often die later of an infection. The kea did this because, in the harsh winter months, the food that they would normally eat it is hard to find. One hundred years after the hunting began, a wildlife census found that there were only 5,000 birds left in the wild. After this, keas were granted partial protection until 1986 when they were given full protection under the Wildlife Act of 1953. Now, there are estimated to be 1,000-5,000 keas in the wild, making them a nationally endangered species. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has teamed up with the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) with the hope that they can successfully increase kea populations. They use population research using vhf video tracking, nest monitoring devices and kea repellents to reduce human-wildlife conflict. The Zoo also sponsors KCT staff attendance at Human Wildlife Conflict Collaboration which enables the KCT personnel to enhance their skills of first response human-wildlife emergencies. In addition, the Cincinnati Zoo has the largest collection of keas in North America and is committed to their conservation. At the time of my lab rotation, the keepers had successfully bred a pair and their chicks were a few months old. After learning about kea and interacting with them, I wanted to find out what I could do to help them. I learned that there are numerous ways that we can help spread awareness and conserve their natural habitat. It can be something as simple as telling someone about kea, donating money to the Kea Conservation Trust, or placing change in the interactive enrichment puzzle at their exhibit. Every small contribution adds up to make a huge impact. Next time you come to the Zoo make sure that you make a stop by the flight cage and visit the kea. They really love interacting with new people!


June 11, 2015   4 Comments

Zoo Educator Heading to the Galapagos as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Fellow

I am excited to announce that I’ve been selected as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Every year, K-12 educators (formal and informal) are encouraged to apply for this professional development opportunity that allows them to bring immersive geographic learning experiences back to their classrooms and communities. Last year, my colleague in the Zoo’s Education Department, Sarah Navarro, was a Fellow and traveled to the Canadian Maritimes. This year, it’s my turn.  I am one of 35 educators from the United States and Canada to receive this honor this year in recognition of my commitment to geographic education here at the Zoo (out of a pool of 2,700 applicants). Read about all of the Fellows here.

2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows  (Photo: Mark Thiessen)

2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows (Photo: Mark Thiessen)

In September, I will embark on a Lindblad voyage for one-of-a-kind field experience, accompanied by Lindblad-National Geographic expedition experts. I will be traveling on a 10-day expedition aboard the National Geographic Endeavour to the Galapagos, and I couldn’t be more excited!

National Geographic Endeavour sailing in the Galapagos (Photo: Michael S. Nolan)

National Geographic Endeavour sailing in the Galapagos (Photo: Michael S. Nolan)

The Galapagos is a unique ecosystem with an equally compelling history. I’ve read (and will continue to until I embark) about the region’s geology, ecology, wildlife and human history, but travelling to the actual place will really bring those ideas to life. I’m keenly interested in understanding how all the biotic and abiotic components interact with each other to provide a big picture of the region as well as learning how each component is designed to survive in this place. I’m also very curious to learn about conservation on the islands.

Snorkel with Galapagos sea lions? I'm in! (Photo: Michael S Nolan)

Snorkel with Galapagos sea lions? I’m in! (Photo: Michael S Nolan)

During the expedition, I expect to build my knowledge through first-hand experiences such as hiking and snorkeling as well as from interactions with the Expeditions staff and fellow travelers. I’m particularly looking forward to a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about their tortoise conservation efforts. I plan to keep a detailed journal as well as take a LOT of photos.

This could be me in September, taking pictures of giant tortoises! (Photo: Walt Denson)

This could be me in September, taking pictures of giant tortoises! (Photo: Walt Denson)

My primary responsibility here at the Zoo is to plan and create interpretive exhibits and experiences that connect people to nature and inspire them to respect and conserve it. This expedition will provide me with new and exciting first-hand knowledge of the wildlife and ecology of the Galapagos Islands that I can incorporate into authentic learning experiences for guests, particularly at our Galapagos tortoise and bird exhibits.

On April 15, another of the Fellows from Cincinnati, Dawnetta Hayes, and I were invited to share our news on WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition with Mark Heyne. That was a new experience for me, too! You can listen to the podcast here.

Pre-voyage interview with Mark Heyne on WVXU's Cincinnati Edition (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Pre-voyage interview with Mark Heyne on WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Prior to our expeditions, all 35 of the Fellows traveled to National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., in April to participate in hands-on workshops covering photography and outreach planning. We had the opportunity to meet Lindblad Expeditions’ naturalists and National Geographic staff as well as get to know each other and several of the previous year’s Fellows.

Here I am at National Geographic headquarters in D.C.

Here I am at National Geographic headquarters in D.C.

This year marks the ninth year of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program, established to honor former National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor’s lifetime commitment to geographic education. The program began with two Fellows in 2007 and has grown each year. The expeditions were donated in perpetuity to the National Geographic Society by Sven-Olof Lindblad and Lindblad Expeditions to mark Grosvenor’s 75th birthday in 2006 and to honor his service to enhancing and improving geographic education across the United States. (Additional support for the 2015 program is provided by Google and private funders.)

Sven-Olof Lindblad actually gave a presentation here at the Zoo in May as part of our Barrows Conservation Lecture Series, and I was very happy to connect with him then. He gave a fantastic talk about the importance of travel and direct experiences to opening people’s eyes and minds and hearts to the wonder of our natural world and the interconnections between themselves and the people and wildlife of faraway places. Our world is changing and we need to be global citizens to ensure its sustainability.

Former Fellow Sarah Navarro, current Fellow Janet Shedd (from Lexington) and I introduce Sven-Olof Lindblad to Gabriel the potto prior to his presentation.

Former Fellow Sarah Navarro, current Fellow Janet Shedd (from Lexington) and I introduce Sven-Olof Lindblad to Gabriel the potto prior to his presentation.

As the date of my voyage approaches, I’ll be reading and absorbing as much as I can about the Galapagos Islands in preparation, and I will be sure to share my experience through pictures and stories after I return from the expedition in October.

I can't wait to see these blue-footed boobies in action! (Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins)

I can’t wait to see these blue-footed boobies in action! (Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins)

May 29, 2015   3 Comments