Category — Cats
Last week, Sihil, the Zoo’s 14-year-old ambassador ocelot, showed off her spots at an Ocelot Conservation Day Festival held in Brownsville, Texas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Gladys Porter Zoo hosted the event to highlight ocelots, which are native to South Texas.
In the United States, ocelots once roamed throughout Texas and into Arkansas and Louisiana. Today, fewer than 50 wild ocelots remain in the country, deep in South Texas. One of two known Texas populations survives on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Since 1997, the annual ocelot festival has helped educate thousands of people about the importance of conserving ocelots and what they can to do help. Nothing impacts the audience more than experiencing a real live ocelot, which is where Sihil comes in.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program is one of the few programs in the country that trains and works with ocelots to display natural behaviors for large audiences. Since 2007, Sihil and her trainers have traveled to Texas each year to appear at the festival. Having recently taken on a new role as the Education Advisor for the AZA’s Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), I was fortunate to be able to tag along this year to learn more about Texas ocelot conservation and meet the people I’ll be working with on it in person.
After packing up the Cat Ambassador Program van with everything to meet Sihil’s needs for the week-long trip, which included a travel crate, her larger mobile “condo” crate, a cooler packed with raw meat and bones, plenty of kibble and enrichment items (aka toys) and more, we hit the road.
Sihil is a champion traveler. She slept a lot, which cats are known to do, so that I often forgot she was even there (despite the persistent ocelot scent that lingered in the van) until she let out a low, raspy meow to remind us when it was close to snack time. After two days of travel, we arrived at our cabin at Cactus Creek Ranch and prepared for the next two days’ events.
The first order of business was an appearance at the Cameron County Office in downtown Brownsville. FWS staff briefed the Cameron County employees on the issues facing ocelots in their area and talked about ways they could work together to solve them. For example, FWS and the Texas Department of Transportation are teaming up to install wildlife crossings on highways to prevent ocelot road mortality, one of the major problems they face. Next, it was Sihil’s turn to impress the audience, working with her trainer, Alicia Sampson, while Wendy Rice, the other trainer, shared information and answered questions.
Later that afternoon, the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge hosted an Ocelot Soiree at the Gladys Porter Zoo to raise funds for conservation. The food, drinks, auction, presentations and conversation were fantastic, but Sihil once again stole the spotlight.
The following day was the actual Festival held at the Gladys Porter Zoo. More than 1,300 people attended the event and took part in a variety of activities from face painting and crafts to talking to wildlife officials about protecting ocelots and planting native plants to restore the thorn scrub habitat on which they rely.
There was even a singing zoologist, Lucas Miller, on hand to entertain families with his conservation-minded songs. He wrote an ocelot song just for the occasion:
And, of course, Sihil and her trainers took their turn on stage throughout the day. For many of the local families in the audience, this was their first time seeing a real live ocelot, an ambassador for her wild counterparts that live right there in South Texas. She got some great local press.
Sihil did great. The trainers never force her to perform; it’s her choice whether she wants to come out on the table and display the behaviors Alicia asks her to do through visual and verbal cues. In return, she is rewarded with meaty treats. Sihil and Alicia have developed a special trust and bond over the past 10 years that they’ve worked together. Alicia can read Sihil’s body language and pick up on cues such as the “naughty tail” – when Sihil begins quickly flicking the tip of her tail back and forth – that let her know when it’s time to wrap it up.
And what did I do while they were working? Took lots of pictures, talked to lots of people and wrote down lots of notes. As the Ocelot SSP Education Advisor, I will play a role in helping to develop and implement an education and awareness campaign to accompany one of the next big goals – the translocation of ocelots into the area. Although there are still a lot of logistics to work out, the hope is that ocelots from a healthy population in Mexico will bring much needed new genetic material into the small population in South Texas in the near future. When a population starts to lose genetic diversity, it is less able to adapt to its environment and more likely to go extinct. The animals are more prone to diseases, low reproductive rates and genetic abnormalities.
In the meantime, Sihil will continue to educate Cincinnati Zoo visitors this summer during the Cat Ambassador Program’s Cheetah Encounter show. At 14 years old, Sihil is still in tip-top shape, but approaching the expected lifespan of about 20 years in captivity. So the Zoo has brought in a new young male named Santos as her protege. Maybe next year, Santos will carry on Sihil’s legacy at the Ocelot Conservation Festival.
March 19, 2014 2 Comments
Guest Blogger: Zoo Academy Senior, Sarah Franklin
To start off, my name is Sarah Franklin. I’m a Zoo Academy student here at the Cincinnati Zoo, and I love every minute of it. The Zoo Academy is a branch of Hughes STEM High School, and is offered to anyone who attends.
Here’s a bit of my story on how I ended up here:
I was raised on a farm, not too far from Cincinnati, but in a small town that you’ve probably never heard of before. Growing up, my family and I had an array of animals on our farm. I used to love to go out with my father in the mornings or evenings to feed the animals. Any opportunity I had to go out with him, I’d jump right into my muck boots, (that came higher than my knees), throw on my coat or jacket, depending on the temperature, and run out right behind him. Some of my favorite memories from my hometown were right out on that farm with him.
At about the age of fourteen when my dad got remarried, I had the opportunity to move to Cincinnati and change schools. I wasn’t particularly happy with my current school system, so I began to research about public schools in Cincinnati. During one of my searches, I came across Hughes High. They talked a lot about pathways on their website, and featured a pathway they called: (you guessed it) The Zoo Academy! I called up the next day to learn more about it, and actually spent time talking to Glen Schulte, who is now my current teacher. I fell in love the minute I learned about this amazing opportunity, and decided that this was where I wanted to start my new beginning. We packed up and moved soon after and that began my story here, at my favorite place on Earth.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Hughes High School have become second homes for me. I have had experiences here that I could experience nowhere else. I became a strong leader within my school, and the biggest Big Red Athletics fan they’d ever seen. Actually, this year, (my SENIOR year), I was recorded as the first girl in Big Red history to score points for the Hughes Football team. I even did a radio interview about it. That was an experience within itself, and I am so fortunate to have been a part of that.
Here at the Zoo, I do daily work with the keepers, animals, and currently the wonderful staff within the Education Department. Some of my favorite animal encounters have been during these last two years, having the opportunity to work with animals that range from insects to elephants. One of my favorite experiences was working with the cougars this past fall while in the Night Hunters department at the Zoo. I also met the love of my life here at the Zoo, a hyacinth blue macaw named Azul at the Bird House. I’ve enjoyed every lab I’ve participated in, and learned so much from the staff here. It is really an experience that is like no other, because the Cincinnati Zoo is the only zoo in the country that allows high school students to participate in labs and work alongside keepers on a daily basis.
In the upcoming future I plan on attending the University of Cincinnati and continuing on my story here at the Cincinnati Zoo. I feel as though my experiences here at the Zoo aren’t ready to come to an end yet, so I hope I am able to continue on here after I graduate, whether it is as a volunteer or even a paid staff member. I love it here at the Zoo, and though this may not be where my career path ends, it is definitely a place that I would hope for it to begin. Thanks so much for reading my story! If you ever see me around the Zoo, stop me and ask any questions you’d like!
Best Wishes, Sarah.
November 20, 2013 4 Comments
Guest blogger: Crissi Lanier, Interpretive Media Intern
A.D.O.P.T. in YOUR classroom!!
As the time of starting back to school approaches, I have a fun idea for your classroom that was a lot of fun in mine! I’m the Assistant Coordinator and Toddler Teacher at the Children’s Center. My friend/co-teacher and I work with children 18 months to 3 years old. We’re always trying to come up with ways to bring the outside world in and encourage learning about any topic they are interested in. We learned quickly that almost all of these kids love the Zoo. Even if they don’t visit often, they are still excited to tell about their animal adventures, favorite sights and sounds and even how much they love the train ride!
This past year we decided as a classroom to A.D.O.P.T. Joseph the cougar. Each family was asked to donate $1, which went to the cost of the adoption. We explained to the children during group time about how the money helps the Zoo care for the animals like feeding the cougars, as well as providing enrichment (e.g. toys) and medication when needed. These are things that two-year-olds understand and they were excited to “help take care of Joseph”. We also created the poster below that hung in the classroom with our adoption certificate, as well as pictures of Joseph for the kids to look at.
They were so excited to tell us when they had visited the Zoo over the weekend and if they saw Joseph or not. It was a simple but ongoing lesson of caring for animals and having a feeling of responsibility towards this cat, and in turn broadening their view of the world. They would say it was “their Joseph” with great pride when they saw him at the Zoo.
So as this new school year approaches, I encourage you to incorporate A.D.O.P.T. in your classroom at any level from Pre-K to high school. There are so many lessons that can be incorporated in to this process ranging from basics of size and touch, to more in-depth lessons such as adaptations and habitat loss. It also encourages responsibility for the animals and a sense of pride of the Zoo and the animals that live there. Most importantly, it helps the Cincinnati Zoo care for these animals and encourages the students and their families to visit when possible. It may even inspire students to become more actively engaged and to include their families in their animal stories and actions.
This was a great part of our year last year and we plan on adopting another animal this fall!
To learn more about how to A.D.O.P.T. an animal, click here.
August 7, 2013 4 Comments