Category — Conservation
Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation
The loss of the passenger pigeon, such a robust and omnipresent species, was, and still is, a jarring loss to the world. Despite such a loss, however, there is hope to be found in this story. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction, we recognize the importance of this story as an impetus for positive change in the world of wildlife conservation. Many other species, like the American bison and white-tailed deer, have been close to extinction, but have been pulled back from the edge by very talented and dedicated scientists, conservationists, and citizens.
In the years immediately following Martha’s death, great strides were made to protect other species in the United States and beyond, and these efforts continue today. The loss of the passenger pigeon was such a startling and significant one—mere decades before, the ubiquitous bird swarmed in flocks of billions and billions overhead—that it spurred many people into action. This extinction served as catalyst for change, from which many other species since then have reaped the benefits.
At the end of the 1800s, while numbers of passenger pigeons were quickly shrinking, the American bison and white-tailed deer were also in trouble. By the early twentieth century, unregulated overhunting and habitat loss (two of the same issues that forced the passenger pigeon into extinction) greatly threatened populations of white-tailed deer. The American bison once roamed the American west in massive herds, but, like the passenger pigeon, rampant commercial hunting and loss of habitat forced the species close to extinction. By the early 1900s, there were perhaps only a few dozen bison in Yellowstone National Park.
Thankfully, the sad example of the passenger pigeon had shown the American public and lawmakers that a seemingly common species could completely die out in a short span of time without proper protections. People began to take actions to protect species like these. Influential people like President Theodore Roosevelt, naturalist John Muir, and industrialist Stephen Mather were instrumental in creating many of the national parks we know today and protecting large areas of land, as well as the wildlife within them.
Immediate action was taken in the conservation of the American bison. In 1894, federal legislation protecting bison was passed. Game preserves were soon established. In an effort that continues to this day, public and private conservation groups moved small groups of bison to protected areas, and breeding and protection programs have slowly increased the numbers of bison from a few dozen to a more than 500,000 today.
White-tailed deer, whose numbers dropped dangerously low by the 1930s, also benefited from new protective laws, restocking of small populations into protected areas, and restoration of habitat. Had these actions not been taken so promptly, urged on by the example of the passenger pigeon, both the bison and the deer would surely have gone extinct as well.
These wildlife conservation efforts, and those we see in action today, stem in a very real way from the loss of the passenger pigeon. This loss served as a wake-up call to many, forcing us to recognize our power to threaten, but also to protect, species. As the conservation efforts of the American bison and white-tailed deer showed, the things that sealed the fate of the passenger pigeon—rampant commercial overhunting and habitat loss—do not have to dictate the fate of other species. If we use the story of the passenger pigeon as a lesson in the power of mankind, we can prevent other species from going the way of the passenger pigeon and take action to protect other vulnerable species today.
To read the other posts in this series, click here. Stay tuned next month for more on Project Passenger Pigeon and the Cincinnati Zoo’s role in this important effort in species conservation and habitat preservation.
December 9, 2013 No Comments
Elvis has spent the past three weeks sniffing fecal samples from polar bears around the country, making his predictions on which bears might be pregnant. Elvis is trained to pause and sit immediately when he detects a pregnancy—and does not show interest at samples from non-pregnant bears. Last week, Elvis was presented multiple times with two separate samples (collected on 10/12/13 and 10/20/13), from the Cincinnati Zoo’s female polar bear, Berit. Unfortunately, Elvis did not show interest in either sample, indicating she may not be expecting cubs this fall.
The sniffer dog project is part of a larger effort to study reproduction in polar bears. Scientists at CREW have been monitoring polar bears since 2008 and have analyzed over 14,000 fecal samples from 55 polar bears living in North American zoos. In addition to the Elvis test, we’ve been measuring Berit’s fecal hormone levels and performing ultrasound examinations in attempts to gain more information about her pregnancy status. Taken together, it seems that Berit is probably experiencing a pseudo-pregnancy, also known as a false pregnancy. Pseudo-pregnancy occurs when a female’s hormones, namely progesterone, increase to levels similar to those of a true pregnancy. However, in a pseudo-pregnancy, no fetus is present. Like pregnant bears, pseudo-pregnant females often gain weight (Berit gained almost 200 pounds this season!) and may behave like they’re pregnant, building nests and spending more time in their dens.
We’re not sure why pseudo-pregnancy occurs in polar bears but it seems to be a common phenomenon in many females we’ve monitored. A goal of CREW’s polar bear research is to develop a test to differentiate pseudo-pregnancy from true pregnancy. If Elvis proves successful, the next step is to identify the specific compound in the fecal samples that Elvis is signaling on and then develop a laboratory-based method to measure it. A test that distinguishes pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy could potentially be applicable to other species that experience pseudo-pregnancy, such as endangered cat species, otters, and red pandas.
Since the sniffer dog project is still in the testing phase, we are not making any major management changes based on Elvis’s predictions. Berit’s keepers continue to keep a close eye on her and she still has access to a den and extra bedding if she wants it. Berit has never produced offspring, so while Elvis’s predictions are disappointing, they are not a total surprise. Berit is of prime reproductive age for a polar bear (14 years) and we have not lost hope that she may have cubs next year!
November 19, 2013 No Comments
Tomorrow’s America Recycles Day is a nationally recognized day dedicated to celebrating and encouraging more recycling. A program of Keep America beautiful, millions turn out to thousands of events held through the country to learn more about recycling and what they can do to help. The #GreenestZooInAmerica is hosting our annual America Recycles Day field trip, engaging almost 400 elementary students in activities that promote the three R’s – reducing, reusing, and recycling. These activities make the connection between wildlife, conservation, and waste reduction, encouraging students to take positive actions in their daily lives. By recycling as much as we can, we will save energy, conserve natural resources, divert waste from landfills, and create jobs.
In addition to Friday’s field trip, the Cincinnati Zoo will continue celebrating America Recycles Day by participating in Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s “One Stop Drop” on Saturday, November 16. Residents are encouraged to bring their non-curbside recyclable items free of charge to the Whole Foods Parking lot in Rookwood between 10am and 2pm. These items include e-waste, plastic grocery bags, plastic #5’s such as butter or yogurt containers, and used writing utensils. A full list of accepted items can be found on their website.
Cohen Recycling, the electronics recycling partner of the #GreenestZooInAmerica, will also be hosting an e-waste drive with the Bengals on Saturday, November 16 from 10am-1pm in the lot at Longworth Hall. This e-waste collection event will allow Bengals fans to recycle their unwanted electronics in a responsible way, keeping harmful materials out of landfill and securely protecting your data. A small fee will be applied to recycle CRT monitors ($5), and tube/ projector TVs (under 32” are $10, over 32” are $20). All other electronics are recycled free of charge. A list of accepted items can be found on their website.
Dave Lapham, Margus Hunt and a teammate or 2 will be on hand for autographs and pictures between 11:30 and 12:30 during the event. Plus, everyone recycling items can also enter for a chance to win many great prizes.
One lucky recycler will win VIP experience with club seats and sideline passes when the Bengals host the Ravens on December 29. Other prizes include a meet and greet with Dave Lapham plus dinner at Holy Grail during his radio show December 23, autographed footballs and Bengals Pro-shop gear.
Join the Cincinnati Zoo in celebrating America Recycles Day! If you visit the Zoo this Friday, look for the field trip activities throughout the Zoo. All are welcome to participate and learn more about recycling. This weekend, go to one of the drop off events to keep harmful items out of the landfill!
November 14, 2013 No Comments