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Category — CREW

Saving Animals in the Wild: The Zoo’s Top Field Conservation Efforts of 2014

Happy New Year! As we look back on 2014, let’s reflect on some of the Zoo’s significant contributions to wildlife conservation in the field this past year:

Nasha and cubs snoozing on the  savannah

Nasha and cubs snoozing on the savannah

Helping Lions Thrive in Kenya’s South Rift Valley

Since 2011, the Zoo has partnered with the African Conservation Centre and the South Rift Association of Land Owners in Kenya on the Rebuilding the Pride program. This community-based conservation program combines Maasai tradition and modern technology to restore a healthy lion population while reducing the loss of livestock to lions in Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Once down to a low of about 10 known lions in the area, the population has grown to more than 65 lions in 2014. This past April, a lioness named Nasha gave birth to another litter, this one containing three cubs. That the population is growing in the South Rift Valley at a time when lion populations are severely declining across the continent overall is significant and a testament to program’s community-based approach.

Sumatran rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia

Sumatran rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia

A Giant Step Forward for Sumatran Rhinos in the Wild

The Zoo has been committed to saving the Sumatran rhino for 25 years. Despite the devastating blow of the loss of our female rhino, Suci, back in March, the Zoo continues to work to conserve and protect the species. In 2014, a Debt-for-Nature deal was struck between the United States and Indonesia. In return for lowering the debt Indonesia owes to the United States, it will commit nearly $12 million towards the conservation and protection of critically endangered species, including the Sumatran rhino, and their habitats over the next seven years. The debt swap was made possible by a contribution of about $11.2 million from the U.S. government under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (first introduced by Ohio Senator Rob Portman in 1998) and $560,000 from other organizations funneled through Conservation International. The Zoo was proud to help secure this funding by pledging a major gift.

Pollinating American chestnut trees with cryopreserved pollen

Pollinating American chestnut trees with cryopreserved pollen

Saving American Chestnut Trees with Cryopreserved Pollen

The magnificent American chestnut tree once ranged over the entire Eastern United States, but was almost entirely obliterated by blight by the mid-twentieth century. Over the years, breeders have been working to develop a resistant tree, and one of their key tools is pollen. American chestnut pollen rapidly declines in viability so maintaining important lines of pollen from year to year is difficult. In 1993, pollen was cryopreserved (frozen) in liquid nitrogen at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). Last spring, some of that pollen was removed and used to successfully pollinate trees at the American Chestnut Foundation’s farm in Virginia. Paternity testing will be done at CREW this winter, but the indications are very good that cryopreservation can indeed maintain pollen viability for at least 20 years—a fact that should provide a new tool to those working to save this majestic American tree.

Kea Conservation Trust staff conducting kea research (Photo: Nigel Adams)

Kea Conservation Trust staff conducting kea research (Photo: Nigel Adams)

Committing to Kea Conservation in New Zealand

Over the past few years, the Zoo has supported the Kea Conservation Trust’s (KCT) efforts to protect and study New Zealand’s mountain parrot, the kea, in the wild. In 2014, the Zoo stepped up its efforts with a commitment to support the Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, a multi-year proactive community-focused conflict response and resolution program. Funds from the Zoo support a key personnel position, the Community Volunteers Coordinator, who can respond to conflict situations that arise. Funds will also enable KCT staff to enhance their conflict resolution skills by participating in a Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration Workshop. Additionally, Zoo aviculturists will join the KCT team for kea nest monitoring and field work over the next couple of years.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, installs a camera trap in Bhutan. (Photo: Steve Winter)

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, installs a camera trap in Bhutan. (Photo: Steve Winter)

Pledging Support for Panthera’s Tigers Forever Initiative

The Zoo is committed to ensuring the survival of endangered tigers of which there are fewer than 3,200 remaining in the wild. In 2014, we have pledged multi-year support of the tiger conservation efforts of Panthera, the leading international wild cat conservation organization with a mission to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action. To ensure the tiger’s survival, Panthera works across Asia with numerous partners to end the poaching of tigers for the illegal wildlife trade, prevent tiger deaths due to conflict with humans and livestock, and protect tiger prey species and habitat. Through their program, Tigers Forever, Panthera works to protect and secure key tiger populations and ensure connectivity between sites so that tigers can live long into the future.

Wetlands in restoration at EcOhio Farm

Wetlands in restoration at EcOhio Farm

Restoring Native Wetlands and Wildlife in Mason, Ohio

In 1995, a 529-acre farm in Mason, Ohio, now called the EcOhio Farm, was willed to the Zoo with the guideline that it could never be developed unless it is to further the mission of the Zoo. Over the past few years, the Zoo has worked to restore 30 of the farm’s acres to its original state of a wet sedge meadow, providing refuge for a diversity of native wildlife. Since restoration began in 2012, drainage tiles have been removed and more than 200 native plant species and thousands of trees have been planted on the site. The wetland is returning to its natural state very quickly. Already, it has attracted more than 135 native bird species, including bald eagles, bobolinks and killdeer, which would never have been there when it was a cornfield. Though not currently open to the public, walking trails and a small education center may be implemented in the future to provide opportunities to explore the wetland.

Cincinnati Zoo gorillas, Asha and  her infant, Mondika, named for the field conservation project (Photo: Michelle Curley)

Cincinnati Zoo gorillas, Asha and her infant, Mondika, named for the field conservation project (Photo: Michelle Curley)

Strengthening our Support for Gorillas in the Republic of Congo

Over the past 20 years, the Zoo has partnered with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in the Republic of Congo, which includes the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running study of the critically endangered western lowland gorilla. The Zoo also supports work in an area called Mondika where gorillas are habituated for up close research and ecotourism. Habituation is a process through which the wild gorillas become accustomed to and tolerate the presence of people that enables researchers and tourists to observe them up close. The Zoo recently helped facilitate the habituation of a second group of gorillas, and entered into an agreement in 2014 to support the habituation of a third group over the next three years. Special thanks goes to Gorilla Glue, our official gorilla conservation sponsor!

All of these projects and more couldn’t happen without your support of the Zoo. Here’s to you and the Zoo making more great strides for wildlife conservation in 2015!

January 7, 2015   No Comments

Can Progesterone Predict Pregnancy in Red Pandas?

Scientists at CREW are studying the reproduction of red pandas and have diagnosed pregnancies via trans-abdominal ultrasound. However, performing diagnostic ultrasound imaging requires animal training, a costly ultrasound machine (and a trained ultrasonographer to use it), and is not easily performed on less agreeable individuals. The development of a pregnancy test based on fecal analysis would allow non-invasive pregnancy detection in any female and also could be applied to wild individuals.

Conducting an ultrasound

Conducting an ultrasound

In addition to performing regular ultrasounds on the Zoo’s female red pandas, Bailey and Idgie (who has since transferred to another zoo), CREW scientists are measuring fecal hormone metabolites, such as progesterone (P4), to assess their usefulness as indicators of pregnancy.

Bailey had cubs in 2012 and 2013, and both pregnancies were diagnosed via ultrasound. As expected, fecal hormone metabolite analysis showed that her P4 concentrations increased after breeding and remained elevated until she gave birth. The other female, Idgie, was observed breeding, but no pregnancies were detected. Fecal P4 analysis revealed that her P4 was actually higher than Bailey’s in both years, even though she was not pregnant.

These data support the theory of pseudo-pregnancy in red pandas, which has been suggested for years, but not yet proven. Although P4 is generally considered to be the “pregnancy hormone” and can be used to infer pregnancy status in many species, these results indicate that P4 levels alone cannot be used to diagnose pregnancy in red pandas.

Photo: Mark Dumont

Photo: Mark Dumont

December 17, 2014   No Comments

Elvis the Beagle’s Polar Bear Pregnancy Test Results

According to Elvis, it’s going to be another disappointing year for polar bear births. There is no pregnancy test for polar bears, but Elvis, a 3-year old beagle who lives at IronHeart High Performance Working Dogs, is being evaluated on his ability to diagnose pregnancy by smelling fecal samples (to read more about Elvis and his training, click here). Polar bears experience low reproductive rates world-wide but are exceptionally challenging to study because traditional methods of pregnancy detection, such as progesterone analysis, don’t distinguish pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy this species. The 17 potential polar bear moms involved in this year’s Elvis study reside in zoos as close as Columbus and as far as Copenhagen. Last year, Elvis was 93% accurate in his pregnancy predictions. If his diagnostic accuracy is similar to last year, we’ll be lucky if just one or two bears have cubs.

Elvis (AP photo)

Elvis the beagle predicts polar bear pregnancy with 93% accuracy by sniffing fecal samples!

But while Elvis sniffs poop, scientists at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are using cutting-edge research to figure out which components of a fecal sample Elvis might be recognizing in an effort to develop a laboratory-based pregnancy test. A pregnancy test would allow them to determine where the reproductive process is failing so that potential causes can be addressed. A polar bear pregnancy test wouldn’t just be useful for bears in zoos- it could also help their wild cousins. Since the test would rely on a fecal sample, it could be used to non-invasively monitor wild populations of polar bears, whose numbers are predicted to decline.


Berit is most likely not pregnant.

Unfortunately, the Elvis test showed that “Berit”, the Cincinnati Zoo’s female is not pregnant again this year and so far, there’s been no other word of cub arrivals. Polar bears can give birth anytime from October to January, so Elvis will need to wait a few more weeks to find out how he performed.

To make a donation to CREW’s polar bear research, please visit the Polar Bear Challenge webpage. Donations made by Dec 31st will be matched dollar for dollar by the Young Family Foundation.

December 10, 2014   2 Comments