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Category — CREW

Have you noticed the bald spot on polar bear Berit’s belly?


The Cincinnati Zoo’s female polar bear, Berit, recently had some of her white abdominal fur trimmed, exposing a small patch of her black skin. This is not the latest trend in carnivore fur-styles; instead, the purpose of this haircut is to facilitate ultrasound examinations of the 16-year-old bear to identify signs of pregnancy. Although Berit and male Little One have been together for multiple years, they have not produced any cubs; however, zoo staff has reason to hope that this year might be different.


Earlier this year, Berit failed to show signs of estrus during the normal polar bear breeding season. Rather than let another year pass with no chance of cubs, it was decided to intervene by administering hormones in an attempt to stimulate her ovaries, similar to what humans receive when they seek help with fertility issues. The two hormone injections appeared to be effective, because the pair began breeding soon after the treatment.

Berit is one of the first bears ever to undergo infertility treatments and, even if these efforts fail to help her conceive, she still is advancing scientific knowledge by helping researchers at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) learn more about the unique reproductive physiology of this species. In addition to twice weekly ultrasound examinations (in which she voluntarily participates), her hormone levels are being measured non-invasively by fecal hormone analyses to monitor ovarian activity and indications of pregnancy. If Berit turns out to be pregnant, she would give birth towards the end of the year.

This work is part of CREW’s Polar Bear Signature Project, which aims to study polar bear reproduction and to help overcome reproductive challenges faced by this iconic species. Click here to support CREW’s polar bear research.

October 29, 2015   1 Comment

Coming Up: Rhino Awareness Days and Bowling for Rhinos

Rhino Awareness Days

World Rhino Day falls on a Tuesday this year, September 22, so the Zoo is going to celebrate Rhino Awareness Days, free with regular Zoo admission, the following weekend. From 10:00 to 3:00 on September 26 and 27, guests are invited to learn more about rhinos and how we can help save them in the wild.

World Rhino Day logo

CREW Volunteers will be on hand at the Sumatran rhino exhibit to tell Harapan’s story, the last Sumatran rhino on exhibit in the United States. Here guests can catch a last glimpse of Harapan before he leaves for Indonesia and wish him well on his journey. With less than 100 Sumatran rhinos left on Earth, Harapan will move to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary where he will have the opportunity to breed and contribute to his species’ survival. His departure marks the end of an era for the Cincinnati Zoo’s Sumatran rhino breeding program, the only captive breeding program in the United States to produce calves for this critically endangered species. An exact date for Harapan’s departure has not been set, but the Zoo is pushing for the move to happen this fall. Until then, guests can visit him in Wildlife Canyon daily from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., weather permitting.

Speaking of Harapan’s departure, there’s exciting news about his brother, and Cincinnati Zoo born Sumatran rhino, Andalas. The critically-endangered Sumatran rhino population will soon increase by one.  In a species with fewer than 100 individuals left on the planet, one is a significant number. Andalas and Ratu are expecting a calf in May 2016. Learn more and see ultra sound images here

We're going to miss Harapan's adorable face and hope the females in Indonesia find him irresistible!  (Photo: Kathy Newton)

We’re going to miss Harapan’s adorable face and hope the females in Indonesia find him irresistible! (Photo: Kathy Newton)

On the other side of the Zoo, guests can engage with Volunteer Educators at the CREW Wild Discover Zone to learn more about all of our rhino research programs. CREW is currently undertaking a project to expand access and build capacity for African and Asian rhino reproductive care within North American zoological facilities. The Zone is set up next to the Indian and black rhino exhibits where guests might get the chance to say hello to our newest rhino resident, a black rhino male named Faru.

Faru is doing great here in his new home and his training is going very well. The keepers are working with him to present both sides of his body  on cue and open his mouth to allow them to check his teeth and tongue. This allows them to perform basic foot care, daily baths, and administer medical care when needed with minimal stress to Faru. He and the female, Seyia, are still getting to know each other, and the hope is to put them together for breeding later this fall.

Welcome Faru to the Zoo! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Welcome Faru to the Zoo! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

The keepers are also working with CREW to determine the reproductive cycle of our one and only Indian rhino, Manjula, using ultrasound and urine analysis. Manjula is chute-trained, target-trained, and she will hold her mouth open while they shine a flashlight inside to check everything. This training has been essential to administering the hormone to help her ovulate and also give the anesthetics used for her standing sedation procedures- both of which she does willingly and cooperatively! The plan is to artificially inseminate Manjula. The keepers are also currently working on blood draw training and teaching Manjula to stand her rear feet in rubber tubs for a foot soak. (Indian rhinos are prone to foot issues.)

Manjula, Indian rhino (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Manjula, Indian rhino (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Bowling for Rhinos

What else can you do to help save rhinos? Go bowling! The Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers is holding its second annual Bowling for Rhinos event on October 17 to raise awareness and funds for rhino conservation.To be held from 6:00 to 8:30 at Stone Lanes in Norwood, the event is sure to be tons of fun! In addition to bowling, there will be t-shirts for sale, a silent auction and a raffle to meet a rhino at the Cincinnati Zoo! Buy your tickets online now before they sell out!

Bowling for Rhinos 2015 flyer

September 24, 2015   No Comments

CREW Joins the Race for Plant Survival

Guest blogger: Suzanne Yorke, CREW Research Lab Assistant

Plant conservation work at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) was featured in The Public Garden, the journal of the American Public Gardens Association, earlier this year in an article entitled “The Race for Plant Survival” written by Janet Marinelli. The article discussed the important role that public gardens like the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (CZBG) play in plant conservation, the technological advancements that are being made in this challenging work, and the goals for plant conservation in the future.

The article begins with the story of the 24-year (and counting!) conservation quest to bring the autumn buttercup, Ranunculus aestivalis, back from the brink of extinction, and how such large-scale conservation efforts have become increasingly collaborative.

Autumn buttercup

Autumn buttercup

Shortly after The Nature Conservancy purchased land in 1991 to protect the habitat of the autumn buttercup along Utah’s Sevier River, they realized that just setting aside protected land wouldn’t be enough. The population was dwindling too fast, and additional partners would be needed to save this federally listed species. Seeds were collected from the mere 20 remaining plants at the preserve and sent to CREW. Valerie Pence, CREW’s Director of Plant Research, germinated the seeds to grow a handful of genetically unique individuals. She then used her expertise in micro-propagation to develop tissue culture protocols for the autumn buttercup and the power of tissue culture to make hundreds of “copies” of these plants in vitro in test tubes.

Autumn buttercup (Photo: Suzanne Yorke)

Autumn buttercup (Photo: Suzanne Yorke)

The tiny plants were sent to Arizona to enter the care of the next partner in the process, the Arboretum at Flagstaff, which potted the plants in soil and prepared them for out-planting in their native habitat. The out-plantings and subsequent monitoring of the plants was achieved through additional partnerships with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Weber State University.

Autumn buttercup outplanting

Autumn buttercup outplanting

Three out-plantings since 2007 demonstrate how this reintroduction effort has required the long-term commitment and collaboration of several stakeholders to continue to boost the autumn buttercup population until it is self-sustaining. The autumn buttercup story is a great example of “integrated conservation”, whereby public gardens partner with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and universities to preserve endangered plant species. Learn more here.

Multifaceted conservation strategies are increasingly incorporating technology into species survival plans, which often combines reintroduction of plants into their native habitat, banking seeds and tissues in long-term storage, and maintaining living collections in gardens and arboreta. For example, the Frozen Garden in CREW’s CryoBioBank uses liquid nitrogen and cryogenic technology to store seeds and shoot tips of some of the most threatened plant species, like the autumn buttercup, at very cold temperatures.



However, even if species are banked, their native habitat may be changing faster than the plants can adapt to the changes. Advancements in molecular genetics ensure that public gardens are also preserving the genetic diversity of the species that are banked and in living collections. Therefore, when plants are ready for reintroduction, higher genetic diversity should increase their chances of survival in the wild and ability to adapt to changing conditions. Plants that are especially vulnerable to changes in climate include certain long-lived, slow growing tree species.

Globally, more than a thousand tree species are considered critically endangered. One aspect of their biology that makes them a conservation challenge is that many species of trees produce seeds that are not easily frozen in seed banks. Oaks, for example, produce large acorns that don’t survive freezing. CREW scientists helped develop techniques to dissect the tiny oak embryos out of the acorns, which they were then able to cryopreserve.

Oak embryo

Oak embryo (Photo: Suzanne Yorke)

CREW scientists tested the technique using four endangered oaks and three were successful! More research is needed, but these advancements at CREW will improve conservation strategies for endangered oaks and other large-seeded tree species.

Unifying the plant conservation effort is the Center for Plant Conservation, which is made up of 39 gardens, including CZBG. This network of gardens safeguards seeds, tissues, and specimens of 788 of the rarest native plant species in the United States. With nearly 5,000 species considered at risk, there is much work ahead to achieve the goals of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which includes preserving 75% of plant species in living collections and seed banks by 2020.

CREW plant growth chamber (Photo: Suzanne Yorke)

CREW plant growth chamber (Photo: Suzanne Yorke)

While achieving these goals may seem daunting, what is known is that the future of plant conservation will continue to be collaborative, it will rely on technological advancements like those developed at CREW, and public gardens like CZBG will continue to be at the forefront of this critical conservation effort.

July 13, 2015   1 Comment