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Category — Elephants

Help Us Save Elephants on World Elephant Day, August 12

In 1980, there were an estimated 1.2 million African elephants. Today, there are less than 420,000. This is largely due to the demand for ivory.

African elephant in Amboseli National Park, Kenya (Photo: Shasta Bray)

African elephant in Amboseli National Park, Kenya (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Last month, President Obama announced a proposal to ban the sale of ivory in the United States. The ban would be a huge victory for elephants, considering that the United States is the second largest ivory consumer nation behind China.

As a coalition partner with more than 150 institutions, the Zoo is working with the 96 Elephants campaign to collect letters in support of the strongest possible ivory ban. This week, which coincides with World Elephant Day on Wednesday, August 12, we will be encouraging guests that visit the Elephant Wild Discover Zone at the Zoo to write letters. If you can’t make it to Zoo, but want to take part in the letter writing campaign, you can download the 96 Elephant Letter and send it in.96 Elephant letter

We also encourage you to #GoGrey on World Elephant Day. Wear grey, take an #elphie (that is, a selfie) and post it to social media to help spread the word.

Cat Ambassador Program staff  #GoGrey!

Cat Ambassador Program staff #GoGrey!

Lastly, just by coming to the Zoo on World Elephant Day or any other day, you are helping us save species across the globe. So pack your trunk and lead your herd on out to the Zoo!

Sabu says come celebrate World Elephant Day with me! (Photo: David Jenike)

Sabu says come celebrate World Elephant Day with me! (Photo: David Jenike)

August 10, 2015   1 Comment

Earth Expeditions: Participating in Community-Based Conservation in Kenya – Part I

For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. This year, I had the fortunate opportunity to co-facilitate Earth Expeditions Kenya: People and Wildlife in Integrated Landscapes with Dave Jenike, the Zoo’s COO. We took 17 educators with us, including formal classroom teachers as well as informal educators from zoos and similar institutions. Please join me for a series of blog posts about our experience.

Earth Expeditions students with Amboseli game scouts in Kenya

Earth Expeditions students with Amboseli game scouts in Kenya

Day 1:

We met up with the class at the Wildebeest Eco-camp in Nairobi on July 27, and spent the first day getting to know each other and learning about the role of the African Conservation Centre (ACC) in supporting community conservation efforts in Kenya from its Director, Lucy Wauringi. The students also led their first group discussion on inquiry and participatory education.

Lucy Wairungi, ACC Director, addresses the class (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Lucy Wairungi, ACC Director, addresses the class (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Day 2:

The next morning we hit the road in a huge overland vehicle and spent the better part of the day driving down to the Amboseli Game Scout Camp, located just outside of Amboseli National Park. We pitched our tents in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, had our second group discussion on African savannah ecology and bedded down for the night.

Standing by my tent in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Standing by my tent in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Day 3:

Up with the sun, we headed to Amboseli National Park for a full day of game driving. Before we even reached the park, we spotted plenty of wildlife from the giant giraffe to the tiny dik-dik antelope. Just inside the gate, we came across a bull elephant ambling alongside the road.

Bull elephant in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bull elephant in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bull elephant through the window (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bull elephant through the window (Photo: Shasta Bray)

We would see many, many more elephants throughout the day from singles to large herds with multiple babies. Later that afternoon, Norah with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, joined our game drive and shared her research on elephant behavior and social structure with us. Currently, there are about 1,500 elephants that use the park and she knows each one by name!

Young elephant nursing (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Young elephant nursing (Photo: Shasta Bray)

There must have been more than 40 elephants in this herd! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

There must have been more than 40 elephants in this herd! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Norah with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project explains how they identify individual elephants by their ears (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Norah with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project explains how they identify individual elephants by their ears (Photo: Shasta Bray)

At lunch, we drove up to Observation Hill overlooking the swamp and heard from Dr. David Western, former Director of Kenya Wildlife Service and founder of the African Conservation Centre (ACC). Dr. Western has studied the relationship between people and wildlife in Kenya for more than 40 years. With more than 75% of Kenya’s wildlife living outside of protected areas, he promotes human-wildlife co-existence and community-based conservation as the way to protect the African savannah and its wildlife.

Observation Hill and the surrounding swamp in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Observation Hill and the surrounding swamp in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Dr. David Western talks with our group atop Observation Hill (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Dr. David Western talks with our group atop Observation Hill (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Day 4:

This morning, we joined the Amboseli game scouts on their daily patrol. Each day, they cover a lot of ground on foot looking for signs of poachers like unusual footprints and snares. Along the way, they showed us how to identify animal tracks and dung, pointed out dung beetle balls and smiled at us patiently when our clothes got caught on the thorny “wait-a-bit” bushes.

Abrehem shows us a dung beetle ball (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Abrehem shows us a dung beetle ball (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Then it was time for a short flight on a 12-seater airplane to our next destination. As we flew northwest towards Magadi, the view from the window was amazing. You can clearly see how the Maasai and their livestock literally share the same space with wildlife as their bomas, or homesteads, are sprinkled throughout the landscape. If you look carefully, you can even pick out tiny dots of mostly brown and white as cattle, sheep, goats and wildlife walk along their trails.

Students get ready to board the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Students get ready to board the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai boma as seen from the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai boma as seen from the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Livestock crossing the landscape as seen from plane  (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Livestock crossing the landscape as seen from plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Just before landing, we flew over Lake Magadi, a soda lake popular with flamingos. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Just before landing, we flew over Lake Magadi, a soda lake popular with flamingos. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

When we landed, three land cruisers were waiting to take us on the last leg of our journey across very bumpy roads to the Olkirimatian conservancy, a group ranch communally owned by Maasai pastoralists and home to the Lale’enok Resource Centre.

Welcome to Lale'enok Resource Centre

Welcome to Lale’enok Resource Centre

A product of SORALO (South Rift Association of Land Owners) and ACC, Lale’enok serves as a hub for the local Maasai community and research partners from which various community-based research and conservation programs run. The Zoo has supported Lale’enok and its programs for many years, and has brought Earth Expeditions students to participate in them since 2008. Here is where we spent the rest of our time in Kenya engaging with our conservation partners.

To be continued in a future blog post. Check back soon!

July 29, 2015   2 Comments

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! Meet Head Keeper, Rick Heithaus

Co-written by: Jenna Wingate, Kara McSweeney, & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! This week, we will be honoring five of our “All-Star” keepers as nominated by their peers, starting with Rick Heithaus! As one of the Zoo’s most senior keepers, Rick boasts more than 30 years of exotic animal experience, working with an array of animals from big cats to the Asian elephants he works with today.

An historical photo of Rick Heithaus with an African elephant

An historical photo of Rick Heithaus with an African elephant

Rick Heithaus visits with an African elephant

A more recent photo of Rick Heithaus visiting with an African elephant

Rick is a great team player and he is constantly mindful of the well-being of both the animals in his care and the keepers working around him. Rick’s safety-oriented leadership when working with elephants is both admirable and invaluable. Rick goes out of his way to ensure the absolute highest safety standards are in place and he models safe behavior at all times. It takes a lot of self-discipline and focus to keep safety at the forefront of your day, and Rick has both in spades!

Rick introduces an elephant to a patron of our Behind the Scenes Experience

Rick introduces an elephant to a patron of our Behind the Scenes Experience

When interviewing some of the keepers who have worked with Rick, all praised his incredible mentorship skills. He never misses an opportunity to teach the young keepers something valuable, and he genuinely seems to enjoy sharing information with the next generation of keepers. Though he may seem soft-spoken and unassuming, once he opens up he is easy to talk to and more than happy to share. Young keepers who have had the pleasure of working with Rick love to hear his stories from “back in the day”. From camel rides to mixed-species elephant and hippo exhibits, Rick carries with him the experience and knowledge of a keeper who has lived through our industry’s “Wild West” days.

Rick during a Behind the Scenes Elephant Experience

Rick during a Behind the Scenes Elephant Experience

One of Rick’s coworkers describes him as the “Comedy Ninja” of his department, with hilarious jokes that come out of
nowhere! Rick never seems to complain, or even get mad. Rick has been involved with the “Adopt-a-Class” initiative for several years, and he is great with children.

In his personal life, Rick enjoys taking adventurous vacations with his wife, modeling a solid work/life balance for the rest
of us. His patience and humility are legendary and he models many of the Zoo’s core values on a daily basis. We are so proud to have Rick representing our amazing profession at the Cincinnati Zoo!

July 20, 2015   No Comments