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Category — Lions in Kenya

How do you diagnose pregnancy in a lion?

Many visitors to the Zoo have met our two African lions, John and Imani, in the new Africa exhibit. These two young cats were paired up earlier this year with the hope that they would breed and produce their first litter of cubs in the near future. The good news is that breeding activity has been observed on several occasions this past year, and, after at least one pseudopregnancy, it appears that Imani is now pregnant and due to give birth within the next month. Which raises the question – how do you diagnose pregnancy in a lion anyway?

Imani (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Imani (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Scientists at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) commonly use three methods for pregnancy diagnosis in wildlife species:  ultrasonography, fecal progesterone analysis, and urine relaxin analysis. Ultrasonography remains the gold standard since visualization of a fetus with a strong heartbeat is the definitive proof of pregnancy. CREW frequently uses abdominal ultrasonography to diagnose and monitor pregnancies in our domestic cats (see below). However, this method can be challenging to apply with a potentially dangerous carnivore, like Imani. Through the Zoo’s operant conditioning program, Imani eventually may be trained to allow voluntary abdominal ultrasound exams, but this method is currently not an option with her.

CREW scientists conduct an ultrasound on a domestic cat.

CREW scientists conduct an ultrasound on a domestic cat.

The second approach for pregnancy diagnosis is the use of fecal progesterone analysis. Lions, like other felids, show an increase in fecal progesterone levels shortly after ovulation that is detectable using CREW’s hormone assays. If lions ovulate but don’t conceive, they will have a pseudopregnancy that lasts 50 to 60 days and then progesterone will decline back to baseline levels. If progesterone concentrations stay elevated beyond 60 days post-breeding, then the female is most likely pregnant. Imani’s fecal hormone profile (below) shows progesterone levels increasing coincident with her last breeding activity and staying elevated through at least 66 days post-breeding (the last fecal sample tested).

Imani's fecal hormone profile

Imani’s fecal hormone profile

The third option for pregnancy diagnosis involves measurement of another hormone, relaxin, that is produced by the placenta and excreted in the urine. CREW has helped to pioneer the use of a bench-top relaxin test for pregnancy diagnosis with urine from cats. Our previous research has found that pregnant domestic cats and Pallas’ cats produce high levels of urinary relaxin that are detectable with the bench-top test, but pregnant cheetahs and clouded leopards apparently do not. Imani is the first lion that we have evaluated late in a suspected pregnancy. Urine samples collected from Imani at day 73 and 74 post-breeding were both positive for relaxin (below, circled line in window #2), providing further presumptive evidence of an ongoing pregnancy. In the absence of a sonogram showing a viable fetus, the positive results from the progesterone and relaxin assays provide our best evidence that Imani is pregnant.

Imani's pregnancy test

Imani’s pregnancy test

Hopefully, Imani will confirm our diagnosis in the next few weeks with the anticipated birth of her first litter of cubs. Since Imani will be a first-time mom, she will be provided with a quiet, off-exhibit den area to give birth and bond with her cubs, and likely will remain off-exhibit until early spring when the cubs are a bit older.

October 28, 2014   No Comments

Come See the New Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Numbering in the billions in 1800, the passenger pigeon was formerly one of the most abundant bird species on Earth. On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, passed away at the Cincinnati Zoo after tireless efforts over several years to find her a mate.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014, the Zoo renovated its Passenger Pigeon Memorial, transforming it from a single-species memorial to an educational exhibit with a positive and hopeful conservation message that segues from the story of the passenger pigeon to modern wildlife conservation efforts.

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

A small crowd of Zoo visitors and staff along with media representatives gathered at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2014, as Zoo Director Thane Maynard dedicated the Memorial and officially reopened its newly restored doors. Watch the dedication video here.

Visitors to the Memorial are greeted by a large reproduction of John Ruthven’s 2013 painting of Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon on the entry wall.

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven's Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven’s Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

A display case on the back side of the entry wall contains a reprint of John J. Audubon’s Passenger Pigeon hand-colored engraving from The Birds of America, along with an actual net used to catch passenger pigeons, a platform stool to which blinded pigeons were tied as decoys, a cast model of a passenger pigeon and an Aldo Leopold quote.

Display case

Interpretively, the exhibition flows from left to right along the interior walls, circulating around an octagonal case in the center of the building containing passenger pigeon sculptures carved by Gary Denzler.

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Signage was designed based on elements from Ruthven’s painting with pop-up panels featuring colorful images and text. The first wall tells the story of the passenger pigeon and its extinction, why it happened, and the scope of this loss.

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

Next, it describes how the passenger pigeon’s extinction was a wake-up call that spurred the conservation movement in America, highlighting the stories of native species that were nearly lost, such as white-tailed deer.

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

The last wall introduces conservation champions of the Zoo and presents examples of how we are working to save species today, including the Sumatran rhino and the American burying beetle, from going the way of the passenger pigeon.

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

The rehabilitation of this historic building and exhibit was made possible through the generosity of the H.B., E.W. and F.R. Luther Charitable Trust Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, and Narley L. Haley, Co-Trustees.

 

September 10, 2014   1 Comment

Lessons from the Passenger Pigeon for a Sustainable Future

Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation

In the past few months, we’ve learned about the story of the passenger pigeon and species conservation at the Cincinnati Zoo, as well as how you can help birds in your own backyards. There is still work to be done to continue protecting species around the world. From genetic research at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) to Go Green initiatives you can participate in both at the Zoo and at home, the Cincinnati Zoo is committed to saving endangered plants and animals from extinction in North America and around the world. Here are just a few ways you can contribute!

Be a Sustainable Shopper!

Many animals and plants are threatened by habitat loss. As consumers, we all have the power to protect wildlife by using the Sustainable Shopper app to choose products made with Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. Palm oil is used in many of the foods and products we consume every day from frozen vegetables to shampoo. Oil palm plantations are spreading across Indonesia, which produces 85% of the world’s supply of palm oil, often to the detriment of its rainforests and wildlife.

As consumers, we can choose to buy products made with sustainable palm oil as certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil. The Sustainable Shopper app connects you with more than 500 products manufactured by RSPO-certified companies.

To get the app: From your web-enabled phone, scan this QR code with your preferred QR code reader, or go to cincinnatizoo.org/sustainable-shopper.

jungle-trails-sustainable-shopper

Look into the tiger's eyes.

Recycle your cell phone, and save a gorilla!

As we continue to advance our phone technology, cell phone users rapidly replace their old models with newer ones. But, what do you do with your old phone? Recycle it at the Zoo!

By recycling your cell phone you are preventing the large number of hazardous substances from entering our environment. Metals such as antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, and lead, which can linger in the environment for a long time and have adverse effects on human health, can be recycled or disposed of properly.

In addition, by recycling coltan, a mineral mined in gorilla habitat, you are helping gorillas maintain a future in the wild. Drop your old cell phone into one of the collection bins around the Zoo!

Lowland Gorilla D0039Jomo

Buy a bracelet to support lions and livelihoods in Kenya.

Our Lions and Livelihoods bracelets were made by Maasai women from the Olkiramatian Women’s Group in Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Revenue from the sale of these bracelets helps the Women’s Group provide tuition for local school girls and contributes to the operation of the Lale’enok Resource Center, a community center that helps support both wildlife conservation and thriving Maasai livelihoods. Bracelets are sold at the Africa exhibit at the Zoo on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. This partnership is supported by the Cincinnati Zoo’s Saving Species Campaign. Wear a bracelet and proudly support this global initiative.

Lion 2391 B

Go Green!

Get involved with habitat protection and species conservation through sustainable actions! The Cincinnati Zoo supports a number of sustainability initiatives on site, from generating power through the largest publicly accessible urban solar array in the United States to a green roof to prevent storm-water runoff and filter out air pollutants.

You can practice sustainability at home, following the lead of the Zoo’s Go Green initiatives. Take a close look at the choices you make in life and identify the opportunities you have to select greener options. Start with a couple of quick and simple changes, such as switching your light bulbs to energy efficient ones or bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. Once you’re comfortable with these small changes, pick out a few more to pursue, and you’ll be well on your way towards a greener lifestyle. Every small action you take can make a big difference in creating a more sustainable future for us all!

solar panels GGG

To read the other posts in this series, click hereJoin us in July for updates on the renovated exhibit space and events surrounding the centenary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction.

June 19, 2014   1 Comment