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Category — Conservation

Zoo Volunteer Observers

Our Zoo Volunteer Observers (ZVO) are a great asset to the Zoo &  our Carl H. Lindner Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) – being our eyes (and ears sometimes) when keepers go home at night.  They have been busy lately monitoring polar bear breeding activity and watching our pregnant giraffe via web cam 24-hrs-day for signs of labor.

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Volunteers Nancy W. and Donna M. watching the polar bears.

The ZVOs have been monitoring the polar bears daily to look for signs of impending estrus/breeding behavior. Their diligent observations are helping CREW researchers learn more about polar bear reproduction and reproductive behavior.

Thank you ZVOs!

March 21, 2014   2 Comments

Sihil the Ocelot Travels to Texas for Annual Ocelot Conservation Festival

Last week, Sihil, the Zoo’s 14-year-old ambassador ocelot, showed off her spots at an Ocelot Conservation Day Festival held in Brownsville, Texas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Gladys Porter Zoo hosted the event to highlight ocelots, which are native to South Texas.

Sihil the ocelot (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

Sihil the ocelot (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

In the United States, ocelots once roamed throughout Texas and into Arkansas and Louisiana. Today, fewer than 50 wild ocelots remain in the country, deep in South Texas. One of two known Texas populations survives on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Since 1997, the annual ocelot festival has helped educate thousands of people about the importance of conserving ocelots and what they can to do help. Nothing impacts the audience more than experiencing a real live ocelot, which is where Sihil comes in.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

The Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program is one of the few programs in the country that trains and works with ocelots to display natural behaviors for large audiences. Since 2007, Sihil and her trainers have traveled to Texas each year to appear at the festival. Having recently taken on a new role as the Education Advisor for the AZA’s Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), I was fortunate to be able to tag along this year to learn more about Texas ocelot conservation and meet the people I’ll be working with on it in person.

After packing up the Cat Ambassador Program van with everything to meet Sihil’s needs for the week-long trip, which included a travel crate, her larger mobile “condo” crate, a cooler packed with raw meat and bones, plenty of kibble and enrichment items (aka toys) and more, we hit the road.

Sihil is a champion traveler. She slept a lot, which cats are known to do, so that I often forgot she was even there (despite the persistent ocelot scent that lingered in the van) until she let out a low, raspy meow to remind us when it was close to snack time. After two days of travel, we arrived at our cabin at Cactus Creek Ranch and prepared for the next two days’ events.

Sihil stretches her legs upon arrival at Cactus Creek Ranch.

Sihil stretches her legs upon arrival at Cactus Creek Ranch.

Wendy cleans the travel crate at the ranch.

Wendy cleans the travel crate at the ranch.

The first order of business was an appearance at the Cameron County Office in downtown Brownsville. FWS staff briefed the Cameron County employees on the issues facing ocelots in their area and talked about ways they could work together to solve them. For example, FWS and the Texas Department of Transportation are teaming up to install wildlife crossings on highways to prevent ocelot road mortality, one of the major problems they face. Next, it was Sihil’s turn to impress the audience, working with her trainer, Alicia Sampson, while Wendy Rice, the other trainer, shared information and answered questions.

Sihil at the Cameron County staff meeting

Sihil at the Cameron County staff meeting

Later that afternoon, the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge hosted an Ocelot Soiree at the Gladys Porter Zoo to raise funds for conservation. The food, drinks, auction, presentations and conversation were fantastic, but Sihil once again stole the spotlight.

Sihil shows off her expert climbing skills at the Ocelot Soiree.

Sihil shows off her expert climbing skills at the Ocelot Soiree.

The following day was the actual Festival held at the Gladys Porter Zoo. More than 1,300 people attended the event and took part in a variety of activities from face painting and crafts to talking to wildlife officials about protecting ocelots and planting native plants to restore the thorn scrub habitat on which they rely.

Keep the Ocelot in Texas display

Keep the Ocelot in Texas display

Ocelot Conservation Day Festival at Gladys Porter Zoo

Ocelot Conservation Day Festival at Gladys Porter Zoo

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

There was even a singing zoologist, Lucas Miller, on hand to entertain families with his conservation-minded songs. He wrote an ocelot song just for the occasion:

 

And, of course, Sihil and her trainers took their turn on stage throughout the day. For many of the local families in the audience, this was their first time seeing a real live ocelot, an ambassador for her wild counterparts that live right there in South Texas. She got some great local press.

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

Sihil did great. The trainers never force her to perform; it’s her choice whether she wants to come out on the table and display the behaviors Alicia asks her to do through visual and verbal cues. In return, she is rewarded with meaty treats. Sihil and Alicia have developed a special trust and bond over the past 10 years that they’ve worked together. Alicia can read Sihil’s body language and pick up on cues such as the “naughty tail” – when Sihil begins quickly flicking the tip of her tail back and forth – that let her know when it’s time to wrap it up.

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

And what did I do while they were working? Took lots of pictures, talked to lots of people and wrote down lots of notes. As the Ocelot SSP Education Advisor, I will play a role in helping to develop and implement an education and awareness campaign to accompany one of the next big goals – the translocation of ocelots into the area. Although there are still a lot of logistics to work out, the hope is that ocelots from a healthy population in Mexico will bring much needed new genetic material into the small population in South Texas in the near future. When a population starts to lose genetic diversity, it is less able to adapt to its environment and more likely to go extinct. The animals are more prone to diseases, low reproductive rates and genetic abnormalities.

Save the Ocelot!

In the meantime, Sihil will continue to educate Cincinnati Zoo visitors this summer during the Cat Ambassador Program’s Cheetah Encounter show. At 14 years old, Sihil is still in tip-top shape, but approaching the expected lifespan of about 20 years in captivity. So the Zoo has brought in a new young male named Santos as her protege. Maybe next year, Santos will carry on Sihil’s legacy at the Ocelot Conservation Festival.

Santos, ocelot ambassador-in-training (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Santos, ocelot ambassador-in-training (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

 

 

March 19, 2014   2 Comments

From the Passenger Pigeon to Conservation at the Cincinnati Zoo

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

The reason we study the story of the passenger pigeon is not to be sad about its loss, but to be aware. Humans have a great capacity to do good, but we also have the ability to exhaust seemingly endless riches. It is important to recognize the impact we as humans can have on our environment, and take steps to conserve natural resources, both species and habitats, while we can.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is at the cutting-edge of conservation research and action. From genetic research conducted at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) to the Zoo’s 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 examples.

Sumatran Rhino Conservation

The Sumatran rhinoceros is one of the most endangered animals on the planet, with only about 100 individuals left. CREW’s Signature Sumatran Rhino Project has been a leader in captive breeding efforts for this critically endangered animal since 1997. In 2001, the first Sumatran rhino calf to be born in captivity in 112 years was born at the Cincinnati Zoo, thanks to CREW’s breakthrough research. Since then, two other calves have been born at the Zoo, and in 2007, the Zoo’s first-born rhino calf, Andalas, was relocated to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) on the island of Sumatra to serve as the catalyst for a breeding program in the species’ native land. A few years later, Andalas’s mate, Ratu, gave birth to a healthy male calf, a huge success for the species!

In addition to its leadership role in the Sumatran rhino captive breeding program, CREW scientists partner with conservation organization Rhino Global Partnerships to protect Sumatran rhinos in the wild by helping to support Rhino Protection Units. These units are trained to protect the rhinos from poachers, the greatest threat to the species. Furthermore, financial support and CREW staff expertise are provided to facilitate the captive breeding program on Sumatra. CREW’s Signature Sumatran Rhino Project, with its international collaboration, is conservation work at its finest.

Sumatran rhino with baby (Photo: Dave Jenike)

Sumatran rhino with baby (Photo: Dave Jenike)

Gorilla Conservation

Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild, with less than 175,000 individuals. Due primarily to habitat destruction caused by logging, mineral mining, and agricultural expansion, wild gorilla numbers continue to shrink. The bushmeat trade—the killing of wild animals to be used as human food—is also a major threat to the western lowland gorilla population throughout the Central African rainforests. Over 1,000 gorillas are illegally poached for the bushmeat trade each year.

The Cincinnati Zoo supports wild gorilla conservation efforts such as the Mbeli Bai Study. The Mbeli Bai Study is the longest running research being done with wild western lowland gorillas. Through research, local education programs, publications, and documentaries, the Mbeli Bai Study is raising international awareness for gorillas and their struggle for survival.

Gorillas in Congo (Photo: Thomas Breuer)

Gorillas in Congo (Photo: Thomas Breuer)

African Lion Conservation

Another way the Zoo contributes to species conservation worldwide is through support of global initiatives to protect wildlife and minimize human-wildlife conflict. The Zoo provides funding to support Rebuilding the Pride, a community-based conservation program that combines tradition and modern technology to restore a healthy lion population while reducing the loss of livestock to lions in Kenya’s South Rift Valley.

Local Maasai research assistants track the movement of both livestock and lions in an effort to understand seasonal movements and identify conflict hotspots. Some of the lions have been fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars for better tracking. The collars transmit four locations a day to a central server, giving detailed information on the exact movement of the lions. Knowing where the prides are lets herders know where to avoid grazing their livestock.

The program also deploys a Conflict Response Team to mitigate any conflicts that arise between people and lions. When herders must move through areas with lions, they call on community game scouts to accompany them for extra protection. The team also helps find and rescue lost livestock that would have otherwise fallen victim to predation.

Thanks to these efforts, lion populations in the region are growing. Once down to a low of about 10 known lions in the area, the population is now estimated to be nearly 70. The prides have been producing cubs and new lions are moving in from surrounding areas. The Rebuilding the Pride program has greatly contributed to the robustness of the lion population, minimized human-wildlife conflict, and become a strong community-based conservation program.

Lions in Kenya (Photo: Lily Maynard)

Lions in Kenya (Photo: Lily Maynard)

To read the other posts in this series, click here. Join us in April as we celebrate Earth Day and community activism!

March 17, 2014   No Comments