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Category — Conservation

Saving Scarlet Macaws in Guatemala

One of the largest and most brilliantly colored macaws, the scarlet macaw inhabits the tropical forests of Central and South America. Despite its large range, scarlet macaw populations in Central America suffer greatly from the pet trade, hunting and habitat loss. The Zoo supports scarlet macaw conservation in Guatemala through the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre (ARCAS).

Scarlet macaw (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Scarlet macaw (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

ARCAS collaborates with other organizations to ensure the survival of the scarlet macaw within the Mayan Biosphere Reserve through the Macaws Without Borders consortium. In addition to rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife, ARCAS also conducts environmental education activities as well as breeds scarlet macaws with the aim of reintroducing them to bolster the wild population, which is estimated at fewer than 150 scarlet macaws in Guatemala.

ARCAS entrance sign

ARCAS entrance sign

ARCAS initiated its scarlet macaw breeding program in 2004 at the Rescue Centre. Since then, it has successfully fledged two to four birds a year for a total of 45 so far. It has had to overcome obstacles including attacks by Africanized bees and margays, thefts and parasitic infestations of nest boxes. There are now nearly 100 scarlet macaws at the Centre (captive-bred and rescues), an important genetic stock for future reintroduction efforts. ARCAS is currently laying the groundwork to establish an ongoing release program in the Sierra Lacandon National Park where it plans to release up to six macaws per year to reinforce the severely depleted population in the park.

A breeding pair of scarlet macaws at the Centre

A breeding pair of scarlet macaws at the Centre

Flight cage at the Centre

Flight cage at the Centre

Funds supplied by the Zoo have been used to construct an incubation house for chicks requiring special care and new flight cages that enable the fledgling birds to fly and strengthen their muscles in preparation for their eventual release into the wild. The Zoo also funds field trips for local students to visit the ARCAS center and learn about the scarlet macaw program.

Scarlet macaw fledgling

Scarlet macaw fledgling

January 2, 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

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