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Category — Education

Saving Sloths in Costa Rica

Hanging with Moe – myself, Amanda, and Sam last year.

Hanging with Moe the sloth – myself, Amanda, and Sam last year.

“How hard can it be to track a sloth?” This was the question that I was teased with several times prior to my recent trip to Costa Rica.  My honest answer was “I don’t know, probably not that hard.” Guess what? Trying to find an animal designed to camouflage itself 50 feet off the ground in dense canopy is pretty darn hard. Surveying a population of brown-throated three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) and Hoffman’s two-toed (Choloepus hoffmanni) sloths is just one of the ways that I (Head Keeper for the Interpretive Collection) and Amanda Chambers (Team Leader for the same department) helped out our colleagues at The Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI). TSI was established in 2014 and is a branch of Kids Saving The Rainforest (KSTR). With high hopes of becoming more involved in conservation directly, our department formed a relationship with Sam Trull, Co-founder of TSI, last year. Since then, we have helped them purchase four radio-collars to track rehabilitated and wild sloths  with funds raised through our Moe’mentous Sloth Encounters, an experience at the Zoo that allows guests to meet Moe, our two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus). Part of TSI’s mission is to rehabilitate injured and orphaned sloths, release them back into the wild, and then collect data on the released and wild sloths in the area of the release. The other part is to educate the local community about how to peacefully coexist with native wildlife, particularly sloths!

Orphaned and hand-reared Two-toed sloths Bruno and Elvis snuggle between feedings. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Orphaned and hand-reared Two-toed sloths Bruno and Elvis snuggle between feedings. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

So off to Costa Rica we went last month in search of sloths and ways we could help TSI move their mission forward. Amanda and I had never traveled to Costa Rica before and were so excited with the anticipation of seeing so many different species of animals that we’ve only seen in captivity. We were not disappointed! Costa Rica has the largest concentration of species anywhere in the world. It is truly a biodiversity hotspot! It also has reserved a full 25% of its land for wildlife. This is an impressive number. Costa Rica, as I’m sure you can imagine if you’ve never been, is unbelievably beautiful. It hosts 13 different micro-climates that include desert, cloud forest, and tropical rainforest. For all these reasons, in addition to their beautiful beaches, Costa Rica is a major tourist destination.

Wildlife need to cross roads to find food, mates, shelter. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Wildlife need to cross roads to find food, mates, shelter. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Horizontal rope bridges like this one help arboreal wildlife cross a road safely. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Horizontal rope bridges like this one help arboreal wildlife cross a road safely. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Now, we have a hugely diverse group of flora and fauna, lots of protection from the government, amazing scenery, and lots of people coming to see it. Here’s the issue – bisection of the habitats. To get eco-tourists into these remote areas so they can have an experience that connects them with nature, there have to be roads. There also has to be electric wires and every other form of development that comes with humans. This then causes animals to come into closer contact with humans. Sloths are particularly vulnerable to roads, electric wires, and domestic dogs. While we were at KSTR one day, a female three-toed sloth and her day old baby were brought into the clinic. The tree the mom had been in had been cut down by someone and she fell and broke her arm. The next day, she gave birth and was rushed to KSTR for help. Unfortunately, electrocutions, car strikes, and dog attacks are all too common. I’m happy to report that mama sloth had a successful surgery to repair her arm and is recovering well with baby by her side.

Mama post-surgery with baby, who was able to stay with her during the entire procedure and recovery. (Photo: Sam Trull)

Mama post-surgery with baby, who was able to stay with her during the entire procedure and recovery. (Photo: Sam Trull)

Release cage during construction. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Release cage during construction. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Currently, Sam is hand-rearing nine baby sloths, and two other juveniles have been moved into a pre-release cage in a maritime zone along the Pacific coast in Manuel Antonio. All of this makes for lots to do. TSI relies almost completely on volunteers. They help feed the sloths (2:00 AM feeds for even an adorable baby sloth wear you out), construct cages, track wild sloths at the release site, lead educational tours, and log tons of data. Amanda and I spent a morning surveying the release area for sloths. Hannah, one of the researchers, said she had logged 25 separate sloths the day before. We walked up and down hills for hours, craning our necks and looking through binoculars. We found three.

Can you find the wild three-toed sloth in this picture? (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Can you find the wild three-toed sloth in this picture? (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Our days were also spent constructing sloth litter boxes (sloths climb down from the canopy about once a week to deposit their waste at the bottom of the tree) for the release cage, recording data on a wild mom and baby two-toed sloth pair, going to the local farmers’ market to buy goat milk for the babies, and transporting a sick sloth to the vet clinic an hour away to get a digital x-ray. We learned a lot about what wild sloths are eating and we are hoping to plant some of those trees in the Discovery Forest exhibit here at the Zoo where Moe lives.

During our trip, the Zoo launched a successful Booster t-shirt campaign for the care and feeding of Moe with part of the proceeds going to TSI. Thank you to everyone who bought a shirt and supported captive and wild sloths! Our goal is to remain active in Costa Rica with sloth conservation. We feel that community engagement in the Manuel Antonio area as well as the larger Costa Rican community is key and it is where we hope to focus all of our future ideas and actions as a department. Our Zoo has taught us to dream big and pursue our own experiences with conservation. We could not have done this without the support of our Zoo leaders and our Interpretive Team.

If you are interested in meeting Moe, our two-toed sloth, and learning more about how to get involved in sloth conservation, be sure to schedule a Moe’mentous Sloth Encounter with us soon. Also, be sure to follow The Sloth Institute on Facebook for updates on the upcoming releases of their rehabilitated sloths!

October 6, 2015   No Comments

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

Come Celebrate Ape Awareness Days!

It’s time to go bananas again at the Zoo’s annual Ape Awareness Days weekend, free with regular Zoo admission. From 10:00 to 3:00 on September 12 and 13, guests are invited to learn more about apes and how we can help save them in the wild at the Jungle Trails and Gorilla World exhibits.

Volunteers will be on hand at the orangutan exhibit to introduce guests to our shaggy, red-haired friends, Henry and Lana. There has been some good news for orangutans in the Malaysian state of Sarawak recently. The Chief Minister announced his intentions to enact new projects that will protect orangutans and other wildlife from their major threats of illegal logging and clearing forest for oil palm plantations.

Henry is watching out for you! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Henry is watching out for you! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

One way we as consumers can help protect orangutans is by purchasing products made with Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. The world’s most popular vegetable oil, palm oil is used in many of our everyday foods and products. Products made with sustainable palm oil, which is produced without clear cutting forests and harming wildlife, are listed in the Zoo’s Sustainable Shopper App. Download it and use it during your next shopping trip to make sure the products you buy are orangutan-friendly.

At the bonobo exhibit in Jungle Trails, guests can visit with their own closest non-human relatives. Baby Bo, who was born in March, is growing more independent and curious every day. You’ll want to see him before he’s all grown up! Here guests will learn what makes an ape different from other primates and test their own ape-identifying skills.

Bo and his mother, Zanga (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bo and his mother, Zanga (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Over at Gorilla World, the big news, of course, is that Anju recently gave birth to the 50th gorilla born at the Zoo since 1970. The little girl is Anju’s first and Jomo’s third baby. Mondika, who was born last summer, is now a big sister! Swing by the Gorilla Wild Discover Zone during Ape Awareness Days to get the full scoop and latest news on the baby.

Anju and her new baby

Anju and her new baby

We also encourage you to bring any old cell phones you may have around the house and drop them in one of our cell phone recycling bins. Cell phones contain an ore called Coltan that is mined in gorilla and bonobo habitat in Africa. Recycling cell phones reduced the demand to mine more Coltan and helps preserve habitat.

We hope you will come on out on September 12 and 13 and celebrate Ape Awareness Days with us and the rest of the primates at the Zoo!

September 10, 2015   No Comments