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Category — Education

Project Passenger Pigeon

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

2014 marks 100 years since the extinction of the passenger pigeon. It also marks the beginning of Project Passenger Pigeon—a year of events, exhibitions, and engagement to commemorate this anniversary and promote species conservation and habitat preservation. The Cincinnati Zoo is proud to be a part of this international effort, which brings together scientists, conservationists, educators, and artists, musicians, and filmmakers to increase awareness of the passenger pigeon’s story and use it as an opportunity to engage and motivate people to get involved in sustainable actions that promote biodiversity and deter future human-caused extinctions.

Project Passenger Pigeon Logo

Events will be taking place throughout the United States as part of Project Passenger Pigeon. Lectures and talks by scientists, researchers, and other experts on the passenger pigeon will be happening throughout the year, and educational exhibits will appear in many zoos, museums, and schools, including the renovation of our own Passenger Pigeon Memorial.

The arts will also play a significant role in engaging people in unique and meaningful ways with the story of the passenger pigeon, nature, and conservation. Project Passenger Pigeon will feature plays, poetry readings, and art installations around the country. A documentary film, From Billions to None, is also being created to illustrate the passenger pigeon’s history and impact.

Three new books on the passenger pigeon will be published this year. A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, by naturalist Joel Greenberg, is the first major work on the bird in 60 years. Check out the book review in the New Yorker, and Greenberg’s discussion of the book and the importance of the story of the passenger pigeon to conservation on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. A Research Associate at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences (and organizer of Project Passenger Pigeon), and The Field Museum, Greenberg will give lectures and hold book signings throughout the year, including a stop in Ohio.

A Feathered River Across the Sky book cover

At the Cincinnati Zoo, we will renovate the current Passenger Pigeon Memorial thanks to a generous grant from the Luther Charitable Foundation. We will also take part in a variety of events related to Project Passenger Pigeon. For example, be sure to join us for a very special Barrows Lecture Series speaker; on September 3, John Ruthven will talk about his connection to the passenger pigeon through art. He will receive the 2014 Cincinnati Zoo Wildlife Conservation Award.

John Ruthven painting a mural of his original work - Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

John Ruthven painting a mural of his original work – Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

We hope you will join us for some of the special events we have planned for this year – more details to come. In the meantime, we are moving forward with exciting new plans for our Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation, which we can’t wait to share with you! This is shaping up to be a great year to recognize the efforts being made in wildlife conservation around the world.

To read the other posts in this series, click here. Join us next month as we highlight the Cincinnati Zoo’s efforts in species conservation and celebrate the work of others in our community and beyond.

January 10, 2014   No Comments

Passenger Pigeon: A Catalyst for Change

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

The loss of the passenger pigeon, such a robust and omnipresent species, was, and still is, a jarring loss to the world. Despite such a loss, however, there is hope to be found in this story. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction, we recognize the importance of this story as an impetus for positive change in the world of wildlife conservation. Many other species, like the American bison and white-tailed deer, have been close to extinction, but have been pulled back from the edge by very talented and dedicated scientists, conservationists, and citizens.

In the years immediately following Martha’s death, great strides were made to protect other species in the United States and beyond, and these efforts continue today. The loss of the passenger pigeon was such a startling and significant one—mere decades before, the ubiquitous bird swarmed in flocks of billions and billions overhead—that it spurred many people into action. This extinction served as catalyst for change, from which many other species since then have reaped the benefits.

At the end of the 1800s, while numbers of passenger pigeons were quickly shrinking, the American bison and white-tailed deer were also in trouble. By the early twentieth century, unregulated overhunting and habitat loss (two of the same issues that forced the passenger pigeon into extinction) greatly threatened populations of white-tailed deer. The American bison once roamed the American west in massive herds, but, like the passenger pigeon, rampant commercial hunting and loss of habitat forced the species close to extinction. By the early 1900s, there were perhaps only a few dozen bison in Yellowstone National Park.

Towering piles of American bison skulls, circa mid-1870s (Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library)

Towering piles of American bison skulls, circa mid-1870s (Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library)

Thankfully, the sad example of the passenger pigeon had shown the American public and lawmakers that a seemingly common species could completely die out in a short span of time without proper protections. People began to take actions to protect species like these. Influential people like President Theodore Roosevelt, naturalist John Muir, and industrialist Stephen Mather were instrumental in creating many of the national parks we know today and protecting large areas of land, as well as the wildlife within them.

Bison in Yellowstone National Park (Photo: Daniel Mayer)

Bison in Yellowstone National Park (Photo: Daniel Mayer)

Immediate action was taken in the conservation of the American bison. In 1894, federal legislation protecting bison was passed. Game preserves were soon established. In an effort that continues to this day, public and private conservation groups moved small groups of bison to protected areas, and breeding and protection programs have slowly increased the numbers of bison from a few dozen to a more than 500,000 today.

Though common now, the white-tailed deer was once in danger of extinction. (Photo: Scott Bauer)

Though common now, the white-tailed deer was once in danger of extinction. (Photo: Scott Bauer)

White-tailed deer, whose numbers dropped dangerously low by the 1930s, also benefited from new protective laws, restocking of small populations into protected areas, and restoration of habitat. Had these actions not been taken so promptly, urged on by the example of the passenger pigeon, both the bison and the deer would surely have gone extinct as well.

These wildlife conservation efforts, and those we see in action today, stem in a very real way from the loss of the passenger pigeon. This loss served as a wake-up call to many, forcing us to recognize our power to threaten, but also to protect, species. As the conservation efforts of the American bison and white-tailed deer showed, the things that sealed the fate of the passenger pigeon—rampant commercial overhunting and habitat loss—do not have to dictate the fate of other species. If we use the story of the passenger pigeon as a lesson in the power of mankind, we can prevent other species from going the way of the passenger pigeon and take action to protect other vulnerable species today.


To read the other posts in this series, click here. Stay tuned next month for more on Project Passenger Pigeon and the Cincinnati Zoo’s role in this important effort in species conservation and habitat preservation. 

December 9, 2013   No Comments

An Experience like No Other: the Zoo Academy Story

Guest Blogger: Zoo Academy Senior, Sarah Franklin

To start off, my name is Sarah Franklin.  I’m a Zoo Academy student here at the Cincinnati Zoo, and I love every minute of it. The Zoo Academy is a branch of Hughes STEM High School, and is offered to anyone who attends.

Here’s a bit of my story on how I ended up here:

I was raised on a farm, not too far from Cincinnati, but in a small town that you’ve probably never heard of before. Growing up, my family and I had an array of animals on our farm. I used to love to go out with my father in the mornings or evenings to feed the animals. Any opportunity I had to go out with him, I’d jump right into my muck boots, (that came higher than my knees), throw on my coat or jacket, depending on the temperature, and run out right behind him. Some of my favorite memories from my hometown were right out on that farm with him.

Here I am as a toddler on my Dad's farm.

Here I am as a toddler on my Dad’s farm.

At about the age of fourteen when my dad got remarried, I had the opportunity to move to Cincinnati and change schools. I wasn’t particularly happy with my current school system, so I began to research about public schools in Cincinnati. During one of my searches, I came across Hughes High. They talked a lot about pathways on their website, and featured a pathway they called: (you guessed it) The Zoo Academy! I called up the next day to learn more about it, and actually spent time talking to Glen Schulte, who is now my current teacher. I fell in love the minute I learned about this amazing opportunity, and decided that this was where I wanted to start my new beginning. We packed up and moved soon after and that began my story here, at my favorite place on Earth.

In my Zoo Academy uniform

In my Zoo Academy uniform

The Cincinnati Zoo and Hughes High School have become second homes for me. I have had experiences here that I could experience nowhere else.  I became a strong leader within my school, and the biggest Big Red Athletics fan they’d ever seen. Actually, this year, (my SENIOR year), I was recorded as the first girl in Big Red history to score points for the Hughes Football team. I even did a radio interview about it. That was an experience within itself, and I am so fortunate to have been a part of that.

Here I am in my football gear with my littlest fan.

Here I am in my football gear with my littlest fan.

Here at the Zoo, I do daily work with the keepers, animals, and currently the wonderful staff within the Education Department. Some of my favorite animal encounters have been during these last two years, having the opportunity to work with animals that range from insects to elephants. One of my favorite experiences was working with the cougars this past fall while in the Night Hunters department at the Zoo. I also met the love of my life here at the Zoo, a hyacinth blue macaw named Azul at the Bird House. I’ve enjoyed every lab I’ve participated in, and learned so much from the staff here. It is really an experience that is like no other, because the Cincinnati Zoo is the only zoo in the country that allows high school students to participate in labs and work alongside keepers on a daily basis.

Here I am with the love of my life, Azul.

Here I am with the love of my life, Azul.

In the upcoming future I plan on attending the University of Cincinnati and continuing on my story here at the Cincinnati Zoo. I feel as though my experiences here at the Zoo aren’t ready to come to an end yet, so I hope I am able to continue on here after I graduate, whether it is as a volunteer or even a paid staff member. I love it here at the Zoo, and though this may not be where my career path ends, it is definitely a place that I would hope for it to begin. Thanks so much for reading my story!  If you ever see me around the Zoo, stop me and ask any questions you’d like!

Best Wishes, Sarah.

November 20, 2013   No Comments