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Category — Education

Supporting Wild Cat Conservation Education in Tamaulipas, Mexico

Mexico is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world thanks to its large size, variety of habitats, and position as a transition zone between North America’s temperate and Central America’s tropical regions. However, little is known regarding the distribution and status of Mexico’s wildlife, including the iconic and endangered jaguar. Relatively little government land in Mexico is dedicated to conservation and most of its wildlife survives outside of protected areas. In northern Mexico, much of the land is owned by private cattle ranchers. Thus, cattle ranches have a critical role in conserving the country’s wildlife.

Jaguar (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

Jaguar (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge commissioned a non-profit organization, Conservación y Desarrollo de Espacios Naturales (CDEN), to conduct a monitoring study. CDEN used motion-sensitive cameras to determine the status of the ocelot on ranchland in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas with the hopes that the population would be healthy enough to allow the transfer of an ocelot to South Texas to boost its endangered ocelot population.

One of the most exciting results of the study was a visual record of an amazing variety of wildlife in the area. The cameras captured images of over 20 mammal species, including five wild cats: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, jaguarundis and bobcats. CDEN established the Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Binational Conservation Program (WCT) following the initial study to continue to monitor wild cats in the area and work with the local community and government to conserve them.

Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Poster

Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Poster

With support from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Gladys Porter Zoo, and San Antonio Zoo, WCT established an environmental education and outreach component in 2015 to provide educational programs and materials to local communities in Tamaulipas. The goal is to make people aware of the presence of wild cats in the region and convey the importance of protecting their populations. Wild cats play important roles as predators, maintaining balanced ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check.

Between July and October, approximately 1,600 people were reached through WCT education events including:

  • an education booth at the Tamatan Zoo in Ciudad Victoria,
  • a Biology Conference at the Technological Institute of Altamira,
  • a festival at Laguna Del Carpintero Bicentennial Park in Tampico,
  • another festival in Tampico during Workforce Security, Hygiene and Environment Week,
  • and presentations at two local businesses during their annual environmental awareness week activities.

    Presenting to Biology students (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

    Presenting to Biology students (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Activities at these various events included presentations and activity stations where people could talk to CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez, about wild cats and get a good look at a camera trap and various cat skulls.

CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

People could also make rubbings of jaguars and take a reusable bag of educational materials with them. The bags included crayons, jaguar activity booklets, and WCT brochures/field guides to the five wild cats, which the Cincinnati Zoo helped to create.

Educational materials (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Educational materials (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

People could also take their picture in a large stand-in of one of the scenes from the jaguar booklet.

Photo opportunity (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Photo opportunity (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

And, of course, the star of each event was Alan, the new jaguar mascot.

Alan, the jaguar mascot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Alan, the jaguar mascot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

WCT also created and printed 10 Wild Cats of Tamaulipas posters featuring camera trap images to use at the events.

Poster featuring a camera trap image of an ocelot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Poster featuring a camera trap image of an ocelot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

The events were successful in increasing the general public’s awareness of the rich biodiversity still present in Tamaulipas, particularly the presence of five wild cat species. In addition to continuing public education events in the future, WCT plans to meet with and present to ranch owners at livestock association meetings to garner their support.

November 19, 2015   1 Comment

Discovering the Wonder of the Galapagos as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow

Kneeling on the white sandy shore of San Cristobal Island with camera in hand, I must have snapped a dozen pictures of the newborn Galapagos sea lion pup as it waddled over to sniff my knee, decided I wasn’t its mother, and moved on. Where is the pup’s mother? Out fishing, most likely. Since there are no land predators larger than the Galapagos hawk here on the islands, she is free to leave her pup alone for awhile without fearing that it will be snatched up as a meal.

Galapagos sea lion pup on San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Galapagos sea lion pup on San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

I’ve been home from my Lindblad Expedition to the Galapagos for a month now and I am still reeling with wonder as I recall the beauty of the islands and the amazing wildlife we encountered. The Galapagos is a very special place and has given rise to a unique diversity of wildlife, many species of which are endemic to the islands (found nowhere else in the world). I am honored to have been selected as a 2015 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with National Geographic, which provided me with this hands-on professional development opportunity to learn about the Galapagos Islands from direct experience.

The National Geographic Endeavour served as our home base for the Lindblad Expedition. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The National Geographic Endeavour served as our home base for the Lindblad Expedition. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Over the course of the week aboard the National Geographic Endeavour, we explored a handful of the western islands, all of which offered incredible opportunities for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and, of course, photography.

On Espanola Island, the mockingbirds seemed to hike along with us. Instead of flying away, they were curious and came in close for a better look. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

On Espanola Island, the mockingbirds seemed to hike along with us. Instead of flying away, they were curious and came in close for a better look. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The waved albatrosses certainly weren’t bothered by our presence. They continued with their courtship displays, bobbing heads and slapping beaks, not 10 feet away from us.  (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The waved albatrosses certainly weren’t bothered by our presence. They continued with their courtship displays, bobbing heads and slapping beaks, not 10 feet away from us. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

You literally have to watch where you step to keep from walking on top of marine iguanas splayed across the trails on several islands as they soak up the warm sun. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

You literally have to watch where you step to keep from walking on top of marine iguanas splayed across the trails on several islands as they soak up the warm sun. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Juvenile sea lions swim circles around you as you snorkel and blow bubbles in your face to elicit play. (Photo: Jennifer Scarborough)

Juvenile sea lions swim circles around you as you snorkel and blow bubbles in your face to elicit play. (Photo: Jennifer Scarborough)

Giant Galapagos tortoises barely look up from their meals as we, the paparazzi, snap photos. On Santa Cruz, tortoises move through ranchland during their annual migration up and down the volcanic slopes in search of the best salad bar. (Photo: Andrew Gilhooly)

Giant Galapagos tortoises barely look up from their meals as we, the paparazzi, snap photos. On Santa Cruz, tortoises move through ranchland during their annual migration up and down the volcanic slopes in search of the best salad bar. (Photo: Andrew Gilhooly)

You see, in the Galapagos, the animals have evolved little to no fear of people. They accept our presence just as they would that of any other creature, and it’s a surreal feeling. People are a part of the natural world, and I felt that more in the Galapagos than anywhere else I’ve been. At home, wildlife is much more wary of people, and for good reason. We are just as much of a threat, if not more, to wildlife than their natural predators.

Yet even though we can have negative impacts on wildlife and our environment, we also have the ability to solve the problems we cause. Conservation is not so much about managing wildlife as it is about managing people. In the Galapagos, it was clear that the way to preserve its unique biodiversity was not to exclude people entirely, but to regulate our actions to ensure sustainability. People are only allowed to visit certain islands at certain times of the year in a limited number of groups of a limited number of people, always with a trained naturalist and only to specific designated visitor sites. You must stay on the trails and leave no trace – and I mean nothing; if you have to go to the bathroom, you go back to the ship. While visiting, you may not approach wildlife any closer than six feet (though sometimes they approached you). In essence, wildlife has the right of way.

This young Nazca booby on Genovesa Island was so interested in us that it came almost too close to get a good picture of it. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This young Nazca booby on Genovesa Island was so interested in us that it came almost too close to get a good picture of it. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

What if we showed that level of pride in and respect towards our wildlife and environment here at home? It would take a huge cultural shift, but I think it’s doable. In fact, I think we are making progress. People, in general, seem more aware of the issues and the impact of their actions now than they did when I started working at the Zoo 16 years ago. The sustainable living trend continues to gain traction. We are starting to realize that conservation is more than just saving any one species in particular; it’s about maintaining whole ecosystems and considering our place in them.

I am recharged and even more motivated than before to continue my work here at the Zoo. I plan to use the Galapagos as a model for how people and wildlife can coexist, specifically at our Galapagos tortoise exhibit. My goal is for guests to recognize that they are part of the natural world and have an important role to play in it both locally and globally.

I am extremely grateful to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for providing me with the opportunity to advance geographic literacy by engaging in this field-based experience and incorporating it into my work at the Zoo through the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program. 

Just one of the many beautiful landscapes of the Galapagos - Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Just one of the many beautiful landscapes of the Galapagos – Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

November 9, 2015   2 Comments

Pollen Nation: Helping Out Honeybees

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, we are embracing the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Honeybees do more than just pollinate flowers and make honey. They also pollinate a third of the world’s crops and are critical to our agricultural system. Their populations, however, are in severe decline.

Honeybees

Honeybees

Here is where Pollen Nation, the newest group of beekeepers, steps in. A diverse group of Zoo staff and volunteers, Pollen Nation was established in 2014 to promote pollinator awareness by re-wilding habitats and inspiring action while connecting the community to nature.  “We’re not just beekeepers, we’re a group of people passionate about all aspects of a healthy ecological system…down to every little detail, including the honeybee,” says Melanie Evans, one of Pollen Nation’s founders.

Pollen Nation logo

Pollen Nation has established 18 honeybee hives on the “EcOhio Farm,” a portion of the Zoo’s 600-acre off-site property in Warren County. The hives will boost the declining honeybee population and also raise awareness about conservation action that can be taken in one’s own backyard. Though it may take a few years for the colonies to establish themselves before we can extract honey, eventually we expect to sell honey produced from the hives in the Zoo Shop.

Checking on a beehive at EcOhio Farm

Checking on a beehive at EcOhio Farm

How can you get involved and help out honeybees?

  • Come see the new beehive on Zoo grounds across from the World of the Insect building. Learn more about bees during Honeybee Chats at 2:00pm on Fridays through Tuesdays. Chats will wrap up at the end of October and start up again in spring.

    Honeybee Chat at the Zoo

    Honeybee Chat at the Zoo

  • Sign up for an Education Program series on honeybees that will be led by Pollen Nation members in January. Details to be posted soon at http://cincinnatizoo.org/education/.
  • Help us learn more about bees in the greater Cincinnati area. Simply snap pictures of bees that you see and submit to beespotter.org/cincinnatizoo with the date and location. An expert scientist from the Entomology Department at the University of Illinois will identify the species and add it to the database, helping us to further understand bee species demographics in our area. We are currently developing an app that should launch in spring.beespotter-logo-2015
  • Follow Pollen Nation on Facebook to learn about honeybees and keep up with our activities.
  • Plant native and pollinator-friendly vegetation such as milkweed, sunflowers, bee balm, and other wildflowers for bees to pollinate in your own backyard.
  • Limit pesticide use in your gardens and don’t use during mid-day hours when honeybees are most active. Consider choosing natural pesticides or home-made remedies.

What will the bees do over the winter? In about two weeks, we will winterize the hives where the bees will hunker down. We plan to stack hay bales near the hives as wind barriers and ensure there is enough honey for the bees to feed on to survive the winter.  The bees themselves will make their own sort of caulking, called propolis, to seal off the hive’s seams and keep the cold air out. After that, we’ll leave them alone until it’s time to re-emerge in April and get back to work.

How can you spot a honeybee?

About ½-inch long, honeybees have slender, slightly fuzzy abdomens that are pointed at the tip, and they have an obvious striping pattern. (Photo: Brad Smith)

About ½-inch long, honeybees have slender, slightly fuzzy abdomens that are pointed at the tip, and they have an obvious striping pattern. (Photo: Brad Smith)

Bumblebees are bigger, pudgier, furrier and have rounded tips to their abdomens, and they don’t have many stripes. (Photo: Mark Robinson)

Bumblebees are bigger, pudgier, furrier and have rounded tips to their abdomens, and they don’t have many stripes. (Photo: Mark Robinson)

Wasps and hornets are similar in size and color, but they have smooth, narrow abdomens with no hair.

Wasps and hornets are similar in size and color, but they have smooth, narrow abdomens with no hair.

 

October 16, 2015   1 Comment