Category — Education
Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation
The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, and perhaps the world. In 1800, North America was filled with more than five billion passenger pigeons. It is hard to imagine the scope of their flocks. In 1813, ornithologist and wildlife painter John J. Audubon calculated a single flock he observed in Kentucky to contain more than 1,115,000,000 birds! An authority on the passenger pigeon noted that the birds moved “in such enormous numbers as to confound the senses.” Many reports described flocks of the birds blotting out the sun.
It is difficult to fully understand what it would be like to look up and see a flock of these birds flying overheard, to hear their billions of wings beating together, to feel the air moving over you from their flight. We may find the massive flock of starlings, called a murmuration, in this video unbelievable, but to imagine what a flock of passenger pigeons might be like, you would have to multiply the size of this murmuration by thousands!
The story of the passenger pigeon is a poignant example of nature’s abundance and humanity’s ability to exhaust seemingly endless riches. We also have the ability to save today’s imperiled species from suffering the same fate. The Cincinnati Zoo is part of an international effort called Project Passenger Pigeon, which will bring 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 people in current issues related to human-caused extinction, promote species conservation and habitat preservation, and motivate people to get involved in sustainable actions that promote biodiversity and deter future human-caused extinctions.
Those of you in the Cincinnati area can experience a larger-than-life version of world-renowned wildlife painter John Ruthven’s latest painting titled Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon. Reproduced as a mural on the side of a building at 15 E. Eighth St. in downtown Cincinnati, it features a flock of passenger pigeons, led by Martha, in flight at the Zoo. The mural was dedicated on September 19. Forty years ago, John Ruthven captained an effort to create the Passenger Pigeon Memorial at our Zoo to honor the passing of the passenger pigeon and Martha. He is now collaborating with us to renovate the memorial in time for the 100th anniversary of Martha’s death.
Tune in each month as we celebrate what’s working in wildlife conservation leading up to the commemoration of 100 years since Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo.
To read the first post in this series, click here.
October 1, 2013 2 Comments
Guest blogger: Crissi Lanier, Interpretive Media Intern
There are five species of rhinos in the world – Javan, Indian, Sumatran, Black & White. Three of these species, Indian, Black and Sumatran, reside here at the Cincinnati Zoo. Do you know how to identify them and where to find them? If not, read on and test your rhino knowledge on #WorldRhinoDay this Sunday, September 22.
Sumatran Rhino: Our sibling Sumatran rhinos, Harapan & Suci, have been in the news lately because they are the only two of their kind in North America and, as such, are key to the survival of this critically-endangered species. They are in neighboring enclosures in Wildlife Canyon, where you can see them doing their favorite thing — getting muddy!
The Sumatran rhino’s most distinguishing feature is the reddish-brown hair that covers most of its body. It’s the smallest of all rhino species, standing about 4-feet high at the shoulder and weighs about 1,500–1,800 lbs. Like both African species, it has two horns.
To read more about the Sumatran Rhinos from past blogs click here.
Black Rhino: Our female black rhino, Seyia, is new to the Zoo and getting used to her surroundings in the Veldt. She will make her public debut soon. Her predecessor, Klyde, was transferred to the Sedgwick County Zoo for breeding a few months ago. Learn more about the crate training that made Klyde’s move smooth.
Although this rhino is referred to as black, its colors vary from brown to gray. The black rhino is also referred to as the hook-lipped rhinoceros because of its prehensile upper lip. It has two horns but can sometimes develop a third.
Indian Rhino: We have two female Indian rhinos, Nikki and Manjula. They are in separate enclosures in our Veldt, with Nikki often found lounging in her pool and Manjula making appearances when she feels like it!
The Indian rhino, also called the greater one-horned rhinoceros and Indian one-horned rhinoceros, has only one horn! Nikki’s is a bit worn down because she likes to rub it on trees and rocks. This heavily built species can weigh up to 8,000 lbs and has thick, silver-brown skin, and very little body hair. Its upper legs and shoulders are covered in wart-like bumps.
*Sumatran rhinos are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are native to Sumatra (Indonesia), Borneo and Malay Peninsula.
*Black rhinos are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN. They are found in various parts of central and southern Africa.
*Indian rhinos are considered Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are found in Nepal and India.
All of these rhinos need our help to survive for future generations. You can A.D.O.P.T. them to help aid in their daily care and enrichment, visit the Zoo on #WorldRhinoDay, talk to volunteers at the CREW stands about current research and more.
September 17, 2013 1 Comment
On September 1, 1913—the passenger pigeon was one year away from extinction. Martha, the last of her species, lived here at the Cincinnati Zoo and was an aged bird. Efforts had been made for years to find a mate for Martha that would provide a chance for the species to survive. In truth, the fate of the passenger pigeon had been sealed several decades before by modern communications (telegraph), transportation (rail), rampant commercial-scale harvest of the birds and the felling of large expanses of hardwood forest habitat. For Martha and her species, it was a waiting game. The eyes of the nation watched for the inevitable to happen.
The inconceivable loss of the most common bird species on the planet shook society out of its torpor. There had been billions of passenger pigeons only 50 years before—racing up, down and across the continent like a biological storm, consuming the fruits of the forest in its quest to fulfill their mission to feed, nest and make more pigeons. Few would have believed that there would soon be none. Those that were concerned were not influential enough to prevent it. By the time it was clear to the majority what was going to happen, it was just too late to do anything about it. It was the first time we could be certain that humans had caused a species’ extinction. It was, and is, a heavy burden, yet it was also a catalyst for change.
There is good that came from this extinction. Many species considered common today were on the brink of the same fate at the end of the 1800s. American bison, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope were all on the same path to extinction as the passenger pigeon. After the loss of the passenger pigeon, people got to work to save these species from the same outcome. President Roosevelt began the National Parks program and wildlife conservation efforts sprang up all over the country. The wildlife conservation effort we know today was born out of the loss of the passenger pigeon. In a very real way, modern zoos as well as countless other conservation organizations around the globe owe their existence to this one event. It is an impressive legacy and one to be celebrated in the coming year.
Over the next year, the Zoo will celebrate what works in the world of wildlife conservation as a commemoration to Martha. To start, we will renovate the current Passenger Pigeon Memorial at the Zoo to include a hopeful message that celebrates the success of wildlife conservation rather than mourning the loss of a single species. We will highlight the work of our Zoo in species conservation and celebrate the work of others in our community and beyond. We will be blogging each month with updates on the renovation of the Passenger Pigeon Memorial and more, and hope you will join our story and celebration in the coming year.
September 1, 2013 3 Comments