Category — Enrichment
Meet Minnow, the Cincinnati Zoo’s first and only fishing cat ambassador. Minnow helps spread awareness about fishing cats at the Zoo, and she has inspired her trainer, Linda Castenada, to support research and conservation of the endangered fishing cat in the wild.
The fishing cat is a medium-sized cat from the wetlands of Southeast Asia that feeds on rodents, birds, frogs, fish and other aquatic species. Good swimmers, fishing cats have been observed to dive into water after fish as well as to scoop them out with their paws.
During the Cat Ambassador Program’s summer show at the Zoo (called the Cheetah Encounter), Minnow shows off her expert hunting and fishing skills. As far as we know, she is the only current fishing cat ambassador working on stage in an AZA-accredited zoo. Fishing cats are shy and secretive by nature, which makes it challenging to get them comfortable in front of an audience. Linda, who has worked as the Coordinator and Lead Trainer with the Cat Ambassador Program since 2007, was up for the challenge. Since the age of four when she got her first pet cat, Suzi, Linda has always been a cat person.
With Minnow, it took a lot of patience and paying attention her natural behavior to condition her to display her hunting skills successfully in front of an audience. Following a very set routine is one of the keys to maintaining her comfort. And rewarding her with her favorite fishy treats!
After several years of working with Minnow, Linda decided she wanted to do more to support fishing cats in the wild where the conversion of natural wetlands for aquaculture and the persecution of fishing cats for raiding fish and shrimp farms threaten their survival. Linda recently took on a new role as the Education Advisor to the Fishing Cat Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to conserve species through research, breeding, education and conservation. Her mission is to increase awareness and raise funds for fishing cat conservation. To this end, Linda established the Fishing Cat Fund as well as a Fishing Cat SSP page on Facebook.
She also secured support from the Cincinnati Zoo’s 2014 Internal Conservation Grants Fund for the Fishing Cat Conservancy’s program to conserve the fishing cat and its mangrove habitat around the Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary in India. Through the use of questionnaires, camera-traps, and in-field tracking with local communities, the Fishing Cat Conservancy and the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society documents fishing cats in the region and involves local people in conservation education and awareness programs about fishing cats and their habitat.
This summer, I encourage you to catch Minnow in action during a Cheetah Encounter show and learn more about wild cats and their conservation around the globe.
February 18, 2015 3 Comments
By Renee Carpenter, Rhino and Hoofed Stock Keeper
Seven years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to represent the Zoo at an International Rhino Keeper Conference hosted in Australia. During the week-long conference, I met a man named Henry Opio from the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC). Henry impressed me with his passion for conservation. He had a dream that black and white rhinos would someday return to the wild in Uganda where they had been eliminated through poaching in the 1980s. Wildlife and people alike had experienced tragic hardships and loss during that time of tremendous political and civil unrest. With the region now recovering, facilities like UWEC, with the full support of the current government, are working hard to save what was lost and foster a “pride of heritage” in the people for their wildlife.
As I spoke more with Henry, I fell in love with the idea of returning rhinos to Uganda, too. Henry presented on the possibility of reintroducing rhinos into Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and how UWEC would reach out to each and every village surrounding the park before animals would be released (wow, what a huge task!). They would focus on the children and reach the parents and others in the community through them. I, along with a colleague, was there to present on a fundraising project called “Rhino Rembrandts” with proceeds going to field conservation…a possible aid to this Ugandan rhino project, I thought to myself.
After the excitement of the week, I was sitting in the plane for the twenty-plus hour flight home and I couldn’t help but wonder…how could I help Henry and Uganda’s lost rhinos with more than just what my little fundraiser would do? Coincidentally, when I returned to work I read an email about an internal grant opportunity with a fast approaching deadline. So, many emails and anxious waiting later… I have, just this past week, submitted the report for the seventh straight year of successful funding from the Zoo!
Back over in Uganda, my friend Henry and UWEC are working hard at conservation education on many fronts. However, the return of the rhino to a people re-learning the importance of safeguarding it is closest to my heart.
The human effect of any conservation initiative is what makes it successful. UWEC reaches out to the communities (person to person) through education about the importance of rhinos to their community as well as helps to improve daily life tasks such as farming and waste management practices and identification/use of medicinal plants. Through this process, the communities become invested in the idea of bringing rhinos back and the positive impact it will have on them if the rhinos are protected.
For me personally, last year’s successful grant application brought the whole process very close to home. At the conclusion of last year’s work, Henry contacted me about a 14-year-old girl named Vivian. She showed great interest and passion for rhino conservation. She also expressed to him concern about her father who was a poacher back in their village. She felt she could convince him to stop, even though that would mean ending the income that enabled her to attend school. Vivian’s father was convinced and, in an attempt to still fund her education, he carved two beautiful wooden rhino statues and presented them to Henry for help. As you can see, they now have a new home here in Cincinnati. Henry was also able to help Vivian’s father gain employment as a ranger protecting wildlife. It’s fascinating how a person’s actions can change when given a better option. This is what I love about this project – protecting wildlife while improving people’s lives – a recipe for success! This has only been made possible by the Zoo’s internal grant program and dedication to field conservation.
Although much more work needs to be done before rhinos once again roam in the wild in Uganda, the rhinos themselves are doing their part. At Ziwa Ranch in Uganda, they are busy making babies to support the release. UWEC’s rhinos serve as ambassadors for any and all visitors and the dedicated staff there will continue to work with the communities surrounding Murchison Falls National Park until they have all been reached (fingers crossed for future success in partnering).
As a rhino and hoofed stock keeper here at the Zoo, I have been blessed, alongside my friends and colleagues, with the opportunity to work with these awesome animals, be involved in efforts to safeguard them in the wild, and to share my experiences and love of rhinos with the people I meet.
So I invite you to come visit us here at the Zoo and be part of the human effect of conservation, too! There are so many more people like Vivian out there just waiting for that connection to become stewards of their own land and wildlife.
Also, don’t miss World Rhino Day on September 21st here at the Zoo when we celebrate these marvels of nature and the work being done to safeguard them. Come out and have some family fun while making a difference!
September 2, 2014 2 Comments
Seyia arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in August of 2013 and is currently the only black rhino we have here. She made the long journey all the way from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she was born. Seyia will celebrate her fifth birthday on September 28.
The black rhino, or hook-lipped rhino (Diceros bicornis), is native to eastern and central Africa. Black rhinos are generally solitary animals, except for mothers with calves. However, males and females have a consort relationship during mating, and sometimes young adults will form loose associations with older individuals of either sex.
An herbivorous browser, black rhinos eat leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny bushes and fruit. You will often see browse, or large leafy branches, in Seyia’s exhibit, which is one of her favorite things. She also loves bananas, apples, kiwi and melon. We often utilize these items for her training sessions and as enrichment scattered throughout her enclosure. On special occasions, we might even give her whole watermelons to smash and eat.
Every rhino has its own personality and Seyia is a real sweetie, yet definitely has some sass and spunk to her. She loves attention – getting a good rub down, taking a bubble bath, and most of all, interacting with her keepers during training sessions.
Seyia has learned so much over the past year here in Cincinnati. We train all of our animals to do lots of different husbandry behaviors, which helps us provide them with the best care possible. This is especially important when caring for rhinos. The black rhino has a reputation for being extremely aggressive, charging readily at threats. They have even been observed charging tree trunks and termite mounds in the wild! So it takes a very strong bond between keepers and their rhinos to accomplish all that we need to do with them. Only once this trust is formed between keeper and rhino can training begin.
We began the process by hand-feeding her lots of her favorite treats. After that, we began target training and moved forward from there. Seyia has now learned to move either side of her body up against the side of her indoor enclosure. This allows us to get a good look at her, bathe her, and even apply a Skin So Soft solution to help keep her skin moisturized and keep the flies away. She can place either front foot on a block for nail and foot care and is also trained to lay down on command. Right now, we are working with her on opening her mouth so we can check out those pearly whites. Not only is all this training useful for husbandry and medical care, it’s also a form of enrichment for her.
Seyia, often referred to as “little girl”, is not so little anymore! In fact, as of December 2013, she weighed in at a whopping 2,400 lbs. She is due to be weighed again this fall, and I guarantee she’s grown. Her body and horn are much bigger than when she first arrived.
How do we weigh a rhino? We use a set of truck scales. Our Maintenance department constructed a heavy duty “weight board” that we carefully place over the scales and the rhino can just step on up. We feed her some of her favorite snacks while we watch the number going up until we have an accurate weight. We do this a few times just to be extra certain it’s accurate. This is not only important to ensure a healthy weight, but also for our veterinary staff to know in case of an emergency or if they need to prescribe her any medications.
Next time you are at the Zoo, be sure to stop by the black rhino exhibit in Rhino Reserve (across from LaRosa’s) to see Seyia. Also, be sure to come out for World Rhino Day on September 21 to celebrate and support rhino conservation efforts here at the Zoo and across the globe.
August 26, 2014 2 Comments