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Category — Exhibits

A Day in the Life of a Kea Conflicts Coordinator

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we care for the largest collection of keas in North America. The kea is a highly intelligent mountain parrot from New Zealand. We are also committed to the conservation of this species and support the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) to conserve wild kea in their natural habitat.

A curious kea at the Zoo (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

A curious kea at the Zoo (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Highly intelligent and neophilic (attracted to anything new), keas are drawn to human areas, activity and property. Their investigative behavior can result in the destruction of human property. Property damage is reported each year by private landowners, tourists, tourist operators and workers. The resolution of human-kea conflict is critical to the successful conservation of the endangered parrot.

To that end, the Zoo supports the KCT’s Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, which is a multi-year community-focused conflict response and resolution program. The goals are to identify the nature of conflict experienced by people living within kea habitat, provide ‘first response’ during conflict situations, help people prevent problem situations arising in the first instance, and research practical methods of conflict resolution in collaboration and partnership with communities and the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). Funds from the Cincinnati Zoo support a key personnel position, the Conflicts Coordinator, who responds proactively to conflict situations that arise. Read on to learn more from the Conflicts Coordinator, Andrea Goodman, herself.

Guest blogger: Andrea Goodman, Kea Conservation Trust

It has almost been a year since taking on the ‘Conflict Resolution Position’ for the Kea Conservation Trust. This is indeed a job that is never dull, uses my wits, and is incredibly satisfying. If I can walk away from a site feeling that the kea are  safe, the owner/occupier of the property involved is on-board and feels heard, and we are working together to tackle the kea problem, then I am doing my job. I must admit, visiting my first conflict site filled me with some trepidation… ‘How bad will it be?’, ‘How will the people receive me?’, ‘Will there be anger?’, ‘Can I really do anything?’

Of course there was some anger, plenty of frustration, and a little bravado, but the Nelson Forest crew having kea trouble at a logging site near St Arnaud were fantastic. Up to 10 juvenile keas had been visiting this site for a month, and they were doing the usual kea damage: plucking rubber, damaging wiring on logging vehicles and ripping into seats on bulldozers. Not much fun for the crew involved – costing time and money, and potentially compromising safety. Full credit to the team though, for they were not feeding the birds, they were keeping their vehicles shut and were trying to protect gear using blue tarpaulins. The loader driver had even been pro-active in searching the internet to find solutions to minimize interference from their feathered friends. What struck me most about this visit (leaving an impression as it was my first), is that this is the general attitude of people having kea issues. At every single site visit I have been to, I have encountered the most tolerant, understanding (sure, frustrated too), and helpful people.

The crew at the St Arnaud site went beyond helpful, giving me a hand setting up a diversionary play-gym. The gym is designed to occupy kea and hopefully distract them from expensive logging equipment. The crew then continued to change items on the gym and maintain the cameras we set up to see if our friends visited. Visit they did! However, the frame was not up long enough to see if it made a difference. The crew have since moved to another site, and so far, I have not heard whether kea have made their presence felt.

Setting up the kea diversionary frame at the St Arnaud logging site  with John Henderson – DOC, Brady Clements – Boar Logging, Meg Selby – Natureland Zoo (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Setting up the kea diversionary frame at the St Arnaud logging site with John Henderson – DOC, Brady Clements – Boar Logging, Meg Selby – Natureland Zoo (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Kea visiting the diversionary frame at the St Arnaud site (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Kea visiting the diversionary frame at the St Arnaud site (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

To date, my main ‘clients’ have been forestry companies spread around the top of the South Island. Most have environmental protocols in place, which makes my job a lot easier.

One of the interesting things I see in this job is that altitude is no barrier to having kea visit. While it is always expected that kea may be present at high altitudes, I am regularly hearing of kea visiting properties right down at sea level. Once people realize this is natural for kea – they don’t just live in the mountains – there is almost a visible shift in their expectations.

We are so lucky on the mainland to have these birds. It is surprising how many people are not aware they are only found in the South Island. Armed with a little knowledge of these clowns, and exposing their vulnerable side too – that they are ground nesters – there may be less than 5000 left, they are susceptible to lead poisoning – leaves most people staunch advocates of our kea.

Only last week I had a call from a forestry company needing help with a sick kea at their site. The crew was really worried. They had picked it up and moved it out of harm’s way. This same company has had a rough time with kea, so their behavior really touched me.

I think if people are having issues with kea, the best thing is to get on to it as soon as possible. The Kea Conservation Trust, with support from the Department of Conservation, does not advocate the translocation of troublesome kea. Instead, together we can look at areas where we can minimize damage and try to discourage kea hanging around. Sometimes it may be a really simple solution that can make a huge difference. We are here to help.

February 3, 2016   2 Comments

It’s Good to be a Three-year-old Gorilla!

It’s hard to believe, but Gladys the gorilla turns three years old today!  Since arriving at the Cincinnati Zoo as a one-month-old orphan, we have had one fun and fulfilling adventure with her.  However, Gladys has a lot of adventures still to come on her long road to adulthood.

Soon to be three years old, it's Gladys! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Soon to be three years old, it’s Gladys! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

As with people, gorillas take a long time to grow up. For females, it takes about 10 years to mature, and for males, it takes 13 to 15 years!  During these years, they go through several stages, each one building on the previous stage.  Until they are three years old, gorillas are referred to as babies and they are dependent on their mothers for nourishment.  They will start sampling solid foods by around one to three months old, but will nurse from mom for three to four years.  The amount they nurse will gradually flip-flop with solid consumption over those years.

Gorillas are born with very little natural instincts. Unlike a snake or spider that pretty much know everything they will need to survive the second they hatch, gorillas have many learned skills they must acquire over many years. Gorillas have over 13 different vocalizations and inflections, along with many facial expressions and body postures that form a complex language. They start learning this language from day one.  They have rules of social etiquette to learn as well as survival skills about where to go or not go, what to eat and what to embrace or fear.  Baby gorillas build their motor skills and strength during this stage as well, all setting the foundation for the next phase.

Gladys hangs with her bestie, Mona (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys hangs with her bestie, Mona (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Between three and six years old, a gorilla has pretty much moved out of the “baby” phase and is considered a juvenile. They are no longer dependent on their mothers for milk and rely solely on solid foods.  Although they still need their mothers and families for comfort and protection at times, three-year-old gorillas have more confidence to explore even further and spend long periods away from mom. They enjoy a new level of relatively carefree freedom while learning a few harder life lessons along the way.  Their personalities begin to become more defined during this stage.

Between six and 10 years old, gorillas are referred to as sub-adults. They are still not fully grown physically.  The carefree playfulness of being a juvenile is augmented by more adult-like interactions and experiences.  Sub-adults learn to shape breeding postures though regular wrestling and playing bouts, although females do not reproduce in the wild until they are about 10 years old.  By now, they have very distinctive personalities formed by previous experiences that will greatly influence their futures.  There is a clear hierarchy within gorilla society.  The pecking order is set based on many factors including the status of their mothers, intelligence, physical size and political savvy.  During the sub-adult stage, young gorillas work very hard to establish their social status through both positive interaction and aggression as they define their individuality even more.

Gladys, just relaxing (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys, just relaxing (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

By 10 years old, gorillas are considered adults.  Females may have migrated from their natal groups to improve their social life with a new family. They become new mothers and begin teaching young gorillas how to become adults.  At 10 years old, males most likely have been driven from their natal group by their father as they have become too rambunctious and challenging to the cohesiveness of the family.  Ten-year-old males are keenly interested in breeding, but are not quite mature or physically impressive enough to attract females so they go through an extra stage called “blackback”.  During this stage, blackbacks may live as solitary males or find other blackbacks to hang out with in a bachelor group, kind of like a gorilla YMCA.

By the age of 15 years, blackbacks have grown into their full size and are now called silverbacks.  All male gorillas become silverbacks.  Silverbacks, of course, get a silver coloration on their backs and develop large musculature on their heads.  This enhanced sagittal crest and large body size, combined with a silverback’s specific personality, can attract females.  Once a gorilla has reached a full silverback stage, he can acquire females in his group and start his own family.

Gladys is so excited about her birthday! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys is so excited about her birthday! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

So as Gladys reaches the juvenile gorilla stage milestone, it’s fun to review where she has been and look forward to what is in store on her long road to becoming an adult. We’ll watch her personality take further shape through positive and challenging life experiences. The bottom line is three years old is a great age to be a gorilla, especially when you have two younger sisters to go on the adventure with!

January 29, 2016   4 Comments

Happy Penguin Awareness Day!

To celebrate everyone’s favorite feathered friends, let me introduce you to all five species of penguins that call the Cincinnati Zoo home:

Penguin-cheat-sheetThe areas highlighted in yellow on the range maps show where each of these penguin species is found in the wild. As you can see, while all of our penguins hail from the Southern Hemisphere, not all of them live in cold, harsh climates. In fact, three out of the five species we have prefer the warmer weather of Africa, South America, and Australia/New Zealand. Believe it or not, there is even a tropical species that lives on the Equator; the Galapagos penguin (though we don’t exhibit that species at the Zoo).

You might think that climate change wouldn’t be a big problem for the warm weather penguins since they are already used to the heat. It’s true that the Antarctic species suffer directly from melting ice and the die-off of krill, their primary prey, but the African penguin may be in bigger trouble. Even though it lives in a warmer climate and doesn’t live on ice, the African penguin still relies on a cold ocean current to bring its favorite fish, sardines and anchovies, within reach. As the ocean temperature rises, the cold stream moves farther away from the islands off Africa where the penguins live and makes it more difficult to find enough food.

Add to that the threats of oil spills and guano collection, which disturbs natural nest sites, and you can see why the African penguin population has declined more than 60% in the past 30 years. That’s one reason why zoos are coming together to strengthen their efforts to save the African penguin.

African penguin (Photo: Mathias Appel)

African penguin (Photo: Mathias Appel)

The African penguin is one of 10 wildlife species the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) has committed to saving through the AZA SAFE initiative. Through AZA SAFE, AZA and its members will convene scientists and stakeholders to identify the threats, develop action plans, raise new resources and engage the public in saving the selected species.

A Conservation Action Plan is currently under development for the African penguin  and will focus on the following actions:

  • Develop appropriate types and numbers of artificial nests for all colonies; facilitate long-term monitoring to assess success.
  • Expand monitoring of resident and reintroduced penguin inter-colony movement, nest site fidelity, and survival.
  • Expand monitoring of penguin foraging and other movement patterns in the marine environment.
  • Measure baseline environmental and animal-absorbed contaminant levels and conduct long-term monitoring to assess changes as oil drilling increases.
  • Strengthen disaster response and penguin rescue and rehabilitation capabilities across all colonies.

AZA_SAFE_penguin_880x440

In the last three years alone, 20 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums contributed about $95,000 to African penguin conservation efforts, but we need to do more. That requires us to partner with organizations on the ground saving penguins in the field. One such organization is SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), which the Cincinnati Zoo supports with funds raised from our Saving Species and VIPenguin Experience programs.

SANCCOB is a leading marine organization that has treated more than 90 000 oiled, ill, injured or abandoned African penguins and other threatened seabirds since being established in 1968. SANCCOB is an internationally recognized leader in oiled wildlife response, rehabilitation and chick-rearing; contributes to research which benefits seabirds; trains people to care for the birds and educates the public to appreciate this unique heritage. Independent research confirms that the wild African population is 19% higher directly due to SANCCOB’s efforts, and we are proud to work with them. Learn more about the great work they’re doing in this video.

SANCCOB releases rehabilitated penguins (Photo: SANCCOB)

SANCCOB releases rehabilitated penguins (Photo: SANCCOB)

 

January 20, 2016   No Comments