Category — Africa exhibit
Today is World Lion Day, a day to celebrate one of the most majestic and revered creatures on Earth. It is also a day to recognize that we need to take action to ensure the African lion population, with fewer than 20,000 lions remaining, has a future in the wild.
In the South Rift Valley of Kenya, lion populations are growing, while elsewhere across the continent, they are in severe decline. The difference is testament to a human-wildlife coexistence approach taken by the Maasai South Rift Association of Landowners (SORALO) out of the Lale’enok Resource Centre.
At the heart of the program is a cadre of local Maasai who are employed as Resource Assessors (RA) to collect and apply ecological information directly relevant to community livelihoods, conservation and development. For example, the Rebuilding the Pride team of RAs monitor lion activity daily through various tracking methods. They share the information with local livestock herders, which enables the herders to make informed decisions on where to graze with minimal chance of conflict with lions.
Over the past nine years, the Cincinnati Zoo has supported the growth and innovation of the Centre and its programs. This past year, thanks to a grant through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Grants Fund and Disney Conservation Fund, the Zoo supported the training of Resource Assessors to develop new, effective ways to collect and communicate information about human-wildlife coexistence to communities in the South Rift.
In June, the Zoo’s COO, David Jenike, and I traveled to the South Rift to lead a Community Educators Workshop for the RAs. The purpose of the workshop was to train the RAs on how to more effectively share and disseminate the information they collect to the local community, schoolchildren and visiting international audiences. We spent several days with the group of 14 RAs, discussing and practicing education outreach and community engagement techniques and skills.
Following the workshop, Dave and I then taught the annual Kenya Earth Expeditions (EE) course. For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. The Kenya EE course focuses on co-existence between people and wildlife, and we spend the better part of our time in country working with the SORALO team at the Lale’enok Resource Centre. Having just completed the education workshop, the RAs were eager to try out their new communication skills with our EE students. They did a fabulous job, and I can’t wait to see how much more they develop over time.
Across the greater part of their range in Africa, lions are not faring as well as they are in the Kenya’s South Rift Valley. We hope that SORALO’s efforts to promote coexistence between people and lions can serve as a model for communities in other regions.
Here at the Zoo, we share the story of coexistence between people and wildlife on the African savannah with guests through our Africa exhibit and related education programs. The next time you visit, as you’re watching Henry and Bibi the hippos swim underwater, crushing on Cora the brand new baby giraffe, and admiring John and Imani the lions up close through the glass, I encourage you to reflect on the bigger picture. All of these animals you connect with at the Zoo have counterparts in the wild that rely on the capacity of our own human species to maintain a healthy planet and share our space with them.
August 10, 2016 1 Comment
Co-written with Kristina Meek, Wild Encounters Interpreter
Sometimes we think of art and science as living at opposite ends of a spectrum. Maybe you imagine that your zoology-loving child will say, “Art is sooo boooring,” when actually, art has the power to enrich lives at any age. According to PBS, for example, exposing kids to art can positively impact their motor skills, decision making, language skills, and more. Here’s how your Zoo visit can bring art to life for your child.
- Notice color, and help your child do the same. A great place to start is in the Wings of the World bird house where you’ll find an array of different birds in brilliant colors. Point out how colorful plumage, such as the iconic tail feathers of a peacock, can help male birds attract mates. Ask your child to point out what colors she sees and which ones she likes best. Bring crayons and paper along so that your kids can capture what they see.
- Study the murals in the animal exhibits in Night Hunters. They were painted by artist John Agnew, who has also painted murals for Cincinnati Museum Center, Miami Whitewater Forest, and for zoos as far away as Moscow, Russia. As a youth, he became interested in dinosaurs and reptiles, and took part in the Dayton Museum of Natural History’s Junior Curator program. His penchant for animals and talent for a realistic style of painting combined into a successful career. Agnew helped found Masterworks for Nature, a group of 15 prominent Cincinnati area artists, who raise money for conservation through the sale of their artwork.
- Admire a reproduction of a 2013 painting by renowned wildlife artist John Ruthven entitled Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon. The painting depicts Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, leading a flock. Martha lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, and when she passed away in 1914, the passenger pigeon went extinct. This painting was reproduced by Artworks on the side of a building in Downtown Cincinnati to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014.
- Go on a scavenger hunt to find the many animal sculptures displayed throughout the Zoo. Ask your child to imagine how they were made. What can they learn about the animal’s features from studying them? Here is a short list:
- Hippos and lions in the Africa exhibit
- Gorillas outside Gorilla World
- Manatees and crocodiles outside Manatee Springs
- Galapagos tortoise near the Reptile House
- Tiger in Cat Canyon
- Passenger pigeon at the Passenger Pigeon Memorial
- Check out the recycled materials art in the Go Green Garden. Every year or two, the Zoo works with a school or community group to create a new piece of art for display in this space. The current piece was created by the 2014-2015 Colerain High School Ceramics/3D class. Ask your child to notice what types of recycled materials were used. What other materials could they imagine using to create their own recycled art?
- Turn your own Zoo photos into art. While you’re visiting, take lots of photos. (Why wouldn’t you?) Play with photo filters or experiment with Photoshop or a similar program at home. If your child is more tactically inclined, print the photos and together you might add borders or other embellishments. They’ll end up with a cherished memento of their visit.
- Visit our animal artists. Some of the animals who live at the Zoo, including elephants and rhinos, moonlight as artists. Observe each of these animals closely and see if you can figure out how they’re able to paint. Want to display a one-of-a-kind masterpiece created by one of our animal artists in your own home? Purchase one online or book a behind-the-scenes experience that involves watching a penguin, goat or elephant paint a canvas just for you.
- Get a “handimal” painted especially for your child. Visit the booth near Vine Street Village where the artists will turn your child’s handprint into a colorful and creative animal image. You’ll leave with a unique keepsake and your child will witness an artist at work.
August 3, 2016 5 Comments
By now you’ve surely heard the exciting news! The Cincinnati Zoo’s two newest residents are settling into their brand new home, Hippo Cove. When the exhibit opens later this month, you will all have an opportunity to meet and fall in love with both of them, but until then, here is some behind-the-scenes info to tide you over!
It has been 20 years since the Cincinnati Zoo’s collection has included hippopotamuses, so we knew we’d need to brush up on hippo husbandry before the arrival of our pair. Two Africa department keepers, Jenna Wingate and myself, were fortunate enough to travel to the St. Louis Zoo to meet Bibi, a 17-year-old female hippo, and the keepers that have taken care of her for years. The St. Louis team allowed us to shadow them during a typical day so that we could learn all about Bibi and the ins and outs of her care. My first impression of Bibi was how very laid back she seemed. In her St. Louis bloat, Bibi was the largest hippo and therefore the dominant female by default, but I wouldn’t have guessed it based on her calm demeanor. We left with a wealth of knowledge and a mounting level of excitement about bringing hippos to Cincinnati!
A couple of weeks later, it was time for Bibi’s journey to Cincinnati. Shipping hippos can be a tricky business involving extra-large travel crates, flat-bed trailers, trucks, cranes and lots of communication and teamwork. Fortunately, Bibi’s shipment went very smoothly. Though she seemed a little nervous at first (sitting in her travel crate and refusing to come out), she quickly settled into her new home and grew comfortable with her new keepers. Exactly one week later, it was Henry’s turn to make the big move! Henry will be turning 35 years old this August and comes to Cincinnati from the Dickerson Park Zoo. As with Bibi’s shipment, everything went smoothly with Henry, and two of his keepers from Dickerson Park Zoo even spent the rest of that day and the following day with us in Cincinnati to share all of their knowledge with our team. Henry seemed even less phased by the change of location and happily went about his hippo business as soon as he figured out how to navigate the stairs into his indoor pool. We now had 2 new hippos, a brand new exhibit and holding facilities, and all of the inside info on hippo husbandry and care. We were ready and excited to start taking care of these amazing animals.
Hippos have always been my favorite animal, ever since I was a kid. Getting to work with them now is a dream come true! They are larger than life, weighing in at ~4,000lbs (Henry) and ~3,000lbs (Bibi), and their personalities are even bigger! Bibi is smart and interactive and will approach keepers several times throughout the day with her mouth agape, begging for food or asking us to spray her with the hose. Henry’s personality has been tougher to assess, as he seems completely “twitterpated” by his soon-to-be mate, Bibi. From the moment he laid eyes on her, Henry has been intent on trying to find a path to Bibi. Henry, a proven breeder, has already sired offspring in the past, but he has been without a mate for 20 years! Clearly he cannot wait to spend some quality time with Miss Bibi.
Both hippos seem very excited about their outdoor exhibit as well. With a 70,000 gallon pool, a waterfall and a beautiful sandy beach, who wouldn’t be?! During her first time in the water, Bibi dazzled zoo employees with her aquatic acrobatics, spinning and swirling and even doing some somersaults in the deep end!
When it was Henry’s turn to try out the exhibit, it didn’t take long for him to give his seal of approval, which he expressed by dung showering the waterfall. If you are unfamiliar with the term, dung showering is when a hippo defecates and flaps their tail at the same time to spread the dung around and mark their territory. It is shocking, impressive, horrifying and hilarious all at once. But it was a welcomed sign to keepers that Henry was making himself at home.
Since the two hippos are brand new to Cincinnati and each other, the animal care staff has decided to take the introductions slowly, allowing each hippo to become familiar with the holding spaces and the exhibit before they are put together. Overnight, the hippos are given “howdy” access to each other via the indoor pool. On several occasions, keepers have observed Henry and Bibi vocalizing to each other and touching noses through the shift door. The hippos even nap right up against the shift door with their bodies lined up and touching through the gaps. Fortunately, all indications suggest that the two are both compatible and eager to be with each other, a good sign since we have a breeding recommendation for the pair!
Official introductions will be happening in the coming weeks, and then keepers will begin putting Henry and Bibi on exhibit together so that they are comfortable in their new space before their grand debut to the public on July 21st. The Cincinnati Zoo family cannot wait for you all to meet handsome Henry and beautiful Bibi this summer! We’ll see you soon in Hippo Cove!
July 6, 2016 16 Comments