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Category — Exhibits

Sloth News: A Mate for Moe and Sloths on the Go in Costa Rica

A Mate for Moe

If you’re one of Moe’s super fans, you may notice an empty tree in the Zoo’s Discovery Forest where the two-toed sloth would normally be. Where did Moe go? Don’t worry, she’ll be back soon…from her honeymoon!

That’s right! Moe will be off exhibit for a short while, snuggling up with a new mate named Twix. On short-term loan specifically for breeding purposes, Twix came to us from the Racine Zoo and will return once the honeymoon is over. A special off-exhibit honeymoon suite has been outfitted to set the mood, complete with a palm frond canopy and rainforest sounds.

Moe awaits her new mate in the off-exhibit "honeymoon suite"

Moe awaits her new mate in the off-exhibit “honeymoon suite”

Twix awaits his introduction to Moe

Twix awaits his introduction to Moe

While Moe is “on vacation”, her exhibit space is being upgraded and expanded with new trees and vines that will allow her more room to move around and explore once she returns to the Discovery Forest.

If all goes as planned, Moe will give birth to a single 12-ounce newborn 10 months later. With fully formed claws at birth, the youngster will cling to the fur on Moe’s belly for six months or more and remain with her for at least a year as young sloths do in the wild.

Sloths on the Go in Costa Rica

Meanwhile in Costa Rica, several young sloths that have been rescued and rehabilitated by Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) and The Sloth Institute (TSI) are making their way back into the wild with help from the Cincinnati Zoo. Last September, two of the Zoo’s Interpretive Animal Keepers traveled to Costa Rica to help TSI prepare for the sloth releases. Soon after, TSI initiated the release process for two sloths, Ellen and Kermie.

Ellen and Kermie are both two-toed sloths. Ellen arrived at the KSTR rescue center when she was about three or four months old. She was found on the beach alone with no mother in sight. Kermie was rescued when he was a mere newborn (less than one week old). He was found on the ground with a twin brother that sadly never made it to the rescue center alive. Both Kermie and Ellen have spent almost their entire lives together and they are now almost three years old. They are very bonded and spend most of their time together. They sleep together every day and have even been observed breeding!

Kermie takes it easy (The Sloth Institute)

Kermie takes it easy (The Sloth Institute)

Before venturing straight back out into the wild, the young sloths first spent some time acclimating to the forest in a 20X20X20 ft pre-release enclosure. Here they can climb and explore their new environment while still being provided shelter and food. TSI spent hours every day collecting leaves from the forest for Ellen and Kermie to eat so they could learn what to forage for when they are out on their own.

The next big step was to open the enclosure door, allowing Ellen and Kermie the opportunity to move freely between the pre-release enclosure and the wild as they choose. Over time, the hope is that they become more and more self-reliant and eventually stop returning to the enclosure at all.

Ellen exploring the treetops (The Sloth Institute)

Ellen exploring the treetops (The Sloth Institute)

Both are fitted with VHF tracking collars (funded by the Zoo). This way TSI staff can monitor the sloths around the clock and record their behaviors, postures, tree choices, food choices, and so on. TSI collects similar behavioral data on wild sloths in the area with which they can compare the behavior of the released sloths. This will let them know how the released sloths are faring in the wild and if they are acting like wild sloths.

Wilbur is one of the wild sloths being studied (The Sloth Institute)

Wilbur is one of the wild sloths being studied (The Sloth Institute)

With Ellen and Kermie well on their way back into the wild, the next sloths beginning this transition are two-year old Monster and one-year old Piper. Both three-toed sloths, Monster came to the rescue center as an orphan at just two weeks old; she was found crying and trying to cross the street on her own. Piper was rescued clinging to another young sloth after they had fallen down a rocky cliff onto the beach at high tide. Piper was about four months old when he was rescued. They have been learning the new sights, sounds and smells of the forest in their pre-release enclosure and the door is scheduled to open in about a month. They will be fitted with tracking collars and monitored in the same manner as Ellen and Kermie to assess the success of their release.

Meet Monster. Perhaps she was named for her monster claws? (The Sloth Institute)

Meet Monster. Perhaps she was named for her monster claws? (The Sloth Institute)

Here's Piper! (Photo: The Sloth Institute)

Here’s Piper! (Photo: The Sloth Institute)

Can you find Monster here in her pre-release enclosure? (The Sloth Institute)

Can you find Monster here in her pre-release enclosure? (The Sloth Institute)

This is the first time hand-raised sloths have been released back into the wild. Long-term monitoring is important to determining its success. It will also help us learn more about the natural ecology of sloths and provide insight into how to overcome the challenges they face in the wild.

Stay tuned for more sloth news as we keep our fingers crossed for Moe and Twix here at the Zoo and Ellen, Kermie, Monster and Piper in the wild.

February 22, 2016   3 Comments

Pushing the Envelope on Frozen Semen Fertility with Gek the Pallas’ Cat

Back in the early 1990s, an eager young post-doctoral fellow was hired to study cat reproduction at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. One of his first projects involved a small-sized, little-known Central Asian felid called the Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul).

Pallas' cat (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Pallas’ cat on exhibit in Night Hunters (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

At the time, there was a grand total of one male Pallas’ cat in all U.S. zoos – a wild-born Mongolian cat named Gek. The post-doc dutifully collected and evaluated Gek’s semen every two months for almost two years and, for the first time, documented the extreme reproductive seasonality typical of this species. Concurrently, he froze Gek’s semen for long-term storage.

Fast forward 22 years later. That post-doc, Dr. Bill Swanson, is now CREW’s Director of Animal Research, and in early 2015, found himself in desperate need of frozen Pallas’ cat semen. Fortuitously, he previously had acquired Gek’s samples from the National Zoo. Frozen semen from Gek and two other males was used for laparoscopic oviductal artificial insemination (LO-AI) of four Pallas’ cats at three U.S. zoos (Cincinnati, Columbus, Pueblo). Two of those cats appeared to conceive; however, only the Columbus Zoo female subsequently gave birth. Her single kitten was fully developed, but, unfortunately, stillborn.

Dr. Swanson with his little buddy Gek in 1993

Dr. Swanson with his little buddy Gek in 1993

Notably, the father of that kitten was … (drum roll, please) …Gek! The pregnancies and birth were the first ever with frozen semen in Pallas’ cats but also established a new longevity record for frozen semen fertility in any wildlife species. Additional LO-AIs using Gek’s frozen samples are planned for 2016 – hopefully followed by the birth of healthy kittens this time around. Long-live Gek!

(Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services)

February 12, 2016   3 Comments

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