Category — General Zoo
Mexico is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world thanks to its large size, variety of habitats, and position as a transition zone between North America’s temperate and Central America’s tropical regions. However, little is known regarding the distribution and status of Mexico’s wildlife, including the iconic and endangered jaguar. Relatively little government land in Mexico is dedicated to conservation and most of its wildlife survives outside of protected areas. In northern Mexico, much of the land is owned by private cattle ranchers. Thus, cattle ranches have a critical role in conserving the country’s wildlife.
In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge commissioned a non-profit organization, Conservación y Desarrollo de Espacios Naturales (CDEN), to conduct a monitoring study. CDEN used motion-sensitive cameras to determine the status of the ocelot on ranchland in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas with the hopes that the population would be healthy enough to allow the transfer of an ocelot to South Texas to boost its endangered ocelot population.
One of the most exciting results of the study was a visual record of an amazing variety of wildlife in the area. The cameras captured images of over 20 mammal species, including five wild cats: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, jaguarundis and bobcats. CDEN established the Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Binational Conservation Program (WCT) following the initial study to continue to monitor wild cats in the area and work with the local community and government to conserve them.
With support from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Gladys Porter Zoo, and San Antonio Zoo, WCT established an environmental education and outreach component in 2015 to provide educational programs and materials to local communities in Tamaulipas. The goal is to make people aware of the presence of wild cats in the region and convey the importance of protecting their populations. Wild cats play important roles as predators, maintaining balanced ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check.
Between July and October, approximately 1,600 people were reached through WCT education events including:
- an education booth at the Tamatan Zoo in Ciudad Victoria,
- a Biology Conference at the Technological Institute of Altamira,
- a festival at Laguna Del Carpintero Bicentennial Park in Tampico,
- another festival in Tampico during Workforce Security, Hygiene and Environment Week,
- and presentations at two local businesses during their annual environmental awareness week activities.
Activities at these various events included presentations and activity stations where people could talk to CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez, about wild cats and get a good look at a camera trap and various cat skulls.
People could also make rubbings of jaguars and take a reusable bag of educational materials with them. The bags included crayons, jaguar activity booklets, and WCT brochures/field guides to the five wild cats, which the Cincinnati Zoo helped to create.
People could also take their picture in a large stand-in of one of the scenes from the jaguar booklet.
And, of course, the star of each event was Alan, the new jaguar mascot.
WCT also created and printed 10 Wild Cats of Tamaulipas posters featuring camera trap images to use at the events.
The events were successful in increasing the general public’s awareness of the rich biodiversity still present in Tamaulipas, particularly the presence of five wild cat species. In addition to continuing public education events in the future, WCT plans to meet with and present to ranch owners at livestock association meetings to garner their support.
November 19, 2015 1 Comment
Kneeling on the white sandy shore of San Cristobal Island with camera in hand, I must have snapped a dozen pictures of the newborn Galapagos sea lion pup as it waddled over to sniff my knee, decided I wasn’t its mother, and moved on. Where is the pup’s mother? Out fishing, most likely. Since there are no land predators larger than the Galapagos hawk here on the islands, she is free to leave her pup alone for awhile without fearing that it will be snatched up as a meal.
I’ve been home from my Lindblad Expedition to the Galapagos for a month now and I am still reeling with wonder as I recall the beauty of the islands and the amazing wildlife we encountered. The Galapagos is a very special place and has given rise to a unique diversity of wildlife, many species of which are endemic to the islands (found nowhere else in the world). I am honored to have been selected as a 2015 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with National Geographic, which provided me with this hands-on professional development opportunity to learn about the Galapagos Islands from direct experience.
Over the course of the week aboard the National Geographic Endeavour, we explored a handful of the western islands, all of which offered incredible opportunities for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and, of course, photography.
You see, in the Galapagos, the animals have evolved little to no fear of people. They accept our presence just as they would that of any other creature, and it’s a surreal feeling. People are a part of the natural world, and I felt that more in the Galapagos than anywhere else I’ve been. At home, wildlife is much more wary of people, and for good reason. We are just as much of a threat, if not more, to wildlife than their natural predators.
Yet even though we can have negative impacts on wildlife and our environment, we also have the ability to solve the problems we cause. Conservation is not so much about managing wildlife as it is about managing people. In the Galapagos, it was clear that the way to preserve its unique biodiversity was not to exclude people entirely, but to regulate our actions to ensure sustainability. People are only allowed to visit certain islands at certain times of the year in a limited number of groups of a limited number of people, always with a trained naturalist and only to specific designated visitor sites. You must stay on the trails and leave no trace – and I mean nothing; if you have to go to the bathroom, you go back to the ship. While visiting, you may not approach wildlife any closer than six feet (though sometimes they approached you). In essence, wildlife has the right of way.
What if we showed that level of pride in and respect towards our wildlife and environment here at home? It would take a huge cultural shift, but I think it’s doable. In fact, I think we are making progress. People, in general, seem more aware of the issues and the impact of their actions now than they did when I started working at the Zoo 16 years ago. The sustainable living trend continues to gain traction. We are starting to realize that conservation is more than just saving any one species in particular; it’s about maintaining whole ecosystems and considering our place in them.
I am recharged and even more motivated than before to continue my work here at the Zoo. I plan to use the Galapagos as a model for how people and wildlife can coexist, specifically at our Galapagos tortoise exhibit. My goal is for guests to recognize that they are part of the natural world and have an important role to play in it both locally and globally.
I am extremely grateful to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for providing me with the opportunity to advance geographic literacy by engaging in this field-based experience and incorporating it into my work at the Zoo through the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program.
November 9, 2015 2 Comments
The Cincinnati Zoo’s female polar bear, Berit, recently had some of her white abdominal fur trimmed, exposing a small patch of her black skin. This is not the latest trend in carnivore fur-styles; instead, the purpose of this haircut is to facilitate ultrasound examinations of the 16-year-old bear to identify signs of pregnancy. Although Berit and male Little One have been together for multiple years, they have not produced any cubs; however, zoo staff has reason to hope that this year might be different.
Earlier this year, Berit failed to show signs of estrus during the normal polar bear breeding season. Rather than let another year pass with no chance of cubs, it was decided to intervene by administering hormones in an attempt to stimulate her ovaries, similar to what humans receive when they seek help with fertility issues. The two hormone injections appeared to be effective, because the pair began breeding soon after the treatment.
Berit is one of the first bears ever to undergo infertility treatments and, even if these efforts fail to help her conceive, she still is advancing scientific knowledge by helping researchers at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) learn more about the unique reproductive physiology of this species. In addition to twice weekly ultrasound examinations (in which she voluntarily participates), her hormone levels are being measured non-invasively by fecal hormone analyses to monitor ovarian activity and indications of pregnancy. If Berit turns out to be pregnant, she would give birth towards the end of the year.
This work is part of CREW’s Polar Bear Signature Project, which aims to study polar bear reproduction and to help overcome reproductive challenges faced by this iconic species. Click here to support CREW’s polar bear research.
October 29, 2015 No Comments