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Category — General Zoo

How do you diagnose pregnancy in a lion?

Many visitors to the Zoo have met our two African lions, John and Imani, in the new Africa exhibit. These two young cats were paired up earlier this year with the hope that they would breed and produce their first litter of cubs in the near future. The good news is that breeding activity has been observed on several occasions this past year, and, after at least one pseudopregnancy, it appears that Imani is now pregnant and due to give birth within the next month. Which raises the question – how do you diagnose pregnancy in a lion anyway?

Imani (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Imani (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Scientists at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) commonly use three methods for pregnancy diagnosis in wildlife species:  ultrasonography, fecal progesterone analysis, and urine relaxin analysis. Ultrasonography remains the gold standard since visualization of a fetus with a strong heartbeat is the definitive proof of pregnancy. CREW frequently uses abdominal ultrasonography to diagnose and monitor pregnancies in our domestic cats (see below). However, this method can be challenging to apply with a potentially dangerous carnivore, like Imani. Through the Zoo’s operant conditioning program, Imani eventually may be trained to allow voluntary abdominal ultrasound exams, but this method is currently not an option with her.

CREW scientists conduct an ultrasound on a domestic cat.

CREW scientists conduct an ultrasound on a domestic cat.

The second approach for pregnancy diagnosis is the use of fecal progesterone analysis. Lions, like other felids, show an increase in fecal progesterone levels shortly after ovulation that is detectable using CREW’s hormone assays. If lions ovulate but don’t conceive, they will have a pseudopregnancy that lasts 50 to 60 days and then progesterone will decline back to baseline levels. If progesterone concentrations stay elevated beyond 60 days post-breeding, then the female is most likely pregnant. Imani’s fecal hormone profile (below) shows progesterone levels increasing coincident with her last breeding activity and staying elevated through at least 66 days post-breeding (the last fecal sample tested).

Imani's fecal hormone profile

Imani’s fecal hormone profile

The third option for pregnancy diagnosis involves measurement of another hormone, relaxin, that is produced by the placenta and excreted in the urine. CREW has helped to pioneer the use of a bench-top relaxin test for pregnancy diagnosis with urine from cats. Our previous research has found that pregnant domestic cats and Pallas’ cats produce high levels of urinary relaxin that are detectable with the bench-top test, but pregnant cheetahs and clouded leopards apparently do not. Imani is the first lion that we have evaluated late in a suspected pregnancy. Urine samples collected from Imani at day 73 and 74 post-breeding were both positive for relaxin (below, circled line in window #2), providing further presumptive evidence of an ongoing pregnancy. In the absence of a sonogram showing a viable fetus, the positive results from the progesterone and relaxin assays provide our best evidence that Imani is pregnant.

Imani's pregnancy test

Imani’s pregnancy test

Hopefully, Imani will confirm our diagnosis in the next few weeks with the anticipated birth of her first litter of cubs. Since Imani will be a first-time mom, she will be provided with a quiet, off-exhibit den area to give birth and bond with her cubs, and likely will remain off-exhibit until early spring when the cubs are a bit older.

October 28, 2014   No Comments

Bowling for Rhinos was a Smashing Success!

All five living species of rhinos are threatened in the wild due to habitat loss and poaching for their horns, which are worth more than their weight in gold on the black market. Poaching rates have soared sky high, but there are thousands of dedicated, passionate rangers standing in between the rhinos and the poachers – and they need our help.

Each year, the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) raises funds through Bowling for Rhinos (BFR) events held across North America to support critical rhino conservation projects in the wild. This year, the Greater Cincinnati AAZK Chapter organized its inaugural BFR fundraiser, which took place on October 11 at Stone Lanes.BFR Logo

bowler

The turnout was fantastic! More than 160 people registered to bowl and even more showed up just to take part in the festivities. Even J.J. Hoover and Logan Andrusek of the Cincinnati Reds came out to show their support!

Logan Ondrusek and JJ Hoover pose with the rhino mascot

Logan Ondrusek and JJ Hoover pose with the rhino mascot

Beyond bowling, there were plenty of other opportunities for fun and fundraising. The chapter held a silent auction and raffle and sold t-shirts, chocolate bars and shot glasses, and the bar even offered special rhino-themed drinks. The Zoo’s Sumatran rhino mascot even showed up to meet and greet the bowlers.

T-shirts for sale!

T-shirts for sale!

Bidding at the silent auction

Bidding at the silent auction

Bowlers posing with the rhino mascot

Bowlers posing with the rhino mascot

In addition to the Zoo and Stone Lanes, the event drew in several other local businesses and individuals as sponsors. A huge thank you goes out to:

  • Mac Paran
  • Riverside Topsoil
  • White Crane Tattoo
  • The Emily and Mark Frolick Foundation
  • Solid Training
  • The Wallace Group Dentistry for Today
  • Nancy Haas
  • Liquid Sasquatch Pottery
  • Listermann Brewery
  • North College Hill Chiropractic Center
  • T.J. Williams Electric Co.
  • Norwood City Schools
  • Gary’s Professional Dog Grooming
  • Mike Dulaney
  • Jeff Mitchell

All in all, the event pulled in more than $8,500! Every penny earned through BFR goes directly to field conservation efforts to protect all five endangered species of rhino. For example, in Indonesia, funds raised support Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) that safeguard Javan and Sumatran rhino populations in national parks. Dedicated wildlife rangers patrol the forests, arresting poachers and destroying snares and traps. And in Kenya, funds raised support the Lewa Conservancy’s Rhino Conservation Programme, which has been extremely successful in protecting black and white rhino populations.

Rhinos on the Lewa Conservancy

Rhinos on the Lewa Conservancy

The chapter is quite pleased with how the first annual BFR turned out. Thanks to all who showed their support. We hope you will come out and join us next year!

October 27, 2014   No Comments

Exploring the Why of a Where

What is your favorite place? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? I bet that when you answer those questions, you are not envisioning a dot on a giant world map. In fact, I bet that you are not picturing a map at all. What you are picturing is an experience, a sensation, a memory, or a vision of an ACTUAL place. Maybe what you picture is the vastness of the grassland savannahs where zebras roam and lions stalk. Perhaps you are recalling the smell of fall leaves crunching underfoot as you rode horseback along a wooded trail. Geography is so much more than a place on a map or a point on a globe. It is more than the names of countries, states, and capital cities. It is “the why of a where.”

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The National Geographic Explorer offshore at L’Ans aux Meadows

I got a firsthand chance to learn the why of a where this year when I was selected to travel to the Canadian Maritimes and circumnavigate Newfoundland as a 2014 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is a professional development opportunity for educators that is made possible by a partnership between National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. The purpose of this fellowship is to recognize educators who have demonstrated a commitment to increasing geographic literacy in their students. Educators apply and, if chosen as a fellow, are sent on expeditions aboard the National Geographic Explorer vessel to get hands on experiences with the natural and cultural diversity of a region and bring these experiences back to their classroom. As the Lead Program Developer at the Cincinnati Zoo, that means incorporating my experiences into the programs that I create and the outreach that will be part of my fellowship journey. By doing so, I am hoping to increase knowledge about different places on our planet, help others develop an appreciation for the people and wildlife that inhabit these regions, and cultivate understanding about the global impact, for better or worse, that our choices and actions can have. I know that this trip was transformative for me and helped me better appreciate these things.

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David Boyd salting a prepared cod at Prime Berth Fishing Village, Twillingate, Newfoundland

By circumnavigating Newfoundland, we were able to really experience the geography, topography, and culture of the region. Cruising by jagged coastlines, standing on the easternmost tip of North America, and traversing fjords turned the coastlines on a map into real and tangible places that I can visualize. The cities and waters to and through which we traveled have become more than dots on a map as well. They are the places where I tasted wild blueberries, met Vikings, felt the rough, bristly needles of a black spruce, heard the snort of a startled caribou discovering it is being watched. It is where I heard the call of circling gulls while I watched the plume of mist produced by a fin whale surfacing to swim beside the ship. They are the places where I walked the streets of a fortress, watched the “disassembly” of a cod, dragged my plankton net, and saw Alexander Graham Bell’s dreams take flight.

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Showing my youngest shipmate, Connor, how to examine water samples for microscopic sea life. Photo by Sisse Brimberg – KEENPRESS

I have heard the different accents that are acquired when the Scottish meet the English meet the Mi’kmaq, Inuit, and Innu Indians. I have heard the heartbreak in a man’s voice when he speaks about the loss of the cod fishing industry and, with it, the heritage upon which Newfoundland was founded. This, all of this, is Newfoundland. This is what geographic literacy and the why of a where means to me. It is with this understanding that I will use my experience to make geography meaningful in my programs. I will help them draw connections geographically, geologically, historically, anthropologically, and biologically between areas while weaving in the intangibles of a place that speak to its essence and its roots.

I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this experience and inspired by the duty and privilege I have of sharing it with my community. We are all so much more than the place where we live. We are part of something bigger and, for me, that has never been clearer. So go and explore the wildness of a local park, contemplate the rain that falls and its journey from far off oceans to get to you, and be mindful of this planet and our place in it as well as on it. In the words of Baba Dioum, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”

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Snowy owl at Salmonier Nature Park, Holyrood, Newfoundland

 

To learn more about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, click here

To learn more about how the Cincinnati Zoo’s conservation projects and how you can help conserve wildlife and wild spaces, please click here.

October 24, 2014   No Comments