Category — General Zoo
Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation
2014 marks 100 years since the extinction of the passenger pigeon. It also marks the beginning of Project Passenger Pigeon—a year of events, exhibitions, and engagement to commemorate this anniversary and promote species conservation and habitat preservation. The Cincinnati Zoo is proud to be a part of this international effort, which brings together scientists, conservationists, educators, and artists, musicians, and filmmakers to increase awareness of the passenger pigeon’s story and use it as an opportunity to engage and motivate people to get involved in sustainable actions that promote biodiversity and deter future human-caused extinctions.
Events will be taking place throughout the United States as part of Project Passenger Pigeon. Lectures and talks by scientists, researchers, and other experts on the passenger pigeon will be happening throughout the year, and educational exhibits will appear in many zoos, museums, and schools, including the renovation of our own Passenger Pigeon Memorial.
The arts will also play a significant role in engaging people in unique and meaningful ways with the story of the passenger pigeon, nature, and conservation. Project Passenger Pigeon will feature plays, poetry readings, and art installations around the country. A documentary film, From Billions to None, is also being created to illustrate the passenger pigeon’s history and impact.
Three new books on the passenger pigeon will be published this year. A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, by naturalist Joel Greenberg, is the first major work on the bird in 60 years. Check out the book review in the New Yorker, and Greenberg’s discussion of the book and the importance of the story of the passenger pigeon to conservation on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. A Research Associate at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences (and organizer of Project Passenger Pigeon), and The Field Museum, Greenberg will give lectures and hold book signings throughout the year, including a stop in Ohio.
At the Cincinnati Zoo, we will renovate the current Passenger Pigeon Memorial thanks to a generous grant from the Luther Charitable Foundation. We will also take part in a variety of events related to Project Passenger Pigeon. For example, be sure to join us for a very special Barrows Lecture Series speaker; on September 3, John Ruthven will talk about his connection to the passenger pigeon through art. He will receive the 2014 Cincinnati Zoo Wildlife Conservation Award.
We hope you will join us for some of the special events we have planned for this year – more details to come. In the meantime, we are moving forward with exciting new plans for our Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation, which we can’t wait to share with you! This is shaping up to be a great year to recognize the efforts being made in wildlife conservation around the world.
To read the other posts in this series, click here. Join us next month as we highlight the Cincinnati Zoo’s efforts in species conservation and celebrate the work of others in our community and beyond.
January 10, 2014 No Comments
In the last week we have had an unexpected amount of snow at the Cincinnati Zoo. Though it can be tough to work outside in snowy conditions (lots of frozen locks and shoveling!), it does give the animals something new in their environment. Some animals naturally love the snow. Our snow monkeys, polar bears and red pandas have had a blast playing in the snow in the last week. Others, like the cheetahs, are not animals you would expect to find in the snow. However, they are curious and energetic creatures and a little snow won’t stop playtime in the show yard. Our youngest cheetah Savanna and her dog companion Max were caught on camera enjoying a game of chase in the snow last week.
If you have not seen the video click here to watch Savanna and Max play in the snow.
The video featuring Savanna and Max has generated two questions among our curious zoo fans- do cheetahs like the snow and is it safe for the cheetah to play with a domestic dog?
Some cat species like tigers and snow leopards live in snowy climates, but cheetahs are native to the African savanna, where they would not encounter snow naturally. All of the cheetahs in the Cat Ambassador Program were born in captivity, and they have spent their whole lives at the Cincinnati Zoo. Seasonal changes are a part of their world and just like people some of them like the snow more than others!
Sara, our 13 year old female, is not a fan of anything that leads to wet paws. She will walk in the snow and she will tolerate the snow to spend time in the show yard but her patience for wet paws is short and she usually makes her trips outside brief. She prefers to stay inside on her heated floors and in her dry warm bed. All our cheetahs have inside and outside access so they get to choose how much time they want to be in or out. It is up to them if they want to brave the elements or not. The 9 year old brothers Bravo and Chance and 5 year old male Tommy T don’t seem to mind the snow. Their priority as adult males is to patrol and mark their “territory” and to scope out what is going on around the show yard and a little snow won’t stop them. Nia, our 4 year old female tends to spend the most time in the snow, she is an all weather girl. Nia is our “wild child” and she has a lot of energy so she can be found year round romping in the show yard, even in the rain and snow! Savanna, our 1.5 year old female is also not picky about weather. Being young means she has a lot of energy as well so she enjoys running around, regardless of the elements. Since she is still living with her dog Max, she always has a good buddy to join her in a game of chase.
Which leads to our second question, is it safe for the cheetah to be with a domestic dog? Believe it or not, Savanna is our 4th cheetah/dog pair in the Cat Ambassador Program and the practice of having an ambassador cheetah with a domestic dog is a common practice in zoos across the United States. Sara had her dog Alexa, Tommy T had Pow Wow growing up and Nia had a dog named Cali. We only pair a cheetah with a dog when they do not have siblings. The cheetah brothers Bravo and Chance have each other so they did not need a dog.
Sara and her dog Alexa playing
Tommy T and Pow Wow on a walk
Nia and her puppy buddy Cali napping in the sun
Cheetahs are always raised in a litter of 2 or more and just like every animal (humans included!) play is very important to their development. Play builds coordination, strong muscles, allows animals to learn the social rules of their species and to practice skills that they need as adults, such as how to chase prey successfully. While our cheetahs do not need to learn to hunt, they still need an outlet for their physical and psychological desire to chase. As trainers, we seek to enrich our animals as much as possible but we can not be their playmate or running buddy. Since they are ambassador animals, the cheetahs will be around people their whole life and they should not view people as playmates or prey to be chased. We joke in our Cheetah Encounter Show that cheetahs are “dog like” but there is a lot of truth behind the joke. Cheetahs are built like a large sleek dog and if introduced at a young age, they will regard a dog as a playmate and accept it just as they would a sibling.
We have two types of dogs that we use for cheetah companions. Sometimes we use an Anatolian shepherd dog, a guard dog. This allows us to tell the conservation story of the work we support in Africa. Tommy T’s dog companion Pow Wow is an Anatolian shepherd. Click here for a video of their first introduction and hear Cathryn Hilker describe the importance of the dog. We have also used black lab mixes that we found at local animal shelters. We look for dogs that have an easy going personality, that are friendly toward people and that also have a lot of energy to be able to run and play with a cheetah.Cali and Max are black lab mixes that we found at different animal shelters and they have also been great cheetah playmates. After about a year and a half to two years, the cheetah is no longer interested in playing as much and no longer needs her dog playmate. They will always be friendly with each other, but just like human siblings, the cheetah wants his/her own room and space after a certain age. We keep the Anatolian shepherd dogs to continue to share our conservation message but we adopt out the black lab mixes when the cheetah is ready to have their own room. Cali lives with a former cat trainer and Max will live with one of our keepers once Savanna is all grown up.
The cheetah dogs are considered part of the zoo collection, they receive the same high quality care we give to every animal at the zoo and we make sure that their relationship with the cheetah stays positive and fun for them too. Just like our cheetahs, they are pretty spoiled!
Savanna and Max during one of their first playtime sessions.
December 17, 2013 1 Comment
Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation
The loss of the passenger pigeon, such a robust and omnipresent species, was, and still is, a jarring loss to the world. Despite such a loss, however, there is hope to be found in this story. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction, we recognize the importance of this story as an impetus for positive change in the world of wildlife conservation. Many other species, like the American bison and white-tailed deer, have been close to extinction, but have been pulled back from the edge by very talented and dedicated scientists, conservationists, and citizens.
In the years immediately following Martha’s death, great strides were made to protect other species in the United States and beyond, and these efforts continue today. The loss of the passenger pigeon was such a startling and significant one—mere decades before, the ubiquitous bird swarmed in flocks of billions and billions overhead—that it spurred many people into action. This extinction served as catalyst for change, from which many other species since then have reaped the benefits.
At the end of the 1800s, while numbers of passenger pigeons were quickly shrinking, the American bison and white-tailed deer were also in trouble. By the early twentieth century, unregulated overhunting and habitat loss (two of the same issues that forced the passenger pigeon into extinction) greatly threatened populations of white-tailed deer. The American bison once roamed the American west in massive herds, but, like the passenger pigeon, rampant commercial hunting and loss of habitat forced the species close to extinction. By the early 1900s, there were perhaps only a few dozen bison in Yellowstone National Park.
Thankfully, the sad example of the passenger pigeon had shown the American public and lawmakers that a seemingly common species could completely die out in a short span of time without proper protections. People began to take actions to protect species like these. Influential people like President Theodore Roosevelt, naturalist John Muir, and industrialist Stephen Mather were instrumental in creating many of the national parks we know today and protecting large areas of land, as well as the wildlife within them.
Immediate action was taken in the conservation of the American bison. In 1894, federal legislation protecting bison was passed. Game preserves were soon established. In an effort that continues to this day, public and private conservation groups moved small groups of bison to protected areas, and breeding and protection programs have slowly increased the numbers of bison from a few dozen to a more than 500,000 today.
White-tailed deer, whose numbers dropped dangerously low by the 1930s, also benefited from new protective laws, restocking of small populations into protected areas, and restoration of habitat. Had these actions not been taken so promptly, urged on by the example of the passenger pigeon, both the bison and the deer would surely have gone extinct as well.
These wildlife conservation efforts, and those we see in action today, stem in a very real way from the loss of the passenger pigeon. This loss served as a wake-up call to many, forcing us to recognize our power to threaten, but also to protect, species. As the conservation efforts of the American bison and white-tailed deer showed, the things that sealed the fate of the passenger pigeon—rampant commercial overhunting and habitat loss—do not have to dictate the fate of other species. If we use the story of the passenger pigeon as a lesson in the power of mankind, we can prevent other species from going the way of the passenger pigeon and take action to protect other vulnerable species today.
To read the other posts in this series, click here. Stay tuned next month for more on Project Passenger Pigeon and the Cincinnati Zoo’s role in this important effort in species conservation and habitat preservation.
December 9, 2013 No Comments