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Category — General Zoo

Come See the New Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Numbering in the billions in 1800, the passenger pigeon was formerly one of the most abundant bird species on Earth. On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, passed away at the Cincinnati Zoo after tireless efforts over several years to find her a mate.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014, the Zoo renovated its Passenger Pigeon Memorial, transforming it from a single-species memorial to an educational exhibit with a positive and hopeful conservation message that segues from the story of the passenger pigeon to modern wildlife conservation efforts.

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

A small crowd of Zoo visitors and staff along with media representatives gathered at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2014, as Zoo Director Thane Maynard dedicated the Memorial and officially reopened its newly restored doors. Watch the dedication video here.

Visitors to the Memorial are greeted by a large reproduction of John Ruthven’s 2013 painting of Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon on the entry wall.

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven's Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven’s Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

A display case on the back side of the entry wall contains a reprint of John J. Audubon’s Passenger Pigeon hand-colored engraving from The Birds of America, along with an actual net used to catch passenger pigeons, a platform stool to which blinded pigeons were tied as decoys, a cast model of a passenger pigeon and an Aldo Leopold quote.

Display case

Interpretively, the exhibition flows from left to right along the interior walls, circulating around an octagonal case in the center of the building containing passenger pigeon sculptures carved by Gary Denzler.

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Signage was designed based on elements from Ruthven’s painting with pop-up panels featuring colorful images and text. The first wall tells the story of the passenger pigeon and its extinction, why it happened, and the scope of this loss.

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

Next, it describes how the passenger pigeon’s extinction was a wake-up call that spurred the conservation movement in America, highlighting the stories of native species that were nearly lost, such as white-tailed deer.

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

The last wall introduces conservation champions of the Zoo and presents examples of how we are working to save species today, including the Sumatran rhino and the American burying beetle, from going the way of the passenger pigeon.

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

The rehabilitation of this historic building and exhibit was made possible through the generosity of the H.B., E.W. and F.R. Luther Charitable Trust Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, and Narley L. Haley, Co-Trustees.


September 10, 2014   1 Comment

Bina to the Wallow

“Bina to the Wallow” were words frequently heard over the walkie-talkie radios at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) during our 2007 trip to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. My husband and I were there for three months to work with Indonesian colleagues and await the arrival of Sumatran rhino ‘Andalas’ from the United States- an absolutely amazing and life changing experience.


Sumatran rhino Bina

Every morning, the rhinos at the SRS come from their large forested areas to paddocks where they are visually inspected by the keepers and hand fed specially collected browse. When the rhinos were finished with their morning routine they would go back out into the forest and do what rhinos like to do best. For a special rhino named Bina, her favorite activity was wallowing. The phrase ‘Bina to the Wallow’ was frequently announced on the radio after Bina left her paddock for the forest-since this is where she would head after the morning check-in.

Now, you may think a wallow is a wallow is a wallow. We learned that for rhinos, this is far from the truth. Just like we like to arrange our rooms to suit our individual style, rhinos similarly make wallows to their liking. They use their head (horn) and legs to stylize their wallow. Check out this video of Bina and her wallow- if you listen closely you can hear the sounds of insects and Siamangs in the background. Bina likes to loosen dirt from the sides of the wallow to create a thicker liquid base to coat herself in -helping protect her skin from biting insects. You can also see how exhausting proper wallow making can be!

Here’s a picture of Bina once she finished making her wallow- what a happy rhino!


Bina in her wallow.

I know that today, seven years later, that familiar announcement “Bina to the Wallow” is being made on a radio half a world away and it’s great to know that there are places like the SRS and rhinos like Bina.

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, our rhinos also get the chance to stylize their wallows. Sumatran rhino Harry prefers his wallow to have more liquid, while our African black rhino Seyia prefers a pastier mud mix for her wallow.

How about you? Post a photo or video of your wallow style on Cincinnati Zoo’s Facebook page or Twitter or Instagram with #muddyforrhinos. One lucky winner, chosen from all #muddyforrhinos submissions received by September 19, will get to meet a Cincinnati Zoo rhino behind the scenes. Also, be sure to come out on September 21 to help the Cincinnati Zoo celebrate World Rhino Day. Wallow In It contest details…

September 9, 2014   1 Comment

Close Enough to Care

Each and every day at the Cincinnati Zoo we ask ourselves “How do we inspire our guests to truly care about wild animals and wild places?”  What we have determined is this caring starts with a personal connection between a guest and one of our wonderful animals.  We call this getting our visitors “close enough to care.”  The Zoo’s goal is to bring guests up close and personal with as many animals as possible.  This could mean standing within inches of a Malayan tiger, racing against chickens in the Blakely’s Barnyard Bonanza, or touching a flamingo while walking through the Zoo.

Danielle and Cha Cha

And, the Zoo’s Interpretive Collection is critical to the success of this goal.  Also known as the Zoo’s outreach collection, more than 200 animals are used exclusively for educational programming and intimate encounters with guests.  Bringing animals out on Zoo grounds and into classrooms allows guests and students to get close enough to care.  Once someone can make a physical connection, phobias are broken down and a new understanding emerges.  Adults and children alike make a personal connection with the animals as individuals.  Our hope is that this will translate into caring for the species as a whole.


Every animal in the Interpretive Collection can be handled in one way or another by specially trained staff and volunteers.  The animals are cared for by seven full-time keepers that are fully devoted to supporting the mission of the Zoo through close-encounter experiences.  The Interpretive Collection’s mission is to provide unique opportunities and experiences, positive relationships, and greater knowledge to the people and animals we encounter each day.


The Interpretive animals are often found running in and out of a circle of children, flying over-head in a classroom, coiling around an arm, flapping down a path, creeping over a hand, burrowing under an arm, or rooting through a garden.  We aim to let each animal showcase its natural skills and abilities.  Every animal is given the choice to participate in a program or encounter, which keeps the animal, visitor, and keeper happy.


Many of our animals are trained through operant conditioning, using only positive reinforcement.  Some are simply trained to crate themselves while others are trained to exhibit said natural behaviors for guests.  Relaxed animals make for great encounters and that is an important rule that the Interpretive Collection staff lives by.

As the Zoo’s attendance continues to increase and more educational programming is added, the need to grow the Interpretive Collection also increases.  We already have the distinction as one of the largest (if not THE largest!) interpretive collection in the United States.  So the next time you are at the Zoo or the Zoo is visiting you – get up close with the animals.  Ask questions, touch them, take your time and study them.  Whatever you do, please get close enough to care!

September 4, 2014   1 Comment