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Category — General Zoo

Restoring Native Wetlands and Wildlife at the EcOhio Farm

This Earth Day, let’s celebrate and give thanks for one of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems – the wetland. Lands that are wet for at least part of the year such as marshes, swamps and bogs, wetlands support a diversity of wildlife and are important to the health of our environment. They are nature’s nursery, providing food and shelter for young animals, and are important rest stops for migratory birds as well. Wetlands help control flooding and purify our water, and also provide us with recreational opportunities such as fishing and bird-watching.

EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Ohio has lost 90% of its original wetlands. The Zoo has taken on an ambitious wetlands restoration project to bring back some of what Ohio has lost. In 1995, a 529-acre farm in Mason, Ohio, now called the EcOhio Farm, was willed to the Zoo with the guideline that it could never be developed unless it is to further the mission of the Zoo. Over the past few years, the Zoo has worked to restore 25 of the farm’s acres from soybean and corn fields to its original state of a wet sedge meadow, providing refuge for a diversity of native wildlife.

Brian Jorg, Manager of Native Plant Program

Brian Jorg, Manager of Native Plant Program

Led by Brian Jorg, Manager of the Native Plant Program at the Zoo, restoration began in 2012 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program. Removing drainage tiles that had been installed by farmers allowed the groundwater to rise naturally. Since then, Brian and a dedicated team of volunteers have planted more than 200 native plant species, including spirea, long-leaf pond plants, and thousands of trees. Many of the native plants were propagated from seeds in Quonset huts built on the site.

Plants propagated on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Plants propagated on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

This spring, the next phase of habitat restoration involves cultivating natural grasslands and forested fencerows along the property borders to protect the watershed. Volunteers are adding hundreds of oaks to fencerows and forested areas, as well as adding prairie plants, including milkweed, to the open grasslands.

Volunteers plant trees on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Volunteers plant trees on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

The wetland is returning to its natural state very quickly. Once you return the habitat, nature will take over and do the rest. Already, the wetland has attracted 125 native bird species, including bobolinks, killdeer, sandhill cranes and even bald eagles, which would never have been there when it was a cornfield. Plenty of other wildlife from frogs and toads to snakes are also moving in and taking advantage of the new habitat.

Ringed-neck duck at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Ringed-neck duck at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Just one of the many frogs making a home at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Just one of the many frogs making a home at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Interested in getting involved with the EcOhio wetland project? Contact Brian Jorg at brian.jorg@cincinnatizoo.org. Please include any special abilities, such as planting/gardening, birding, carpentry (able to construct bird boxes), etc.

April 22, 2015   1 Comment

Dreaming of Africa and a Future in the Wild for African Painted Dogs

The pups are out! The pups are out! It’s been a long time waiting for the weather to break so the African painted dog pups could come outside. For the past few months, only their keepers were allowed to access the holding area. As soon as the rest of us employees heard the pups were finally out, many of us made a beeline for the exhibit like giddy schoolchildren on a field trip!

"What are you doing down there, Mom?" (Photo: DJJAM)

“What are you doing down there, Mom?” (Photo: DJJAM)

As I sat and marveled at the antics of our 10 boisterous, playful pups exploring their outdoor yard for the first time, my thoughts wandered to what it would be like to actually see painted dogs in the wild. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Africa a few times—once to lead an Earth Expeditions course in Namibia, another time to lead a course in Kenya, and also to pick up my daughter whom we adopted from Ethiopia. Each time, I experienced amazing landscapes and wildlife from hippos to rhinos to lions, but never did I encounter painted dogs. This isn’t surprising considering the African painted dog is one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa.

If I were to travel to Africa with the goal of seeing painted dogs, Ruaha National Park and the region surrounding it in Tanzania would be the place to go. Not only does the third largest population of painted dogs live there, it’s also the home base of the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), a conservation program that the Zoo supports.  RCP works with local communities to ensure the survival of carnivores and people in the region.

Ruaha landscape (Photo: Marcus Adames)

Ruaha landscape (Photo: Marcus Adames)

As it happened, the same day the pups first went out on exhibit, we also had a visit from RCP’s Director, Amy Dickman, who updated us on the latest news on the project. Amy is phenomenal and a very charismatic and inspiring leader, so much so that she was one of three international finalists for the prestigious Tusk Conservation Award last fall. This award recognizes individuals who have undertaken outstanding, inspirational conservation work throughout Africa. Although Amy did not win the award (this time), she did get to have afternoon tea with Prince William and it generated a lot of attention for the project, including this fabulous short film.

Amy Dickman and her team meets with the Barabaig tribe

Amy Dickman and her team meets with the Barabaig tribe

As mentioned in the film, Amy has done a fantastic job winning the trust and participation of the local Barabaig people. It used to be one of the few ways to gain status and wealth in the tribe was to kill lions, but that’s changing. RCP has found a way to provide tangible benefits of protecting carnivores to the community. RCP provides education scholarships and materials, veterinary supplies and health care clinics, and those villages that can show they have the most wildlife in their area receive the greater rewards.

How exactly do they determine which areas have the most wildlife? It’s ingenious, really. RCP has started giving villagers their own camera traps and training them how to set up and manage them. For each predator or prey species captured on camera, they receive a certain number of points – 2,000 points for an eland, 3,000 for a hyena, 4,000 for a lion, 5,000 for a painted dog, and so on. And if the picture has a whole pack of painted dogs in it like the one below, they get 5,000 points for each individual dog!

African painted dogs in Ruaha

African painted dogs in Ruaha

Villagers are now more motivated to find ways to coexist with carnivores. Instead of killing carnivores to keep them from attacking their livestock, for example, they are building better bomas, or corrals, and using guard dogs to prevent depredation.

Puppies that will grow into great big guard dogs

Puppies that will grow into great big guard dogs

In just five years, Amy’s work has resulted in a 60% decline in livestock depredation, a significant rise in people recognizing benefits from wildlife, and most importantly, an 80% decline in carnivore killing. Amazing! As RCP looks to the future, I hope the Zoo continues and strengthens its relationship with the project.

As for me, I may never see African painted dogs roaming the African savannah (though I’m not giving up hope), but knowing that we support great programs like RCP makes me optimistic about their future in the wild. For now, I am content to watch our pups trip over their paws and grow into their giant ears here at the Zoo. I hope you will join me!

"My ears are bigger than yours!" (Photo: DJJAM)

“My ears are bigger than yours!” (Photo: DJJAM)

p.s. The Zoo sponsors one of RCP’s field cameras. In return, RCP posts images taken by our Cincinnati Zoo Cam on a dedicated Facebook page; like the page to follow along!

 

April 20, 2015   2 Comments

Dog Log: Chapter 5 – The beasts have been unleashed!

Last week, the African painted dog puppies made their debut on exhibit! A whole parade of dogs came rushing out from their indoor holding with Brahma and Imara leading the way. The parents were keeping a close eye on the little ones as they explored their new surroundings. The pups were hesitant at first, but eventually grew brave enough to venture all over. The stream seemed to be the scariest thing for them. They were very cautious, tip toeing around the edge. When they would get brave enough to try to cross, a couple of them accidentally took a swim. Ultimately, all of the puppies became comfortable either jumping over the stream or using the rock bridges. DSCN1198

With all of this new room to run and play, you will get to see a variety of fun behaviors for which this species is well known. One that you will see frequently is their greeting behavior. Whenever painted dogs get up from a nap or have been separated, they come together and greet each other by licking muzzles, play bowing and chirping excitedly. This behavior solidifies the relationships between the individual dogs. It will also get them pumped up (so to speak) before a hunt.

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You most definitely will also see a lot of rough housing and play fighting between the puppies. Like all brothers and sisters, they play and fight for fun, but this also helps them to learn how to be a real painted dog. These behaviors will prepare them for adulthood by building their physical strength and will help form a loose hierarchy among the pups.

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On the other side of all of this, you will see the parents being strict disciplinarians. Imara, especially, is very good at keeping all of the puppies in line. What may look a little rough is her teaching her puppies to behave in the appropriate manner, painted dog style. So come on out and see Brahma, Imara and all of the little ones living the painted dog pack life on exhibit!

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April 15, 2015   5 Comments