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Category — Gorillas

Saving Animals in the Wild: The Zoo’s Top Field Conservation Efforts of 2014

Happy New Year! As we look back on 2014, let’s reflect on some of the Zoo’s significant contributions to wildlife conservation in the field this past year:

Nasha and cubs snoozing on the  savannah

Nasha and cubs snoozing on the savannah

Helping Lions Thrive in Kenya’s South Rift Valley

Since 2011, the Zoo has partnered with the African Conservation Centre and the South Rift Association of Land Owners in Kenya on the Rebuilding the Pride program. This community-based conservation program combines Maasai tradition and modern technology to restore a healthy lion population while reducing the loss of livestock to lions in Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Once down to a low of about 10 known lions in the area, the population has grown to more than 65 lions in 2014. This past April, a lioness named Nasha gave birth to another litter, this one containing three cubs. That the population is growing in the South Rift Valley at a time when lion populations are severely declining across the continent overall is significant and a testament to program’s community-based approach.

Sumatran rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia

Sumatran rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia

A Giant Step Forward for Sumatran Rhinos in the Wild

The Zoo has been committed to saving the Sumatran rhino for 25 years. Despite the devastating blow of the loss of our female rhino, Suci, back in March, the Zoo continues to work to conserve and protect the species. In 2014, a Debt-for-Nature deal was struck between the United States and Indonesia. In return for lowering the debt Indonesia owes to the United States, it will commit nearly $12 million towards the conservation and protection of critically endangered species, including the Sumatran rhino, and their habitats over the next seven years. The debt swap was made possible by a contribution of about $11.2 million from the U.S. government under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (first introduced by Ohio Senator Rob Portman in 1998) and $560,000 from other organizations funneled through Conservation International. The Zoo was proud to help secure this funding by pledging a major gift.

Pollinating American chestnut trees with cryopreserved pollen

Pollinating American chestnut trees with cryopreserved pollen

Saving American Chestnut Trees with Cryopreserved Pollen

The magnificent American chestnut tree once ranged over the entire Eastern United States, but was almost entirely obliterated by blight by the mid-twentieth century. Over the years, breeders have been working to develop a resistant tree, and one of their key tools is pollen. American chestnut pollen rapidly declines in viability so maintaining important lines of pollen from year to year is difficult. In 1993, pollen was cryopreserved (frozen) in liquid nitrogen at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). Last spring, some of that pollen was removed and used to successfully pollinate trees at the American Chestnut Foundation’s farm in Virginia. Paternity testing will be done at CREW this winter, but the indications are very good that cryopreservation can indeed maintain pollen viability for at least 20 years—a fact that should provide a new tool to those working to save this majestic American tree.

Kea Conservation Trust staff conducting kea research (Photo: Nigel Adams)

Kea Conservation Trust staff conducting kea research (Photo: Nigel Adams)

Committing to Kea Conservation in New Zealand

Over the past few years, the Zoo has supported the Kea Conservation Trust’s (KCT) efforts to protect and study New Zealand’s mountain parrot, the kea, in the wild. In 2014, the Zoo stepped up its efforts with a commitment to support the Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, a multi-year proactive community-focused conflict response and resolution program. Funds from the Zoo support a key personnel position, the Community Volunteers Coordinator, who can respond to conflict situations that arise. Funds will also enable KCT staff to enhance their conflict resolution skills by participating in a Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration Workshop. Additionally, Zoo aviculturists will join the KCT team for kea nest monitoring and field work over the next couple of years.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, installs a camera trap in Bhutan. (Photo: Steve Winter)

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, installs a camera trap in Bhutan. (Photo: Steve Winter)

Pledging Support for Panthera’s Tigers Forever Initiative

The Zoo is committed to ensuring the survival of endangered tigers of which there are fewer than 3,200 remaining in the wild. In 2014, we have pledged multi-year support of the tiger conservation efforts of Panthera, the leading international wild cat conservation organization with a mission to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action. To ensure the tiger’s survival, Panthera works across Asia with numerous partners to end the poaching of tigers for the illegal wildlife trade, prevent tiger deaths due to conflict with humans and livestock, and protect tiger prey species and habitat. Through their program, Tigers Forever, Panthera works to protect and secure key tiger populations and ensure connectivity between sites so that tigers can live long into the future.

Wetlands in restoration at EcOhio Farm

Wetlands in restoration at EcOhio Farm

Restoring Native Wetlands and Wildlife in Mason, Ohio

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 30 of the farm’s acres to its original state of a wet sedge meadow, providing refuge for a diversity of native wildlife. Since restoration began in 2012, drainage tiles have been removed and more than 200 native plant species and thousands of trees have been planted on the site. The wetland is returning to its natural state very quickly. Already, it has attracted more than 135 native bird species, including bald eagles, bobolinks and killdeer, which would never have been there when it was a cornfield. Though not currently open to the public, walking trails and a small education center may be implemented in the future to provide opportunities to explore the wetland.

Cincinnati Zoo gorillas, Asha and  her infant, Mondika, named for the field conservation project (Photo: Michelle Curley)

Cincinnati Zoo gorillas, Asha and her infant, Mondika, named for the field conservation project (Photo: Michelle Curley)

Strengthening our Support for Gorillas in the Republic of Congo

Over the past 20 years, the Zoo has partnered with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in the Republic of Congo, which includes the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running study of the critically endangered western lowland gorilla. The Zoo also supports work in an area called Mondika where gorillas are habituated for up close research and ecotourism. Habituation is a process through which the wild gorillas become accustomed to and tolerate the presence of people that enables researchers and tourists to observe them up close. The Zoo recently helped facilitate the habituation of a second group of gorillas, and entered into an agreement in 2014 to support the habituation of a third group over the next three years. Special thanks goes to Gorilla Glue, our official gorilla conservation sponsor!

All of these projects and more couldn’t happen without your support of the Zoo. Here’s to you and the Zoo making more great strides for wildlife conservation in 2015!

January 7, 2015   No Comments

So What’s In A Name?

Last year the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Zoo guests, friends, and followers celebrated the amazing effort that went into “Gladys” the gorilla’s surrogacy project. This work demonstrated the great lengths zoos will go to for their animals as well as the fantastic collaboration between institutions to do what is right and in the best interest of the animal.  This collaboration is the reason the Cincinnati Zoo selected the name Gladys – she was named after the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where she was born.  Staff is Brownsville selflessly transferred the orphaned one month old baby to Cincinnati because it was best for her. Read previous post about Gladys’ name…

With the birth of “Asha’s” #BabyGorilla on August 4th, we celebrate the even bigger picture of wild gorilla conservation.  Along with all the great work done for gorillas in the North America, the Cincinnati Zoo has participated in wild gorilla conversation for almost 20 years.  The Zoo’s primary focus has been partnering with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in the Republic of Congo. The NNP includes the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running study of the critically endangered wild western lowland gorilla.  Another important part of this work includes an area called Mondika (pronounced Mondeeka).  Here, gorillas are habituated for up close research and for eco tourism.  The Cincinnati Zoo recently helped facilitate the habitation of a second group of gorillas in Mondika and went into a three year agreement to continue the support, which includes habituating a third group.  Habituation is a very important part of the operation, providing keen insight into up close gorilla behavior while leaving people with the inspirational experience of seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitats.

Part of the Cincinnati Zoo’s mission includes inspiring people with wildlife every day and what’s more inspiring than Asha’s new baby?  As we celebrated the great, collaborative,  work done in zoos with the name Gladys, we now celebrate wild gorillas and our efforts to help save them by naming Asha’s new baby “Mondika” .  If the baby turns out to be a boy, his nickname will be “Mondo”.  If the baby is a girl, her nickname will be “Mona”.   We’re really looking forward to watching our little gorilla ambassador grow up and welcome the opportunity to share stories from the wild through little Mondika for many years to come.  Stay tuned for the big “Mondo or Mona” announcement as soon as Asha allows us to have a peek!

August 8, 2014   1 Comment

Asha the Gorilla’s Expected “Little” Bundle of Joy is “Big” Part of a Much Larger Picture.

The Cincinnati Zoo Primate Department provides excellent care for our extended family of about 25 primate species, which includes approximately 70 individuals. A lot of effort goes into their care and proper management. In addition to the basic nutritionally balanced diet, exemplary husbandry, and dynamic environmental enrichment, a comprehensive operant conditioning (OC) program has been in place for more than ten years.  Operant conditioning with positive reinforcement refers to a method of training that incorporates building a trusting relationship with the animals along with a systemic communication technique that allows keepers to cooperatively shape desired behaviors needed from them to make the animals’ lives better.

Primate Department keepers, Stephanie Sauer, Benny Smith and Grace Meloy watch on as keeper/ trainer Ashley Ashcraft places an ultrasound wand to Asha’s abdomen while reinforcing her with grapes.  Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, monitors the images.

Primate Department keepers, Stephanie Sauer, Benny Smith and Grace Meloy watch on as keeper/ trainer Ashley Ashcraft places an ultrasound wand to Asha’s abdomen while reinforcing her with grapes. Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, monitors the images.

For instance through OC training, the Zoo’s Western-lowland gorillas have numerous behaviors that they will offer to aid in evaluating health.  The gorillas will present their hands, feet, ears, bellies, backs, knees, shoulders, open their mouths, and stick out their tongues, all on cue followed by a positive reinforcement, which is usually a favorite food item like grapes.  OC is engaging and mentally stimulating for the gorillas and allows keepers and vets the opportunity to do some important work with them.  The Zoo’s gorillas will also allow cardiac ultrasound imaging work to be done, all voluntarily, while awake, through a protective mesh safely separating the keepers and gorillas. Training techniques are also used to encourage natural behaviors and help form a cohesive social dynamic within the family group.

Primate Keeper, Grace Meloy, and Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, discuss fetal ultrasound images from Asha the gorilla.

Primate Keeper, Grace Meloy, and Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, discuss fetal ultrasound images from Asha the gorilla.

Recently, we initiated some maternal management behavior training with an expecting gorilla named “Asha”.  One of our primary goals was to do regular fetal ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy.  Early on in the pregnancy, primate keeper Ashley Ashcraft  worked as the primary trainer for this.  As with most of the OC work, the zoo’s wonderful vet techs, Jenny Kroll and Amy Long, were also included to assist with the monitoring, along with additional help from the Zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) scientists. Throughout Asha’s gestation we have been able to follow along with fetal development and are still doing ultrasounds once or twice a week as we come down to parturition.  At this point, the fetus is a little too big to see fully on ultrasound but we clearly see a good heartbeat and movement.  Asha, understandably, rests a lot and eats like a horse.  She is still well within the predicted birth period so all is looking good. Gorillas have a gestation period of 250 to 280 days.

Asha will be a first-time mom but has great history with younger siblings, from growing up in Brownsville, Texas.  She has also had the chance to watch little Gladys, with her surrogate mother “Mlinzi”, for additional lessons. The Zoo’s team of volunteer observers are also watching Asha overnight, by remote monitor, just to be extra safe.  The family group Asha currently lives with is very cohesive and lead by the great silverback, named “Jomo,” who is also very good with little ones.

Jomo (formally of the Toronto Zoo) and Asha, along with approximately 360 other gorillas in about 50 zoos, are managed cooperatively through something called a Species Survival Plan(SSP) under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).   The SSP carefully tracks the genetics of each gorilla, gorilla personalities and facilities, and with critical input from each zoo, develops a comprehensive Masterplan every two years that outlines recommended transfers for breeding, or to help social situations.  Zoos are very altruistic in how they view gorillas and work hard together for the betterment of the overall big picture management.

So, thanks to great team work on the national level, as well as right here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we are prepared and patiently awaiting the birth of Asha’s baby.  Everyone is excited and very hopeful all will continue to go smoothly as we come down to the end.  Stay tuned……

July 31, 2014   1 Comment