Category — Invertebrates
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2 Comments
Contributors: April Pitman, Wendy Rice, and Jenna Wingate
Mandy Pritchard works as a keeper at World of the Insect, also called the Insectarium. Mandy has a solid entomology background and she is very knowledgeable of the biology and taxonomy of a variety of different species of insects. As a keeper, Mandy is in charge of maintaining and breeding 15 species. Most of her species require fresh plant cuttings, so you will see her out in the park every day (rain, shine or snow) looking for the best plants for her cultures.
According to her colleagues, Mandy is an awesome coworker. She helps train volunteers and new hires, and whenever her coworkers go to her with questions, she is always open and willing to help. Mandy is very easy to get along with and is one of the reasons the Insectarium is such a team-oriented and cohesive department.
Additionally, Mandy is an awesome representation of the zookeeping profession because of her passion for conservation. She goes above and beyond her job as a keeper. Currently, she is in charge of the American Burying Beetle reintroduction program at the Zoo. She successfully collaborates with other agencies outside the Zoo (Ohio Fish and Wildlife, Fernald Preserve, and more) to work towards a lasting conservation solution. The program itself is requires much diligence and hard work. Mandy is in charge of organizing dates for the release, helping to staff the release, raising the beetles, setting traps to survey the area before and after the release, and much more.
One of the most important things keepers do is educate the public on conservation and Mandy does a great job of that. Sharing her passion with the public comes naturally to Mandy. She just recently gave a talk at the Fernald Preserve (where the beetles are released) to help educate the public on the importance of this species. It is not the easiest thing to show people why this beetle should be saved. Most people just see it as another bug! But Mandy does a great job of enlightening everyone, keeping the audience interested and even getting a few laughs, too! Mandy has the ability to make people care about something they never thought they would. Keep it up, Mandy!
July 24, 2014 2 Comments
On July 1st, 2014 the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden released over 100 critically-endangered American Burying Beetles (ABB for short) at the Fernald Nature Preserve. This was the second of at least five years of releases planned at the preserve. As you might have read in previous blog posts I have been working closely with Fernald and the USFWS for the past four years to ensure that this species has an opportunity to make a comeback. This six-legged beauty has a very bazaar yet important role as a decomposer. Pairs of ABBs raise their young on the carcasses of small mammals and birds that they literally bury. While this might sound gross, these beetles and other decomposers are vital to the health of the ecosystem. Animals like these act like nature’s garbage men, removing and re-using things that no one else wants to deal with.
When the beetles were released last week they were provided with rat carcasses and methodically placed in the ground to breed. The release sites were carefully marked and protected from scavengers with layers of fencing. Next week we will return to check on the success of this year’s release by digging up about 20% of the carcasses. We will count any larvae and place them back in the soil to finish out their life cycle which will take about two more months.
This fall I will perform a post-release survey to check for any new adult ABBs at the preserve. The survey consists of setting and baiting pit-fall traps around the preserve that attract and trap live ABBs and other related beetles. So what exactly do you bait these traps with? I’m glad you asked! Inside each of these traps we place a container of steamy, foamy, week old, rotten chicken!
I assumed this aspect of the job would be pretty unpleasant when I signed up for it, but WOW did I underestimate the lingering, ghastly stench of rotten poultry. It works like a charm though. Within minutes these traps attract all sorts of carrion beetles. If ABBs are in the area, this level of stink will certainly attract them.
ABBs are capable of flying over two miles a night, and Fernald is roughly one square mile. Our survey efforts are limited to the preserve; therefore it can be hard to gauge the overall success of these reintroductions. While we have not yet recaptured any ABBs at Fernald, other reintroductions in the US have yielded positive results, so we remain hopeful. I truly believe that efforts by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and other involved institutions will have a positive impact on this species’ general population status.
July 11, 2014 1 Comment