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Category — Keeper’s Komments

Driven To Death

It’s a massacre, annually taking the lives of more animals than laboratories and hunters combined. It’s a major threat to our native wildlife but you’re unlikely to see much about it on television or read much about it in the newspaper or on the internet. There aren’t any high-profile public campaigns against it and you won’t be asked to donate money to stop it. Every day an estimated 1,000,000 animals die on American roads. And while it’s tempting to think it’s only raccoons, possum, deer and stray domestic animals that are struck down it’s not. Even the more iconic American animals such as Bison, Bald Eagles, Alligators and Grizzly Bears meet their end on our roads.


Mink killed on local road July 2014

Animal-vehicle accidents are having a devastating impact on some of our most endangered species. In July a male Ocelot was killed on State Highway 100 in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge of southern Texas. This refuge is one of the Ocelot’s last strongholds within the United States but in the last thirty years 40% of the refuge’s Ocelots have died on roads. Cars have proven equally dangerous for the Florida Panther. According to statistics provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 49 panthers were struck down on Florida’s roads between January 2012 and October 2014. An incredible number considering the Florida Panther population is estimated between 125-175 animals.

Animal-vehicle accidents also have a human component. According to the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration approximately 300,000 animal-vehicle accidents are reported annually. This number rose 33% between 1990 and 2004 despite an overall decline in vehicle accidents. The administration also reports it’s likely that at least half of all animal-vehicle accidents aren’t reported. Approximately 90% of all animal-vehicle accidents reported involve deer with an average cost of approximately $5,000 in vehicle repairs and medical care. Each year in the United States more than 200 people are killed in animal-vehicle accidents.

Every day nearly 200,000,000 drivers travel our nation’s 4,000,000 miles of roads making animal-vehicle accidents inevitable, especially given the widespread public apathy on the topic. Many of these accidents are preventable if we’re willing to take a few, simple steps;

Slow Down

Slowing down just a bit can improve the odds of avoiding an animal-vehicle accident. As an example, a car traveling at 50 mph travels over 73 feet per second. The same car, driving 5 mph slower travels just 66 feet per second. Those 7 feet can mean the difference between clipping an animal and the animal clearing the road before you pass.

Dusk, Dark and Dawn

The overwhelming majority of animal-vehicle accidents occur between dusk and dawn. This is when wildlife is most active and our vision is least acute.

Know Where You Are

An animal-vehicle accident can occur anywhere but is most likely on a country road or on a road in or adjacent to a forested area than on an inner-city street or an urban expressway.

Use Your Bright-lights When Possible

Our vehicle’s bright-lights better illuminate what’s in front of us and what’s off to the sides of the road. Depending on the animal you might even see your lights reflected in its eyes.

Look For More Than One

In the spring and summer many animals will be traveling with their young. Animals such as Deer, Coyotes, Turkeys and stray dogs can be encountered in groups regardless of the time of year. Always be aware that the animal you see might not be the only animal on or near the road.

By minimally changing our driving habits we can save wildlife from dying on our roads.

Winton E. Ray / Curator of Invertebrates

October 16, 2014   No Comments

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

Rhino Conservation in Uganda: The Human Effect

By Renee Carpenter, Rhino and Hoofed Stock Keeper

Seven years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to represent the Zoo at an International Rhino Keeper Conference hosted in Australia. During the week-long conference, I met a man named Henry Opio from the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC). Henry impressed me with his passion for conservation. He had a dream that black and white rhinos would someday return to the wild in Uganda where they had been eliminated through poaching in the 1980s. Wildlife and people alike had experienced tragic hardships and loss during that time of tremendous political and civil unrest. With the region now recovering, facilities like UWEC, with the full support of the current government, are working hard to save what was lost and foster a “pride of heritage” in the people for their wildlife.

Black Rhino

Black Rhino

White Rhino (Photo: Raymond Ostertag)

White Rhino (Photo: Raymond Ostertag)

As I spoke more with Henry, I fell in love with the idea of returning rhinos to Uganda, too. Henry presented on the possibility of reintroducing rhinos into Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and how UWEC would reach out to each and every village surrounding the park before animals would be released (wow, what a huge task!). They would focus on the children and reach the parents and others in the community through them. I, along with a colleague, was there to present on a fundraising project called “Rhino Rembrandts” with proceeds going to field conservation…a possible aid to this Ugandan rhino project, I thought to myself.

Murchison Falls National Park (Photo: Floschen)

Murchison Falls National Park (Photo: Floschen)

After the excitement of the week, I was sitting in the plane for the twenty-plus hour flight home and I couldn’t help but wonder…how could I help Henry and Uganda’s lost rhinos with more than just what my little fundraiser would do?  Coincidentally, when I returned to work I read an email about an internal grant opportunity with a fast approaching deadline. So, many emails and anxious waiting later… I have, just this past week, submitted the report for the seventh straight year of successful funding from the Zoo!

Back over in Uganda, my friend Henry and UWEC are working hard at conservation education on many fronts.  However, the return of the rhino to a people re-learning the importance of safeguarding it is closest to my heart.

Henry Opio reaches out to local students

Henry Opio reaches out to local students

The human effect of any conservation initiative is what makes it successful. UWEC reaches out to the communities (person to person) through education about the importance of rhinos to their community as well as helps to improve daily life tasks such as farming and waste management practices and identification/use of medicinal plants. Through this process, the communities become invested in the idea of bringing rhinos back and the positive impact it will have on them if the rhinos are protected.

Staff at UWEC educate villagers about the importance of rhinos

Staff at UWEC educate villagers about the importance of rhinos

For me personally, last year’s successful grant application brought the whole process very close to home. At the conclusion of last year’s work, Henry contacted me about a 14-year-old girl named Vivian. She showed great interest and passion for rhino conservation. She also expressed to him concern about her father who was a poacher back in their village. She felt she could convince him to stop, even though that would mean ending the income that enabled her to attend school. Vivian’s father was convinced and, in an attempt to still fund her education, he carved two beautiful wooden rhino statues and presented them to Henry for help. As you can see, they now have a new home here in Cincinnati. Henry was also able to help Vivian’s father gain employment as a ranger protecting wildlife. It’s fascinating how a person’s actions can change when given a better option. This is what I love about this project – protecting wildlife while improving people’s lives – a recipe for success! This has only been made possible by the Zoo’s internal grant program and dedication to field conservation.

Vivian, one of many students positively impacted by UWEC’s efforts

Vivian, one of many students positively impacted by UWEC’s efforts

The wooden carving Vivian's father made to fund her studies

The wooden carving Vivian’s father made to fund her studies

Although much more work needs to be done before rhinos once again roam in the wild in Uganda, the rhinos themselves are doing their part.  At Ziwa Ranch in Uganda, they are busy making babies to support the release. UWEC’s rhinos serve as ambassadors for any and all visitors and the dedicated staff there will continue to work with the communities surrounding Murchison Falls National Park until they have all been reached (fingers crossed for future success in partnering).

As a rhino and hoofed stock keeper here at the Zoo, I have been blessed, alongside my friends and colleagues, with the opportunity to work with these awesome animals, be involved in efforts to safeguard them in the wild, and to share my experiences and love of rhinos with the people I meet.

Here I am helping our past Sumatran rhinos, Emi and Suci, paint their own Rhino Rembrandts

Here I am helping our past Sumatran rhinos, Emi and Suci, paint their own Rhino Rembrandts

So I invite you to come visit us here at the Zoo and be part of the human effect of conservation, too! There are so many more people like Vivian out there just waiting for that connection to become stewards of their own land and wildlife.

Also, don’t miss World Rhino Day on September 21st here at the Zoo when we celebrate these marvels of nature and the work being done to safeguard them. Come out and have some family fun while making a difference!

WRD Words

September 2, 2014   2 Comments