Category — News
Guest blogger: Kelly Carpenter, Seasonal Keeper
Happy World Okapi Day! First, what is an okapi? Well, do not let the stripes on its back half deceive you. The okapi is actually the only living relative of the giraffe; thus, the nickname “forest giraffe”. The okapi was not discovered until 1901 because of its mysterious nature. It is a solitary animal, with the exception of mating and when a mother is with her calf. It lives deep within the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Ituri Forest is extremely dense, which has allowed for the okapi to remain hard to observe. This, along with its zebra-like stripes that look like streaks of sunlight filtering through the trees and its brown velvety fur, also helps this herbivore stay hidden from predators. Now when I say velvety, I truly mean that its fur feels like touching a piece of velvet. This fur has an oily texture that allows for the okapi to mark its territory and keep it dry on rainy days.
The okapi is around the size of a horse, standing about six feet tall at its head and weighing between 500 to 800 pounds. Just like a giraffe, it has a 14 to 18 inch long tongue that can wrap around limbs of trees and leaves, or even groom itself or calves with (there is a good chance you have seen one of our okapis licking their own eyeballs). Something that a lot of people do not know is that the okapi uses infrasonic sounds to communicate with other okapis. These are sounds that are below the range of human and predators hearing. It is very useful when a calf is first born as a way for the mother to get in touch with it; think of it like putting your cell phone on silent. The calf goes through what is called the “nesting phase”, in which it lies in vegetation for two to three months, conserving all of its energy for sleeping and nursing. It remains in this phase until the calf maintains its temperature, activates the rumens in its stomach, and defecates for the first time. This is the reason why our new calf will remain inside for the first few months after he or she is born.
You read that correctly, we are expecting an okapi calf this spring and we could not be more excited for his or her arrival! I am a seasonal keeper in Rhino Reserve where I have had the pleasure of working with the two okapis that call the Cincinnati Zoo home, and I have been completely captivated by them. Kuvua is our 7-year-old female (her birthday is coming up on November 4th) and is our mother-to-be. This will be her second calf. Her first calf, Kilua, recently moved to the Dallas Zoo to start a family of her own! Kuvua is truly a sweetheart; she is extremely gentle and easy-going. Her favorite foods include leaf-eater biscuits, lettuce and bananas.
Kiloro is her other half and is a 9-year-old male. He is very gentle as well, but tends to be a little bit more stubborn and knows what he wants. His favorite activity is chewing on branches or stealing browse straight from you so he can eat it right away. Both of our okapis are very smart and are trained for hoof trims, blood draws, and other medical behaviors. This training occurs through operant conditioning and requires myself and the other keeper staff to build a trusting and respectful bond with them.
Even with its hidden nature, this species is one whose existence is under threat because of human activities. In the wild, the okapi is completely dependent on the Ituri Forest. This forest is fighting the battle against deforestation, poaching, and mining. This has led the okapi to recently be classified as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The Okapi Conservation Project is working to help protect the habitat of the okapi as well as the other plants and animals that call the Ituri Forest home. They are doing this by creating a wildlife reserve that focuses on working with the community to create awareness and an understanding of the problems at hand. They are providing wildlife protection and alternative agricultural practices for food and reforestation.
World Okapi Day was created to celebrate this mysterious animal, to bring awareness to the threats it faces, and to show you how you can help, too! Today at the Cincinnati Zoo, right outside the okapi exhibit, we will be doing fun activities including a scavenger hunt and a raffle, as well as putting out special enrichment. We will also have the keepers, including myself, that get to work with these amazing animals every day out and about to talk to you about our okapis and answer any questions that you may have.
You can also post photos on social media with #OkapiConservation or #WorldOkapiDay. Even recycling your old cell phone at the Cincinnati Zoo will help prevent future mining in the Ituri Forest. So please be sure to tell all of your friends and family to stop by the Zoo and visit the most mysterious and curious animal, the okapi. I hope you all okapied (copied) all of that information! Learn more about the okapi and World Okapi Day here. Happy World Okapi Day!
If you are like me and cannot wait for the new baby to arrive this spring, here is a video of when Kilua first made her debut at the Cincinnati Zoo.
October 18, 2016 1 Comment
Where have the kea gone? If you’ve been to the Zoo recently, you may have noticed that the aviary home to our flock of keas (parrots from New Zealand), is undergoing renovations. We are adding two more outdoor enclosures, two private breeding enclosures, and central air conditioning to the housing building as well as giving the building a fresh coat of paint. While the work is in progress, the keas have been moved to off-exhibit holding. Before long, they will be back on display in their new and improved home.
The private breeding enclosures are especially important to continue our successful kea breeding program. Our current flock of 14 keas includes two new birds that were hatched right here at the Zoo last spring. One is an outgoing male named Arthur (wearing an orange leg band) after the Arthur’s Pass area in New Zealand where keas are found. The other is a feisty female named Marie Curie (wearing a red leg band) after the famous female French physicist and chemist. Soon we will receive a few new adult keas from other institutions to add new genetics to our breeding population, while some of our young juveniles will move onto other facilities.
In the field, the Zoo continues to support the Kea Conservation Trust’s efforts to conserve keas. Highly intelligent and curious birds, keas can sometimes be destructive to human property. KCT works with local communities to prevent and resolve conflicts that arise. Read on for an update from the KCT Conflict Resolution Coordinator.
Guest blogger: Andrea Goodman, Kea Conservation Trust
I am now well in to my second year as the Conflict Resolution Coordinator for the Kea Conservation Trust. In this year, I have encountered repeat offenders (mischievous kea turning up at more than one site!), increased my work with the forestry sector, and kept busy with phone calls, advice and visits to properties with kea present.
One of the noticeable differences from last year is the shear volume of calls. They are often from the public just letting me know they have kea visiting, causing absolutely no trouble at all. I think this is fantastic, and actually is a message the Kea Conservation Trust wants to get across. Just because you have kea visiting, it does not mean they will cause trouble. If you ignore them, and they are not fed, chances are they will move on with no drama.
An example of this was the influx of kea in the Murchison area (a small rural township in New Zealand) late last year. Up to 18 birds were arriving in the evenings and hanging around farms and the village. They were feasting on walnuts at a few properties, landing in backyards, and sometimes playing around. Generally, they were pretty well-behaved guests. The community organised a public meeting at which I gave a talk. It was a great question and answer session, myth-busting and advice forum. The kea hung around for quite awhile (probably until the walnuts ran out), but were pretty well-tolerated and left on their own accord. The community in general was really ‘stoked’ to have the kea around.
The low point for me during the year would have to be a phone call out of the blue from media asking me about an alleged shooting of kea at a forestry site. I was gobsmacked as I had no indication this had happened. I felt sick to my stomach as the alleged incident occurred at a forestry site I had previously visited. I felt a certain guilt that I had let the kea in my area down. What followed, however, was an amazing outpouring of support from locals, those further afield and the media – all equally appalled at an apparent inane act of violence. Although the shooting was never substantiated as the ‘shooter’ said he made the story up, it raised the profile of kea and highlighted the penalties for harming our native wildlife.
As I said last year, if you are having issues with kea, the best thing is to get on to it as soon as possible. The Kea Conservation Trust, with support from the Department of Conservation, does not advocate the translocation of troublesome kea. Instead, together we can look at areas where we can minimize damage and try to discourage kea hanging around. Sometimes it may be a really simple solution that can make a huge difference, or having an empathetic ear to talk to is all that is needed.
October 3, 2016 No Comments
On World Rhino Day, we celebrate the combined rhino conservation efforts of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Over the past five years, AZA zoos have invested over $5.1 million in rhino conservation, taking part in more than 160 field conservation projects benefiting all five rhinoceros species: black, white, greater one-horned (Indian), Sumatran, and Javan.
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is proud to be a part of this larger effort. Today, I’d like to highlight just two of the amazing efforts we support to help save rhinos in the wild. One takes place right here in Cincinnati and involves community members like you. The other is happening on the other side of the world in Zambia and Vietnam.
Bowling for Rhinos
For the third year in a row, the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (GCCAAZK) is holding a Bowling for Rhinos event to raise awareness and funds for rhino conservation. Proceeds from the event support rhino conservation efforts in national parks and wildlife conservancies in Kenya, Java, and Sumatra. This year’s event will take place from 5:00 to 10:00pm on October 1 at Stone Lanes. Even though tickets to bowl have already sold out, all are welcome to stop by and participate in the rest of the activities. There will be a silent auction and raffle as well as t-shirts and other merchandise for sale. It’s always a great time!
Can’t make it to the actual event, but still want to support rhinos? AAZK is seeking lane sponsors for the event. For $100, you will have your name (or that of your business) displayed prominently above one of the bowling lanes at the event. Your name or logo will also be displayed on our “Event Sponsors” poster at the event, and GCCAAZK will highlight you or your company as a sponsor with a post on its Facebook page. And because AAZK is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, your donations are tax deductible. If you would like to become a Bowling for Rhinos sponsor, please contact Jenna at [email protected].
Using Dogs to Combat Rhino Poaching and Trafficking
Rhino poaching for horns is at an all-time high and rhino populations are declining pretty much everywhere they are found. One way to combat poaching and trafficking of rhino horns is to increase the risk of getting caught engaging in these illegal activities, and dogs have the sniffers to do just that.
Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) is leading the way in the use of dogs’ extraordinary sense of smell to protect wildlife and wild places. Dogs have been trained to detect everything from wild animal scat to poaching snares to assist with field research and conservation. A well-trained dog and its handler are powerful weapons against wildlife crime.
Through the Zoo’s Internal Conservation Grants Fund, we are currently supporting WDC in the creation of dog-handler teams to combat rhino trafficking specifically in Zambia and Vietnam. In North Luangwa National Park, the only remaining home for black rhinos in Zambia, dogs are trained to search vehicles leaving the park for rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. In Vietnam, considered to be the world’s largest market for rhino horn, dogs are trained to search for illegal wildlife products in international airports and seaports.
Dogs are able to quickly check vehicles and shipping containers. They are also mobile, allowing the checkpoints to be moved unpredictably, which makes it more difficult for smugglers to anticipate checks. This combination of efficiency and mobility makes dogs more versatile and useful than humans or even x-ray machines. Seizures will increase the costs and risks of poaching and provide critically important intelligence for the fight against rhino poaching.
September 22, 2016 No Comments