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A Story of Loss and Redemption – The Passenger Pigeon 99 Years after Extinction

On September 1, 1913—the passenger pigeon was one year away from extinction.  Martha, the last of her species, lived here at the Cincinnati Zoo and was an aged bird. Efforts had been made for years to find a mate for Martha that would provide a chance for the species to survive. In truth, the fate of the passenger pigeon had been sealed several decades before by modern communications (telegraph), transportation (rail), rampant commercial-scale harvest of the birds and the felling of large expanses of hardwood forest habitat.  For Martha and her species, it was a waiting game. The eyes of the nation watched for the inevitable to happen.


Martha, the last passenger pigeon

Martha, the last passenger pigeon

The inconceivable loss of the most common bird species on the planet shook society out of its torpor. There had been billions of passenger pigeons only 50 years before—racing up, down and across the continent like a biological storm, consuming the fruits of the forest in its quest to fulfill their mission to feed, nest and make more pigeons.  Few would have believed that there would soon be none. Those that were concerned were not influential enough to prevent it. By the time it was clear to the majority what was going to happen, it was just too late to do anything about it. It was the first time we could be certain that humans had caused a species’ extinction.  It was, and is, a heavy burden, yet it was also a catalyst for change.

There is good that came from this extinction. Many species considered common today were on the brink of the same fate at the end of the 1800s. American bison, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope were all on the same path to extinction as the passenger pigeon. After the loss of the passenger pigeon, people got to work to save these species from the same outcome. President Roosevelt began the National Parks program and wildlife conservation efforts sprang up all over the country. The wildlife conservation effort we know today was born out of the loss of the passenger pigeon.  In a very real way, modern zoos as well as countless other conservation organizations around the globe owe their existence to this one event. It is an impressive legacy and one to be celebrated in the coming year.


It's hard to believe that the white-tailed deer was once on the brink of extinction.

It’s hard to believe that the white-tailed deer was once at risk of extinction.

Over the next year, the Zoo will celebrate what works in the world of wildlife conservation as a commemoration to Martha. To start, we will renovate the current Passenger Pigeon Memorial at the Zoo to include a hopeful message that celebrates the success of wildlife conservation rather than mourning the loss of a single species. We will highlight the work of our Zoo in species conservation and celebrate the work of others in our community and beyond.  We will be blogging each month with updates on the renovation of the Passenger Pigeon Memorial and more, and hope you will join our story and celebration in the coming year.

Passenger Pigeon Memorial

Passenger Pigeon Memorial


September 1, 2013   4 Comments

Saving Tigers

Today is Global Tiger Day. What would the world be like without tigers? The Zoo partners with other zoos on a Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) so we never have to find out.  In addition to maintaining a healthy tiger population in zoos, the Tiger SSP supports field research and conservation of tigers in the wild through the Tiger Conservation Campaign.

Malayan Tiger (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Malayan Tiger (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

As consumers, we all have the power to protect wildlife by using the Sustainable Shopper app to choose products made with Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.  Palm oil is used in many of the foods and products we consume every day from frozen vegetables to shampoo. Oil palm plantations are spreading across Indonesia, which produces 85% of the world’s supply of palm oil, often to the detriment of its rainforests and wildlife. As consumers, we can choose to buy products made with sustainable palm oil as certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The Sustainable Shopper app connects you with more than 500 products manufactured by RSPO-certified companies.

To get the Sustainable Shopper app:

From your web-enabled phone, go to cincinnatizoo.org/sustainable-shopper OR scan this QR code with your preferred QR code reader.

 To use the Sustainable Shopper app:
  • Select “Go Shopping” from the main menu.
  • Select “Edible” or “Non-edible” from the main products menu.
  • Select the appropriate sub-category until you locate your product.



July 29, 2013   No Comments

My Trip to Africa!

Guest blogger, Interpretive Media Intern, Crissi Lanier:
     It’s no secret that of all the animals at the Zoo, some of my favorites are the big cats.  So when I found out that there would be a new cheetah exhibit and an African lion, I was counting down the days until the new exhibit opened.  AFRICA IS NOW OPEN!!!  I went to see Africa a few days after it opened and was so excited I almost ran to the entrance.  First, I saw the cheetahs in their brand new home that brings them closer to visitors with a beautiful waterfall and lush landscape. Now I can see how beautiful their eyes are!
Cheetah-Photo:Crissi Lanier

Relaxing in the shade (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

     As I left the cheetah exhibit, in front of me was a beautiful landscape stretching out that truly made me feel like I was in another country! This spacious grassy area, complete with cliffs and waterfalls, will be home to zebra, gazelle,  and other savannah wildlife next summer.
     On my right was a great hands-on area for all visitors, big and small. Zoo staff had various African animals here throughout the day to learn about and touch, putting Africa at everyone’s fingertips.
Photo:Crissi Lanier

Meeting a yellow-billed hornbill (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

East African Pygmy Hedgehog-Photo:Crissi Lanier

A unique chance to touch a hedgehog! (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

     Finally, I found the king of the jungle – an African Lion named John. He was truly impressive when he finally walked out from the back. That was a sight I won’t soon forget. He had been a little shy since coming to Cincinnati from the National Zoo. John is almost three years old and weighs about 300 pounds. His keepers say every day he’s getting braver and coming closer to the glass that separates him from the visitors. With all the rocks and trees and his magnificent presence, I certainly felt like I was in my very own Lion King!  If only I had Timon and Pumba singing…
John-Photo:Crissi Lanier

It’s good to be king! (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

     After my African adventure, I stopped by the newly renovated Base Camp Cafe at the entrance to Africa. Here I had lunch while overlooking the African landscape and listening for John in the distance.
Overlooking Africa

Overlooking Africa

     So come take a little trip, like I did, to Africa. Bring your camera and prepare to be transported!

July 23, 2013   1 Comment