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A Journey to Nepal to Participate in Fishing Cat Conservation

Guest blogger, Linda Castenada, Cat Ambassador Program:

Last month, fishing cat conservationists from around the world gathered to participate in the first ever Fishing Cat Symposium in southern Nepal.  The symposium was organized by the Fishing Cat Working Group and was sponsored by various conservation organizations, including the Cincinnati Zoo.  I helped raise funds to support the symposium through the Fishing Cat Fund and was fortunate to be able to make the journey to Nepal to deliver funds and present the status of the fishing cat population in North American zoos.  My goal was also to see where the Zoo could play a role in global conservation of the fishing cat.

Fishing cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Fishing cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

I arrived in Nepal a week before the symposium to help out with last minute preparations and also to see the sights. After a few days in the fast-paced and colorful city of Kathmandu, I boarded a bus to Sauraha, located just outside of Chitwan National Park. Many moons ago, the Cincinnati Zoo had a greater one-horned rhino (also called an Indian rhino) named Chitwan and I could not pass up the opportunity to possibly see an Indian rhino, and maybe a tiger or even a fishing cat!

I spent three days going in and out of the park to explore, each time crossing a river via canoe.

I spent three days going in and out of the park to explore, each time crossing a river via canoe.

Chitwan National Park was an amazing adventure.  The rhino population is doing quite well there as they do not face the same poaching issues as do the rhinos in Africa. Despite the heavy vegetation of the jungle, they are commonly seen around the park. During my three days in Chitwan, I was fortunate enough to see three rhinos!

I think this rhino was somewhat surprised to see us when it emerged from the tall grasses.

I think this rhino was somewhat surprised to see us when it emerged from the tall grasses.

After my time in Chitwan National Park, I met up with the conservationists to travel to the symposium location, a resort on the other side of the Narayani River. Conservationists had come from fishing cat range countries including Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Bangladesh, as well as non-range countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Germany.  Most people have no idea what a fishing cat is, so it was exciting to be in a room of fishing cat experts and enthusiasts.

Fishing Cat Symposium participants

Fishing Cat Symposium participants

On the first day, each participant gave an update on the status of their fishing cat population, habitat and project. I learned that while we generally say that the fishing cat’s range is “Southeast Asia”, we really are learning that the range can include any of the southern tropical Asian countries. Some Southeast Asian coutries have little traces of fishing cats and some outside of Southeast Asia have populations that are thriving.  The dense habitats that fishing cats may inhabit, as well as their elusive nature, makes determining their population numbers quite a challenge.

Sagar Dahal of the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation presents the status of the fishing cat in Nepal.

Sagar Dahal of the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation presents the status of the fishing cat in Nepal.

The next two days centered on strategic planning.  Participants brainstormed the various threats across the fishing cat’s range and what they think are the main issues hindering conservation of this species.  Here is where the real challenge began.  Conservation of any species is a multi-faceted issue.  In many range countries, the fishing cat competes with people for food sources (fish), and in other countries, people depend on fishing cat habitat (mangrove forests) for firewood to heat their homes and cook their food. How do you prioritize who needs a resource more? How do you approach a local community who may be struggling to subsist and get them on board with conservation of an animal that they may perceive as a threat?  These are the same questions that many conservationists must answer. Fishing cats face the same threats as many other carnivore populations – habitat loss to agriculture, urbanization and/or industrialization, human-carnivore conflicts, poaching for meat or medicinal products, retaliatory killings, collisions with cars and habitat fragmentation. Three groups formed to take on the specific topics of ecological knowledge, socio-cultural themes and policy issues.

The socio-cultural group works to identify the biggest threats to fishing cat conservation.

The socio-cultural group works to identify the biggest threats to fishing cat conservation.

In the end, each group formed objectives to add to the larger Strategic Plan.  Symposium participants agreed to the objectives and assigned themselves a contributing role to any objective where they can make a positive impact.  We pledged to implement the Strategic Plan and reconvene in five years to evaluate our progress.  The area where I feel that I can make the greatest contribution is to increase the global education and understanding of fishing cats. My first goal is to work with the conservationists to create multi-lingual literature that highlights the habitat and conservation of the fishing cat.  I hope to integrate the expertise of the Zoo’s education, signage and graphic teams to create a children’s book that can be translated into the various languages of fishing cat range countries.

Jungle trekking

Jungle trekking

We trekked through the jungle in the search of local wildlife. Mostly I just saw leeches, but the jungle teemed with potential.  In addition to fishing cats, Chitwan National Park is home to jungle cat, leopard cat, clouded leopard, leopard and tiger. So many cats!

While we did not see any cats, we found these very clear tiger tracks along the river.  We had been warned that a man-eating tigress inhabits the area, so there was some apprehension about seeing proof that she has been around the area recently.

Tiger tracks!

Tiger tracks!

While our jungle trek did not yield much wildlife, it gave us another opportunity to spend time together and discuss best practices in the field and among our communities.  Connections were made, contacts were exchanged and friendships were created, bound with the common love of fishing cats and the commitment to their conservation.

Twenty-six participants spanning nine countries from three continents met in Nepal with a common goal, to save the endangered fishing cat.  It was a rare privilege to participate in the process, to see the inner workings of a conservation planning organization and to be included in a Strategic Plan designed to take action to save a species.

I had an amazing journey to Nepal and my last moment of awe came on the airplane as I was leaving the country.  The Himalayas appeared on my side of the plane, reminding me once again that we live in a dynamic world filled with beauty and wonder, a world worth conserving. I am proud to be a part of an organization like the Cincinnati Zoo that teaches the value of conservation and supports programs that work toward global conservation and understanding of our incredible planet.

The Himalayas

The Himalayas

December 11, 2015   4 Comments

Cincinnati Zoo Receives a Prestigious Federal Grant to Reinterpret the Wings of the World Exhibit

We are excited to announce that the Cincinnati Zoo has received a grant of $149,814 over two years from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) 2015 Museums for America program in the Learning Experiences category. The grant will support the reinterpretation of our Wings of the World exhibit to connect families to nature through birds and inspire them to become better bird neighbors.

Barn owl (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Barn owl (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Children spend half as much time outdoors today as they did only 20 years ago. Instead they spend nearly eight hours a day watching TV, playing video games and engaging with other electronic media. And it’s not just kids – families, too, spend less time together in nature.This diminished exposure to the outdoors can result in feeling isolated from nature rather than connected to it and thus, less concerned about its well-being and unmotivated to take responsibility for it.

Why is it important to connect to nature? The costs of “nature-deficit disorder,” coined by child advocacy expert Richard Louv, are serious and many, from increases in obesity and mental health ailments to a lack of environmental stewardship. Participating in “wild nature activities” as a child is directly linked to developing concern for the environment as an adult. In addition to positive experiences in nature, going outdoors with someone who plays a significant role in a child’s life, such as a parent or grandparent, is a significant factor in shaping environmentally aware adults.

In addition, concerns about the safety of sending our children out to play in nature—strangers, traffic, broken bones, snake bites, mosquito-spread viruses—also play into the problem. For those whose fears of safety keep them from exploring the woods or even a local park, zoos can bridge the gap and provide a safe outdoor environment for nature exploration.

Kids release pigeons during the Barnyard Bonanza show (Photo: Dr. ChengLun Na)

Kids release pigeons during the Barnyard Bonanza show (Photo: Dr. ChengLun Na)

Birds are all around us. We share our forests, parks, cities and backyards with them. Thus, they provide a familiar and universal entry point for establishing connections with nature. “In an age when we experience so much of our world through glass – screens, windows, windshields – birds are a vital connection to the wild. They reach across any barrier, flitting, surprising, and dazzling, always there to refresh my sense of wonder” – Thor Hanson, author of Feathers, The Evolution of a Natural Miracle.

Wood duck (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Wood duck (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

In 2014, the Zoo commemorated the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon with a renovation of our Passenger Pigeon Memorial. In this historic structure, the last known living passenger pigeon, named Martha, passed away on September 1, 1914. It was the first documented extinction of a species at the hand of man due to commercial-scale harvest and habitat loss. The passenger pigeon’s extinction spurred the modern conservation movement that saved other imperiled species from the same fate, including the bald eagle and wild turkey.

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Today, birds still face threats to their survival, with climate change at the top of the list. A recent study by the National Audubon Society classifies more than 300 North American bird species as severely threatened by climate change. Reinterpreting our Wings of the World exhibit is a natural next step for our Zoo to carry on the legacy of the passenger pigeon and encourage our visitors to be better bird neighbors.

In 2013, the Zoo completed an IMLS-funded reinterpretation of our Jungle Trails primate exhibit, and in May 2014, that exhibit won the American Alliance of Museums’ 2014 Excellence in Exhibition Award for Special Distinction, Exemplary Model of Creating Experience for Social Engagement. The reinterpretation of the Wings of the World exhibit will build on that success and apply what we learned about engaging families through that project.

Bird Keeper Cody Sowers with a little blue penguin during a Penguin Encounter (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Bird Keeper Cody Sowers with a little blue penguin during a Penguin Encounter (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Over the next two years, we plan to update the messaging and create a family-friendly learning environment that engages intergenerational groups in shared experiences focused on forging relationships between guests and their new feathered friends. As we research, plan, develop, design, implement and evaluate the project, we will call for your participation as guests and followers to ensure that your needs and voices are integrated. We hope that you will follow us along on this blog series and contribute as opportunities arise.

In the meantime, look up to the sky, the treetops, the building ledges, the electrical wires, and all around you, and take note of the variety of birds with which we share our space. You might even consider participating in National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count this month. This early winter bird census relies on volunteers from all over the country. Learn more about how you can help as a citizen scientist and register for the event here.

Cardinal (Photo: Dave Jenike)

Cardinal (Photo: Dave Jenike)

This project is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter

December 10, 2015   No Comments

A History of the Zoo’s Sumatran Rhino Breeding Program

The Sumatran rhino is considered the most endangered of all rhino species and perhaps the most endangered large mammal on Earth. It is estimated that no more than 100 animals exist on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The Zoo has worked for more than 30 years to save this species from extinction. Scientific breakthroughs by scientists at the Zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) resulted in the birth of three calves at the Zoo, the first place to successfully breed this critically endangered species in captivity in over a century.

Sumatran rhino named Harapan (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Sumatran rhino named Harapan (Photo: Kathy Newton)

By 2014, only one Sumatran rhino remained in the Western hemisphere, a lone male named Harapan. With no chance to bring a female to the United States, the Zoo made the difficult yet significant decision to send Harapan to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia and transported him there in late October. There he will have the chance to mate and contribute to the survival of his species. It is the end of an era at the Cincinnati Zoo, but a fresh new hope for the Sumatran rhino. The Cincinnati Zoo remains committed to saving the Sumatran rhino by supporting Rhino Protection Units in the wild and continuing to lend support to the breeding program at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Join me in a celebration of the milestones achieved by the Zoo’s Sumatran rhino breeding program over the past 30 years, with special thanks to the tireless dedication and commitment of Dr. Terri Roth, her team of CREW scientists, and the rhino keepers.

Dr. Terri Roth (Photo: Tom Uhlman)

Dr. Terri Roth (Photo: Tom Uhlman)

Sumatran Rhino Breeding Program Timeline

1984 – The Zoo officially formed a partnership (The Sumatran Rhino Trust Agreement) with Indonesia to establish a Sumatran rhino captive breeding program.

1989 - The Zoo received its first Sumatran rhino, a female named Mahatu.

1991 - The Zoo received its first male Sumatran rhino, Ipuh.  Unfortunately, initial breeding attempts with Mahatu were unsuccessful and she passed away in 1992.

Ipuh enjoys his browse.

Ipuh enjoys his browse.

1995 - The Zoo received a new female Sumatran rhino named Emi.

1996 - CREW scientists initiated research into the reproductive physiology of Sumatran rhinos using endocrinology and ultrasonography.

Dr. Roth conducts an ultrasound on Emi

Dr. Roth conducts an ultrasound on Emi

1997 - The first successful mating was achieved with Emi and Ipuh. Unfortunately, she lost the pregnancy by day 42 of gestation.

Ipuh and Emi

Ipuh and Emi

1998-1999 – Four additional pregnancies were confirmed by ultrasound; all were lost by three months of gestation.

2000 – A sixth pregnancy was confirmed. This time, Emi was prescribed a hormone supplement.

September 13, 2001 – Success! Emi gave birth to the first Sumatran rhino calf bred and born in captivity in 112 years. He was named Andalas.

Andalas, just one day old (Photo: David Jenike)

Andalas, just one day old (Photo: David Jenike)

July 30, 2004 - Emi gave birth to a second calf, a female named Suci.

Emi and her second calf, Suci (Photo: David Jenike)

Emi and her second calf, Suci (Photo: David Jenike)

February 19, 2007 - Andalas was relocated to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia with the goal of breeding with a female there.

Dr. Roth visits Andalas at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

Dr. Roth visits Andalas at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

April 29, 2007 - A third calf, a male named Harapan, was born at the Zoo to Emi.

Newborn Harapan sticks close to his mom's side.

Newborn Harapan sticks close to his mom’s side.

September 5, 2009 - Sadly, Emi passed away due to hemochromatosis, or iron storage disease. Her legacy lives on.

2010 - Andalas bred his mate, Ratu, producing the first pregnancy for the Indonesian breeding program. Unfortunately, Ratu lost her first pregnancy.

2011 - Ratu conceived for the third time and was prescribed the same hormone supplement successfully employed with Emi at the Cincinnati Zoo in the effort to produce Andalas.

June 23, 2012 – Ratu gave birth to a calf named Andatu at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary; he is the first captive bred and born Sumatran rhino in Southeast Asia.

Ratu and her calf, Andatu, at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Ratu and her calf, Andatu, at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

February 2013 - Ipuh passes away from thyroid cancer at the approximate age of 33 years old. He was one of the oldest Sumatran rhinos in captivity.

March 30, 2014 - Sadly, Suci passes away from hemochromatosis, the same iron storage disease that befell her mother. Though Suci never reproduced, she contributed much to the body of knowledge we now have on Sumatran rhino development and maturation.

October 2014 - To carry on Ipuh’s legacy, his preserved remains are displayed at the Cincinnati Museum Center as part of the zoology collection.

2014 - The Zoo provided matching funds that contributed to a Debt for Nature deal struck between the United States and Indonesia. In return for lowering debt owed to the United States, Indonesia will commit nearly $12.7 million towards the conservation and protection of critically endangered species, including the Sumatran rhino, and their habitats over the next seven years.

October 2015 - Harapan made his journey from the Cincinnati Zoo to Sumatra. The hope is that he can breed with a female at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary and contribute to the survival of his species. Good luck, Harry!  Video of Harapan’s journey to Sumatra.

Harapan settles into his new home in Sumatra.

Harapan settles into his new home in Sumatra.

May 2016 - Expected birth date of Andalas and Ratu’s second calf in Indonesia!

Andatu and Ratu at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

Andatu and Ratu at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

December 1, 2015   No Comments