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Celebrate National Arbor Day by Planting a Tree through Taking Root

Growing up, my favorite place to escape was among the weeping branches of a willow that stood in the far corner of our yard. I spent hours climbing that tree, watching the ants march up and down its wrinkled bark and making crowns of its leafy branches. Still now when I return to my childhood home for a visit, I always stop by to say hello to my old friend.

In our everyday lives, we generally pay little attention to the trees that grow beside us, providing the oxygen we breathe, cleaning the water we drink and shading the homes in which we live. And when we think about deforestation and the need to protect and plant trees, we usually picture far away tropical jungles. But right here in Cincinnati, we live in the middle of what used to be one of the world’s great forests, the Eastern woodlands.

Miami Whitewater Forest

Miami Whitewater Forest

When Ohio became a state in 1803, more than 95% of its land was covered with forest teeming with wildlife including black bears, wolves and bison. As settlers moved in, they cut down forests to farm. Less than 10% of Ohio remained forested by the early 1900s. Gradually, people became concerned about protecting the environment and forests began to reclaim some of the land. Today, more than 30% of Ohio is forested and wildlife populations are the healthiest they’ve been in the last century. Many species, such as the deer and turkey, have recovered fully, while others are well along the path to success, including the river otter and bald eagle.

With exotic insects like the emerald ash borer sweeping through the region killing trees, invasive plants like bush honeysuckle choking out native species and ongoing destruction and fragmentation of woodlands, there is still much recovery work to be done, and the Taking Root campaign is asking us all to get involved.

Taking Root logo

Chaired by our one of our own horticulturists, Scott Beuerlein, Taking Root is a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the Green Partnership for a Greater Cincinnati and the Green Umbrella along with many other great organizations. Founded in 2013, the campaign’s goal is to plant 2 million trees by 2020 – that’s one tree for every person in the tri-state region.

Scott Beueurlein, Zoo Horticulturist and Chair of Taking Root

Scott Beueurlein, Zoo Horticulturist and Chair of Taking Root

 

More than 83,945 trees have been planted and registered with Taking Root so far.

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

You can help get the numbers up by planting trees in your yard or joining a tree planting event – check the website for a calendar of events.

Last year, my family and I helped plant trees at Mitchell Memorial Forest as part of the Taking Root campaign.

Last year, my family and I helped plant trees at Mitchell Memorial Forest as part of the Taking Root campaign.

Take the Tree Planting Challenge! It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1) Plant and register a tree on the Taking Root website, or donate to the Taking Root Tree Fund.

2) Make a video of yourself challenging friends, family, or colleagues to do the same. Check out Zoo Director Thane Maynard’s video.

3) Post your video on Facebook or other social media and link it to the Taking Root Facebook page.

You can also nominate a special tree in the tri-state region to be listed on the Zoo’s website as a Tree of Merit. Here at the Zoo, we have a particularly special red oak, Quercus rubra, that was likely here before the Zoo was even established. At more than 130 years old, it is quite impressive. It grows in the central lawn area between Swan Lake and the Reptile House. Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop by and marvel at this beautiful elder. Imagine all that has changed around it during its lifetime!

This red oak is older than the Zoo itself! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This red oak is older than the Zoo itself! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

April 24, 2015   No Comments

Restoring Native Wetlands and Wildlife at the EcOhio Farm

This Earth Day, let’s celebrate and give thanks for one of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems – the wetland. Lands that are wet for at least part of the year such as marshes, swamps and bogs, wetlands support a diversity of wildlife and are important to the health of our environment. They are nature’s nursery, providing food and shelter for young animals, and are important rest stops for migratory birds as well. Wetlands help control flooding and purify our water, and also provide us with recreational opportunities such as fishing and bird-watching.

EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Ohio has lost 90% of its original wetlands. The Zoo has taken on an ambitious wetlands restoration project to bring back some of what Ohio has lost. In 1995, a 529-acre farm in Mason, Ohio, now called the EcOhio Farm, was willed to the Zoo with the guideline that it could never be developed unless it is to further the mission of the Zoo. Over the past few years, the Zoo has worked to restore 25 of the farm’s acres from soybean and corn fields to its original state of a wet sedge meadow, providing refuge for a diversity of native wildlife.

Brian Jorg, Manager of Native Plant Program

Brian Jorg, Manager of Native Plant Program

Led by Brian Jorg, Manager of the Native Plant Program at the Zoo, restoration began in 2012 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program. Removing drainage tiles that had been installed by farmers allowed the groundwater to rise naturally. Since then, Brian and a dedicated team of volunteers have planted more than 200 native plant species, including spirea, long-leaf pond plants, and thousands of trees. Many of the native plants were propagated from seeds in Quonset huts built on the site.

Plants propagated on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Plants propagated on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

This spring, the next phase of habitat restoration involves cultivating natural grasslands and forested fencerows along the property borders to protect the watershed. Volunteers are adding hundreds of oaks to fencerows and forested areas, as well as adding prairie plants, including milkweed, to the open grasslands.

Volunteers plant trees on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Volunteers plant trees on site (Photo: Brian Jorg)

The wetland is returning to its natural state very quickly. Once you return the habitat, nature will take over and do the rest. Already, the wetland has attracted 125 native bird species, including bobolinks, killdeer, sandhill cranes and even bald eagles, which would never have been there when it was a cornfield. Plenty of other wildlife from frogs and toads to snakes are also moving in and taking advantage of the new habitat.

Ringed-neck duck at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Ringed-neck duck at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Just one of the many frogs making a home at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Just one of the many frogs making a home at the EcOhio wetland (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Interested in getting involved with the EcOhio wetland project? Contact Brian Jorg at brian.jorg@cincinnatizoo.org. Please include any special abilities, such as planting/gardening, birding, carpentry (able to construct bird boxes), etc.

April 22, 2015   1 Comment

Dreaming of Africa and a Future in the Wild for African Painted Dogs

The pups are out! The pups are out! It’s been a long time waiting for the weather to break so the African painted dog pups could come outside. For the past few months, only their keepers were allowed to access the holding area. As soon as the rest of us employees heard the pups were finally out, many of us made a beeline for the exhibit like giddy schoolchildren on a field trip!

"What are you doing down there, Mom?" (Photo: DJJAM)

“What are you doing down there, Mom?” (Photo: DJJAM)

As I sat and marveled at the antics of our 10 boisterous, playful pups exploring their outdoor yard for the first time, my thoughts wandered to what it would be like to actually see painted dogs in the wild. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Africa a few times—once to lead an Earth Expeditions course in Namibia, another time to lead a course in Kenya, and also to pick up my daughter whom we adopted from Ethiopia. Each time, I experienced amazing landscapes and wildlife from hippos to rhinos to lions, but never did I encounter painted dogs. This isn’t surprising considering the African painted dog is one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa.

If I were to travel to Africa with the goal of seeing painted dogs, Ruaha National Park and the region surrounding it in Tanzania would be the place to go. Not only does the third largest population of painted dogs live there, it’s also the home base of the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), a conservation program that the Zoo supports.  RCP works with local communities to ensure the survival of carnivores and people in the region.

Ruaha landscape (Photo: Marcus Adames)

Ruaha landscape (Photo: Marcus Adames)

As it happened, the same day the pups first went out on exhibit, we also had a visit from RCP’s Director, Amy Dickman, who updated us on the latest news on the project. Amy is phenomenal and a very charismatic and inspiring leader, so much so that she was one of three international finalists for the prestigious Tusk Conservation Award last fall. This award recognizes individuals who have undertaken outstanding, inspirational conservation work throughout Africa. Although Amy did not win the award (this time), she did get to have afternoon tea with Prince William and it generated a lot of attention for the project, including this fabulous short film.

Amy Dickman and her team meets with the Barabaig tribe

Amy Dickman and her team meets with the Barabaig tribe

As mentioned in the film, Amy has done a fantastic job winning the trust and participation of the local Barabaig people. It used to be one of the few ways to gain status and wealth in the tribe was to kill lions, but that’s changing. RCP has found a way to provide tangible benefits of protecting carnivores to the community. RCP provides education scholarships and materials, veterinary supplies and health care clinics, and those villages that can show they have the most wildlife in their area receive the greater rewards.

How exactly do they determine which areas have the most wildlife? It’s ingenious, really. RCP has started giving villagers their own camera traps and training them how to set up and manage them. For each predator or prey species captured on camera, they receive a certain number of points – 2,000 points for an eland, 3,000 for a hyena, 4,000 for a lion, 5,000 for a painted dog, and so on. And if the picture has a whole pack of painted dogs in it like the one below, they get 5,000 points for each individual dog!

African painted dogs in Ruaha

African painted dogs in Ruaha

Villagers are now more motivated to find ways to coexist with carnivores. Instead of killing carnivores to keep them from attacking their livestock, for example, they are building better bomas, or corrals, and using guard dogs to prevent depredation.

Puppies that will grow into great big guard dogs

Puppies that will grow into great big guard dogs

In just five years, Amy’s work has resulted in a 60% decline in livestock depredation, a significant rise in people recognizing benefits from wildlife, and most importantly, an 80% decline in carnivore killing. Amazing! As RCP looks to the future, I hope the Zoo continues and strengthens its relationship with the project.

As for me, I may never see African painted dogs roaming the African savannah (though I’m not giving up hope), but knowing that we support great programs like RCP makes me optimistic about their future in the wild. For now, I am content to watch our pups trip over their paws and grow into their giant ears here at the Zoo. I hope you will join me!

"My ears are bigger than yours!" (Photo: DJJAM)

“My ears are bigger than yours!” (Photo: DJJAM)

p.s. The Zoo sponsors one of RCP’s field cameras. In return, RCP posts images taken by our Cincinnati Zoo Cam on a dedicated Facebook page; like the page to follow along!

 

April 20, 2015   2 Comments