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An Advanced Inquiry Program Graduate’s Look Back

The Zoo congratulates all of its recent graduates of the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP)! Did you know you can earn your Master’s Degree at the Zoo? Applications for the next year’s cohort are due on February 28.

Here is what one of our 2015 graduates, Faith Hilterbrand, has to say about the influence the AIP program has had on both her personal and professional life.

Guest blogger: Faith Hilterbrand (AIP-CZBG ‘15)

Have you ever had the feeling of being in just the right place, at just the right time?  I had been a junior high science teacher for seven years when Cincinnati Zoo’s Master’s program with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly appeared in my email.  I skimmed it, flagged it and thought “I’ll check this out later.”  So there it was, every day when I opened my email, and I finally gave it the attention it deserved.  As I began reading, idea after idea popped into my head and suddenly I was excited to apply.  Upon acceptance into the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) at the Cincinnati Zoo, a new challenge was thrown my way as I took a new position teaching high school life sciences.  I mean if you are going to test new waters, you may as well dive in!

The AIP quickly taught me how long it had been since I had felt the pressure of being a student.  I had to learn how to find balance while also still producing work that I was proud of at my job and in the classroom.  I often felt just like my students when faced with a new assignment, which helped me to be a better, more compassionate teacher.  The class meetings held at the Cincinnati Zoo were a time for learning and enthralling experiences, getting to see the animals up close and personal, but more importantly, I received support from classmates and instructors.  It was encouraging to know others felt as I did, and the collaborative approach to the coursework made a more significant impact on myself and each of our communities.  The focus on inquiry, scientific experimentation, and technical writing were all skills that were developed due to the coursework in the AIP and made me a more effective science teacher in preparing my students for their next academic step.  What I was not prepared for was the change it would evoke in my career aspirations and personal goals.

Learning about the Zoo's American burying beetle reintroduction project

Learning about the Zoo’s American burying beetle reintroduction project

The Advanced Inquiry Program has served as the cornerstone of change for my professional life.  The most amazing aspect is that I had zero intentions of that when I began the program.  The instructors and classmates that I was exposed to in Dragonfly, both at the Cincinnati Zoo and in online courses, were the source of inspiration that began to challenge my previously conceived career notions.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by people with a variety of ages, experiences, current work positions, and geographic locations, and I gained the courage to step outside the typical predetermined teaching path.  As I became acquainted with fellow Dragonflyer’s, I realized my own desire for professional growth and change.

Presenting results from a wetland inquiry with fellow AIP students

Presenting results from a wetland inquiry with fellow AIP students

That is the beauty of the Advanced Inquiry Program – I was able to tailor my learning to meet my professional needs and open new doors in the future.  I travelled the world, created my own internship, and gained invaluable knowledge and networking opportunities that connected education with conservation.  I knew moving forward that my teaching background would prove instrumental in taking the fork in my career path instead of staying the course.  As I have taken a year to reflect, explore, and dream of my next position, it is all the people associated with the AIP and Project Dragonfly that have encouraged and challenged me to follow my own path.

Meeting a cinereous vulture following a field course in Mongolia

Meeting a cinereous vulture following a field course in Mongolia

January 7, 2016   1 Comment

Announcing the Internal Conservation Grant Fund Awards

Each year, the Zoo provides employees an opportunity to request financial support for in-situ wildlife conservation or conservation education projects through the Internal Conservation Grants Fund. Once again, the Conservation Committee received many outstanding applications for very worthy projects.  After much deliberation, the Committee chose to award the following projects this year.  Congratulations!

Plants for Pollinators: Selecting the Best

Submitted by Brian Jorg, Horticulture Department

Pollinators are critical to a healthy ecosystem. As the Zoo continues to reestablish wetlands habitat at the EcOhio Farm, the cultivation of healthy pollinator habitat is essential. This grant will enable us to attain native plant species known for their beneficial qualities to pollinators. The purpose of the project is to increase and monitor pollinator species and native flora preferences of these species. With this information, we can then concentrate on propagating the best native plant species for our region and use them in our reintroduction efforts. This information will also be made available to growers, landscapers, designers, homeowners and others doing restoration work in our region to improve the diversity and health of our ecosystems.

Black swallowtail butterfly on a purple coneflower (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Black swallowtail butterfly on a purple coneflower (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Scarlet Macaw Population Reinforcement in the Sierra Lacandon National Park, Mayan Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala

Submitted by Jennifer Gainer, Bird Keeper

The Zoo has supported scarlet macaw breeding and release efforts of the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association (ARCAS) for several years. In October, ARCAS released its first nine scarlet macaws in the Sierra Lacandon National Park. Yearly releases will aim to reinforce and ensure the survival of the scarlet macaw population in Guatemala, which is estimated to be only about 150 individuals at this time. This grant will continue our support by funding medical screenings, post-release monitoring and environmental education and awareness-raising activities in the local communities.

Scarlet macaw (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Scarlet macaw (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Sit. Stay. Stop Rhino Trafficking. Good Dog! 

Submitted by Wendy Shaffstall, Rhino Keeper

Rhino poaching is at an all-time high and rhino populations are severely declining pretty much everywhere they are found. Reversing this crisis will require demand reduction, a halt in trafficking and increased anti-poaching enforcement. This grant will support the creation of dedicated rhino-detection dog-handler teams by Working Dogs for Conservation to combat trafficking in North Luangwa national Park, the only remaining home for black rhinos in Zambia, and principal international airports and seaports in Vietnam, considered to be the world’s largest markets for rhino horn. Seizures will increase the costs and risks of poaching and provide critically important intelligence for both on-the-ground enforcement and infiltration of international trafficking rings.

Black rhino (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Black rhino (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

A Comprehensive Conservation Action Plan for Two Sloth Species in Costa Rica

Submitted by Sarah Swanson, Interpretive Animal Keeper

Costa Rica is home to two sloth species, both of which face threats due to human encroachment such as being hit by cars, attacked by dogs, and electrocuted on electric wires. They are one of the most common patients at wildlife rescue centers, including The Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI). The purpose of this project is to compare the behavior and ecology of sloths that TSI has rescued, rehabilitated and released with that of wild sloths, which will provide valuable information for determining the effectiveness of sloth rehabilitation and release programs. The study will inform future practices as well as educational programs aimed at improving human-sloth coexistence.

Two-toed Sloth

Two-toed Sloth

December 18, 2015   No Comments

Keeping Up with Gorilla Conservation in the Republic of Congo

Elle, the 50th gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo  (Photo: DJJAM)

Elle, the 50th gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo (Photo: DJJAM)

Along with celebrating the 50th gorilla birth this year and announcing big plans to expand the popular Gorilla World habitat, the Cincinnati Zoo will be celebrating 15 years of wild gorilla conservation work with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in 2016.

Mbeli Bai logo

This project, located in the Republic of Congo, umbrellas several very important efforts that help critically endangered wild western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). The Zoo’s original funding for NNP went to the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running field research study on this species of gorilla.  Researchers gather valuable demographic information needed to define what gorillas require to survive as their threatened rainforest habitats continue to shrink. Keep up with the latest news from the Mbeli Bai study by visiting the new web site and blog, following their Facebook page, and reading the most recent newsletter.

Meet Hercules and his mother, Henna, two of the many gorillas that frequent Mbeli Bai (Photo: Mbeli Bai Study)

Meet Hercules and his mother, Henna, two of the many gorillas that frequent Mbeli Bai (Photo: Mbeli Bai Study)

Over the years, the Zoo increased its contributions to other gorilla-related projects in this area, including the “Mondika” gorilla tracking study site and an education outreach program for local communities called “Club Ebobo”. Ebobo is the word for gorilla in Lingala, the local language.

As we celebrate the expansion of our gorilla family and facility here at the Zoo, it is important we recognize and celebrate the fine work being done in the field to help conserve this flagship species.

Gladys and Mona enjoying the unseasonably warm weather we're having this month (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys and Mona enjoying the unseasonably warm weather we’re having this month (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

December 14, 2015   1 Comment