Category — Primates
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is committed to sharing inspirational stories about our animals and connecting our friends and followers to wildlife every day. We celebrated this in 2014 by naming our newest baby gorilla “Mondika” after a fantastic place in the Republic of Congo doing gorilla-related conservation. The effort in Mondika is part of a larger program called the Nouabale-Ndoki Project (NNP) with which the Cincinnati Zoo has partnered for many years. Please check this blog for regular reports on our little ambassador Mondika, aka “Mona”, along with interesting updates on the great work being done in Congo to save the critically-endangered western lowland gorilla.
In August 2014, the Zoo enjoyed the birth of our 49th gorilla, Mona. This birth was significant in many ways. It was a genetically valuable match of father “Jomo” and mother “Asha”. Zoos do not take gorillas from the wild and haven’t done so in many decades. Zoos work hard to protect wild gorillas while raising awareness at home. So zoos must be careful to properly manage all the gorillas they have. This is accomplished through great cooperation between institutions and overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP keeps track of all 350 gorillas in North America and makes recommendations for their management based on genetics, behavior and input from zoos.
Asha is a first time mother and did a wonderful job, which is also significant. It’s very important that a baby gorilla be raised by its mother to learn all the coping skills it will need to be socially happy throughout their lives. Her successful skills as a mother can be attributed to her good history having been raised herself in a normal gorilla family group with a good mother, siblings and a tolerant silverback at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX. After reaching a mature age and transferring from her natal group to the Cincinnati Zoo, Asha was slowly integrated into the family of gorillas here, led by silverback Jomo. Once she was comfortable with her position in the group, she was removed from birth control and allowed to conceive. It’s very important for a gorilla to give birth in a comfortable atmosphere that is conducive to the security needed for good mother-rearing. Mona is now about five months old and is still doing fantastic; she has a long bright future at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Unfortunately, Mona’s wild counterparts in the rainforests of Central Africa have more uncertain futures. Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are a critically endangered species and face many challenges due to rapid habitat loss among others. The good news is there are a lot of great people, places and organizations who really care, like the Cincinnati Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Nouabale-Ndoki Project (NNP). For approximately 15 years, the Zoo and the NNP have partnered to help protect this flagship species for conservation. The NNP is located in the Republic of Congo and has several gorilla-related efforts going on, including the following.
- Mondika is a site where researchers habituate wild gorilla families for up close daily detailed observation and provide visitors with an inspirational opportunity to see these magnificent animals up close.
- The Mbeli Bai Study is the longest-running research project being done on wild western lowland gorillas. Bais are naturally occurring swampy clearings in the rain forests. At Mbeli Bai, researchers spend eight hours a day on an elevated observation platform year-round observing about 300 different gorillas that enter this area to forage and socialize, in addition to a myriad of other species like forest elephants, sititunga antelope and buffalo. Eco-tourism is also available at this site.
- The Goualougo Triangle Ape Study covers an expansive area researching both gorillas and chimpanzees. They utilize wide grid census collection, incorporating state of the art camera trapping that produces wonderful candid and rare wildlife images and video.
- Club Ebobo is the education component for the NNP, connecting children and the local people to conservation of their natural heritage.
Looking forward to bringing you more Mondika Messages throughout the year!
January 8, 2015 3 Comments
Happy New Year! As we look back on 2014, let’s reflect on some of the Zoo’s significant contributions to wildlife conservation in the field this past year:
Helping Lions Thrive in Kenya’s South Rift Valley
Since 2011, the Zoo has partnered with the African Conservation Centre and the South Rift Association of Land Owners in Kenya on the Rebuilding the Pride program. This community-based conservation program combines Maasai tradition and modern technology to restore a healthy lion population while reducing the loss of livestock to lions in Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Once down to a low of about 10 known lions in the area, the population has grown to more than 65 lions in 2014. This past April, a lioness named Nasha gave birth to another litter, this one containing three cubs. That the population is growing in the South Rift Valley at a time when lion populations are severely declining across the continent overall is significant and a testament to program’s community-based approach.
A Giant Step Forward for Sumatran Rhinos in the Wild
The Zoo has been committed to saving the Sumatran rhino for 25 years. Despite the devastating blow of the loss of our female rhino, Suci, back in March, the Zoo continues to work to conserve and protect the species. In 2014, a Debt-for-Nature deal was struck between the United States and Indonesia. In return for lowering the debt Indonesia owes to the United States, it will commit nearly $12 million towards the conservation and protection of critically endangered species, including the Sumatran rhino, and their habitats over the next seven years. The debt swap was made possible by a contribution of about $11.2 million from the U.S. government under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (first introduced by Ohio Senator Rob Portman in 1998) and $560,000 from other organizations funneled through Conservation International. The Zoo was proud to help secure this funding by pledging a major gift.
Saving American Chestnut Trees with Cryopreserved Pollen
The magnificent American chestnut tree once ranged over the entire Eastern United States, but was almost entirely obliterated by blight by the mid-twentieth century. Over the years, breeders have been working to develop a resistant tree, and one of their key tools is pollen. American chestnut pollen rapidly declines in viability so maintaining important lines of pollen from year to year is difficult. In 1993, pollen was cryopreserved (frozen) in liquid nitrogen at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). Last spring, some of that pollen was removed and used to successfully pollinate trees at the American Chestnut Foundation’s farm in Virginia. Paternity testing will be done at CREW this winter, but the indications are very good that cryopreservation can indeed maintain pollen viability for at least 20 years—a fact that should provide a new tool to those working to save this majestic American tree.
Committing to Kea Conservation in New Zealand
Over the past few years, the Zoo has supported the Kea Conservation Trust’s (KCT) efforts to protect and study New Zealand’s mountain parrot, the kea, in the wild. In 2014, the Zoo stepped up its efforts with a commitment to support the Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, a multi-year proactive community-focused conflict response and resolution program. Funds from the Zoo support a key personnel position, the Community Volunteers Coordinator, who can respond to conflict situations that arise. Funds will also enable KCT staff to enhance their conflict resolution skills by participating in a Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration Workshop. Additionally, Zoo aviculturists will join the KCT team for kea nest monitoring and field work over the next couple of years.
Pledging Support for Panthera’s Tigers Forever Initiative
The Zoo is committed to ensuring the survival of endangered tigers of which there are fewer than 3,200 remaining in the wild. In 2014, we have pledged multi-year support of the tiger conservation efforts of Panthera, the leading international wild cat conservation organization with a mission to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action. To ensure the tiger’s survival, Panthera works across Asia with numerous partners to end the poaching of tigers for the illegal wildlife trade, prevent tiger deaths due to conflict with humans and livestock, and protect tiger prey species and habitat. Through their program, Tigers Forever, Panthera works to protect and secure key tiger populations and ensure connectivity between sites so that tigers can live long into the future.
Restoring Native Wetlands and Wildlife in Mason, Ohio
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 30 of the farm’s acres to its original state of a wet sedge meadow, providing refuge for a diversity of native wildlife. Since restoration began in 2012, drainage tiles have been removed and more than 200 native plant species and thousands of trees have been planted on the site. The wetland is returning to its natural state very quickly. Already, it has attracted more than 135 native bird species, including bald eagles, bobolinks and killdeer, which would never have been there when it was a cornfield. Though not currently open to the public, walking trails and a small education center may be implemented in the future to provide opportunities to explore the wetland.
Strengthening our Support for Gorillas in the Republic of Congo
Over the past 20 years, the Zoo has partnered with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in the Republic of Congo, which includes the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running study of the critically endangered western lowland gorilla. The Zoo also supports work in an area called Mondika where gorillas are habituated for up close research and ecotourism. Habituation is a process through which the wild gorillas become accustomed to and tolerate the presence of people that enables researchers and tourists to observe them up close. The Zoo recently helped facilitate the habituation of a second group of gorillas, and entered into an agreement in 2014 to support the habituation of a third group over the next three years. Special thanks goes to Gorilla Glue, our official gorilla conservation sponsor!
All of these projects and more couldn’t happen without your support of the Zoo. Here’s to you and the Zoo making more great strides for wildlife conservation in 2015!
January 7, 2015 No Comments
Everyone is familiar with primates like gorillas, monkeys and even lemurs, but not too many people know of the potto. So what’s a potto, you say? Pottos are prosimians, which are primitive primates, not as highly evolved as monkeys but sharing many of the same characteristics (fingernails and toenails, stereoscopic vision, forward facing eyes, etc.). Some other prosimians include lemurs, lorises, bushbabies, tarsiers and aye-ayes.
The Cincinnati Zoo is one of very few zoos around the world to exhibit pottos, not because they are endangered, but more because of their nocturnal way of life. Many zoos do not have a building like our Night Hunters exhibit in which the day / night light cycle is reversed. This allows us to exhibit nocturnal creatures under subdued blue lighting during the time our guests visit and then fill the exhibits with white lighting when our guests have left.
In early 2014, there were only 16 pottos in four zoos in the United States—Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo and Cincinnati Zoo, of course. We have maintained pottos in our collection since the mid-1960s when we first opened the former Nocturnal House. We have been one of the top breeders of these African primates and we currently have seven pottos at the Zoo. Recently, it became clear that if we wanted to keep these charismatic animals in U.S. zoo collections, then we needed to have a plan to maximize the potential of our small population with regards to breeding and to also recruit more zoos to commit to exhibiting them as the potto population grew.
The Mammal Curators of the zoos holding pottos were all on board with the desire to continue to work with this species. The pedigree information of the U.S. population of pottos was run through a computer software program that provided us with the best possible pairings from our small group in order to maximize genetic diversity. From that information it became clear that in order to achieve our goal, 12 of the 16 pottos needed to move in order to create the pairings recommended. We also needed one more facility to join us to provide the extra space needed to ultimately put together the seven potential breeding pairs indicated by our “computer dating” service. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska stepped up to become the fifth zoo in the U.S. to maintain pottos.
By mid-summer, the five zoos had committed to making the necessary moves to have all the transfers completed before cold weather might become an issue for transportation. Of the six animals we originally had here in Cincinnati, four have transferred to other zoos while five new pottos arrived. We now have three pairs as well as a young male who will serve as a companion animal to an aging bamboo lemur. The other zoos involved with pottos will either have one pair (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Henry Doorly Zoo) or two pairs (Franklin Park Zoo). The Milwaukee County Zoo, which is now holding a single young female potto, is attempting to import a young male potto from Africa, which will provide new genetics to our population as well as provide us with yet another pair of animals for breeding.
It has been very gratifying to see how well the five zoos have worked so quickly and cooperatively towards our common goal to maintain a healthy potto population. Though the potto may not be an endangered species, we would hate to lose this charismatic creature from our collections. Many Cincinnatians have met our potto, Gabriel, at the Zoo or at events around the city. I like to think that it’s because of this ambassador animal that more Cincinnatians know what a potto is than people in any other part of the country.
October 9, 2014 No Comments