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Endangered Texas Ocelots: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Thanks to all who came out to AAZK’s Cinco de Gato fundraiser on May 15 to support Texas ocelot conservation! We had a fantastic time at Ladder 19. Great food and drinks, and Sihil, our ocelot ambassador, was a star as usual. With your help, we were able to raise more than $2,000 to support ocelot conservation through the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Sihil wows the crowd at Cinco de Gato (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

Sihil wows the crowd at Cinco de Gato (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

Celebrating Cinco de Gato! (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

Celebrating Cinco de Gato! (Photo: Pizzelle Photography)

The endangered Texas ocelot needs our help more than ever. Over the past year, seven of the estimated 80 remaining Texas ocelots were killed by vehicles. Six of these mortalities were adult males. Among ocelots, it is not easy to be a maturing male. In order to prevent competition for access to breeding females, older males often force the younger males to leave the area where they grew up, sending them out to find females and territory of their own. Once out of protected, dense brush habitat areas, these younger males encounter the human-developed world and all of its dangers, in particular roads and vehicles. In reaction to the large proportion of road mortalities being males, Dr. Hilary Swarts, a wildlife biologist who monitors ocelots in south Texas with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said, “I can’t say it’s surprising that six of the seven deaths were males, since they have such a rough time of it once the older males start to see the younger males as competition for mates and territory.”

Ocelot Mortalities Map (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ocelot Mortalities Map (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

It is also not a great surprise to see that three of the seven deaths occurred on Highway 186, which bisects optimal ocelot habitat. Though road signs warning of wildlife were posted in the high risk stretch of Highway 186 in November 2015, thanks to actions by Willacy County officials and the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), signs alone did not reduce the threat of vehicle collision to ocelots.

Hwy 186 Wildlife Crossing Sign (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Hwy 186 Wildlife Crossing Sign (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

This terrible run of ocelot road mortalities emphasizes the crucial need for under-the-road wildlife crossings to allow ocelots and other wildlife to pass under roads to avoid vehicles.  USFWS and TXDOT have worked hard to establish ocelot road crossings in areas south of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. In the future, they plan to establish crossings in other areas where recent ocelot deaths have occurred, particularly on Highway 186.

Ocelot killed on Hwy 77 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ocelot killed on Hwy 77 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The good news is that construction of wildlife underpasses has already begun on FM106, a road that borders and runs through excellent ocelot habitat on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Ocelots have been killed there in the past. The first ocelot crossing was installed on April 27, 2016 and the next one is underway.  A series of eight crossings in total is planned for roads near the refuge.  Once installed, crossings will be monitored to see how ocelots and other wildlife respond. “This is new terrain for us, since wildlife crossings have not really been built in ocelot habitat before. It will be very interesting to see what our wildlife crossing monitoring program reveals about when and how ocelots and other wildlife use the newly installed crossings” Swarts said.

Wildlife crossing being installed on FM106 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Wildlife crossing being installed on FM106 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Another positive development is that this summer, TXDOT will begin installing a series of four ocelot crossings on State Highway 100, which has been the site of five known ocelot mortalities over the years.  USFWS is also working with partners and neighboring landowners to establish permanent wildlife corridors for ocelots and other species in the area around Highway 100. These targeted wildlife corridors are made of suitable habitat that will connect protected areas, and provide a safer travel route to the wildlife crossings that are being constructed.

With such a small population, every ocelot is important to the population’s survival. Past data have shown that 40% of identified ocelots were killed by vehicles. The new era of installing wildlife crossings on roadways in areas where ocelots live will be one of the most important ongoing actions for ocelot conservation in south Texas.

May 27, 2016   2 Comments

Food for Zoo Animals Grown Locally and Harvested by Zoo Staff

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Thanks to coordination by commissary team leader Mistie Hamilton, animals will have fresh browse all year long!

Cincinnati Zoo staff, including vets, horticulturists, keepers, interns, volunteers, and our nutritionist, harvested 82 boxes of browse at the Zoo’s Mast Farm earlier this week. The boxes will be frozen so animals can have fresh edible tree material “browse” in the winter. Plants like Hackberry, Olive, Elm, Pear, Grapevine, Sassafras, Mulberry, Birch and Hickory were harvested.

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The Zoo collects fresh edible material to offer over the week plus some to freeze throughout the summer to build a supply for winter. The food will be used for hoofed animals, primates, bears, and various other animals.

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We procure the very freshest whole foods for our animals. No zoo animals eat junk food or processed foods from a box that contains all sorts of impossible-to-comprehend additives. The Zoo’s Curator of Nutrition, Barbara Henry, keeps a close eye on everything our animals eat. We only harvest from certain places and we always know how the food was grown. Our animals eat better than most people do. If we won’t eat it, we won’t feed it! We challenge your family to #EatLikeAnAnimal one night this week!

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May 26, 2016   No Comments

Oh Granny, what big teeth you’ve got.

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The fangs of the Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula (Theraphosa blondi) can exceed ½” in length. Belying its name this tarantula generally feeds on invertebrates and small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards and rodents. This remarkable animal is native to the rainforests of northern Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana where it faces an uncertain future due to habitat loss and over-collection for the pet trade.

Come see the Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula now on display at the World of the Insect.

Winton Ray
Curator of Invertebrates & Aquatic Animals
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

May 23, 2016   1 Comment