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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

Calling All Artists!

Lorax Rain Barrel 2014

Rain barrel on display in the Go Green Garden

Artists are needed to participate in the 4th Annual Rain Barrel Art Project, hosted by the Regional Stormwater Collaborative and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. This joint effort continues to educate the community about water conservation and pollution caused by storm water runoff. A great way to reduce that runoff is to harness rainwater in your very own rain barrel. Typically, rain barrels are a drab color, but with the beautiful talent and touch of artists, they come alive with scenes of nature, wildlife, Cincinnati, and many other designs, making them much more appealing to install on the side of your home. Utilizing a rain barrel could save a homeowner up to 1,000 gallons of water in just one summer.

Artists may submit their artwork ideas via SaveLocalWaters.org now through January 16, 2016. The top 50 entries accepted will be given rain barrels provided by the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati to bring their proposed artwork to life. The completed barrels will be displayed at our Go Green Garden Exhibit during the month of April 2016. We are thrilled to be hosting the rain barrel event once again. As the Greenest Zoo in America, we are always looking for ways to inspire our community to take action that can impact the environment in positive ways.


The grand finale to the event is the Rain Barrel Art Auction scheduled on April 21st, 2016. The painted rain barrels will be auctioned during our 7th Annual Party for the Planet Earth Day Celebration. Proceeds from the auction will be split between the Cincinnati Zoo and the Regional Storm Water Collaborative to further more conservation education and awareness.

For more information regarding the Rain Barrel Art Project or SaveLocalWaters.org, contact John Nelson, Public Relations Specialist, at (513) 772-7645 or visit the website here.

January 4, 2016   2 Comments

Nothing Routine About Night Keeper’s Routine! #GoodnightZoo

December 12 was a 70-degree Saturday night – and one of the busiest nights the Cincinnati Zoo has ever seen! Record high temps brought record high crowds out to experience #PNCFestivalofLights (more than 24k visitors!).  It was also the night that the Zoo’s Twitter team, including me, picked to follow night keeper Mike around as he weaved through people, and in and under buildings, to get to the dozens of animals that he checks on at night.  Really, it was a great night for #GoodnightZoo part 2. During #GoodnightZoo part 1, which took place in June, the Zoo was eerily quiet and empty. It was also dark and rainy for our first nighttime tweeting adventure with Mike.  #GoodnightZoo part 2 was quite a different experience! Wearing t-shirts and no jackets, we met Night Keeper Mike outside of Wildlife Canyon at 6pm, after his dinner break. Crowds were growing, LED lights were shining and holiday music was blaring as we made our way behind the scenes. Night Keeper Mike kept up his usual pace. Maybe even a little quicker this evening due to the crowds that he knew would eventually slow his rhythm down. We managed to keep up! First stop was Wildlife Canyon! This was the first time I’d be revisiting the stalls that housed Harapan, the Western Hemisphere’s last Sumatran rhino. His presence was definitely missed.

Przewalski’s horse, takin, capybara, warty pigs, camels and screamers were present and ready for Mike to do his thing.  Though closely related to the domestic horse, Przewalski’s horse has never been domesticated and is truly a wild horse. Once extinct in the wild, small herds of Przewalski’s horses now run free thanks to captive breeding in zoos and reintroduction programs.

We couldn’t wait to see Dale, a takin calf raised in the Children’s Zoo by keepers & companion dog Blakely. We were lucky enough to be around him during his days in the nursery and when we went to check on him and said his name, the curious 5 month old came right up to see who was there. These strong, powerful animals are impressive and unlike his parents, Dale was quick to come over and say hello! Here he is photobombing his mom’s picture.

Humphrey the Bactrian camel has access outside all year. He sauntered over to night keeper Mike to say goodnight! The large beasts make a variety of moans, groans and deep, throaty bellows. One of the camel’s noises was even used to voice the character Chewbacca in the Star Wars movies. Camels are diurnal, sleeping at night in open spaces and foraging for food during the day.

Although they were pretty uninterested in us, we couldn’t help but notice the Visayan warty pig’s bed head! During the breeding season, the tuft of hair on the boar’s head grows into an impressive head-to-tail mane. IMG_9259

Capybara’s are the world’s largest rodents. Last time we checked on them they were still getting used to their new home at the Cincinnati Zoo. What a different story a few months will make! All three males were settled in nicely and ready for a good night’s sleep.


We made it over to Harapan’s old stall and were hit with a wave of emotion. Such a big animal with a large personality leaves an empty space even more noticeable. However, with a smile we remembered that he was off saving his species and we couldn’t be more proud of him. Now occupying his indoor enclosure are crested screamers. These small, but loud birds are taking advantage of their new home. They ran back and forth making their call at us to let each other know that “intruders” had entered the building. Once we were there for a minute the sound subsided and they went back to their normal routine. Listen below to their alarm call:

Next stop was the Salamander Hilton. This is where the giant salamanders and other reptiles and amphibians live.

IMG_9260 IMG_9262

The Veldt is the next stop! Black rhinos Faru and Seyia have recently been introduced in hopes that with a breeding recommendation from the Species Survival Program (SSP) that they will have little calves in the future. Rhinos sleep standing up or lying down. They can sleep up to 8 hours a day at intervals. When rhinos go to sleep for the night, they usually lie down slightly to the one side.


Hungry Faru


Warmer temperatures means Faru will have access outside at night


Curious Seyia

Grevy’s zebras Buster and Lainey were still outside when we went to check on them. Part of Night Keeper Mike’s job involves getting the animals to come inside, even if they have access outside at night like the zebras, to get a good look at them and make sure everything looks good. Zebra


Eastern Bongo Beau would not come when called so Night Keeper Mike went out to check on him. Sure enough the tired big guy was set on staying outside and enjoying the warm temperatures! With holiday music in the background and lights flickering in the distance he was content right where he was. Night Keeper Mike said that we would come back later to check on him.


Beau not ready to come inside yet!



Baby bongo Sukari turned 1 on Dec 23!

Okapi mom, Kuvua, and two-year-old daughter Kilua grab a quick snack and drink before bed. IMG_9318

With more than 2 million LED lights illuminating the park for us, we walked to our next destination. IMG_9330

It’s bear medication time! Andean bear Chester and polar bear Berit were given meds hidden in a favorite treat. Chester rose from his hammock immediately when Night Keeper Mike pushed his food through the chute. Berit was slower to rise. She rolled around in the straw and even closed her eyes again before getting up to investigate the new object in her den. Night Keeper Mike has to stick around to make sure everyone eats their food!

Quick stop by the nursery to check on Lucy the bearcat and Ali the aardvark! Ali is currently on 24/7 baby watch. Doctors at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) have been performing weekly ultrasounds on Ali to monitor the growth and health of the baby. Blakely the nursery dog was too tired to get up from his bed but accepted a nice scratch on the head before we headed out to wallaby.


Ali the aardvark in her nest box


Sleepy Blakely


Night Hunter’s was next. This is always an exciting stop but even more so tonight. It’s Saturday night, which means bone night for the cats! Night Keeper Mike said on Saturday night’s the cats get bones and they know when it’s Saturday! They’re all quick to come inside and eager to get their special treats. Big cats can spend 16-20 hours a day sleeping.

Don’t bother Akere when he has his bone! Hear him vocalize below:



White lions Gracious & Prosperity come inside one at a time and are separated while they eat their bones before they’re put back together for the night.

Where do the Galapagos tortoises go in the winter? We found some of them exploring their large indoor space and others resting in their pool. IMG_9390 IMG_9391

Giant fruit bats get giant fruit salads for dinner! Night Keeper Mike heads in the Wings of Wonder Bird House to leave these fruit salad

buckets out for the bats.


Thatcher, Magnolia & Cinder. Three little pigs all tucked into bed. These three are mini-juliana pigs that can be found in the summer at Blakey’s Barnyard Bonanza show. Mini-Juliana pigs have outgoing and friendly personalities. Pigs are highly intelligent and very vocal, emitting a variety of squeals and grunts. These three always seem to tuck themselves in together at bedtime! 

The Nigerian dwarf goat is a rare breed of domestic miniature dairy goat. Despite its miniature size, a female goat can produce two quarts of sweet milk a day.


BamBam, the newest manatee at the Cincinnati Zoo was exploring the med pool when we arrived at Manatee Springs. BamBam was sent here after being rescued in FL. He was suffering from cold stress and after he recovers here, he’ll be sent back to FL. He’s the 15th manatee to be sent to the Cincinnati Zoo for rehabilitation.  Scientists believe that manatees resting on the bottom may surface to breathe without fully waking up… like sleepwalking! 


One of the most beautiful spots at the PNC Festival of Lights: the rainbow tunnel! Completely constructed by the Cincinnati Zoo maintenance staff.


Superstar volunteer Donna and her husband were at CREW during their baby watch shift for Ali the aardvark.


As a precaution during cold & flu season, staff will wear masks when near bonobos. 


Selfie with Night Keeper Mike!

We headed back to the Veldt to see if Beau was ready to come inside. Sure enough, he was inside, and the other hoofstalk were laying down, ready to sleep.



Last stop on our list: Africa. Walking through the barn, we checked on kudu, Thomson’s gazelle, lions and more!


Two of the #CZBGLionCubs and their mom Imani in the center

5.26 miles later we left Night Keeper Mike to continue on his rounds. His shift ends at 3am and he still had animals to check in on.







December 29, 2015   6 Comments