“How hard can it be to track a sloth?” This was the question that I was teased with several times prior to my recent trip to Costa Rica. My honest answer was “I don’t know, probably not that hard.” Guess what? Trying to find an animal designed to camouflage itself 50 feet off the ground in dense canopy is pretty darn hard. Surveying a population of brown-throated three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) and Hoffman’s two-toed (Choloepus hoffmanni) sloths is just one of the ways that I (Head Keeper for the Interpretive Collection) and Amanda Chambers (Team Leader for the same department) helped out our colleagues at The Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI). TSI was established in 2014 and is a branch of Kids Saving The Rainforest (KSTR). With high hopes of becoming more involved in conservation directly, our department formed a relationship with Sam Trull, Co-founder of TSI, last year. Since then, we have helped them purchase four radio-collars to track rehabilitated and wild sloths with funds raised through our Moe’mentous Sloth Encounters, an experience at the Zoo that allows guests to meet Moe, our two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus). Part of TSI’s mission is to rehabilitate injured and orphaned sloths, release them back into the wild, and then collect data on the released and wild sloths in the area of the release. The other part is to educate the local community about how to peacefully coexist with native wildlife, particularly sloths!
So off to Costa Rica we went last month in search of sloths and ways we could help TSI move their mission forward. Amanda and I had never traveled to Costa Rica before and were so excited with the anticipation of seeing so many different species of animals that we’ve only seen in captivity. We were not disappointed! Costa Rica has the largest concentration of species anywhere in the world. It is truly a biodiversity hotspot! It also has reserved a full 25% of its land for wildlife. This is an impressive number. Costa Rica, as I’m sure you can imagine if you’ve never been, is unbelievably beautiful. It hosts 13 different micro-climates that include desert, cloud forest, and tropical rainforest. For all these reasons, in addition to their beautiful beaches, Costa Rica is a major tourist destination.
Now, we have a hugely diverse group of flora and fauna, lots of protection from the government, amazing scenery, and lots of people coming to see it. Here’s the issue – bisection of the habitats. To get eco-tourists into these remote areas so they can have an experience that connects them with nature, there have to be roads. There also has to be electric wires and every other form of development that comes with humans. This then causes animals to come into closer contact with humans. Sloths are particularly vulnerable to roads, electric wires, and domestic dogs. While we were at KSTR one day, a female three-toed sloth and her day old baby were brought into the clinic. The tree the mom had been in had been cut down by someone and she fell and broke her arm. The next day, she gave birth and was rushed to KSTR for help. Unfortunately, electrocutions, car strikes, and dog attacks are all too common. I’m happy to report that mama sloth had a successful surgery to repair her arm and is recovering well with baby by her side.
Currently, Sam is hand-rearing nine baby sloths, and two other juveniles have been moved into a pre-release cage in a maritime zone along the Pacific coast in Manuel Antonio. All of this makes for lots to do. TSI relies almost completely on volunteers. They help feed the sloths (2:00 AM feeds for even an adorable baby sloth wear you out), construct cages, track wild sloths at the release site, lead educational tours, and log tons of data. Amanda and I spent a morning surveying the release area for sloths. Hannah, one of the researchers, said she had logged 25 separate sloths the day before. We walked up and down hills for hours, craning our necks and looking through binoculars. We found three.
Our days were also spent constructing sloth litter boxes (sloths climb down from the canopy about once a week to deposit their waste at the bottom of the tree) for the release cage, recording data on a wild mom and baby two-toed sloth pair, going to the local farmers’ market to buy goat milk for the babies, and transporting a sick sloth to the vet clinic an hour away to get a digital x-ray. We learned a lot about what wild sloths are eating and we are hoping to plant some of those trees in the Discovery Forest exhibit here at the Zoo where Moe lives.
During our trip, the Zoo launched a successful Booster t-shirt campaign for the care and feeding of Moe with part of the proceeds going to TSI. Thank you to everyone who bought a shirt and supported captive and wild sloths! Our goal is to remain active in Costa Rica with sloth conservation. We feel that community engagement in the Manuel Antonio area as well as the larger Costa Rican community is key and it is where we hope to focus all of our future ideas and actions as a department. Our Zoo has taught us to dream big and pursue our own experiences with conservation. We could not have done this without the support of our Zoo leaders and our Interpretive Team.
If you are interested in meeting Moe, our two-toed sloth, and learning more about how to get involved in sloth conservation, be sure to schedule a Moe’mentous Sloth Encounter with us soon. Also, be sure to follow The Sloth Institute on Facebook for updates on the upcoming releases of their rehabilitated sloths!
October 6, 2015 No Comments
This has been a busy year for the American Burying Beetle reintroduction program at the Cincinnati Zoo. On June 2nd 2015, 53 pairs of federally endangered beetles were set free to reproduce in the wild at the nearby Fernald Nature Preserve. This marks the 3rd year of reintroductions held at the preserve. A post-release check-up at the release site informed us that 75% of the released pairs did in fact breed in the wild and produced an estimated 320 larvae! This brings our 3 year totals to 432 reintroduced beetles that have produced over 1600 larvae in the wild!
In addition to holding our 3rd release earlier this year, we have also partnered with institutions in Nebraska and Oklahoma to expand our captive breeding population. This year we received several pairs of wild-caught American burying beetles (ABBs) from a thriving natural population in Nebraska. These beetles were driven all the way to Cincinnati where we have begun to breed them at the zoo! The offspring from this group of beetles will breed again in captivity and their offspring (the grandkids of the wild-caught beetles) will be released at Fernald during our upcoming 2016 release. Our breeding facility is filling up quickly – we already have about 200 beetles in the first generation! Each beetle gets fed twice a week and is housed in its own container which gets cleaned out twice a week. This adds up to a LOT of work for our Insectarium staff and Volunteers!
It is necessary to house these beetles separately for a number of reasons, but most importantly each beetle needs to have its own serial number. This serial number tells us information about their pedigree. Unlike many other captive populations of insects, inbreeding is a major concern for ABBs. After just a few generations of inbreeding ABB populations will collapse in captivity. Therefore we use serial numbers to track parentage information for each beetle.
The American Burying Beetle (ABB) was placed on the endangered species list in the late eighties and since then programs like ours have been implemented to help bring this small but charismatic bug back from the brink. The ABB belongs to a family of beetles (Silphidae) that specialize in eating dead stuff (i.e. carrion). In case you’re wondering why this one is called a burying beetle it’s because the adult beetles literally bury small animal carcasses in order to raise their young on them! That might sound gross to you and me, but decomposers are very important to the ecosystem. They recycle nutrients to be used by plants and they prevent waste and dead animals from piling up. Check out this page to read a little bit more about the ABB program at the Cincinnati Zoo. Stay tuned for more updates and details about the 2016 ABB release.
September 25, 2015 No Comments
Rhino Awareness Days
World Rhino Day falls on a Tuesday this year, September 22, so the Zoo is going to celebrate Rhino Awareness Days, free with regular Zoo admission, the following weekend. From 10:00 to 3:00 on September 26 and 27, guests are invited to learn more about rhinos and how we can help save them in the wild.
CREW Volunteers will be on hand at the Sumatran rhino exhibit to tell Harapan’s story, the last Sumatran rhino on exhibit in the United States. Here guests can catch a last glimpse of Harapan before he leaves for Indonesia and wish him well on his journey. With less than 100 Sumatran rhinos left on Earth, Harapan will move to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary where he will have the opportunity to breed and contribute to his species’ survival. His departure marks the end of an era for the Cincinnati Zoo’s Sumatran rhino breeding program, the only captive breeding program in the United States to produce calves for this critically endangered species. An exact date for Harapan’s departure has not been set, but the Zoo is pushing for the move to happen this fall. Until then, guests can visit him in Wildlife Canyon daily from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., weather permitting.
Speaking of Harapan’s departure, there’s exciting news about his brother, and Cincinnati Zoo born Sumatran rhino, Andalas. The critically-endangered Sumatran rhino population will soon increase by one. In a species with fewer than 100 individuals left on the planet, one is a significant number. Andalas and Ratu are expecting a calf in May 2016. Learn more and see ultra sound images here.
On the other side of the Zoo, guests can engage with Volunteer Educators at the CREW Wild Discover Zone to learn more about all of our rhino research programs. CREW is currently undertaking a project to expand access and build capacity for African and Asian rhino reproductive care within North American zoological facilities. The Zone is set up next to the Indian and black rhino exhibits where guests might get the chance to say hello to our newest rhino resident, a black rhino male named Faru.
Faru is doing great here in his new home and his training is going very well. The keepers are working with him to present both sides of his body on cue and open his mouth to allow them to check his teeth and tongue. This allows them to perform basic foot care, daily baths, and administer medical care when needed with minimal stress to Faru. He and the female, Seyia, are still getting to know each other, and the hope is to put them together for breeding later this fall.
The keepers are also working with CREW to determine the reproductive cycle of our one and only Indian rhino, Manjula, using ultrasound and urine analysis. Manjula is chute-trained, target-trained, and she will hold her mouth open while they shine a flashlight inside to check everything. This training has been essential to administering the hormone to help her ovulate and also give the anesthetics used for her standing sedation procedures- both of which she does willingly and cooperatively! The plan is to artificially inseminate Manjula. The keepers are also currently working on blood draw training and teaching Manjula to stand her rear feet in rubber tubs for a foot soak. (Indian rhinos are prone to foot issues.)
Bowling for Rhinos
What else can you do to help save rhinos? Go bowling! The Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers is holding its second annual Bowling for Rhinos event on October 17 to raise awareness and funds for rhino conservation.To be held from 6:00 to 8:30 at Stone Lanes in Norwood, the event is sure to be tons of fun! In addition to bowling, there will be t-shirts for sale, a silent auction and a raffle to meet a rhino at the Cincinnati Zoo! Buy your tickets online now before they sell out!
September 24, 2015 No Comments