For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. This year, I had the fortunate opportunity to co-facilitate Earth Expeditions Kenya: People and Wildlife in Integrated Landscapes with Dave Jenike, the Zoo’s COO. We took 17 educators with us, including formal classroom teachers as well as informal educators from zoos and similar institutions. This is the third post in a series about our experience. Read the previous post in this blog series here.
During our time at the Lale’enok Resource Centre, we had the opportunity to work alongside the researchers and staff. We split into three groups and rotated through these awesome experiences over the course of three days.
We headed out at 6:30am with Sisco, the baboon researcher, to locate the olive baboon troop. Over the past few years, he has been able to habituate the troop so that he can walk with them and study their behavior. That is, over time, the baboons have accepted his presence. As long as he wears a ball cap and avoids wearing red clothing to distinguish himself from the traditional Maasai dress, he says the baboons know he is only there to observe and will allow him to do so.
Baboons are often considered pests because they are opportunistic, raiding bomas for food and destroying manyattas (huts). One of Sisco’s goals is to show the community that they can benefit from the baboons through eco-tourism.
We found the troop just waking up from a night spent in the ficus trees alongside the Ewaso Nigro River. We watched them scramble down and drink from the river before they headed out in search of Acacia flowers and seed pods for breakfast. As we followed, Sisco pointed out who is who – he has named them all and can identify each one – and told us more about their social structure and behavior.
Ecological Monitoring Program
The ecological monitoring program looks at the health of the whole ecosystem by keeping tabs on the plant and animal communities, including both wild and domestic species, and looking for trends in population size, health and use of space. Led by researcher, Samantha duToit (formerly Russell), a team of local Maasai are employed as Resource Assessors to collect data. The data is then shared with the community to inform their decisions on where and when to move their livestock for grazing.
Over the course of three days, the students collected data to compare the situation on the east (currently allowed grazing) and west (conservation area) sides of the Ewaso Nigro River. They counted the number of wild and domestic species they saw or identified signs of (i.e. tracks, dung) as well as counted grass and noted its color in sample plots.
Rebuilding the Pride
The goal of the Rebuilding the Pride program is to promote coexistence between pastoralists and predators and restore a healthy lion population in the area while reducing the loss of livestock to lions. With support from the Zoo, Rebuilding the Pride has been able to track lions wearing Global Positioning System (GPS) collars for the past five years. The collars transmit four locations a day to a central server, providing detailed information on the exact movement of the lions. Knowing where the prides are, they can let herders know where to avoid grazing their livestock at any given time, and thus, avoid conflict. Since the start of the program, lion numbers have grown from an estimated low of 10 to more than 65 in 2014.
The lions are primarily nocturnal so we headed out before sunrise at 5:00am in the hopes that we could find them while they were still active. At this time, there are four lions wearing collars. We drove out to an area where a couple of them have been hanging out recently and stopped to listen for signals sent from the collars to a radio antenna. We picked up a signal for the dominant male named Ol Choro (after the swampy bush area he frequents) and drove into some pretty thick bush. After driving in circles with a spotlight, we pinpointed a thick patch of vegetation in which he was hiding, but didn’t get a glimpse of him. Next we set out to find Nasha, a lioness who has three older cubs. She and her pride were also already bedded down in the thicket and eluded us.
The thing about lion tracking is that you can “find” the lions and it’s a great data point for the research without ever seeing the animal itself. Still, it’s hard not to get frustrated when you don’t get to see them! By now the sun was up and our chances of finding a second female, Namunyak, out in the open were slim. This time we got lucky! We found Namunyak, whose name coincidentally means lucky, and her pride casually ambling across the savannah. They were headed for thicker cover, but didn’t seem to be in any hurry.
With her she had an older cub as well as three 8-month-old cubs (about the same age as our three at the Zoo). Keeping a safe distance in the vehicles, of course, we followed alongside them for about 15 minutes. They didn’t seem to mind us being there at all. They would walk a bit. Then one would flop down and rest for a minute or two. Sometimes the others would stop and wait. Occasionally, one cub would bite another’s tail or jump on top of mom. How exciting it was to see them acting just like our cubs out here in the wild!
To be continued in a future blog post. Check back soon!
August 13, 2015 1 Comment
In 1980, there were an estimated 1.2 million African elephants. Today, there are less than 420,000. This is largely due to the demand for ivory.
Last month, President Obama announced a proposal to ban the sale of ivory in the United States. The ban would be a huge victory for elephants, considering that the United States is the second largest ivory consumer nation behind China.
As a coalition partner with more than 150 institutions, the Zoo is working with the 96 Elephants campaign to collect letters in support of the strongest possible ivory ban. This week, which coincides with World Elephant Day on Wednesday, August 12, we will be encouraging guests that visit the Elephant Wild Discover Zone at the Zoo to write letters. If you can’t make it to Zoo, but want to take part in the letter writing campaign, you can download the 96 Elephant Letter and send it in.
We also encourage you to #GoGrey on World Elephant Day. Wear grey, take an #elphie (that is, a selfie) and post it to social media to help spread the word.
Lastly, just by coming to the Zoo on World Elephant Day or any other day, you are helping us save species across the globe. So pack your trunk and lead your herd on out to the Zoo!
August 10, 2015 1 Comment
Male black rhinoceros “Faru,” which is short for Kifaru (the Swahili name for rhino), arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo on July 21, 2015.
Faru and Seyia – A Match Made…by the SSP!
The 2,800 pound rhino was brought to the Cincinnati Zoo from Zoo Atlanta on a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoo and Aquarium’s (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP has determined that Faru and the Cincinnati Zoo’s female black rhino, “Seyia,” are a good genetic match. So, if all goes well, there could be rhino calves in the Zoo’s future!
Keepers have spent the past several months getting to know Faru and his behavioral patterns. He will spend 2 to 6 weeks settling in, learning behaviors, and getting to know the Cincinnati Zoo animal care staff before being introduced to visitors.
“There is frequent communication between keepers before the rhinoceros is transferred. We really try to learn their behavioral patterns and habits so we can best accommodate them once they’ve arrived. The transfer process is incredibly involved,” said head keeper Randy Pairan.
Keeper Marjorie Barthel says, “He is doing well. We are taking things very slowly with him to allow him to move forward with the least amount of stress possible. He has come so far already in his new home. Right now I’m working on building a relationship with him. We need to trust each other.”
Faru was born at the San Antonio Zoological Gardens & Aquarium in 2004. He moved to Atlanta in April 2011 where he bred one calf. Because black rhinos are solitary animals, Faru will stay separated from Seyia until late fall. They will be put together when they are familiar with each other and ready to breed. Introductions are going well.
Faru’s Journey to Cincinnati
So how exactly do you move a large rhino from Atlanta to Cincinnati? Follow Faru’s journey in the images below to find out!
About Black Rhinos
The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is native to the eastern and central areas of Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. They eat mostly leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny wood bushes, and fruit. Black rhinos also have two large horns made of keratin that they use for defense, intimidation, and feeding. An adult can weigh anywhere between 1,760 and 3,080 pounds, and newborns (calves) weigh between 35 and 55 pounds. Black rhinos breed year-round and have a gestation period that lasts 15 months. They are one of the oldest known species of mammals.
Faru’s species is critically endangered with more than 115 individuals being managed by the SSP. As recently as 1970, an estimated 65,000 black rhinos could be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. However, between 1970 and 1992, 96-percent of Africa’s remaining black rhinos were killed in a wave of poaching due to the value of their horns. Heightened conservation efforts following the poaching increase led the black rhino population to grow from 2,410 in 1995 to a current total of 4,848. Today, black rhinos live in protected parks located in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania. Poaching is still a serious problem, threatening to wipe out decades of conservation efforts. Even protected parks experience poaching breeches, which means the amount of safe land available to black rhinos is diminishing.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s Carl H. Lindner Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) will be doing reproductive research on Faru and Seyia as part of the continued efforts to save the black rhinos. All five species of rhinoceros—White, Black, Greater One-Horned (aka Indian), Sumatran, and Javan—are perilously close to extinction in the wild.
August 7, 2015 3 Comments