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Using Cameras to Protect Keas in the Wild

Modified from an article written by Jackie Bray, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and Tamsin Orr-Walker, Chairperson, Kea Conservation Trust

The Zoo supports the conservation of kea, the world’s only alpine parrot species, in New Zealand through the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT). Fewer than 5,000 kea remain and face threats such as conflict with people, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, predation by introduced invasive species such as stoats, brush-tailed possums, cats and rats, and unintentional by-kill by poisons used to control these invasive species.

Kea (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Kea (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

One strategy of the KCT to conserve kea in their natural environment involves the protection of nesting sites. During the past breeding season (July 2014 to January 2015), video trail cameras were used to monitor nest sites and document breeding activity and conflict events.

Kea outside a nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

Kea outside a nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

A total of 33 female keas were monitored over five research sites, resulting in five successful nests producing 12 chicks, which is more than were documented in previous years.

Kea chicks in a nest (Photo: Mat Goodman)

Kea chicks in a nest (Photo: Mat Goodman)

Once active nest sites were identified, cameras were placed at the entrance to monitor breeding activity, predator visitation and chick development. A series of predator control traps were also deployed around the nesting areas to help protect the birds until the chicks fledged. The cameras documented several nests being visited by predators. KCT used this information to extend trapping systems, resulting in decreased predator visitation.

A brush-tailed possum caught on camera visiting a kea nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

Brush-tailed possums caught on camera visiting a kea nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

The cameras also provided valuable information on kea survivorship and repellent effectiveness during the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s (NZ DOC) scheduled 1080 poison drops in the Kahurangi National Park. In 2014, New Zealand experienced an intensive mast (seeding) event which resulted in a significant increase in numbers of mice, rats and stoats. A previous major mast in 2002-2003 appears to have been the cause of an 80% decline in kea numbers at Nelson Lakes. Current population numbers could not sustain another such event, making the widespread use of 1080 poison necessary. The kea’s inquisitive nature makes them more likely than other native avian species to investigate the poison baits, so the use of chemical kea repellents in the 1080 baits is being studied to reduce unintentional by-kill. Unfortunately Ceejay, one of the most productive females in the area, was found dead after ingesting 1080 poison.

The cameras also proved useful in March 2015, when keas were blamed for damaging bicycles and other property in a residential area. Cameras set up in the area were able to capture noisy nighttime activity (which was attributed to kea) generated by at least two possums and three cats on multiple occasions. One possum was actually caught on camera damaging property. The cameras helped defuse conflict between community members and the kea by allowing the KCT to accurately document conflict events.

Kea (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Kea (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Video trail cameras have provided the KCT with an incredible amount of valuable data which has been used to protect kea nesting sites and mitigate several human-kea conflict situations. The cameras also significantly reduced the amount of hours necessary for personnel to spend in the field collecting data, allowing the saved resources to be used in other conservation projects.

 

 

 

June 26, 2015   No Comments

One Year After First Outplanting of CREW Propagated Ferns in Florida

Florida has more fern species than any other state in the mainland United States, and CREW is working with partners at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, Florida, to help propagate several of the most endangered from rapid urbanization and habitat loss.

The gridscale maiden fern, Thelypteris patens, is a large, beautiful fern that can reach over five feet in height. The patens variety is known only from the pine rockland habitat in Miami-Dade County and is listed as endangered in Florida. The population in one particular preserve declined to a single plant, which died in 2013.

Thelypteris patens (Photo: Daderot)

Thelypteris patens (Photo: Daderot)

However, before it died, researchers from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden collected spores from that plant and sent them to CREW’s Plant Lab here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. CREW plant scientists germinated the spores in test tubes (in vitro) to produce tiny gametophytes, which represent the first stage in the fern life cycle.

Growing T. patens in test tubes at CREW

Growing T. patens in test tubes at CREW

These were then nurtured further in culture to produce sporophytes, which represent the second stage of fern growth and are the plants we normally think of as ferns. The sporophytes were acclimatized to soil at CREW, and then over 200 of these plants were sent to collaborators at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden where they were grown further in their greenhouses.

T. patens

T. patens

Finally, in May and June of last year, over 150 of the ferns propagated at CREW were outplanted back into the preserve where the species had been extirpated.

Outplanting T. patens in Florida

Outplanting T. patens in Florida

The plants are being monitored by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. As of February 2015, the plants have had an 89% survival rate.

June 23, 2015   No Comments

Moe, the Two-toed Sloth, and Her Keepers Help Save Sloths in Costa Rica

Do you know Moe? You should! She is the star of the Discovery Forest exhibit in our Education Center. As a two-toed sloth, Moe spends her days hanging out in her favorite tree. While she does rest a lot (she is a sloth, after all), Moe can be quite active at times and she is very curious.

Moe (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Moe (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Moe has become a favorite with the thousands of kids and families that participate in Education programs and camps. You can’t come and go to Summer Camp without passing by to say hello and good-bye to Moe. At the end of the day, Moe climbs down a special ladder made just for her into the arms of one of her keepers, who carries her to a behind-the-scenes suite for the night.

Moe heading in for the night

Moe heading in for the night

These days, Moe is doing more with her celebrity status beyond inspiring our guests. She and her keepers are helping to save sloths in the wild. Between April and October, guests can schedule a private, up close 30-minute encounter with Moe and her keepers. A portion of the proceeds from the ‘Moe’mentous Sloth Encounter support The Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI) and its mission to ensure a peaceful coexistence between sloths and people.

Moe interacts with guests during a Sloth Encounter

Moe interacts with guests during a Sloth Encounter

The Sloth Institute LogoThe Sloth Institute Logo jpg

The Sloth Institute (TSI) was established in August of 2014 by Sam Trull and Seda Sejud to enhance the well being of captive and wild sloths through research and education. In collaboration with Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR), TSI helps to rescue, rehabilitate and release the sloths of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. In the area near Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica’s smallest yet most popular tourist destinations, roads and development have fragmented the natural forest habitat, increasing the threats to the very wildlife people come to see. The most common injuries to sloths are electrocutions from touching electrical wires and orphans separated from their mothers. Sloths are also vulnerable to vehicle strikes and dog attacks when they descend from the trees. In addition, TSI helps KSTR hand-rear baby sloths that are orphaned because the mother abandoned them or the mother was injured or killed. Sloths can be very difficult to raise due to their sensitivity to infection and incomplete information on what wild sloths need to survive.

TSI Founder, Sam Trull, with orphaned sloths, Locket and Chuck

TSI Founder, Sam Trull, with orphaned sloths, Locket and Chuck (Photo: The Sloth Institute Costa Rica)

When possible, the goal is to rehabilitate and release the sloths that are healthy and capable enough to survive and thrive again in the wild. In order to monitor each individual’s success post release, TSI plans to fit each sloth with a tracking device that will allow them to be monitored post-release and contribute to knowledge about sloth ecology and how to successfully raise and release orphaned and injured sloths.

TSI is beginning its first release project of 2 two-toed and 2 three-toed sloths. The release process involves selecting and obtaining permits for an appropriate forested area for the release that is safe from development, electric wires and cars. Once a site is secured, the sloths will be transferred from the KSTR rescue center to a soft-release enclosure in the forest to let them get used to their new environment. During this time, TSI will provide leaves from the forest to get the sloths more used to the diet found at the release site while still supplementing them with captive food. After about a month, TSI will open the door, allowing the sloths access to the surrounding forest. They will be able to choose when to explore the outside world. This “soft release” gives the sloths as much time as they need to get used to their new environment and learn how to find food before going off completely on their own, which is the most appropriate method for hand-raised orphans that require a lot of maternal investment.

Volunteer research assistant observing a young sloth practicing its climbing skills (Photo: Sam Trull)

Volunteer research assistant observing a young sloth practicing its climbing skills (Photo: Sam Trull)

With funding from the Cincinnati Zoo, TSI was able to purchase four of the VHF tracking collars for this project. Fitted with the collars, the sloths can be tracked around the clock to collect behavioral data, locational data and health status information.  Simultaneously, TSI will also track wild sloths for comparison and to provide parameters for evaluating the success of the release.

Tracking collar purchased with funds from the Zoo (Photo: The Sloth Institute Costa Rica)

Tracking collar purchased with funds from the Zoo (Photo: The Sloth Institute Costa Rica)

Furthermore, TSI will also start a long-term field station for studying wild sloths in Manuel Antonio. They hope to learn more about sloth ecology in this region of Costa Rica, including information on diets, home range, carrying capacity, health status and social structure.

Keep up with the latest happenings at TSI through its Sloth Diaries blog, and consider supporting sloths in the wild by booking your own Sloth Encounter at the Zoo. And next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop into the Education Center to say hello to Moe.

Moe (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Moe (Photo: Kathy Newton)

 

 

June 15, 2015   1 Comment