By Renee Carpenter, Rhino and Hoofed Stock Keeper
Seven years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to represent the Zoo at an International Rhino Keeper Conference hosted in Australia. During the week-long conference, I met a man named Henry Opio from the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC). Henry impressed me with his passion for conservation. He had a dream that black and white rhinos would someday return to the wild in Uganda where they had been eliminated through poaching in the 1980s. Wildlife and people alike had experienced tragic hardships and loss during that time of tremendous political and civil unrest. With the region now recovering, facilities like UWEC, with the full support of the current government, are working hard to save what was lost and foster a “pride of heritage” in the people for their wildlife.
As I spoke more with Henry, I fell in love with the idea of returning rhinos to Uganda, too. Henry presented on the possibility of reintroducing rhinos into Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and how UWEC would reach out to each and every village surrounding the park before animals would be released (wow, what a huge task!). They would focus on the children and reach the parents and others in the community through them. I, along with a colleague, was there to present on a fundraising project called “Rhino Rembrandts” with proceeds going to field conservation…a possible aid to this Ugandan rhino project, I thought to myself.
After the excitement of the week, I was sitting in the plane for the twenty-plus hour flight home and I couldn’t help but wonder…how could I help Henry and Uganda’s lost rhinos with more than just what my little fundraiser would do? Coincidentally, when I returned to work I read an email about an internal grant opportunity with a fast approaching deadline. So, many emails and anxious waiting later… I have, just this past week, submitted the report for the seventh straight year of successful funding from the Zoo!
Back over in Uganda, my friend Henry and UWEC are working hard at conservation education on many fronts. However, the return of the rhino to a people re-learning the importance of safeguarding it is closest to my heart.
The human effect of any conservation initiative is what makes it successful. UWEC reaches out to the communities (person to person) through education about the importance of rhinos to their community as well as helps to improve daily life tasks such as farming and waste management practices and identification/use of medicinal plants. Through this process, the communities become invested in the idea of bringing rhinos back and the positive impact it will have on them if the rhinos are protected.
For me personally, last year’s successful grant application brought the whole process very close to home. At the conclusion of last year’s work, Henry contacted me about a 14-year-old girl named Vivian. She showed great interest and passion for rhino conservation. She also expressed to him concern about her father who was a poacher back in their village. She felt she could convince him to stop, even though that would mean ending the income that enabled her to attend school. Vivian’s father was convinced and, in an attempt to still fund her education, he carved two beautiful wooden rhino statues and presented them to Henry for help. As you can see, they now have a new home here in Cincinnati. Henry was also able to help Vivian’s father gain employment as a ranger protecting wildlife. It’s fascinating how a person’s actions can change when given a better option. This is what I love about this project – protecting wildlife while improving people’s lives – a recipe for success! This has only been made possible by the Zoo’s internal grant program and dedication to field conservation.
Although much more work needs to be done before rhinos once again roam in the wild in Uganda, the rhinos themselves are doing their part. At Ziwa Ranch in Uganda, they are busy making babies to support the release. UWEC’s rhinos serve as ambassadors for any and all visitors and the dedicated staff there will continue to work with the communities surrounding Murchison Falls National Park until they have all been reached (fingers crossed for future success in partnering).
As a rhino and hoofed stock keeper here at the Zoo, I have been blessed, alongside my friends and colleagues, with the opportunity to work with these awesome animals, be involved in efforts to safeguard them in the wild, and to share my experiences and love of rhinos with the people I meet.
So I invite you to come visit us here at the Zoo and be part of the human effect of conservation, too! There are so many more people like Vivian out there just waiting for that connection to become stewards of their own land and wildlife.
Also, don’t miss World Rhino Day on September 21st here at the Zoo when we celebrate these marvels of nature and the work being done to safeguard them. Come out and have some family fun while making a difference!
September 2, 2014 2 Comments
Seyia arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in August of 2013 and is currently the only black rhino we have here. She made the long journey all the way from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she was born. Seyia will celebrate her fifth birthday on September 28.
The black rhino, or hook-lipped rhino (Diceros bicornis), is native to eastern and central Africa. Black rhinos are generally solitary animals, except for mothers with calves. However, males and females have a consort relationship during mating, and sometimes young adults will form loose associations with older individuals of either sex.
An herbivorous browser, black rhinos eat leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny bushes and fruit. You will often see browse, or large leafy branches, in Seyia’s exhibit, which is one of her favorite things. She also loves bananas, apples, kiwi and melon. We often utilize these items for her training sessions and as enrichment scattered throughout her enclosure. On special occasions, we might even give her whole watermelons to smash and eat.
Every rhino has its own personality and Seyia is a real sweetie, yet definitely has some sass and spunk to her. She loves attention – getting a good rub down, taking a bubble bath, and most of all, interacting with her keepers during training sessions.
Seyia has learned so much over the past year here in Cincinnati. We train all of our animals to do lots of different husbandry behaviors, which helps us provide them with the best care possible. This is especially important when caring for rhinos. The black rhino has a reputation for being extremely aggressive, charging readily at threats. They have even been observed charging tree trunks and termite mounds in the wild! So it takes a very strong bond between keepers and their rhinos to accomplish all that we need to do with them. Only once this trust is formed between keeper and rhino can training begin.
We began the process by hand-feeding her lots of her favorite treats. After that, we began target training and moved forward from there. Seyia has now learned to move either side of her body up against the side of her indoor enclosure. This allows us to get a good look at her, bathe her, and even apply a Skin So Soft solution to help keep her skin moisturized and keep the flies away. She can place either front foot on a block for nail and foot care and is also trained to lay down on command. Right now, we are working with her on opening her mouth so we can check out those pearly whites. Not only is all this training useful for husbandry and medical care, it’s also a form of enrichment for her.
Seyia, often referred to as “little girl”, is not so little anymore! In fact, as of December 2013, she weighed in at a whopping 2,400 lbs. She is due to be weighed again this fall, and I guarantee she’s grown. Her body and horn are much bigger than when she first arrived.
How do we weigh a rhino? We use a set of truck scales. Our Maintenance department constructed a heavy duty “weight board” that we carefully place over the scales and the rhino can just step on up. We feed her some of her favorite snacks while we watch the number going up until we have an accurate weight. We do this a few times just to be extra certain it’s accurate. This is not only important to ensure a healthy weight, but also for our veterinary staff to know in case of an emergency or if they need to prescribe her any medications.
Next time you are at the Zoo, be sure to stop by the black rhino exhibit in Rhino Reserve (across from LaRosa’s) to see Seyia. Also, be sure to come out for World Rhino Day on September 21 to celebrate and support rhino conservation efforts here at the Zoo and across the globe.
August 26, 2014 2 Comments
We’ve been busy! Here’s an update on various projects and events we’ve been working on surrounding the commemoration of the centennial of the passenger pigeon’s extinction on September 1:
Passenger Pigeon Memorial Renovation
The Passenger Pigeon Memorial itself is of historic importance. Built for the September 18, 1875 opening of the Zoo, it is the last remaining in a series of seven rectangular pagoda-type, tile-roofed buildings connected by wire summer cages in a complex 320 feet long, known as the Aviary or “Old Bird Run.” The center building, larger than the others, was more elaborate, with pediments on each facade, and a short square tower capped with a pseudo-onion dome. The six smaller units of the Aviary were demolished in 1974-75. The large central pavilion, which was the actual final home of Martha, was retained, moved about 50 feet northwest of its original location, and restored as the Passenger Pigeon Memorial, opening in 1977. Collectively with the Zoo’s Reptile House – the nation’s oldest Zoo building – and the Elephant House, built in 1906, the Passenger Pigeon Memorial constitutes the Zoo’s designation as a National Historic Landmark.
A reproduction of John Ruthven’s recently completed painting of Martha – the Last Passenger Pigeon, will draw visitors’ attention from the main Zoo path.
Inside the building, updated lighting and ceiling treatment will brighten up the space. All new interpretive signage will comprise flat wall panels featuring rich visual images and appropriate narrative.
Artifacts such as a net and stool pigeon and wood carvings of a pair of passenger pigeons by our own Gary Denzler will be presented in the exhibit as well.
The update will speak to the conservation of endangered species, using the story of the passenger pigeon as a lesson from the past for a sustainable future. First, it will explain the story of the passenger pigeon and its extinction, why it happened, and the scope of this loss. Next, the exhibit will describe how the passenger pigeon’s extinction was a wake-up call that spurred the conservation movement in America, highlighting the stories of native species that were nearly lost, such as white-tailed deer. Then, the exhibit will present examples of species’ conservation efforts in which the Zoo is involved, including the Sumatran rhino and Autumn buttercup. Finally, the exhibition will invite visitors to get involved.
The dedication of the newly renovated exhibit will take place on September 1 beginning at 12:30.
Fold the Flock: Paper Pigeons
We are in the midst of a folding frenzy! Thousands of paper passenger pigeons are being folded by summer campers, visitors, staff and volunteers, which will be suspended from the ceiling of the Education Center at the Zoo later this month.
Add your pigeon to the flock! Download the foldable passenger pigeon template, print it off (double-sided, 11 X 17, full color is best) and fold it. Then send it or bring it to the Education Center at the Zoo to be hung with thousands of others before September 1.
Passenger Pigeon Memorial Weekend
Along with the Ohio Ornithological Society (OOS), the Zoo is hosting a Passenger Pigeon Weekend symposium at the Zoo on August 29 & 30. Friday night will be a “Martinis with Martha” fundraiser to benefit the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) and the OOS Conservation Fund with food, drinks, live music and guest presentations. Saturday morning brings an assemblage of guest speakers with stories about lessons learned from the passenger pigeon, including Joel Greenberg (author of A Feathered River Across the Sky), wildlife artist John Ruthven, Jim McCormac (author of Wild Ohio: The Best of our Natural Heritage) and Zoo Horticulturist Brian Jorg. And much, much more!
Registration is now open! Purchase your tickets here.
Barrows Conservation Lecture Series
On September 3, wildlife artist John Ruthven will speak as part of the Barrows Conservation Lecture Series at the Zoo. John Ruthven, naturalist, author, lecturer, and internationally acknowledged master of wildlife art, is often called the “20th Century Audubon.”
In 1974, John spearheaded the effort to save the last of the Zoo’s 19th Century bird pagoda’s – the one where “Martha,” the last of the passenger pigeons, had once lived. Through his leadership, and the sale of prints of his painting of “Martha,” the Zoo’s Passenger Pigeon Memorial was created.
Today, John has taken it a giant step forward, with his painting, “Martha – The Last Passenger Pigeon.” This print will be available for sale before and after his lecture. The price is $200.00. All prints are signed and numbered. The size is 30 x 20 inches.
Purchase tickets to John Ruthven’s lecture here.
To read the other posts in this series, click here.
August 25, 2014 No Comments