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How to Keep Your Zoo Visit Alive After You Get Home

Guest blogger: Kristina Meek, Education Intern

Visiting the Zoo can leave you feeling refreshed, happy, and enlightened. Tap into that energy and think about how you can keep that excitement going for yourself and your family once you go back home. It can be a simple everyday act or a lifestyle change. Give these ideas a try and share your own suggestions in the comments.

Share what you learned. Don’t just share your photos on Facebook; share something more. Sit down with your family while the visit is still fresh in your minds and try to recall a “fun fact” about an animal. Then share that in a post. For example, share a picture you took of a giraffe with something like “Amazing — a giraffe has the same number of vertebrae in its neck as a person!” If you have a child in Zoo Troop and you’re sharing photos from class, remember to use the hashtag #cincyzootroop.

Capturing a moment to share on Facebook (Photo: Dr. ChengLun Na)

Capturing a moment to share on Facebook (Photo: Dr. ChengLun Na)

Learn more. Connect with the Zoo on social media and follow the Zoo blog to keep up with what’s going on with our animals, exhibits, events and conservation efforts. We are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Google+.

Appreciate the “wild” side of your pets. If you have a family dog, remind your kids that their pooch is related to the Mexican grey wolves you saw in Wolf Woods. Make similar connections for cats, birds or fish. Kids learn to respect nature when they see it reflected in their everyday lives.

Mexican grey wolf (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Mexican grey wolf (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Recycle and compost. You and your family have the power to keep the planet healthy for all animals… including humans! Curbside recycling has made reducing your trash a no-brainer. This website lets you search by ZIP code to find facilities to recycle items that can’t be put in your bin. Arguably even easier than recycling is composting. Here’s one source of information on how to do it. By disposing of food or yard waste in this responsible way, you’ll reduce the amount of greenhouse gases coming from landfills.

A.D.O.P.T. a Zoo animal. For as little as $30, you and your family can symbolically adopt anything from a meerkat to a manatee. You’ll get a color photo and fact sheet about the animal, plus additional benefits at higher giving levels. Your children will learn not only about animals, but about philanthropy and the great feeling you get when you give back.

Encourage backyard research. You can’t visit the Zoo every day, but if you have a backyard or a nearby park, there’s probably plenty of wildlife there doing its thing. Let your kids explore, on their own, or with you. They might identify birds, spot tadpoles in a creek, look for deer tracks, or learn to imitate an owl. Think of your surroundings as your own mini-zoo.

Volunteer. The Zoo offers volunteer opportunities for ages 13 and up, in a variety of roles that fit your talents. Likewise, park districts, nature centers, and museums need and appreciate the contributions of people like you. Start Googling and see what you discover close to home.

We love our volunteers! (Photo: DJJAM)

We love our volunteers! (Photo: DJJAM)

Thanks for visiting the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. We hope you’ll take a little piece of the Zoo with you wherever you are!

April 5, 2016   1 Comment

Manatee Appreciation Day Finds Us Cautiously Optimistic About the Future of Manatees in the Wild

Are manatees bouncing back from the brink of extinction? Recent aerial counts conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggest it may be so. A record 6,250 manatees were recorded in Florida this past winter, breaking the last record of 5,077 manatees in 2010.

Florida manatee, Crystal River, Florida, USA

Florida manatee, Crystal River, Florida, USA

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed reclassifying the West Indian manatee, which includes the Florida subspecies, from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. By definition, an endangered species is a “species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” and a threatened species is a “species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” USFWS believes that the West Indian manatee is no longer in danger of extinction throughout all of its range due to decades of conservation efforts. The proposal is available for public review and comment until April 8, and the agency will announce its final decision sometime in 2017.

If USFWS does end up reclassifying the manatee to threatened, the existing Federal protection and conservation laws should remain unchanged. However, some entities like the Save the Manatee Club think the manatee population has not recovered well enough to be downlisted just yet. Outside of the United States, manatee populations are still declining in 84% of their range countries (in Mexico, Central and South America).

Whether manatees are reclassified or not, all parties agree that they continue to face serious threats that must be addressed to ensure the species’ survival. The Florida manatee, specifically, is at risk from both natural and man-made causes of injury and mortality. Exposure to red tide, cold stress, and disease are all natural problems that can affect manatees. Human-caused threats include habitat loss, boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear.

BamBam is the newest manatee resident at the Cincinnati Zoo

BamBam is the newest manatee resident at the Cincinnati Zoo

Take BamBam, the newest and youngest manatee currently residing at the Zoo, for example. BamBam was rescued from the DeSoto Canal in Brevard County in January 2015. He was suffering from cold stress and has some tissue damage on his tail as a result. Manatees are susceptible to cold stress syndrome, which can be fatal, when water temperatures fall below 68 degrees Farenheit. Historically, manatees would overwinter in natural warm water springs. However, as development has altered or taken over many of those natural springs, manatees have become dependent on warm water discharge from power plants. As technology improves, power plants become more energy-efficient, which is a good thing except that it means they are discharging cooler water, leaving the manatees out in the cold. We need to protect and restore natural warm water habitats to alleviate this problem.

BamBam lost parts of his tail to cold stress syndrome.

BamBam lost parts of his tail to cold stress syndrome.

BamBam came to Cincinnati in October 2015 for long-term rehabilitation. The Cincinnati Zoo is one of two U.S. Zoos outside of Florida that participate in the USFWS’ Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. The goal of the program is to rescue and treat sick, injured and orphaned manatees and then release them back into the wild. Since 1999, the Zoo has rehabilitated and released 12 manatees. Once BamBam fully recovers, he will make lucky number 13. Stay tuned to keep up with BamBam’s progress.

On this Manatee Appreciation Day, we find ourselves cautiously optimistic about the future of manatees in the wild and are proud to play our part in their recovery.

March 30, 2016   No Comments

Five Ways the Zoo Can Help You Practice Mindfulness

Guest blogger: Education Intern, Kristina Meek

It seems that nearly every day another study informs us of the benefits of mindfulness–for children as well as adults. Educators use mindfulness techniques in classrooms. A wide range of authors, from the scientific to the self-help ends of the spectrum, have published books on how to be more mindful.

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts. Mindfulness techniques can be as immediate as a deep breath or as long-term as a commitment to daily meditation. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to lower stress, ease pain, increase empathy, and improve concentration.

What does that have to do with visiting the Zoo? Animals are excellent tutors of mindfulness. They don’t constantly check their cell phones, worry about what others think of them, regret the past or fear the future. They live in the now. The Zoo offers myriad ways to practice mindfulness. Here are five:

  1. Watch the red pandas play. Or the river otters. Or the apes. Choose your favorite, but take several uninterrupted minutes to fully observe animals at play. They don’t worry about whether they look silly or how many calories they’re burning. They play with abandon. Science doesn’t understand completely why animals play, but it clearly benefits them. Whether you’re an adult or a child, you can learn about living in the moment from the animals.

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

  2. Engage your senses. A visit to the Zoo naturally coaxes you to use sight, smell, touch, hearing…and even taste, if you stop for a bite. Invite your children to describe what they see, hear, and smell. Encourage them to pet pygmy goats in the Spaulding Children’s Zoo. Sometimes it’s enough just to remember what the world looks like in three dimensions, rather than on a screen!
  3. Watch the manatees swim. Manatee Springs provides a comfy place to sit, close to the glass, with a view straight into the manatee tank. If you visit on a chilly day, mid-week, you’ll have the best chance at smaller crowds and a more relaxing experience. These hulking marine mammals twist and tumble gracefully through the water, inviting you to exhale and admire.

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

  4. Try not photographing everything. Of course, you’ll want a few photos to remember your visit. But, if you’re a member and stop by regularly, designate a “no photography” trip. Or limit yourself to taking photos of only certain activities. You’ll be more focused on what’s happening instead of capturing it for later. Plus, if your camera is your phone, leaving it holstered will minimize the temptation to check Facebook, e-mail, or other incoming distractions. Whether you’re with your kids, other family, or good friends, you’ll enjoy more quality time together.
  5. Visit the Garden of Peace. Sit a moment and relax in this lesser-trafficked corner of the Zoo, just off the path near Jungle Trails. Take in the multi-cultural messages of peace and bask, for a moment, in gratitude–one of the key elements of mindfulness.

So, wherever you are right now… take a deep breath, and start planning your next visit to the Zoo. And, when life gets too hectic to make the trip, we’re always a click away with photos and videos that offer you a mini break from everyday stress.

March 23, 2016   No Comments