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Do You Know the Potto?

Everyone is familiar with primates like gorillas, monkeys and even lemurs, but not too many people know of the potto. So what’s a potto, you say? Pottos are prosimians, which are primitive primates, not as highly evolved as monkeys but sharing many of the same characteristics (fingernails and toenails, stereoscopic vision, forward facing eyes, etc.). Some other prosimians include lemurs, lorises, bushbabies, tarsiers and aye-ayes.

gabriel_fia

Gabriel the potto. Photo by Sophia Cifuentes

The Cincinnati Zoo is one of very few zoos around the world to exhibit pottos, not because they are endangered, but more because of their nocturnal way of life. Many zoos do not have a building like our Night Hunters exhibit in which the day / night light cycle is reversed. This allows us to exhibit nocturnal creatures under subdued blue lighting during the time our guests visit and then fill the exhibits with white lighting when our guests have left.

In early 2014, there were only 16 pottos in four zoos in the United States—Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo and Cincinnati Zoo, of course. We have maintained pottos in our collection since the mid-1960s when we first opened the former Nocturnal House. We have been one of the top breeders of these African primates and we currently have seven pottos at the Zoo. Recently, it became clear that if we wanted to keep these charismatic animals in U.S. zoo collections, then we needed to have a plan to maximize the potential of our small population with regards to breeding and to also recruit more zoos to commit to exhibiting them as the potto population grew.

Baby potto

Baby potto

The Mammal Curators of the zoos holding pottos were all on board with the desire to continue to work with this species. The pedigree information of the U.S. population of pottos was run through a computer software program that provided us with the best possible pairings from our small group in order to maximize genetic diversity. From that information it became clear that in order to achieve our goal, 12 of the 16 pottos needed to move in order to create the pairings recommended. We also needed one more facility to join us to provide the extra space needed to ultimately put together the seven potential breeding pairs indicated by our “computer dating” service. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska stepped up to become the fifth zoo in the U.S. to maintain pottos.

potto_gabriel

By mid-summer, the five zoos had committed to making the necessary moves to have all the transfers completed before cold weather might become an issue for transportation. Of the six animals we originally had here in Cincinnati, four have transferred to other zoos while five new pottos arrived. We now have three pairs as well as a young male who will serve as a companion animal to an aging bamboo lemur. The other zoos involved with pottos will either have one pair (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Henry Doorly Zoo) or two pairs (Franklin Park Zoo). The Milwaukee County Zoo, which is now holding a single young female potto, is attempting to import a young male potto from Africa, which will provide new genetics to our population as well as provide us with yet another pair of animals for breeding.

It has been very gratifying to see how well the five zoos have worked so quickly and cooperatively towards our common goal to maintain a healthy potto population. Though the potto may not be an endangered species, we would hate to lose this charismatic creature from our collections. Many Cincinnatians have met our potto, Gabriel, at the Zoo or at events around the city. I like to think that it’s because of this ambassador animal that more Cincinnatians know what a potto is than people in any other part of the country.

October 9, 2014   No Comments

A Glimpse into our Green Teens!

By Kaitlin Burt, Sustainability Intern

At the “Greenest Zoo in America”, we are constantly working to make the zoo and the visitors experience as green as possible. An important aspect of doing this is getting the word out and educating our visitors. This summer we are lucky to have a great group of teens that are doing just that. These teens are known as the Green Teens and this is the Zoo’s third summer having them volunteer with us. The Green Teens rotate their time between multiple stations such as the Go Green Garden, the Aquaponics Greenhouse, the Base Camp Café, and teaching about Vermicomposting at Insect World. With the help of these Green Teens, we are able to educate and answer any questions the visitors might have on what the Zoo is doing to go green, as well as help make our guests have a positive visitor experience to the Zoo.

Many of our teens have volunteered with us for multiple summers, and we are so grateful to have them! Below is an interview done with three of our current Green Teens, all returning Green Teens and are very knowledgeable about the Zoo’s green efforts. Candice is a junior at Oak Hills High School, Christine is a sophomore at Ursula High School, and Hailey is a freshman at Campbell County High School.

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Candice, Christine, and Hailey

Interview:

1.    What is your favorite green initiative the Zoo has implemented?
a.    Candice: Aquaponics
b.    Christine: Solar Canopy
c.    Hailey: Solar Canopy

2.    What is the most interesting thing you have learned about while being a Green Teen?
a.    Candice: That 80% of waste can be diverted from landfills by composting and recycling
b.    Christine: That food utensils can be made to be compostable
c.    Hailey: Learning about the Aquaponics system and how you can make your own no waste habitat

3.    What is your favorite Green Teen station (The Aquaponics Greenhouse, The Go Green Garden, or Vermicomposting at Insect World) to volunteer with?
a.    Candice: Go Green Garden
b.    Christine: Go Green Garden
c.    Hailey: Vermicomposting at Insect World

4.    Why did you come back to be a Green Teen this year?
a.    Candice: Because I had so much fun last year
b.    Christine: I enjoy volunteering at the zoo and being around other green teens
c.    Hailey: Because I always have a lot of fun here and I like being near animals

5.    What is your favorite memory/story from working at the Zoo this summer?
a.    Candice: While transporting the worm bin back and forth between Insect World, giving brief synopsis on vermicomposting to everyone who is interested, and reaching people who might not normally be interested in composting.
b.    Christine: Helping a family learn how to start vermicomposting at their own house
c.    Hailey: At Insect World, getting little kids excited about the worms and interested in composting

6.    What is your favorite exhibit or animal at the zoo?
a.    Candice: Manatees and CREW
b.    Christine: Manatee Springs
c.    Hailey: Wolves and Painted Dogs

7.    What is one skill you will take away from this experience?
a.    Candice: Public Speaking
b.    Christine: Keeping calm with large groups of people
c.    Hailey: Public Speaking, and learning to shorten my stories

8.    What are your future Career Plans? What do you hope to study in college?
a.    Candice: Wants to major in biology and maybe work with CREW one day
b.    Christine: Wants to major in biology in college so she can be a zoologist for National Geographic
c.    Hailey: Wants to be an exhibit interpreter or run her own animal training business

9.    If you could have everyone perform one conservation action, what would it be?

a.    Candice: Stop mining all together
b.    Christine: For everyone to recycle
c.    Hailey: For everyone to compost and recycle and reduce what goes to the landfill

10.    What advice would you give future Green Teens?
a.    Candice: Read the info packet, practice speaking, and have fun!
b.    Christine: Keep up to date on what’s going on at the zoo
c.    Hailey: Get to know your audience

These young ladies, along with 17 other teens, have increased their public speaking skills, customer service skills, and knowledge about sustainability. With these young men and women, the Zoo is able to continue to share its story about being the “Greenest Zoo in America.”

The Zoo’s VolunTeen program is open to teens ages 13-17 with opportunities such as the Green Teens as well as opportunities in Horticulture, Education, and with T.R.I.B.E. For more information, visit http://cincinnatizoo.org/support/volunteer/ and click on the VolunTeens Tab.

August 6, 2014   1 Comment

A Tale of Two Mantises

Praying Mantises, insects in the order Mantodea were so named because of the prayer-like posture of their folded front legs. In the eyes of their prey there’s nothing divine about mantises. There are more than 2,300 species of mantises worldwide and while they vary in size, shape and color they all have one thing in common, they are voracious predators. Cincinnatians can encounter two remarkable mantis species; the native Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and the introduced Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis).

The Carolina Mantis varies in color from light-green to medium-gray and is normally between 1-1/2″ and 2-1/2″ long. These mantises range from the eastern and central United States south through Central America and into northern South America. Carolina Mantis nymphs have the ability to alter their color to match their habitat each time they molt. Adult male Carolina Mantises are strong fliers and will actively stalk their prey. Adult female Carolina Mantises have shortened wings and are heavier bodied; they cannot fly so they lie in wait to ambush their prey.

Carolina Mantis

Carolina Mantis

The Chinese Mantis varies in color from light-green to brown and is normally between 3-1/4″ and 4-1/4″ long. Native to Eastern Asia the Chinese Mantis was allegedly introduced to the United States late in the 19th century to control agricultural pests. By most accounts the Chinese Mantis has done little to control pests despite having become established throughout most of the United States. In some areas the presence of the larger Chinese Mantis has negatively impacted the smaller Carolina Mantis.

Chinese Mantis

Chinese Mantis

Both Carolina and Chinese mantis hatchlings emerge from egg cases in spring and are so small they can be dispersed by strong winds. As the young mantises grow so too does their choice of prey; tiny fruit flies are replaced by increasingly larger flies, bees and moths. Adult Carolina Mantises can capture medium-sized butterflies while adult Chinese Mantises can capture hummingbirds. Both species will mate in late summer or early autumn, leaving their egg cases on the stems of shrubs or bushes. These egg cases will endure even the harshest winters to deliver the next generation the following spring.

Mantises are among the world’s most recognizable and beloved insects. Their grace and ferocity have inspired poets and martial artists. Children the world over have marveled at them in backyards and kept them as pets in quart jars. If you see a mantis this summer please take a few minutes to observe and appreciate one of Cincinnati’s most amazing insects.

Winton Ray / Curator of Invertebrates, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

July 1, 2014   1 Comment