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There’s Something Abuzz at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Guest blogger: Cole Soldo, Sustainability Intern

The Cincinnati Zoo is a haven for innovative techniques in conservation, education and research, advocating for and performing wildlife conservation in all corners of the globe. Whether it is strategically breeding red pandas to develop a self-sustaining captive population or facilitating the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sloths in Costa Rica, we support conservation efforts in areas where wildlife needs our help. We do tremendous and impactful conservation work throughout the world, yet there’s one area where we could have even greater impact. Home.

One night on the way home from work, I listened to Zoo Director, Thane Maynard, on his 90-Second Naturalist radio program. He was discussing the environmental impacts of logging in Malaysia. Maynard was struck with grief and helplessness as he realized that, despite wanting to help improve the environmental situation in that part of the world, it simply wasn’t feasible for him to do so.

So he and Zoo staff got to thinking…how could they help improve the world right here in Cincinnati, Ohio? What could they do to address a local issue and have an initiative readily accessible for residents in the community?

The answer lay in pollinators, more specifically, creating refuges for local pollinators such as bees, butterflies, bats, hummingbirds and an assortment of other insects that feed on flower nectar and carry pollen from plant to plant.

Honeybees (Photo: JP Goguen)

Honeybees (Photo: JP Goguen)

Why are pollinators important? Well, pollinators such as honeybees contribute to one out of every three bites of food we take! Pollination leads to the production of fruits that we eat and seeds that will create more plants. They are extremely important, but often they are overlooked and underappreciated. And on top of that, they’re also in trouble.

You may or may not be familiar with the woes plaguing our pollinators, but the truth is that, at least for bees all around the world, their populations are in critical decline. The rapid and detrimental decline of bee populations was first documented in 2006, and has come to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder, (CCD). CCD has been identified as a result of a possible combination of parasites, bacterial diseases, viruses, pesticide use, shrinking habitat and nutritional deficits. Recent years have seen losses of an average of 33% of colonies.

Sounds disheartening, complex and out of control, right? Well, the answer to that is…sort of. But the last three reasons mentioned for CCD? We can do something about those, and, in fact, the Zoo has been working hard to combat these issues and give our winged friends some help.

Within the last month, Zoo staff, folks from the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District and eager volunteers helped establish 13 honey bee hives at the Zoo’s EcOhio Farm to help restore native pollinator populations. They also planted pollinator gardens to restore habitat and proper nutrients for the colonies.

Zoo staff build bee hive boxes

Zoo staff build bee hive boxes

ecohio farm logoThese hives are managed by Pollen Nation, a group of Zoo staff who have dedicated themselves to learning the way of the honeybee, so to speak. They are a collection of dedicated individuals who recognize the rapid loss of these valuable species and are moving ahead to do what they can to help preserve them.pollen nation logo

Pollen Nation education table

Pollen Nation education table

You can come learn about the value and importance of these incredible creatures during your next visit to the Zoo. Come to the Pollination Station near the World of the Insect. Here you can learn about the process of pollination, participate in discussions about which animals are considered pollinators and understand why pollination is important to both the ecosystem and to our food production! On Thursdays, stick around for our Bee Chats at 2 pm. Presenters discuss the beehives we have on Zoo grounds and talk about different conservation methods such as building mason bee houses and what to plant in your own pollinator gardens. Also, stop by the Go Green Garden for fun pollination-themed activities and games as well as participation in the nationwide citizen-science initiative, BeeSpotter!bee spotter

Get ready, Cincinnati! Let’s #BringBackTheBees!

June 13, 2016   2 Comments

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

Sloth News: A Mate for Moe and Sloths on the Go in Costa Rica

A Mate for Moe

If you’re one of Moe’s super fans, you may notice an empty tree in the Zoo’s Discovery Forest where the two-toed sloth would normally be. Where did Moe go? Don’t worry, she’ll be back soon…from her honeymoon!

That’s right! Moe will be off exhibit for a short while, snuggling up with a new mate named Twix. On short-term loan specifically for breeding purposes, Twix came to us from the Racine Zoo and will return once the honeymoon is over. A special off-exhibit honeymoon suite has been outfitted to set the mood, complete with a palm frond canopy and rainforest sounds.

Moe awaits her new mate in the off-exhibit "honeymoon suite"

Moe awaits her new mate in the off-exhibit “honeymoon suite”

Twix awaits his introduction to Moe

Twix awaits his introduction to Moe

While Moe is “on vacation”, her exhibit space is being upgraded and expanded with new trees and vines that will allow her more room to move around and explore once she returns to the Discovery Forest.

If all goes as planned, Moe will give birth to a single 12-ounce newborn 10 months later. With fully formed claws at birth, the youngster will cling to the fur on Moe’s belly for six months or more and remain with her for at least a year as young sloths do in the wild.

Sloths on the Go in Costa Rica

Meanwhile in Costa Rica, several young sloths that have been rescued and rehabilitated by Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) and The Sloth Institute (TSI) are making their way back into the wild with help from the Cincinnati Zoo. Last September, two of the Zoo’s Interpretive Animal Keepers traveled to Costa Rica to help TSI prepare for the sloth releases. Soon after, TSI initiated the release process for two sloths, Ellen and Kermie.

Ellen and Kermie are both two-toed sloths. Ellen arrived at the KSTR rescue center when she was about three or four months old. She was found on the beach alone with no mother in sight. Kermie was rescued when he was a mere newborn (less than one week old). He was found on the ground with a twin brother that sadly never made it to the rescue center alive. Both Kermie and Ellen have spent almost their entire lives together and they are now almost three years old. They are very bonded and spend most of their time together. They sleep together every day and have even been observed breeding!

Kermie takes it easy (The Sloth Institute)

Kermie takes it easy (The Sloth Institute)

Before venturing straight back out into the wild, the young sloths first spent some time acclimating to the forest in a 20X20X20 ft pre-release enclosure. Here they can climb and explore their new environment while still being provided shelter and food. TSI spent hours every day collecting leaves from the forest for Ellen and Kermie to eat so they could learn what to forage for when they are out on their own.

The next big step was to open the enclosure door, allowing Ellen and Kermie the opportunity to move freely between the pre-release enclosure and the wild as they choose. Over time, the hope is that they become more and more self-reliant and eventually stop returning to the enclosure at all.

Ellen exploring the treetops (The Sloth Institute)

Ellen exploring the treetops (The Sloth Institute)

Both are fitted with VHF tracking collars (funded by the Zoo). This way TSI staff can monitor the sloths around the clock and record their behaviors, postures, tree choices, food choices, and so on. TSI collects similar behavioral data on wild sloths in the area with which they can compare the behavior of the released sloths. This will let them know how the released sloths are faring in the wild and if they are acting like wild sloths.

Wilbur is one of the wild sloths being studied (The Sloth Institute)

Wilbur is one of the wild sloths being studied (The Sloth Institute)

With Ellen and Kermie well on their way back into the wild, the next sloths beginning this transition are two-year old Monster and one-year old Piper. Both three-toed sloths, Monster came to the rescue center as an orphan at just two weeks old; she was found crying and trying to cross the street on her own. Piper was rescued clinging to another young sloth after they had fallen down a rocky cliff onto the beach at high tide. Piper was about four months old when he was rescued. They have been learning the new sights, sounds and smells of the forest in their pre-release enclosure and the door is scheduled to open in about a month. They will be fitted with tracking collars and monitored in the same manner as Ellen and Kermie to assess the success of their release.

Meet Monster. Perhaps she was named for her monster claws? (The Sloth Institute)

Meet Monster. Perhaps she was named for her monster claws? (The Sloth Institute)

Here's Piper! (Photo: The Sloth Institute)

Here’s Piper! (Photo: The Sloth Institute)

Can you find Monster here in her pre-release enclosure? (The Sloth Institute)

Can you find Monster here in her pre-release enclosure? (The Sloth Institute)

This is the first time hand-raised sloths have been released back into the wild. Long-term monitoring is important to determining its success. It will also help us learn more about the natural ecology of sloths and provide insight into how to overcome the challenges they face in the wild.

Stay tuned for more sloth news as we keep our fingers crossed for Moe and Twix here at the Zoo and Ellen, Kermie, Monster and Piper in the wild.

February 22, 2016   3 Comments