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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 1 Comment
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 15, 2015 1 Comment
I am excited to announce that I’ve been selected as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Every year, K-12 educators (formal and informal) are encouraged to apply for this professional development opportunity that allows them to bring immersive geographic learning experiences back to their classrooms and communities. Last year, my colleague in the Zoo’s Education Department, Sarah Navarro, was a Fellow and traveled to the Canadian Maritimes. This year, it’s my turn. I am one of 35 educators from the United States and Canada to receive this honor this year in recognition of my commitment to geographic education here at the Zoo (out of a pool of 2,700 applicants). Read about all of the Fellows here.
In September, I will embark on a Lindblad voyage for one-of-a-kind field experience, accompanied by Lindblad-National Geographic expedition experts. I will be traveling on a 10-day expedition aboard the National Geographic Endeavour to the Galapagos, and I couldn’t be more excited!
The Galapagos is a unique ecosystem with an equally compelling history. I’ve read (and will continue to until I embark) about the region’s geology, ecology, wildlife and human history, but travelling to the actual place will really bring those ideas to life. I’m keenly interested in understanding how all the biotic and abiotic components interact with each other to provide a big picture of the region as well as learning how each component is designed to survive in this place. I’m also very curious to learn about conservation on the islands.
During the expedition, I expect to build my knowledge through first-hand experiences such as hiking and snorkeling as well as from interactions with the Expeditions staff and fellow travelers. I’m particularly looking forward to a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about their tortoise conservation efforts. I plan to keep a detailed journal as well as take a LOT of photos.
My primary responsibility here at the Zoo is to plan and create interpretive exhibits and experiences that connect people to nature and inspire them to respect and conserve it. This expedition will provide me with new and exciting first-hand knowledge of the wildlife and ecology of the Galapagos Islands that I can incorporate into authentic learning experiences for guests, particularly at our Galapagos tortoise and bird exhibits.
On April 15, another of the Fellows from Cincinnati, Dawnetta Hayes, and I were invited to share our news on WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition with Mark Heyne. That was a new experience for me, too! You can listen to the podcast here.
Prior to our expeditions, all 35 of the Fellows traveled to National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., in April to participate in hands-on workshops covering photography and outreach planning. We had the opportunity to meet Lindblad Expeditions’ naturalists and National Geographic staff as well as get to know each other and several of the previous year’s Fellows.
This year marks the ninth year of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program, established to honor former National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor’s lifetime commitment to geographic education. The program began with two Fellows in 2007 and has grown each year. The expeditions were donated in perpetuity to the National Geographic Society by Sven-Olof Lindblad and Lindblad Expeditions to mark Grosvenor’s 75th birthday in 2006 and to honor his service to enhancing and improving geographic education across the United States. (Additional support for the 2015 program is provided by Google and private funders.)
Sven-Olof Lindblad actually gave a presentation here at the Zoo in May as part of our Barrows Conservation Lecture Series, and I was very happy to connect with him then. He gave a fantastic talk about the importance of travel and direct experiences to opening people’s eyes and minds and hearts to the wonder of our natural world and the interconnections between themselves and the people and wildlife of faraway places. Our world is changing and we need to be global citizens to ensure its sustainability.
As the date of my voyage approaches, I’ll be reading and absorbing as much as I can about the Galapagos Islands in preparation, and I will be sure to share my experience through pictures and stories after I return from the expedition in October.
May 29, 2015 3 Comments