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Announcing the Internal Conservation Grant Fund Awards

Each year, the Zoo provides employees an opportunity to request financial support for in-situ wildlife conservation or conservation education projects through the Internal Conservation Grants Fund. Once again, the Conservation Committee received many outstanding applications for very worthy projects.  After much deliberation, the Committee chose to award the following projects this year.  Congratulations!

Plants for Pollinators: Selecting the Best

Submitted by Brian Jorg, Horticulture Department

Pollinators are critical to a healthy ecosystem. As the Zoo continues to reestablish wetlands habitat at the EcOhio Farm, the cultivation of healthy pollinator habitat is essential. This grant will enable us to attain native plant species known for their beneficial qualities to pollinators. The purpose of the project is to increase and monitor pollinator species and native flora preferences of these species. With this information, we can then concentrate on propagating the best native plant species for our region and use them in our reintroduction efforts. This information will also be made available to growers, landscapers, designers, homeowners and others doing restoration work in our region to improve the diversity and health of our ecosystems.

Black swallowtail butterfly on a purple coneflower (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Black swallowtail butterfly on a purple coneflower (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Scarlet Macaw Population Reinforcement in the Sierra Lacandon National Park, Mayan Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala

Submitted by Jennifer Gainer, Bird Keeper

The Zoo has supported scarlet macaw breeding and release efforts of the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association (ARCAS) for several years. In October, ARCAS released its first nine scarlet macaws in the Sierra Lacandon National Park. Yearly releases will aim to reinforce and ensure the survival of the scarlet macaw population in Guatemala, which is estimated to be only about 150 individuals at this time. This grant will continue our support by funding medical screenings, post-release monitoring and environmental education and awareness-raising activities in the local communities.

Scarlet macaw (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Scarlet macaw (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Sit. Stay. Stop Rhino Trafficking. Good Dog! 

Submitted by Wendy Shaffstall, Rhino Keeper

Rhino poaching is at an all-time high and rhino populations are severely declining pretty much everywhere they are found. Reversing this crisis will require demand reduction, a halt in trafficking and increased anti-poaching enforcement. This grant will support the creation of dedicated rhino-detection dog-handler teams by Working Dogs for Conservation to combat trafficking in North Luangwa national Park, the only remaining home for black rhinos in Zambia, and principal international airports and seaports in Vietnam, considered to be the world’s largest markets for rhino horn. Seizures will increase the costs and risks of poaching and provide critically important intelligence for both on-the-ground enforcement and infiltration of international trafficking rings.

Black rhino (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Black rhino (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

A Comprehensive Conservation Action Plan for Two Sloth Species in Costa Rica

Submitted by Sarah Swanson, Interpretive Animal Keeper

Costa Rica is home to two sloth species, both of which face threats due to human encroachment such as being hit by cars, attacked by dogs, and electrocuted on electric wires. They are one of the most common patients at wildlife rescue centers, including The Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI). The purpose of this project is to compare the behavior and ecology of sloths that TSI has rescued, rehabilitated and released with that of wild sloths, which will provide valuable information for determining the effectiveness of sloth rehabilitation and release programs. The study will inform future practices as well as educational programs aimed at improving human-sloth coexistence.

Two-toed Sloth

Two-toed Sloth

December 18, 2015   No Comments

Keeping Up with Gorilla Conservation in the Republic of Congo

Elle, the 50th gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo  (Photo: DJJAM)

Elle, the 50th gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo (Photo: DJJAM)

Along with celebrating the 50th gorilla birth this year and announcing big plans to expand the popular Gorilla World habitat, the Cincinnati Zoo will be celebrating 15 years of wild gorilla conservation work with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in 2016.

Mbeli Bai logo

This project, located in the Republic of Congo, umbrellas several very important efforts that help critically endangered wild western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). The Zoo’s original funding for NNP went to the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running field research study on this species of gorilla.  Researchers gather valuable demographic information needed to define what gorillas require to survive as their threatened rainforest habitats continue to shrink. Keep up with the latest news from the Mbeli Bai study by visiting the new web site and blog, following their Facebook page, and reading the most recent newsletter.

Meet Hercules and his mother, Henna, two of the many gorillas that frequent Mbeli Bai (Photo: Mbeli Bai Study)

Meet Hercules and his mother, Henna, two of the many gorillas that frequent Mbeli Bai (Photo: Mbeli Bai Study)

Over the years, the Zoo increased its contributions to other gorilla-related projects in this area, including the “Mondika” gorilla tracking study site and an education outreach program for local communities called “Club Ebobo”. Ebobo is the word for gorilla in Lingala, the local language.

As we celebrate the expansion of our gorilla family and facility here at the Zoo, it is important we recognize and celebrate the fine work being done in the field to help conserve this flagship species.

Gladys and Mona enjoying the unseasonably warm weather we're having this month (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys and Mona enjoying the unseasonably warm weather we’re having this month (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

December 14, 2015   1 Comment

A Journey to Nepal to Participate in Fishing Cat Conservation

Guest blogger, Linda Castenada, Cat Ambassador Program:

Last month, fishing cat conservationists from around the world gathered to participate in the first ever Fishing Cat Symposium in southern Nepal.  The symposium was organized by the Fishing Cat Working Group and was sponsored by various conservation organizations, including the Cincinnati Zoo.  I helped raise funds to support the symposium through the Fishing Cat Fund and was fortunate to be able to make the journey to Nepal to deliver funds and present the status of the fishing cat population in North American zoos.  My goal was also to see where the Zoo could play a role in global conservation of the fishing cat.

Fishing cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Fishing cat (Photo: Kathy Newton)

I arrived in Nepal a week before the symposium to help out with last minute preparations and also to see the sights. After a few days in the fast-paced and colorful city of Kathmandu, I boarded a bus to Sauraha, located just outside of Chitwan National Park. Many moons ago, the Cincinnati Zoo had a greater one-horned rhino (also called an Indian rhino) named Chitwan and I could not pass up the opportunity to possibly see an Indian rhino, and maybe a tiger or even a fishing cat!

I spent three days going in and out of the park to explore, each time crossing a river via canoe.

I spent three days going in and out of the park to explore, each time crossing a river via canoe.

Chitwan National Park was an amazing adventure.  The rhino population is doing quite well there as they do not face the same poaching issues as do the rhinos in Africa. Despite the heavy vegetation of the jungle, they are commonly seen around the park. During my three days in Chitwan, I was fortunate enough to see three rhinos!

I think this rhino was somewhat surprised to see us when it emerged from the tall grasses.

I think this rhino was somewhat surprised to see us when it emerged from the tall grasses.

After my time in Chitwan National Park, I met up with the conservationists to travel to the symposium location, a resort on the other side of the Narayani River. Conservationists had come from fishing cat range countries including Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Bangladesh, as well as non-range countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Germany.  Most people have no idea what a fishing cat is, so it was exciting to be in a room of fishing cat experts and enthusiasts.

Fishing Cat Symposium participants

Fishing Cat Symposium participants

On the first day, each participant gave an update on the status of their fishing cat population, habitat and project. I learned that while we generally say that the fishing cat’s range is “Southeast Asia”, we really are learning that the range can include any of the southern tropical Asian countries. Some Southeast Asian coutries have little traces of fishing cats and some outside of Southeast Asia have populations that are thriving.  The dense habitats that fishing cats may inhabit, as well as their elusive nature, makes determining their population numbers quite a challenge.

Sagar Dahal of the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation presents the status of the fishing cat in Nepal.

Sagar Dahal of the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation presents the status of the fishing cat in Nepal.

The next two days centered on strategic planning.  Participants brainstormed the various threats across the fishing cat’s range and what they think are the main issues hindering conservation of this species.  Here is where the real challenge began.  Conservation of any species is a multi-faceted issue.  In many range countries, the fishing cat competes with people for food sources (fish), and in other countries, people depend on fishing cat habitat (mangrove forests) for firewood to heat their homes and cook their food. How do you prioritize who needs a resource more? How do you approach a local community who may be struggling to subsist and get them on board with conservation of an animal that they may perceive as a threat?  These are the same questions that many conservationists must answer. Fishing cats face the same threats as many other carnivore populations – habitat loss to agriculture, urbanization and/or industrialization, human-carnivore conflicts, poaching for meat or medicinal products, retaliatory killings, collisions with cars and habitat fragmentation. Three groups formed to take on the specific topics of ecological knowledge, socio-cultural themes and policy issues.

The socio-cultural group works to identify the biggest threats to fishing cat conservation.

The socio-cultural group works to identify the biggest threats to fishing cat conservation.

In the end, each group formed objectives to add to the larger Strategic Plan.  Symposium participants agreed to the objectives and assigned themselves a contributing role to any objective where they can make a positive impact.  We pledged to implement the Strategic Plan and reconvene in five years to evaluate our progress.  The area where I feel that I can make the greatest contribution is to increase the global education and understanding of fishing cats. My first goal is to work with the conservationists to create multi-lingual literature that highlights the habitat and conservation of the fishing cat.  I hope to integrate the expertise of the Zoo’s education, signage and graphic teams to create a children’s book that can be translated into the various languages of fishing cat range countries.

Jungle trekking

Jungle trekking

We trekked through the jungle in the search of local wildlife. Mostly I just saw leeches, but the jungle teemed with potential.  In addition to fishing cats, Chitwan National Park is home to jungle cat, leopard cat, clouded leopard, leopard and tiger. So many cats!

While we did not see any cats, we found these very clear tiger tracks along the river.  We had been warned that a man-eating tigress inhabits the area, so there was some apprehension about seeing proof that she has been around the area recently.

Tiger tracks!

Tiger tracks!

While our jungle trek did not yield much wildlife, it gave us another opportunity to spend time together and discuss best practices in the field and among our communities.  Connections were made, contacts were exchanged and friendships were created, bound with the common love of fishing cats and the commitment to their conservation.

Twenty-six participants spanning nine countries from three continents met in Nepal with a common goal, to save the endangered fishing cat.  It was a rare privilege to participate in the process, to see the inner workings of a conservation planning organization and to be included in a Strategic Plan designed to take action to save a species.

I had an amazing journey to Nepal and my last moment of awe came on the airplane as I was leaving the country.  The Himalayas appeared on my side of the plane, reminding me once again that we live in a dynamic world filled with beauty and wonder, a world worth conserving. I am proud to be a part of an organization like the Cincinnati Zoo that teaches the value of conservation and supports programs that work toward global conservation and understanding of our incredible planet.

The Himalayas

The Himalayas

December 11, 2015   4 Comments