Mexico is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world thanks to its large size, variety of habitats, and position as a transition zone between North America’s temperate and Central America’s tropical regions. However, little is known regarding the distribution and status of Mexico’s wildlife, including the iconic and endangered jaguar. Relatively little government land in Mexico is dedicated to conservation and most of its wildlife survives outside of protected areas. In northern Mexico, much of the land is owned by private cattle ranchers. Thus, cattle ranches have a critical role in conserving the country’s wildlife.
In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge commissioned a non-profit organization, Conservación y Desarrollo de Espacios Naturales (CDEN), to conduct a monitoring study. CDEN used motion-sensitive cameras to determine the status of the ocelot on ranchland in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas with the hopes that the population would be healthy enough to allow the transfer of an ocelot to South Texas to boost its endangered ocelot population.
One of the most exciting results of the study was a visual record of an amazing variety of wildlife in the area. The cameras captured images of over 20 mammal species, including five wild cats: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, jaguarundis and bobcats. CDEN established the Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Binational Conservation Program (WCT) following the initial study to continue to monitor wild cats in the area and work with the local community and government to conserve them.
With support from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Gladys Porter Zoo, and San Antonio Zoo, WCT established an environmental education and outreach component in 2015 to provide educational programs and materials to local communities in Tamaulipas. The goal is to make people aware of the presence of wild cats in the region and convey the importance of protecting their populations. Wild cats play important roles as predators, maintaining balanced ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check.
Between July and October, approximately 1,600 people were reached through WCT education events including:
- an education booth at the Tamatan Zoo in Ciudad Victoria,
- a Biology Conference at the Technological Institute of Altamira,
- a festival at Laguna Del Carpintero Bicentennial Park in Tampico,
- another festival in Tampico during Workforce Security, Hygiene and Environment Week,
- and presentations at two local businesses during their annual environmental awareness week activities.
Activities at these various events included presentations and activity stations where people could talk to CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez, about wild cats and get a good look at a camera trap and various cat skulls.
People could also make rubbings of jaguars and take a reusable bag of educational materials with them. The bags included crayons, jaguar activity booklets, and WCT brochures/field guides to the five wild cats, which the Cincinnati Zoo helped to create.
People could also take their picture in a large stand-in of one of the scenes from the jaguar booklet.
And, of course, the star of each event was Alan, the new jaguar mascot.
WCT also created and printed 10 Wild Cats of Tamaulipas posters featuring camera trap images to use at the events.
The events were successful in increasing the general public’s awareness of the rich biodiversity still present in Tamaulipas, particularly the presence of five wild cat species. In addition to continuing public education events in the future, WCT plans to meet with and present to ranch owners at livestock association meetings to garner their support.
November 19, 2015 1 Comment
On Friday, October 2, the Zoo bid farewell to its youngest manatee, Abigail, in preparation for her release back into the wild. Upon her arrival to the Cincinnati Zoo back in 2013, Abigail weighed just 295 lbs. At three-and-a-half years old, Abigail was rescued from the Indian River system near Merritt Island in Brevard County, Florida. Suffering from cold stress, Abigail received critical care at Sea World Orlando before coming to Cincinnati.
Now up to healthy 630 lbs, Abigail is ready to go back to the wild. “The departure of Abigail brings both sadness and joy to our hearts. We will miss her but are happy to see her return home, fully recovered. She plays a vital role in the recovery of this endangered species,” said Zoo manatee keeper James Vogel. Veterinarian Dr. Mark Campbell and manatee keeper Megan O’Keefe accompanied the manatee on her overnight journey on a DHL flight to Miami Seaquarium, where she will stay until she is ready to be released into her native habitat. She will be released back into the waters in Brevard County once she becomes acclimated (at Miami Seaquarium) to the natural diet and brackish water found in that region. Her movements will be tracked via satellite for one year.
Abigail is the 14th manatee to be rehabilitated at the Cincinnati Zoo and will be the 13th to be released back into Florida waters. The Cincinnati Zoo is one of two U.S. zoos outside of Florida that participate in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. The goal of this program is to rescue and treat sick or injured manatees and then release them back into the wild.
The Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) is a cooperative group of non-profit, private, state, and federal entities who work together to monitor the health and survival of rehabilitated and released manatees. Information about manatees currently being tracked is available at www.ManateeRescue.org. The endangered Florida manatee 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 boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear.
Abigail’s companion at Manatee Springs, 25-year-old Betsy, will remain in Cincinnati long term and will be joined by another manatee in need of rehabilitation in the next few months.
October 12, 2015 No Comments
For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. This year, I had the fortunate opportunity to co-facilitate Earth Expeditions Kenya: People and Wildlife in Integrated Landscapes with Dave Jenike, the Zoo’s COO. We took 17 educators with us, including formal classroom teachers as well as informal educators from zoos and similar institutions. This is the second post in a series about our experience. Read the first post in this blog series here.
Day 4 (continued):
We arrived at the Lale’enok Resource Centre in the early afternoon. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicles, we were greeted by a welcoming committee. The Olkirimatian Women’s Group welcomed us with a beautiful song once we made our way into the shelter that would serve as our home base for meals and meetings throughout the week. The Operations Manager, Joel Ngongo, then introduced us to the Centre’s staff, researchers and community members that were there.
We received a quick orientation to camp, including very important safety information such as always be alert; there was a venomous snake spotted in camp earlier that day. Near the tents, they had set up temporary sand pit toilets and showers that basically consist of a bucket of water with a spout that you open and close. Water is a very precious resource here in the South Rift Valley, especially during the dry season, so we kept showers to a minimum and were sure to turn the water off when soaping up.
We returned to the shelter for a conversation with John Kamanga, Director of SORALO (South Rift Association of Land Owners) and Chairman of Olkirimatian Group Ranch. He shared with us the history and background of the Maasai culture and how the Lale’enok Resource Centre came to be. The Maasai have coexisted with wildlife as nomadic pastoralists that herd livestock for thousands of years. However, as times change and their culture evolves, the traditional Maasai way of maintaining that coexistence must also adapt. For example, there is growing pressure to subdivide the land and build fences, which would prevent wildlife as well as people and their livestock from migrating to find good grazing areas. Also, many of the young Maasai men who traditionally protect livestock from lions now go off to school, leaving their herds more vulnerable to attack. The community-based research and programs conducted out of Lale’enok aim to solve those issues and support both wildlife conservation and thriving livelihoods.
To that end, one thing the community has done is to designate three zones of land use on the group ranch. The first is a settlement and grazing zone occupied by people and livestock for much of the year, particularly during the wet season. The second is a buffer zone into which people and livestock migrate during the dry season. Lastly, there is the conservation zone that serves as a wildlife refuge and is only used for livestock grazing during drought conditions. Following this structure ensures sustainable land use and preservation of the savannah ecosystem.
We happened to arrive on the last day before the community would be allowed to migrate across the river into the conservation area in response to the current drought. It was a great opportunity for us to visit the conservation area and see it unoccupied; later in the week, we would see it occupied with people and livestock. It was also our first chance to game drive, get the lay of the land and look for wildlife. We split into three groups, each with a guide and headed out in the cruisers.
First, we visited an unoccupied boma, or homestead. Peter, an elder who is on the Conservation Committee, explained the set up of the boma and pointed out which corral was for cattle and which was for shoats (sheep and goats). We also peeked inside one of the manyattas, or huts, in which the people cook and sleep. The entire boma is surrounded by a fence of thorny branches.
Then we continued our game drive until after dark, spotting a diversity of wildlife from zebras and wildebeest to baboons and giraffes. It’s so amazing to think that the Maasai, their livestock and all this wildlife – including lions and other carnivores, even though we didn’t see them on this first game drive – share the same space. Sure, here in Cincinnati we share our backyards and cities with birds, squirrels and deer, but even so, we still think of it as “our” space. We’ve eliminated our large predators like wolves and cougars and are generally nervous when potentially dangerous animals like bears are spotted in the area. What could we learn from the Maasai about living with wildlife rather than separated from it?
It was a very full first day in Olkirimatian. Exhaustion and the much hotter, drier climate caught up with me after dinner so that I retired to my tent and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. We had five more days of adventure and exploration ahead of us.
To be continued in a future blog post. Check back soon!
August 5, 2015 1 Comment