Random header image... Refresh for more!

Dog Log: Chapter 9 – Updates from Cincinnati and Tanzania

Co-written by Dana Burke & Shasta Bray

Here at the Zoo

It’s been six months since our African painted dog boys made their way south, and they are doing great. They especially love watching all of the different hoof stock they get to see while on exhibit. Their keepers tell me they really enjoy watching the waterbuck, but I digress.

Imara and the girls, who are now 15 months old, have been doing well as an all girl group. Imara still tends to let them rule themselves, but will step in if she feels it is necessary. There have been some rumblings among the ranks within the juveniles (as you would expect with all females), but nothing major. Selina is still the alpha with Quinn as her second. These two have been the top two dogs since the females developed their hierarchy when they were very young. Next is Ivy and Lucy follows as the bottom dog.

Selina (Photo: Dana Burke)

Selina (Photo: Dana Burke)

Quinn (Photo: Dana Burke)

Quinn (Photo: Dana Burke)

The plan to move three of the juveniles is finally moving forward. As per the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan, Selina and Quinn will be transported to the Wilds in Columbus. It is our hope that Selina will breed with a male that they are getting from another zoo. Ivy will be shipped to Honolulu to breed with a male that they house. That leaves Lucy here with Imara.

The reasons why we are shipping which dogs where is a well thought out process that takes into account the status, relationships and personalities of the individuals. Since Selina and Quinn have been bonded for most of their lives, we feel that their best chance for success is to move them together. Quinn has the capability of being a great helper and babysitter if Selina produces a litter. Of course, moving the dogs to a new facility could cause change between the sisters, but with Selina being a true alpha, we expect her to retain her status. Quinn has never really challenged her and moving to a new space will most likely result in her looking to Selina for guidance. All of these factors should lead to a smooth introduction to the male in a best case scenario.

Ivy (Photo: Dana Burke)

Ivy (Photo: Dana Burke)

We chose to move Ivy as a single dog because of her personality as well. In the last few months, Ivy has become a more confident dog. That being said, with her increase in confidence, she has also become more of a trouble maker and has challenged all of her sisters at some point. Ivy likes to stir the pot so to speak. Again, because of these traits, we feel that she would make a great alpha all on her own with a single male.

That leaves Imara and Lucy here in Cincinnati. Imara, who did a beautiful job raising the 10 pups we had in January last year, is not the most confident when it comes to being alpha. Lucy on the other hand, even though she is the bottom dog at this point, has the potential to be a pretty good alpha herself. Truth be told, Lucy is a bit of a wild card.

Lucy (Photo: Dana Burke)

Lucy (Photo: Dana Burke)

Within the next couple months, we will be receiving two male dogs. They will be quarantined and then we will set up for introductions. This is where things can get tricky. An introduction with two males and two females is one of the more challenging scenarios you can encounter with this species; however, the pay-off is a truly social pack that reflects those in the wild. Still, this is where things can get tricky. The keepers and animal manager will plan out each step of the process in order to set up the dogs for ultimate success. There will most likely be some fighting, whether it’s between the males or the females or each other, is impossible to guess. There’s even a chance that Lucy could end up alpha over Imara. Genetically, she is technically more valuable than her mother due to being Brahma’s offspring so we are fine with any outcome.

We collected information about the males from their current keepers, but it will be very important to observe them while in quarantine to confirm their hierarchy with each other. The introductions themselves will be done inside the building and once started will be complete in just a few hours. It may take them minutes or days to settle their social structure, but once they do, only the alphas will breed and produce pups. We have a lot of changes coming and are all really excited for what the future holds for this species. We will be sure to keep everyone updated on what is happening and how things are progressing.

Across the Globe in Tanzania

We may be wrapping up with our April showers here in Cincinnati, but they were nothing like the rains that El Nino dumped on our field partners with the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) over the past few months.  Flooding of the Ruaha River caused all kinds of transportation problems.

The Ruaha River overflowed its banks and made travel dangerous in the region. (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

The Ruaha River overflowed its banks and made travel dangerous in the region. (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

The good thing about using remote-triggered cameras to monitor wildlife in the region is that the cameras continue to take pictures even when you have trouble reaching them. Fortunately, only a few of the cameras floated away during the heavy flooding.

Painted dogs caught on camera (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Painted dogs caught on camera (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

RCP works to secure a future for large carnivores such as African painted dogs, lions and hyenas in and around Ruaha National Park in Tanzania. This region is home to the third largest population of painted dogs in Africa. Check out RCP’s latest update from the field to learn more.

May 4, 2016   2 Comments

Manatee Appreciation Day Finds Us Cautiously Optimistic About the Future of Manatees in the Wild

Are manatees bouncing back from the brink of extinction? Recent aerial counts conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggest it may be so. A record 6,250 manatees were recorded in Florida this past winter, breaking the last record of 5,077 manatees in 2010.

Florida manatee, Crystal River, Florida, USA

Florida manatee, Crystal River, Florida, USA

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed reclassifying the West Indian manatee, which includes the Florida subspecies, from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. By definition, an endangered species is a “species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” and a threatened species is a “species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” USFWS believes that the West Indian manatee is no longer in danger of extinction throughout all of its range due to decades of conservation efforts. The proposal is available for public review and comment until April 8, and the agency will announce its final decision sometime in 2017.

If USFWS does end up reclassifying the manatee to threatened, the existing Federal protection and conservation laws should remain unchanged. However, some entities like the Save the Manatee Club think the manatee population has not recovered well enough to be downlisted just yet. Outside of the United States, manatee populations are still declining in 84% of their range countries (in Mexico, Central and South America).

Whether manatees are reclassified or not, all parties agree that they continue to face serious threats that must be addressed to ensure the species’ survival. The Florida manatee, specifically, 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 habitat loss, boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear.

BamBam is the newest manatee resident at the Cincinnati Zoo

BamBam is the newest manatee resident at the Cincinnati Zoo

Take BamBam, the newest and youngest manatee currently residing at the Zoo, for example. BamBam was rescued from the DeSoto Canal in Brevard County in January 2015. He was suffering from cold stress and has some tissue damage on his tail as a result. Manatees are susceptible to cold stress syndrome, which can be fatal, when water temperatures fall below 68 degrees Farenheit. Historically, manatees would overwinter in natural warm water springs. However, as development has altered or taken over many of those natural springs, manatees have become dependent on warm water discharge from power plants. As technology improves, power plants become more energy-efficient, which is a good thing except that it means they are discharging cooler water, leaving the manatees out in the cold. We need to protect and restore natural warm water habitats to alleviate this problem.

BamBam lost parts of his tail to cold stress syndrome.

BamBam lost parts of his tail to cold stress syndrome.

BamBam came to Cincinnati in October 2015 for long-term rehabilitation. The Cincinnati Zoo is one of two U.S. Zoos outside of Florida that participate in the USFWS’ Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. The goal of the program is to rescue and treat sick, injured and orphaned manatees and then release them back into the wild. Since 1999, the Zoo has rehabilitated and released 12 manatees. Once BamBam fully recovers, he will make lucky number 13. Stay tuned to keep up with BamBam’s progress.

On this Manatee Appreciation Day, we find ourselves cautiously optimistic about the future of manatees in the wild and are proud to play our part in their recovery.

March 30, 2016   No Comments

Saving Ocelots in Texas: Ocelot Conservation Festival

Guest blogger, Colleen Nissen, Cat Ambassador Program Trainer:

Every year in March brings the Ocelot Conservation Festival – a weekend dedicated to education and awareness for the only remaining population of ocelots in the United States. The Zoo’s ambassador ocelot, Sihil (pronounced like the letters C-L), took her annual road trip to South Texas, with her trainers in tow, to be the star of the weekend’s festivities!

Sihil enjoying a walk on Cactus Creek Ranch

Sihil enjoying a walk on Cactus Creek Ranch

Hosted at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX, the Ocelot Conservation Festival is coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) & the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. It aims to inspire locals to learn about and become involved in the efforts to protect  native ocelot populations.

You see, the very southern tip of Texas is a very special place. It is the only remaining area in the United States where ocelots can still be found. Once spanning throughout Texas and ranging as far as Louisiana and Arkansas, the ocelot’s habitat has decreased by an estimated 95%. The U.S. ocelot population has declined sharply as well, leaving only about 80 ocelots to be found in Texas, many of which  live on only two protected wildlife refuges (Laguna Atascosa and Lower Rio Grande Valley). Ocelots are listed as federally endangered and in desperate need of help, which is why, since 2007, Sihil and her Cat Ambassador Trainers have made the long journey down to help draw in crowds to hear these important messages.

Past and present range of the ocelot in the United States

Past and present range of the ocelot in the United States

So how does one travel with an ocelot? Sihil, who is nearing 16 years old, has been an ambassador for her species her whole life. This means she is a seasoned professional at things like car rides, leashed walks, public programming, and displaying trained natural behaviors. She always works closely with her trainers, so a long van ride is no problem for her; in fact, she really seems to enjoy it! Our van is equipped with an XXL traveling crate, propped up so that she is eye level with the windows. She alternates between casually watching the passing cars and buildings, taking cat naps (most cats, even exotics, sleep or rest for up to 16 hours a day), and talking (she chatters, which sounds a lot like a low guttural “maaaawr” and often vocalizes to us more when we “maaawr” back to her) to us while we drive. We give her snacks, puzzle feeders, and toys to keep her occupied as well. When we stop for the evening, she even stays in her crate with us in an animal-friendly motel. (Note: While Sihil is trained as an ambassador ocelot, she, nor any wild cat, would make a good pet.)

Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Show van and map showing travel route

Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Show van and map showing travel route

Once we arrive in Texas, we are welcomed by Mary Jo Bogotto at the Cactus Creek Ranch. Sihil starts and ends her days here with a leisurely walk on ranch grounds, enjoying the March breeze in Texas and marking some territory (aka: doing her business).

What are we doing in Texas? We have a busy schedule once we arrive in Texas. Sihil is a very popular ocelot, after all. As an ambassador ocelot, she is comfortable in front of new groups and spaces and often shows spectators natural behaviors, such as climbing up, down, and upside down on a prop pole (an adaptation that ocelots are exceptionally good at).  This year, alongside FWS, we made appearances at a local library, border patrol, and the local university (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) on Friday. Sihil followed an informative presentation about ocelot identification and conservation efforts by FWS. Saturday was the official festival day, which was hosted by the Gladys Porter Zoo. It was an ocelot lover’s dream day: a fun run 5k fundraiser to kick off the festivities, information stations staffed by Laguna Atascosa volunteers, ocelot-themed crafts, and of course, an opportunity to see Sihil in action. The ability to be so close to such an elusive cat draws in room-filling crowds whereever we are presenting.  Seeing Sihil is a unique opportunity for those who have never seen an ocelot before, despite living in such close proximity to a wild population. Being able to learn about and observe a live ocelot helps this community in South Texas feel a connection with an animal that they have the opportunity to impact in such a large way.

Trainer Colleen Nissen demonstrates the ocelot’s climbing abilities with Sihil during the Ocelot Conservation Festival

Trainer Colleen Nissen demonstrates the ocelot’s climbing abilities with Sihil during the Ocelot Conservation Festival

Trainer Alicia Sampson provides information about ocelots and fields questions from visitors

Trainer Alicia Sampson provides information about ocelots and fields questions from visitors

Why border patrol? After reading through our itinerary, you might be wondering why we presented at border patrol. These men and women are often in areas where ocelots roam, places where most people do not have access. Border patrol officers can be a valuable resource in identifying and reporting ocelots for range data and population estimates. Giving them the information to correctly ID an ocelot versus a bobcat (a very similar looking small cat that shares the same range) can mean more accurate reporting. Showing the officers the correct way to report an ocelot as well as the importance of doing so is another advantage of presenting with Sihil. And of course, isn’t it great when our government institutions work together for conservation!

Sihil visits Harlingen Border Patrol to inform officers and promote sighting reports (Photo: Kelly Magnuson)

Sihil visits Harlingen Border Patrol to inform officers and promote sighting reports (Photo: Kelly Magnuson)

Why all this fuss over a little ocelot? Ocelots are awesome (albeit, we are a little biased) and they are in trouble, especially in South Texas, but that is not the only reason to focus on this species. Aside from all of the positive education and initiation of change for the ocelot, the Ocelot Conservation Festival is about saving an entire ecosystem of plants and animals. The ocelot is what we like to refer to as charismatic megafauna, which is an animal species that has widespread appeal. To achieve conservation and community goals, we highlight the ocelot as the “face” of the South Texas scrub habitat (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love that face?), and in protecting the ocelot, we are helping to save hundreds of other species of flora and fauna who also share their space.

Sihil shows off her spots (Photo: Kelly Magnuson)

Sihil shows off her spots (Photo: Kelly Magnuson)

What can you do to help the ocelot? A lot! First of all, by supporting the Zoo, you are enabling us to participate in conservation events like the Ocelot Festival. You can also directly support ocelot research and conservation by Adopting an Ocelot through Friends of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. And later this May, we invite you to come out to the annual Cinco de Gato fundraiser held by the Cincinnati chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. Funds raised support FWS ocelot conservation efforts. Stay tuned for more details on the event to come soon.

March 18, 2016   3 Comments