Meet the PR and Marketing Manager: Linda Hardwick at the Phoenix Zoo

Linda Hardwick is the PR and Marketing Manager at the Phoenix Zoo.

Describe your job: I do a little bit of everything at the Phoenix Zoo! My primary objective is to increase the Zoo’s exposure through public relations efforts, namely free media coverage. I work closely with several local media outlets to build relationships, pitch story ideas and position our employees as experts in the field.  I also create the Zoo’s media strategy and act as spokesperson where appropriate.  I am the editor of the Zoo’s member magazine, Wild Times, and create the Zoo’s electronic newsletter, zNews. I also direct all on-grounds signage, dabble in our marketing efforts by editing copy for paid advertising and assist with efforts of the Zoo’s branding campaigns with our Director of Marketing and our outside marketing agency. I oversee the Zoo’s social media outlets as well as the Zoo’s website (which is currently undergoing a major overhaul).

How long have you been in the position? I have been at the Zoo for two and a half years.

What in your background helped you get the position? I have a degree in Broadcast Journalism and spent several years working for the NBC station in Salt Lake City. I spent time producing station campaigns and news segments including documentaries, news stories and public service announcements. I made the transition into Public Relations about 15 years ago and have worked in several industries including home-building, technology and at a non-profit children’s museum.

What is your favorite thing about your job? Everyday is different!

Describe a favorite memory/experience in your current position: It would have to be the day we released six American white pelicans into their new exhibit. The birds had been affected by the BP oil spill, and we received them from the Jackson Zoo who had been caring for them following the spill. A local six-year-old boy, Logan, had become fascinated with these birds when he saw through the media that they were going to call the Phoenix Zoo home. His mom had called the Zoo to find out the date of the birds’ release into their new exhibit. After talking with his mom, I learned that Logan initiated a fundraiser at his school to raise money for wildlife that had been affected by the oil spill. I invited Logan and his family to witness first-hand the birds’ introduction to their new home. After meeting this darling boy and seeing his love for the pelicans, including a notebook full of drawings of pelicans, a pelican T-shirt, and learning how his room was covered with pelican artwork—I knew we had to make him part of the story. With the help of our amazing keepers, we allowed Logan to assist in releasing one of the pelicans. Several media outlets had shown up that day to cover the story of the pelicans, and after seeing Logan’s passion for the birds, the angle quickly turned into a story about an amazing little boy and the Phoenix Zoo’s assistance to help him live out a dream come true. The story received local, national and international coverage and the Zoo has a family who is going to be friends and members for life!  I receive updates about Logan from his family and have recently learned that he is volunteering at a couple of local bird rescue organizations. It’s rewarding to see the Zoo’s mission in action: to provide experiences that inspire people and motivate them to care for the natural world.

Do you have a favorite animal? Why is it your favorite? I love the giraffes. They are so beautiful and sweet. I also love their long eyelashes- they rival the length of my son’s eyelashes … lucky boy!

Profile Extra: Linda’s favorite memory on the news!

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A Newly “Hatched” Plan for the Buffalo Zoo and Detroit Zoo

The Buffalo Zoo’s adult cinereous vultures have proven to be great parents! Photo by Ron Geiger/Buffalo Zoo.

As visitors stroll past the bear exhibits at the Buffalo Zoo, they soon come upon the habitat housing the cinereous vultures. The cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) is also known as the European black vulture or monk vulture. They inhabit mountainous regions of Spain, the Middle East, Northern India, Tibet and Mongolia up to an elevation of 13,000 feet. They have strong, hooked beaks for tearing into carcasses and clawed feet (talons) for grasping prey. Cinereous vultures are listed as “Threatened” due to food shortages, habitat loss from deforestation and poisoning from eating poisoned bait meat meant for other predators (wolves, foxes and jackels).

While those are basic facts about the species, many people may not be aware that the Buffalo Zoo’s cinereous vultures, Vlad and Czari, have proven (after a few false starts) to be good parents. Since 2007, they have successfully raised their last four chicks on their own.

This year, however, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for cinereous vultures “hatched” a new plan. Because the genetics of the adult birds’ offspring are well-represented in the captive cinereous vulture population, the SSP coordinators wanted the Buffalo Zoo to try something different.

Once the Buffalo Zoo pair laid their egg, it would be substituted with an egg produced by another institution’s pair of birds that had not been able to hatch or raise their own chick. While chicks have been hand-reared in the past, it is always preferred that the cinereous vulture parents raise the chicks. The purpose of the switch was to try to increase the chance of having a chick with under-represented genetics be reared by parents of the same species.

Vlad and Czari laid their egg on March 27, 2012 and started incubation. A suitable egg was laid by vultures at the Detroit Zoo on March 18, 2012, and the egg was removed and placed in an incubator there. As the hatch date for the Detroit egg drew near, a swap took place.

On April 19, 2012, the Buffalo Zoo egg was removed, and a wooden model egg was temporarily placed in the nest. Several Buffalo Zoo keepers were enlisted to help with the switch. A keeper drove the Buffalo Zoo egg to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where he met two keepers from the Detroit Zoo and swapped the Buffalo Zoo egg for theirs. Returning to Buffalo, the model egg was removed, and the Detroit egg was placed under the Buffalo Zoo’s birds. Czari and Vlad resumed incubation, little phased by what had transpired.

On May 1, 2012, the Detroit egg pipped and hatched out the next day. (“Pipping” is when a hole appears in the shell of an egg where the chick is attempting to hatch out.)

Staff at the Buffalo Zoo are pleased that Vlad and Czari, who are very protective of this chick, are again doing a wonderful job of parenting. The Buffalo Zoo chick that hatched in 2011 can also be seen next to her parents’ habitat. Vultures are so interesting and ecologically important that September has even been named Vulture Awareness Month.  Visitors are invited to celebrate Vulture Awareness Month by stopping by to see them!

Contributing writer: Ron Geiger, Buffalo Zoo keeper

Jennifer Fields

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Dipping for Turtles With the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Dip netting. Copyright Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Over the past two years, three Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center staff from the Stranding Response Program were able to work collaboratively on a sea turtle capture and release project. They, along with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center of NOAA Fisheries, the Coonamesset Farm Foundation and the commercial scallop industry, worked to capture, assess and tag sea turtles offshore of mid-Atlantic states. The project was funded through the Sea Scallop Industry’s Research Set Aside program.

Data collected from this project will enhance the Virginia Aquarium’s own independent sea turtle research project. For this project, we used a dip net technique to capture loggerhead sea turtles resting on the surface after a dive. We deployed on two commercial scallop boats out of Barnegat Light, N.J., and steamed southeast 40-50 miles offshore. In 2011, we captured 25 turtles in five days and in 2012, we captured 30 turtles in four days. We measured each turtle and collected blood, skin, heart rate, respiration rate and scraped off critters attached to the shell (epibionts). Before release, each turtle received PIT, flipper and satellite tags. Stranding Response staff helped with all aspects of the process because of our expertise with processing and analyzing blood collected from the turtles. 

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center staff with sea turtle. Copyright Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center.

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center recently received funds to try dip netting turtles off the Virginia coast from 2-to-20 miles offshore, so this valuable experience has been quite worthwhile for our staff.  This work is being conducted under NOAA research permits #1576-7 and 13330 and the photographs were taken as part of contract #FFM7320-12-02265 to the Virginia Aquarium Foundation from NOAA/NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

Guest Blogger:  Susan Barco, Virginia Aquarium Research Coordinator &  Senior Scientist

Posted in Animal Health, Aquarium, Conservation, Research, Turtles, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Beluga Whale Calf Born at Shedd Aquarium

A beluga whale was born at the Shedd Aquarium on Monday, August 27.
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez.

This week, staff at the Shedd Aquarium, a world-class leader in global marine mammal conservation and research, welcomed a baby beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) calf!

Beluga whale mother, Mauyak (MAH-yak), successfully gave birth to her healthy calf at approximately 2 a.m. on Monday, August 27. Shedd’s animal care team estimates that the calf is 4½ feet long and weighs approximately 150 pounds. Both mother and calf appear to be doing well and will remain under 24-hour observation by the animal health staff in Shedd’s Abbott Oceanarium.

“We are thrilled to welcome the newest member of the Shedd Aquarium family. A newborn calf must reach several milestones in its first days and months so we remain cautious; however, the calf has demonstrated incredible progress,” said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training at Shedd. “Mauyak is an experienced mom having given birth to two calves in the past, so the labor was quick and went very smoothly.”

“In less than 24 hours after birth, the calf achieved the first critical milestones that we look for, including taking its first breath, bonding with mom and we’ve seen attempts at nursing,” continued Ramirez, who has nearly four decades of marine mammal expertise, including serving as the past president of the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA). “Shedd’s long history of research and care of these animals tells us that these initial behaviors indicate a strong calf; but we will continue to monitor for signs of development, including steady nursing and growth.”

Animal care is Shedd’s top priority, so mother and calf are currently off exhibit in the Secluded Bay habitat of the Abbott Oceanarium. During the first few critical days following a birth, Shedd’s animal care experts do not physically interact with the whales. Instead, the team observes day and night, allowing time for the mother to nurture her newborn and build a strong bond. As a result, the marine mammal staff has not determined the calf’s gender through a physical examination.

Mauyak and her calf continue to bond.
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez.

The beluga calf arrives just under three months after Shedd celebrated the successful birth of its first Pacific white-sided dolphin calf on Memorial Day. Guests can see dolphin mom Piquet (pee-KEHT) and her male calf in Misty Passage of the Abbott Oceanarium. The coastal walkway of Secluded Bay will be open to guests, but panels in that area as well as in the underwater viewing gallery of Polar Play Zone will allow privacy for Mauyak and her calf during this time.

Mauyak came to Shedd in 1997 from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash. as part of the aquarium’s involvement in the North American beluga whale breeding cooperative. The newborn calf’s father, Naluark, is currently on a breeding exchange at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut as part of a coordinated whale breeding effort. Shedd is one of seven North American zoological institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) that manage the health and future of the beluga whales in their care through these coordinated breeding partnerships. Today, more than 35 beluga whales are part of the North American breeding cooperative program. Shedd Aquarium is home to seven belugas, including the calf.

“Each birth provides the international scientific community with vital knowledge about the reproductive health and life cycles of beluga whales,” said Tim Binder, a 22-year marine mammal researcher and vice president of animal collections at Shedd. “The understanding gained from this incredible birth supplements the ongoing studies about this magnificent species happening beyond the aquarium walls.

The newborn is the sixth successful birth as part of Shedd’s collaboration in the beluga whale breeding cooperative. The other belugas born at Shedd include Kayavak (KYE-yah-VOK) in 1999; Qannik (kah- NIK) in 2000; Bella in 2006; Miki (MEE-kee) in 2007; and Nunavik (NOO-nah-VIK) in 2009.

Jennifer Fields

Posted in Aquarium, Beluga whales, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, Zoo | Leave a comment

New River Otter Exhibit at Central Florida Zoo!

The Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden’s new North American River Otter exhibit. Copyright Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden.

The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens will open the Zoo’s new North American river otter exhibit sponsored by Sean and Nina Barth. The Grand Opening is scheduled for Saturday, September 1 at 10 a.m.

This state-of-the-art exhibit will be the home of North American river otters which are native to Central  Florida. This natural environment exhibit will be home to a pair of river otters and will feature a waterfall and pond where Zoo guests can watch the otters swim and play. Children of all ages will be able to enjoy these highly interactive animals while learning about otters that are abundant in Florida’s waterways and lakes.

“We are very excited to bring North American river otters back to the Zoo.  This exhibit will be a show-piece for the Zoo and the otters should be a crowd pleaser for our guests.  We hope our guests will enjoy the otters’ lively antics as they swim and explore their environment,” said Bonnie Breitbeil, director of animal collections.

River otters can be found in almost any river, lake, stream, swamp, marsh, or estuary ecosystem in North America and are equally at home in the water and on land. They make their home in a burrow featuring numerous tunnels – one of which allows them to come and go from the water.

In some areas otters may be active during the day, but generally they are nocturnal. On land, they can get around and run quite well, if not as effectively as they swim. They love to playfully slide down snow-covered, icy, or muddy hills-often ending with a splash in the water. Otter families of mother and children can be seen enjoying such fun, which also teaches survival skills. They find slippery rocks and slide into the water on their bellies, or they leap in with somersaults and belly flops. They often enjoy wrestling matches with each other. When they do travel on land, they alternate running with sliding on their bellies. A river otter can slide up to 20 feet at a time at speeds of 18 miles an hour, according to National Geographic.

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden, Enrichment, Exhibits, River Otters, Zoo | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Partners Come Together to Return Sea Turtle to the Wild

Representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Coast Aquarium, SeaWorld San Diego and the U.S. Navy pose with Koa, the Pacific green sea turtle, prior to his departure. Photo by Mike Aguilera, SeaWorld San Diego.

A threatened Pacific green sea turtle has a second chance at life thanks to the efforts of members of the public, staff at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and SeaWorld San Diego—and even the U.S. Navy.

The mature male Pacific green sea turtle, named Koa, was found stranded on a beach the evening of June 18, 2012, injured and comatose, by Moolack Shores Motel guest Nadine Fuller.  Franklin and Yvette Brooks, the motel managers, reported the turtle to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and Stranding Coordinator Jim Rice quickly arranged transport to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

The turtle was saved by conscientious members of the public who informed Rice and Aquarium staff of its stranding.  One individual literally carried Koa on his back to a waiting vehicle to get the animal the care he needed.

Koa quickly improved under the round-the-clock care of veterinarians and caretakers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  Weighing in at 133 pounds when found, he gained a healthy 28 pounds under the care of aquarium staff.

“The aquarium’s role in the sea turtle’s rehabilitation has been triage, urgent care and stabilization with the end goal of transportation to a facility closer to the animal’s range, where it can eventually be released back into the wild,” said Jim Burke, director of animal husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “The Oregon Coast Aquarium rehabilitates wildlife to mitigate human impact and help with the stabilization of threatened and endangered populations when called upon. If we can utilize our resources and expertise to help our various partners reach their goals, we will do so.”

Oregon Coast Aquarium Senior Aquarist, Stu Clausen, bids farewell to Koa. Photo by Marsh Myers, Oregon Coast Aquarium

On August 21, Oregon Coast Aquarium and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff delivered Koa to SeaWorld San Diego staff, who accompanied him on a three-hour flight from Eugene, Oregon, to San Diego, California, aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft. Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC-30), based at a naval air station in San Diego, used the event as a training opportunity to transport the turtle aboard one of its C-2A “Greyhound” cargo planes.

The sea turtle, protected by a specially designed crate, arrives at the airport and is offloaded from the Oregon Coast Aquarium van. Photo by Marsh Myers, Oregon Coast Aquarium.

The flight was nicknamed “Operation Turtle Lift” by SeaWorld and the Navy.

“The Navy is always happy to lend a hand, and it was a huge privilege for VRC-30 to help transport this turtle to SeaWorld,” said Cmdr. Joel Becker, the squadron’s commanding officer who also piloted the flight.  “We really look forward to when Koa is back swimming in the ocean as that will be the true happy ending.”

Koa is moved to the U.S. Navy aircraft for his short flight to San Diego. Photo by Mike Aguilera, SeaWorld San Diego.

“Franklin and I were so excited to hear our turtle was ready to return home, and Frank was particularly excited to hear the Navy would be bringing him back to San Diego,” Yvette Brooks said. “Nadine is a regular visitor to our motel and will be so thrilled to hear she made such a difference.”

Upon arrival at SeaWorld, Koa received a complete medical examination, including x-rays, by the park’s veterinarians and aquarium staff.  The turtle will complete his rehabilitation in San Diego, and it is hoped that he will be returned to the ocean next summer once his health is completely restored and the ocean has warmed to the proper temperature.

“Koa is in very good condition and is active and strong,” said Hendrik Nollens, SeaWorld’s staff veterinarian. “If he continues to progress well in his rehabilitation process, he is an excellent candidate to be returned to the ocean. With any rescued animal, we want to ensure they have the best chance for success and survival once they are back at sea.”

Koa arrives at SeaWorld San Diego and is examined by veterinary staff. Photo by Mike Aguilera, SeaWorld San Diego.

“If not for Nadine, those who called the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the dedicated Oregon Coast Aquarium staff, and now, the Navy and SeaWorld, this turtle would have met his demise on that beach,” said Laura Todd, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Newport, Oregon, office. “It shows how the efforts of just one person and the combined response of a dedicated team can make the difference in saving imperiled species.”

This is the third hypothermic sea turtle to strand on Oregon’s beaches in two years, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for stranded sea turtles, has been working with the Aquarium, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and others to improve response and care for these listed species when they are sick or injured.  The last pair of turtles, which left Oregon in 2010, were also transported to SeaWorld San Diego for long-term rehabilitative care. Both have since been returned to the Pacific Ocean where research scientists spent several months tracking their movements at sea through satellite transmitters attached to their shells.

Contributing writers:

Libby Scott, Oregon Coast Aquarium; David Koontz, SeaWorld San Diego

Link to news coverage:

Jennifer Fields

Posted in Oregon Coast Aquarium, Rescue, SeaWorld, Turtles, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Shedd Aquarium Teams Up With Disney’s Animal Programs to Research Stress in Sharks

A Caribbean Reef shark.

Shedd Aquarium, a leader of aquatic animal medicine and conservation, in collaboration with Disney’s Animal Programs and Dynasty Marine Associates, is pioneering  cutting-edge research for a group of species often perceived to be the toughest creatures in the ocean – sharks. Led by Shedd veterinarian Lisa Naples, DVM, and Natalie Mylniczenko, DVM, M.S., Dip ACZM, of Disney’s Animal Programs, a team of veterinary experts is conducting a blood assessment study on sharks to learn more about how stress affects the species, as published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). The ongoing research involves topics that are the first of its kind in the animal science community.

Sharks may hold the top spot in the marine food chain, but researchers have discovered the animals can have life-threatening physical responses to certain environmental factors, such as heavy pollution or being caught on a fishing line. Evidence shows that stress can cause major declines in shark populations, creating greater peril for a group of species threatened by overfishing and pollution, among other challenges.

In the Florida Keys this June, the team conducted health assessments on 46 sharks over two and a half days, gathering critical information from the field about sharks’ primary and secondary stress responses, which involve changes in blood values and stress proteins.  

Findings from the multi-year study of sharks in the wild will be evaluated based on data gathered over the last eight years from the sharks at the aquarium. Samples obtained from sharks at Shedd through annual examinations from animal health experts provided key information to validate “normal” blood values in various shark species, which are used as a reference throughout the scientific and animal care community.

“The research that we’re conducting today has significant implications for sharks in the future,” said Dr. Naples. “With the support of all my colleagues, our work will study the impact that issues such as climate change, oil spills and other environmental factors have on the overall health of sharks.”

When a shark experiences a stressful event, such as being accidentally caught on fishing lines, the animal becomes acidotic, meaning the acidity of their blood increases. While similar to a process in humans that causes lactic acid to build after vigorous exercise, sharks can quickly become sick and even die from the condition. By understanding the physiological makeup of the species, experts involved in the ongoing study will help develop alternatives to counter this process by creating best practices in the veterinary field, methods tailored for fishing industries, and ultimately even a form of medical intervention, or a “chill pill,” to help prevent critical illness.

“It’s a new area of exploration in shark health that helps us to understand decades of conservation challenges that influence declines in shark populations,” said Dr. Mylniczenko. “The data translates into critical knowledge that is shared throughout the international community to help protect these surprisingly vulnerable animals.”

Tim Lewthwaite

Posted in Animal Health, Aquarium, Conservation, Research, sharks, Shedd Aquarium | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund Grants More Than $1.1 Million to Support Wildlife Research and Conservation

Animals in need around the world will benefit from more than $1.1 million in grants awarded this year by the non-profit SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Since its inception, the Fund has granted more than $9 million to preserve wildlife and wild places through wildlife research, habitat protection, animal rescue and conservation education in the U.S. and abroad.

The Fund approved grants to 88 wildlife research and conservation projects. These grants will help researchers identify why 90 percent of one penguin species in the wild has declined; help conserve and study wild polar bears and restore populations of wild puffins; and create a sustainable way for aquarium enthusiasts to enjoy colorful tropical fish displays.

“SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has dedicated, professional staff; state-of-the-art animal care and rehabilitation facilities; and a major commitment to helping animals around the world,” said Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) President and CEO Jim Maddy.”  This longstanding commitment to wildlife conservation, animal care and research through the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund demonstrates incredible leadership and makes us proud that they are members of AZA.”

Additionally, the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks provide direct support to the Fund by placing zoological staff into the field to work alongside researchers on projects supported by the Fund.

Together, the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks care for one of the world’s largest collection of animals, which includes more than 60,000 animals and 200 endangered species. The parks’ rescue teams have helped more than 20,000 orphaned, injured or ill animals.

Just a few of the research and conservation projects supported in 2012 include:

Responsible Tropical Aquariums – SeaWorld’s Rising Tide is an innovative research program that works to provide a sustainable tropical fish population for home aquariums and decrease dependency on collection from coral reefs.

Declining Penguin Populations – Research is being done by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to identify the causes of the more than 90 percent population decline of the endangered rockhopper penguin. Efforts include population monitoring, tracking and foraging studies, demographic studies and a re-evaluation of potential factors driving the population decline.

The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund will help support research about the population decline of the endangered rockhopper penguin.

First Scientific Review of the Rothschild Giraffe – To develop a long-term population monitoring program and conservation strategy for the endangered Rothschild giraffe, the Fund is supporting the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s research to create the species first-ever scientific review.

Protecting Polar Bears – Polar Bears International is studying and documenting polar bear populations and their arctic habitat. The goal is to understand and evaluate the true status and condition of polar bears, and the impact of human-caused and natural events on their survival.

Polar bears will benefit from the grants provided by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Photo courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Project Puffin – To help restore the Atlantic puffin to the islands off Maine, SeaWorld bird experts annually join researchers, brought together by the National Audubon Society, to observe, record, and study North American seabirds.

“The research supported by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund is vital to resuscitate dwindling animal populations all around the world,” said Brad Andrews, president and executive director of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and chief zoological officer for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. “Our efforts today will help sustain these species for generations to come.”

Jennifer Fields

Posted in Busch Gardens, Conservation, Giraffes, Penguins, Polar bear, Puffin, SeaWorld | Leave a comment

International Vulture Awareness Day

A Cape griffon vulture in flight.

What comes to mind when you hear the word vulture?  For most people words like dirty, disgusting, ugly, scavenger, pest, etc…  When I think of vultures I think of words like graceful, amazing, beneficial, necessary and mostly, endangered.  This difference in perspective is why International Vulture Awareness Day is so important for spreading the word about these amazing caretakers of the earth.

Vultures are nature’s custodians; they are responsible for cleaning the world of animal carcasses and refuse.  By cleaning up dead things, vultures reduce the spread of diseases such as botulism.  Vultures also act as ecological sentinels.  A healthy vulture population reflects a healthy ecosystem, when vultures are in trouble so is the environment.  An unfortunate example of an unhealthy vulture population is what is happening currently in Asia – with a mass die-off of vultures attributed to a veterinary drug, the communities formerly kept clean of carcasses by vultures are now overrun by feral dogs, which has increased the level of zoonotic diseases.

Challenges facing vultures on a global level are similar to those facing other species.  As the human population grows, vulture habitat shrinks.  Logging takes vulture nesting trees and development reduces land for grazing animals, which are the vulture’s primary food source.  There are many other threats to vultures.  They are not always the direct target, secondary poisoning is a major threat for vultures, especially in Africa.  Other reasons for the decline of vultures globally, include power-line collisions, drowning in cattle water tanks and use of body parts in traditional folk medicines.

The first Vulture Awareness Day was held in South Africa in 2006.  The focus of this event was to create awareness of the continued plight of all vulture species occurring in the region and to highlight the work done by conservationists to monitor populations and implement effective measures to conserve these birds and their habitats.  A one day local activity grew into the first “International” event held on September 5th, 2009; with no less than 152 partner organisations from 45 countries (representing six continents) participating.

September 1st, 2012; marks the fourth International Vulture Awareness Day.  The continued growth of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Vulture Specialist Group is at the forefront of this campaign.  This group’s aim is to advocate and create awareness of the plight of vultures and coordinate effective conservation activities to their benefit. 

The AZA Raptor Taxon Advisory Group would like to encourage and invite all organizations to become participants in this year’s event.  Several resources, such as templates and poster formats are available to help share the story of vultures and why they are important to the environment and to us.  If you are interested in participating and would like more information please contact the following individuals:

Scott Tidmus, AZA Raptor Taxon Advisory Group Chair –

Jenyva Turner, Animal Keeper, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo –

Posted in Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Conservation, Research, Vultures, Wildlife, Zoo | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Zoo Conservation Program Helping Wombats

Two orphaned southern hairy-nosed wombats from Australia–a male and female–arrived at Brookfield Zoo on July 11.  Their arrival marks the first importation of this species to the United States in several decades. They will eventually go to Toronto Zoo in Canada. Photo by Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, is leading an initiative to help bring non-releasable southern hairy-nosed wombats from Australia to North America to ensure a sustainable wombat population in zoos.

Thanks to these efforts, two wombats orphaned in Australia–a male and a female–were welcomed at Brookfield Zoo on July 11, 2012. Their arrival marked the first importation of this species to the United States in several decades.

The pair is part of a collaborative program with Zoos South Australia, a non-profit conservation organization that is sending rescued wombats to participating North American zoos. The two wombats will eventually go to Toronto Zoo in Canada where they will hopefully breed, adding to the population. The arrival of the wombats was so significant that Roger Price, Australian Consul General, and Gitane De Silva, Canadian Consul General, visited Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital to see one of the wombats and observe these conservation efforts firsthand.

Roger Price, Australian Consul General (far left) and Gitane De Silva, Canadian Consul General (pictured far right) visited Brookfield Zoo to meet one of the southern hairy-nosed wombats that was orphaned in Australia. They were hosted by Chicago Zoological Society staff members Glenn Granat, curator, and Jean Brown, lead zookeeper. Photo by Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

Currently (including the two wombats that just arrived), there are only nine wombats living in North American zoos. Brookfield Zoo is home to three of these wombats with a joey expected to peak its head out of its mother’s pouch in a few months.

The southern hairy-nosed wombat management program is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), which develops recommendations for population management and conservation. CZS staff members worked closely with Zoos South Australia to develop the program and form an agreement with the Australian government. With Brookfield Zoo, other participating zoos are ABQ BioPark, Albuquerque, N.M.; Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens; Memphis Zoo, Tenn.; San Diego Zoo; Toledo Zoo, Ohio; and Toronto Zoo.

The Brookfield Zoo’s new arrivals received physical examinations and are being housed in the zoo’s Animal Hospital’s quarantine area for a required 30 days before being transferred to Toronto Zoo.

In 1969, Brookfield Zoo received three southern hairy-nosed wombats and in 1975 became the first zoo outside of Australia to successfully breed the species in professional care. Because of its long history and expertise in wombat care, the CZS, along with other zoos with wombat experience, is providing husbandry training for other institutions that will be receiving wombats in the future. Brookfield Zoo will be the first to welcome all imported wombats.

“We are honored to lead this collaborative effort and provide wombats with expert care as they make the journey to their future homes,” said Glenn Granat, one of the curators for the Chicago Zoological Society. “For more than 40 years, Brookfield Zoo has cared for wombats. We look forward to sharing our resources and expertise with other zoos participating in the program.”

Southern hairy-nosed wombats are thick, heavy-bodied animals found in arid to semi-arid savannah woodland, grassland and low shrub plains in central southern Australia. Currently, the wombat population in Australia is being threatened by habitat loss, drought and agricultural practices.

Jennifer Fields

Posted in Albuquerque BioPark, Brookfield Zoo, Conservation, Los Angeles Zoo, Memphis Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Toledo Zoo, Wombats, Zoo | Leave a comment