Monday, June 24, 2013
Much like Chicagoans on the first warm Saturday of the year, each spring eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (“EMRs” for brevity) emerge from the holes in which they hibernate all winter. Like us, they’re ready for some sun and a good meal—in their case, to kick-start growth and reproduction for the year. Each year, members of the EMR Species Survival Plan (SSP)—the group that manages EMRs in zoos—gather at a site in southwestern Michigan to study the snakes as they’re emerging.
I’m always excited to start our week in Michigan. It’s great to get out from behind my computer and get a little mud on my boots. Since this is our fifth year of surveying, we’re starting to see some exciting returns on our hard work, providing even more incentive.
This year, in early May, we found 54 snakes, but only 12 of them were completely new to our study. This means we have a large portion of the population “marked”, thanks to diligent surveying by the SSP group and our collaborators from Northern Illinois University.
Recapturing these snakes year after year gives us valuable data on survival, population size and whether this population is growing. We had a few surprise recaptures. One snake we hadn’t found since the first year of our study in 2009 made an appearance again. Other snakes we find every year reappeared like clockwork. The data we’re collecting should also help us understand how to better monitor and preserve populations across the species’ North American range.
Reconnecting with dedicated EMR enthusiasts from zoos across the country is also rewarding. SSP participants try to breed the zoo population of EMRs throughout the year, then come together for this intense week of field work. This year, we had 35 attendees from 14 zoos, three universities and multiple state and federal agencies interested in EMR conservation.
Going forward, we’ll miss collaborating with one participant: Lincoln Park Zoo conservation biologist Joanne Earnhardt, Ph.D., who recently retired from the zoo and stepped down as EMR SSP coordinator. (The post is now held by Detroit Zoo’s curator of reptiles, Jeff Jundt.)
Joanne’s bittersweet departure, though, was leavened by the presentation of a cake decorated with super-sized replicas of her least favorite species: ticks. Of course, the real icing on the cake has been the impact she’s had on EMR conservation in the Great Lakes region over the past six years.
Lisa Faust, Ph.D., is vice president of conservation and science at Lincoln Park Zoo.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Zoo scientist Joe Simonis, Ph.D., talks about pursuing a research career outside of academia in a post at Dynamic Ecology.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Six chimpanzees currently living at a residence in Mechanicsville, Virginia, will find a new home at Houston Zoo later this year, thanks to long-running efforts by Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE, Houston Zoo and Curtis and Bea Shepperson, the chimpanees’ current owners.
The news comes ahead of a county-issued June 23 deadline to relocate four of the chimpanzees and ensures a bright future for the animals because they will be able to remain together as a family unit in an accredited zoo. The Sheppersons had been under pressure from local officials to relocate the chimpanzees because of a recent escape and lack of proper licenses. No suitable placement options were available—until now.
”This is an extremely positive resolution for everyone involved, but most of all for the chimpanzees themselves,” says Steve Ross, Ph.D., director of Project ChimpCARE and the zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. Ross also chairs the chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP), a shared conservation effort by zoos throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He first began working with the Sheppersons in 2010.
“Keeping the chimpanzees together in their social group is unquestionably the best move for their wellbeing, and the animals are now poised to receive the lifetime care they deserve," says Ross. ”This outcome is a testament to what good can come from cooperation by people on all sides of an issue.”
That cooperation is at the heart of Project ChimpCARE, whose goal is to provide suitable housing for all of the some 2,200 chimpanzees living in the U.S. by promoting collaboration between accredited institutions and private owners like the Sheppersons.
“We have looked after these chimpanzees for most of their lives, and we will miss them dearly when they go,” says Curtis Shepperson. “But we have always wanted what is best for them, and sending all six chimpanzees as a complete group to Houston Zoo is just that.”
This is the second time Project ChimpCARE and Houston Zoo have collaborated. In 2009, 10 chimpanzees took up residence in Houston’s new exhibit after years working in the entertainment industry; the chimpanzees have flourished there.
“We are delighted to offer a home to this troop,” says Beth Schaefer, Houston Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores. “Our proven experience with privately owned chimpanzees puts us in a unique position to provide the best possible care for these animals. Our chimpanzee habitat is the newest in the nation and is widely regarded as one of the world’s preeminent facilities.”
The move is expected to take place later this year, pending veterinary examinations, and logistical details are still under development. But everyone involved agrees this is the long-awaited happy ending to a complicated and emotionally charged issue.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Vaccination season 2013 is off to a running start! We kicked off the process in Loliondo District east of Serengeti National Park. Our Serengeti Health Initiative team is vaccinating domestic dogs and cats there for rabies, canine distemper and parvovirus.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
The abundance of rainfall and flooding we’ve received in the Chicago metro area this spring has prompted a question among Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI) staff members: what on earth were we thinking when we decided to do fieldwork year-round?
Most wildlife research is conducted in the summer. This makes sense, because in the summer the weather is pretty predictable, wildlife tend to be active and professors and their students don’t have classes to attend. Summer is certainly the easiest time to study wildlife. Unfortunately, if we only work in the summer, we only understand 25 percent of what animals are up to.
That’s why UWI researchers collect data on local species in all seasons. As a result, we learn what wildlife across the Chicago metro area are doing all year long. Usually this approach works very well, but the freezing rain and flooding last month made things tricky—to say the least.
Many of our research sites, for one thing, were underwater. In the photo above, research coordinator Liza Lehrer wears waders to retrieve a submerged camera in the field. Although our motion-triggered wildlife cameras are water-resistant, we have learned to our chagrin that water-resistant is quite different from waterproof.
There’s a bright side to our struggles, though. The cameras that kept operating in wet conditions gave us glimpses of species—like the wood ducks in the photo above—we wouldn’t normally expect. Wildlife find a way to adapt to heavy rains, and conducting our research even in tough weather gives us insight into these adaptations.
Spring is an important time for wildlife in the Chicagoland area. Species are trying to put on weight after the long winter, find mates, locate suitable habitat and avoid being eaten. It’s hard work, to be sure. The white-tailed deer in the photo above seemed to be approaching us for a handout as we visited a local forest preserve. While we empathize with her hunger, it’s never a good idea to feed wildlife. They can become dependent on the handouts and may cause conflicts with humans in the future.
Of course, some species slept (or hibernated or brumated) their way through that winter cold and only recently woke up. We spotted the garter snake in the above photo poking its head out from some leaves as we walked along a path. Snakes have been emerging to take advantage of this beautiful weather.
Naturally, our research team is just as ready.
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