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Conservation

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San Diego Zoo Global Commends California Assembly for Passing Ivory and Rhino Horn Ban

Nola, a 41-year-old, a critically endangered female northern white rhino, creates a one-of-a-kind art piece at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Nola, a 41-year-old, a critically endangered female northern white rhino, creates a one-of-a-kind art piece at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

On June 2, the California State Assembly voted to pass AB 96, legislation introduced by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, which would close loopholes that prevent the effective enforcement of existing California law prohibiting the sale of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. The legislation will be reviewed by the Senate Natural Resources committee on June 23. San Diego Zoo Global has been a proponent of this legislation and recently held a “Rally 4 Rhinos” (#Rally4Rhinos) to help show public interest in saving rhinos.

“San Diego Zoo Global commends Assembly Speaker Atkins and the Assembly on their efforts to enforce the ban on elephant ivory and rhino horn products in California,” stated Douglas Myers, president, San Diego Zoo Global. “Elephants and rhinos are being slaughtered at alarming rates and could become extinct in our lifetime. In keeping with our effort to save species, we have been working to raise awareness for their plight and efforts to combat poaching.”

In appreciation of the Assembly’s action, San Diego Zoo Global is presenting Atkins with a unique piece of artwork created by one of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s residents, a critically endangered, 41-year-old northern white rhino named Nola.

To create the art, Nola’s keepers placed non-toxic paint on a canvas, held the canvas in front of Nola, and at the rhino’s discretion, she used her horn to move the paint. Nola is rare in that her primary horn grows downward, rather than growing upward like most rhinos, providing her with the perfect “paintbrush”. Nola participated in the art session as part of an enrichment activity provided by her keepers. Enrichment provides animals with physical and mental stimulation, changing up their daily routine.

The Rally 4 Rhinos was held at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Endangered Species Day, May 15. The event was attended by representatives from Assembly Speaker Atkins’ office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Save the Elephants, Northern Rangelands Trust, the Cincinnati Zoo, as well as Safari Park guests, school children, celebrities and other government officials. San Diego Zoo Global officials shared information on its efforts and collaboration with other entities to spread the word about rhinos, illegal wildlife trafficking, and how everyone can be part of saving a species from extinction.

As part of San Diego Zoo Global’s Rally 4 Rhinos campaign, the public was asked to celebrate Endangered Species Day by spreading the word about rhino poaching, writing a rhino conservation message on their hand, taking a photo, and posting the photo to social media using the hashtag #Rally4Rhinos. The campaign spread like wildfire, reaching around the world, with postings from San Diego, the Eiffel Tower in France, Vietnam, the Parliament building in the U.K., rhino preserves in South Africa, and beyond.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts representing both plants and animals at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The important conservation and science work of these entities is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Global

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291

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How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Pollinators are one of Mother Nature’s greatest gardeners, yet many populations continue to decline at an alarming rate. While National Pollinator Week continues to raise awareness, conservation of our precious pollinators is a year-round project. One way you can be a hero for wildlife is by creating a pollinator-friendly habitat in your own yard or community, and invite hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to do what they do best.

Hummingbird | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

For starters, you’ll need a nectar source for your hummingbird guests. They get most of their nectar from tubular blossoms, the perfect shape to accommodate their long, slim beak and tongue. Hummers like bright plants that are open during daylight hours, when the birds are awake and hungry. Sage is an excellent option for these tiny pollinators, not to mention the added bonus of providing your herb pantry with some homegrown goodies.

Bee | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

It’s no secret that honeybee and native bee populations are in trouble. Entertain bees in your outdoor space by planting a diversity of vibrant flowers. It’s extremely important to select plants that do not contain neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that may contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder. Nowadays, some stores label plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids, but many do not, so it’s best to consult with your local nursery before purchasing.

Bee | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Including suitable nesting habitat in your landscape can help bolster the struggling populations of native bees. Many are solitary (so you don’t need to worry about a hive) and a good number of species are considered stingless, in case that is a concern. You can purchase ready-made nesting houses for mason and orchard bees online, or make your own.

Butterfly | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

For butterflies, a simple search on Google will help you discover which species are common in your area. Once you know which butterflies live in your region, it’s important to learn about their habitat needs. Certain species require specific host plants to serve as larval food for caterpillars. Choose a variety of colorful, native plants with upward-facing blossoms as they provide a landing pad for butterflies to stop and sip on sweet nectar.

Butterfly | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Adding a water source for all of your pollinator guests is another great idea. If you’re going to use a bird bath to accomplish this, just be sure to add stones that peek above the surface so your tiny guests (bees) don’t drown.

Do you have any tips for creating a pollinator-friendly garden? Leave them in the comments.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 10 Cats You Don’t Want to Cuddle With.

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Myths About Rhino Horn That Need to Go Away

It’s no secret that the demand for rhino horn is responsible for the current poaching crisis, but where does the demand come from? Sadly, a few misguided myths about rhino horn are responsible for the systematic destruction of this majestic creature, and it’s about time they go away for good.

Rhino horn has no proven medicinal value

Rhino horn has no proven medicinal value.

 

Rhino Horn Is Medicine

Perhaps the most pervasive, destructive myth about rhino horn is that it has medicinal qualities. Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is the same material as our fingernails. Despite having no proven medicinal value, rhino horn concoctions have been prescribed in traditional Asian medicine for about 2,000 years, but until the late 1800s, the effect on the species was manageable. By the early 1900s, however, extensive trophy hunting had been added to the mix, decimating rhino populations. Furthermore, in 2008, the perfect storm to annihilate rhinos was unleashed. According to an article in The Atlantic magazine, a rumor swept across Vietnam that imbibing crushed rhino horn cured a politician’s cancer.

Rhino horns belong to rhinos!

Rhino horns belong to rhinos!

 

Rhino Horn is an Aphrodisiac

Not too dissimilar from the belief in the curative abilities of rhino horn, some cultures believe that rhino horn can serve as an aphrodisiac. Multiple scientific studies have proven that this belief couldn’t be further from the truth.

Together we can kill the myths that are responsible for the decline of rhinos.

Together we can kill the myths that are responsible for the decline of rhinos.

 

Rhino Horn is a Party Drug

Some insist that the demand for rhino horn has an even more nefarious purpose: ground into a powder, the horn is considered a party drug in Asia, much like cocaine, except without the pharmaceutical effects (imagine grinding your fingernails into a powder). Some mix the powder with alcohol (one Vietnamese news site called the luxury potion “the drink of millionaires”), others even snort the powder like snuff.

41-year-old Nola, who lives at the Safari Park, is 1 of 5 remaining Northern white rhinos on the planet.

41-year-old Nola, who lives at the Safari Park, is 1 of 5 remaining northern white rhinos on the planet.

 

Rhino Horn Makes Nice Trinkets

Another cause for the senseless slaughter of rhinos is the desire to fashion horns into all kinds of trinkets, from cups and dagger handles to figurines. Despite the ready availability of better alternatives, many cultures continue to exalt rhino horn trinkets as symbols of class.

Join the fight by writing "Stop Killing Rhinos" on your hand and posting a photo on Instagram or Twitter with #rally4rhinos.

Join the fight by writing “Stop Killing Rhinos” on your hand and posting a photo on Instagram or Twitter using #rally4rhinos.

Please help us debunk these myths once and for all and stop the senseless slaughter of rhinos. Write “Stop Killing Rhinos” on your hand and post a photo on Instagram or Twitter with the #rally4rhinos hashtag. See your photo in the gallery, and visit rally4rhinos.org for more info about the plight of rhinos and ways you can help. Thanks for joining the fight!

 

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 11 Bellies You Really Need to Rub.

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Tiny Backpacks on Small Owls Helps Conservation

Global_logo_color webConservationists working with the San Diego Zoo Global Institute of Conservation Research are using pint-size data tracking systems to monitor the movements and social systems of burrowing owls in San Diego County.  The tracking mechanisms are placed in tiny backpacks carried by each owl.

“The backpacks are small enough that they are not affecting the birds,” said Colleen Wisinski, lead researcher for San Diego Zoo Global. “The information we are collecting will be critical to scientific management of this species through adding to our understanding of social structure and movement.”

Burrowing owls are small diurnal birds that live in burrows in the ground throughout much of the southwestern United States.  Predatory in nature but small in stature, the cute owls catch insects and small rodents for food.  In recent years, conservationists have become increasingly concerned as populations appear to be shrinking.  San Diego Zoo Global researchers are working to understand the species’ lifestyle so that future conservation efforts can be most effective.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Name Our Jaguar Cub for Conservation

The male jaguar cub at the San Diego Zoo is getting a lot of attention for his off-the-charts cute ratings, but this little boy needs a name. Animal care staff have worked together to come up with a list of possibilities and now we want to hear what you think. Vote here.

The jaguars at the Zoo are just three of the jaguars that San Diego Zoo Global is working with. Scientist Mathias Tobler, Ph.D, has spent more than 10 years working in the Peruvian Amazon. He is using radiotelemetry, GPS collars, and camera traps to study jaguars and other keystone species’ role in the Amazonian ecosystem. Tobler is using this technology to learn about how undisturbed populations of jaguars use their habitat, their movement patterns, home-range size, density, and their foraging ecology to create a baseline to evaluate future impacts on this species caused by human development. This data will help to inform conservation decisions and recommend ways to mitigate impacts to wildlife during the planning stages of development projects near the most pristine and bio-diverse terrestrial ecosystem on Earth.

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

At San Diego Zoo Global we’re working to understand jaguars, as well as pumas, peccary and tapirs, and have seen improvements in the techniques of capturing, tracking and observing animals. It has also been noticed by the Peruvian government and the research team has been asked to advise Peruvian officials on monitoring systems for animals in this area.

Studying jaguars in the Peruvian Amazon is just one example of how San Diego Zoo Global is working to #endextinction for endangered species. To find out more about this project and others please visit these resources:

Counting Jaguars in the Amazon

Looking for Jaguars in the Night

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 11 Bellies You Really Need to Rub.

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DIY Succulent Centerpiece

If you haven’t stopped to smell (or observe) the flowers and plants at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, your senses are seriously missing out. Inspiration is in full bloom! And today, the brains behind the stunning botanical arrangements at the Safari Park are eager to share this spring-inspired DIY project.

#DIY Succulent Centerpiece

Step 1.) Start by filling the bottom of your pot with soil mixture. For best results, your mixture should be equal parts soil, pearlite, and sand.

#DIY Succulent Centerpiece

#DIY Succulent Centerpiece

Step 2.) Loosely arrange larger succulents in your pot and fill in soil to the same height as your plants.

#DIY Succulent Centerpiece

Step 3.) You can also include pre-cut succulents in your arrangement. In fact, recycling these fleshy plants is a great way to reuse them and fill any gaps in your bouquet. Just be sure to let cut plants rest in a dry place for three to five days before planting. Once they’ve dried for a few days, simply stick a hole into the soil and insert your cut stem.

#DIY Succulent Centerpiece

Step 4.) Have fun with your arrangement and try to incorporate different succulent species for a colorful display. If you’re visiting the Safari Park, stop by the Plant Trader where you can pick up drought-tolerant plants from our own collection.

#DIY Succulent Centerpiece

Do you have any horticulture-based requests for our team? Leave them in the comments and we’ll gladly offer tips from the experts.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts.

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Largest-Ever Approved Desert Tortoise Preserve Created by Cadiz, Inc.; San Diego Zoo Global Contracted to Assist Species Management

Global_logo_color webSan Diego Zoo Global announced that it will be working with Cadiz Inc. to manage the newly created Fenner Valley Desert Tortoise Conservation Bank. Cadiz Inc. is creating the Bank by designating up to 7,400 acres of its private land holdings in eastern San Bernardino County for permanent protection through the establishment of the Fenner Valley Desert Tortoise Conservation Bank. The Bank, largest-ever approved by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (“CDFW”), will provide permanent protection of habitat for the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), a California State and federally listed threatened species.

“With scores of projects planned in Southern California that could place the desert tortoise at risk, we are fortunate that Cadiz is able to protect such vast territory for the benefit of this threatened animal and others,” said Ron Swaisgood Ph.D., Director of Applied Animal Ecology, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “It is through such actions and ongoing research at these protected lands that sustainable recovery of the threatened desert tortoise could one day be achieved.”

Under an MOU with Cadiz Inc., San Diego Zoo conservation experts will work with the Bank to assist in the development of conservation management strategies for the threatened desert tortoise and other conservation-dependent wildlife within the bank properties.

The properties enrolled in the Bank are located in the Mojave Desert near the Mojave National Preserve and the Nevada border in an area designated by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service as Desert Tortoise Critical Habitat. These properties are undeveloped and home to various threatened species in addition to the desert tortoise.

The Fenner Conservation Bank was approved by the CDFW, the public agency responsible for coordinating California’s land conservation banking program. Under the CDFW program, private lands enrolled in a conservation bank can be used to offset impacts to species or habitats that may occur outside of the bank’s boundaries. The approval of the Fenner Conservation Bank by the CDFW allows bank credits, which are associated with certain parcels of land, to be made available immediately to those projects and entities seeking to offset impacts to the desert tortoise across the Southern California desert region. It is anticipated that various projects planned for the desert, including renewable energy projects, will benefit from the credits that will be available from the Fenner Conservation Bank.

“The California desert is home to unique environmental treasures as well as exceptional industries and businesses, all of which define our greatness. I’m grateful to private landowners like Cadiz that can enter into public-private ventures such as conservation banks for the benefit of the desert environment, because without such partners our State’s ability to balance species protection with our development needs would be greatly limited,” said U.S. Congressman Paul Cook, (CA-8).

Upon sale of credits, the associated property will be permanently protected under a conservation easement and managed in perpetuity by the San Diego Habitat Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing high-quality habitat management services in undeveloped areas throughout Southern California.

“The San Diego Habitat Conservancy is excited to be participating in this first of its kind desert tortoise conservation bank. This creative, long-term resource management effort will greatly benefit the species by guaranteeing safe, sustainable habitat in perpetuity for this dangerously threatened species,” said Don Scoles, Executive Director of the San Diego Habitat Conservancy.

Veteran land conservation consultants, Michael McCollum of McCollum Associates and Barry Jones of Sweetwater Environmental Biologists, Inc., coordinated the establishment of the Fenner Conservation Bank for Cadiz. McCollum and Jones were also instrumental in the development of the state and federal conservation banking policy program and are responsible for guiding the creation of over 17 conservation and mitigation banks in California.

About Cadiz Inc.
Founded in 1983, Cadiz Inc. is a land and water resource development company that owns 70 sq. miles of property and water rights in Southern California. The Company is engaged in a combination of organic farming and water supply and storage projects, including the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project, a public-private partnership approved to provide a new, reliable water supply throughout Southern California. Cadiz abides by a “Green Compact” focused on sustainable practices to manage its land, water and agricultural resources and has committed to implement its projects without harm to the environment. For more information about Cadiz, visit cadizinc.com.

About San Diego Zoo Global
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps Members Work With U.S. Navy to Protect Snowy Plover Nesting Area

Austin Smith, a member of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps, hammers a sign into the sand at Naval Air Station North Island, designating a protected nesting area for the western snowy plover, a threatened shore bird.

Austin Smith, a member of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps, hammers a sign into the sand at Naval Air Station North Island, designating a protected nesting area for the western snowy plover, a threatened shore bird.

Teens from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps hit the beach at Naval Air Station North Island this morning not for fun in the sun, but to assist in setting up protected nesting areas for the western snowy plover, a threatened shore bird. Conservation Corps members helped to install symbolic fencing – blue stakes connected by twine – around the snowy plover nesting areas on Breaker’s Beach, asking beach-goers to avoid the area during the birds’ nesting season. The volunteer project was spearheaded by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, at the invitation of the U.S. Navy.

“Today, we invited members of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps to assist us with fencing off 15 acres of nesting habitat for the western snowy plover on Naval Air Station North Island,” stated Tiffany Shepherd, Wildlife Biologist, Naval Base Coronado. “These teens are interested in protecting wildlife and we wanted them to learn about what the Navy is doing for snowy plover conservation, hoping to motivate them to stay passionate about wildlife conservation.”

The western snowy plover is a small shore bird found on beaches along the Pacific coast from Washington to California. The small white and gray bird measures about six inches long and lays its  eggs in small indentations in the sand, making it very difficult to see the nests. The birds incubate their eggs for 24 to 28 days, but will leave their nests when threatened by people. The snowy plovers decline is attributed to loss of nesting habitat and habitat degradation caused by expanding beach-front development and recreation, human disturbance and predation.

Naval Air Station North Island is committed to maintaining a productive and pristine habitat for the birds that is properly managed as to not lose military training or conservation value over the long term, and this goal has resulted in site protection and monitoring of the species. To assist with their conservation efforts, the Navy has hired researchers from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research to help monitor the birds’ habitat during their nesting season, March 1 through Sept. 15.

“Every day throughout the breeding season from March to September, our team members crisscross the nesting beaches, keeping an eye out for fresh eggs and newly-hatched chicks. We mark the new nests to track their progress through the incubation period,” said Katrina Murbock, research coordinator, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Applied Animal Ecology Division. “Having members of the Conservation Corps assist us with the fencing project today, allows us to provide the birds with the protected space they need to thrive and also allows the teens to feel proud they are contributing to a vital wildlife conservation project.”

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps and Zoo Corps offer teens the opportunity to make a difference for wildlife. Conservation Corps and Zoo Corps are hands-on programs for high school students interested in conservation, science, public speaking and community service. Members spend one day a month teaching Safari Park or Zoo guests about animals and sharing conservation stories through the use of artifacts, biofacts, props, interactive games, and other activities. A second day each month is spent performing hands-on conservation projects making a difference for wildlife, like the snowy plover nesting project they took part in today. For more information on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps program, visit sdzsafaripark.org.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents.  The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide.  The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291

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Little Green Guards Excitement!

The Little Green Guards were excited by our surprising camera-trap discoveries. (Photo by Lei Shi)

The Little Green Guards were excited by our surprising camera-trap discoveries. (Photo by Lei Shi)

The feeling of love and empathy for animals is very much influenced by one’s culture and upbringing. How can people conserve endangered animals if they do not love them? How do people come to love and appreciate animals? These are the kinds of questions I often ponder, and I am eager to find ways to help people, especially children, bond with animals.

Over the last five years, I have been exploring the topic of love and empathy toward animals and learning how to cultivate these sentiments in children who are in my Little Green Guards program. Little Green Guards are children living in conservation priority areas that have an underdeveloped economy and education system. The goal of the program is to build a strong and lasting love for animals in children, ultimately empowering them to become conservation stewards of their natural heritage.

Because personal experience can create deep impressions, it is important to include many field trip opportunities for Little Green Guards to fall in love with animals and nature. In Fanjingshan, China, my collaborators and I recently used our camera-trap research project as a way to introduce local schoolchildren to wildlife that may be difficult to see in the nearby forest.

Before going to the field we explained the science behind our camera-trap research to the children, how the cameras have helped us understand the “secrets” of many amazing animals, some active in the day and some at night. We then tantalized the children with our best photos and the “surprises” we discovered. The children would “Ooh!” and “Aah!” as they looked at the photos—the excitement for camera-trapping was escalating!

Fanjingshan nature reserve biologist Lei Si showed children how to mount a camera trap on a tree. (Photo by Kefeng Niu)

Fanjingshan nature reserve biologist Lei Si showed children how to mount a camera trap on a tree. (Photo by Kefeng Niu)

Out in the forest, we selected a relatively flat area with a sturdy tree. We then showed the kids how to properly install batteries and the memory card, program the settings, and finally mount the camera. When all the preparation was done, the children practiced taking “selfies,” one by one, by triggering the sensor in front of the camera and saying “Qiezi!” (the Chinese version of “Cheese!”). Beyond just having fun, this Little Green Guards lesson allowed us to teach the children not only about animal biology and caring for their wildlife neighbors but also essential life skills so they can develop healthy self-esteem, despite their rural circumstances.

Two Little Green Guards inspect the camera trap,

Two Little Green Guards inspect the camera trap,

The success of the Little Green Guards program will require long-term efforts and reaching out to as many communities as possible around Fanjingshan and other protected areas in China as well as in Vietnam and Madagascar. As the citizens who live adjacent to natural habitats form the front line of defense in protecting local biodiversity, we imagine that our Little Green Guards program may have a substantial positive influence on people’s attitudes toward conservation. We hope that one day every child in the Little Green Guards program will develop affection for wildlife so that when that day comes, we can all smile and say “Qiezi!”

Chia Tan, Ph.D., is a senior scientist in the Conservation Partnership Development Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Have Camera Trap, Will Travel.

2

Watch the Birdies! Open House at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center

Special displays allow curious visitors to understand the "why" and "how" of the program.

Special displays allow curious visitors to understand the “why” and “how” of the program.

Last December, we held our annual open house here at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. This is our largest public event of the year and always an exciting time for us. Although we are normally closed to the public in order to focus on breeding our rare birds, this even is our chance to open our doors to those interested in learning about our program.

Since we are located on a remote ranch, we can only accept as many people as can fit in our shuttles for each tour—and the tours filled up fast again this year! It was so encouraging to see such an outpouring of interest and support from our local, island, and global community. In addition to many local residents, we had guests this year fly in from other islands and from as far away as Montana!

Our staff met visitors at our outer gate, situated everyone in the shuttles, and then drove guests through nearly three miles of beautiful, restored native forest to the facility. Upon arrival, everyone gathered inside our main office building to learn a little of the history of the program and to admire our fantastic mural depicting the array of unique wildlife and environments found here on the Big Island of Hawaii. We talked about the species we work with—Palila, ‘Alalā, Kiwikiu, and Puaiohi—and the multifaceted pressures they face in the wild.

The author acting as tour guide for a group of interested visitors.

The author acting as tour guide, giving visitors the inside story about the birds being bred at KBCC.

 

Next, everyone gathered around the windows to get a close up and personal view of our education birds, including two ‘alalā, before heading up to one of our forest bird barns to see our species in their breeding aviaries. It was wonderful to see smiles spread across the faces of everyone, young and old, as they watched some of the world’s rarest birds go about their business.

Throughout the tour, visitors demonstrated great interest and concern for the future of these special birds, and many of our staff received excellent questions such as “What can I do at home to help?” and “Is there a way for me to help restore the forests so our birds have somewhere to go?” We encourage people in our area wanting to help to plant native species such as ‘ōhi‘a lehua, in their yards to attract endemic forest birds. Getting rid of standing water on the property is another great way to make life easier for our birds since it eliminates breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which carry dangerous diseases for both humans and wildlife.

Our entire staff was available after the tours to talk with everyone, and it was so heartening to see such passion and respect for the birds that we work with on a daily basis. Open House is an important reminder for us that the work we do is valued, but most significantly it is our chance to give back to our community for their support, interest, and enthusiasm.

For all of you reading this post, thank you. I will say to you the same thing I said to my tours: Your being here (even if it is just through the Internet!) is a vital part of our program. We could breed birds all day long, but without your interest and support it would be for naught. You are an essential part of the future of these birds, and we at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center are proud to have your support and partnership as we move forward together to make this conservation story a success!

Chelsea McGimpsey is a research associate at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.