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San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research

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‘Insurance Population’ of Rare Bird Successfully Started through San Diego Zoo Global Program

Global_logo_color webFourteen fledglings flutter about in San Diego Zoo Global’s aviaries in Hawai‘i, under the care of conservation biologists. These young birds represent hope for a small Hawaiian bird species known as the ‘akikiki. The group represents the first of this species to be reared in a captive environment and the beginning of a breeding program designed to save this species from extinction.

“The ‘akikiki has shown steep declines over the past 10 to 15 years, and now numbers fewer than 500 birds,” said John Vetter, Forest Bird Recovery Coordinator of the State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources’ (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “A panel of experts in Hawaiian forest bird conservation was convened to identify steps needed to preserve this species, and ranked the initiation of a captive breeding population as one of the highest priorities for its survival.”

‘Akikiki eggs were brought to the San Diego Zoo Global facility earlier in 2015 through a collaborative effort with the Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP), Hawai’i’s DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office (USFWS-PIFWO). Very little is known about this species, and these birds have not been raised in a zoological setting before. However, conservationists with San Diego Zoo Global have worked successfully with a number of other similar native Hawaiian birds and are using these techniques to ensure that the species will thrive.

“Using another species that we previously worked with as a model, we were able to successfully rear these 14 ‘akikiki at our centers in Hawai‘i,” said Bryce Masuda, Conservation Program Manager, San Diego Zoo Global. “This group of young birds will start a breeding population, protected in captivity from the threats bringing this species to the brink of extinction in the wild. Their presence provides insurance that we can protect this species now, for future generations.”

The ‘akikiki is a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper found only on the island of Kaua‘i. This species has been severely affected by introduced diseases such as avian malaria, loss of native forest habitat, hurricanes, and the introduction of non-native predator species in the wild.

“We are currently working with partners to address the threats to ‘akikiki in the wild, in order to ensure a successful reintroduction in the future,” said Michelle Clark, Biologist, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

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.

KFBRP is a collaboration between the Pacific Studies Cooperative Unit of the University of Hawai’i and the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife. KFBRP’s mission is to promote knowledge, conservation of Kauai’s native forest birds, with a particular focus on the three endangered species: Puaiohi, ‘Akikiki and ‘Akeke‘e. For more information, please see www.kauaiforestbirds.org. The mission of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife is to responsibly manage and protect watersheds, native ecosystems, and cultural resources and provide outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products opportunities, while facilitating partnerships, community involvement and education.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The mission of the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office is to conserve and restore native biodiversity and ecological integrity of Pacific Island ecosystems for the benefit of present and future generations through leadership, science-based management, and collaborative partnerships.

For more information, visit www.fws.gov/pacific, or connect with us through facebook.com/USFWSPacific, twitter.com/USFWSPacific/, tumblr.com/blog/usfwspacific, flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/ and youtube.com/user/USFWS.

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What’s Up with Bai Yun?

Bai Yun has already taught us so much, but apparently "class" is still in session!

Bai Yun has already taught us so much, but apparently “class” is still in session!

I have just returned from China, and am happy to say that I had the opportunity to visit Giant Panda research bases at Bi Fengxia and Wolong. While I was most excited to visit with our San Diego-born pandas, we arrived at the Bi Fengxia base in Ya’an to some exciting and unexpected news: Ying Ying, born in 1991, had come into estrus. She bred naturally and had just been artificially inseminated. Amazingly, this was not the only unexpected news I received that day: emails from the Panda Team back at the San Diego Zoo indicated that Bai Yun’s behavior was escalating, as was Gao Gao’s motivation. Could Bai Yun be coming into estrus?

The Panda Team is made up of scientists, animal care specialists and veterinarians. All are experts in their respective fields, and all with years (and in some cases decades) of experience. However, the fact of the matter is, we all take our lead from Bai Yun. Since Bai Yun’s arrival at the San Diego Zoo back in 1996, she has demonstrated ‘text book’ reproductive behavior and physiology. As a result, we have been able to observe the reproductive process in giant pandas in great detail, and have learned much from Bai Yun that has informed our approach to conservation breeding of giant pandas in general.

In 2012, Bai Yun was just days shy of being the oldest panda female to have successfully given birth and raised a cub. With that knowledge, we all thought that Xiao Liwu would be Bai Yun’s last cub. However—and as always—it was not up to us. Our plan then, as it has always been, was to monitor Bai Yun closely after she weaned Xiao Liwu, and follow her lead. Thus, in the spring of 2014, we began, once again, monitoring Bai Yun once again for signs of estrus. However, after a few days of estrus-like behavior, all went quiet and we did not have any breeding introductions. Further, because her estrous behavior and estrous hormones did not peak, we did not do an artificial insemination.

As it turns out, Bai Yun likes to keep us on our toes! I can say with confidence that no one on the Panda Team thought that Bai Yun would have a full-blown estrus this year—but that is not up to us to decide! Not long ago, Bai Yun started to show all the classic behavioral signs of estrus, and her hormone profile changed along with it. Scent marking, vocalizations, and tail-up behavior all unfolded in an unambiguous display of estrus. Gao Gao’s interest in Bai Yun was very strong, and he was clearly motivated to breed. When the time was right, Bai Yun and Gao Gao were introduced. While Gao Gao did not appear to be successful in his breeding attempt, the strength of Bai Yun’s estrous behavior and hormone profile indicated that she had indeed ovulated! The breeding season was not over yet.

Shi Shi, the male who came with Bai Yun to the San Diego Zoo in 1996, was a wild born male, and the sire to Hua Mei. He is a genetically valuable male, and semen collected from him years ago is still in great condition. Any offspring from Shi Shi are valuable to the overall conservation-breeding program for giant pandas, and so it was decided to artificially inseminate Bai Yun with Shi Shi’s sperm.

At this point, as always, we will wait and see what Bai Yun does; we will follow her lead, and make sure she has all that she needs. She has a way of teaching us new things all the time, and has continued to make valuable contributions  to giant panda conservation efforts. We will monitor her behavior to start with, and eventually we will look for other signs of pregnancy through thermal imaging and ultrasound. And we will share our findings with all of you along the way!

Megan Owen is an associate director in the Applied Animal Ecology Division, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Polar Bear Tatqiq Wears It Well.

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Chilling Out: Preserving a Rhino Legacy

The Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is a unique resource playing a crucial role in current conservation efforts and will be an indispensable tool for the future.

Samples of Anglifu’s tissues and sperm were added to the Frozen Zoo at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, which holds specimens from more than 1,000 species.

 

It was a Sunday morning when I got the call that Angalifu, our male northern white rhino, had passed away. I asked over and over, “Are you sure it was a northern white rhino?” thinking to myself there are only six left in the world and maybe even five if what the pathologist was telling me was true. After she confirmed it indeed was Angalifu, our 44-year-old northern white rhino, I began to panic. My boss and co-worker are the only other two people who know how to freeze rhino sperm and they both were out of town!

Collecting and freezing sperm from this extremely rare animal was now all up to me. This would probably be one of the most important days of my career—no pressure! Knowing I couldn’t possibly do everything on my own, I contacted the rest of the Reproductive Physiology staff, and Kaitlin Croyle and Chelsea Mannie graciously gave up their Sunday to help me.

A complete post-mortem exam is conducted on all animals that die at the Zoo and the Safari Park to document the cause of death and to preserve tissues for histological examination and research. I picked up Angalifu’s gonadal tissue from the Zoo, then drove to the Institute for Conservation Research at the Safari Park to begin recovering the sperm and processing the testicular tissue.

Staining samples of Anglifu's sperm allowed the author to check its integrity before freezing.

Staining samples of Anglifu’s sperm allowed the author to check its integrity before freezing.

The first thing I did was check to see if his sperm was still motile, and luckily it was. I made a few different stains to check the viability, acrosome integrity, morphology and plasma membrane integrity. All of this told me the quality of the sperm before I cryopreserved it. Time was of the essence, so while I was processing the sperm, Kaitlin and Chelsea were labeling 275 small cryovials in which we would freeze the sperm and tissue; 200 for the sperm and 75 for the testicular tissue. Labeling vials is a long, tedious process. Without their help I would have been there longer and the sperm quality would have been compromised.

Our team had prepared a plan of action in advance of Angalifu’s passing, hoping we would not have to use it anytime soon. We decided to freeze his sperm using two different methods, so that if one technique did not result in good viability and motility after thaw, perhaps the other method would have fared better. After all the vials were labeled, I placed the sperm—diluted with a protective buffer—into the vials and placed them in a 39°F (4°C) cold room to cool for two and a half hours.

While the sperm was cooling, we began to mince the testicular tissue and distribute it among vials with a buffer and a cryoprotectant, which would protect the cells from the damage of ice crystal formation during the freezing procedure. The cryopreserved tissue can be used to isolate spermatogonial stem cells for future assisted reproductive technology. The tissue samples were slowly frozen in a controlled-rate programmable freezer. When it was finished, I submerged the vials in liquid nitrogen and placed them in a large liquid nitrogen storage tank.

A total of 275 vials of material were expertly processed and preserved.

A total of 275 vials of material were expertly processed and preserved.

By the time the Angalifu’s testicular tissue was safely stored in the Frozen Zoo®, the sperm had nearly finished cooling. It was then time to add the cryoprotectant. The sperm was now at 39°F (4°C), and we didn’t want it to experience a rise in temperature due to warm cryoprotectant or by doing the addition at room temperature. So, we bundled up in jackets, removed 200 vial caps, and pipeted the cold cryoprotectant to each vial in the cold. It may not sound that hard, but when you must do so standing inside a huge refrigerator, it’s pretty difficult. We took turns exiting the cold room for a few seconds at a time to we warm our hands. Once the cryoprotectant was added, we froze the sperm in liquid nitrogen vapor. The first step is to place the vials on a Styrofoam block floating on the surface of a container of liquid nitrogen. After 15 minutes, we submerged the vials completely into the liquid nitrogen and stored them in the large tank.

It was a very long day working non-stop to help preserve this critically important sperm, but in the end it felt very rewarding. It is great to know that we did all we could to conserve the northern white rhino species. I am happy to say that we have 200 vials of sperm and 75 vials of testicular tissue from Angalifu stored in the Frozen Zoo.

Angalifu’s sperm, along with previously collected semen, will be utilized in the future to fertilize eggs through artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and/or intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Stem cells will be isolated from his testicular tissue and cultured to stimulate the manufacture of sperm. Although Angalifu did not reproduce during his lifetime, there is hope that he will make a future genetic contribution to the preservation of his species through artificial reproduction.

Carly Young is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous blog, The Python Challenge.

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For World Wildlife Day: Talking Trafficking

We think the tusks look better on the elephant, don't you agree?

We think the tusks look better on the elephant, don’t you agree?

Today is World Wildlife Day! The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed this day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as an important one to highlight one of the most serious threats to wildlife across the globe: the illegal trade in wildlife, also called wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is the illegal sale or trade of animals or plants, in part or in whole. For some wildlife, trade is legal: harvesting fish from the sea to feed people is a common practice. In the western world, it typically occurs in accordance with regulations and quotas to ensure that this commercial enterprise does not doom the fish to extinction. Your kitchen may contain mushrooms or morels that were harvested from the wild for your consumption. Some medicinal plants harvested in the wild might infuse your cup of tea. These are legal examples of trade in wildlife and plants.

This black rhino was fortunate to not be one of the more than 1,200 killed for its horn in 2014. How long will its luck hold?

This black rhino was fortunate to not be one of the more than 1,200 killed for its horn in 2014. How long will its luck hold?

Illegal trade in wildlife occurs when local and international laws are broken for the purpose of commercial enterprise. Often, the laws come about to support CITES, whose objective is to prevent commerce from threatening the survival of plant and animal species. Typically, laws are broken when that commerce proves exceptionally lucrative, as has proven to be the case for species like elephants and rhinoceros. Unfortunately, elephant ivory and rhino horn can bring big financial returns for poachers and the crime syndicates who fund them. Ounce for ounce, rhino horn is worth more than drugs like cocaine on the black market, drawing as much as $60,000/kilogram. This is the primary reason that rhino populations are suddenly experiencing steep declines, as poachers slaughtered 1,215 across the globe in 2014. That’s one rhino killed every eight hours for the purpose of making money for criminal organizations. And elephants are victims, too. Killed for their ivory tusks, about 96 elephants a day fall victim to illegal trafficking. These deaths draw both rhinos and elephants closer to the threat of extinction.

As stated by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “Illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law and threatens national security; it degrades ecosystems and… combating this crime is not only essential for conservation efforts and sustainable development, it will contribute to achieving peace and security in troubled regions where conflicts are fueled by these illegal activities.” This is a serious conservation issue. Its time we all get serious about wildlife trafficking.

Know before you buy, and don't purchase ivory items or anything made from rhino horn.

Know before you buy, and don’t purchase ivory items or anything made from rhino horn.

What can you do? Start by informing yourself. Though China is one of the primary destinations for most trafficked goods, you might be surprised to learn that the US is the second leading recipient of illegal ivory. So take the next step: refuse to buy trafficked goods. Never, ever buy ivory statues or jewelry, or rhino horn products and powders. Ending the demand for these items is an important part of the offensive to end the slaughter of rare wildlife across the globe, and a crucial part of preventing extinction.

San Diego Zoo Global is in the business of ending extinction. Combating illegal wildlife trafficking is an important part of meeting that objective. We hope you’ll join us this World Wildlife Day by getting serious about wildlife crime.

Suzanne Hall is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Who You Calling Sloth?.

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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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Strategy to Save Northern White Rhino Is Launched; New Genetic Technologies Offer Hope for Species

Global_logo_color webWith support from the Seaver Institute, geneticists at San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are taking the initial steps in an effort to use cryopreserved cells to bring back the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction. Living cells banked in the Frozen Zoo® have preserved the genetic lineage of 12 northern white rhinos, including a male that recently passed away at the Safari Park. Scientists hope that new technologies can be used to gather the genetic knowledge needed to create a viable population for this disappearing subspecies.

  “Multiple steps must be accomplished to reach the goal of establishing a viable population that can be reintroduced into the species range in Africa, where it is now extinct,” said Oliver Ryder Ph.D., Director of Genetics for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “A first step involves sequencing the genomes of northern white rhinos to clarify the extent of genetic divergence from their closest relative, the southern white rhino.”

The next step would require conversion of the cells preserved in the Frozen Zoo® to stem cells that could develop into sperm and eggs.  A process to do this was successfully developed in the laboratory of Dr. Jeanne Loring of the Scripps Research Institute and published in 2011.

“If we can take reprogrammed cells and direct them to become eggs and sperm, we can use in vitro fertilization to generate a new animal,” said Jeanne Loring, Director of Regenerative Medicine for the Scripps Research Institute. “Bold new initiatives are required to save endangered species, and we recognize the application of stem cell technology using cells in the Frozen Zoo® provides hope for preventing extinctions, with scientific innovation helping to lead these efforts.”

Researchers at the Safari Park have been working for decades to breed the species but had only four aged individuals to work with. After the recent death of the male rhino, Angalifu, reproductive physiologists from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research collected and cryopreserved 200 vials of sperm and 75 vials of testicular tissue.  This sperm, along with previously collected semen saved in the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo®, will be utilized for future assisted reproduction efforts.

“The reproductive system of rhinos is very complex and there is still so much we do not know,” said Barbara Durrant Ph.D, reproductive physiologist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “We will meet the challenge to save this beautiful animal by combining recent advances in genetic and reproductive technology with our expertise in animal care and welfare.”

The Seaver Institute has awarded San Diego Zoo Global $110,000 to fund whole genome sequencing of northern and southern white rhinos in an effort to characterize genetic diversity. Understanding the genetic differences between rhino species will allow scientists to determine what assisted reproduction mechanisms may be used for future conservation.

“The Seaver Institute supports fundamental research and innovative inquiry for particular projects that offer the potential for significant advancement in their fields,” said Victoria Dean, President for the Seaver Institute. “We are interested in supporting this project which will take advantage of the, until now, theoretical value of the Frozen Zoo.”

Only one northern white rhino, an elderly female, remains at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Three other northern white rhinos are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and one is in the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. The five remaining rhinos are all of an advanced age and have not reproduced.

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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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.

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Ambassador Mi Ton Teiow Receives a New Posting

Mi Ton Teiow explores the archaeology and classical culture of ancient Greece, which included stories and myths about bears and people.

Mi Ton Teiow explores the archaeology and classical culture of ancient Greece, which included stories and myths about bears and people.

Bear Conservation Ambassador Mi Ton Teiow was posted to San Diego Zoo Global for one year following the 22nd conference of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA) in Provo, Utah, but he has now moved on to new adventures!

En route to the 23rd conference of the IBA in Thessaloniki, Greece, Mi visited some of the world-famous archaeological sites in Athens, and admired a statue of a little bear dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis. This was a beautiful reminder that bears have played an important role in European culture since the rise of European civilization, and they still do. This point was reiterated at the conference during a special session on human-bear conflict. In addition, a session on conservation of Mongolian Gobi bears was attended by representatives of the Mongolian government, further illustrating the importance that some people around the world continue to place on bears and bear conservation.

Mi also heard updated assessments of the conservation status of the eight bear species by the IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group. Six of the eight species of bears are now considered at some risk of extinction, which is a sobering reality in a changing world. As part of the discussion of the status of Asiatic black bears and sun bears, Mi heard about ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of the harvest of these bears’ bile, which is used in some traditional medicinal practices. Mi’s previous travels have not dealt much with the issue of bear bile harvest, but Mi is now gaining much more exposure to this topic.

During the conference, a select committee of international bear biologists decided that Mi could now best serve bear conservation by traveling with Matt Hunt, Chief Executive of Free the Bears Fund, a non-profit, non-governmental organization focused on the conservation of bears in Asia. Since leaving Greece, Matt and Mi have already visited India, Cambodia, Australia, and Laos. So, although Ambassador Mi Ton Teiow has already explored bear conservation in many countries, there are many opportunities for further discovery. Good luck, Mi!

Russ Van Horn is a scientist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, What to Eat When There’s Nothing to Eat.

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Teens Digging In and Making a Difference: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps Members Restore Native Habitat at Lake Hodges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FEB. 7, 2015 CONTACT: 	SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL 		PUBLIC RELATIONS 		619-685-3291 WEBSITE: www.sdzsafaripark.org DOWNLOAD PHOTO AT:  https://sandiegozoo.box.com/s/yevg436yvqu3gqxcj5py9v9tq1ee3i3o PHOTO NEWS RELEASE Teens Digging In anTeens from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Conservation Corps dug in and got their hands dirty as they helped to plant 825 native plants at Lake Hodges in Escondido earlier today. The area was ravished by wildfires in 2007 and the teens were part of an ongoing project to restore native habitat.

The volunteer project, with the goal of planting 10,000 native shrubs across 25 acres at Lake Hodges, was spearheaded by the team from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Applied Plant Ecology Division, in conjunction with the San Dieguito River Park, with a Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation grant and a Climate Ready grant from the State of California Coastal Conservancy. To date, over 7,000 plants have been planted.

Coastal sage scrub is a disappearing habitat in Southern California, much of it being lost to invasive grasses, especially after fires. By restoring coastal sage scrub the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and Conservation Corps volunteers are helping to provide habitat to much of the unique wildlife that makes San Diego County special, including the threatened California gnatcatchers, the San Diego horned lizard, and coastal cactus wrens.

Photo taken on Feb. 7 by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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From Conflict to Coexistence: Part 2

There are only about 3,000 of the endangered Grevy’s zebra left in the world, so it was great to see a foal at West Gate Conservancy!

There are only about 3,000 of the endangered Grevy’s zebra left in the world, so it was great to see a foal at West Gate Conservancy!

Read Conflict to Coexistence: Part 1

Christy and I spent a month traveling across Kenya at the end of 2014. We journeyed from the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro at the Tanzania border in the very south, up to northern Kenya and the Mathews Range. Our purpose was to meet with researchers and conservationists in the field who are leading the fight against extinction, battling not only poaching, but also working alongside communities to address localized conflicts and habitat fragmentation. We were inspired by their passion and innovation, and returned to San Diego to start planning several collaborative projects focusing on elephants, lions, rhinos, Grevy’s zebra, cheetah, leopard, giraffes, and other species.

We take a collaborative approach to conservation, which cannot ultimately be successful unless communities support, participate in, and benefit from it. As such, we were lucky to meet with some of the most inspiring communities, groups, and researchers that are working together in creative ways to bring success for people and wildlife. It is alongside these groups that San Diego Zoo Global will stand and partner with as we save species.

We cannot do any of this work without your continue support—thank you so much, because together we can end extinction! Become a Hero for Wildlife and join us in this important work.

Here are some of the groups we met, and are excited to be exploring conservation research partnerships with:

African Conservation Centre partners with communities on conservation initiatives, and is coordinating the Borderlands Conservation Initiative. Saving the richest wildlife populations on earth by working with communities and landowners along the Kenya-Tanzania border between the National Parks to establish viable, interconnected elephant and lion populations by strengthening community conservation capacity, generating jobs and income, and end poaching.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy:  A 55,000-acre conservancy in northern Kenya. Initially focused on protecting rhino from poaching, it has grown as a leader in wildlife conservation, and spreads the benefits of wildlife conservation through community development programs to 40,000 people regionally.

Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust:  Encompassing the unique and bio-diverse Mathews Range, this million-acre Samburu community conservancy is the jewel of northern Kenya. Previously home to an estimated 3,000 black rhino and numerous other species, today wildlife are returning, including elephants, reticulated giraffe, leopards, cheetah. Sarara Camp, a glorious community-owned eco-lodge that gives guests a unique intimate experience, while generating wildlife income for the community It also partners with Samburu leaders on a number of innovative conservation projects.

West Gate Community Conservancy:  Recognizing this Samburu community’s vision for conservation and co-existence, San Diego Zoo Global has supported the 100,000-acre West Gate Conservancy since its inception. Ten years later it is a leader in community-based conservation, battling land degradation, collectively managing grazing, and runs innovative community programs benefitting local people and the growing population of wildlife. West Gate is also home to two extremely effective community-based conservation organizations: Ewaso Lions and Grevy’s Zebra Trust who use innovative, multi-dimensional approaches to conserve lions and endangered Grevy’s zebras and secure wildlife corridors in West Gate and beyond.

The Safari Collection:  Through its four world-class lodges, and in full partnership with the communities, the Safari Collection is a leader and innovator in sustainable ecotourism. At each location, the lodges provide income and employment locally and work collaboratively with community members to enact conservation and capacity-building programs. These include direct conservation research on cheetahs and rhino and community initiatives such as health clinics, education and sport programs. We met with the Owner and Community and Conservation Manager in the elegant Giraffe Manor, to plan potential exciting future conservation efforts.

Save the Elephants is the pioneer group for elephant research and conservation in East Africa. Save the Elephants continues cutting-edge elephant conservation research through its collaring program, and community conservation by reducing conflict and poaching. They are also tackling ivory poaching head-on across Africa and curbing demand in China and Asia.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation:  Giraffes are the forgotten giants of Africa. They have declined by 40% since 1999, from 140,000 to less than 80,000 today. All nine types of giraffe are in decline, but some are in real trouble. The reticulated giraffe has declined by 80% over the past fifteen years from 28,000 to less than 4,700 today. Most of reticulated giraffe’s range is outside of protected areas, in addition to habitat loss, they are being relentlessly poached for meat, decoration and in response to a recent myth that giraffe bone marrow and brains cure HIV/AIDS. In close partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, we are working to rapidly develop community-based conservation initiatives to stem this decline, before giraffes vanish.

David OConnor is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Understanding Wildlife Trade in Asia.