Are you asking yourself what a Conservation Station is? WELL it is an interpretive cart that utilizes biofacts and pictures on zoo grounds. The purpose of the conservation station is to enhance the public's knowledge of wildlife conservation and animal information. My partner and I did one today on the okapi.
The okapi looks like a mix between a horse and a zebra, but that is a misconception. The okapi's closest living relative is the giraffe. This comparison arises from the okapi's long black tongue, elongated neck, and the way it walks, with a gait. In the wild, they live to be about 20-25 years old; however, in captivity, they live to be 20-30 years old. They are a herbivorous species and are solitary animals once they've reached adulthood. The brown color and the zebra print on the hind end, helps them blind into the rainforest. This flagship species is native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. More specifically, they reside on an 8700 square mile Okapi Wildlife Reserve. It is thought that 1/3 of the wild population live there.
Okapis are an endangered species. There are roughly 10,000 - 35, 000 still remaining. They are often killed for their pelt and for bushmeat.
The Okapi Conservation Project was founded/started in 1987 by a guy named John Lukas. The OCP protects okapis with the help of 130 ICCN rangers who are supported by collaborators and partners, supplied with office supplies, weapons, food, health care, education, vehicles, money for gas, etc.
Today, my partner and I, gave a brief synopsis of the of the latter to various age groups. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. It felt amazing sharing my knowledge with others and educating the public. Most of them were surprised that its closest relative was a giraffe and that they were endangered. We did have a few challenges while presenting our conservation cart. I'd say the biggest challenge that we faced was talking about conservation to the younger kids because they haven't reached the stage of life yet to really grasp that there are organisms in the world that are on the verge of extinction. It was also difficult to keep their focus. We would ask them questions and have them look at the skulls and pelt we brought out, but they wouldn't answer or talk to us because they often got distracted.
Overall, I thought the experience was fantastic. I'd say were successful in catching people's attention and bringing them to the station so we could communicate with them. It was very fun and very rewarding. I don't think that all of the individuals will start taking conservation actions, but I do hope that we hit home to a few, and made them think about ways in which they can preserve wild organisms.
April and I posing with Tulia, a female okapi at the Houston Zoo.
Well well well...this week was a little less hands on field work, and a lot more lecturing and learning approaches to developing information conservation presentations. Before we did a presentation on our endangered species, we got things running with a few lectures from professionals who have done numerous presentations in the past. The interns also split into smaller groups and attended Keeper Chat to observe how they presented the information, how they were interactive, if they changed the difficulty of information based on the audience, etc.
Based on the observations we had throughout the week, we got insight on what OUR Wildlife Heros Presentation should resemble.
HIGHLIGHT THUS FAR
I say with confidence, that my favorite lecture this week, was about a beautiful species of turtle called Malaclemys terrapin, or the diamondback terrapin.
Isn't this guy so pretty?!
A little bit about the diamondback terrapin. This turtle is known for the diamond shapes that appear on its shell and for their distinct silver body color. The terrapin is a brackish water dweller and has a distinct jaw/beak. They are communal baskers and when they snorkel, their white jaw appears at the surface of the water. They are a sexually dimorphic species. The female is much bigger than the male:
Treats to terrapins are monofilament lines, fyke nets, and the biggest threat, crab traps.
A conservation program called T.E.R.P.S. (Terrapin Education Research Program of Savannah) works to maintain this species through awareness, fencing roads, and installing permanent barriers. With the help of those researchers and volunteers in pressing state agencies to make changes, the crab traps now have modified crab traps, TEDs or BRDs, that allow crabs to enter the cage, but not the terrapins.
The TEDs/BRDs have already proven to decrease the number of terrapin entrances and deaths.
Zoo terms are not often explained, so I'm going to give a brief breakdown of just a few of the most commonly used. AZA -Association of Zoos & Aquariums Accreditation -224 zoos & aquariums in the U.S. are AZA accredited -Based on: Collection, education, conservation, finance, record keeping, safety, physical facilities -AZA zoos/aquariums can trade animals with other accredited facilities
Enrichment -AZA defines: A dynamic process for enhancing animals environments within the context of the animals behavioral biology and natural history. -required by AZA -Types: environmental, habitat, sensory, food, social groupings, behavioral conditioning
H.I.P.P.O. -Acronym to remember main causes of diminishing wildlife Habitat Loss Invasive Species Pet Trade Pollution Over-harvesting (poaching)
Species Survival Plan (SSP) -cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species -breeding of a species' genetics
I've made it through week 4 of my conservation internship and I am very satisfied with how the program has been. I've learned A LOT! But the biggest thing I've picked up on are careers in conservation. It has been a common theme with the professionals we have encountered, that the conservation field is very competitive. Not because of the education requirement (Masters or PhD) but because a lot of the positions in any department, have few spots because of low budgets.
I'm, in no means a professional at careers, seeing as I will be a senior in college this coming school year. But, what I've taken away from listening and talking to employers, is that experience is crucial. Whether you can afford to continue your education and get your Masters/PhD or not, EXPERIENCE seems to be a frequent and sought after quality that allows someone to get the foot in the door somewhere. And I'm here to relay this message: You will NOT make a ton of money in the conservation field. If that's your intention, this is not the specialty for you. Once you graduate college, YOU WILL NOT START OFF RICH! That should just be known. WORK, hard work, and MOTIVATION will be the driving factors to get you to your ideal career. And if you love what you're doing, work isn't really work. Find your niche now, volunteer, try numerous jobs out, intern, get hands on experience, because when you know what you want to do, get the job, and love it...that's when you receive your bonus.
I wrote a reflection paper about the endangered African Painted Dog last week. I am posting it for those who are interested, to read. There are numerous efforts being doing in Africa with the partnership with the zoo, to help conserve this beautiful and truly witty specimen. Enjoy.
Working in the conservation field indirectly works with animals, which I also enjoy. I love the idea of doing research and finding solutions or alternatives that impact an ecosystem for an endangered species. For instance, before I started my internship, I didn’t realize the impacts of buying products that contained palm oil, for instance. After learning that palm oil seeds come for a plant that is regularly planted in areas of Africa where chimpanzees exist, I started to cut down and eliminate the use of palm oil products. The idea that I am indirectly saying that “it’s okay to cut down forestry and the habitats of chimps” by using these types of products, is something I’m not okay with.
The absolute highlight of the week was listening to Bumpus, a staff member of the Houston Zoo, one of only four members of their conservation team. Bumpus works with the endangered Painted Dogs that reside native to Africa. She is a direct member of the Painted Dog Conservation Project in Africa. The PDC project has researchers and other collaborators both in the U.S. and Africa who vigorously work together to maintain the painted dog population in Africa. The purpose of the project is to educate locals in surrounding Zimbabwe communities. The challenge of the project is the partnering together of individuals who reside hundreds of miles apart. Additionally, giving the locals an incentive is a challenge as well because anytime in conservation, if you are working elsewhere (besides the U.S.) it is often difficult to have locals openly allow you to work within their living headquarters, they often don’t trust outsiders because they don’t have similar beliefs as them and they think that they’re just there to do more harm than help. Therefore, Bumpus and her team needed to give the locals an incentive for allowing them to conduct their research on the local’s grounds. What was the plan?
Well, PDC decided to have a camp called the Bush Camp in which young children, who have reached a 6th grade education, come to the grounds where the research is conducted and they stay there for four days and learn about the wildlife, from desert reptiles, to mammals. This camp is completely free and is a way to get the locals involved and learn of endangered species like the painted dog. This collaboration between Bumpus and the Africans is very important because the partnership isn’t just about sending money to the project like some sort of charity, but it’s important to develop a healthy business relationship. The locals that are working on the project need to know that the zoo is there to help out; they need to feel like the zoo will accurately communicate their voices to others, this is meaningful to the people. Bumpus mentioned that a great researcher looks at the threat of the species and not what the species is particularly doing that threatens the people. One of the objectives of the PDC project was the reach out to native Zimbabweans and have them participate in something, because as stated earlier, when people are educated about an issue and physically participate in their conservation efforts, they are more willing to continue because they see how they can make an impact. The other objective that is a challenge is finding out what the local’s needs are.
As a researcher, questions and hesitations are raised if you just move in there and do research on trying to save an animal and don’t communicate to locals whatsoever, who want the animal gone because they hunt their livestock. The solution to this is to learn what the locals concerns are in regards to this endangered species and assist in addressing it. Thoroughly express the need for this animal. And make it a goal to stop the research temporarily and take time to help the community. Ask “Where are the needs?” and “What are the threats?”.
The Painted Dog Conservation Project was put into place due to killing of painted dogs for their meat and fur. The natives used them for bushmeat and used their fur for trading. An additional threat to the species are snares that poachers put out for small prey, however in the chase for small prey, painted dogs get caught in these snares, and eventually die. In response to the snares, a small team of individuals at the zoo worked together to create a collar that not only helped researchers track the dogs, but they also put on these sort of hooks that allowed a snare wire to glide off more easily, therefore preventing the dogs from getting caught up. Painted dogs are a flagship species, which means that their removal from a habitat, greatly affects that particular ecosystem as a whole.
The human-wildlife conflict in conservation more often than not, is a people vs. people conflict, never against the animal itself. In order to overcome this conflict, Bumpus suggests that in order to resolve the people vs. people conflict, we have to see yourselves as equals and to deal with underlying conflicts. There are numerous seminars that are held each year in the U.S. called Human Wildlife Conflict Course. The roles that zoos play in conservation are maintaining genetic variation because wild populations that are small have a higher chance of experiencing a bottleneck effects, and maintaining a balanced relationship with other collaborators in other countries.
A highlight from Bumpus’s lecture was when she was talking about a clinic in Africa that houses numerous painted dogs that have been injured or found sick. The goal of the clinic is to rehabilitate these dogs and even reintroduce them back into the wild. Because I’m an Animal Behavior major, I asked Bumpus if the reintroduction process was difficult and if they used behavioral enrichment within the clinic to maintain their wildness behaviors and prevent them becoming domesticated. She responded and said that the facility actually does a lot of behavioral enrichment in order to keep them wild. The clinic is 70-80 acres and so they are basically still in the wild, however, hunting is not “realistic”. Therefore, the staff puts prey on a raised rope and slides it across an area which allows the dogs to team up together and take down the prey, in which they do in the wild.
National Geographic for the picture