Planning for the Future — A Note from Ron Kagan

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We know you miss visiting nature’s wonders at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center, and we miss hosting you as you explore, enjoy and learn. Looking to the future, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is planning for a reopening as soon as it’s legal and safe to welcome you back.

The DZS continues to monitor scientific data, consult experts about both human and wildlife health issues, and listen to you and your suggestions about safety measures for our eventual reopening. If you’d like to add your voice to our survey, we’d greatly appreciate your input.

Social distancing, limited and timed entry, and strict, constant cleaning protocols are just a sample of what you can expect when you return. For us, it will be and has always been, safety before revenue. Limiting capacity will further hurt our revenue stream at the height of the summer season, but it is paramount that we do everything we can to keep our guests and animals safe. We will adhere to clear, sensible policies and count on you to accept shared responsibility so we can keep each other, and the animals who live here, safe.

We have received questions about membership extensions, Zoo Camps and other events. We can say that original programs and events pre-COVID-19 will not be the same. The DZS is working hard to develop alternate and engaging solutions for events and camp experiences, and we will share more details soon on all fronts. The DZS has automatically extended existing memberships for two months.

No words can adequately express our sincere gratitude to the community during this time. The thoughtful letters, calls, posts and donations are very much appreciated. Thank you. We hope you are healthy and able to get out and enjoy nature on those beautiful, warm days (between the fleeting snowflakes) that our Michigan spring allows.

Be well,

Ron Kagan
Executive Director and CEO
Detroit Zoological Society

Don’t Worry: The Animals at the Detroit Zoo Are Receiving Great Care!

As all of us continue to figure out how to navigate our daily lives during the coronavirus pandemic, people are reaching out to make sure their friends and families are doing OK and not feeling too isolated or overwhelmed.  I’ve had a number of people ask about how the animals at the Detroit Zoo are faring, particularly given the news from the Bronx Zoo about the big cats who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) animal care and veterinary teams continue to ensure that the animals at the Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are well cared for and healthy.  We’ve made a lot of changes in our procedures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus among people and animals. Before the first human case was confirmed in Michigan, the DZS was already using masks and gloves and keeping our distance when caring for the animals we considered most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection: the monkeys, lemurs and great apes.  When it was determined that tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo had shown symptoms of COVID-19, we immediately expanded our preventive strategies to include a number of carnivore species.

So far, none of the animals at the Detroit Zoo have shown symptoms to indicate a possible COVID-19 infection.  We are also very happy to hear that the animals at the Bronx Zoo are improving and expected to fully recover.  The DZS stays in touch with zoo and wildlife colleagues across the country and overseas. We are also connected with our One Health partners in Michigan, modifying our animal care protocols as soon as new information becomes available to keep the animals who live here healthy.  Meanwhile, our staff is grateful to be healthy and able to do the important work of caring for these beautiful creatures.  We are monitoring animals carefully, continuing to provide preventative veterinary care such as giving vaccinations, treating to prevent heartworm, and providing care for animals with critical health problems if needed.

As the signs of spring emerge at the Zoo, it’s hard not feel sad that we can’t share the beauty of the daffodils and budding trees with guests.

When the time is right, we very much look forward to seeing all of you at the Detroit Zoo once again.

In the meantime, be well.

– Dr. Ann Duncan is the director of animal health for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

Honoring Earth Day: A Note from Ron Kagan

The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us greatly. At such a somber time, it can be really hard to navigate our new (temporary) normal, let alone remember special days. But, today is important; today is Earth Day.

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While most of us are missing friends and family and much of our regular daily life, some have found a new friend in nature. Others have always remained aware and in love with Mother Nature. This current isolation has allowed many of us time to reflect on things that might have otherwise been taken for granted and gone unnoticed: a squirrel nesting in a tree (isn’t it strange how most people hate rats, but think squirrels are adorable?!), a ray of sunshine between snowflakes (we live in Michigan, after all), or an early spring flower blossoming. Earth has always been a source of wonder and joy for humans. Now we have the time to really pay attention to it.

This Earth Day, we celebrate the planet that we’re fortunate to call home. Even through the turmoil of a pandemic, the Earth is what unites us and grounds us. It’s the ultimate, and literal, common ground.

Through the work of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS), we encourage people to be mindful of their impact on others, human and non-human alike. At our core, we believe that we have both a responsibility and a great opportunity to be helpful, bringing both awareness and solutions to environmental issues. Many of these issues, human and non-human generated, inevitably result in consequences that harm both the natural world and the human experience.

At DZS, we love the natural world. We study it, we save it and we celebrate it. While the pandemic is everyone’s number one fight right now, as it should be, once we are through this battle, we must not lose sight of the need to fight for our planet. Since the beginning, we humans have pushed forward, sometimes pursuing our desires and needs without always fully considering the consequences and problems that could follow. We have dramatically changed — and in some places destroyed — landscapes, released chemicals into our air and water, left plastic to wrap the planet and too often treated animals and nature as disposable. It’s as if we think Earth is bestowed with infinitely replenishable “assets.”

We have the chance to correct the course if we act. With less of us driving cars and with the recent dramatic reduction in factory emissions, we have seen significantly cleaner air over many cities. What a difference. This is a vivid illustration of how important renewable energy is to our health and to the planet’s health.

So when you’re outside, find time to connect with nature. Look and listen; soak it in. And when the world moves out of this public health crisis, I hope we will all remember that our safe place is nature. We should do everything possible to make it healthy.

With gratitude,

Ron Kagan
Executive Director and CEO
Detroit Zoological Society

Frog-Themed Activities in Honor of World Frog Day!

Spring is finally here — and so is World Frog Day! The weather is gradually warming up and plants are bursting through the soil, preparing to dazzle us with their blooms. Spring also brings the beautiful sounds of frogs and toads calling to each other. In honor of World Frog Day, we are sharing frog-themed activities that can be done at home with minimal supplies.

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Frogs live on six of the Earth’s seven continents, all of them except Antarctica. They are all different colors and sizes. The largest species of frog, the goliath frog, measures 8” to 12” in length. That is about the size of a piece of copy paper!  The smallest known frog, one of the microhylid frogs, measures less than half an inch, about the width of a regular size paperclip. If you have children at home, pull out a paper clip and a piece of copy paper. Have them compare the items to objects around the house to see what is larger than the world’s largest frog and what is smaller than the world’s smallest frog. Comparing sizes of different things helps people build number sense, or an intuitive understanding of numbers, an important skill for all of us to master, especially young children.

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Michigan is home to 13 species of frogs and toads. It is usually easier to hear them calling or singing to each other, than it is to actually see them. That is because they are well camouflaged, meaning they blend in with their surroundings. It is important to know which species of frogs and toads live in certain areas. They are considered bioindicators, which means they are species of animals who are greatly impacted by the health of the environment. If the water, wetlands and other places they live are polluted or contaminated, they cannot survive. If their habitat is clean and healthy, many species or individuals will be living there, all calling out to each other in a beautiful chorus.

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The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) leads a FrogWatch Chapter (aza.org/frogwatch and detroitzoo.org/animals/frogwatch/) to train people, like you, to recognize and record frog calls around Michigan. The data that people submit helps DZS staff and researchers to analyze and better understand frog populations throughout our area and across the country.

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This spring, consider spending time outside in the evening to listen for frogs and toads. You can practice being a frog and toad researcher, or a citizen scientist, by learning the calls and recording information like date, temperature, weather conditions, the time you start and stop listening, and the species you hear. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has short recordings of each species on their website to help you learn them. Practicing recording data is an important skill, especially for kids. Send your data to Rebecca Johnson (rjohnson@dzs.org) or Mike Reed (mreed@dzs.org). Next year, you can join us for training to become a certified FrogWatch participant. The earliest calling frogs will be starting soon, the wood frogs and spring peepers, so pick a night where the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and head outside to listen!

 

A Trip to a Cultural Institution Provides More Than Just Fun

A trip to a zoo, nature center or other cultural institution is often planned as a recreational or primarily social event. The reality is these visits are critical learning experiences for youth and adults alike. School-age children spend considerably more time out of school than they do at school. Between evenings, weekends and breaks, in the United States, school accounts for about 6.7 hours a day for 180 days, or roughly 25% of a child’s time spent awake each year. The opportunities youth have in their out-of-school time can make a significant difference in their future school, career and life trajectories.

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Cultural institutions are favorite places to visit for a variety of reasons: many people feel safe visiting their local and regional institutions, and they find the exhibits and experiences relevant and meaningful. The institutions are rich in learning opportunities and removed from that typical school-day feeling. They are fun, engaging and memorable. Many institutions are free to visit or offer memberships that make frequent visits affordable.

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The Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are top informal learning institutions in the community, combining opportunities to observe animals in naturalistic habitats with stories of individual animals. Many animals are part of critical, global conservation initiatives; others have been rescued from unfortunate circumstances and have inspiring stories about second chances and new beginnings. These stories are shared through signage, in-person by staff and volunteers, and by digital media available to guests. In addition, guests often have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities that focus on science concepts while engaging with experts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers during their visit. Perhaps most importantly, visitors build their understanding of animals’ adaptations, physical appearances, behaviors and individual personalities through their observations. This information creates an awareness about the natural world and how human and non-human animals share the same spaces and interact.

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Young children, from birth to kindergarten age, are creating their understanding of the world, they’re building their vocabulary and figuring out how things work with an insatiable, natural curiosity. Exposure to places like the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are critical to developing their future skills and interests. The Belle Isle Nature Center has indoor and outdoor play areas designed specifically for young children. Both areas have natural items like tree cross sections, natural building blocks, rocks and seasonal items like acorns and pinecones for visitors to discover. Adults are essential mentors as they encourage youth to manipulate objects, provide correct vocabulary to identify items, and prompt early learners with questions so they can investigate together. These actions explore cause and effect, help draw parallels between what children know and are learning, and aid in the development of scientific thinking skills.

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As a whole, these experiences build visitors’ understanding of the natural world and systems within it. During a visit, guests have opportunities to explore their impact, both direct and indirect, on those systems and how they can make informed decisions that ultimately benefit themselves, wildlife and wild places. Guests who regularly visit informal learning institutions with children are predisposing them to be interested in STEM-related fields and equipping them with the essential skills needed to pursue those careers, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and planning and conducting investigations. So the next time you think: “we should do something fun today, like visit the Detroit Zoo,” know that you’re not only going to enjoy your visit, but, if you bring children, you just may be helping to shape their future.

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Getting a Closer Look Inside Animals: Computed Tomography Comes to the Detroit Zoological Society

As zoo veterinarians, we recognize the importance of identifying animals with health problems as early as possible. Fortunately, the Detroit Zoological Society has exceptional zookeepers who attentively look after each animal in their care and alert the veterinary team whenever they suspect there may be a problem. While subtle changes in demeanor, appetite, fecal and urinary output, and activity level can be key indicators of illness in an animal, most of our patients are very good at hiding their symptoms. In order to get a more comprehensive understanding of an animal’s health, we often rely on diagnostic tests, such as physical examination, bloodwork and cultures for bacteria.

When the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex opened in 2004, the radiology suite was equipped with a state-of-the-art radiology unit designed for use in human hospitals.  With this upgrade, we found that we increasingly relied on diagnostic imaging (radiographs and ultrasound) to make diagnoses and shape our treatment plans.  In fact, we take x-rays during almost every diagnostic examination, on patients as small as dart frogs and as large as bison.

Since the early 2000s, imaging technology has been rapidly advancing, and by upgrading equipment and adding new technologies, the Detroit Zoological Society has stayed on the cutting edge of veterinary care.  This includes having ultrasound probes designed for patients of all shapes and sizes, digital dental radiography and portable x-ray equipment that can go out into the Zoo to image animals who are difficult to move to the hospital. Despite these advancements, we still found it necessary to take patients to off-site facilities at least a few times each year for computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

In late 2019, two very exciting things happened: first, a generous donor named Thomas A. Mackey came forward with an interest in funding a project that would have an immediate impact on animal care and welfare, and, secondly, we became aware of a revolutionary new computed tomography (CT) technology that had been developed in Ann Arbor.  One of the most important features of the new CT technology is that it is portable, and much more affordable and user-friendly than a full-sized CT system. Since our hospital was already equipped with the features and space necessary to install the new system, within just a few months, we were able to bring this exciting new technology to the Zoo.

The new Xoran Portable CT has been in use for only a few months, but it has already had a tremendous impact on patient care at the Detroit Zoo.  Adding CT to our diagnostic toolbox has increased the level of care that we can provide to animals at DZS exponentially. CT works by aiming a narrow beam of x-rays at a patient, while quickly rotating around them. The CT’s computer generates cross-sectional images, or “slices” of the body.  The images contain more detailed information than conventional x-rays.  Once the slices are generated, they can be digitally “stacked” together to form a 3-D image that allows for easier identification and location of basic structures as well as possible tumors or abnormalities.

Here are just a few examples of how this technology is helping us give animals the best possible care:

CASE #1
CT imaging is especially well suited for visualizing the teeth and bones of the jaw. A male aardvark was due for a routine checkup. He had been eating fine, and there was no reason to suspect that he had dental disease. However, aardvarks often have problems with their teeth, so we decided to use the CT machine to scan his head. The images collected showed that he had areas of bone breakdown around the roots of three separate teeth. Treatment was able to be provided before his condition progressed to a point where he was showing signs of discomfort.

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CASE #2
This adult McCord’s box turtle was imaged during a routine examination. The shell covering the body can make radiographs hard to interpret, but CT imaging allows us to see inside of the turtle.

McCord’s box turtle: a. Image of the head and forearms, b. image from the side showing the head and neck folded into the shell, c. 3D reconstruction of the face and front limbs seen in image a.

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CASE #3
CT imaging has also proved helpful for several avian patients. One of the cinereous vultures living at the Zoo had a mass (red star) growing on the toe pictured below. The mass needed to be removed, but in order to plan for surgery, we needed to understand if the mass was superficial or more invasive and involved the soft tissues and bone beneath. CT imaging provided better detail for seeing small changes in the muscles and ligaments surrounding the mass. After evaluating the images, we were able to plan a surgical approach to remove the mass, and any adjacent tissue of concern. The vulture is doing great post-operatively and already back in his home!

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CASE #4
We currently have four red pandas living at the Detroit Zoo. The oldest is a 14-year-old female named Ta-Shi. During her recent routine examination, we noticed that one of her large molar teeth appeared darker than normal and was cracked on the surface. Within a few moments, we were set up and ready to collect CT images of her head and teeth. The images showed that the tooth was infected at the root, a problem that was likely causing discomfort. The tooth was also broken, meaning it needed to be removed in several pieces. After the tooth was extracted, a repeat CT showed us conclusively that all of the roots had been completely removed.

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We are extraordinarily grateful to have state-of-the-art equipment at hand to care for animals at the Detroit Zoo. The recent financial gift that made the addition of CT possible has improved our ability to see small changes more clearly, detect problems earlier and fine-tune treatments. With this tool, we will continue to ensure that animals live long, healthy lives and thrive within our care. We cannot say thank you enough to Thomas A. Mackey for his incredibly generous donation!

– Dr. Ann Duncan is the director of animal health for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

 

 

Share Your Love of Sustainability with Your Sweetheart

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Whether you like chocolate or candy, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to share many delicious treats with your loved ones. There’s just one problem: not all of these treats are created equal when it comes to sustainability. Many food products, including a large amount of candy, contains an ingredient that has major effects on wildlife: palm oil.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of oil palm. It is used in a wide variety of products, especially in food and cleaning supplies. One positive aspect of palm oil is that less land is required to create the same yield as other vegetable oils. However, the demand for this product has become so high that land is being deforested at a very rapid rate to create space for these plantations. This deforestation is a direct contributor to habitat loss for many species, and it is estimated that the palm oil industry impacts 193 species with concerning conservation statuses. Among those impacted are species like orangutans, rhinos and tigers. Specifically, scientists believe that the 17% decline observed in the Sumatran subspecies of tiger over the past 20 years is heavily due to deforestation for palm oil plantations.

So, what qualifies as sustainable palm oil? The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a group formed to maintain standards and certify organizations producing and sourcing sustainable palm oil. There are several RSPO-certified producers that have committed to stopping certain industry actions to create better practices for both wildlife and people. These new standards call for transparency, the elimination of deforestation and better working conditions for laborers. By making these commitments, producers and organizations can work together to create a demand for sustainably sourced palm oil in our everyday products.

Consider the following actions to decrease the demand for unsustainable palm oil:

Support sustainable companies. Buy food, such as your Valentine’s Day candy, and other products from companies that source their palm oil from sustainable farms.

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Make your voice heard. Did you notice a certain company was not committed to using sustainable palm oil? Write them a letter to share your concerns and encourage more environmentally conscious operations. Our consumer voice can be quite impactful.

Create homemade gifts. Make a batch of cookies or chocolate-covered strawberries to gift instead of purchasing something from the store. Not only are you showing someone you care, but you can ensure that each ingredient used is a sustainable one.

Marissa Ratzenberger is a sustainability coordinator for the Detroit Zoological Society