An Expedition Through the Amazon

Pictured are 2023 Expedition participants, CONAPAC staff, DZS staff and Amazon Exlporama Guides.

Authored by Claire Lannoye-Hall, director of education for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

The Amazon Rainforest is a beautiful and fascinating place to visit. An incredible variety of plants and animals make this region one of the most biologically diverse and important areas to protect in the world. 

Living in this area of the world is not easy. The remote communities are only accessible by boat, using the Amazon and Napo rivers — and their many tributaries — to get to the larger cities where medical care and material goods can be purchased. Most communities rely on the food they can grow within their communities or harvest from the rainforest. There are few opportunities to earn money — aside from selling natural resources, such as timber.

While the Peruvian government provides a school building and teachers for each community, it doesn’t have the resources to stock the shelves with books and materials — much less support each student with the materials they need to attend school and learn with their peers. In the early 1900s, CONAPAC, a nonprofit in northeastern Peru, started providing supplies to a few communities adjacent to properties owned and operated by Amazon Explorama Lodges. This was the start of the Adopt-A-School program, which has continually grown for almost three decades through the support of generous individuals from all over the world. The DZS partnered with CONAPAC in 1999 after years of the Detroit Zoo conducting field research in the area. The partnership provided a stable and reputable U.S.-based nonprofit where individuals could receive tax receipts for their donations and enhance donor confidence in the project.  

In the early 2000s, the DZS started organizing expeditions to the Amazon. Individuals can pay a fee to participate in the Adopt-A-School program by helping to distribute school supplies to the partner communities. The fee supports CONAPAC and accounts for a majority of its annual operating budget. The trip participants spend time in the rainforest, learn about its ecology and interact with families who have lived there for generations. This spring, 35 individuals from around the country participated in the Amazon Rainforest Expeditions. They paid their airfare and made a $1,500 contribution to support CONAPAC and offset a small portion of their lodging and meal expenses, which were otherwise covered by Amazon Explorama Lodges. 

Pictured is a room at ExplorNapo Lodge.

During the first week, the group visited the Canopy Walkway (a more than 1,500-foot-long aerial experience that connects 14 platforms secured to trees up to 115 feet in the air), went on night boat rides to explore the plants and animals after dark, and, most importantly, delivered school supplies to thousands of students and teachers. Each student receives a set of notebooks, pens, pencils and other materials they will use throughout the school year. Teachers also receive a set of supplies, as well as items to be used for the entire school. The school’s supplies include paper, writing and coloring utensils, text and story books, chalk or dry-erase markers, educational toys and more. 

Pictured are students with their school supplies.

A second expedition, with a new group of participants, finished the school supply deliveries to the final two communities, then spent four days working in the community of Ramon Castilla. This small community was in dire need of a new community kitchen. Most of the kitchen structure was built by a professional contractor out of concrete to ensure it will last in the climate and withstand the variety of insects that eat and destroy natural materials, like wood. Trip participants built window frames and screened them, primed and painted the concrete, and painted the community’s water purification tower. 

Trip participants helped construct a kitchen.

While some community members and trip participants were helping with the construction projects, the children in the community interacted with the rest of the group in the school. Together, they did environmental education activities and crafts, and they planted fruit trees and seeds in the school garden. The activities build math and science skills while reinforcing how an intact ecosystem contributes to the well-being of all who call the rainforest home. 

This international partnership continues to stand the test of time, prioritizing access to education and supporting the teachers, students and families who live in the Amazon rainforest. To support the Adopt-A-School program, click here. To sign up for information about future rainforest expeditions, click here

Meet the newest sea otter at the Detroit Zoo!

Authored by Dr. Ann Duncan, vice president of life sciences for the Detroit Zoological Society.

We are very excited to report that we recently brought a third rescued sea otter from the Aquarium of the Pacific to the Detroit Zoo — a young male currently named “927.” The DZS is currently hosting a donation-based naming contest to help us pick out a new name for the otter, which we will announce on World Otter Day! Voting closes at 5 p.m. May 26.

Click this link to vote between Finn, Eli, Kai, Misu and Hurely — but before you do, learn more about the newest addition and how he came to the Detroit Zoo. 

An unnamed rescued sea otter has moved to the Detroit Zoo. The DZS is hosting a donation-based contest to help give hime a new name.

At 3 weeks old, the otter was found stranded in Carmel-By-The-Sea, California. The rescue and rehabilitation team who worked with him could not find a receptive wild female to care for him, so the pup was transferred to an area aquarium. He was later deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. 927 is settling into his new surroundings at Detroit Zoo well and is getting along swimmingly with current sea otter residents Ollie and Monte.

A lot of preparation goes into ensuring the transport and acclimation of a new sea otter goes well. Long before we planned the move, we began working with the animal care staff at the Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP) to develop a plan and analyze every aspect of the move. For starters, we worked with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife permitting team to apply for a permit for 927 to be moved. As he is a marine mammal, several regulations are in place to ensure only zoos and aquariums with excellent facilities and expertise in sea otter care provide homes for sea otters. While waiting for the permit, AOP staff made sure 927 had an opportunity to interact with several different sea otters so that he could learn social skills and become accustomed to making new friends. The veterinary staff at AOP did two examinations and ran several laboratory tests to ensure 927 was healthy and free of any contagious diseases that could pass to other otters. This allowed us to shorten the quarantine period at the DZS so 927 could quickly access the large habitat at the Arctic Ring of Life and the otters already living there.  

927 traveled by plane from California to Michigan in a kennel similar to a large dog carrier.

There were also lots of preparations for the day of transport. As described in a previous blog, sea otters have many unique physiological adaptations that can make time spent out of their aquatic environment stressful, so transport must be done carefully. To ensure things went smoothly, I traveled to the AOP two days prior to accompany the sea otter and an AOP staff person during transport. The AOP team had prepared two large pieces of luggage containing medical supplies and medications. While we didn’t expect problems, it’s always good to be extra prepared. We also carried two large coolers filled with ice and a day-and-a-half’s supply of the otter’s normal diet.  

On the day of travel, we got an early start at the Aquarium. After loading the supplies into a van, 927 was coaxed into an airline kennel. The kennel had a plastic insert on the bottom, which allowed food and other waste to slide away from the otter’s haircoat. We planned the trip for a time of year when temperatures are cooler throughout the day and placed the kennel in a larger plastic tray so that we could provide lots of ice and water during transport. We traveled on Federal Express cargo airplanes from California to Michigan with a short layover in Memphis. As the attendants, we could pass through a small door to the cargo area whenever we wanted. We checked on him frequently and offered meals every two to three hours. As sea otters have a rapid metabolism, this is incredibly important.

927 was well cared for throughout his journey by DZS VP of Life Sciences Ann Duncan.

927 was an excellent traveler. He was curious about the sights and sounds around him but did not seem overly concerned or agitated. He gobbled up the shrimp, clam and squid we offered at every meal — and especially enjoyed chewing on cubed ice. He also seemed to really enjoy it when a sprayer was used to provide a stream of water for drinking and rinsing.  

Once we arrived at the Detroit Zoo, we opened the kennel door and released 927 directly into a clean quarantine pool adjacent to the exhibit. He immediately started investigating his new surroundings, eating his diet and playing with toys. We gave him a few days to acclimate to his new keepers and to observe Ollie and Monte through a mesh door before letting him out into the habitat. Since then, he has been playing with Monte, exploring his large habitat and playing with all his toys. 

Visit all three sea otters at the Arctic Ring of Life — and don’t forget to vote for 927’s new name!

927 now enjoys his new habitat and playing with Ollie and Monte. He will receive a new name on World Otter Day, May 31!

Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day!

This week, hundreds of millions of birds will leave their winter habitats from as far away as the Amazon rainforest and Andes mountain range on their annual journey to reach their summer breeding grounds across North America and right here in Detroit! Migratory bird species travel along ancestral routes defined by waterways and often travel under the starlight at night. Fluttering along geographic landmarks like the Mississippi River and the shores of the Great Lakes, birds as small as the ruby throated hummingbird head to their summer homes thousands of miles further north. 

Saturday, May 13 is World Migratory Bird Day, which amplifies the critical importance for birds to have access to water throughout their journey.  Waterways serve as sources for food and habitat during migration and year round.  At the Belle Isle Nature Center, birds are celebrated on this day — and every day — through education and conservation practices that promote their right to access food, water and habitat. 

As the month of April came to a close, a time when the frequency of bird migration really picks up in the Detroit area, the Belle Isle Nature Center hosted Michigan Public Radio’s live broadcast event “Bird Nerds Unite.” This event featured a panel of local experts who discussed all things birds: the birds who are migrating through now, those who reside in southeast Michigan all year and tips for noticing birds right near your home.

You can watch or listen to a recording of the presentation here.

Even the youngest among us can appreciate the birds in their neighborhood. Don’t just take our word for it — here’s what Marlin Franklin, Brightmoor community engagement manager with Brilliant Detroit, had this to say about the Belle Isle Nature Center’s after school program, Neighborhood Nature Explorers. 

“Contrary to popular belief, bird watching is not boring! It is amazing fun for kids and adults,” he says. “We celebrated bird day at the Brilliant Detroit Brightmoor site with Micah Blake-Smith from the Belle Isle Nature Center. We learned the proper way to use binoculars. We identified birds that live and forage for food in our neighborhood, and we made feeders for those birds that we hung in the trees. Our little people will grow up to be good stewards of the earth with classes like these.”

If you think that’s something, come experience the excitement that awaits from bird watching during sunset or with the use of audio ID technology at the Belle Isle Nature Center’s free programs.

Nature at Night

A flutter of green, a jolt of red, a fleck of gold – a pheasant ducks through the underbrush in a burst of color. Whether it is the visual rainbow of feathers or a symphony of a bird chorus saluting the setting sun, hikers and bird watchers can find themselves knee deep in renewed prairie while birding on Belle Isle. Our Nature at Night program gives participants an opportunity to discover spaces that burst with life as the sun goes down. Join us for our next free hike from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 18. Guests are welcome to bring binoculars or borrow a pair from the Nature Center.

Science Hikes

More of a morning bird than a night owl? There is also a daytime Science Hike planned for 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 21. This “technologically enhanced” bird walk utilizes the Merlin Bird ID app. Participants will be provided with iPads and can use the app to help them identify birds from their song. A recent walk on the Nashua Canal Trail, a 1-mile accessible pathway through the heart of Belle Isle, revealed ruby-crowned kinglets, red headed woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows and one very impressive eagle’s nest.

As spring bird migration winds down in June, the community group Black to the Land Coalition will host their annual birding event at the Belle Isle Nature Center called Blacks, Browns and Birds from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 3. This allows for Black and Brown families to come together in green spaces, connect with the land through bird watching and enjoy other outdoor activities.

For more information about upcoming, free programs and events, visit our website. The Belle Isle Nature Center is open seven days a week, and we are happy to give tips on where to head for your own bird walk. Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 13 or any day of the year by noticing where you find nature in your neighborhood.

This entry was written by a gaggle of geese: Ryan, Luke, Courty, Micah and featuring Marlin Franklin of Brilliant Detroit

Great Well-Being Starts on Day One

By Jennifer Hamilton, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) Animal Welfare Programs Manager

When an animal moves to a new zoo, many factors can affect their well-being. Just like when humans move to a new home, there is a little more stress than normal as they adapt to new schedules, new neighbors and their new location. There is also a risk that animals may catch or pass on a contagious disease to resident animals at their new home. Knowing this, the current standard practice is to quarantine animals before or after transport. Some species have specific quarantine requirements, but for many animals, 30 days with veterinary monitoring and care is enough to prevent the transfer of contagious diseases.

In addition to the animal health benefits of quarantine, there are a few other advantages to this time. Animals are usually housed in a quieter location away from other animals, allowing them to slowly adapt to new care staff and schedules without nosey or loud neighbors interrupting. This also allows time for care staff to learn about each individual and start building positive relationships with them. The care team can learn their likes and dislikes and, in some cases, begin the process of transferring previous positive reinforcement training from other facilities to a new primary trainer. 

Amur tiger Ameliya moved to the Detroit Zoo in 2020.

However, we know it’s important not to make assumptions about an animal’s overall well-being. Instead, we monitor an animal’s well-being during this quarantine time to ensure that they are showing positive signs that they are adjusting to their new home. This monitoring can take different forms to meet the needs of each individual and each animal care department. For instance, an animal living in a similar quarantine space and social grouping as their previous housing at another zoo may not need intensive monitoring. In these cases, we carefully review notes and observations by animal care staff to monitor their well-being. However, for other animals, moving to the Detroit Zoo or Belle Isle Nature Center may come with larger changes, whether in social companions or their physical space. For these animals, we perform more active monitoring.

The DZS has two levels of active quarantine monitoring. Both options are designed for each individual through collaborations between animal welfare and animal care staff. The first option we have is a daily datasheet. This datasheet includes welfare indicators that are important for the species being monitored. So, for social species, there are questions about positive and negative social interactions and time spent in proximity to their social companions. For species that naturally spend a lot of time in the water, there is a category asking how much time they spent in the pool.

Ameliya is comfortable in her new home and explores the different parts of her habitat.

One example of an animal with a daily datasheet was Ameliya, an Amur tiger who moved to the Detroit Zoo in December 2020. We knew from Ameliya’s previous facility that she was a typical cat and not a fan of when things changed in her life. Working with animal care staff, we designed her daily datasheet to assess how she reacted to new keepers, new training and new enrichment. Animal care staff frequently visited and cared for her throughout the day, and once a day, they completed a datasheet for her based on their observations. Through collecting this data, we were able to see when Ameliya became comfortable with her new home and care staff. 

Our second active monitoring option is to conduct standardized observations of the behavior of animals in quarantine. One of the drawbacks of this method is that quarantine spaces often do not provide many locations to observe without impacting the behavior of the animals. It’s difficult to get a good understanding of how an animal is feeling if they are watching you while you are watching them! Often, we get around this by watching animals through cameras set up in their quarantine space. Just like on the daily datasheets, the behaviors included in the observations are based on those that are important for the individual. 

Red ruffed lemur brothers Iray and Telo moved to the Detroit Zoo in 2023.

The red ruffed lemurs, Telo and Iray, had standardized video observations while they were in quarantine. Their observation protocol included behaviors such as investigation and positive and negative social behaviors, as we felt these were important behaviors for their well-being. We also tracked how they were using their space, as we wanted to make sure they were comfortable in their quarantine space. We found that the lemurs preferred to be up high on their climbing structures, which is consistent with the behavior of wild red ruffed lemurs, who prefer being in trees. In addition, they used all the climbing structures provided, suggesting they were comfortable exploring their quarantine space.

Quarantine is an important step to make sure incoming animals and current Zoo residents remain healthy. The overall well-being of animals as they are going through this quarantine process is just as important. Monitoring allows us to gather the information we need to make sure all animals have the best well-being possible from the moment they arrive.

Meet the Newest Red Panda at the Detroit Zoo!

Ginger the red panda moved to The Detroit Zoo in December 2022.

Have you met the newest red panda at the Detroit Zoo? What are you waiting for! Keep reading to meet Ginger, an adorable red panda who has called the Zoo home since late last year.

Sugar and spice and everything nice — that’s how people describe one of the Zoo’s newest residents.

Ginger, a 1-and-a-half-year-old red panda, made her debut in the Holtzman Wildlife Foundation Red Panda Forest in December 2022. Since her arrival, animal care specialists say they have fallen in love with her curious and playful personality.

“She can be a little sassy,” says Sarah Allan, an animal care specialist who works closely with the new arrival. “Ginger seems to be able to get whatever she wants. She is very curious about new things, and she’s quick to investigate if I’m putting out a new toy or treats. I’d say she’s pretty brave.”

Ginger came to the Detroit Zoo on a recommendation from an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative population management program that helps ensure the sustainability of healthy captive animal populations. As red pandas are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the SSP is vital to ensuring the future of this species in zoos.

Zoo officials hope Ginger’s arrival will result in a successful coupling with resident male Ravi. Though Ravi is shier and more reserved than Ginger, the animal care team reports the pair are getting along well.

“Ravi is really polite to her and is more active since Ginger arrived,” Allan says. “Breeding is really important to maintaining a genetically diverse population in a species that is declining in the wild, so we really hope to have some baby red pandas soon.”

Meet a Michigan Native at the Belle Isle Nature Center!

You don’t need to head up north or plan a camping trip to connect with nature – there are amazing animals all around us! Let us introduce you to three of your wild neighbors.

They call it mudpuppy love!

Mudpuppies are the second-largest salamander in the western hemisphere. These amphibians may not give off total puppy-dog vibes, but when you see them up-close and in-person, you can’t help but to fall for their charms. There is even a whole celebration in their honor called Mudpuppypalooza taking place March 26 at the Belle Isle Nature Center!

Mudpuppies have wide faces and frilly, external gills on the sides of their heads that act like filters in the water. This means they need to live in clean water to stay healthy. These pups spend most of their time under the cover of flat rocks or slabs of concrete at the bottom of rivers – including our very own Detroit River. They are an important part of Michigan’s aquatic ecosystem, and the Detroit Zoological Society has been collecting data on mudpuppies and water quality in the Detroit River since 2004. Learn more about our monitoring efforts.

Say hi to Michigan’s largest snake!

Black rat snakes can grow to be an impressive 8 feet long – but don’t worry, they are non-venomous and harmless to humans. Rodents, however, are not so lucky. As their name suggests, this species hunts rats and will often enter barns or abandoned buildings in search of food. They use the constriction method of hunting and consume their prey in a single bite! Rat snakes can also be found hiding in tall grasses, under fallen trees or in hallowed out logs, just like our friend here, who just emerging after a taking a nice afternoon nap. The habitats at the Belle Isle Nature Center are designed to mirror the landscape the species might experience in the wild – do any of the elements look familiar to you?

Do I spot a spotted turtle?

If you have visited our Nature Center before, you may be familiar with our turtle pond. This expansive indoor habitat is home to several turtle species, including this pair of spotted turtles. They may be smaller than most of their pond mates, but as you can see from this video, they make up for it in moxie! Spotted turtles can be found in bogs, marshes, swamps, ponds and woodland streams throughout Michigan. They can often be seen basking in the midday sun, but when surprised, spotted turtles will dive underwater and completely bury themselves in the mud. They also retreat to these muddy beds to stay cool on hot summer days. Spotted turtles in Michigan are threatened by habitat loss and from being removed from the wild by reptile collectors. That brings us to a rule that applies to all wild animals – look don’t touch! This is the best way to keep your new friend safe.

The Belle Isle Nature Center is all about making connections. People, animals, natural and unnatural landscapes are all a part of the unique tapestry that is Detroit. Visit to plan your visit. The Nature Center is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and and is always free!

Honoring DZS Trailblazers During Black History Month

Khadejah Shelby was the first Black female deputy and acting zoo director in the United States.

Authored by Christina Ross, media coordinator for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

The DZS prides itself on being an organization that is committed to celebrating the diversity — not only of wildlife and wild places — but also of our human community. This Black History Month, the DZS honored this commitment by highlighting individuals who have greatly contributed to our organization throughout the years. There is no doubt the DZS is a better place for the animals, our guests and our staff due to their dedication and fortitude. We are proud to shine a light on their accomplishments and offer our deepest gratitude. 

Meet some of the people who have helped make the DZS the organization it is today!

Khadejah Shelby

Khadejah’s influence is still felt at the Detroit Zoo today.

Ms. Khadejah E. Shelby was appointed as the deputy director of the Detroit Zoo in 1982 and held this position, along with Belle Isle Zoo director, for 12 years. She also served as acting director for the Detroit Zoo, making her the first Black woman to hold the position of zoo director in the United States. During her time at the Zoo, she developed an appreciation of all animals and worked to share her knowledge with Black children by answering all their animal-related questions. Khadejah took on the personal responsibility of educating Black people about zoo careers by helping to develop a zoo management degree at Wayne State University. 

She managed with common sense and openness, knowing the animal care team was — and still is — the foundation of the Zoo. Though she passed away in 2018, Khadejah’s impact can still be felt in our organization today.

“Ms. Shelby was a champion for change,” says Curator of Education Mike Reed, who worked closely with Khadejah. “She was a strong personality and not afraid to challenge traditional barriers. In a time when there were few Black individuals in animal care departments in zoos and aquariums throughout the United States, she worked to give everyone a fair opportunity at the Detroit Zoo.” 

C. Monique Roberson

C. Monique Roberson was recognized by being the first black female zookeeper at the DZS.

In November 1976, Monique Roberson became the first full-time female zookeeper at the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) and was later recognized as such by the City of Detroit. 

Monique began her DZS career in the guest services department before transferring to the animal care department. At the time, this was uncommon for a woman, and she faced harsh scrutiny from her male coworkers. Even though she was tasked with the hardest jobs and faced continuous discrimination, Monique was determined to make it in this “man’s” profession. 

Over the years, Monique took it upon herself to read extensively about the animals she cared for. When a testing system was put in place, she passed with flying colors and was promoted to senior zookeeper. During her time at the DZS, Monique cared for her favorite animals, the primates, and served as the union’s chief steward. 

“The DZS went from a male-dominated workplace to a welcoming environment for all,” Monique says when reflecting on her time at the DZS. “Animal care and training and enrichment have evolved practically 360 degrees from my earlier years.” 

After 48 years and 4 months of employment, Monique retired on Dec. 31, 2020. During her career, she broke down barriers and paved the way for other women and Black individuals to join the animal care field. We want to take this opportunity to thank her for her years of commitment and honor her as the first full-time female zookeeper in DZS history!

Gwen Lainer

Gwen Lainer was the heart of the guest relations team for years.

Meet the woman who was considered the heart of the Zoo’s guest relations department for years.   

Gwen Lanier worked at the Detroit Zoo for more than 48 years. During her tenure, she witnessed the DZS take great strides toward being an inclusive workplace and performed many different roles on the guest relations team. She likens working on this team to eating a box of chocolates — “you never know what you are going to get.”

“The employees are colorful with their antics, and the guests are unbelievable,” she says. “Working in guest relations will keep your brain charged, body energized and give you a passion for people and their stories.” 

One of her proudest work moments is when the DZS adopted a school on the lower east side of Detroit. There, Gwen mentored a student with whom she still stays in touch today! Gwen is also proud that she trained fellow team members how to treat people equally. She had a great rapport with staff and was a confidant for many.  

Though she is now retired, Gwen continues to serve as an ambassador for the Zoo. She has seen so many changes in her 48 years and appreciates that the DZS has gone from being a white male-dominated organization to a diverse place where jobs are filled by qualified people regardless of their race, orientation or religion.

Mike Reed

Mike Reed is a coordinator of education for the Detroit Zoo.

Meet Mike Reed, who says his most cherished part of working for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is that he could be a part of “living Black history.”

A zoologist and coordinator of education at the Detroit Zoo, Mike is the longest-tenured member of the DZS team management group. He has spent the last 35 years caring for animals large and small at the Detroit Zoo and on Belle Isle. Throughout his career, he maintained a goal of sparking a love of nature in all youth and showing Black children that there is a place for them in animal-related fields.

Mike made history by being the first educator specifically assigned to the Belle Isle Zoo and Aquarium. There, he helped to create what was, at the time, the world’s largest spider habitat. It was the first major zoo habitat designed, built and maintained by an entirely African American staff.

Mike continued to break barriers by being elected the first Black president of the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education, a statewide environmental literacy group. He was also the first African American to serve as education chair for Youth Day, Michigan’s largest one-day children’s event.

Mike has made a difference in many children’s lives by visiting schools and talking with them one-on-one at events. In 2021, he was profiled in an article by Wayne State University that shared his accomplishments. Mike hopes his story will inspire more young Black Americans to join their classmates in seeking jobs in the sciences, so they can continue to create history.

Read his Wayne State feature here.

Maurice Anderson

Maurice Anderson is the director of guest relations for the DZS.

Finally, let’s meet someone who making history today and moving us toward a more equitable future.

Maurice Anderson is the director of guest relations for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). He is responsible for everything that goes into giving guests a great Detroit Zoo experience —from hiring and training staff to managing the rides and attractions, resolving customer service feedback and much more. You are in good hands with Maurice. He embodies the DZS spirit and has risen through the ranks since his start as a public relations intern six years ago.   

“The two most important things that I’ve learned along the way on my journey from intern to my current role are the importance of building healthy relationships within the workplace and the importance of making every aspect of the business a priority,” Maurice says. “The Zoo is a hands-on organization, and we are successful because we encourage open communication, innovation, integrity, caring and equity. Each department and each employee make this organization a world-class Zoo.” 

He says his favorite part of his job is how dynamic each day is. 

“Within a given day, I am moving from project to project, meeting to meeting, and assisting the DZS team. Each day at the Zoo presents a new challenge, and it allows me to sharpen my skills.”   

Maurice is a great example of what can be accomplished at the Detroit Zoo.

Thank you, Khadejah, Monique, Gwen, Mike and Maurice! 

While we couldn’t fit everyone into this blog post, the DZS has been and continues to be shaped by countless Black and diverse individuals — we can’t thank them enough for their work and dedication.

As we turn the calendar to March, remember that Black history’s importance does not end just because February does. The DZS prioritizes diversity and inclusion 365 days a year.

Camp is Back at the Belle Isle Nature Center!

Winter Nature Camp recently took place at the Belle Isle Nature Center.

Authored by Luke Grange, senior education specialist at the Belle Isle Nature Center.

“Can we write on this?” 

The campers looked hopefully at the butcher paper-covered tables and cups of markers. When they were told that indeed the markers were for drawing on the tables, they happily got to work drawing, signing their names and making their mark. 

This was the scene at the Belle Isle Nature Center’s Winter Nature Camp on Jan. 3. Those campers had just arrived at the Nature Center’s first camp since 2019. The campers didn’t seem to mind the layoff as they drew rainbows, birds and the odd video game character as they got to know one another before breaking up into age groups to go explore outside.

The Belle Isle Nature Center’s habitats and interactive exhibits celebrate places in the city where you can connect with the natural world. Similarly, campers experienced both the natural and man-made portions of Belle Isle ― walking on top of deer prints and under willow trees to explore the rarely seen inside of a covered footbridge. Fire hydrants poked up from alongside the trails like steel mushrooms as raptors flew overhead.

Campers loved building their beginner birding skills at Winter Nature Camp. Brittany Leick, program coordinator of the Detroit Audubon, assisted Winter Nature campers in learning to identify seven local, colorful birds and then practicing how to use binoculars. Campers also visited the bird viewing window and learned about the ultraviolet patterns inside the glass that the Belle Isle Nature Center installed to help make the windows bird safe. Campers then got to paint their own bird shapes to put on their windows at home.

The new Belle Isle Nature Center was thoroughly enjoyed by campers. Children visited the young learner’s space to act as ants and move giant seeds and dirt throughout the tunnels. They experienced life in the pollinator hallway as a bumblebee, seeing the normally invisible UV patterns that flowers advertise to insects. Each day, the campers would find something new to do in the space.

At the end of the week, campers were asked to draw their favorite camp activities. Almost everyone mentioned spending time out in nature with the new friends they made. As they had made their mark on the tables over the course of the week, adding to their drawings with each meal and snack, campers had made their own mark with the friendships they had formed.

Registration for Winter Nature Camp was done through community partners in Detroit. A waiting list was used for any remaining spots. Summer Nature Camp enrollment will happen the same way and is coming soon! Stay connected with the Belle Isle Nature Center website for updates.

The Belle Isle Nature Center is located at 176 Lakeside Dr., Detroit. 

Stay tuned to the Belle Isle Nature Center’s website for more camp opportunities!

Help us Answer the Call to Save Gorillas in the Wild!

Donate small, unused devices at The Detroit Zoo to help gorillas in the wild!

Authored by Aaron Jesue, animal care specialist for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). 

If a gorilla was on the other line, would you answer the call? The DZS and our dedicated supporters certainly would! 

Since 2019, the Detroit Zoo has helped answer the call to save gorillas around the world through the Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call campaign. From February to April each year, we partner with Gorilla SAFE(Saving Animals from Extinction) for its global cell phone recycling challenge. Money raised by recycling used cell phones and small electronics through this challenge directly supports gorilla conservation initiatives in Africa.

Gorillas Kongo and Pende live at The Detroit Zoo.

If you haven’t heard about the Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call campaign before, here’s the best part — it’s easy to participate. Participation can be as simple as dropping an old, unwanted phone off at the Zoo or as big as getting a Michigan school or major business on board to collect devices by the hundreds.  

The 2023 campaign starts Feb. 1 and runs through April 30, but we can continue sending in items through the second week of September. The DZS also never stops collecting electronics. We keep collection bins out at the Detroit Zoo all year long, so feel free to drop off your unwanted small devices on your next trip to the Zoo!

The Detroit Zoo has Gorillas on the Line donation boxes at our main gates, inside the Ford Education Center and at the Great Apes of Harambee habitat.

Now, you may be asking, how can my old electronics save gorillas?  

Every device sent to the Detroit Zoo gets sorted, packaged and mailed to an electronics recycling company in Louisville, Kentucky called ECO-Cell. From there, each device gets counted on a national scale for the Detroit Zoo. When the numbers are tabulated, each device equates to a different dollar amount, and that money is directly donated to gorilla conservation initiatives. This means that when you recycle your electronics at the Zoo, you are directly saving gorillas. 

Participating in the Gorillas on the Line challenge helps both gorillas at the Zoo and in the wild.

2023 marks the fifth year of the Gorillas on the Line campaign. The Detroit Zoo has participated every year, and each year we continue to grow and collect more devices to support gorillas in the wild. In our first year, we collected 490 devices and donated $204. In 2022, that number grew to 1,793 devices and $1,242. Since 2019, the DZS has donated 3,532 devices and $2,042. That’s amazing, and it’s because of our group effort — our troop collective. 

Last year, the Detroit Zoo finished the challenge third in North America in 2022, following only behind the Toronto Zoo and the Cincinnati Zoo. Overall, participants across the globe collected 10,359 devices and raised $7,540 for gorilla conservation.  

Though we have our eyes on first place for this year’s challenge, the important part is that every donation counts. Every device means another dollar going directly to Gorilla SAFE conservation organizations in Africa, so the next time you get a call from a gorilla, don’t leave them hanging!  Answer the call and save a species.

Are you ready to answer the call? Learn more here.  

Home Sweet Home: Jebbie the Grizzly Bear Settles at Wildlife Sanctuary

Jebbie, an orphaned grizzly bear who found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo, has found a new home.

Authored by Sarah Culton, communications manager for The Detroit Zoological Society.

The first time she saw Jebbie on an airport tarmac, Elizabeth Arbaugh, curator of mammals for the DZS, knew the small grizzly bear would always have her heart.

“He was so tiny. He fit into a small dog crate,” Arbaugh recalls with a smile on her face. “The moment I saw him, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, we are going to get you home.’”

Arbaugh met Jebbie, an orphaned grizzly bear cub, midway on his journey to the Detroit Zoo, where he spent more than a year growing up after being rescued in Alaska. During his time in Detroit, the cub captured the attention of DZS staff, guests and the greater community. Recently, the time came to say goodbye, and Jebbie went to live at a wildlife sanctuary where he has many acres to roam and play.

Though he may have physically left the Detroit Zoo, Arbaugh says Jebbie could never leave the space he carved out in the hearts of the staff who cared for him.

“His is a story that pulls at all of our heartstrings,” she says, emotion filling her voice. “We all miss him so much, but we know the wildlife sanctuary is a really good opportunity for him.”

Laerke, a polar bear cub, grew up by Jebbie’s side.

Growing up at The Detroit Zoo

Found wandering alone by residents in Tok, Alaska, Jebbie was rescued in June 2021 by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG), the agency responsible for native wildlife in Alaska. As wild grizzly cubs spend up to three years with their mothers, Jebbie’s rescuers knew he would not survive on his own, and he was taken to the Alaska Zoo. Jebbie was eventually transported to the Detroit Zoo to receive care and sanctuary.

“He was full of life from the day he got here,” Arbaugh says. “He loved the water; he loved toys; he loved to run — he loved everything.”

Jebbie gained attention outside the Zoo when he was introduced to polar bear cub Laerke. Two days after birth, Laerke had a medical emergency and had to be removed from the den she shared with her mother, Suka, and sister, Astra. After months of round-the-clock care by DZS staff, she moved to the Arctic Ring of Life where she could see the other polar bears and begin being weaned from human care. However, it was clear from the reactions of Suka and Astra that returning Laerke to her family was not an option. After Jebbie’s rescue, Laerke had an opportunity for companionship and socialization with another bear.

After a slow introduction, the two cubs lived inside the Arctic Ring of Life, where they swam, played and grew up together. The two bears’ bond drew international media coverage, and the pair became a favorite among guests who traveled far and wide to see the two in person.

Though their companionship touched the hearts of many, Zoo experts always knew the cubs would eventually need to be separated. That day came nearly seven months later once Jebbie grew larger than Laerke and began playing more roughly than the polar bear would sometimes like.

“Though they eventually lived apart, Jebbie and Laerke provided each other with much-needed socialization,” Arbaugh says. “Their welfare was always our top priority, and we are happy we could provide these two cubs with a friend during a critical time in their development.”

Jebbie now lives at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.

Finding a New Home

Jebbie remained at the Detroit Zoo for several months after he and Laerke separated. Here, he continued to grow and thrive as a fan-favorite among staff and guests alike. However, the animal care team who looked after him knew he would likely move to a wildlife sanctuary at some point. So, when the possibility came for Jebbie to live at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, Arbaugh knew it was an opportunity the grizzly bear cub needed to take.

“In his new home, Jebbie has so much room to be a bear,” Arbaugh says. “He can explore, dig, forage, live with other animals and express young bear behaviors.”

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the world dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores. Encompassing more than 10,500 acres of land and more than 120 habitats, the sanctuary provides expert care and rehabilitation, exceptional diets and enrichment, and large spaces in which its rescued animals can roam.

Jebbie has made some new friends at the sanctuary.

Since Jebbie arrived at the sanctuary in September, sanctuary staff say he is doing well and thriving in his new home.

“Jeb is doing great, and he loves the three other young grizzlies who live in the habitat,” says Patrick Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary. “There are a couple of older females in there as well, and a couple of older males, but the kids get along with everyone, so Jeb is very happy and loves swimming in his small lake.”

Though she already misses Jebbie, Arbaugh says she is happy to have played a role in helping the little cub she met on an airport tarmac grow into a healthy bear.

“He needed someone to save him, and we were able to take him in and give him a home for as long as possible,” she says, wiping away a happy tear. “He’s my favorite guy, and I’m so happy for him.”

We miss you, Jebbie!