Bringing the Mission Home: Sunset is Going Virtual!

Sunset at the Zoo is always metro-Detroit’s wildest party of the year — and this year, the guests get to host!

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has re-imagined this popular and vitally important fundraising event for 2020.  

With behind-the-scenes stories about animal care, wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability, Sunset for the Zoo: Bringing the Mission Home will take guests on an exciting and memorable journey.  

Premiering on September 17, this hour-long event will offer a fascinating look at the many ways the Detroit Zoological Society celebrates and saves wildlife

This year especially, Sunset also has a serious purpose. Like so many community organizations, the DZS has been terribly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Revenues that are normally generated by operations were cut off during the statewide shutdown and have been greatly reduced since the Zoo’s reopening in June. 

Unlike many museums and businesses, though, the Zoo could not send home its entire workforce and lock the gates.  Instead, daily (and nightly) care for more than 2,400 endangered animals has continued without interruption.  

In these extraordinary times, the Detroit Zoological Society is counting on the community to sustain its mission. The goal of Sunset for the Zoo: Bringing the Mission Home is to raise $500,000 through charitable giving and a silent auction offering dozens of “zoonique” items. The auction opens on September 14 at 4 p.m. and will close on September 20 at 4 p.m.

There are several ways to participate in Sunset for the Zoo: Bringing the Mission Home. Starting today, supporters can text “Sunset” to 243-725 or visit SunsetAtTheZoo.org for more information and exciting previewsEither of these methods will take you to the virtual Sunset premiere at 7 p.m. on September 17. The special will also air on the Detroit Zoo’s Facebook page.  

For more information, please visit SunsetAtTheZoo.org, text “Sunset” to 243-725 or call (248) 336-5858. 

Piping Plover Captive Rearing Program Celebrates Most Successful Year to Date

The year 2020 has quite literally gone to the birds. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted people and wildlife around the world, 2020 is a milestone for endangered Great Lakes piping plovers – marking the most successful outcome of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Piping Plover Captive Rearing Program since it began nearly 20 years ago. 

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) program is funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and falls under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which was established in 2009 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In July, the EPA celebrated the year’s significance for this endangered species with the release of four Detroit Zoo-reared piping plovers at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. This year, a total of 39 Detroit Zoo-reared piping plovers were released in northern Michigan. 

Photo courtesy of Alice Van Zoeren.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” said Bonnie Van Dam, associate bird curator for the Detroit Zoological Society. “When you’re hatching the eggs and caring for the baby plovers, you get to know them individually – and it’s so exciting to watch them head into the wild knowing they will help bolster the population of this incredible bird.”

Some of the rescued piping plover stories are harrowing – like the three eggs and single hatchling that were left alone in the middle of an intense storm; their mother was killed by a coyote and their father fled. Field monitoring staff pulled the chick and eggs and kept them warm until they could be transferred to the Zoo. 

“We were able to pick them up from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, care for them and monitor them closely. Three out of the four chicks survived and were later released. Those are the stories that stick with you,” she said. 

Under normal circumstances, a DZS-led team would have incubated abandoned piping plover eggs in the captive rearing facility at the University of Michigan’s Biological Station in Pellston, Michigan. Due to the pandemic, the eggs were instead sent to the Detroit Zoo.

“We couldn’t let the pandemic prevent the rescue and rearing of these endangered birds. So, at the request of the USFWS, abandoned eggs were brought to the Detroit Zoo this year for incubation and rearing. The plovers were then sent to the Biological Station, where the birds were able to get more acclimated with their natural environment prior to their release,” said Van Dam.

Video courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since the launch of the DZS-led piping plover salvage-rearing program in 2001, 299 captive reared birds have been successfully released. Currently, there are 64 pairs and 79 nests in the wild. In 2018, the USFWS recognized the DZS for its leadership in the recovery of this endangered species.

– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Here’s the Scoop: Injured Pelican Finds Refuge at the Detroit Zoo

An American white pelican believed to have survived last Michigan’s winter with fractures in both wings and an injured right foot has now found refuge at the Detroit Zoo after she was left behind by her scoop in Monroe, Michigan.

“It is uncommon that American white pelicans migrate through Michigan, but it happens from time to time,” said Bonnie Van Dam, associate curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society. “Unfortunately, when the rest of the pelicans left the area to continue on their migration, this girl simply couldn’t.”

In early May, concerned citizens reported seeing an injured bird at the Port of Monroe. She was picked up by a local licensed rehabilitator who then called the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) for help when the pelican was deemed non-releasable due to her injuries and refused to eat. When she arrived at the Detroit Zoo, she was weak, malnourished and unable to walk.  

“When we received her, she was underweight for the species – around 8 pounds,” said Van Dam. “After spending some time recuperating at the Detroit Zoo, she was able to pack on an extra 2 pounds. The average weight of an American white pelican can range from 10 to 15 pounds.”

During a medical examination, the DZS animal care staff determined that her injuries to both wings were old fractures, while her right foot injury seemed to be more recent. The cause of her injuries is unknown. 

“Quite honestly, she’s very tough,” said Van Dam. “It’s truly amazing that she was able to survive and keep herself fed with all of her injuries.”

DZS veterinary staff used two splint designs over a period of two months on her foot, which has since healed to the point where she can now use it. The damage to her wings, however, has rendered her permanently unable to fly. The American white pelican has joined four pink-backed pelicans in the American Grasslands habitat at the Detroit Zoo. 

“We’re still thinking on her name. We want to make sure we give her one that is strong and fitting of her personality,” said Van Dam. 

The newcomer can be distinguished by her larger stature, bright yellow beak and whiter feathers, with black tips on her wings. 

– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Be A Citizen Scientist: Help Track Tick Activity

If you have noticed more Michiganders complaining about ticks recently, you’re not alone. During the last few summers, it seems as if people in the state are finding ticks on themselves and on their dogs/pets more than ever before.  In recent years, ticks have expanded their active season, and have been found earlier in the spring and in increasing numbers. It’s a trend that is worrisome, particularly with the surge of people enjoying outdoor recreation during the pandemic and warmer summer months.  

Humans and many species of animals are susceptible to tick-transmitted diseases, most notably Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the US, and it is caused by a bacterium that is passed through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.  Lyme disease is prevalent in the Northeast and much of the North Central United States; it is expanding its range in Michigan, largely because the blacklegged tick is expanding its range!  According to the Michigan Emerging and Zoonotic Disease summary published by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 262 human cases were reported in 2018, with most Michigan exposures occurring in the Upper Peninsula and western Lower Peninsula.  

In order to better protect themselves and their families, Michiganders should be informed of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, and learn how to avoid exposure.  University researchers have developed a useful tool to track the spread of Lyme disease and better inform people living in areas with blacklegged ticks.

The Tick App is a free mobile health app developed by collaborators from Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University.  Besides being a reliable and handy resource with information about ticks and tick prevention, the Tick App gives you the opportunity to contribute as a citizen scientist.  If you provide consent to the research and complete an entry survey (which takes 5 -10 minutes), you will be prompted regularly to make a “daily log.” The daily log should take about a minute to complete. It asks if you or a household member (including your furry ones!) encountered a tick, what you did that day and even how COVID influenced your outdoor activities. You also have the option to complete “tick reports” to log your tick encounters; if you submit a clear photo, researchers will respond to you by email with information about the species and life stage. This information can be very helpful for a physician for diagnosis and treatment should anyone begin to feel sick. Lastly, if you allow location services, the app will use your location to provide you with current information on blacklegged tick activity in your area.  Location services also help researchers understand how time spent in different areas is associated with tick exposure.

We at the Detroit Zoo understand the importance of spending time in nature. Hiking, biking and enjoying the outdoors is great for the spirit, and great exercise! Staying informed and aware of the potential risks from ticks and mosquitos will only help you be better prepared as you spend time connecting with the world around you. 

– Ann Duncan is the director of animal health for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Free Virtual Zoo Camp Has Arrived — Enjoy at Your Own Pace

Virtual Zoo Camp is Calling!

From the stellar Detroit Zoological Society education team that brought you Virtual Vitamin Z lessons during a pandemic, comes Summer Virtual Ventures, free digital programming that gives you the opportunity to enjoy a camp experience from the comfort of your own home.

Summer Virtual Ventures includes exciting animal-related content, expert interviews, hands-on activities and much more.

New virtual camps will be posted weekly through the end of August 2020.

Check out a few of the Summer Virtual Ventures below:

PENGUIN CONSERVATION CHALLENGES
In this icy adventure, learners will take on the role of conservation field workers researching penguins in Antarctica and the Falkland Islands. You’ll work to find creative solutions to the many challenges that accompany fieldwork. Shadow animal care staff and get an exclusive look at what it is like to care for the penguins at the Detroit Zoo.

Adventure Now

AMAZON RAINFOREST CONSERVATION
Wildlife conservationists and scientists need your help! Working in the Amazon rainforest comes with many challenges. Try to solve them while learning more about the animals who live in the rainforest.

Adventure Now

Male Chimpanzee Born at Detroit Zoo in January Successfully Unites with Adoptive Mom

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for five months (and during a pandemic). 

That’s how long the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) animal care staff hand-reared a male chimpanzee born in early January before they successfully transitioned his care to an adoptive chimpanzee mom in June.

“It’s a story of great dedication,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society. “Nights, weekends and through a pandemic — Detroit Zoo primate staff cared for the baby chimpanzee around the clock. And now it’s a very heartwarming story of a baby who has found a devoted, adoptive chimp mom and family.” 

Zane was born on January 7, 2020, to Chiana, 26, who is also the mother of 6-year-old Zuhura. But soon after Zane’s birth, Chiana became very ill and was unable to care for her newborn. Chiana was treated by veterinarians and recovered, but after she recovered, she showed no interest in caring for her little son. The Detroit Zoo’s primate care staff stepped in to give Zane 24-hour care, which included carrying him constantly, as a mother chimp would, and teaching him to take milk from a bottle. 

Over the five months, Zane lived in the Great Apes of Harambee building instead of a nursery so he could be around the other chimpanzees. During this time, the chimpanzees could see him up close through the mesh of their enclosure. 

“Every day, the other chimpanzees could see us caring for him,” said Carter. “He was always near the other chimps even though they physically could not be together.” 

To prepare Zane for life with the other chimpanzees, the Detroit Zoological Society consulted with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan and other zoos that have integrated rejected infants into social groups. The carefully planned process began with observing potential surrogate moms in the Detroit Zoo’s 11-member chimpanzee troop and their responses to Zane. Mother-daughter duo Trixi, 50, and Tanya, 29, both adult females in the troop, showed interest almost immediately.

Photo by Roy Lewis.

“Trixi is a confident and high-ranking matriarch,” said Carter. “She was a wonderful mother to her daughter Tanya, and when we were considering who could be the best new mother for Zane, she stood out. She was very interested in being near him whenever she could and seemed quite taken with him.”  

From their first physical interaction, it was clear that 5-month-old Zane had found his new adoptive family. 

“Zane approached and hugged Trixi and Tanya the minute he had the chance,” said Carter. “Trixi is Zane’s primary caregiver, while Tanya, who has never had a baby of her own, loves playing with Zane, napping with him, and carrying him for short periods.”

Photo by Roy Lewis.

Carter added, “We’re incredibly proud of our devoted primate staff for doing such an amazing job of caring for Zane and preparing him and his new adoptive family to thrive together.”

Baby Zane is now living with the troop at the Great Apes of Harambee at the Detroit Zoo. The chimpanzees who live at the Detroit Zoo have a fission-fusion dynamic, which means they have the freedom to choose who they want to spend their time with at any given moment. As with all animals at the Detroit Zoo, they also have the choice to go where they please in the habitat, so Zane might not always be visible. The multi-acre indoor-outdoor Great Apes of Harambee habitat is home to 12 chimpanzees.

Photo by Jennifer Harte.

Zane’s birth is the result of a recommendation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, a cooperative population management and conservation program that helps ensure the sustainability of healthy, genetically diverse and demographically strong captive animal populations. Chimpanzees are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat loss, fragmented populations and illegal wildlife trafficking.

– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Detroit Zoological Society Delivers Free Virtual Learning Programs During Pandemic

When we made the decision to temporarily close the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we had to find a way to stay connected with our wonderful community. The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) education team took on the challenge, pivoting to deliver virtual programs.

Since mid-March, our team has produced more than 150 free virtual learning programs to help students, families and lifelong learners continue to explore wildlife conservation, animal welfare, environmental sustainability and humane education.

While we continue to hold lessons on Facebook Live, you can also find the videos on our Virtual Vitamin Z Youtube channel. We also have a new online tool that allows you to search for lessons, including activities, based on grade levels and subjects.

Even though we have since reopened the Detroit Zoo to visitors by reservation, we are still working to reach more of our community through digital means. The DZS education team is also working on Summer Virtual Ventures and producing longer lesson plans for people throughout Michigan.

Check out a sample of some of the team’s virtual learning programs below:

Learn about Partula nodosa snails and how the Detroit Zoological Society brought them back from the brink of extinction. 

Discover what rhinos Jasiri and Tamba were up to during the shutdown.

Visit the penguins in the Penguinarium and learn how water plays a critical role in their well-being.
Did you hear? The black-crowned night herons that roost at the Detroit Zoo are back.
Join David for a Wildlife Adventure Story about zebras. 
Sandy has a sneak peek of our DZS summer programming.

Thank you for all of your support and encouragement. We hope to continue to provide enriching lessons for our community and beyond. 

– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Welcome Back to Your Zoo — A Note from Ron Kagan


There’s nothing quite like taking a leisurely walk around the Detroit Zoo to admire the gardens, the sunshine and the incredible animals who live here.

But now the experience is better — because the experience has you.

The Detroit Zoological Society team has been working around the clock to make sure all of our guests have a safe and enjoyable visit. After all, you deserve a little relaxation, a chance to explore and reconnect with loved ones.

RESERVATIONS

In addition to adding new time and date slots for members each day, we have now opened up reservations on our website to the general public for visits starting Friday. Check back often, as new slots will open up regularly!

SAFETY GUIDELINES

As we monitor the first few days of our reopening, we are also reviewing our guidelines. We will continue to revise our safety guidelines as warranted. You can visit detroitzoo.org/health to learn more before planning your visit.

NEW ARRIVALS

Of course, spring is always an exciting time to introduce you to new arrivals at the Detroit Zoo. We are thrilled to share the news of the birth of a Japanese macaque. The baby was born on June 3 to parents Carmen and Haru. As you can see, big sister Hana seems very interested in her new sibling.

PT new baby

We are also happy to see the arrival of new prairie dog pups, and they are quite an adorable sight as they scurry in and out of their underground tunnels.

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Also of note is the successful breeding of more than 170 dusky gopher frogs at the Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center. In an effort to help restore this critically endangered amphibian, the frogs will be released into the wild in Mississippi this week.

Gopher frog

We (and our reservations system) have been overwhelmed by your support, and we remain grateful for all of your thoughtful feedback and engagement.

Welcome back to your Zoo.

I hope to see you during your next visit,

Ron Kagan
Executive Director and CEO
Detroit Zoological Society

We’re Eagerly Getting Ready for Your Visit – A Note from Ron Kagan

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The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is ready for you to rediscover the peaceful, safe and special Zoo you love, potentially as early as Monday, June 8.

While we’re still awaiting clarification on whether the Detroit Zoo is permitted to reopen on that day, we want you to know that your Zoo experience will be a little different from how it was pre-COVID-19. What isn’t these days?! But that just means we’re doing our job well to keep you safe. Initially, we will be limiting the capacity of guests within the Detroit Zoo. You might be pleased to know that members will have the first few days of reopening to themselves.

Masks are in this year, so wear yours. Every person who enters our grounds will be expected to accept and support the shared responsibility of keeping themselves, our guests, and staff (and the animals who live here, too!) safe. We all have a very important part to play.

The DZS team is doing daily walkthroughs of the grounds, making sure nothing is missed in our new safety protocols. Expect a detailed step-by-step guide on the new Detroit Zoo experience in the days ahead. There are some fun new twists!

As mentioned in a previous message, the DZS has extended all existing memberships by two months. The members’ annual meeting has been postponed. We don’t yet have a new date, but we plan to relay that information soon. Importantly, if you’d like to help support the DZS, please consider renewing your membership here or giving a gift to help with Zoo operations as we’ve lost millions in revenue over the past two months. Many of you have sent support over the past weeks. We are so appreciative!

In an effort to reduce possible risks to children in our community and because we cannot afford to properly staff due to millions in lost revenue, the Detroit Zoological Society has had to cancel this year’s in-person Safari Camps. The DZS education department will continue to provide enriching virtual content to help children continue to learn and grow this summer. If you’ve already signed your child up to participate in this year’s Safari Camps, you can choose to move your reservation to next year, donate your reservation to the DZS or get a full refund. Contact Customer Care at info@dzs.org for more information. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to welcoming kids back to camp soon!

In the meantime, if you are looking to bring a slice of the Zoo to you, the Zoofari Market has gone digital! Explore our online shop to find a great selection of eco-friendly products, stylish apparel, unique souvenir keepsakes and new animal-inspired face masks.

I know we’re all craving to reconnect, both with each other and with nature, and the Detroit Zoological Society is looking forward to providing the community with an outdoor reprieve from the stress of the past few months.

See you soon,

Ron Kagan
Executive Director and CEO
Detroit Zoological Society

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