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!

The Best Part of the Belle Isle Nature Center is Back!

Authored by Amy Greene, nature centers director for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

The Belle Isle Nature Center reopened in fall 2022 with a whole new interior designed to connect people of all ages with local flora and fauna. It has been thrilling to be open again! As we roll into the winter season, let’s take some time to reflect on the past few months and appreciate our greatest feature — our guests!

Having guests in our building has brought the heart and soul back into the Nature Center. Of course, part of the rhythm of that heartbeat includes the amazing animals, their caregivers and the rest of the staff, but it has truly been a joy to see people exploring the new exhibits and habitats. During the first two days we opened, the golf course across the road hosted a Special Olympics event for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, and we had the serendipitous opportunity to host 600 children immediately upon reopening. It brought tears to my eyes to see kids learning, exploring and belonging in the natural world. 

It is truly all about connections — our older visitors, who are well beyond school-aged, will often come across one of the habitats featuring local wildlife, turn to someone and share an anecdote that starts with “I remember…!” Hearing stories of how people used to sit on a dock and look for water snakes or turn over leaves to find frogs reinforces the connections between past and present, nature and human. Every day, I look forward to reading the responses people leave on our community feedback wall that detail their personal connections to where they find nature in their own neighborhoods. Hand-written and hand-drawn notes share experiences about squirrels, groundhogs, butterflies, birds, trees and weeds in backyards, schoolyards, parks and places people visit.

Tunnels connect things, too!

It has been exciting to observe people of all ages explore the many tunnels here at the Nature Center. The Young Learner Space features an exploration through an ant or worm tunnel, right down under the crack of a sidewalk. What can you find in there that is part of nature? What did humans leave behind? Can you store food, dig tunnels and spend some time in part of our everyday environment that is often unnoticed yet crucially important? The tunnel under the treefrog habitat offers yet another interesting perspective, as guests can pop up into acrylic “bubbles” right in the habitat for an insider’s view. The space is also home to a replica Detroit sewer tunnel, which offers a walk-through experience showcasing how animals adapt to living in spaces with human infrastructure and how our actions, like keeping trash clear from drains, can have an impact.

Through the tunnels, hallways and habitats, the focus on shared spaces and connection to place-based nature is apparent. Each mural at the Belle Isle Nature Center represents an actual location where those species of animals were spotted in the city of Detroit. It is a powerful feeling to see our guests interact with the features here that provide opportunities to explore their own power and place in the natural world. These exhibits help our guests recognize their impact and belonging as individuals who share their space with other living things.

In the last three months, more than 18,000 people have already visited the Belle Isle Nature Center — that’s a lot of connections!  After the long, quiet days of the pandemic closure, and the loud and bustling days of the renovation construction, this everyday simplicity — hearing all those footsteps through the hallways, exclamations of awe, the buzz of childhood questions and the curious conversations about connection to the spaces we share with wildlife and wild places – is truly the beat that keeps our pulse pumping. It’s the best part of the Belle Isle Nature Center!

Ready to experience it for yourself?

Visit us any day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. – the Belle Isle Nature Center and its programs are free! With unpredictable winter weather, the nature center provides a climate-controlled oasis where you can still get that great outdoor feeling. The cozy stone fireplace and birdwatching window are fan favorites this time of year. You can also embrace the cold and join us for Winterfest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 28. Guests will have the opportunity to trek through the trails on snowshoes, make a feeder to care for birds in the winter, learn about animal adaptations and winter survival, and much more. Night owls will also enjoy our monthly Nature at Night series that features different native nocturnal species. This Friday, Jan. 20, local partners from the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center and Detroit Audubon will be on-site with fun activities, such as a guided hike to search of owls, followed by an outdoor fire to warm you up. Follow our Facebook page to stay connected with us and your fellow nature lovers. Just like the seasons, there is always something new to experience at the Belle Isle Nature Center.

Is Three a Crowd? DZS Research Finds Innovative Approaches in Gorilla Housing, Welfare

Authored by Dr. Kylen N. Gartland, manager of applied animal welfare science for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

Making a happy home requires an abundance of care, creativity and finesse – especially when that home is for gorillas! 

The Detroit Zoo’s Great Apes of Harambee habitat is home to three adult male gorillas, Chipua (Chip), Kong-Mbeli (Kongo) and Pendeka (Pende). You may notice something unique about this group – there are no females! Chip, Kongo and Pende are part of a bachelor group. Although gorilla family groups are generally composed of one adult male, multiple adult females and their juvenile offspring, gorillas may also form bachelor groups composed of multiple young and maturing male gorillas. These bachelor groups provide individuals with opportunities for a healthy social environment with companions with whom to form complex and lasting relationships. 

Forming a successful bachelor group is no small feat. Zoo staff and managers must consider a plethora of variables such as age, personality and family history. Although many all-male gorilla groups are formed when the individuals are juveniles, the relationships and dynamics within the group may undergo any number of changes as individuals grow and mature. The ideal management strategy for a group of 10-year-old gorillas can look very different from that for a group of 20-year-olds. What’s more, gorillas develop unique personalities and preferences, just like humans! Plans for long-term care and well-being must integrate not only group needs but individual factors as well. 

Chip, Kongo and Pende have been a cohesive social unit for more than 20 years, due in large part to the excellent care provided by the Detroit Zoological Society team! Zoo staff are always on the lookout for new information that can help us manage the complex inter-relationship between time, group-level needs and individual-level preferences that leads to a happy, healthy home. 

One way animal care staff can ensure the gorillas are living in optimal conditions is through tools such as Qualitative Behavioral Assessments (QBAs). QBAs are keeper rating tools that allow expert care staff to evaluate the well-being of a given animal based on subtle cues like movement, posture, dynamic expressions, and individualistic indicators of emotional states. Using QBAs, care staff and welfare scientists can collaboratively explore new and innovative strategies for maximizing animal well-being.  

Recent nationwide work between members of the DZS’s Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE) and experts at other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) created opportunities to investigate overnight housing. This work suggested that groups of younger gorillas may thrive with the constant access to group members provided by social overnight housing, while groups with more mature gorillas may benefit from the space and solitude provided by individual overnight housing. Judging what is right for each individual and each group is an ever-evolving challenge, as an individual’s well-being varies over time. The gorillas at the Detroit Zoo provided a unique opportunity to investigate overnight housing, as the group has historically been managed on a rotation with three nights spent together socially and the fourth night spent solitarily. 

To make this investigation possible, CZAAWE staff members came together with mammal supervisor Melissa Thueme and other members of the primate care team to create and validate a QBA tool just for gorillas! This tool, called the Gorilla Behavioral Assessment Tool (GBAT), combined CZAAWE staff’s scientific training with the primate care team’s gorilla expertise. Using the GBAT, primate care staff conducted three months of daily evaluations of Chip, Pende and Kongo from June to August 2022. Once the primate team had collected the data, it was time for CZAAWE to step in! CZAAWE staff used statistics to analyze the data from the GBAT evaluations to look at differences between the overnight housing conditions. 

With a lot of input from the diverse supporting departments — and more than a little math — staff concluded that the gorillas generally demonstrated increased welfare from being housed separately overnight as compared to being housed socially. Individuals were more curious, less anxious and less aggressive with other gorillas! With these data in hand, the primate care team transitioned to housing the gorillas separately every night. 

The DZS is proud to invest in studies like these that support care staff in making the best possible management decisions and offer opportunities for cross-departmental collaborations. With the support of four other AZA-accredited zoos, we have set out to establish the GBAT as a reliable and useful tool for zoos across the United States and beyond! Stay tuned for more exciting updates as we continue this study. 

Take Your Birding to the Next Level with eBird! 

Many golden-crowned kinglets use Zoo grounds during migration from the end of March just into May and from the end of September into the beginning of November.

Authored by Matthew Porter, bird care team member for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

Happy National Bird Day! To celebrate, let’s talk about how the Detroit Zoo takes part in one of the greatest community science projects on earth, eBird. 

The website ebird.org is home to a giant database of bird observations run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Through this website, there is an abundance of information about birds across the globe.

EBird brings together the community and scientists to understand the ranges and movements of birds around the world. Once involved, we are all scientists at work. This collaborative effort harvests a massive data set that would never be attainable without the efforts of everyone involved. Our efforts compiled together advance avian science and conservation worldwide. Last year, on a single day in October, more than 34,670 people from 185 countries reported 80,000 checklists observing 7,453 bird species!

Over the last couple of years, our staff has invested lots of time to help with this worldwide effort. What we have found is that there is more avian diversity than we previously thought at the Detroit Zoo. Some birds call the Detroit Zoo home year-round. Others come here to breed in the summer, while some come here for a winter home. Many species use the Zoo from March through May and August through November as a very important migratory stopover. This land is a green island in the middle of suburbia and a great, safe stopover refuge. Our buildings have bird-friendly glass, and we continue to plant native plants to provide the appropriate food and ecosystem many species need.

Last year, more than 100 species were reported by Zoo staff and citizen scientists surveying Zoo grounds. You can join in on the fun by signing up for an eBird account at ebird.org. The website has lots of information and tutorials on surveying and best practices. There is also an easy-to-use app that can make surveying more efficient. Once enrolled, you can become part of this worldwide effort to assist with bird conservation.

Here at the DZS, we are always looking for more ways to engage with the community so that people, animals and the natural world can thrive together.

Pictured is a common yellowthroat, a species of warbler that routinely uses Detroit Zoo habitat throughout May as a migratory stopover area.

DZS Partners With Mittens for Detroit to Give Back This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season for giving!  

While we’ve been making the holidays bright with our annual Wild Lights event, a celebration featuring millions of twinkling lights decorating the Detroit Zoo, we know the season wouldn’t be complete without gifting something back to our community. That’s why we are partnering with Mittens for Detroit all Wild Lights long!  

Mittens for Detroit is a local nonprofit that collects new, warm mittens and gloves for families in need. The items are then distributed through schools, veterans’ groups, senior centers, shelters, medical facilities and other like organizations. Since establishing itself in 2010, the organization has delivered more than a quarter million pairs of gloves and mittens to children, teens and adults in Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Dearborn and Pontiac.  

The Detroit Zoological Society is proud to again partner with Mittens of Detroit to warm the hands and hearts of our Metro Detroit neighbors.  

“The pairs raised at Wild Lights will be immensely helpful, as we can process them quickly and they will be on hands within a week or so of their donation,” says Wendy Shepherd, Mittens for Detroit executive director. “We greatly appreciate once again the community outreach that this fantastic event brings.” 

Last year, our Wild Lights guests helped us collect nearly 800 pairs of gloves and mittens. This year, we are aiming for 1,000 pairs — but we need your help to cross the finish line! When you plan your trip to Wild Lights this season, help us give back by bringing in a pair of new, unused gloves or mittens to donate to those in need. Wrapped collection boxes can be found at the Detroit Zoo’s entrance. Wild Lights runs select evenings through Jan. 8. 

Together, we can ensure the holiday season is merry, bright and warm for all. 

A Song in the Darkness: Audio Loggers and Panama’s Imperiled Amphibians

Authored by Mark Vassallo, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) Amphibian Department Supervisor.

The cloud forest of central Panama is a unique and mysterious place, full of rare creatures and plants that call these moisture-laden peaks home. At night, the jungle writhes with life as the nocturnal world takes over the mountainsides. In this veil of darkness and nestled in the elevations of these dense jungles, some of the earth’s rarest amphibian species reside. Many of these species are yet to be described by science, and others are considered to be extinct.  As I gazed up at the gathering rain clouds on the volcanic peaks of El Valle, I could not help but wonder which of these potentially extinct amphibians could still be out there.

I have been traveling to El Valle, Panama for the last seven years to work with the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC). This organization is run by Edgardo Griffith and Heidi Ross, a husband-and-wife biologist team, who have dedicated their lives to the conservation of Panama’s most endangered amphibians. Usually during these trips, I am undertaking projects involving the installation of life support and infrastructure or helping troubleshoot specific husbandry issues that arise in one of the modified shipping containers in which EVACC houses seven species of Panama’s rare and endangered amphibians, including the iconic Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus Zeteki). 

A Warzewitsch’s frog was identified in the area.

While those types of jobs are on the docket for this trip, we also have an important task to complete that will bring us into the upper reaches of the cloud forest in the hopes to hear a sound that could mean some hope for the imperiled amphibians of Panama. The sounds we are hoping to hear are the calls of thought-to-be-extinct amphibians, including Raab’s tree frogs (Ecnomiohyla rabborum), large and highly unique arboreal frogs who lays their eggs in tree cavities and can glide through the air to evade predators. In the last year, EVACC has begun the process of deploying audio loggers in some of the area’s hard-to-reach elevations to listen for the calls of amphibians like the Rabb’s tree frog that are widely thought to be potentially extinct. 

The audio loggers are sturdy boxes that contain a microphone, batteries and SD cards accompanied by a digital screen. The idea is that these listening devices, which are programmed to turn on during the dusk and nighttime hours, will pick up the call of one of these rare frogs. If a call from one of these frogs is detected on the logger recording, this would give the biologists at EVACC a very good lead on the areas where intensive surveys could take place to potentially locate this species.

Armed with some GPS coordinates, batteries, fresh SD cards and rough information about the audio logger’s location from a member of the last group who placed it, we headed up the mountain to start our journey. As we began to climb, the heat and humidity was intense — our clothes were soaked in less than an hour.  Large biting ants were swarming our boots as the incline steepened, and we came to a crossroads in the trail. We had reached the GPS coordinates but realized that these coordinates could not be correct. At this point, we decided to attempt to leave the trail and start climbing up what seemed like a cut in the dense jungle, which may have been caused by mudslides and heavy rains, certainly nothing even resembling an actual trail. The going was difficult as the clouds began to gather. Buckets of heavy rain soon began dumping on us, causing the mud to loosen and give, making the more vertical sections especially precarious. In addition to watching your footing in the jungles of Panama, it is also important to watch where you put your hands. Eyelash vipers and stinging insects of all kinds tend to rest on branches and sticks at about eye level. All of these thoughts were keeping our senses sharp as we broke through clearing after clearing, each time hoping that this was the top of the mountain and the audio logger would appear like a shining beacon amongst the dense jungle. Yet, each time the clearings revealed even more vertical walls of vines and thick jungle vegetation to climb. Our resolve was fading, but we pressed on. At one point, my balance gave way, and I fell face first into the side of the muddy slope. As I raised my head, I noticed I was face to face with a tiny gem of a frog. It was a blue-bellied poison frog (Adinobates minutus). This toxic little frog was just staring back at me, probably wondering why a silly, hairless ape had bothered to climb this far up a mountain during a thunderstorm. 

A rainforest rocket frog was identified in the area.

The rain was finally letting up, and this gave us a little boost as we could see some sunshine emanating from what looked like a break in the jungle ahead. As we approached, sharp painful sensations started overwhelming my hands and wrists. We were wading through a large column of sharp bladed grass, which when brushed against, caused a paper cut like lacerations on the skin. Once we emerged from the brush and into the clearing, we realized we had reached the top. The jungle was so dense there was no real spot to even look out to enjoy the view. We immediately got to work searching for the audio logger.  I looked left then right and passed through some thick brush. Then I saw it — a strip of white that stood out in the landscape of green. It was one of the zip ties used to attach the logger to the tree. We had found it! After several minutes of exulted celebrations and numerous high fives, we swapped out the SD cards and batteries, the unit was reprogrammed, and we locked up the protective case. The trip down was more like a ride down a luge course made of mud. This did make the process faster but certainly not any safer. 

Once we finally arrived back at the EVACC grounds, we were exhausted and coated in mud and insect bites but satisfied and content that we had achieved a seemingly insurmountable challenge. After a shower and a cold beverage, I walked out into the moonlight on the grounds of EVACC. Once again, the clouds were beginning to gather around the El Valle mountains, and my eyes settled on the tips of those green jungle peaks, wondering if the logger we had reset for another four months would record a sound of hope.

Learn more about the EVACC foundation and make a donation online to help them ensure the survival of Panamanian amphibian species for generations to come.

Mark Vassallo is pictured with an audio logger.

A “Purrfect” Partnership: Collaborative efforts create ideal situations for tiger breeding

Staff with The Detroit Zoo have been working together to monitor Ameliya, an Amur tiger. Photo credit: Jennifer Harte

Authored by Emily Bovee, CZAAWE lab assistant

A little teamwork can go a long way — especially when it comes to caring for the animals who call the Detroit Zoo home. Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE) staff recently teamed up with fellow Zoo employees to ensure two of the Zoo’s feline residents have the best possible opportunity to bring a litter of cubs into the world. 

Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) were the first species to be part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan, a program aimed at supporting the conservation of endangered species by maintaining the genetic diversity of AZA populations. Breeding animals in zoos can be surprisingly challenging, even for the most amorous of Amur tigers! As a solitary species, wild adult Amur tigers generally live alone. Females and males will only meet briefly to mate before parting ways. Tigers living in AZA-accredited zoos are often housed separately, thus the timing of breeding introductions is extremely important. The successful birth of healthy cubs requires some coordination and planning from experts in the field. The last time efforts were made to breed tigers at the Detroit Zoo was in 2003 when healthy cubs were born. 

Team members have been monitoring how Ameliya and Nikolai interact with each other.

Collaborations between different departments at the Detroit Zoo provide staff opportunities to examine the welfare of the animals from new and diverse perspectives. Recently, CZAAWE staff started working with mammal supervisor Melissa Thueme and animal care specialist Sarah Semegen to assist with tiger breeding efforts. The two resident Amur tigers, male Nikolai and female Ameliya, rotate through the public enclosure and a second outdoor tiger yard behind the scenes. 

CZAAWE uses an on-campus endocrinology lab to non-invasively measure indicators of physiological welfare such as hormones — a fancy way of saying we analyze a lot of poop! With the amount of poop collected from animals big and small throughout the Zoo, CZAAWE depends on the intrepid lab volunteers who spend hours crushing samples to prepare them for lab testing. This can include hormones that may indicate changes in reproductive states such as testosterone, estradiol and progesterone. 

Hormone data, along with behavioral observations, can help track Ameliya’s cycles.

Using fecal samples collected by animal care staff from Ameliya, CZAAWE first monitored estradiol, an estrogen hormone involved in the regulation of the estrous cycle. This allowed us to assess if Ameliya had an active cycle and determine the timing of her cycles. The hormone data supplements and confirms animal care staff behavioral observations, which can also be used to track reproductive cycles. Indicators of her estrous cycle included behaviors such as chuffing (an affectionate throaty vocalization!), rubbing on walls and mesh, rolling on the ground, and being friendly toward Nikolai and animal care staff. In only a few days, she can switch from snarling and swatting at Nikolai to chuffing and cheek rubbing! Using a combination of hormonal monitoring and behavioral cues, animal care staff can determine the ideal time for facilitating interactions between Ameliya and Nikolai that are more likely to result in a successful breeding attempt. 

After a potentially successful breeding introduction, the CZAAWE lab staff can shift to monitoring Ameliya’s progesterone levels. Progesterone is a hormone that maintains pregnancy and gets the body ready for and supports a developing fetus. Examining her progesterone levels will allow us to non-invasively detect a possible pregnancy and make sure our care protocols provide excellent support for the mother-to-be. While we are not yet listening for the pitter-patter of tiny tiger paws, we are hopeful that the continued collaboration between animal care staff and CZAAWE will mean healthy tiger cubs in the future.

The collaboration between Zoo departments will help Ameliya and Nikolai be in the ideal situation for potential breeding.

Connecting With Wildlife in an Artful Way

Authored by Ashley Ciricola, curator of fine and performing arts for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

The Detroit Zoo is home to many mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. But did you know the Zoo is also home to a variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs and other pieces of art?

November 9 happens to be National Go to an Art Museum Day, and we want to shine a deserving light on the the Detroit Zoological Society’s permanent art collection. Read on to learn more about these pieces and see why visitors of all ages should add an art tour to their next Zoo trip. 

Since 1995, the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery at the Detroit Zoo has been a designated space to display the permanent art collection, supporting the DZS’ mission by creating meaningful connections between people, animals and the natural world. The cultural and artistic diversity of our permanent art collection encourages guests to consider and compare the varied relationships between humans and animals across different cultures and times. 

The universal language of art is a pathway to start or continue discussions about conservation and sustainability topics within our community, and whether you are interested in local artists or ancient artifacts, the permanent art collection at the Detroit Zoo has a little something for everyone. Here are a few of the collections that are currently on display: 

But the beauty isn’t just limited to the indoors; in fact, the collection continues as you venture throughout the Zoo grounds. There are many unique pieces to see, from vibrant Pewabic tile mosaics to bronze animal statues that are at hug level for our smallest art aficionados to enjoy.  

Wherever you are in the Zoo, there is likely a meaningful piece of art that is nearby and waiting for you to explore! Plan your next trip to the Detroit Zoo and see it all for yourself – visit www.detroitzoo.org today to purchase your tickets.

Flower Power: Detroit Zoological Society Joins Sunflower Hidden Disabilities Program 

Dr. De’Andrea Matthews is the vice president of diversity and community engagement at the Detroit Zoological Society.

Authored by Dr. De’Andrea Matthews, vice president of diversity and community engagement at the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). 

On your next visit to the Detroit Zoo or Belle Isle Nature Center, you might see a few more sunflowers than you would normally expect.  

That’s because the DZS is now a member of the Sunflower Hidden Disabilities Program. We strongly believe this membership will amplify our support for individuals living with hidden disabilities. 

Guests at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center who have hidden physical, mental or neurological disabilities may now discretely indicate any needed support or assistance during their experience at the Zoo or Nature Center. Our staff will in-turn, and upon request, provide a Sunflower pin, lanyard or bracelet to guests to reaffirm that assistance is available whenever they need it.  

We are always seeking to be inclusive and continue to improve how we give our guests with disabilities the best possible experience. With programs like the Sunflower Hidden Disabilities Program, we can enhance what we offer to the communities we serve. It’s important to remember the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are inclusive spaces for all; we don’t just serve able-bodied individuals. Many of our guests experience hidden disabilities, and this program is a wonderful tool to offer them. 

Sunflower Hidden Disabilities Program products allow guests to discretely indicate that they have a hidden disability.

Since establishing itself in the United Kingdom in 2016, the Sunflower Hidden Disabilities Program has grown into a global movement. Program officials estimate 80 percent of all disabilities are hidden — making the Sunflower an important, recognizable symbol to destigmatize hidden disabilities and offer support when needed.  

The Detroit Zoo is the first zoo in the state of Michigan to participate in the program. We’re hopeful our participation will spark an interest in the Sunflower Hidden Disabilities Program throughout Metro Detroit and beyond. 

The majority of the time, when we think about disability, we think about things we can see. But when hidden disabilities make up the majority, we don’t necessarily know when someone needs additional assistance, patience or understanding. By taking part in this program, the DZS will bring more awareness to hidden disabilities and lead the way for other organizations to do the same. 

We’re so pleased to be a part of this program, and we can’t wait to see the good that comes out of it. 

To learn more about the DZS’s diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility work, visit detroitzoo.org.  

Sunflower products include lanyards, bracelets, pins and more.

Standing up for Songbirds: How the DZS Supports Bird-Friendly Initiatives  

Photo credit: Kip Kriigel

Authored by Bonnie Van Dam, curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

One of the greatest joys of walking outside is listening to the chirps and chatter of songbirds — from the warble of the yellow warbler to the call of the American goldfinch.  

Despite the beauty of their songs, these birds face enormous dangers every day, especially during migration season. Whether it be the reflection of untreated glass windows or the pull of bright city lights, man-made hazards have proved detrimental to local and migrating songbird populations. In this blog, we will explore some of these hazards and what can be done on a legislative, local and personal level to reduce these hazards and stand up for songbirds.  

Photo credit: Patti Truesdell

What are our legislators doing to protect songbirds? 

I recently spoke at a public hearing for Bill B24-0710, which is a Washington, D.C. Council Migratory Local Wildlife Protection Act. This bill would require all new building construction or façade improvements to use bird-friendly materials, like bird-friendly glass, which is specifically designed to make glass a visible obstacle for birds while remaining transparent to humans. A passed bill would also establish a Bird-Friendly Buildings Fund to support building owners as they work to implement these potential changes.  

Untreated, or non-bird-friendly, glass poses a major risk to migratory and local resident birds; between 365 million and one billion birds die each year in the United States when they collide with buildings. This is because the transparency and reflections of untreated glass leaves birds unable to tell the difference between the horizon and a solid building. Birds flying at night may also be attracted to, and therefore confused by, lights inside buildings – which leads to them stopping over, resting and refueling in our cities. Once the birds resume their migration journey, it’s likely they’ll encounter an untimely death after colliding with a glass window. 

These are tragic facts, but legislation like DC Bill B24-0710 can change things. While these types of bills only affect Washington D.C., Illinois, Minnesota and a few other cities nationwide, there are other municipalities looking to enact similar bills into laws as well. Related laws requiring bird-friendly buildings have been passed for New York City, Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, Portland and other smaller, local jurisdictions – and each one of these acts will save thousands of birds’ lives. As our society continues to construct buildings with glass windows, it is also society’s responsibility to help birds navigate windows, which are silent and invisible hazards to them. 

The DZS uses bird-safe glass on its campuses.

What is the DZS doing to protect songbirds? 

In addition to supporting bills like DC B24-0710, the DZS has been committed to preventing collisions for our local resident and migratory birds for years. Because the state of Michigan has birds migrating from both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, the Detroit Zoo’s campus has 24 buildings equipped with bird-safe glass or retrofitted with film, and we’re constantly educating our guests about the importance of bird-safe glass with graphics and flyers.  

The DZS also focuses on collaboration to meet our conservation goals for songbirds. Our commitment to the Detroit Urban Bird Treaty creates bird-friendly environments and provides everyone, especially kids, with opportunities to connect with nature through birding and conservation. This is thanks to collaborative efforts between federal, state and municipal agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, that  

reduce work to limit hazards to migrating birds, promote community science activities and provide community education and outreach.  

I am a founding member of North American Songbird SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction), an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conservation program that harnesses the collective strengths of AZA-accredited facilities, alongside other partners, to grow conservation impact and effectively save species. NAS SAFE focuses on more than 300 avian species that migrate through North America to fight population loss that stems from habitat loss, climate change, building collisions and predation from outdoor domestic cats. Our bird collision initiative has gone a long way toward protecting these beautiful birds and setting best practices at the local, state and provincial levels.  

Photo credit: Roy Lewis

What can you do to protect songbirds? 

You don’t have to wait for your city or state to adopt bird-friendly legislation to do your part to keep migrating birds safe! There are plenty of low-cost and low-burden ways to make the glass around you safer for birds, including using bird-safe glass in new construction and treating existing glass with a variety of film products. You can even purchase bird collision prevention products at the Detroit Zoo’s gift shop! 

Additionally, you can: 

• Reduce evening lighting during peak migratory seasons by participating in Lights Out programs 

• Purchase certified Bird Friendly Coffee© to preserve neotropical bird wintering grounds 

• Select grass-fed beef to help save grassland birds 

• Purchase certified sustainable paper products to help preserve the nesting grounds of boreal forest songbirds 

• Participate in native songbird community science projects and Urban Bird Treaty activities in cities 

• Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day  

If we all — individuals, conservation organizations and legislators — work together, we can make a true difference and save the lives of countless migrating songbirds. 

Window decals are a great way to protect birds from building collisions.