Notes from the Field: Detroit Zoo Continues to Save Once-Extinct Snail Species

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is continuing to bolster the wild population of a species of Tahitian land snail called Partula nodosa, which we are credited with saving from extinction. At one point, all the P. nodosa in the world lived at the Detroit Zoo as part of a breeding program that began in 1989 after the species had been declared extinct in the wild. Last summer, 100 of these snails were carefully packaged before embarking on a journey to the tropical island of Tahiti. Last month, an additional 60 snails began their voyage, departing the Detroit Zoo on a path first to the Netherlands before their eventual release into the wilds of the South Pacific.

P. nodosa were once found across Tahiti and other south Pacific islands among more than 125 different species of land snails. These beautifully striped snails were important in the ceremonial jewelry and decorations of native islanders, and the snails served as an ideal study group to learn more about the evolution of diversity.

Much of the Partulid snail diversity was lost because of a botched attempt at what is known as “biological control”, or the control of a pest by the introduction of a natural enemy or predator. In 1967, giant African land snails were introduced to Tahiti and other south Pacific islands to serve as a source of protein for local people. However, some African snails escaped, bred very rapidly, and began eating farmers’ crops, threatening the local economy. To control the African snails, Florida rosy wolf snails were introduced a decade later, but the wolf snails preferred to eat the Partulid snails, which caused the extinction of many of the Partulid species.

For nearly three decades, the DZS has been breeding these snails in a behind-the-scenes area as part of a collaborative effort with other zoos. The project began in 1989 with 115 Tahitian land snails of five different species – while the DZS focused its efforts on P. nodosa, other zoos began working on the others. Our program led to the rescue and recovery of the species – currently there are 4,000 individuals living in North American zoos, all descendants from the Detroit Zoo’s original small group.

Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the Director of Conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Detroit Zoo Honored with International Conservation Award

The Detroit Zoo was recently honored along with eight other zoos with the 2016 International Conservation Award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) for our work with the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center. Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, GRACE is dedicated to rescuing orphaned Grauer’s gorillas, which are among the most critically endangered primates in the world. As the conservation and preservation of wildlife is paramount to the mission of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS), we couldn’t be more proud of this partnership or of this achievement.

Sadly, the Grauer’s gorilla is endangered due to widespread habitat destruction, poaching and threats associated with the ever-growing human population, caused in part by regional conflicts and government unrest. However, GRACE bravely fights against this, taking in the gorillas that have been separated from their birth families and/or confiscated from illegal trading. The rescued animals are provided nutrition and medical care as they explore the facility’s 370 acres – the largest gorilla enclosure in the world – situated within a 1,235-acre forested area of Central Africa. The hope – and the goal – is that these majestic animals will also learn the skills necessary for an eventual return to the wild.

 

Founded in 2009, GRACE is overseen by a dedicated board of directors, which includes Ron Kagan, DZS CEO and executive director, who has also served as board chair. In addition to Ron’s valuable leadership, the DZS’s involvement with GRACE has also included financial and staff support. In 2015, Ron helped secure funds for a new night house enclosure for the gorillas. Also that year, DZS Director of Animal Health Dr. Ann Duncan traveled to the Congo to perform health examinations on 12 gorillas, which had never been done before.

This amazing conservation, welfare and humane education initiative is a wonderful collaboration of important organizations working together with a very special Congolese community to ensure that this population of extremely endangered gorillas survives.

The AZA’s International Conservation Award annually recognizes accredited AZA institutions and conservation partners that make efforts to restore habitats, preserve species and support biodiversity.  Our zoo partners who join us in receiving this award include the Los Angeles Zoo, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Nashville Zoo, Houston Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

We are looking forward to continuing our partnership with GRACE and dedicating our efforts to ensure the safety of the beloved Grauer’s gorilla for generations to come. This partnership is arguably the most exciting, unique and promising conservation, welfare and humane education initiative the Detroit Zoological Society has ever been involved with.

Veterinary Care: My, What Big Teeth You Have!

Dental care is a very important component of maintaining the health and welfare of the animals at the Detroit Zoo. Many of the animals in our care live longer than they would in the wild, and we need to ensure that they maintain healthy, strong teeth throughout their lifespans.

Some of our patients are cooperative; for example, the polar bears and chimpanzees have been trained to open their mouths wide for a quick visual exam, and the seals allow us to brush their teeth daily to reduce tartar build up. But it’s not always that easy – our patients all have very different mouths, and some teeth are easier to see than others. During every health check, we make sure to do a thorough dental exam.

 

Most of our carnivores and reptiles have mouths that open wide and teeth that are easy to examine. Aardvarks, kangaroos and pigs are examples of animals that have elongated, deep mouths that are very hard to visualize, but we use a variety of tools to get the job done. A laryngoscope with a very long blade or small endoscope can be used to see in the dark, tight spaces inside the mouth, such as with a Meishan pig. Pigs can develop dental problems as they age, so it’s important to check each tooth and treat any potential problems early.

Our patients also have different kinds and shapes of teeth. The teeth of carnivores and herbivores are shaped differently, and their structure can vary as well. We look up the dental formula (how many incisors, premolars and molars a species has) and anatomy of the teeth before exams, and we have developed a new dental exam form to help us identify the teeth and record any problems we find. For example, beavers have front incisors that grow continuously, and we check their teeth frequently for overgrowth.

Some of our patients have very, very large teeth, like Kisa, a 13-year-old female Amur tiger. During Kisa’s most recent health check, we were able to see that there was swelling around her lower left canine tooth. We scheduled an exam with our visiting veterinary dentist, Dr. Ben Colmery. He made a small incision along the side of the tooth and found an area where the enamel had eroded away. This type of enamel resorption is common in older domestic cats, and has been seen in our geriatric zoo patients as well. If left untreated, serious problems can develop that can make it necessary to extract the tooth. Dr. Colmery smoothed the lesion and applied a special paste to help stimulate healing. We also scaled and polished all of her teeth to remove tartar and plaque.

Our goal in the animal health department is provide the best possible care to all of the wonderful animals that live at the Detroit Zoo. We work to understand the kinds of health problems found in zoo animals, and to prevent these problems whenever possible. Finding dental disease and other health problems early allows us to be proactive in our efforts to maintain excellent health and welfare.

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

Detroit Zoo Earns Top Honors for Customer Service Excellence

The Detroit Zoo recently received the prestigious William F. McLaughlin Hospitality Award for Service Excellence from the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. This is a great honor, as it is the only award in the state that recognizes customer service excellence in businesses. Detroit Zoological Society Chief Operating Officer Gerry VanAcker and Guest Relations Director Alexis Means accepted the award on behalf of the Zoo’s dedicated staff and volunteers.

The staff at the Zoo works hard on a daily basis to ensure that each and every guest has a pleasant visit. During employee training, staff learns the Zoo’s rules for great customer service.

Grin and greet within 8 feet. Smiles are contagious, so simply smiling and greeting guests can make an impact on their visit.

Be a good listener. Taking the time to listen to guests’ needs by asking questions and concentrating on what they’re saying makes them feel as if we care about their experience – and we do!

Make guests (as well as staff and volunteers) feel important. If possible, use their name and treat them as individuals. Find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. By generating good feelings about doing business with us, they will return again and again.

Always say “yes” – within reason. Look for ways to help visitors whenever possible. If they have a request, as long as it’s reasonable, we can help.

Know how to apologize. If something goes wrong, it’s easy to say “I’m sorry” and guests appreciate it. Try to remedy the situation and make sure the visitor knows what has been done. Even if they are having a bad day, there’s always something we can do to try and make them more comfortable.

Give more than expected. Because the future success of the Zoo lies in keeping visitors happy, we try to find ways to set ourselves apart from other institutions. Escorting guests to locations when asked for directions is one way we can stand out. Don’t just show…go!

Treat all employees and volunteers well. It’s not just the guests who enjoy feeling appreciated. When we feel good, we’re better at making our guests feel good!

Nature Play at the Belle Isle Nature Zoo

The Belle Isle Nature Zoo’s backyard is undergoing a transformation from au naturel to a natural playground area. While we believe it’s beneficial for our native flora and fauna to have natural places to grow wild and free, we also believe the same is true for local children!

What began as an ordinary space with a lot of potential is becoming an extraordinary space with a lot of possibilities for families to stay and play. While the playground environment remains filled with natural materials, the area now provides an inviting opportunity for children to exercise their imaginations, develop a sense of exploration, and enjoy some physical activity outside. Physical, mental and social health benefits flourish as a result of time spent outdoors, and we are working on designing a space that will sustain and support our guests as well as our environment.

Loose items made from natural materials inspire creative play – a balance beam from a fallen log offers a challenge of skill and concentration of gross motor skills, and a trail of tree stumps is just right for hopping, skipping, or even to be rested upon by visitors of all ages. People-sized nests are constructed and stocked with nature’s toys: sand, pebbles, stones, and “tree cookies”, which are slices of tree branches just perfect for construction play. A wooden teepee stands tall, waiting for hide-and-seekers, pretend campouts and all the creative games our small guests with big imaginations may bring.

Sensory activities are also in the works: Natural looms will build fine motor skills with a chance to use plant material to weave designs. Bamboo chimes and natural drums will inspire our natural musicians to play to the rhythm of the seasons, and colorful textural elements will reflect the beautiful palette of the natural world.

As the occasional chipmunk scampers through the playground and the birds call out their daily activities, they are at home in the natural environment (we’ve left plenty of natural “wild” spaces for our non-human animal friends around here!). Our goal with this playground is to create an opportunity for children to cultivate a sense of comfort and connection in outdoor experiences. Playing outside in nature – with nature – can help children gain respect for their environment and better understand their own place in it. And while the natural play supports the development and strength of our children, the sense of ownership they develop stands to strengthen the future stewardship of our natural world, which is vital to the health and sustainability of our planet.

We invite you to visit the Belle Isle Nature Zoo to check out our natural playground work-in-progress, hop on some logs, feel the textures and hear the sounds of nature. Tell us what you think!

– Amy Greene is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Belle Isle Nature Zoo.

Veterinary Care: Get Ready to Run Wild

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Run Wild for the Detroit Zoo, and we anticipate it will be bigger and better than ever. This is a fun, family-friendly fundraising event that encourages our friends and Members to enjoy a healthy dose of exercise – through either a 5K, 10K, Too Wild combo or Fun Walk. Run Wild is also a great way to support the health of the animals at the Zoo.

The race started as a unique collaboration between the Southeastern Michigan Veterinary Medical Association and the Detroit Zoological Society. During the first 10 years, proceeds from Run Wild were put toward a $1 million endowment dedicated to supporting the purchase of equipment for the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. Each year, the revenue from this endowment and proceeds from Run Wild are used to purchase and upgrade our diagnostic and treatment capabilities. This funding has allowed us to maintain cutting-edge health technologies in the Zoo. Over the years, we have purchased some very important equipment, including a two-headed teaching microscope, digital radiology, an ultrasound machine and a portable blood analyzer.

Last year we purchased a hand-held portable dental X-ray unit. Dental care is a very important component of our efforts to keep animals as healthy as possible. The new unit looks like a futuristic ray gun, and delivers a narrow beam of X-ray energy to a very small plate designed to be put inside the mouth of our patients. With this technology, we are able to take very detailed images of individual teeth or areas of concern, and to find dental problems early, before they become serious. The unit is small enough that it can easily be transported to our patients throughout the Zoo’s 125-acre grounds. We have used it to image teeth from wolverines to guanacos, lions and other animal patients of all shapes and sizes. We have even used it to take images of the bellies of frogs and toads!

Last year we also purchased a new patient monitoring tool called an EMMA (Emergency Mainstream Analyzer). This tiny piece of equipment provides us with very valuable information during anesthetic procedures. With each exhalation, the EMMA measures the amount of CO2 in the breath. Any change in body position or physiology that subtly compromises an animal’s ability to use oxygen is immediately known using this sensitive equipment. We use it for all of our procedures now, and find it invaluable.

I know this may all may sound very technical, but providing health care to the animals at the Zoo is a big job. The team at the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex is very grateful to have the latest and greatest equipment to provide skilled and compassionate care. Join us for Run Wild, and know that you are supporting great care at your Zoo.

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

Editor’s Note: New this year, all Run Wild participants will receive finisher medals! These medals feature a penguin to celebrate the Polk Penguin Conservation Center as well as an American flag ribbon to honor the anniversary of September 11. In addition to finisher medals, all participants will receive a reusable Detroit Zoo water bottle at the finish line. These bottles can be refilled at any of the free hydration stations on Zoo grounds, and there will be additional refilling stations available on race day. This is all part of our Green Journey to create a more sustainable future; last year we eliminated the sale of disposable water bottles at Detroit Zoo concessions, an effort that has kept 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream.

Greenprint: Supporting Local Farmers

Summertime provides us with a great opportunity to visit farmers’ markets and purchase local fruits, vegetables or proteins such as fish and beef jerky. Buying from your local farmer allows you to support the regional agriculture industry as well as your community.

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), which contributes to pollution and creates waste with extra packaging. Conventional agriculture uses more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land and air with toxic by-products. Food at farmers’ markets has travelled shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.

When buying from a large supermarket, only 18 cents of every dollar goes to the grower. Buying local cuts out the middleman and supports farmers in your community. The Detroit Zoo supports this mission by following a sustainable purchasing policy with an emphasis on locally made products. We recently opened Pure Greens, a 100 percent vegan café with all food purchased through Michigan farmers, supporting the state we live in.

A sustainable at-home option is to grow your own food in a garden. Even with limited space, a small pot on a porch can produce tomatoes or basil. At the Detroit Zoo, there is a garden devoted to the lizards and turtles that live in our Holden Reptile Conservation Center. A few of the edible flowering plants the reptiles enjoy are nasturtiums, marigolds, pansies and geraniums. You can view the garden during your trip to the Zoo; it is located on the south side of the Holden Reptile Conservation Center.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.