Education: Adopt-a-Beach Program Protects Local Bodies of Water

Far too often, the term conservation is perceived as an effort happening in faraway places like Africa or India, but in reality, we can affect change in our own backyards.  By participating in the nationwide Adopt-a-Beach program, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) does just that by making conservation local and giving people the opportunity to do something that can directly benefit them.

Contrary to the name, the Adopt-a-Beach program is rarely done on an actual beach. What is actually adopted is a surrounding area or body of water in need of protection, e.g. a drain, a sewer, an isolated body of water or an area around a body of water. It may seem surprising to some, but adopting drains are critical areas because they lead to larger bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers.

The Adopt-a-Beach program is open to people of all ages; you can sign up individually or as a group. Although this program is open to everyone, we are seeing how it is especially beneficial to students because it gives them a chance to connect the science they learn in the classroom to real-life situations. With this hands-on program, students can see how their actions impact the environment while communicating with actual scientists to see the greater picture.

Before a group is able to participate, they must complete on-site training on data collection and debris disposal. After training, the group will go back to the site to collect, record, weigh and remove debris from the area ‒ with recyclables sorted out, of course.

The main goal of this program is to find and identify trends. For example, if a group goes to a beach and finds a large number of dirty diapers, then it is obvious there is a need for a changing area or campaign to discourage people from throwing diapers out in that specific area. By finding trends, there can be campaigns created to contribute to long-term conservation of the adopted areas and will lead to a significant reduction in waste and debris. Other examples of this include cans, cigarette butts and plastic bags.

So surf our website for “shore”-fire ways on how you can help tackle this issue! Whether you’re a Boy Scout, Girl Scout or someone who just wants to make a difference, this program is an opportunity to help the community and learn different ways to clean up the water system.  Email DZS Curator of Education Mike Reed at mreed@dzs.org  to find an upcoming event near you.

Detroit Zoo Hosts First International HAZWOPER Training

The Detroit Zoo recently hosted the first international Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training, facilitated by the Alaska Sea Life Center of Seward, Alaska. Part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS’s) dedication to conservation includes annual training for DZS staff in HAZWOPER, which allows them to be prepared to respond immediately and help save wildlife affected by oil spills and other environmental emergencies locally, nationally and internationally.

The first international HAZWOPER training included 10 DZS staff members and eight other individuals from zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Currently, there are only 90 individuals from 50 AZA institutions who have this level of training, which included a two-day classroom course, an eight-hour online course on the nationally recognized Incident Command System, and an environmental disaster drill. The eventual goal of AZA and the Alaska Sea Life Center is to develop regional emergency centers across the country.

DZS staff has responded to three significant oil spills, providing assistance with the rehabilitation of several species and tens of thousands of animals.

Deepwater Horizon/BP
The largest marine oil spill in history took place in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and the BP pipe leaked an estimated 2.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf every day for nearly three months. This oil spill affected 400 different species of wildlife, including 8,000 birds, 1,100 sea turtles and 109 mammals. DZS Veterinary Technician Amanda Dabaldo traveled to New Orleans in July 2010 to assist with the recovery efforts.

Amanda spent two weeks working with the Audubon Nature Institute providing medical care for more than 140 juvenile sea turtles.

Enbridge
The Enbridge Oil Spill occurred in July 2010, when a broken pipeline leaked oil along 25 miles of river between Marshall and Battle Creek, Mich. An estimated one million gallons of oil affected thousands of animals including birds, mammals and reptiles – turtles were most affected. The Detroit Zoo, along with other AZA zoos including the Toledo Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Potter Park Zoo and the John Ball Zoo, partnered with teams such as Focus Wildlife, TriMedia Environmental and Engineering Services LLC, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set up a rehabilitation center in Marshall. Nine DZS staff members spent more than 600 hours between August and October 2010, providing daily care for frogs and turtles.

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Treasure
In June 2000, the oil freighter Treasure sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa and 1,300 tons of fuel oil spilled near the largest colonies of African penguins.

 

Forty percent of the penguin population was affected by this oil spill; 19,000 of the birds had oiled feathers and went through the rehabilitation process, 3,300 chicks that were abandoned were reared and released; and about 19,500 birds were air-lifted and taken several miles up the coast and released.

 

Two DZS penguin keepers, Jessica Jozwiak and Bonnie Van Dam each spent three weeks assisting with this project.

– Bonnie Van Dam is the associate curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Animal Welfare: Promoting Natural Foraging Behaviors

If you’re like me, you enjoy watching the leaves change colors, but maybe not having to rake and bag them! Trees and leaves serve an important purpose at the Detroit Zoo, and in this case, we refer to them as browse. Browse is vegetation such as twigs, young shoots and other fibrous and leafy materials that animals can consume.

Diets for animals living in zoos are formulated in much the same way as for the animals that share our homes.  A lot of research goes into the composition of each diet and ensuring it meets the nutritional requirements of that species.  What the process doesn’t take into consideration is the act of finding, manipulating and processing food to ensure it is ready for consumption.

Adding complexity and opportunities to display species-typical behaviors can contribute towards animals experiencing good welfare.  One method of doing so is through the promotion of natural foraging behaviors. Providing animals with browse is a great way to do this for many species, and this resource helps us create welfare-enhancing opportunities for the animals.

Having fresh browse may seem simple during the spring and summer months, but what about when the leaves start falling?  Several years ago, we worked with a wonderfully supportive local company to procure a commercial freezer at a reduced cost, which allows us to store browse, ensuring a steady supply throughout the winter months.  We have had the assistance of volunteers, including students from Madonna University, who help us with the packing process to make sure we have as much as will fit in the freezer. We also use space in the Zoo’s greenhouses to grow additional plants, such as bamboo.

Although browse is a natural way to encourage foraging behaviors, it can also help to stimulate other behaviors such as nesting, and provides novel elements in an animal’s environment.  These natural elements are important to the animals and further the Detroit Zoological Society’s animal welfare efforts.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.

Greenprint: Wild (and Efficient) Lights

As the holidays draw near, Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo is now in full glow – more than 5 million LED lights are illuminating buildings, trees and more than 200 animal sculptures in an impressive display over 29 nights.

While this event lights up the night sky, efficient energy use is still paramount at the Detroit Zoo. All of the lights used to decorate the Wild Lights path are light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which consume 80 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last for up to 100,000 hours, versus just 3,000 hours for incandescents. This is a solid economic investment that reduces the amount of energy used, saves money (prices for LEDs have come down in the last couple of years), and their durability leads to a decreased number of holiday lights that end up in landfills.

For those who are considering making the switch, Home Depot and Lowes both offer recycling programs for old holiday lights. In addition, we’re offering an opportunity for Wild Lights attendees to bring in their old lights for recycling in the events pavilion at the Detroit Zoo.

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Over the last three years, the Detroit Zoological Society has invested more than $3 million into energy efficiency projects, which results in utility costs savings of nearly $275,000 annually. Most recently, DTE Energy provided the Zoo with an energy-use assessment in order to further explore additional energy-reduction measures.

While Wild Lights uses energy, the LED lighting means it is 80 to 90 percent less wattage than it would with incandescent lighting. This is important because during these shorter, darker days, holiday lights make everything magical and well, brighter!

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

Veterinary Care: Cutting-edge Technologies in Amphibian Conservation

Last week I was able to attend a very exciting advanced conservation training course to learn assisted reproductive technologies (ART) in amphibians. The meeting was hosted by the Omaha Zoo, and was offered by the Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group (ATAG). I was one of a small group of zoo and conservation scientists invited to learn cutting-edge technologies that have the potential to have a tremendous impact on the conservation of endangered amphibians.

At the Detroit Zoo, we’ve been using hormone treatments to help with reproduction in Wyoming toads and Puerto Rican crested toads for more than 10 years. Recently, Dr. Andy Kouba from Mississippi State University has been able to modify these treatments for use in other species, and to develop techniques for collecting eggs and sperm for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Two years ago, I traveled to his laboratory to learn these techniques for dusky gopher frogs, and within a few months we became the third zoo to reproduce amphibians via IVF.

The goal of the ART course was to provide in-depth information concerning reproduction in frogs, toads and salamanders. This course was taught by Dr. Kouba and two of his colleagues, and represented the first time that husbandry staff, veterinarians and conservation researchers have come together to discuss assisted reproductive technologies. The attendees brought together a wealth of knowledge, and experiences working with hellbender salamanders, Chinese giant salamanders, Oregon-spotted frogs and others. We talked about the impacts of hibernation, temperature, humidity and social cues on reproduction, and the challenges we have encountered in the past. We learned about the historic use of hormones in amphibians, and how this information can be adapted to new species. We also learned how to gently collect spermic urine from male amphibians, and to stimulate females to lay eggs. We learned how to examine developing tadpoles under a microscope, and cyroperservation techniques for sperm. We also learned how to use ultrasound to monitor egg development in females. During the week, we put these skills to practice, and were able to produce fertilized eggs from Puerto Rican crested toads, American toads, tiger salamanders and Asian black spiny toads (for the first time!).

At the Detroit Zoo, we have number of very endangered species of amphibians, including some that have never or only rarely reproduced outside of the wild. Over the next few months, we will be able to start using cryopreservation to save genetics from these critically endangered species. The skills learned at the ART course will allow us to continue to be leaders in amphibian conservation, and to hopefully successfully breed Japanese giant salamanders, giant waxy tree frogs, and other endangered species at the National Amphibian Conservation Center.

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

Greenprint: Anaerobic Digester Nears Completion

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is pioneering an effort to turn waste into energy.

We are nearing completion of construction on our anaerobic digester, a system that will convert more than 400 tons of animal manure into renewable energy to power the Detroit Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. The compost byproduct will be used on the gardens throughout the Zoo’s 125 acres, as well as donated to community gardens.

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No other zoo in the country has an anaerobic digester – the Detroit Zoo is the first to build and implement this system. Thus, a significant amount of research has gone into the planning, design and construction. The DZS has working closely with Michigan State University – graduate students recently completed a survey to determine the biogas potential of animal waste produced at the Zoo, as well as the increase of biogas production with the addition of food scraps. This provides the DZS with a good estimate of future methane generation. Not only is the methane generation great for the Zoo, because we will be able to power the animal hospital with renewable energy; but the methane that would have been released into the environment – which contributes to climate change as a greenhouse gas – will be reduced.

 

The excitement of composting waste is spreading over the Zoo. Animal care staff at the National Amphibian Conservation Center recently installed a batch-style composter in order to compost amphibian bedding and employee food waste – the resulting product will be used in the gardens surrounding Amphibiville.

Batch-style composters are relatively inexpensive and can be implemented in most backyards.  Those with large backyards could consider building their own composting area using wood pallets. The EPA offers great tips for composting at home on their website: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with composting! Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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

Make a Difference at the Zoo

Saturday, October 22 is National Make a Difference Day and we’re celebrating with our incredible volunteer corps at the Detroit Zoo. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., guests can take part in a scavenger hunt as well as family-friendly hands-on activities to celebrate how volunteers make a difference at the Zoo.

Make a Difference for Birds

Guests can cut out window decals that help to prevent bird strikes, which kill millions of birds in the U.S. every year. One can be taken home and one will be left for use at the Zoo (while supplies last). Information will be available on other ways to help birds using items such as window tape, screens and paint.

Make a Difference for the Planet

Recycled T-shirts will be available for guests to turn into tote bags. Leftover millage signs (the ones with the cute animal faces) will be available to turn into journal covers, bulletin boards and other creative uses guests can find for them (while supplies last). Recycling plastic materials such as these signs helps keep them from winding up in landfills where they don’t disintegrate.

Volunteer Scavenger Hunt

Upon arriving at the Zoo, guests will be offered to take a “discovery tour”. This tour will direct visitors to locations around the Zoo where they will meet volunteers on duty and learn about what they do. Guests who complete the tour, fill out a form and turn it in at the Ford Education Center will be entered into a drawing for two tickets to Wild Lights – six winners will be drawn at 2 p.m. Guests will also receive a token item for participating. Guests who chose to do so may also include their email address on their scavenger hunt form in order to receive more information about either the teen or adult volunteer programs for Spring 2017. Volunteer Services staff will be on hand to collect the scavenger hunt forms and talk more about volunteer opportunities at the Zoo.

We hope you join us and learn more about our fabulous volunteers and how you too can make a difference! Also taking place this day is our encore Smashing Pumpkins event, when animals including the chimpanzees, polar bears, giraffes and “grizzly boys” are given Halloween goodies to eat, play with, roll around and smash. Learn more and view the schedule here.