Notes from the Field: Bats and Frogs in Peru

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

Buenos dias from northeastern Peru. Paul and Marcy in PeruI’ve been here for several days with Marcy Sieggreen, the Detroit Zoological Society’s Curator of Amphibians, to investigate the potential for bat conservation projects and to see the sites being used for our amphibian conservation studies. There was a quick turn around from my work with snow leopards in China – I left Detroit less than a week after returning from the chilly mountains of China, so I was looking forward to the 80-degree temperatures of the tropics. I was thrilled to visit Peru for the first time, and it’s been a wonderful and productive trip thus far.

Our first stop was the city of Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon River to meet with a Peruvian researcher. We had a very productive meeting discussing the potential for bat baseline inventories and the availability of weather data. These data on temperature, rainfall and other factors will be essential to better understanding changes in the amphibian diversity.

Next, we headed up the Amazon and Napo Rivers. Although bats are the focus of my trip, it was great to have the opportunity to see pink river dolphins. Because it is the high water season we were able to visit the flooded forest to see an overwhelming diversity of birds including Amazonian umbrella birds, kingfishers, toucans and even ospreys which also live in Michigan.

Bats seem to be common here, flying in our rooms and flying by our faces on night walks to find frogs and toads. During these night walks I have definitely gained a new respect for the work of amphibian researchers. I am used to walking transects slowly – perhaps 1 kilometer per hour to sight monkeys or look for deer and/or carnivore tracks or scat. But the amphibian pace seemed glacial at first – at a clip of 1 kilometer in four or five hours – because the well-camouflaged frogs and toads are hard to find.

When a frog or toad is found, the delicate dance begins. My task is to catch the squirmy frog and hold it ever-so-gently so Marcy can rub a cotton swab on its belly and feet to test for chytrid fungus – a fungus that has been devastating amphibian populations in many parts of the world.

Between frog finds we can enjoy the incredible diversity of tarantulas and other spiders as well as insects such as katydids, walking sticks and even a beetle that lights up like a lightning bug.

I’ll be here for several more days, visiting more sites and searching for frogs in the flooded forests. I’m also meeting with a Peruvian bat researcher about the potential for future collaboration before returning to Detroit.

Hasta luego!

– Paul Buzzard

Greenprint: Three Easy Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Beth Wallace is the Manager of Sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

We work hard to celebrate the Earth Detroit Zoological Society Greenprint logoyear-round through the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint initiative, and with Earth Day approaching, we are hoping you’ll join us on our green journey! Below is a list of actions we plan to take at the Zoo that we invite you to consider in your own lives:

Plant a tree at your home, or at a nearby park. This fun activity provides your family with a memorial and a tradition to follow for decades while giving back to the environment. Did you know that a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants a year, and produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen? That’s enough to support two people!

Spring clean with eco-friendly cleaning options both inside and out. Switch your surface cleaners to non-toxic and environmentally sensitive products that are better for the Earth and your family. For yard clean up, consider creating a compost pile or mulching leaves. And if you plan to minimize the clutter in your home, donate your products to a local organization and always try to recycle what you aren’t able to donate.

Join us for GreenFest on April 18 and 19, which is free with Zoo admission. Those who bring in an old cell phone for recycling receive a discount on admission – tickets are only $8 per person for each cell phone donated. The Zoo-wide celebration includes earth-friendly crafts, an endangered species scavenger hunt, zookeeper talks and exhibits by local conservation groups.

Follow the Detroit Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and share with us what you and your family do to celebrate Earth Day!

– Beth Wallace

Veterinary Care: Rockhopper Exams

Dr. Ann Duncan is the Chief Veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

This week, the veterinary staff at the Rockhopper PenguinDetroit Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex performed examinations on the 11 oldest rockhopper penguins living in the Penguinarium.  As with other animals, penguins can develop age-related health problems as they get older. We know that it’s important to identify health problems early, and this begins with a thorough physical examination.

Veterinary staff members regularly visit the Penguinarium to observe and evaluate the 73 penguins of four species – rockhopper, macaroni, king and gentoo – and during these visits, we may check on an individual if we notice a squinting eye or a mild lameness, or examine and collect blood from a penguin with a decreased appetite.

For the exams this week, the 11 oldest rockhopper penguins were transported one at a time to the hospital for a thorough examination. Once there, they were administered anesthetic gases through a mask until they were sleepy, and then were laid on a towel on our exam table. Using anesthesia allows our veterinary team to very carefully examine each penguin from the tip of their beak to the bottoms of their toes. While they are relaxed, we can feel for lumps under the feathers and arthritis in the joints, carefully inspect their mouth and throat and listen to their heart and lungs. We can also palpate their abdomens while they are relaxed, which is very tricky when they are awake. Probably the biggest advantage is that we can take carefully positioned radiographs of their entire bodies to check for organ enlargement, respiratory problems, arthritis and other changes. We also collect blood during these exams, which is a very valuable tool for screening for illness.

Kat - Rockhopper Penguin

The oldest penguin that we examined this week was Kat, a 43-year-old female rockhopper penguin.  She is the oldest living rockhopper penguin in a zoo, and the first of her kind to successfully hatch in a North American zoo – having hatched at the Detroit Zoo in 1972.  We are happy to say that she still appears to be very healthy!

– Dr. Ann Duncan

Notes from the Field: Urumqi, China

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

Ni hao! I am in Urumqi, China, working on our snow leopard conservation project.  Our goal is to learn more about the current status of snow leopards in the Tien Shan Paul Buzzard in Tianshan by MaMing 2015Mountains.  We are using trail cameras and interviewing herders to assess the snow leopard population and the population of their potential prey, including ibex, and to learn about human-leopard conflict. Conflict arises when leopards kill livestock, like sheep, which sometimes results in herders killing leopards.

We set up trail Snow leopards trail camera - Chinacameras when I was here in December, so I returned to check them and to set up additional cameras in new areas in the western Tien Shan.

The first two cameras we checked had pictures of snow leopards – including one with two leopards! The next seven cameras didn’t have any pictures of leopards, though most had pictures of other wildlife, including ibex, wolves and foxes. Because of heavy snowfall, we weren’t able to Trail camera - China ibexcheck all of the cameras, but we reset the ones we did and set up additional cameras in other promising areas. We also made plans to move two of the cameras that were unsuccessful in capturing leopard pictures several miles further into the mountains, which we will do on horseback.

In the west, near the Kazakhstan border, Paul Buzzard - China horsebackit was much, much more remote: I was the second foreigner and the first American to visit the county seat in more than 25 years. It was a four-hour drive to the protection station and then a seven-hour horseback ride to a Kazakh herder winter house. This cozy oasis, though simple, was a warm retreat after trail-riding up and down rocky and icy trails. Plus, the noodles and butter tea really hit the spot.

Unfortunately, the accommodations were not particularly restful with six to eight people sleeping side-by-side, some of whom were aggressive snorers. It was ultimately Paul Buzzard in Tianshan by MaMingworth any discomfort because we retrieved cameras containing more snow leopard and ibex pictures and reset the cameras that were on high passes and overlooking some stunning valleys. We left 12 cameras with our Chinese colleagues to set in additional valleys.

The Tien Shan Mountains, from east to west, Paul - China - Mountains on horsebackis clearly an important area for snow leopards. There is much interest from our Chinese colleagues in setting up protected areas, such as provincial or national reserves. To do this, more snow leopard pictures are needed to robustly document the importance of certain regions.  It is also important to address the human-wildlife conflict in some areas.

For example, it was reported in one place that five snow leopards are killed per year for eating approximately 100 sheep per year (out of nearly 200,000 total sheep). Such claims need to be confirmed, but if anywhere near this much conflict is occurring, it needs to be reduced.

– Paul Buzzard

Education: Family Dose of Vitamin Z

Claire Lannoye-Hall is the Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

One of the most frequently heard comments during our summer camp check-in is from parents who are wishing they could attend camp with their children. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend more time getting to know the animals and discovering more about the world around us?

Our team got together and brainstormed Education: Family Programs at the Detroit Zoowhat we love to share about the Detroit Zoo with our families and friends. The result is an amazing line-up of programs that we are ready to reveal: Beginning later this month, Friday nights will become Family Fun Nights! We want to showcase everything the Zoo has to offer and provide a heightened sense of wonder through stories, activities and experiences. Knowledgeable staff members will accompany families as they travel through the Zoo, exploring what happens in the evening after the Zoo closes and everyone else heads home. Each Family Fun Night will include a hike through the Zoo, hands-on activities, a snack and an opportunity to meet Zoo staff.

Frog - Detroit Zoo Family Education ProgramsIn March, we’ll learn about frog calls and visit the amphibians in the National Amphibian Conservation Center, then hike through the wetlands to listen for early spring arrivals. We hope families will go home and listen for frogs and toads in their own backyards for the rest of the spring.

In April, we’ll prowl for owls as one of our bird experts will join us to search for wild owls while visiting some of the Zoo’s resident birds along the way.

There are several more programs from May to September to enjoy. Check out all the great topics we have to offer!

– Claire Lannoye-Hall

Animal Welfare: Penguin Project

Stephanie Allard, Ph.D., is the Director of Animal Welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society.

The Detroit Zoological Society is home to the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare. Among the goals of the center is to conduct research that can help us to better understand and improve the welfare of animals living in zoos. One of the ways in which we do this is by studying how the animals at the Zoo are interacting with each other and with their environment.

This type of research is really important when we are designing new habitats for the animals. The Zoo is currently constructing a new state-of-the-art Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC) that will house four species of penguins: king, macaroni, rockhopper and gentoo. The PPCC is designed to allow for a wide variety of species-appropriate behaviors and for the penguins to have greater choice and control in their environment.

The new habitat provides us with a greatopportunity to compare the behavior and well-being of the same group of penguins in two very different living spaces: their current home in the Penguinarium and their future home in the PPCC. This project is off to a great start! We collected behavioral data on a subset of penguins to test out our methodology and are now observing 27 of the penguins – something we will keep doing for a year after they move to the PPCC.

Technology is playing a part in this, as we are using data loggers, small trackers that some of the penguins will wear like a flipper bracelet that will tell us how much time they are spending in the water and at what depth.  This will be especially important in their new habitat, as that pool will be four times the depth of their current one.

If you see one of our data collectors in the Penguinarium during your next visit to the Zoo, ask them about this cool project!

– Dr. Stephanie Allard