Foster Empathy While Spending Time Indoors

The days may be shorter, the weather colder, and our lives might be spent mostly indoors during this time of the year, but it can still be a valuable, educational time for families. There are a number of activities we can do with our children to follow and support the Detroit Zoological Society’s humane education goals of fostering empathy for others and developing respect for wildlife and wild places.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person or animal’s experience from their perspective. It’s being able to place yourself in some else’s shoes/paws and mirror what they are feeling which, in turn, is known to increase positive social behaviors. While it can be innate for some of us, empathy is actually a learned behavior.

One way to help nurture empathy in children is through stories, which can help them process thoughts and information. Stories allow us to put on different hats, try out new experiences, think through future actions and develop our moral compass – all of which can be done from the comfort of our own home.

We do this in a number of our humane education programs offered by the Detroit Zoological Society. We share experiences of people helping animals and books that enable us to explore the world around us from an animal’s perspective. Even after a story has been read, there’s still an opportunity to continue building empathy by taking action.

For example, you could read “Stranger in the Woods”, a beautiful picture book about local wildlife, and then build a wildlife-friendly snowperson by incorporating decorations that can feed animals. Examples include a carrot nose, potato eyes, a birdseed scarf, etc.

After reading “How to Heal a Broken Wing”, a book about helping an injured bird who flew into a window, you could make window decals to prevent bird collisions. You could also learn how to humanely deter ants from your home after reading “Hey Little Ant”, a book that sheds light on an ant’s perspective. Fostering empathy in children can start at a young age. Together, we can help instill values of walking softly and treating the Earth’s creatures gently.

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Celebrate your Sweetie Sustainably this Valentine’s Day

While Valentine’s Day is usually a sea of pink and red, let’s add some green to our celebrations this year. Date nights and gifts that show your significant other how much you care can easily include a little love shown to the Earth as well. Options abound for eco-friendly ways to revel in the romance.

Date Night. Embrace the weather and spend time in nature by bundling up and heading outside. Go skiing, ice skating, find a local winter festival, or head to the Detroit Zoo with your significant otter for a Valentine’s Day date.

Cook at home. Some restaurants require reservations weeks in advance. Instead of hitting the town, cook dinner together at home using locally sourced food. It’s a fun activity that’s more intimate than being surrounded by other couples; plus, it will save you money. Finding fresh ingredients can be challenging during Michigan winters, but a trip to your local farmers’ market could produce everything you need. Many vegetables are ripe this time of year in their extended season, including onions, potatoes and carrots – learn more about what grows when in this handy guide. Get creative in the kitchen by finding recipes incorporating these in-season foods. And don’t forget about maple syrup! It’s a delicious staple of Michigan’s agriculture industry and can be tapped as early as February. This can make for a delicious breakfast in bed for your partner.

Gifts for your sweetie and the environment. This year, consider giving your loved one something a little more environmentally friendly. Jewelry and perfume can be expensive – and toxic. Instead, choose a gift that shows your love for both your partner and the Earth. Here are some ideas:

  • A potted plant or flower seeds for those with a green thumb
  • An indoor herb garden to spice things up for those who love to cook
  • A sustainably sourced bouquet of flowers – either from a local grower and/or one that uses green methods of growth and production
  • Reusable snack bags and travel cups for those always on the go
  • A “date night jar” with ideas for outings to pick at random throughout the year
  • Fair trade candy and chocolate

Skip the pricey wrapping paper – instead, reduce, reuse and recycle! Reduce the cost of wrapping paper by purchasing reusable gift bags. Reuse your cookie tins and jars to present a gift instead of cardboard boxes. Recycle old newspapers and magazines as a sustainable alternative to fancy paper. And for this category, let’s add another “R” – romance. A hand-written card can be more sentimental than a store-bought greeting card.

Crafts for children. Children’s arts and crafts can be good for the environment too. Skip the messy glitter and make a heart-shaped bird feeder! It’s a fun craft to do together while fostering respect for wildlife and providing food for birds. Other options for home-made gifts for the young people in your life rather than pricey presents include friendship bracelets made out of colorful yarn or snow globes made out of recycled baby food containers.

There are countless creative ways we can demonstrate our devotion to each other and to the Earth on Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air, so let’s keep the air clean and safe for all of us who share this planet.

Students Showcase Sustainable Solutions in 2019 Green Prize Competition

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is seeking inventive ideas from local students who wish to join us on our Green Journey toward a more sustainable future. K-12 classes, green teams and schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties may enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition now through March 1 and be eligible for cash prizes and a field trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Students are encouraged to research green practices – from incorporating renewable solar energy to eliminating plastic water bottles – and then create and implement ideas that lead to a better tomorrow. The winners of the 2018 competition were members of the West Bloomfield High School EARTH Club, who came together as a team to determine how much energy the science department was using and develop strategies to reduce this rate. Ultimately, they switched to LED lights and installed solar panels to completely power the department. Their project – from inception to execution – exemplified environmental stewardship.

To enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition, students are asked to complete the following:

  • Identify an environmental or sustainability issue
  • Propose a solution that will address the issue
  • List the material and labor needed to implement the solution
  • Describe the positive impact this solution would have on the environment
  • Submit a video, artistic rendering of the project or any other method that portrays your green journey

Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place. First-place winners will receive $1,000 and a class field trip to the Detroit Zoo, which includes an in-depth look at the DZS’s Greenprint initiatives that are already in action. Second-place winners will receive $600; third-place winners will receive $400. All entries will receive a certificate of participation for their efforts in making the world a greener place.

The top three entries will be selected and notified on March 15. The winners will be showcased during GreenFest, the DZS’s celebration of Earth Day on April 27 at the Detroit Zoo. Visitors will have the chance to see how these students are paving the way to a more sustainable environment.

All 2019 Green Prize entries should be submitted to rhandbury@dzs.org

The Detroit Zoological Society is a leader in environmentally sustainability, with all operations guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative. As part of our Green Journey, we are working to create a healthier environment for all animals, visitors and the planet. We’re doing this through initiatives such as our waste-to-energy anaerobic digester, keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water, using permeable pavement in our new pathways and parking lot, and installing a solar panel system called the smartflower. Learn what you can do to lessen your footprint by downloading our Shades of Green Guide.

Notes from the Field: Detroit Zoological Society Conducts Comprehensive Study on Health and Welfare of Wild Penguins

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has a long history of leadership in the areas of penguin conservation and penguin health. In recent years, we have been collaborating with Falklands Conservation (FC), an organization working to understand the threats impacting wild penguin and sea bird populations in the Falkland Islands.

In early 2018, the DZS was asked to develop a project that would explore the impacts of infectious disease, pollution and tourism on these populations. When monitoring birds as part of their study, the folks with FC often noticed sick penguins, but they didn’t have the resources locally to investigate the causes of this illness. The DZS has incredible expertise in the areas of penguin health, handling, behavior and welfare. We also practice compassionate conservation, so we knew we could develop field techniques that would minimize the amount of handling required as well as the stress it may cause the animals.

And so began the most comprehensive study of the health and welfare of a wild population of animals the DZS has ever undertaken.

During the next eight months, we reached out to dozens of veterinarians, virologists, bacteriologists, toxicologists, welfare scientists and conservationists who were working on projects with similar goals in wild penguins, though not quite as comprehensive as ours. These conversations provided us with valuable information that helped inform our own project. We also discovered that over the past 5-10 years, testing has advanced in ways that would allow many unanswered questions to be investigated. With the right partners and execution, we had an opportunity to do some important work, and to tackle some of the goals that had been recently established by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s leader in the conservation of plants and animals.

To meet the project goals, we would be sending samples to four different laboratories and gathering as much information as possible within the scope of our resources. We would focus on new testing capabilities and our strengths as leaders in animal welfare. For example, at the Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center, we’ve discovered that a particular blood test is often more useful for identifying penguins fighting infection or toxicological problems than the more traditional ones used for other species. We also planned to use a test that looks for the DNA of germs causing disease, which prior research did not include and would strengthen the science considerably.

Lastly, we are fortunate to have developed an on-site endocrinology lab at the Detroit Zoo, specializing in the science of animal welfare. Our team at the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics has incorporated cutting-edge testing to measure the potential impacts of disease and exposure to environmental toxins and humans by measuring stress hormones and damage to DNA, which has been linked to chronic stress.

Once we had our “to do” list, it was time to plan the logistics. The Falkland Islands are extremely remote; therefore, conducting this research was going to have its challenges. We would be collecting and storing samples on beaches and rock ledges, far from the hospital setting we are used to at the Detroit Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

Stay tuned for more details about this incredible project in an upcoming blog entry.

– Dr. Ann Duncan, Director of Animal Health for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.