Authored by Aaron Jesue, animal care specialist for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).
If a gorilla was on the other line, would you answer the call? The DZS and our dedicated supporters certainly would!
Since 2019, the Detroit Zoo has helped answer the call to save gorillas around the world through the Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call campaign. From February to April each year, we partner with Gorilla SAFE(Saving Animals from Extinction) for its global cell phone recycling challenge. Money raised by recycling used cell phones and small electronics through this challenge directly supports gorilla conservation initiatives in Africa.
If you haven’t heard about the Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call campaign before, here’s the best part — it’s easy to participate. Participation can be as simple as dropping an old, unwanted phone off at the Zoo or as big as getting a Michigan school or major business on board to collect devices by the hundreds.
The 2023 campaign starts Feb. 1 and runs through April 30, but we can continue sending in items through the second week of September. The DZS also never stops collecting electronics. We keep collection bins out at the Detroit Zoo all year long, so feel free to drop off your unwanted small devices on your next trip to the Zoo!
Now, you may be asking, how can my old electronics save gorillas?
Every device sent to the Detroit Zoo gets sorted, packaged and mailed to an electronics recycling company in Louisville, Kentucky called ECO-Cell. From there, each device gets counted on a national scale for the Detroit Zoo. When the numbers are tabulated, each device equates to a different dollar amount, and that money is directly donated to gorilla conservation initiatives. This means that when you recycle your electronics at the Zoo, you are directly saving gorillas.
2023 marks the fifth year of the Gorillas on the Line campaign. The Detroit Zoo has participated every year, and each year we continue to grow and collect more devices to support gorillas in the wild. In our first year, we collected 490 devices and donated $204. In 2022, that number grew to 1,793 devices and $1,242. Since 2019, the DZS has donated 3,532 devices and $2,042. That’s amazing, and it’s because of our group effort — our troop collective.
Last year, the Detroit Zoo finished the challenge third in North America in 2022, following only behind the Toronto Zoo and the Cincinnati Zoo. Overall, participants across the globe collected 10,359 devices and raised $7,540 for gorilla conservation.
Though we have our eyes on first place for this year’s challenge, the important part is that every donation counts. Every device means another dollar going directly to Gorilla SAFE conservation organizations in Africa, so the next time you get a call from a gorilla, don’t leave them hanging! Answer the call and save a species.
Members of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) team have been rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty for a good cause.
As part of our commitment to plant 2,000 trees at the Detroit Zoo, the Belle Isle Nature Center and throughout all of Metro Detroit, we have partnered with Greening of Detroit, a member of the Metro Detroit Nature Network, along with American Forests, the Oakland County Economic Development Department and Royal Oak Township to lead or co-sponsor five tree plantings throughout the area this fall.
We have been thrilled to partner with Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit organization focused on enhancing the quality of life for Detroiters by planting trees, providing job training and involving youth in education about the natural environment. So far, we have completed three of our five plantings, and our staff is having a blast making our communities — quite literally — greener!
At a recent event, DZS employees and their families volunteered their Saturday morning to plant trees along Cloverlawn Avenue and surrounding streets in Detroit. After three hours of digging through compacted soil and clay, we were left with 50 brand-new trees lining both sides of the street. These trees will not only beautify the area, but they will also play an important role in the neighborhood environment. In addition to providing shade and habitat for local wildlife, planting trees in urban areas has been shown to reduce stormwater runoff and improve air quality.
“These plantings are a lot of work — and a lot of fun,” says Andy McDowell, DZS manager of sustainability. “The DZS has always been committed to environmental sustainability, and now our team is thrilled to give back to local communities and make the world greener one tree at a time.”
Interested in signing up for one of our remaining tree plantings in Metro Detroit? Click here.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas — bird migration season! It’s the time of year when birds who left Michigan during the winter months to find refuge in warmer states make their triumphant return. Look outside, and you are likely to see robins, Canada geese and sandhill cranes among the birds flying in the spring Michigan skies, happy to be back after a cold winter away.
While everyone at the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) celebrates these birds every day, we are encouraging the public to join us in celebrating and raising awareness around the conservation of local species on World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) May 14.
WMBD, formerly International Migratory Bird Day, is an annual campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. Through a collaboration of festivals and events from partners across the globe, WMBD brings awareness to the threats migratory birds face, as well as the birds’ ecological importance and the need for bird conservation.
While all aspects of bird conservation are important, this year the organizations behind WMBD are focusing on fighting light pollution and harm it can cause to migratory birds.
Light pollution, or the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light, affects our world in numerous ways, from limiting our view of the night sky to disrupting human sleep patterns. However, light pollution’s most devastating impacts are felt by wildlife — and migratory birds are no exception.
Most birds migrate at night due to the calm skies and lack of predators. These birds use the moon and stars to guide their way — a system that has worked for eons. However, with light pollution encroaching further and further along the night sky (at a rate of increase of at least 2 percent per year, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Institute), migratory birds’ journeys are becoming increasingly dangerous. Read our recent blog post to learn more about light pollution and how to mitigate its effects on local wildlife.
When artificial lights from nearby cities enter the night sky, migrating birds can become distracted and veer off course into threatening territory. When distracted by light pollution, birds become more likely to land in dangerous areas, where they are prone to collisions and vulnerable to unfamiliar predators.
One of the biggest dangers presented to birds drawn into urban areas impacted by light pollution is needlessly illuminated office buildings. According to the International Dark Sky Association, millions of birds in the United States die each year by colliding with empty office buildings and towers that are lit up at night. Additionally, light pollution impacts migration patterns, confusing and disrupting mating and feeding schedules.
Canada geese returning to summer in Michigan.
All of this information paints a bleak portrait for the future of the feathered fowl who migrate across the U.S., but don’t lose hope! There are things each and every one of us can do to help local birds travel safely.
• First, turn off your lights at night. Unused lights, particular in unused office buildings, present a great danger to traveling fowl.
• Second, make the switch to shielded outdoor lighting. Outdoor lighting should be shielded and directed downward, where it can illuminate the ground rather than contaminate the night sky.
• Third, research and follow bird-safe habits that help reduce the hazards birds face during the migration process. In addition to turning lights off at night, these practices can include installing screens, decorative window film or window art to help prevent birds from hitting glass; moving feeders as close to windows as possible and bleaching bird feeders once a month; and practicing green gardening by growing native plants and avoiding insecticides.
The DZS has long been a supporter and practitioner of bird-safe initiatives. In 2017, we made it official by partnering with the Metro Detroit Nature Network, now known as SEMI Wild, which signed the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds, designating Metro Detroit an Urban Bird Treaty area. Among other things, the treaty promotes bird conservation through Lights Out programs. Now, five years later, we are proud to promote these Lights Out programs, which encourage organizations and individuals to turn off or reduce interior and exterior lights during spring and fall migration, in honor of WMBD.
While there is much to be done to provide our feathered friends with safe travels this migration season, know that you can play a part by turning off one light at a time.
–Bonnie Van Dam is the curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society.
As you walk through The Detroit Zoo, you may notice a lot of trees (follow along on our Trek). Trees are essential to the health of people, animals and the planet, which is why we are committed to taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint by adding even more to our lush grounds.
The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) pledged to add a total of 2,000 trees by the end of 2022 to our campuses and in Metro Detroit communities. The average tree absorbs 48 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 1,673 gallons of storm water every year. Adding 2,000 trees (to the 7,000 trees currently growing at the Detroit Zoo), will make a big difference for nearby communities by helping to improve air and water quality. We have partnered with ReLeaf Michigan to help us organize group planting projects across Metro Detroit.
In 2021, the DZS planted 641, and we have full confidence in our ability to plant our total goal by the end of this year. Most recently, Oakland County planted five trees donated by the DZS in celebration of Earth Day 2022.
We are well on our way to achieving our goal of making the world a greener place through sustainable practices such as tree planting.
In addition to other environmental benefits, trees and other vegetation reduce heat island effect (urbanized areas experiencing higher than average temperatures) by providing shade. According to the EPA, shaded surfaces may be 20–45°F cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. The benefits from trees don’t stop there – they also provide shelter and food for birds, insects, and other critters such as squirrels. These animals then disperse the trees’ seeds, allowing new saplings to grow.
We are meticulously selecting a variety of species of trees to add biodiversity to our campus, as well as focusing on native species, browsable trees (clippings that make great snacks for the animals who live at Detroit Zoo), habitat value (for example, birds are attracted to oak trees), and resistance to climate change.
Our tree planting initiative is only one of the steps we are taking to create greener future. The DZS has developed a unique, green roadmap called the Greenprint. This evolving plan guides our operations and is the plan by which we refine and improve our facilities and daily practices, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy and action in our community.
View our Shades of Green guide to learn more ways in which you can help lighten your impact on the Earth and the animals that we share it with.
Many of our older guests at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center can likely remember a time when they looked up and saw a sea of stars peppered across the night sky, clear enough to count the constellations.
Today, things are different. As populations and industry have grown, artificial light has seeped into our night sky to the point where many of the younger generation have never seen a truly dark sky.
This month, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is raising awareness around this unfortunate phenomenon by helping our guests understand how they can protect our naturally dark night skies — and, in turn, help the animals we all know and love.
April 22-30 is International Dark Sky Week hosted by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The IDA’s main goal is to fight against light pollution, which is the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light. Research from the IDA and other institutions indicates light pollution can have serious environmental consequences for wildlife, the climate and human health.
How does light pollution harm your favorite animals?
Some of the most devastating impacts of light pollution have been to animals and their habitats. For an example, look no further than sea turtles. Though this species lives in the ocean, sea turtles hatch at night on the beach, with hatchlings finding their way to the water by detecting the bright horizon over the ocean. Artificial lights have been known to confuse hatchlings and draw them away from the water and away from survival. In the U.S. alone, millions of sea turtles die this way each year.
Closer to home, light pollution can have a harmful effect on bird populations. Birds who hunt or migrate at night use light from the moon and stars to guide their way. Artificial lights cause these birds to wander off course and into cities, where they are met with dangerous terrain. Once attracted to illuminated areas, birds collide with the glass of needlessly lit buildings and towers. According to the IDA, millions of birds die this way each year. Additionally, migratory birds depend on cues from properly timed seasonal schedules. Light pollution can cause these birds to migrate too early or too late and miss ideal climate conditions for nesting, foraging and other behaviors.
Outside of these two species, the effect of light pollution on wildlife can be subtler but no less harmful. Nocturnal animals have had their nighttime environments radically altered by light pollution, taking away the darkness prey species use for protection and confusing animals such as frogs and toads, who use nighttime croaking as part of their breeding rituals.
Artificial lights have been shown to disrupt normal nocturnal behaviors, causing inference with breeding and decreasing animal populations, according to the IDA. The worst part? Researchers are only just beginning to understand the ways light pollution has harmed animals and their environments.
What is the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) doing about light pollution?
DZS and Belle Isle Nature Center staff strongly believe in the importance of nurturing, celebrating and protecting the night sky everywhere. While Belle Isle will likely never be fully dark due to its proximity to the city, we do everything we can to preserve the island’s nighttime darkness and protect local wildlife.
The DZS is a partner with the Metro Detroit Nature Network, now known as SEMI Wild, which in 2017 signed the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds, designating Metro Detroit an Urban Bird Treaty area. Among other things, the treaty promotes bird conservation through Lights Out programs. These programs, of which we are enthusiastic supporters, implement dark sky policies encouraging organizations and individuals to turn off or reduce interior and exterior lights during spring and fall migration to help provide safe passage to migratory birds — potentially saving the lives of thousands of our feathered friends in the Detroit area each year.
Another way we continue to protect dark skies is through community education and promoting programs that educate the public about the natural night sky and what the average person can do to fight light pollution.
This International Dark Sky Week, tune into the Detroit Zoo Facebook page to see multiple posts about dark skies, their connection to wildlife and how the DZS is celebrating the week.
You can also join us from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7 for Statewide Astronomy Night. The Wayne State University Planetarium at the Belle Isle Nature Center will be hosting a free, outdoor-only event, where guests can observe the night sky through a variety of telescopes and binoculars. Wayne State presenters will also be on hand to offer tours of the constellations and conduct exciting demonstrations. The Nature Center will also host an installment of its Nature at Night series, where you can learn all about how local nocturnal animals navigate a nighttime world.
What can you do to fight light pollution?
While the problem of light pollution can seem insurmountable, every little action taken can make a big difference. Here are three things you can do at home and in your community to support naturally dark skies:
• Eliminate unnecessary indoor lighting. Unused lights — particularly in empty office buildings at night – should be turned off.
• Make the switch to shielded outdoor lighting. Outdoor lighting should be shielded and directed downward, where it can illuminate the ground rather than contaminate the night sky.
• Research and spread the word! Visit the IDA website to learn about light pollution and the organization’s efforts to preserve dark skies. Then become an advocate for them! Talk to your friends and family to raise awareness around light pollution and help them understand why they should make changes to protect the night sky.
If we all take steps to reduce light pollution in our own homes and neighborhoods, there is a chance that one day future generations — and their furriest friends — will be able to look up and lose count of the stars scattered across the dark night sky.
– Amy Greene is the nature centers director for the DZS.
The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has been recognized by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) as the recipient of the 2020 Environmental Sustainability Award. The DZS is the first zoo or aquarium to receive environmental sustainability top honors from both WAZA and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (2015).
“We are so appreciative of this wonderful recognition by our peers,” said Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO for the Detroit Zoological Society. “The entire organization has committed to this journey toward environmental sustainability.”
The Greenprint Program is at the heart of the DZS’s efforts; it’s a sustainability roadmap that invites organizations and individuals to actively help the planet we all share.
“The DZS strives to be a green leader and uses Greenprint to refine and improve facilities, business practices and educational initiatives,” said Rachel Handbury, manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.
The discontinuation of single-use water bottle sales at the Detroit Zoo in 2015 is just one of the many major sustainability initiatives led by the Detroit Zoological Society. This effort has kept more than 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually.
To further reduce waste, the DZS built an anaerobic digester in 2016 to compost 1 million pounds of manure and food waste annually. Every year, the digester allows the organization to divert over 500 tons of animal manure, bedding and food waste away from landfills, instead creating nutrient-rich compost and renewable energy.
While the DZS is well on its way towards zero-waste operations, the organization’s sustainability work goes beyond what happens on the campuses of the Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center.
“From community cleanup efforts to recycling programs to green education events, helping people understand and care about the planet is at the forefront of our efforts,” said Kagan. “We’re always looking for ways to involve the community and inspire them to join us on this green journey.”
– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.
The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us greatly. At such a somber time, it can be really hard to navigate our new (temporary) normal, let alone remember special days. But, today is important; today is Earth Day.
While most of us are missing friends and family and much of our regular daily life, some have found a new friend in nature. Others have always remained aware and in love with Mother Nature. This current isolation has allowed many of us time to reflect on things that might have otherwise been taken for granted and gone unnoticed: a squirrel nesting in a tree (isn’t it strange how most people hate rats, but think squirrels are adorable?!), a ray of sunshine between snowflakes (we live in Michigan, after all), or an early spring flower blossoming. Earth has always been a source of wonder and joy for humans. Now we have the time to really pay attention to it.
This Earth Day, we celebrate the planet that we’re fortunate to call home. Even through the turmoil of a pandemic, the Earth is what unites us and grounds us. It’s the ultimate, and literal, common ground.
Through the work of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS), we encourage people to be mindful of their impact on others, human and non-human alike. At our core, we believe that we have both a responsibility and a great opportunity to be helpful, bringing both awareness and solutions to environmental issues. Many of these issues, human and non-human generated, inevitably result in consequences that harm both the natural world and the human experience.
At DZS, we love the natural world. We study it, we save it and we celebrate it. While the pandemic is everyone’s number one fight right now, as it should be, once we are through this battle, we must not lose sight of the need to fight for our planet. Since the beginning, we humans have pushed forward, sometimes pursuing our desires and needs without always fully considering the consequences and problems that could follow. We have dramatically changed — and in some places destroyed — landscapes, released chemicals into our air and water, left plastic to wrap the planet and too often treated animals and nature as disposable. It’s as if we think Earth is bestowed with infinitely replenishable “assets.”
We have the chance to correct the course if we act. With less of us driving cars and with the recent dramatic reduction in factory emissions, we have seen significantly cleaner air over many cities. What a difference. This is a vivid illustration of how important renewable energy is to our health and to the planet’s health.
So when you’re outside, find time to connect with nature. Look and listen; soak it in. And when the world moves out of this public health crisis, I hope we will all remember that our safe place is nature. We should do everything possible to make it healthy.
Ron Kagan Executive Director and CEO Detroit Zoological Society
Whether you like chocolate or candy, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to share many delicious treats with your loved ones. There’s just one problem: not all of these treats are created equal when it comes to sustainability. Many food products, including a large amount of candy, contains an ingredient that has major effects on wildlife: palm oil.
Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of oil palm. It is used in a wide variety of products, especially in food and cleaning supplies. One positive aspect of palm oil is that less land is required to create the same yield as other vegetable oils. However, the demand for this product has become so high that land is being deforested at a very rapid rate to create space for these plantations. This deforestation is a direct contributor to habitat loss for many species, and it is estimated that the palm oil industry impacts 193 species with concerning conservation statuses. Among those impacted are species like orangutans, rhinos and tigers. Specifically, scientists believe that the 17% decline observed in the Sumatran subspecies of tiger over the past 20 years is heavily due to deforestation for palm oil plantations.
So, what qualifies as sustainable palm oil? The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a group formed to maintain standards and certify organizations producing and sourcing sustainable palm oil. There are several RSPO-certified producers that have committed to stopping certain industry actions to create better practices for both wildlife and people. These new standards call for transparency, the elimination of deforestation and better working conditions for laborers. By making these commitments, producers and organizations can work together to create a demand for sustainably sourced palm oil in our everyday products.
Consider the following actions to decrease the demand for unsustainable palm oil:
Support sustainable companies. Buy food, such as your Valentine’s Day candy, and other products from companies that source their palm oil from sustainable farms.
The World Wildlife Fund has an in-depth scorecard for consumers looking to evaluate the companies
Make your voice heard. Did you notice a certain company was not committed to using sustainable palm oil? Write them a letter to share your concerns and encourage more environmentally conscious operations. Our consumer voice can be quite impactful.
Create homemade gifts. Make a batch of cookies or chocolate-covered strawberries to gift instead of purchasing something from the store. Not only are you showing someone you care, but you can ensure that each ingredient used is a sustainable one.
–Marissa Ratzenberger is a sustainability coordinator for the Detroit Zoological Society
With changing seasons and styles, you may be digging through dressers only to find clothing that has not been worn in months. If you decide to create more space in your closet, what happens to your unwanted clothing? Even though items may seem outdated or worn, they have a much longer life than one might think. In most cases, clothing items can be reused in multiple capacities, so hold off on sending them out with the trash.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), roughly 8.9 million tons of clothing and footwear are sent to landfills with clothing being one of the world’s fastest growing waste streams. Not only can clothing become a material waste issue, but the production of textiles is a heavy contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, equating to roughly 1.2 billion tons of carbon per year. The average car could drive for over 260 million years to match the annual carbon footprint of the fashion industry.
Global textile production is also one of the largest consumers of water, both in the growth and processing of clothing materials. According to media reports, it takes roughly 2,000 gallons of water to create only one pair of jeans. This figure is over six times the amount of water that the average family uses per day. Water is also needed to dye clothing, which can often be discarded into waterways, polluting habitats.
For ideas on how to reduce textile waste, please consider the following actions:
Rethink fashion. Fast fashion is the production of clothing in high quantities with low quality materials to meet the latest trend. When purchasing new clothing, choose timeless pieces that will have a longer lifespan.
Recycle apparel. Donate unwanted clothing to a local charity. Not only is donating our clothing an action that reduces our impact on landfills, but it also provides resources to communities in need.
Reuse clothing. Consider purchasing some or all of your clothes from secondhand stores. Not only will you support the clothing reuse cycle, but your fashion will always be unique and you save money.
Repurpose items. If you do not want to part with your old t-shirt, consider repurposing it for a different use. Old textiles are great for use as household cleaning rags. Clothing can also be disassembled and turned into other items like headbands, napkins and scarves. Search some DIY projects and get creative!
If you are interested in donating your clothing, there are several organizations that have local drop-off sites, including Goodwill and The Salvation Army. There are also organizations — like Simple Recycling and the Military Order of the Purple Heart — that pick up donations from your home. Research your local donation organizations and help decrease your clothing waste impact.
–Marissa Ratzenberger is a sustainability coordinator for the Detroit Zoological Society
Did you know just one simple action could help save a species?
Lessen the impact on prime gorilla habitats by recycling your old cell phone. Yes, the cell phone that is currently in your junk drawer collecting dust. It’s an easy way to make a big difference!
For a second year, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is partnering with other accredited zoos within the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to launch a cell phone recycling program from February 1 through April 30. In addition to mobile phones, we also accept iPads, iPods, cameras, and chargers.
A rare and valuable mineral, coltan, is used in the creation of all cell phones and small electronics, and the mining of it is directly impacting the survival of gorillas.
Eighty percent of the world’s supply of coltan is found in Central Africa, which is prime gorilla habitat. Imagine having the cell phone equivalent of gold in your backyard. There would be a lot of people showing up at your house with shovels in their hands and dollar signs in their eyes. That’s the situation for coltan and the gorillas.
Coltan is luring miners into the forests, which causes trouble for these animals. Their habitat is becoming logged and dug up so the miners can reach the coltan, and people are bringing in diseases, which the gorillas can easily contract. People are also illegally hunting gorillas – either to eat, sell or trade for more supplies. The more cell phones people buy, the more coltan needs to be mined, which leads to more gorillas becoming homeless. With their numbers dwindling in the wild as it is, let’s work together to save them.
Last year, the collective goal of the program was to gather 10,000 mobile phones and engage 10,000 children and community members to help save gorillas. Together, the participating organizations exceeded this goal, collecting more than 12,000 phones and engaging nearly 260,000 people. The DZS alone collected 490 phones, ranking seventh among the 21 participating zoos and aquariums.
This year, we would like to collect even more phones and reach even more people, and you can help us. Fewer than 20 percent of old cell phones are recycled. Consider bringing your old phones and electronics to the Detroit Zoo during the next three months. Donation bins will be set up at the Main Entrance; you can also deliver them to the guest relations associates manning the ticket booths. We’re also looking for local schools to join us in this venture and make a direct impact on saving the species. If your school or classroom is interested in helping us protect gorillas, you can email Carla Van Kampen, curator of education, at firstname.lastname@example.org and Aaron Jesue, zookeeper, at email@example.com. Also, mark your calendar for our World Gorilla Day celebration at the Detroit Zoo, which will be held on Thursday, September 24.
– Aaron Jesue is a zookeeper for the Detroit Zoological Society.