Great Ape Heart Project Finds Home in Detroit

Aaron Jesue tries not to play favorites. 

However, as he watches Kongo, Pende and Chip, a bachelor group of brother gorillas, lounge about their habitat at the Detroit Zoo, the answer to which gorilla holds Jesue’s heart comes easily. 

“It’s Pende,” he says, a smile spread wide across his face. “He’s inquisitive and curious. He will sit on top of the hill and just stare down at everyone. You can almost feel it in your body. He loves to get a reaction.”

Over the course of his career as a zoo animal care team member, Jesue has worked with dozens of gorillas, and like Pende, he says each is unique and special in their own way. Despite their differences, many gorillas and fellow great apes share a common health risk. Much like it is for humans, heart disease is the leading cause of death observed among great apes in zoos.

Though Jesue understands heart complications may be a reality for his favorite gorilla one day, he takes comfort in knowing a group dedicated to mitigating these issues in great apes is now headquartered at his Zoo.  

In early 2022, the Great Ape Heart Project (GAHP), a group of experts who provide a network of clinical, pathologic and research strategies to aid in understanding and treating cardiac disease in all ape species, moved its headquarters to the Detroit Zoo. Originally based at Zoo Atlanta, this collaborative project was founded to create a centralized database that analyzes cardiac data, generates reports and coordinates cardiac-related research. The move to Detroit was announced after Dr. Hayley Murphy, founder and director emeritus of the GAHP, was named the executive director and chief executive officer of the Detroit Zoological Society. 

A gorilla receives a health exam at the Detroit Zoo.

Though formally established in 2010, the GAHP got its start much earlier. As a veterinary advisor to the gorilla Species Survival Plan,  Murphy began seeing an increase in the number of cardiovascular disease cases reported in gorillas housed at Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions. Together with cardiologist Dr. Ilana Kutinksy, Murphy created a Gorilla Cardiac Database in 2002 to better analyze and compare the cases they observed in great apes. Overtime, the database gained momentum, and in
2010, with the assistance of a National Leadership Planning Grant from the Institute
of Museum and Library Services, the GAHP was officially born. 

“I love gorillas — I love all apes, but I’ve worked the most with gorillas,” Murphy says. “I fell in love with them when I was just beginning my career as a zoo vet, and I realized the toll heart disease was taking on the population. I saw a need to combine the research being done on heart disease so that these apes could live healthier lives. For me, this was a perfect combination of a passion I had for animals combined with a passion for veterinary medicine.”

In its more than a decade of life, the project has maintained a hub for researchers that includes data for more than 90 percent of adult great apes in AZA-accredited institutions. Today, the primarily volunteer-run project creates procedures and best practices used in all AZA zoos and other institutions around the world. In 2020, the project was recognized for its achievements in advancing scientific research with the AZA’s Research Award.

A gorilla undergoes a health exam at the Detroit Zoo.

“We provide real-time support to institutions that may not have experts on site,” says Dr. Marietta Danforth, GAHP director. “Our team of dedicated volunteers includes cardiologists, pathologists, researchers, zookeepers and managers all coming together with their persective and expertise to create a database to best understand, treat and monitor apes for cardiovascular disease. This has really grown into something huge and impactful.”

While “database” may conjure images of big-screen computers and abstract numbers, Murphy and Danforth say the impacts of the GAHP are just as real as the mammals it seeks to protect. 

“We have certainly seen an increase in lifespan in great apes since we’ve started,” Murphy says. “That’s not only because of us, but I do think we have made a difference. There’ve been many times when people have called us with really sick apes, and we’ve been able to help. We’ve seen these animals recover and live much longer than they would have otherwise. I think that is a really huge marker
of success.”

Now that the GAHP is based at the Detroit Zoo, with which Danforth says the project had an excellent working relationship even before Murphy’s appointment as CEO/executive director, its leaders hope it can continue to spread its reach and save the lives of great apes — from gorillas to chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and more.

The Great Ape Heart Project moved to Detroit in 2022.

“My vision for the future is that we remain a hub of the wheel where researchers, vets and zookeepers can come together and share resources for great apes,” Murphy says.

“The GAHP exists because everyone involved loves these animals so much. We want to see them thrive. It’s this passion that keeps the program running.”

As a member of the animal care staff on grounds each day caring for the gorillas who call the Detroit Zoo home, Jesue believes having the GAHP at his home Zoo will have positive outcomes for his favorite gorillas going forward. 

“We are going to be able to help great apes around the world. It’s so cool that we can now say this is based at the Detroit Zoo,” Jesue says, keeping a watchful eye over Pende as the silverback meanders through his habitat. “I’m so glad this resource is here for Pende, Chip and Kongo. Because of the work the GAHP does, I believe these guys are going to live long, healthy lives.”  

Chip, Kongo and Pende explore their habitat at the Detroit Zoo.

Sarah Culton is the communications manager at the Detroit Zoological Society.

Detroit Zoological Society Celebrates Animal Care Staff

The Detroit Zoo has been busy celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week!

Hosted from July 18-24, National Zookeeper Week is an annual event that honors the hard work, dedication and passion of the people who care for zoo animals around the country.

To say “thank you” to the hard-working individuals who ensure the animals at the Detroit Zoo receive the highest level of care, we planned a full week of events to make them feel valued and appreciated. 

These events included: 

• An animal care staff breakfast

• A vet ice cream social

• An all-staff picnic

• A food truck rally

• A Zookeeper Olympics

• An Executive Leadership Team cookout

• Dessert Day

We had so much fun at all these events, and we wanted to share the fun with all our readers. Scroll down to see photos we took throughout the week and help us thank our animal care staff for doing an excellent job 365 days of the year. 

Vet Ice Cream Social 2022
Vet Ice Cream Social 2022
Vet Ice Cream Social 2022
All-Staff Picnic 2022
All-Staff Picnic 2022
All-Staff Picnic 2022
Food Truck Rally 2022

ELT Cookout 2022

Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Sack Race
Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Donut Contest
Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Donut Contest
Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Donut Contest

Zookeeper Olympics 2022

Zookeeper Olympics 2022 Haystack Contest
Zookeeper Olympics Sack Race
Zookeeper Olympics Winners
Zookeeper Olympics Third Place Team

Zookeeper Olympics Second Place Team

Zookeeper Olympics First Place Team

Wildlife Adventure Stories: Wildebeests —  The Journey to the North

I was born in the south, thousands of us all in a synchronized timeline when the grass was greenest and at its highest peak. For generation upon generation of wildebeest, it has remained that way. My father was born here, as was his father before him, hundreds of generations.

Our births are a sign of a change in our family landscape and a shift everyone has recognized. It’s automatic, second nature to all of them, and they have told me I would learn to remember my mother’s patterns and smells if I was to survive.

There are signs of the rains gathering over the Serengeti far from us to the north. The grass here will soon be picked clean by my fellow wildebeest, our neighboring antelope and zebra, and all different kinds of creatures who feast upon them. My mother has said that the time has come for us to travel north with the next generation born. We must follow the rains and the grasses that grow from them. The year has only just begun, and we will spend it following the rains and grass. We, old, young, born just hours ago, will travel — millions of wildebeest from thousands of herds. Even now, in the dead of night, as we all gather, ready to move, the sound of hooves is loud, and we stretch everywhere that the eye can see. It will be a dangerous journey, as all the adults have warned me. But we must travel. We must obey the distant call.

It has been months since we began our migration. And, in a word, it has been scary. The month is May, and hundreds of our family friends have met their ends in the Grumeti River. My mother and I stood atop the banks of the north shore and watched as the crocodiles gazed at us with hunger. The sounds of us trampling across the river rolled through like never-ending thunder. I asked why this was necessary.

“Because we need the grass in the north.” She told me, “Now come along; we cannot hesitate; we must continue if we are not to be late.” We still have three months to go until we arrive north, and it has only dawned on me that we will take the same path down south.

By August, I had learned that Grumeti is kind compared to the river Mara. When we crossed it, our elders scoffed and smiled. 

“The rains have been slow this year,” they said, “and the river is not as bad as before.” 

They’ve told me stories about years when the rain was unforgiving. When the rapids of the water tore through us like lions, the crocodiles even hesitated to close in. They tell us to count our blessings, even as today’s rapids continue to attack and harm us. Our crossing is like a bed of rivers traveling across each other. Streams of dozens and thousands of wildebeest barreling through the water at random, with no order, just a desire to cross. No turning back, and we take a leap of faith.

But, after crossing, we reached our destination in the north. The grasses here are plentiful and green, beautiful and tall. They’ve told us children that we will stay here for three months, as that is what can sustain us. So here we shall prevail. I think back to the rivers and all those lost, and I realize that the only way to honor them truly is to thrive here while we still may. Occasionally, we saw humans watching us from their machines and gazing upon us as we grazed or watching us as we crossed rivers. Some cried out while hanging to the last straw, eventually letting it go. Others just looked on in spectacle. There are more humans here, many of them with weapons that ring out like thunder. 

Already, just three months later, in November, we can feel the pull of the rains to the south. The grasses here, just as in the south towards the end of February, have started to fail us, they can no longer sustain us. On a better side, however, the elders have told us stories about how this is the easiest leg of the journey. Going south, we cross no major rivers, no rapids will plague us anymore. Now all we must deal with are lions in the grasses. They’ve told me that it will be easy, though I’m still afraid.

It is December, and we’re halfway through this final leg. We’ve traveled alongside pouring rain, and we can hear and see the storm clouds thunder and feel the rain continue to drench the grasses down south. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been born at the farthest south part of our journey. The grass should be just as high and green as they were when I was born, it will be a wonderful sight.

Exactly one year since I entered this world, I have returned to the scene of my birth. Thousands of wildebeest have again joined me in our grand herd. Thousands more calves will be born soon, hundreds have already entered the world, ready to join us for the next migration. The grasses when we arrived were just as expected, green and lush. I wish we could stay forever, but I know if these grasses are to continue growing, we must leave them to grow and feast elsewhere. We are in that state of permanent migration, only now I have the experience that I did not have back then. And now, even more amazingly, I can now pass on my knowledge to other calves just born. It’s wonderful, even as we prepare to return north on another leg of the migration, that I am now the elders I revered as a calf. Much like the migration is a cycle, so too am I now a part of that amazing world.

Amazon Rainforest Conservation Partnership Helps Rural Communities

In March 2020, my suitcases were packed, and a group of 40 volunteers was ready to fly down to Iquitos, Peru to deliver school supplies to remote communities along the Amazon and Napo rivers in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest. 

Three days before my flight, Peru closed its borders in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.  The Peruvian school year starts in March, so schools didn’t open for months, and even then classes were hosted only virtually. This provided an opportunity for many of the students who lived in cities to attend but left behind the communities on the river, which had no devices or access to the internet. For two full years, Adopt-a-School community partners had no access to formal education. Even more devastating than the education gap, Peru holds the highest rate of COVID-19 fatalities out of any country in the world. 

This year, as I packed my bags again, I couldn’t help but wonder if we would be able to travel. With new variants being identified regularly, I was very conscious of the responsibility that comes with international travel. I needed to keep myself and  the communities we would be visiting healthy, as well as my family when I returned home. I took extra precautions, including wearing an N95 mask the entire time I was traveling through airports and on planes. As health care workers know all too well, wearing an N95 mask for 24 hours straight is challenging and not comfortable! 

When I arrived in Iquitos, I met with our partners at Conservación de la Naturaleza Amazónica del Peru AC (known as CONAPAC), the Peruvian nonprofit that facilitates the Adopt-a-School program and several other important projects in the rainforest. A small group of volunteers that had been scheduled for the 2020 trip joined us for the school supply deliveries. We reviewed our ambitious schedule of visiting nine schools each day for five straight days and packed all the school supplies onboard the cargo boat that would be traveling with us on the river. 

We traveled out to the farthest of Amazon Explorama’s lodges, Explor Napo, and settled in for the three nights we’d be staying there. On Monday morning, we packed our lunches, divided into three groups and headed out on the river. Each of the three boats had three to four  people aboard, plus the boat driver. The rides to the schools vary, from as little as 15 minutes to sometimes more than an hour. I was visiting one of the largest communities that first morning, and we spent about 45 minutes on the boat until we arrived at Urco Miraño. 

We spent several hours in the community, distributing a school supply packet to every kindergarten, elementary and high school student (more than 100 all together!), and their teachers. We also delivered supplies for the schools in general and notebooks for the community leaders. Access to quality learning materials is an equity issue. Most families living in rainforest communities don’t have easy access to cities to purchase materials, nor do they always have the financial means to do so. While the Peruvian government provides a school building and teachers, the gap in learning materials puts the remote communities at a distinct disadvantage from their peers in cities. Living in one of the world’s most biodiverse and ecologically important areas makes access to a quality education imperative to the future of the region. 

The process of traveling to communities and sharing school supplies repeated throughout the week. Toward the end of their school year (likely in September), we will reach out to all the teachers in the communities to ask what supplies they need for their classroom. That way, we can tailor the 2023 delivery to their needs. All the materials are purchased in Peru, which supports the local economy, ensures materials fit with local curriculum guidelines and drastically reduces shipping and customs fees. The supplies are purchased with donations from an international group of donors, many of whom have traveled to the rainforest previously. If you would like to support the Adopt-a-School program, ensuring access to educational opportunities in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, please visit our website for more information. 

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is the director of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Welcoming the Great Ape Heart Project with Open Arms!

This photo of chimpanzees Zuhura and Akira was taken by Roy Lewis.

Earlier this month, we announced that the Great Ape Heart Project has officially moved to the Detroit Zoo!

Since 2010, the GAHP has dedicated time to understanding and treating heart disease in great apes. Much like it is for humans, heart disease is the leading cause of death observed among great apes in zoos.

“The Great Ape Heart Project was created to address a specific need in the zoological community,” said Dr. Hayley W. Murphy, director emeritus of the GAHP and executive director/CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). “It’s critical to investigate, diagnose and treat heart disease among great apes. The information that comes from this international, multi-institutional project saves lives around the world.”

This photo of gorillas Kongo and Pende was taken by Roy Lewis.

Originally based at Zoo Atlanta, this collaborative project was founded to create a centralized database that analyzes cardiac data, generates reports and coordinates cardiac-related research.

“For more than a decade, the project has maintained a hub for researchers that includes more than 90% of the individual great apes in institutions that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The project allows participants to compare and contrast data from nearly 80 institutions,” said Dr. Marietta Danforth, director of the GAHP. “Prior to this move, Detroit was like a second home for us because we had so many fruitful meetings here at the Zoo. It’s exciting to have it be our home base now.”

The GAHP received the prestigious 2020 Research Award from the AZA. The award recognizes achievements in advancing scientific research among accredited zoos and aquariums throughout the U.S.

In honor of Heart Month, we are selling GAHP shirts here: bonfire.com/GAHP2022. All proceeds will help prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease in great apes. This year’s design features two chimpanzees who live at the Detroit Zoo, Zuhura and Akira

An Evening of Learning and Bonding for Families in Need

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all struggled to grasp the new normal. It has brought new challenges and complicated old ones, yet we continue to push through. The pandemic is especially challenging for people already facing extremely stressful situations, like homelessness and domestic violence. Research indicates that even short respites of spending time in a safe, enjoyable experience can provide much needed relief and reprieve. 

This year, the Detroit Zoological Society hosted several private programs called Nocturnal Adventures. These evening programs catered to more than 270 individuals who are dealing with significant hardship. This positive experience is provided through our partnerships with HAVEN, Turning Point, First Step, the Coalition on Temporary Shelter and the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team. The program includes transportation to and from the Detroit Zoo, dinner, a guided evening tour of the Zoo and an education program that focuses on the stories of rescued animals who have found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo. 

The evening starts with dinner. The meal is shared between the DZS staff, volunteers and our guests. This community building aspect is an opportunity to get to know each other while sharing a meal. We all have more in common than we may first assume and the conversations that evolve are both heartwarming and enjoyable. 

The tour that follows is led by DZS volunteers and education staff. As they lead guests through the Zoo, they share stories of the animals who have found sanctuary after challenging experiences. Many of the animals have suffered injuries in the wild and can no longer survive on their own without human care. Some have come from private ownership where proper care or habitat space was not available. As a result, the animals required urgent intervention and oftentimes specialized care. They are stories of new beginnings and hope.  

Toward the end of the evening, a craft activity provides all participants the opportunity to choose two plants and to decorate a pot for each. The participants can choose to keep and care for both, or to give one to someone. Caring for another living thing and giving are both learned skills. Regularly being on the receiving end of care and support can be taxing on a person, which makes having the opportunity to give or care for something an important element. Taking care of a plant also reinforces that an individual’s choices and actions matter. If the plant isn’t cared for in a manner that meets its basic needs, the plant won’t survive. However, if thoughtfully tended to, the plant will thrive. 

The evenings conclude with the opportunity for participants, staff and volunteers to make s’mores together over a fire pit. This simple, albeit sticky and sweet, ending is a chance to reflect on the evening, share a few more stories and look forward to new beginnings. 

The programs are made possible by dedicated funding from the Detroit Zoological Society and generous donations from the Kellogg Foundation and the Butzel Long Law Firm, an institution deeply involved in Detroit and southeast Michigan for more than 165 years.   

In addition to their financial support, volunteers from Butzel Long had the opportunity to help at a recent event. “We are very happy to have partnered with the Detroit Zoo on the Nocturnal Adventures program. It is our pleasure and honor to give back to our communities, to partner with great institutions like the Detroit Zoo and to do our small part to help those who need it,” said Paul Mersino, attorney and counselor of Butzel Long Law Firm.To support the Detroit Zoological Society’s commitment to providing educational programs for the community, visit detroitzoo.org/support/give/detroit-zoo-fund/.

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is the director of education and D’Nae Hearn is an education specialist for the Detroit Zoological Society.

What a Lizard Wants

When you walk into the Holden Reptile Conservation Center, directly on your left is a lush habitat full of vibrant plants and the sound of a trickling waterfall. As you walk to the other side of the habitat, you may see a roughly six-foot-long lizard floating in the pool, or he may be stretched out, soaking up the rays from a heat lamp. This is Solair.

Solair is an 11.5-year-old water monitor (Varanus salvator). He arrived at the Detroit Zoo in early 2015 after his previous facility could no longer care for him. Although Solair may be considered a senior for his species, you would never know it! He is a charismatic individual who enjoys interacting with his care staff and exploring his habitat to find the tasty fish they leave for him.

Figure 1: Solair, an 11.5-year-old water monitor, resting in the pool of his new habitat, completed in April 2021.

Solair’s current habitat was completed in April 2021 with the generous support of individual donors and a grant by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. The habitat is more than 900 square feet, which is almost five times its original size! A major feature is the 7,000-gallon pool with a waterfall. His basking lamp shines in a cave with a heated floor, and two other heated rocks can be adjusted to keep him comfortable throughout the year. Natural light shines through the front windows and skylights, allowing live plants to thrive and creating a tranquil atmosphere. The only piece of the habitat that remains the same from before the renovation is Solair’s favorite log that he likes to climb and where he occasionally sleeps.

Figure 2: Solair is looking out from one of the logs surrounded by plants and natural sunlight.

Major habitat modifications like this come with many considerations. How do we know that Solair likes the changes we made? How do these changes affect his welfare? The Association of Zoos and Aquariums defines animal welfare as an animal’s collective physical, mental and emotional states over a period of time, and it is measured on a continuum from good to poor. To monitor how habitat modifications affect an individuals’ welfare, we perform a post-occupancy evaluation. This evaluation looks at how an animal used their previous space compared to their new habitat.

For a post-occupancy evaluation, we may look at a variety of animal welfare indicators, such as investigation and species-appropriate behaviors. When animals spend time investigating their habitats above the amount required to find food and shelter, it is interpreted as enjoyable and self-rewarding. Due to the energy needed and risks that could arise from investigating in the wild, this behavior can also signify that an animal feels comfortable in their habitat. From his first introduction to his new habitat, Solair appeared very comfortable. He almost doubled his time investigating compared to his previous habitat as he checked out every nook and cranny of his new home. As a water monitor, this included particular attention to exploring every inch of his spacious pool.

Species-appropriate behaviors, like water-based behaviors for water monitors, are considered during all habitat modifications. We want to provide spaces that allow animals to behave as similarly to their wild counterparts as possible. Water monitors have a fascinating repertoire of behaviors seen in the wild. They are usually found by the water and can swim long distances if needed. Water monitors create burrows in the banks of rivers, carving out a chamber with shallow water where they sleep. They have powerful legs that help them chase down prey across land or in the water. Solair’s new habitat has given him the space to spend more time digging, swimming and floating. Solair also has spent more time on land moving between different habitat features, which helps him build muscle and maintain a healthy weight.

Changes in specific behaviors provide hints about overall welfare, but we also try to look at more comprehensive welfare indicators, including behavioral diversity and the spread of participation index (SPI). Behavioral diversity measures the number and frequency of behaviors displayed by an animal. In general, higher behavioral diversity is considered a positive welfare indicator, suggesting an animal has the resources and comfort to perform a variety of behaviors. When Solair was introduced to his new habitat, his behavioral diversity increased partly due to the new behaviors the habitat allowed him to perform.

The SPI has been gaining interest as a welfare indicator, and it assesses how evenly an individual uses the space provided, providing information on how different areas of the habitat meet individual needs. Typical SPI values vary from species to species. For example, grizzly bears generally move more than most snakes. However, suppose an individual never moves from one spot. In that case, the habitat may not provide the resources that the individual needs or the comfort to use the resources provided. Solair uses his current habitat more evenly than his previous one. However, he still has favorite locations, as seen in the heat map of his location use. The pool and his heated cave are two of the places where he spends the most time.

Figure 3: A heat map of Solair’s space use. This map shows the Holden Reptile Conservation center entrance on the right side and the exit on the left side. Areas in blue and green are less used, whereas areas in yellow and red are highly favored.

Solair’s new habitat has many positive features for him and Zoo guests, including ample options for people watching. Frequent visitors know that Solair occasionally will engage with small children and will often watch guests throughout the day. There were also many neutral and mildly positive relationships between the amount of time a crowd was in front of Solair’s habitat and his use of space and behavioral diversity. However, we have noticed one drawback: with the increased glass in the new habitat, guests are tapping on the glass more frequently. Unfortunately, there were decreases in Solair’s welfare indicators on days when guests engaged in more glass tapping. Part of the scientific process is to notice trends in the data and begin asking new questions, revealing new study ideas. The Detroit Zoological Society will continue to do this with the aim of providing the animals we care for with the best lives possible. However, we also ask our guests and wildlife lovers everywhere to remember that you play a part in the welfare of animals at the Zoo, other organizations and in the wild.

Overall, Solair has adjusted well to his new habitat and seems to enjoy all of the new features provided. We hope next time you visit the Zoo, you will make sure to stop by and say hi to Solair in his new habitat. Just remember he prefers a friendly wave over a tap on the glass.

Jennifer Hamilton is animal welfare programs coordinator for the Detroit Zoological Society

Bringing the Mission Home: Sunset is Going Virtual!

Sunset at the Zoo is always metro-Detroit’s wildest party of the year — and this year, the guests get to host!

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has re-imagined this popular and vitally important fundraising event for 2020.  

With behind-the-scenes stories about animal care, wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability, Sunset for the Zoo: Bringing the Mission Home will take guests on an exciting and memorable journey.  

Premiering on September 17, this hour-long event will offer a fascinating look at the many ways the Detroit Zoological Society celebrates and saves wildlife

This year especially, Sunset also has a serious purpose. Like so many community organizations, the DZS has been terribly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Revenues that are normally generated by operations were cut off during the statewide shutdown and have been greatly reduced since the Zoo’s reopening in June. 

Unlike many museums and businesses, though, the Zoo could not send home its entire workforce and lock the gates.  Instead, daily (and nightly) care for more than 2,400 endangered animals has continued without interruption.  

In these extraordinary times, the Detroit Zoological Society is counting on the community to sustain its mission. The goal of Sunset for the Zoo: Bringing the Mission Home is to raise $500,000 through charitable giving and a silent auction offering dozens of “zoonique” items. The auction opens on September 14 at 4 p.m. and will close on September 20 at 4 p.m.

There are several ways to participate in Sunset for the Zoo: Bringing the Mission Home. Starting today, supporters can text “Sunset” to 243-725 or visit SunsetAtTheZoo.org for more information and exciting previewsEither of these methods will take you to the virtual Sunset premiere at 7 p.m. on September 17. The special will also air on the Detroit Zoo’s Facebook page.  

For more information, please visit SunsetAtTheZoo.org, text “Sunset” to 243-725 or call (248) 336-5858. 

Be A Citizen Scientist: Help Track Tick Activity

If you have noticed more Michiganders complaining about ticks recently, you’re not alone. During the last few summers, it seems as if people in the state are finding ticks on themselves and on their dogs/pets more than ever before.  In recent years, ticks have expanded their active season, and have been found earlier in the spring and in increasing numbers. It’s a trend that is worrisome, particularly with the surge of people enjoying outdoor recreation during the pandemic and warmer summer months.  

Humans and many species of animals are susceptible to tick-transmitted diseases, most notably Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the US, and it is caused by a bacterium that is passed through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.  Lyme disease is prevalent in the Northeast and much of the North Central United States; it is expanding its range in Michigan, largely because the blacklegged tick is expanding its range!  According to the Michigan Emerging and Zoonotic Disease summary published by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 262 human cases were reported in 2018, with most Michigan exposures occurring in the Upper Peninsula and western Lower Peninsula.  

In order to better protect themselves and their families, Michiganders should be informed of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, and learn how to avoid exposure.  University researchers have developed a useful tool to track the spread of Lyme disease and better inform people living in areas with blacklegged ticks.

The Tick App is a free mobile health app developed by collaborators from Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University.  Besides being a reliable and handy resource with information about ticks and tick prevention, the Tick App gives you the opportunity to contribute as a citizen scientist.  If you provide consent to the research and complete an entry survey (which takes 5 -10 minutes), you will be prompted regularly to make a “daily log.” The daily log should take about a minute to complete. It asks if you or a household member (including your furry ones!) encountered a tick, what you did that day and even how COVID influenced your outdoor activities. You also have the option to complete “tick reports” to log your tick encounters; if you submit a clear photo, researchers will respond to you by email with information about the species and life stage. This information can be very helpful for a physician for diagnosis and treatment should anyone begin to feel sick. Lastly, if you allow location services, the app will use your location to provide you with current information on blacklegged tick activity in your area.  Location services also help researchers understand how time spent in different areas is associated with tick exposure.

We at the Detroit Zoo understand the importance of spending time in nature. Hiking, biking and enjoying the outdoors is great for the spirit, and great exercise! Staying informed and aware of the potential risks from ticks and mosquitos will only help you be better prepared as you spend time connecting with the world around you. 

– Ann Duncan is the director of animal health for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Free Virtual Zoo Camp Has Arrived — Enjoy at Your Own Pace

Virtual Zoo Camp is Calling!

From the stellar Detroit Zoological Society education team that brought you Virtual Vitamin Z lessons during a pandemic, comes Summer Virtual Ventures, free digital programming that gives you the opportunity to enjoy a camp experience from the comfort of your own home.

Summer Virtual Ventures includes exciting animal-related content, expert interviews, hands-on activities and much more.

New virtual camps will be posted weekly through the end of August 2020.

Check out a few of the Summer Virtual Ventures below:

PENGUIN CONSERVATION CHALLENGES
In this icy adventure, learners will take on the role of conservation field workers researching penguins in Antarctica and the Falkland Islands. You’ll work to find creative solutions to the many challenges that accompany fieldwork. Shadow animal care staff and get an exclusive look at what it is like to care for the penguins at the Detroit Zoo.

Adventure Now

AMAZON RAINFOREST CONSERVATION
Wildlife conservationists and scientists need your help! Working in the Amazon rainforest comes with many challenges. Try to solve them while learning more about the animals who live in the rainforest.

Adventure Now