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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
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 previews. Either 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.
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.
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.
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.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for five months (and during a pandemic).
That’s how long the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) animal care staff hand-reared a male chimpanzee born in early January before they successfully transitioned his care to an adoptive chimpanzee mom in June.
“It’s a story of great dedication,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society. “Nights, weekends and through a pandemic — Detroit Zoo primate staff cared for the baby chimpanzee around the clock. And now it’s a very heartwarming story of a baby who has found a devoted, adoptive chimp mom and family.”
Zane was born on January 7, 2020, to Chiana, 26, who is also the mother of 6-year-old Zuhura. But soon after Zane’s birth, Chiana became very ill and was unable to care for her newborn. Chiana was treated by veterinarians and recovered, but after she recovered, she showed no interest in caring for her little son. The Detroit Zoo’s primate care staff stepped in to give Zane 24-hour care, which included carrying him constantly, as a mother chimp would, and teaching him to take milk from a bottle.
Over the five months, Zane lived in the Great Apes of Harambee building instead of a nursery so he could be around the other chimpanzees. During this time, the chimpanzees could see him up close through the mesh of their enclosure.
“Every day, the other chimpanzees could see us caring for him,” said Carter. “He was always near the other chimps even though they physically could not be together.”
To prepare Zane for life with the other chimpanzees, the Detroit Zoological Society consulted with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan and other zoos that have integrated rejected infants into social groups. The carefully planned process began with observing potential surrogate moms in the Detroit Zoo’s 11-member chimpanzee troop and their responses to Zane. Mother-daughter duo Trixi, 50, and Tanya, 29, both adult females in the troop, showed interest almost immediately.
“Trixi is a confident and high-ranking matriarch,” said Carter. “She was a wonderful mother to her daughter Tanya, and when we were considering who could be the best new mother for Zane, she stood out. She was very interested in being near him whenever she could and seemed quite taken with him.”
From their first physical interaction, it was clear that 5-month-old Zane had found his new adoptive family.
“Zane approached and hugged Trixi and Tanya the minute he had the chance,” said Carter. “Trixi is Zane’s primary caregiver, while Tanya, who has never had a baby of her own, loves playing with Zane, napping with him, and carrying him for short periods.”
Carter added, “We’re incredibly proud of our devoted primate staff for doing such an amazing job of caring for Zane and preparing him and his new adoptive family to thrive together.”
Baby Zane is now living with the troop at the Great Apes of Harambee at the Detroit Zoo. The chimpanzees who live at the Detroit Zoo have a fission-fusion dynamic, which means they have the freedom to choose who they want to spend their time with at any given moment. As with all animals at the Detroit Zoo, they also have the choice to go where they please in the habitat, so Zane might not always be visible. The multi-acre indoor-outdoor Great Apes of Harambee habitat is home to 12 chimpanzees.
Zane’s birth is the result of a recommendation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, a cooperative population management and conservation program that helps ensure the sustainability of healthy, genetically diverse and demographically strong captive animal populations. Chimpanzees are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat loss, fragmented populations and illegal wildlife trafficking.
– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.
When we made the decision to temporarily close the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we had to find a way to stay connected with our wonderful community. The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) education team took on the challenge, pivoting to deliver virtual programs.
Since mid-March, our team has produced more than 150 free virtual learning programs to help students, families and lifelong learners continue to explore wildlife conservation, animal welfare, environmental sustainability and humane education.
While we continue to hold lessons on Facebook Live, you can also find the videos on our Virtual Vitamin Z Youtube channel. We also have a new online tool that allows you to search for lessons, including activities, based on grade levels and subjects.
Even though we have since reopened the Detroit Zoo to visitors by reservation, we are still working to reach more of our community through digital means. The DZS education team is also working on Summer Virtual Ventures and producing longer lesson plans for people throughout Michigan.
Check out a sample of some of the team’s virtual learning programs below:
Thank you for all of your support and encouragement. We hope to continue to provide enriching lessons for our community and beyond.
– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.
There’s nothing quite like taking a leisurely walk around the Detroit Zoo to admire the gardens, the sunshine and the incredible animals who live here.
But now the experience is better — because the experience has you.
The Detroit Zoological Society team has been working around the clock to make sure all of our guests have a safe and enjoyable visit. After all, you deserve a little relaxation, a chance to explore and reconnect with loved ones.
In addition to adding new time and date slots for members each day, we have now opened up reservations on our website to the general public for visits starting Friday. Check back often, as new slots will open up regularly!
As we monitor the first few days of our reopening, we are also reviewing our guidelines. We will continue to revise our safety guidelines as warranted. You can visit detroitzoo.org/health to learn more before planning your visit.
Of course, spring is always an exciting time to introduce you to new arrivals at the Detroit Zoo. We are thrilled to share the news of the birth of a Japanese macaque. The baby was born on June 3 to parents Carmen and Haru. As you can see, big sister Hana seems very interested in her new sibling.
We are also happy to see the arrival of new prairie dog pups, and they are quite an adorable sight as they scurry in and out of their underground tunnels.
Also of note is the successful breeding of more than 170 dusky gopher frogs at the Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center. In an effort to help restore this critically endangered amphibian, the frogs will be released into the wild in Mississippi this week.
We (and our reservations system) have been overwhelmed by your support, and we remain grateful for all of your thoughtful feedback and engagement.
Welcome back to your Zoo.
I hope to see you during your next visit,
Executive Director and CEO
Detroit Zoological Society