You don’t need to head up north or plan a camping trip to connect with nature – there are amazing animals all around us! Let us introduce you to three of your wild neighbors.
They call it mudpuppy love!
Mudpuppies are the second-largest salamander in the western hemisphere. These amphibians may not give off total puppy-dog vibes, but when you see them up-close and in-person, you can’t help but to fall for their charms. There is even a whole celebration in their honor called Mudpuppypalooza taking place March 26 at the Belle Isle Nature Center!
Mudpuppies have wide faces and frilly, external gills on the sides of their heads that act like filters in the water. This means they need to live in clean water to stay healthy. These pups spend most of their time under the cover of flat rocks or slabs of concrete at the bottom of rivers – including our very own Detroit River. They are an important part of Michigan’s aquatic ecosystem, and the Detroit Zoological Society has been collecting data on mudpuppies and water quality in the Detroit River since 2004. Learn more about our monitoring efforts.
Say hi to Michigan’s largest snake!
Black rat snakes can grow to be an impressive 8 feet long – but don’t worry, they are non-venomous and harmless to humans. Rodents, however, are not so lucky. As their name suggests, this species hunts rats and will often enter barns or abandoned buildings in search of food. They use the constriction method of hunting and consume their prey in a single bite! Rat snakes can also be found hiding in tall grasses, under fallen trees or in hallowed out logs, just like our friend here, who just emerging after a taking a nice afternoon nap. The habitats at the Belle Isle Nature Center are designed to mirror the landscape the species might experience in the wild – do any of the elements look familiar to you?
Do I spot a spotted turtle?
If you have visited our Nature Center before, you may be familiar with our turtle pond. This expansive indoor habitat is home to several turtle species, including this pair of spotted turtles. They may be smaller than most of their pond mates, but as you can see from this video, they make up for it in moxie! Spotted turtles can be found in bogs, marshes, swamps, ponds and woodland streams throughout Michigan. They can often be seen basking in the midday sun, but when surprised, spotted turtles will dive underwater and completely bury themselves in the mud. They also retreat to these muddy beds to stay cool on hot summer days. Spotted turtles in Michigan are threatened by habitat loss and from being removed from the wild by reptile collectors. That brings us to a rule that applies to all wild animals – look don’t touch! This is the best way to keep your new friend safe.
The Belle Isle Nature Center is all about making connections. People, animals, natural and unnatural landscapes are all a part of the unique tapestry that is Detroit. Visit belleislenaturecenter.detroitzoo.org to plan your visit. The Nature Center is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and and is always free!
Authored by Luke Grange, senior education specialist at the Belle Isle Nature Center.
“Can we write on this?”
The campers looked hopefully at the butcher paper-covered tables and cups of markers. When they were told that indeed the markers were for drawing on the tables, they happily got to work drawing, signing their names and making their mark.
This was the scene at the Belle Isle Nature Center’s Winter Nature Camp on Jan. 3. Those campers had just arrived at the Nature Center’s first camp since 2019. The campers didn’t seem to mind the layoff as they drew rainbows, birds and the odd video game character as they got to know one another before breaking up into age groups to go explore outside.
The Belle Isle Nature Center’s habitats and interactive exhibits celebrate places in the city where you can connect with the natural world. Similarly, campers experienced both the natural and man-made portions of Belle Isle ― walking on top of deer prints and under willow trees to explore the rarely seen inside of a covered footbridge. Fire hydrants poked up from alongside the trails like steel mushrooms as raptors flew overhead.
Campers loved building their beginner birding skills at Winter Nature Camp. Brittany Leick, program coordinator of the Detroit Audubon, assisted Winter Nature campers in learning to identify seven local, colorful birds and then practicing how to use binoculars. Campers also visited the bird viewing window and learned about the ultraviolet patterns inside the glass that the Belle Isle Nature Center installed to help make the windows bird safe. Campers then got to paint their own bird shapes to put on their windows at home.
The new Belle Isle Nature Center was thoroughly enjoyed by campers. Children visited the young learner’s space to act as ants and move giant seeds and dirt throughout the tunnels. They experienced life in the pollinator hallway as a bumblebee, seeing the normally invisible UV patterns that flowers advertise to insects. Each day, the campers would find something new to do in the space.
At the end of the week, campers were asked to draw their favorite camp activities. Almost everyone mentioned spending time out in nature with the new friends they made. As they had made their mark on the tables over the course of the week, adding to their drawings with each meal and snack, campers had made their own mark with the friendships they had formed.
Authored by Dr. Kylen N. Gartland, manager of applied animal welfare science for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).
Making a happy home requires an abundance of care, creativity and finesse – especially when that home is for gorillas!
The Detroit Zoo’s Great Apes of Harambee habitat is home to three adult male gorillas, Chipua (Chip), Kong-Mbeli (Kongo) and Pendeka (Pende). You may notice something unique about this group – there are no females! Chip, Kongo and Pende are part of a bachelor group. Although gorilla family groups are generally composed of one adult male, multiple adult females and their juvenile offspring, gorillas may also form bachelor groups composed of multiple young and maturing male gorillas. These bachelor groups provide individuals with opportunities for a healthy social environment with companions with whom to form complex and lasting relationships.
Forming a successful bachelor group is no small feat. Zoo staff and managers must consider a plethora of variables such as age, personality and family history. Although many all-male gorilla groups are formed when the individuals are juveniles, the relationships and dynamics within the group may undergo any number of changes as individuals grow and mature. The ideal management strategy for a group of 10-year-old gorillas can look very different from that for a group of 20-year-olds. What’s more, gorillas develop unique personalities and preferences, just like humans! Plans for long-term care and well-being must integrate not only group needs but individual factors as well.
Chip, Kongo and Pende have been a cohesive social unit for more than 20 years, due in large part to the excellent care provided by the Detroit Zoological Society team! Zoo staff are always on the lookout for new information that can help us manage the complex inter-relationship between time, group-level needs and individual-level preferences that leads to a happy, healthy home.
One way animal care staff can ensure the gorillas are living in optimal conditions is through tools such as Qualitative Behavioral Assessments (QBAs). QBAs are keeper rating tools that allow expert care staff to evaluate the well-being of a given animal based on subtle cues like movement, posture, dynamic expressions, and individualistic indicators of emotional states. Using QBAs, care staff and welfare scientists can collaboratively explore new and innovative strategies for maximizing animal well-being.
Recent nationwide work between members of the DZS’s Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE) and experts at other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) created opportunities to investigate overnight housing. This work suggested that groups of younger gorillas may thrive with the constant access to group members provided by social overnight housing, while groups with more mature gorillas may benefit from the space and solitude provided by individual overnight housing. Judging what is right for each individual and each group is an ever-evolving challenge, as an individual’s well-being varies over time. The gorillas at the Detroit Zoo provided a unique opportunity to investigate overnight housing, as the group has historically been managed on a rotation with three nights spent together socially and the fourth night spent solitarily.
To make this investigation possible, CZAAWE staff members came together with mammal supervisor Melissa Thueme and other members of the primate care team to create and validate a QBA tool just for gorillas! This tool, called the Gorilla Behavioral Assessment Tool (GBAT), combined CZAAWE staff’s scientific training with the primate care team’s gorilla expertise. Using the GBAT, primate care staff conducted three months of daily evaluations of Chip, Pende and Kongo from June to August 2022. Once the primate team had collected the data, it was time for CZAAWE to step in! CZAAWE staff used statistics to analyze the data from the GBAT evaluations to look at differences between the overnight housing conditions.
With a lot of input from the diverse supporting departments — and more than a little math — staff concluded that the gorillas generally demonstrated increased welfare from being housed separately overnight as compared to being housed socially. Individuals were more curious, less anxious and less aggressive with other gorillas! With these data in hand, the primate care team transitioned to housing the gorillas separately every night.
The DZS is proud to invest in studies like these that support care staff in making the best possible management decisions and offer opportunities for cross-departmental collaborations. With the support of four other AZA-accredited zoos, we have set out to establish the GBAT as a reliable and useful tool for zoos across the United States and beyond! Stay tuned for more exciting updates as we continue this study.
Authored by Matthew Porter, bird care team member for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).
Happy National Bird Day! To celebrate, let’s talk about how the Detroit Zoo takes part in one of the greatest community science projects on earth, eBird.
The website ebird.org is home to a giant database of bird observations run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Through this website, there is an abundance of information about birds across the globe.
EBird brings together the community and scientists to understand the ranges and movements of birds around the world. Once involved, we are all scientists at work. This collaborative effort harvests a massive data set that would never be attainable without the efforts of everyone involved. Our efforts compiled together advance avian science and conservation worldwide. Last year, on a single day in October, more than 34,670 people from 185 countries reported 80,000 checklists observing 7,453 bird species!
Over the last couple of years, our staff has invested lots of time to help with this worldwide effort. What we have found is that there is more avian diversity than we previously thought at the Detroit Zoo. Some birds call the Detroit Zoo home year-round. Others come here to breed in the summer, while some come here for a winter home. Many species use the Zoo from March through May and August through November as a very important migratory stopover. This land is a green island in the middle of suburbia and a great, safe stopover refuge. Our buildings have bird-friendly glass, and we continue to plant native plants to provide the appropriate food and ecosystem many species need.
Last year, more than 100 species were reported by Zoo staff and citizen scientists surveying Zoo grounds. You can join in on the fun by signing up for an eBird account at ebird.org. The website has lots of information and tutorials on surveying and best practices. There is also an easy-to-use app that can make surveying more efficient. Once enrolled, you can become part of this worldwide effort to assist with bird conservation.
Here at the DZS, we are always looking for more ways to engage with the community so that people, animals and the natural world can thrive together.
Authored by Mark Vassallo, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) Amphibian Department Supervisor.
The cloud forest of central Panama is a unique and mysterious place, full of rare creatures and plants that call these moisture-laden peaks home. At night, the jungle writhes with life as the nocturnal world takes over the mountainsides. In this veil of darkness and nestled in the elevations of these dense jungles, some of the earth’s rarest amphibian species reside. Many of these species are yet to be described by science, and others are considered to be extinct. As I gazed up at the gathering rain clouds on the volcanic peaks of El Valle, I could not help but wonder which of these potentially extinct amphibians could still be out there.
I have been traveling to El Valle, Panama for the last seven years to work with the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC). This organization is run by Edgardo Griffith and Heidi Ross, a husband-and-wife biologist team, who have dedicated their lives to the conservation of Panama’s most endangered amphibians. Usually during these trips, I am undertaking projects involving the installation of life support and infrastructure or helping troubleshoot specific husbandry issues that arise in one of the modified shipping containers in which EVACC houses seven species of Panama’s rare and endangered amphibians, including the iconic Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus Zeteki).
While those types of jobs are on the docket for this trip, we also have an important task to complete that will bring us into the upper reaches of the cloud forest in the hopes to hear a sound that could mean some hope for the imperiled amphibians of Panama. The sounds we are hoping to hear are the calls of thought-to-be-extinct amphibians, including Raab’s tree frogs (Ecnomiohyla rabborum), large and highly unique arboreal frogs who lays their eggs in tree cavities and can glide through the air to evade predators. In the last year, EVACC has begun the process of deploying audio loggers in some of the area’s hard-to-reach elevations to listen for the calls of amphibians like the Rabb’s tree frog that are widely thought to be potentially extinct.
The audio loggers are sturdy boxes that contain a microphone, batteries and SD cards accompanied by a digital screen. The idea is that these listening devices, which are programmed to turn on during the dusk and nighttime hours, will pick up the call of one of these rare frogs. If a call from one of these frogs is detected on the logger recording, this would give the biologists at EVACC a very good lead on the areas where intensive surveys could take place to potentially locate this species.
Armed with some GPS coordinates, batteries, fresh SD cards and rough information about the audio logger’s location from a member of the last group who placed it, we headed up the mountain to start our journey. As we began to climb, the heat and humidity was intense — our clothes were soaked in less than an hour. Large biting ants were swarming our boots as the incline steepened, and we came to a crossroads in the trail. We had reached the GPS coordinates but realized that these coordinates could not be correct. At this point, we decided to attempt to leave the trail and start climbing up what seemed like a cut in the dense jungle, which may have been caused by mudslides and heavy rains, certainly nothing even resembling an actual trail. The going was difficult as the clouds began to gather. Buckets of heavy rain soon began dumping on us, causing the mud to loosen and give, making the more vertical sections especially precarious. In addition to watching your footing in the jungles of Panama, it is also important to watch where you put your hands. Eyelash vipers and stinging insects of all kinds tend to rest on branches and sticks at about eye level. All of these thoughts were keeping our senses sharp as we broke through clearing after clearing, each time hoping that this was the top of the mountain and the audio logger would appear like a shining beacon amongst the dense jungle. Yet, each time the clearings revealed even more vertical walls of vines and thick jungle vegetation to climb. Our resolve was fading, but we pressed on. At one point, my balance gave way, and I fell face first into the side of the muddy slope. As I raised my head, I noticed I was face to face with a tiny gem of a frog. It was a blue-bellied poison frog (Adinobates minutus). This toxic little frog was just staring back at me, probably wondering why a silly, hairless ape had bothered to climb this far up a mountain during a thunderstorm.
The rain was finally letting up, and this gave us a little boost as we could see some sunshine emanating from what looked like a break in the jungle ahead. As we approached, sharp painful sensations started overwhelming my hands and wrists. We were wading through a large column of sharp bladed grass, which when brushed against, caused a paper cut like lacerations on the skin. Once we emerged from the brush and into the clearing, we realized we had reached the top. The jungle was so dense there was no real spot to even look out to enjoy the view. We immediately got to work searching for the audio logger. I looked left then right and passed through some thick brush. Then I saw it — a strip of white that stood out in the landscape of green. It was one of the zip ties used to attach the logger to the tree. We had found it! After several minutes of exulted celebrations and numerous high fives, we swapped out the SD cards and batteries, the unit was reprogrammed, and we locked up the protective case. The trip down was more like a ride down a luge course made of mud. This did make the process faster but certainly not any safer.
Once we finally arrived back at the EVACC grounds, we were exhausted and coated in mud and insect bites but satisfied and content that we had achieved a seemingly insurmountable challenge. After a shower and a cold beverage, I walked out into the moonlight on the grounds of EVACC. Once again, the clouds were beginning to gather around the El Valle mountains, and my eyes settled on the tips of those green jungle peaks, wondering if the logger we had reset for another four months would record a sound of hope.
November 9 happens to be National Go to an Art Museum Day, and we want to shine a deserving light on the the Detroit Zoological Society’s permanent art collection. Read on to learn more about these pieces and see why visitors of all ages should add an art tour to their next Zoo trip.
Since 1995, the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery at the Detroit Zoo has been a designated space to display the permanent art collection, supporting the DZS’ mission by creating meaningful connections between people, animals and the natural world. The cultural and artistic diversity of our permanent art collection encourages guests to consider and compare the varied relationships between humans and animals across different cultures and times.
The universal language of art is a pathway to start or continue discussions about conservation and sustainability topics within our community, and whether you are interested in local artists or ancient artifacts, the permanent art collection at the Detroit Zoo has a little something for everyone. Here are a few of the collections that are currently on display:
But the beauty isn’t just limited to the indoors; in fact, the collection continues as you venture throughout the Zoo grounds. There are many unique pieces to see, from vibrant Pewabic tile mosaics to bronze animal statues that are at hug level for our smallest art aficionados to enjoy.
Wherever you are in the Zoo, there is likely a meaningful piece of art that is nearby and waiting for you to explore! Plan your next trip to the Detroit Zoo and see it all for yourself – visit www.detroitzoo.org today to purchase your tickets.
Throughout spring migration, the Detroit Zoo’s 125 acres provided refuge to many weary travelers. Now that the season is coming to a close, our staff is looking back at all the feathered friends who used our grounds as a stop on their journeys.
Over the last couple months, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) team members have spent many hours surveying what bird species have been utilizing the habitats here at the Detroit Zoo. Some of these species live here year-round, while many species have shown up during migration and will spend the summer here breeding on Zoo grounds. Additionally, several species have used the Zoo to rest or refuel for a matter of hours or days on a long journey home to their breeding grounds.
We have seen and heard many species of songbirds, black-crowned night herons, a redhead, spotted sandpipers and much more! From March until the end of May, we accumulated at least 93 species on Zoo grounds.
The incredible journeys these brave travelers make every year are hard to put into words. Many winter as far south as Central or South America and may head far north of us into the Upper Peninsula or northern Canada to breed. The blackpoll warbler is one of these extraordinary migrants who recharged at the Zoo this May. This tiny, insectivorous species only weighs around 11 grams and sings a very high-pitched song. They often travel more than 10,000 miles round trip — including an Atlantic Ocean crossing — as they head back and forth from South America to northern Canada and Alaska.
Migrating birds overcome extreme challenges when heading back and forth between breeding and wintering grounds. Besides exhaustion and native predators, there are many human-made challenges. Fragmented habitats, light pollution, domestic cats and windows are just some of the man-made threats that make migration even harder. Here at the Detroit Zoo, we are proud to provide these birds an excellent, protected habitat on their perilous journeys.
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.
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.
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.