Education: Instilling Respect for Gorillas and the Environment in the Congo

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), located in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). GRACE is truly a special place – it is the only facility in the world that cares for highly endangered Grauer’s gorillas that have been rescued by wildlife authorities after being illegally captured by poachers and traders.

Grauer’s gorillas are endemic to this region and only approximately 4,000 remain in the wild. There are currently 14 gorillas residing at GRACE, where a dedicated Congolese staff provides daily care and monitors the group while they explore a 24-acre forest – the largest gorilla enclosure in the world.

GRACE is overseen by a dedicated board of directors, which includes Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) CEO and executive director, who has also served as board chair. In addition to Ron’s valuable leadership, the DZS’s involvement with GRACE also includes financial and staff support. In 2015, Ron helped secure funds for a new night house enclosure for the gorillas, which I was able to see in operation while I was there. Also in 2015, DZS Director of Animal Health Dr. Ann Duncan traveled to the Congo to perform health examinations on 12 gorillas, which had never been done before.

I traveled to the DRC with three staff members from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the executive director of GRACE as part of the GRACE Education Advisory Group. We carried quite a bit of luggage with us, which included a number of veterinary medicines and supplies provided by the DZS.

While at GRACE, we worked extensively with the Congolese education team. We observed current programs, provided our feedback and facilitated trainings focused on methodology, messaging and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of their various audiences. We also began to draft a strategic plan for their education programming and evaluation efforts as they move forward. The team’s reach is vast; not only do they work with primary and secondary school groups onsite and in local villages, they also conduct programs with community groups and the military, to name a few. GRACE doesn’t have open visitation hours, so all of the groups that they work with have been scheduled by the educators. Throughout all that the team does, there’s a common theme of instilling reverence and respect for not only gorillas, but all animals and the environment. They work with people of all ages to help foster behavioral changes that result in a positive impact for people, animals and their shared home.

I can’t say enough about the amazing people that I met throughout the course of our visit. The team at GRACE is truly a hard-working, dedicated, passionate group of people and they give tremendous hope for the future. Additionally, on our last day at GRACE, we were fortunate to take part in a tour of the local village, led by the women’s cooperative, where we met many members of the community. We were invited into homes to see cooking demonstrations and to learn about some of the small-scale businesses they own and operate. We also visited Muyisa Primary School, where we were greeted with song and dance and hundreds of smiling faces. Everywhere we went, people were kind and welcoming. They definitely made it difficult for me to leave.

As we move forward, the Education Advisory Group and the Congolese educators will continue to meet by way of monthly conference calls. We’ll continue to advise efforts and offer additional training. I’ll also be working on developing humane education curriculum and projects for the children’s conservation clubs which currently exist in five communities. Stay tuned for more to come on that!

– Lisa Forzley is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Education: Making Less Harmful Choices

Every day we make choices. We decide what to wear, what to eat and which products to use. Each of these actions has an impact with implications we may not immediately think about.

We can consider the impact of our decisions by exploring two questions:

  • What are the effects of this item or activity on animals?
  • Are there any alternatives that may be less harmful or even provide some benefit?

As an example, let’s take a moment to explore coltan. You might not even be aware of its existence, but you likely use it on a daily basis. Coltan, an ore, is an essential component of our smart phones and many other electronic devices that we use, including laptops and game consoles. Unfortunately, the mining of coltan is having devastating effects on the habitat of endangered gorillas and other wildlife living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). While it is mined in different areas of the world, a good portion of the world’s reserves are found in and around the DRC.

So what can we do? We can’t avoid using it, but here are a few things to consider:

  • Pass on the opportunity to get a free upgrade unless your cell phone is no longer in good working order
  • Opt to fix your electronics, if possible, rather than buy new
  • Consider buying refurbished electronics
  • Always responsibly recycle your electronics so that the coltan can be used again

When we take a moment to examine the products we’re purchasing, it enables us to make the best choice possible for people, animals and the planet. This enables us to make knowledgeable decisions on how to walk softly and treat the Earth’s creatures gently. Every action we take to help the Earth and its inhabitants is something to be celebrated!

– Lisa Forzley is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Humane Education: Helping Animals in Need

As animal lovers, when we come across an animal in need of help, we want to take action. But when we find an injured or orphaned critter, often times we’re not sure what to do.

Here at the Detroit Zoological Society, we receive emails and calls throughout the year from people who want to aid local wildlife. Although we wish we could provide sanctuary for all animals in need, we are unable to do so in nearly all cases. But we think it’s wonderful that so many people want to assist these sentient beings, so we’ve compiled a list of helpful resources.

The following links contain contact information for reputable organizations and rehabilitators that are able to provide support. Download the app and jot down the phone numbers found in the links. You can keep a copy on hand so that the information is available should a need arise.

  • Animal Help Now App – Find contact information for nearby emergency wildlife assistance across the U.S., including wildlife rehabilitators, rescues and veterinarians.
  • All Species Kinship Wildlife Hotline – (877) 596-7776

Remember if you come upon an animal that you think needs help, don’t address the situation without first reaching out to a professional for his or her advice. If ever you’re in doubt, call an expert.

– Lisa Forzley is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education. Learn more about the Academy, which was created to help people help animals and offers a broad range of engaging programs, at http://detroitzoo.org/education/humane-education.

Education: Homeless dogs and cats benefit from Wild Lights crafts

A big thank you to all who participated in our humane education craft during Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo! We offered an opportunity for guests to make a fleece blanket or kitty play toy that would, in turn, be donated to local shelters. I’m happy to report that many homeless dogs and cats are currently benefitting from your generosity.

I recently dropped off eight large bags to the Humane Society of Huron Valley and many more will also be donated to the Michigan Humane Society in the coming weeks. Once the animals are adopted, their new guardians will be able to bring the blankets and toys home with them. This allows the companion animals to have something familiar in their new surroundings and can help with the transition into their forever families.

Our craft projects are purposefully designed. They are often centered around being kind to animals and the planet – not only does this instill a sense of joy, but there’s research that shows when you’re kind to others, it helps to foster empathy within.

Simple acts of kindness can make a big difference! Want to get started right now? You can find additional ideas on how to help animals at www.detroitzoo.org, www.hshv.org and www.michiganhumane.org.

– Lisa Forzley is the humane education manager for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Education: Compassion Footprint

“Every product, every action and every lifestyle decision can be a choice to harm less.” – Zoe Weil

Every day we make choices. We decide what to wear, what to eat and which products to use. Each of these actions has an impact with implications we may not immediately think about.

Much like we can minimize our ecological footprint and reduce our impact on the planet by making greener choices, we can also work to increase our compassion footprint by making kinder choices.

We can consider the impact of our decisions by exploring two questions:

  • What are the effects of this item or activity, both positive and negative, on animals and the environment?
  • Are there any alternatives that may be less harmful or even provide some benefit?

For example, upon examination, we discover that conventional coffee is grown in areas of the rainforest that have been “clear cut”, which means that the trees have all been removed, which negatively impacts ecosystems and inhabitants. Alternatively, shade-grown coffee is grown under the canopy layer of trees, which not only preserves native trees, this method also conserves habitat for many animals.

When we take a moment to examine the products we’re purchasing, it enables us to make the best choice possible for people, animals and the planet. This enables us to make knowledgeable decisions on how to walk softly and treat the Earth’s creatures gently.

Whether we choose to purchase cruelty-free products, adopt a companion animal or attend an animal-free circus, there are lots of ways to increase our compassion footprint. How have you expanded your compassion footprint by being kind to animals? Share your stories with us!

– Lisa Forzley is the humane education manager for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Education: Humane Horticulture with Children’s Village

For more than six years, the Detroit Zoological Society’s Berman Academy for Humane Education has led a gardening program with Oakland County Children’s Village that helps to instill reverence and respect for wildlife and wild places with the 12-17-year-old boys residing there. Children’s Village provides a safe, structured environment for youth that includes secure detention, residential treatment and shelter care services. While there are approximately 16 to 20 teens that participate in the garden program at any given time, the resident population changes regularly, so we’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of boys through the course of this program.

The boys implement the garden from start to finish, and I work right alongside them with Claire Lannoye-Hall, a DZS curator of education. We incorporate a number of projects throughout the year, in addition to cultivating a fruitful harvest. A lot of emphasis is placed on how we can humanely interact with the wildlife that we find in and around the garden, which includes implementing measures that humanely deter wildlife from eating our cherished produce. For example, we’ve built a fence, made wind chimes out of discarded DVDs, and used cayenne pepper flakes to discourage the resident groundhog from nibbling on our plants. The young gardeners learn to avoid some conventional deterrents that are not humane, like predator urines for example, as the urine is often harvested from animals that reside on fur farms in deplorable conditions.

While this program mainly takes place in the summer months, we still visit the boys on a regular basis throughout the rest of the year. It’s important for us to have a consistent presence – for the boys to know that they can depend on us showing up. One of our favorite winter projects is making fleece toys for dogs that reside in local shelters. After the boys finish, I deliver the toys and take pictures of the dogs having fun with their new playthings. The boys take great delight in seeing the pictures and knowing they’ve brought some joy to these pups. Another project we’ve done for the past few years is making Valentine’s Day cards for pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, using pressed flowers from our garden. It’s quite heartwarming to see how thoughtful the boys are when crafting their messages and designing the cards. Our projects are often centered around being kind to others, as there’s research that shows when you’re kind to someone else, it helps to foster empathy within.

One of our favorite projects is our photography project in which the boys take pictures of the garden and surrounding area. It’s amazing to see them take a picture of a bee resting on a sunflower that they’ve planted from seed or a tiny tree frog climbing on the side of a raised bed that they made with their own hands. There’s a lot of delight and wonder that comes from observing nature from behind the lens of a camera.

As you can imagine, our garden program is always one of the highlights of my week. I look forward to see how it continues to unfold in years to come.

Lisa Forzley is the humane education manager for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Education: Making Thoughtful Pet Choices

Lisa Forzley is the humane education manager for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

The Detroit Zoological Society frequently Photo by Kurt Schwarzreceives calls from people who have purchased an exotic animal such as an iguana or a parrot and have discovered that they are unable or unwilling to provide the specialized – and often expensive – care the animal needs. In 2014, we received 84 phone calls or emails regarding reptiles alone! We hear comments such as, “I didn’t know that a parrot could live to be almost 100 years old” or “I had no idea that an iguana could grow to be more than 5 feet long.”

Unfortunately, the ever-growing exotic pet trade creates situations that significantly compromise the animals’ welfare and result in people turning to the Detroit Zoo for help. Although we wish we could provide sanctuary for all animals in need, we are unable to accept them in nearly all cases.

Making a good pet choice is important – both for you and for the animal you will potentially be bringing into your home. Here are a few questions to get you started before adopting an animal:

  • Am I able to meet the animal’s physical and psychological needs for his or her entire life?
  • Do I have the time and the money needed to properly take care of this animal?
  • Do local ordinances or laws prohibit owning this kind of animal?
  • Will my veterinarian be able to provide his or her medical care?
  • How much am I able to spend on veterinary costs?
  • What will I do if there is a problem?
  • Will this animal get along with animals that are already in my home?

Remember that dogs and cats have changed over several thousand years of living with humans and are the best nonhuman companions for us. Humane societies and rescue organizations are great resources to find a dog or cat for your family. If you’re ready to adopt, join us this weekend at Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo, one of the nation’s largest off-site companion animal adoption events, where hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens will be available for immediate adoption to loving homes. You can also visit http://www.petfinder.com to find rescue organizations located nearby. They’ll be able to support you in finding the perfect companion animal for your family!

– Lisa Forzley