Texas Rescue: 10 Years Later

Maroo, a male red-necked wallaby, passed away on November 11, 2019. Although this may seem like a sad way to begin a blog entry, this is a celebration of Maroo’s life for the almost 10 years he lived at the Detroit Zoo. He was part of the wallaby mob living in the Australian Outback Adventure, and seemed to enjoy exploring this expansive space and sharing his time with others of his species. He was cared for by dedicated zookeepers and observed by attentive volunteers as well as visitors. Maroo will be missed. His story could have had a much different trajectory, had it not been for the intervention of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

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In December of 2009, six DZS animal curators and supervisors travelled to Texas to provide expert care for more than 27,000 animals seized by authorities in the largest exotic animal rescue in the history of the United States. We were contacted after an investigation revealed inhumane treatment of these animals – including spiders, reptiles, amphibians and numerous exotic mammal species – by an exotic animal dealer who was selling them. Our staff members spent almost two months at a temporary care facility in Dallas, helping to triage and care for these animals who had been kept in dismal conditions. Not only did this include basic care, such as proper food, water and medical treatment, but it was also the first time any of these animals were treated with the respect they deserve. Unfortunately, many did not survive due to the illnesses and injuries they sustained during the time they spent as part of the exotic animal trade.

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Hundreds of these animals – 961 to be exact – about two-thirds of which were amphibians, came to the Detroit Zoo to spend the rest of their lives in comfort and receive the care each one deserved. Although many of these animals have passed due to old age over the past decade, some are still at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. Two ring-tailed lemurs were among the animals rescued, and the female was actually pregnant at the time. She gave birth to healthy twins, and all four still live in the group you can observe at the Zoo. Four Linne’s sloths were cared for by our staff and have gone on to live good lives at other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Of the four matamata turtles who arrived here, one can still be seen at the Holden Reptile Conservation Center. You can also visit two tiger salamanders at the Belle Isle Nature Center. In total, there are about three dozen of the rescued animals still living in our care. Five wallabies originally joined the mob at the Detroit Zoo as part of this important rescue effort, and Maroo was the last of this group.

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Maroo’s story is a great example of the impact the DZS has on the lives of individual animals. The exotic animal trade is not only having drastic impacts on populations of wild animals, it is also an industry that creates and promotes severe animal welfare issues for individual animals. Our mission is Celebrating and Saving Wildlife, and our efforts to assist with rescues and provide sanctuary for animals are a critical part of this mission. The next time you visit the Detroit Zoo, look for signs identifying rescued animals and learn more about their stories.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is deputy chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics.

Meet Keti, An Adorable Baby Red Panda

Visitors to the Detroit Zoo are always excited when they are able to see baby animals.  Babies are adorable, and are often playful and fun to watch.  Chimpanzee Jane is no exception – she is now 15 months old and can be seen climbing in the trees in her habitat and encouraging the older chimps to play with her. Hana, a female Japanese macaque, is only 5 months old, but is already moving away from her mother and exploring the rocks and branches of her habitat.

It’s not always possible for zoo babies to be cared for by their mothers for various reasons, and occasionally animal care staff have to step in and assist.  When this happens, babies are often cared for in the animal hospital nursery, where they can be given the intensive care they need to grow and thrive.  In the nursery, veterinary and zookeeper staff caregivers can provide round-the-clock feeding and attention.

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Over the years, we have had the pleasure of caring for a number of adorable babies, but in my opinion our current nursery resident – a female red panda cub – is arguably the most adorable animal in Detroit Zoo history.  She was born July 6, and weighed 112 grams (around 4 ounces), a good weight for a red panda cub.  While the cub’s mother Ash was pregnant, she allowed us to ultrasound her abdomen while she happily ate treats, so we knew she was pregnant with a single cub that was growing well.  Ash delivered the baby with no problems, and showed the newborn lots of attention, but this was her first pregnancy, and she didn’t have all of the skills needed to raise the cub.  Red panda cubs have been hand-reared at several zoos, including the Detroit Zoo, and we had prepared in advance to care for the panda cub, just in case.  A hand-rearing manual that compiles collective experiences of zoo professionals was used to determine the formula and feeding schedule and help to develop a care plan.

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The cub was placed in an incubator that provided a warm, humidified environment, and was given round-the-clock care.  Her formula was offered in a small bottle with a nipple used for premature human babies, and during her first days she was given only 3-4 milliliters at a time. At each feed, we used a warm, moistened cotton ball to stimulate her to urinate and defecate.  We fed her eight times each day, and by one week she had gained 19 grams.  By two weeks, she only needed to be fed seven times a day and had nearly doubled her birth weight.  When she was a few weeks old, we were concerned that she might have a respiratory infection, but since then she has remained healthy and has continued to grow and become more curious about her environment.  At 5 weeks old, we warmed up the nursery room and moved her to a covered playpen so she could have room to move and play with toys.  A month later she was ready to be moved to an even larger area, and to be given access to climbing structures, bamboo to chew and manipulate, and bowls of formula mixed with adult diet.  She was given the name Keti, meaning “girl” in Nepali, and her caretakers spent time with her each day, encouraging her to climb and explore.

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Keti is now more than half the size of an adult red panda, and spends time outside in an area designed to encourage her to play and practice her climbing skills.  She is also becoming acclimated to the colder temperatures.  Eventually she will be moved to a habitat where visitors can watch her continue to grow and get experience climbing and traveling at greater heights.  When proficient, she will be ready to join Ash, dad Ravi and grandma Ta-Shi in the Holtzman Wildlife Foundation Red Panda Forest.

 

– Dr. Ann Duncan is the director of animal health for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

Animal Welfare: Welfare Assessments

One of the goals of the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics is to conduct and facilitate animal welfare assessments. In some cases, this entails conducting scientific research aimed at answering questions such as how animals respond to changes in their habitats or modifications to the ways in which we care for them.  For example, and as you may have read about in previous blog entries, we assessed the impact of new or expanded habitats on the welfare of Madagascar giant hog-nosed snakes, penguins and grizzly bears at the Detroit Zoo, just to name a few. We also pose questions related to providing animals with stimulating experiences that allow them to engage in species-appropriate behaviors, such as increasing exploration in aardvarks and enhancing natural feeding opportunities for species like seals and gorillas. The more we can learn about how our animal care and management practices influence the welfare of animals, the more we can do to ensure they are thriving.

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Although multi-faceted studies like the ones mentioned above are an important part of this endeavor, developing means to more rapidly evaluate the welfare status of individual animals is also a critical goal. Welfare assessments therefore also take the form of proactive and ongoing monitoring that provides an overview of the current welfare state of individual animals. To that end, the Detroit Zoological Society developed a welfare assessment tool in 2014 which was made freely available in a peer-reviewed publication in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Sciencein 2015. If you would like to read the full article, please visit our resource center on the CZAAWE website at czaw.org/resources and click on the link for A Universal Animal Welfare Framework for Zoos.

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Since that time, we have continued to refine the animal welfare assessment tool to evaluate how the animals living at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are faring, as well as train other accredited organizations in the use of the tool. In its present form, the assessment tool includes measures of inputs, which focus on what is provided to animals, such as amount and complexity of their space, the social opportunities they have and their dietary considerations. The tool also incorporates measures of outputs, which are how the animals respond to what is provided to them. We try to make sure that we have output measures that match up with the questions about the inputs. For example, the outputs we would use to correspond to the inputs I listed as examples would include questions about how the animals use their habitat, if they interact with other animals that share their space in the manner we would expect and if they are in good body condition. The questions in the animal welfare assessment tool line up with the Five Domains model of welfare, which delineates how nutrition, physical health, behavior and the environment (both physical and social) feed into an animal’s emotional state.

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Organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which we have been a member of since 1985, continue to place increasing importance on ensuring animals in their care are experiencing positive welfare, and this responsibility is reflected in the very standards by which member organizations must abide to be accredited. One of the newer standards requires AZA members to have a welfare assessment process like the one the Detroit Zoological Society has in place. It is great to see that our professional community is committed to not only provide good care for animals, but to provide them with great welfare.

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– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics.

 

Animal Welfare: Grizzly Bears Really Dig Their Expanded Habitat

As part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) commitment to ensuring individual animals experience great welfare, a significant expansion of the grizzly bears’ habitat was undertaken in 2018. The male grizzly bears living at the Detroit Zoo, Mike, Thor and Boo, are brothers who were rescued in Alaska after their mother was killed and the cubs began foraging too close to humans. At approximately one year of age, they were too young to properly care for themselves and the DZS provided them with a safe place to grow up. The bears are now eight years old and weigh approximately 900 pounds.

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The expansion doubled the amount of space for the bears and also increased the number of environmental features in the habitat, including caves and substrates such as grass and mulch. When we make changes that affect the lives of animals, it is important that we understand how those changes impact them. To that end, we collected data the fall prior to construction to obtain a baseline of the bears’ behavior and hormone levels. Observations continued during construction and ended two months after the bears moved back into their renovated home. Zookeepers also filled out surveys and collected fecal samples each day.

We were happy to see that, in general, the construction itself had little impact on the bears. We had the zookeepers keep track of things like appetite and interest in participating in positive reinforcement training, and the bears did not show any changes to these behavioral indicators of welfare. Additionally, their glucocorticoid concentrations did not change during construction, suggesting that the bears did not perceive this to be a stressful time period. We did see some fluctuation in how much time each bear was visible outside, depending on how loud the construction activities were. Only one of the bears, Mike, spent more time inside (and out of sight) when the construction noise reached higher levels. Individual animals, just like people, perceive experiences differently, and therefore may react differently.

When we compared how and where the bears spent their time before and after the expansion, we had some interesting results. The bears made use of all of the substrates and features in the expanded habitat. They were very excited to gain access to a mulberry tree that had previously been part of one of the side bear habitats. Mulberry is enjoyed by many species at the Detroit Zoo and the grizzly bears are no exception. Mike very industriously spent time trying to uproot the tree to make it easier to eat all the delicious berries! All three bears also enjoyed digging up, excavating if you will, various sections of the habitat. One thing that did not change was Thor’s affinity for his rock “pillow”. There is a large boulder-sized rock formation high up in the original habitat space on which you can sometimes find him resting his head. Thor still very much enjoys giving the rock a bear hug as he catches up on some sleep!

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Not only did the expansion mean the bears had more environmental choices, but the additional features had an impact on their social dynamics as well. With more space and more options within that space, the bears could spread out and all spend time in areas that met their needs, rather than sharing, or having to wait to use the features. This also translated into even more positive relationships between the brothers. We did see Boo practice his best “little brother” moves in the expanded habitat. He will come as close to Mike as possible until Mike finally swats or chases him away. I definitely experienced that with both of my little brothers growing up! It is possible that with more space, Boo enjoys getting a reaction from Mike and having plenty of room for the game of “catch me if you can” that may follow.

The expanded space has given the grizzly bears more behavioral opportunities and the ability to make more choices about how and where to spend their time, as well as how much of that time they want to spend near one another. The DZS is always striving to create habitats that promote great welfare and increased choice is an important part of that.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics.

 

Busting Green Myths with Nine Simple Tips

In the face of the changing climate, there are small things we can do to preserve wildlife and wild places for generations to come; however, making any life change can be tough at first. Whether it is quitting a bad habit, starting a new job or even making more sustainable choices in your life, some people find themselves resistant to the unknown. So, what is getting in our way of taking action? Here are three common myths we’ve debunked that prevent people from making more sustainable choices:

Myth No. 1 – Green choices are too expensive.

How many times have you stood in the produce section deciding between an organic option and the cheaper one? Or in the cleaning supplies aisle? You’re definitely not alone. While some sustainable options might not fit your budget, there are simple ways we can go green that can actually help you save some green!

  • Buy locally and seasonally. One way to save money is to choose organic produce that is in season. You’ll pay more for berries in winter than you will in summer. For the month of August, lemons, strawberries, blueberries, potatoes, carrots and avocado are all delicious foods that you can find in abundance and, therefore, at a lower price! Heading to your local farmer’s market is a great way to support your community, see exactly where your food is coming from and buy produce that is at its peak freshness and nutrition.

  • Go meatless. Whether you live a vegan lifestyle or you participate in Meatless Mondays, reducing the amount of meat and animal products can not only save you money, but help the Earth and your health
  • Change how you do laundry. Another way to save money is by washing your clothes in cold water. This helps you avoid using the energy spent on heating the water (and yes, it still gets your clothes clean). Drying your clothes on a line or a rack saves energy too, and also helps prevent air and water pollution.

  • How often do you leave small electronics plugged in but turned off, such as your phone charger, a lamp or the TV? Approximately 50 devices and appliances in the typical American home are constantly draining power – even when you’re not using them. Unplugging is better on energy and for the environment and will save you money on your electric bill. Want to save your company money? Turn off your computer when you leave for the day.

Myth No. 2 – I’m too busy.

  •  Small changes save time. Tossing things in the trash can instead of the recycling bin is one way people try to save their time. Researching what can and can’t be recycled in your area, paying additional fees to have your recycling picked up with your trash (if it isn’t already) and cleaning out containers once they’re empty – it can be a lot of work. One way to avoid this feeling is to reduce your waste. Easier said than done, right? Start out with small changes such as bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store and seeking out items that are free of plastic packaging. To read more on eliminating plastic waste, read our recent blog post.

Myth No. 3 – I can’t make a difference.

One of the biggest myths about sustainability is the idea that small changes don’t matter. But just think what would happen if everyone made one small change you did.

  • Buy smarter. By demonstrating a few smarter decisions each time you make a purchase, you can help make a big impact on the environment. For example, many major manufacturers are cutting down forests to make household paper goods. A switch to tea cloths or reusable cotton kitchen cloths can make a huge difference by decreasing the need for paper products. Did you know that paper towels weren’t sold in grocery stores until 1931? If generations before us could handle life without paper towels, then why can’t we? Another option is to use vinegar in place of the typical all-purpose cleaner. It’s environmentally friendly and costs less than $1 a cup.
  • Change your driving habits. The greenhouse gas emissions from a typical passenger vehicle are approximately 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the EPA . While it may be hard to avoid using your car, try making greener choices about driving. One easy option is to make a habit of not idling your car for more than 30 seconds. If you can, try using public transportation or a bike once a week. If you have plans with a friend who lives nearby, try to carpool. There are plenty of ways to lessen your carbon footprint, and how you drive is just one.

  • Add it up. Through our daily decisions, we have the power to make our lives more environmentally friendly. By choosing to bring your own bags to the store, you can save between 350 and 500 plastic bags each year. By using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles By choosing to line dry instead of using the dryer, you could save close to $200 a year.
  • Speak up! Remember that your voice is powerful. Talk to friends, family and coworkers and use social media to share the changes you’ve made in your life. You could also write a letter to your representative urging them to support environmentally conscious policies. Being an active voice may just inspire others around you to make similar choices.

Making more sustainable choices may seem difficult or inconvenient, but all you have to do is change your perception. Doing so will create a more sustainable future for people, animals and the environment. If you take some of these small steps now, you can save money, time and maybe even the planet.

The Detroit Zoological Society is a leader in environmental sustainability, guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative. By taking the time to overcoming these obstacles to make changes in your life, you can help us take a step forward in our Green Journey.

Notes from the Field: Update on Eurasian Otter Conservation in Armenia

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) continued its field conservation work in Armenia this spring to study and preserve declining populations of endangered Eurasian otters.

Armenia is a nation slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts, but in terms of biodiversity and topographic variation, it boasts an impressive richness. A day’s drive can include visits to snowy mountain passes at an elevation of more than 8,000 feet near the spa town of Jermuk, as well as hot and arid lowlands of the Meghri Valley along the Iranian border. It is a landlocked nation in the Caucasus region between Asia and Europe, but its abundant streams and rivers provide ecological and economic lifeblood for the nation. During this spring’s expedition, we spent a little more than a week traversing the serpentine roads as we followed up on leads and evaluated potential otter habitats.

We began this trip in the capital of Yerevan and worked our way through all of the watersheds in the southern half of the country. A consistent theme throughout the week was high water due to heavy spring rains. This limited our access to the riverbanks and made it challenging to select suitable locations to deploy motion-activated cameras and conduct formal surveys. Previous trips to other watersheds in the north, such as Lake Arpi, had recently yielded numerous photographs and video clips of otters with these cameras, with in some cases as many as four individuals in a single frame. This time around, we had to rely on other methods to document the presence of otters in each of the southern watersheds.

Interviews with local conservationists, fish farmers, anglers and hunters proved to be our most valuable resources. Through these leads, we were able to locate and explore otter habitats and document signs such as footprints, feeding remains and scat. We also visited several fish farms, ranging in size from small residential ponds to larger facilities with dozens of cascading holding pools. In most cases, the fish farmers were challenged by otters raiding their stock, and in some cases, significantly threatening the viability of their entire operation. Dogs are frequently used as a deterrent, and one resident with a small fish pond showed us security camera footage of an otter taking shelter in the water until the dogs were distracted and allowed an opportunity for it to escape. In some cases, we were able to provide counsel to fish farmers regarding what type of perimeter fencing modifications would be effective in excluding otters.

The people of Armenia clearly value their biodiversity and have an openness to learning more about the important role that Eurasian otters play in it. Key challenges ahead for the species appear to be direct human conflict, pollution from mining, and habitat fragmentation due to hydroelectric dams. The DZS will continue to work with Armenian researchers to document the distribution of otters and strengthen efforts to establish protected areas for them.

– Brian Manfre is a mammal department supervisor for the Detroit Zoological Society.

A Little Goes a Long Way: Adapting to Minimalist Living

With the growing popularity of shows such as “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” or “Tiny House Hunters,” it has become evident that minimalist living is now mainstream. This lifestyle is centered on living with less. Minimalism is about changing the way you think about the things you own and surrounding yourself only with items that have purpose.

Experience Over Things

Minimalists stress the value of experiences over things; “things” waste time and money and may invoke joy for only a brief period. While trying new things, you have time to soak in the moment and really enjoy life. After all, as cheesy as it may sound, a memory is a souvenir that will last forever. Some take this principle of minimalism to mean that they should take as many vacations as possible, but that isn’t necessarily the case. While vacations are great opportunities to try new things, new experiences can be found right around the corner – such as a trip to the Detroit Zoo, which has been proven to reduce stress.

The Decluttering Process

To be able to shift our focus to the more important items in our lives, we must first get rid of the stuff that clutters them. Successfully decluttering requires you to go through every room in your house reexamining the things you own, from your clothes to your furniture and everything in between. This can seem like a daunting task at first, but there are a couple of great methods to help you declutter:

  • KonMari Method: Growing in popularity thanks to her popular Netflix show Marie Kondo’s “KonMari Method” involves sorting through your belongings and asking yourself if the items spark joy. For all the items that do not spark joy, Kondo suggests letting them go.
  • The 90/90 Rule: For those household items that don’t necessarily invoke happiness but still feel difficult to give up – we’re looking at you cleaning supplies – try the 90/90 rule: If you haven’t used the item in the past 90 days and can’t see yourself using it in the upcoming 90, then it is okay to get rid of.

When it comes to saying goodbye to all the clutter, try to donate and recycle as much as you can. The Salvation Army will take everything from clothes to furniture and will even pick it up right from your house!

Changing the Way You Shop

To avoid falling down the rabbit hole of “stuff” again, minimalism requires us to challenge the consumerist habits we’ve developed. To change the way you shop in-store, first take stock of what you have at home. Currently more than 30 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted, so when grocery shopping, try to empty your fridge before buying more. Make your food last by purchasing food items that pair well with your leftovers or even find ways to reinvent them by using the left over ingredients to create a brand new dish, like baking over-ripe fruit into a delicious bread or making a sweet jam. This will save you time and money. Most importantly, create a grocery list and stick to it to avoid any impulse buys and make sure you leave the store with only what you need.

While many of us love to shop for new clothes, the fashion industry has largely become unsustainable; it takes more than 700 gallons of water just to produce one cotton T-shirt. Not only does the clothing industry use a tremendous amount of water, but it is also responsible for 20 percent of industrial water pollution. Instead of filling your closet with trendy “fast fashion” pieces that go out of style as fast as they are produced, minimalism calls for a smaller wardrobe of better-constructed, classic pieces that will last longer and won’t go out of style. In fact, many minimalists’ wardrobes consist of less than 30 items. Having a minimal wardrobe will save you money and eliminate extra time spent debating outfit choices.

The Bare Necessities

As the name suggests, minimalists only possess the bare minimum with regard to the entire household, not just the kitchen and closet. Minimalism décor is as simple as possible – bright colors, ornate patterns and art-covered walls all lead to distractions and oftentimes require frequent changes as trends evolve. Minimalists opt for more neutral color choices and fewer knick-knacks. Furniture should also be simplified; an entire minimalist bedroom can be complete with merely a bed, a nightstand and a lamp.

Many of us today have multiple niche appliances, but most of these can be pared down. For example, instead of owning a microwave, a toaster oven, and an air fryer, a minimalist home will only include a traditional oven. The same goes with electronics; instead of a TV in every room, keep only one or ditch it all together and use your laptop to watch TV, saving money and space.

When we only own the household items that are truly necessary, the amount of space in your home will significantly increase. This is why many minimalists have taken up “tiny living” by moving into homes that are often smaller than 500 square feet. Tiny homes are great for the environment because they take up less land, require less energy and can even be built inside old shipping containers.

Good for the Environment and Good for You, Too

The minimalist lifestyle can not only save you time and money, but it can benefit your health as well. Clutter has been proven to increase stress levels and lead to procrastination. By committing to a minimalist lifestyle, you can reduce unwanted stress from your life.

Consumerism has contributed to more than 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a leading cause of climate change. As minimalism aims to stop consumerism, it is a great lifestyle for reducing your impact on the environment. Additionally, by only owning and purchasing what you need, you will considerably reduce your waste output.

Through our award-winning Greenprint initiative, the Detroit Zoological Society is working to create a more sustainable future for wildlife and wild places. Choosing a minimalist lifestyle is one way you can join us on our Green Journey.