Polar Bear Cub Development and Welfare: A Team Effort from the Detroit Zoo

This photo of Suka and Astra was taken by Dr. Kylen N. Gartland.

What’s more exciting than a polar bear cub? Two polar bear cubs! The birth of any animal here at the Detroit Zoo is exciting, but polar bears offer special cause for celebration. The Detroit Zoo is proudly home to the Arctic Ring of Life – one of North America’s largest state-of-the-art polar bear habitats. These rambunctious new cubs will grow up exploring the more than 4 acres of outdoor and indoor habitats and are the latest polar bears to call the Detroit Zoo home.

Astra and Laerke were born to mom, Suka, and dad, Nuka, on November 17, 2020. Staff from all over the Zoo watched specially equipped cameras in Suka’s maternity den with bated breath, waiting for the arrival of little Astra and Laerke. Once the cubs made their appearance, it was all hands on deck. Even with expert care, polar bear cubs have a high mortality rate in captivity. With this in mind, the question at the forefront of everyone’s mind was a relatively straightforward one – how do we give these cubs the best shot at long, happy and healthy lives?

Newborn polar bears are blind, thinly haired and weigh only around one pound. Despite being born between November and December, mothers and newborn cubs usually remain in the maternal den until late March or even early April. What happens in those five months is largely unknown. There has been very little long-term monitoring on polar bear cubs due to obstacles such as camera placement and staffing availability, which make observing activity in the maternal den challenging. With the combined efforts of team members with diverse skills and backgrounds, the Detroit Zoological Society has undertaken to monitor and report on the growth and development of Astra and Laerke through their first full year of life. With this project, Detroit Zoological Society staff hope not only to ensure that Astra and Laerke thrive, but also to provide a crucial resource for other zoological institutions around the world endeavoring to rear polar bear cubs.

This photo of Laerke was taken by Dr. Kylen N. Gartland.

In order to pursue this goal, the Detroit Zoological Society staff needed to come up with a plan that would grow and change alongside Astra and Laerke. Additionally, we needed to be able to monitor the well-being of the cubs from multiple perspectives, both physical and emotional. Phase One of this project has been championed largely by the Arctic Ring of Life staff, mammal curators, veterinarians and the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE). Just a few days after birth, Laerke appeared to need extra support. After careful consideration, we made the difficult decision to remove Laerke from Suka’s care and continue rearing her in the veterinary hospital. With staff never more than a radio call away, Laerke spent her first few months growing and thriving in a behind-the-scenes nursery before transitioning to her own living space at the Arctic Ring of Life. During this time, we were able to weigh Laerke, measure her, and monitor milestones in her growth. It is important to establish normal developmental ranges so that veterinary staff can assess the health and well-being of the animals under their care. Data gathered by tracking Laerke’s growth spurts and noting her key developmental milestones will go a long way towards understanding the needs of baby polar bears. Meanwhile, using cameras in the behind-the-scenes maternal den, we were able to observe Suka and Astra 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. While the presence of cameras in zoological settings is not unusual, prolonged 24/7 monitoring certainly is! Detroit Zoological Society staff came together to share this monumental task for a full 12 weeks. Animal care staff watched more than 2,000 hours of recorded video (120,960 minutes!) and gathered invaluable data on mother-cub denning behavior.

With hundreds of hours of video data, scientists from CZAAWE offered to help with data analysis, freeing up animal care staff to focus on the growing needs of the cubs. Using this valuable dataset, we have been able to answer questions critical to early polar bear development. How frequently does a baby polar bear nurse? When does a baby polar bear leave the nest for the first time? What does maternal behavior look like for a polar bear? With recent transitions to live observations, we have been able to watch as the cubs become increasingly confident and exploratory. We continue to work together to provide peak care and ensure excellent welfare for Astra and Laerke as they approach their eighth month. We look forward to keeping you updated on their progress!


– Dr. Kylen N. Gartland is manager of applied animal welfare science for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Studying Animal Responses to the Pandemic Zoo Closure—One Year Later

This photo of red panda Scarlet was taken by Jennifer Harte.

The early days of the Covid-19 pandemic were an unprecedented time at the Detroit Zoo. When the Zoo closed as part of a statewide lockdown in March 2020, the absence of visitors was palpable. Walking the grounds in the budding spring weather, it was eerily quiet, the usual sounds of school groups and families replaced by birdsong and the hum of traffic outside the Zoo. The Zoo is usually open to guests 362 days of the year, and we realized that this sudden quietus was an opportunity. We had a chance to understand how animals experienced life at the Zoo in the absence of visitors—not just for a night or a holiday but, potentially, for months.

Being around human visitors is a defining feature of life for animals in zoos and aquariums. For this reason, visitor effects are an important topic in the study of animal welfare, which is the science investigating the physical, behavioral, and mental lives of animals to understand how they are faring overall. Animal welfare scientists try to understand life from the animals’ perspective. In this case, we wondered, what did the animals think when the crowds suddenly disappeared? Some people might assume that animals enjoy people watching, while others might suspect that visitors can be an annoyance. The scientific literature on visitor effects supports both ideas. Studies show that visitors can have a positive, neutral, or sometimes negative effect on animals living in zoos and aquariums. How would the residents of the Detroit Zoo respond?

Researchers at the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE) asked this question by collecting data on the behavior, use of space, and (in some cases) hormone levels of animals across the Zoo. For most projects, we collected data for about a month while the Zoo was closed and for another month after reopening. We monitored red pandas, southern white rhinoceroses, trumpeter swans, red kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, Catalina Island rattlesnakes, European glass lizards, beaded lizards, Arrau turtles, dwarf caimans, and a spiny-tailed iguana. We quickly realized that one challenge of this research was that the animals were very attentive to the sudden change in visitor patterns. They were alert to our activities, so we put our binoculars to good use, conducting our observations from a distance and hoping not to influence the behaviors we were recording.

The results of our research were as diverse as the creatures we studied. The iguana used more of his habitat when the Zoo was open, and both rattlesnakes were more active when the Zoo was open as well. However, the glass lizards spent more time hiding after the Zoo reopened. They were also more likely to be not visible when visitors were tapping on the glass of their enclosures, demonstrating an important point. Actions taken to get a response from animals might seem innocent, but imagine if someone was pounding on the door to your house all day—you might hide too. It shows that we all have a collective responsibility for the welfare of animals at the Zoo.

Although we saw differences in behavior with the Zoo open and closed, it was often unclear whether those changes represented a difference in overall welfare. The red kangaroos were an interesting example. We chose to study them because their walk-through habitat can potentially put guests in proximity to them. We found that in response to visitor presence, the kangaroos changed their schedule so they utilized the area around the visitor path more frequently in the morning, before visitors reached their habitat. However, there were no signs that this change impacted their overall well-being. Of course, by the time the Zoo reopened, we were transitioning from spring to summer, so we cannot rule out the possibility that warmer temperatures played a role in these trends. This example shows the complexity of studying human-animal relationships in the Zoo, as the effects of visitors can be difficult to isolate from other seasonal or environmental changes. A year later, we are still combing through the piles of data we collected during the statewide lockdown. Our results have shown many behavioral differences when the Zoo was closed versus open, but most of the effects were quite subtle. It is possible that the return of visitors at lower than normal capacities might have affected the results. The Zoo’s welfare-focused habitat designs, which give animals choices about whether or not to be seen and where to spend their time, may also make animals feel comfortable in their living spaces whether or not visitors are present. Using science, we can continue to investigate these important questions as part of a comprehensive approach to ensuring animals at the Detroit Zoo thrive.

– Dr. Grace Fuller is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Detroit Zoological Society Announces Dr. Grace Fuller as New Director of Animal Welfare

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is pleased to announce Dr. Grace Fuller as the organization’s new director of animal welfare and the leader of the DZS’s Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE). 

“I feel fortunate to embark on this next phase of my career with an organization that recognizes animal welfare to be the beating heart of the modern zoo,” said Dr. Fuller. “I look forward to continuing CZAAWE’s strong welfare monitoring and research programs, while exploring innovative ways to assess and understand animal welfare.” 

Dr. Fuller earned a Ph.D. in biology at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and has more than a decade of experience in applied animal welfare science. Her dissertation work examined the hormonal and behavioral implications of design on the welfare of nocturnal primates in zoos. She went on to complete a post-doc with Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom.

Grace joined the Detroit Zoological Society in 2014 as the manager of applied animal welfare science at CZAAWE, which was established in 2009. CZAAWE is a resource center for captive animal welfare knowledge; a convener and forum for exotic animal welfare science, practice and policy discussions; and a center conducting research and training, and recognizing advances in exotic animal welfare.

Dr. Fuller led the development of the CZAAWE endocrinology lab and program, which uses non-invasive measures of hormones and other physiological indicators of welfare to help understand how animals at the Detroit Zoo are faring. The team measures hormones using molted penguin feathers, Japanese giant salamander skin sheds, giraffe saliva, and fecal samples from many different species. The CZAAWE lab has pioneered new methods that provide insights into different facets of animal welfare, including positive welfare states. 

“With Dr. Fuller in this pivotal position, the Detroit Zoological Society continues to bring scientific rigor and compassion to conservation and animal welfare,” said Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO for the Detroit Zoological Society.

– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Here’s the Scoop: Injured Pelican Finds Refuge at the Detroit Zoo

An American white pelican believed to have survived last Michigan’s winter with fractures in both wings and an injured right foot has now found refuge at the Detroit Zoo after she was left behind by her scoop in Monroe, Michigan.

“It is uncommon that American white pelicans migrate through Michigan, but it happens from time to time,” said Bonnie Van Dam, associate curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society. “Unfortunately, when the rest of the pelicans left the area to continue on their migration, this girl simply couldn’t.”

In early May, concerned citizens reported seeing an injured bird at the Port of Monroe. She was picked up by a local licensed rehabilitator who then called the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) for help when the pelican was deemed non-releasable due to her injuries and refused to eat. When she arrived at the Detroit Zoo, she was weak, malnourished and unable to walk.  

“When we received her, she was underweight for the species – around 8 pounds,” said Van Dam. “After spending some time recuperating at the Detroit Zoo, she was able to pack on an extra 2 pounds. The average weight of an American white pelican can range from 10 to 15 pounds.”

During a medical examination, the DZS animal care staff determined that her injuries to both wings were old fractures, while her right foot injury seemed to be more recent. The cause of her injuries is unknown. 

“Quite honestly, she’s very tough,” said Van Dam. “It’s truly amazing that she was able to survive and keep herself fed with all of her injuries.”

DZS veterinary staff used two splint designs over a period of two months on her foot, which has since healed to the point where she can now use it. The damage to her wings, however, has rendered her permanently unable to fly. The American white pelican has joined four pink-backed pelicans in the American Grasslands habitat at the Detroit Zoo. 

“We’re still thinking on her name. We want to make sure we give her one that is strong and fitting of her personality,” said Van Dam. 

The newcomer can be distinguished by her larger stature, bright yellow beak and whiter feathers, with black tips on her wings. 

– Alexandra Bahou is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Male Chimpanzee Born at Detroit Zoo in January Successfully Unites with Adoptive Mom

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.

Photo by Roy Lewis.

“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.”

Photo by Roy Lewis.

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.

Photo by Jennifer Harte.

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.

Frog-Themed Activities in Honor of World Frog Day!

Spring is finally here — and so is World Frog Day! The weather is gradually warming up and plants are bursting through the soil, preparing to dazzle us with their blooms. Spring also brings the beautiful sounds of frogs and toads calling to each other. In honor of World Frog Day, we are sharing frog-themed activities that can be done at home with minimal supplies.

PT Borneo eared frog

Frogs live on six of the Earth’s seven continents, all of them except Antarctica. They are all different colors and sizes. The largest species of frog, the goliath frog, measures 8” to 12” in length. That is about the size of a piece of copy paper!  The smallest known frog, one of the microhylid frogs, measures less than half an inch, about the width of a regular size paperclip. If you have children at home, pull out a paper clip and a piece of copy paper. Have them compare the items to objects around the house to see what is larger than the world’s largest frog and what is smaller than the world’s smallest frog. Comparing sizes of different things helps people build number sense, or an intuitive understanding of numbers, an important skill for all of us to master, especially young children.

Green Mantella - Adam Dewey

Michigan is home to 13 species of frogs and toads. It is usually easier to hear them calling or singing to each other, than it is to actually see them. That is because they are well camouflaged, meaning they blend in with their surroundings. It is important to know which species of frogs and toads live in certain areas. They are considered bioindicators, which means they are species of animals who are greatly impacted by the health of the environment. If the water, wetlands and other places they live are polluted or contaminated, they cannot survive. If their habitat is clean and healthy, many species or individuals will be living there, all calling out to each other in a beautiful chorus.

FrogWatch - Bullfrog

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) leads a FrogWatch Chapter (aza.org/frogwatch and detroitzoo.org/animals/frogwatch/) to train people, like you, to recognize and record frog calls around Michigan. The data that people submit helps DZS staff and researchers to analyze and better understand frog populations throughout our area and across the country.

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This spring, consider spending time outside in the evening to listen for frogs and toads. You can practice being a frog and toad researcher, or a citizen scientist, by learning the calls and recording information like date, temperature, weather conditions, the time you start and stop listening, and the species you hear. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has short recordings of each species on their website to help you learn them. Practicing recording data is an important skill, especially for kids. Send your data to Rebecca Johnson (rjohnson@dzs.org) or Mike Reed (mreed@dzs.org). Next year, you can join us for training to become a certified FrogWatch participant. The earliest calling frogs will be starting soon, the wood frogs and spring peepers, so pick a night where the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and head outside to listen!

 

Getting a Closer Look Inside Animals: Computed Tomography Comes to the Detroit Zoological Society

As zoo veterinarians, we recognize the importance of identifying animals with health problems as early as possible. Fortunately, the Detroit Zoological Society has exceptional zookeepers who attentively look after each animal in their care and alert the veterinary team whenever they suspect there may be a problem. While subtle changes in demeanor, appetite, fecal and urinary output, and activity level can be key indicators of illness in an animal, most of our patients are very good at hiding their symptoms. In order to get a more comprehensive understanding of an animal’s health, we often rely on diagnostic tests, such as physical examination, bloodwork and cultures for bacteria.

When the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex opened in 2004, the radiology suite was equipped with a state-of-the-art radiology unit designed for use in human hospitals.  With this upgrade, we found that we increasingly relied on diagnostic imaging (radiographs and ultrasound) to make diagnoses and shape our treatment plans.  In fact, we take x-rays during almost every diagnostic examination, on patients as small as dart frogs and as large as bison.

Since the early 2000s, imaging technology has been rapidly advancing, and by upgrading equipment and adding new technologies, the Detroit Zoological Society has stayed on the cutting edge of veterinary care.  This includes having ultrasound probes designed for patients of all shapes and sizes, digital dental radiography and portable x-ray equipment that can go out into the Zoo to image animals who are difficult to move to the hospital. Despite these advancements, we still found it necessary to take patients to off-site facilities at least a few times each year for computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

In late 2019, two very exciting things happened: first, a generous donor named Thomas A. Mackey came forward with an interest in funding a project that would have an immediate impact on animal care and welfare, and, secondly, we became aware of a revolutionary new computed tomography (CT) technology that had been developed in Ann Arbor.  One of the most important features of the new CT technology is that it is portable, and much more affordable and user-friendly than a full-sized CT system. Since our hospital was already equipped with the features and space necessary to install the new system, within just a few months, we were able to bring this exciting new technology to the Zoo.

The new Xoran Portable CT has been in use for only a few months, but it has already had a tremendous impact on patient care at the Detroit Zoo.  Adding CT to our diagnostic toolbox has increased the level of care that we can provide to animals at DZS exponentially. CT works by aiming a narrow beam of x-rays at a patient, while quickly rotating around them. The CT’s computer generates cross-sectional images, or “slices” of the body.  The images contain more detailed information than conventional x-rays.  Once the slices are generated, they can be digitally “stacked” together to form a 3-D image that allows for easier identification and location of basic structures as well as possible tumors or abnormalities.

Here are just a few examples of how this technology is helping us give animals the best possible care:

CASE #1
CT imaging is especially well suited for visualizing the teeth and bones of the jaw. A male aardvark was due for a routine checkup. He had been eating fine, and there was no reason to suspect that he had dental disease. However, aardvarks often have problems with their teeth, so we decided to use the CT machine to scan his head. The images collected showed that he had areas of bone breakdown around the roots of three separate teeth. Treatment was able to be provided before his condition progressed to a point where he was showing signs of discomfort.

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CASE #2
This adult McCord’s box turtle was imaged during a routine examination. The shell covering the body can make radiographs hard to interpret, but CT imaging allows us to see inside of the turtle.

McCord’s box turtle: a. Image of the head and forearms, b. image from the side showing the head and neck folded into the shell, c. 3D reconstruction of the face and front limbs seen in image a.

a. 1  b. 23                                                 c.

CASE #3
CT imaging has also proved helpful for several avian patients. One of the cinereous vultures living at the Zoo had a mass (red star) growing on the toe pictured below. The mass needed to be removed, but in order to plan for surgery, we needed to understand if the mass was superficial or more invasive and involved the soft tissues and bone beneath. CT imaging provided better detail for seeing small changes in the muscles and ligaments surrounding the mass. After evaluating the images, we were able to plan a surgical approach to remove the mass, and any adjacent tissue of concern. The vulture is doing great post-operatively and already back in his home!

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CASE #4
We currently have four red pandas living at the Detroit Zoo. The oldest is a 14-year-old female named Ta-Shi. During her recent routine examination, we noticed that one of her large molar teeth appeared darker than normal and was cracked on the surface. Within a few moments, we were set up and ready to collect CT images of her head and teeth. The images showed that the tooth was infected at the root, a problem that was likely causing discomfort. The tooth was also broken, meaning it needed to be removed in several pieces. After the tooth was extracted, a repeat CT showed us conclusively that all of the roots had been completely removed.

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We are extraordinarily grateful to have state-of-the-art equipment at hand to care for animals at the Detroit Zoo. The recent financial gift that made the addition of CT possible has improved our ability to see small changes more clearly, detect problems earlier and fine-tune treatments. With this tool, we will continue to ensure that animals live long, healthy lives and thrive within our care. We cannot say thank you enough to Thomas A. Mackey for his incredibly generous donation!

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

 

 

Share Your Love of Sustainability with Your Sweetheart

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Whether you like chocolate or candy, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to share many delicious treats with your loved ones. There’s just one problem: not all of these treats are created equal when it comes to sustainability. Many food products, including a large amount of candy, contains an ingredient that has major effects on wildlife: palm oil.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of oil palm. It is used in a wide variety of products, especially in food and cleaning supplies. One positive aspect of palm oil is that less land is required to create the same yield as other vegetable oils. However, the demand for this product has become so high that land is being deforested at a very rapid rate to create space for these plantations. This deforestation is a direct contributor to habitat loss for many species, and it is estimated that the palm oil industry impacts 193 species with concerning conservation statuses. Among those impacted are species like orangutans, rhinos and tigers. Specifically, scientists believe that the 17% decline observed in the Sumatran subspecies of tiger over the past 20 years is heavily due to deforestation for palm oil plantations.

So, what qualifies as sustainable palm oil? The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a group formed to maintain standards and certify organizations producing and sourcing sustainable palm oil. There are several RSPO-certified producers that have committed to stopping certain industry actions to create better practices for both wildlife and people. These new standards call for transparency, the elimination of deforestation and better working conditions for laborers. By making these commitments, producers and organizations can work together to create a demand for sustainably sourced palm oil in our everyday products.

Consider the following actions to decrease the demand for unsustainable palm oil:

Support sustainable companies. Buy food, such as your Valentine’s Day candy, and other products from companies that source their palm oil from sustainable farms.

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Make your voice heard. Did you notice a certain company was not committed to using sustainable palm oil? Write them a letter to share your concerns and encourage more environmentally conscious operations. Our consumer voice can be quite impactful.

Create homemade gifts. Make a batch of cookies or chocolate-covered strawberries to gift instead of purchasing something from the store. Not only are you showing someone you care, but you can ensure that each ingredient used is a sustainable one.

Marissa Ratzenberger is a sustainability coordinator for the Detroit Zoological Society

 

Build Empathy for Local Wildlife with Remote Cameras

An important aspect of humane education is building students’ empathy for other animals, including wildlife. One method of building empathy for wildlife is providing experiences that allow people to observe the animals firsthand. At the Detroit Zoo, guests have many opportunities to watch exotic wildlife in expansive, naturalistic habitats. However, people’s opportunities to observe local wildlife can be more limited. Deer, raccoons and other animals may share our local environment, but some of them are nocturnal and tend to be inactive when most people are active. Other animals are fearful of humans and try to avoid contact.

To address this challenge, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) educators are adopting a technology commonly used by conservation researchers: remote cameras. Remote cameras allow researchers to record images and videos of wildlife without the need to be physically present to press a button. While researchers use these images to monitor wildlife populations, humane educators can also use them to give students a look at the local wildlife who may be hard to spot. These experiences can help students empathize with their animal neighbors.

City Critters is just one of the programs where DZS educators are using remote cameras. In this program, DZS educators train preservice teachers to lead humane education lessons to elementary school students. The 45-minute lessons include an activity in which the students analyze images from a network of remote cameras in Detroit parks, operated by the University of Michigan’s Applied Wildlife Ecology (AWE) Lab. By analyzing these images, the students learn about the raccoons, opossums, squirrels, geese and other wildlife who share their local environment. Remote cameras are also incorporated into The Humane Education Horticulture Program. In this program, DZS educators have helped students at Oakland County Children’s Village install remote cameras in a nearby forest and wetland so they can identify the wildlife in the area. Over the past month, the cameras have recorded images of many animals, including rabbits and deer.

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERAAn image of a white-tailed deer recorded near Oakland County Children’s Village

By observing images and videos of local wildlife, students learn more about these animals’ experiences. For example, they may learn that rabbits are most active in the early morning, or that deer often raise their heads when they are feeding. Over time, students may also come to see themselves as members of a more-than-human community. For instance, the students at Children’s Village are now noting other signs of wildlife on their campus, including tracks, scat and vocalizations.

You can use remote cameras to build empathy for local wildlife, too! One option is to participate in Michigan ZoomIN, a public science project in which people can help researchers at the AWE Lab analyze images from their remote camera network. For more information about the project, click here: zooniverse.org/projects/michiganzoomin/michigan-zoomin. Another option is to purchase a remote camera and install it in your backyard. You can find a wide range of cameras for sale online or at your local sporting goods store. If you install a remote camera in your backyard, be sure not to bait it with food or other attractants. Baiting cameras is not necessary, and it can harm the animals.

– Stephen Vrla and Claire Lannoye-Hall are curators of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Environmental E-Cycling Extravaganza

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The Detroit Zoological Society celebrated America Recycles Day on November 15 by hosting a community e-cycling (electronics recycling) drive at the Detroit Zoo. We received a whopping 36,000 pounds (18 tons) of old tube televisions, outdated computer equipment and a variety of broken household electronics – the weight equivalent to seven rhinos!  All of the material was recycled responsibly, alleviating our community members’ basements and avoiding the landfill.

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Recycling electronics is vital to our environment since not only does it divert waste from Michigan’s landfills (according to the EPA, electronics accounts for 20-50 million tons of global waste), but it also reduces hazardous waste from seeping into the soil and groundwater.  This is significant when you consider that the average old tube TV or computer monitor contains approximately 5 pounds of lead!

Recycled electronics are also filled with valuable minerals such as silicon, tin, copper, lead and gold; all of these minerals are required for future electronics. By recovering these minerals through recycling, we can reduce our reliance on mining raw materials from the earth.  Mining creates a host of problems including deforestation, destruction of habitats and creation of pollution.  Currently, only 12.5 percent of e-waste gets recycled, according to the EPA.  Rather than focusing on mining jungles for raw materials for new electronics, perhaps we should start focusing on a more sustainable place – the urban jungle.

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With the holiday season upon us and the latest and greatest electronic gadgets on many folks’ wish list, please consider the following actions:

  • Resist upgrading. Challenge yourself to use your current device longer (cell phone, tablet, etc.)
  • Purchase refurbished or older models. Support the recycling market and save yourself money
  • Recycle your unwanted electronics. Rather than keeping them in a drawer or your basement, recycle and return the needed minerals to use for future electronics

Many electronic manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, etc.) will take back their products for recycling.  For local recycling, SOCRRA, located at 995 Coolidge in Troy, takes electronics if you are a SOCRRA resident or business (member cities are Berkley, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Lathrup Village, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Troy).  Research your local recycling facilities and decrease your e-waste impact.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.