Is Three a Crowd? DZS Research Finds Innovative Approaches in Gorilla Housing, Welfare

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. 

Take Your Birding to the Next Level with eBird! 

Many golden-crowned kinglets use Zoo grounds during migration from the end of March just into May and from the end of September into the beginning of November.

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.

Pictured is a common yellowthroat, a species of warbler that routinely uses Detroit Zoo habitat throughout May as a migratory stopover area.

A Song in the Darkness: Audio Loggers and Panama’s Imperiled Amphibians

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). 

A Warzewitsch’s frog was identified in the area.

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. 

A rainforest rocket frog was identified in the area.

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.

Learn more about the EVACC foundation and make a donation online to help them ensure the survival of Panamanian amphibian species for generations to come.

Mark Vassallo is pictured with an audio logger.

A “Purrfect” Partnership: Collaborative efforts create ideal situations for tiger breeding

Staff with The Detroit Zoo have been working together to monitor Ameliya, an Amur tiger. Photo credit: Jennifer Harte

Authored by Emily Bovee, CZAAWE lab assistant

A little teamwork can go a long way — especially when it comes to caring for the animals who call the Detroit Zoo home. Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE) staff recently teamed up with fellow Zoo employees to ensure two of the Zoo’s feline residents have the best possible opportunity to bring a litter of cubs into the world. 

Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) were the first species to be part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan, a program aimed at supporting the conservation of endangered species by maintaining the genetic diversity of AZA populations. Breeding animals in zoos can be surprisingly challenging, even for the most amorous of Amur tigers! As a solitary species, wild adult Amur tigers generally live alone. Females and males will only meet briefly to mate before parting ways. Tigers living in AZA-accredited zoos are often housed separately, thus the timing of breeding introductions is extremely important. The successful birth of healthy cubs requires some coordination and planning from experts in the field. The last time efforts were made to breed tigers at the Detroit Zoo was in 2003 when healthy cubs were born. 

Team members have been monitoring how Ameliya and Nikolai interact with each other.

Collaborations between different departments at the Detroit Zoo provide staff opportunities to examine the welfare of the animals from new and diverse perspectives. Recently, CZAAWE staff started working with mammal supervisor Melissa Thueme and animal care specialist Sarah Semegen to assist with tiger breeding efforts. The two resident Amur tigers, male Nikolai and female Ameliya, rotate through the public enclosure and a second outdoor tiger yard behind the scenes. 

CZAAWE uses an on-campus endocrinology lab to non-invasively measure indicators of physiological welfare such as hormones — a fancy way of saying we analyze a lot of poop! With the amount of poop collected from animals big and small throughout the Zoo, CZAAWE depends on the intrepid lab volunteers who spend hours crushing samples to prepare them for lab testing. This can include hormones that may indicate changes in reproductive states such as testosterone, estradiol and progesterone. 

Hormone data, along with behavioral observations, can help track Ameliya’s cycles.

Using fecal samples collected by animal care staff from Ameliya, CZAAWE first monitored estradiol, an estrogen hormone involved in the regulation of the estrous cycle. This allowed us to assess if Ameliya had an active cycle and determine the timing of her cycles. The hormone data supplements and confirms animal care staff behavioral observations, which can also be used to track reproductive cycles. Indicators of her estrous cycle included behaviors such as chuffing (an affectionate throaty vocalization!), rubbing on walls and mesh, rolling on the ground, and being friendly toward Nikolai and animal care staff. In only a few days, she can switch from snarling and swatting at Nikolai to chuffing and cheek rubbing! Using a combination of hormonal monitoring and behavioral cues, animal care staff can determine the ideal time for facilitating interactions between Ameliya and Nikolai that are more likely to result in a successful breeding attempt. 

After a potentially successful breeding introduction, the CZAAWE lab staff can shift to monitoring Ameliya’s progesterone levels. Progesterone is a hormone that maintains pregnancy and gets the body ready for and supports a developing fetus. Examining her progesterone levels will allow us to non-invasively detect a possible pregnancy and make sure our care protocols provide excellent support for the mother-to-be. While we are not yet listening for the pitter-patter of tiny tiger paws, we are hopeful that the continued collaboration between animal care staff and CZAAWE will mean healthy tiger cubs in the future.

The collaboration between Zoo departments will help Ameliya and Nikolai be in the ideal situation for potential breeding.

Connecting With Wildlife in an Artful Way

Authored by Ashley Ciricola, curator of fine and performing arts for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

The Detroit Zoo is home to many mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. But did you know the Zoo is also home to a variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs and other pieces of art?

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.

Foreshadowing the Amphibian Crisis: The Wyoming Toad

Authored by Blake Klocke, curator of amphibians for The Detroit Zoological Society

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is helping a species hop back from extinction!

The Wyoming toad was once found in abundance in the Laramie River Basin. However, catastrophic population declines were observed throughout the 1970s. By 1983, the Wyoming toad was thought to be extinct. Biologists could make no clear determination for the cause of the decline.

With a bit of luck, a small population of about 20 animals was rediscovered in 1987 at Mortenson Lake, bringing hope that the species could be saved. Rescuing the species by bringing it into captivity was the only option to avoid extinction.

Amphibian Chytrid Fungus and Preventing Amphibian Extinctions

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, amphibian declines were common around the globe – something that puzzled biologists. At the time, there was no obvious answer as to why multiple amphibian species were rapidly disappearing in Australia, Central America and the United States. In 1998, the amphibian chytrid fungus – a microscopic primitive fungi – was discovered to be the cause of disease resulting in these declines. Biologists have attributed the amphibian chytrid fungus to be the primary cause of approximately 100 amphibian extinctions and to have impacted more than 700 amphibian species. No other wildlife disease has impacted biodiversity as much as this fungus. 

The Wyoming toad is highly susceptible to the amphibian chytrid fungus. The National Amphibian Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo was built in part as a response to the amphibian biodiversity crisis, which assisted in keeping some of the most imperiled species away from the edge of extinction. The Wyoming toads at Detroit Zoo live in a biosecure room, which keeps them safe from being potentially exposed to the disease!

Ex-situ rescue, which is when a species is brought out of the wild into captivity for conservation, is a last resort. Unfortunately, we are often left with no other options. Rescuing a species in captivity requires intensive management to maintain the population, and it’s a long-term commitment by a dedicated and passionate team.

Wyoming Toads at the DZS

The DZS was an early partner in rescuing Wyoming toads, welcoming our first toads in 1995. A Species Survival Program (SSP) was also formed in 1996 to organize efforts among zoo partners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The amphibian team at the DZS has produced 10,730 Wyoming toad tadpoles, toadlets and adults for reintroduction since joining the program in 2001! These animals are bred at the DZS and later sent to Wyoming to be released into the wild. The Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics at the Detroit Zoo has also led studies that have helped improve the husbandry of Wyoming toads in captivity by comparing the preferences for substrate, which improves our care for this very important species.

Caring for Wyoming Toads at the Detroit Zoo

Mike Andrus is the primary colleague who takes care of the Wyoming toads at the DZS, and his years of experience in the amphibian department caring for these toads is one of the keys to Detroit Zoo’s success. Mike handles more than 30 toads at the Zoo

Mike Andrus is the primary colleague who takes care of the Wyoming toads at the DZS, and his years of experience in the amphibian department caring for these toads is one of the keys to Detroit Zoo’s success. Mike handles more than 30 toads at the Zoo, where he carefully cycles the temperature throughout the year, including when he places the toads in a refrigerator to hibernate. This process requires a lot of fine-tuning and experience – and prepares the toads, which are each equipped with their own individual ID to track genetics, for breeding.

Mike Andrus holds a Wyoming toad in the biosecure room.

Wyoming toad tadpole reintroductions

In June 2022, Mike traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to participate in the reintroduction of Wyoming toad tadpoles. Several thousand tadpoles were sent from SSP partners for reintroductions. It was a busy day, as tadpoles were placed in bags of about 100 animals and methodically distributed around reintroduction sites.

Tadpole reintroductions are very important to continue supporting the recruitment of new toads into the population. In the months following the tadpole reintroductions, hundreds of recently meta morphed toads are found — each one with the potential to make it to adulthood and breed in the wild.

Bags of tadpoles produced by zoos around the country and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acclimate before reintroduction.

Wyoming toad surveys

In August 2022, I participated in the Wyoming toad field surveys and an annual SSP meeting. The team was successful in finding many young toads, likely from tadpole reintroductions and some wild breeding. The most exciting part was finding more than 15 breeding-sized adults! Some of the toads had a small identification tag, demonstrating that reintroduced juveniles and adults from captivity are surviving in the wild.

Wyoming toads were found at all four field sites the team visited, a very good sign for a species that was once thought to be on the verge of extinction. Currently, there is no method to mitigate the amphibian chytrid fungus in the wild, but in recent years there are an increasing number of rediscoveries of species once thought to be extinct and vulnerable species persisting in the presence of chytrid.

We’re optimistic that the Wyoming toad will soon hop back from extinction!

A toad reintroduced months beforehand was found during our surveys and appeared in good health. Adult toads receive a tiny tag, much like a micro-chip for a cat or dog, that let us know who they are when they are found in the wild! 

Thank you to our SSP partners, who make saving this species possible:

• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

• Kansas City Zoo

• Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

• Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium 

• Como Zoo

• Mississippi River Museum

Detroit Zoo Welcomes Nearly 100 Bird Species During Spring Migration

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.

Read more about migration season and how you can help birds arrive at their destinations safely.

Blackpoll warbler

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.

Canada warbler

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.

Learn how you can help reduce light pollution and save birds’ lives.

— Matt Porter is a member of the DZS birds animal care staff.

Flying High: Celebrating World Migratory Bird Day

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.

American robin, Jennifer Harte

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.

Sandhill crane, Patti Truesdell

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.

Window decals can be added to increase visibility and reduce bird-strike.

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.

Amazon Rainforest Conservation Partnership Helps Rural Communities

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. 

We traveled out to the farthest of Amazon Explorama’s lodges, Explor Napo, and settled in for the three nights we’d be staying there. On Monday morning, we packed our lunches, divided into three groups and headed out on the river. Each of the three boats had three to four  people aboard, plus the boat driver. The rides to the schools vary, from as little as 15 minutes to sometimes more than an hour. I was visiting one of the largest communities that first morning, and we spent about 45 minutes on the boat until we arrived at Urco Miraño. 

We spent several hours in the community, distributing a school supply packet to every kindergarten, elementary and high school student (more than 100 all together!), and their teachers. We also delivered supplies for the schools in general and notebooks for the community leaders. Access to quality learning materials is an equity issue. Most families living in rainforest communities don’t have easy access to cities to purchase materials, nor do they always have the financial means to do so. While the Peruvian government provides a school building and teachers, the gap in learning materials puts the remote communities at a distinct disadvantage from their peers in cities. Living in one of the world’s most biodiverse and ecologically important areas makes access to a quality education imperative to the future of the region. 

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.

Addressing Climate Change by Creating a Greener Community

As you walk through The Detroit Zoo, you may notice a lot of trees (follow along on our Trek). Trees are essential to the health of people, animals and the planet, which is why we are committed to taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint by adding even more to our lush grounds.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) pledged to add a total of 2,000 trees by the end of 2022 to our campuses and in Metro Detroit communities. The average tree absorbs 48 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 1,673 gallons of storm water every year. Adding 2,000 trees (to the 7,000 trees currently growing at the Detroit Zoo), will make a big difference for nearby communities by helping to improve air and water quality. We have partnered with ReLeaf Michigan to help us organize group planting projects across Metro Detroit. 

In 2021, the DZS planted 641, and we have full confidence in our ability to plant our total goal by the end of this year. Most recently, Oakland County planted five trees donated by the DZS in celebration of Earth Day 2022.

We are well on our way to achieving our goal of making the world a greener place through sustainable practices such as tree planting.

In addition to other environmental benefits, trees and other vegetation reduce heat island effect (urbanized areas experiencing higher than average temperatures) by providing shade. According to the EPA, shaded surfaces may be 20–45°F cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. The benefits from trees don’t stop there – they also provide shelter and food for birds, insects, and other critters such as squirrels. These animals then disperse the trees’ seeds, allowing new saplings to grow. 

We are meticulously selecting a variety of species of trees to add biodiversity to our campus, as well as focusing on native species, browsable trees (clippings that make great snacks for the animals who live at Detroit Zoo), habitat value (for example, birds are attracted to oak trees), and resistance to climate change.

Our tree planting initiative is only one of the steps we are taking to create greener future. The DZS has developed a unique, green roadmap called the Greenprint. This evolving plan guides our operations and is the plan by which we refine and improve our facilities and daily practices, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy and action in our community. 

View our Shades of Green guide to learn more ways in which you can help lighten your impact on the Earth and the animals that we share it with.