Notes from the Field: Protecting Amphibian Biodiversity in Peru

You heard recently from one of our education experts about how the Detroit Zoological Society is working with Peruvian schools to conserve the rainforest through outreach and education. Conservation of the biodiversity in the Peruvian rainforest has been a priority of the Detroit Zoological Society for over a decade, and we have many programs in the rainforest that help to achieve this goal. One of our programs focuses specifically on amphibians, and that is where I have the great fortune to visit this incredible location.

Boana calcarata

There are over 600 species of frogs in Peru, with more species discovered every day. With this high number of species, Peru is called a “biodiversity hotspot.” These “hotspots” are very important to monitor for changes, because while there are many species they are all very dependent on one another. Small changes can cause drastic effects. Amphibians are some of the most sensitive animals, because their skin absorbs everything in the environment. If amphibians begins to get sick or have difficulty surviving, that is an excellent clue that something is wrong in the environment. All over the world, amphibians are currently having difficulty with changes we are seeing in the environment- because we are seeing global changes, it is extra important to study the animals in areas like the Amazon, where amphibians are in higher concentration, to try and understand patterns in these changes.

Boana calcarata call image

The convict tree frog (Boana calcarata) is a frog found in the Napo River region. This sound recording and image were made by the National Amphibian Conservation Center during a survey.

In order to keep an eye on the amphibians in the Peruvian Amazon, staff from the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center conducts surveys for frogs twice a year. This means we physically go out and look for frogs. Because we know we cannot possibly see all the frogs, also record the songs of frogs at night. Hearing the songs can help us guess numbers of animals singing and help us to hear the songs of species that are difficult to find on visual surveying. In addition to surveys, we monitor weather data in the Napo River valley. We have our own weather station that collects year-round information about the valley region. We also use small data loggers to collect immediate, specific “microclimate” changes where we visualize species breeding (for example: on a specific plant or under leaf litter). The weather data helps us understand both immediate changes in behavior of frogs, as well as changes in populations over time.

Weather stationDr. Ruth Marcec-Greaves downloads six months’ data from the weather station.

While data collection and surveying are important, fostering appreciation of animals in the local community is the primary goal of the visits to Peru. Our hope is that educating the community and creating excitement in future generations will help to preserve these animals for the future. The “Club de Protectores de Anfibios,” or Amphibian Protectors Club, is a club comprised of high school students that are local to the Napo River valley region. The club was founded in order to help impart enthusiasm for amphibians and the environment.

In Peru, there are many misconceptions surrounding frogs. There is a general belief that frogs are bad luck and should be kept away from homes. When the Detroit Zoo staff visited the Amphibian Protectors Club in June of 2019, the club members taught us how the Amphibian Protectors Club is changing the community. The club members performed a play in which they explained another local belief is that a woman will become pregnant if she spends time around frogs. Told from the perspective of high school students, this was a chilling superstition. Through the play, the students explained that by participating in the club they have learned not only that this is a myth, but also frogs are important for human health and humans need to protect frogs. The club members have taught their friends and families frogs are important and have begun to see more frogs in their villages since this change in attitude.

Night HikeAn Amphibian Protector’s Club member observes a frog up close on a night hike.

The students from the club went on an overnight excursion with the National Amphibian Conservation Center staff, where we visited one of our regular field research sites. We took a late night hike in order to see frogs calling and breeding at this special location. At this site, we saw species of frogs the students do not commonly see in their villages. After a good night rest, the club rose early in the morning to hike to the nearby canopy walkway- a breathtaking experience where the club members were able to look down on the rainforest from the treetops. While these students live in the rainforest, many of them have not seen their tropical home from this perspective. They were inspired by this view, observing the unique habitat of rare and diverse species. One club member called it “the view of the animals,” and asked very advanced questions about some of the plants and insects he observed.

Canopy

This was an incredibly rewarding trip. The students showed us that their appreciation for the amphibians is making a difference. While I will not see them in person for a few months, the students will continue to speak with me over a WhatsApp chat (they named our group “Whatsappos,” because “sapo” means toad in Spanish). While I am away, the club meets monthly to survey in their home towns and the students will send me photos and descriptions of frogs the see. Over the app, we talk about the species and have a question and answer session. Their excitement is inspiring and infectious, and I am confident their enthusiasm will be what helps save species.

– Dr. Ruth Marcec-Greaves is the director of the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center.

 

 

Becoming an Eco-Friendly Consumer – How to Spend Your Green on What’s Truly Green

In recent years, businesses have caught on to the fact that “green” sells. In fact, it has been found that products that are sustainable sell better than those that are not. It’s no surprise that the number of eco-friendly products on the market has increased dramatically. However, some companies are guilty of “greenwashing,” a marketing tactic used to make a company appear environmentally friendly when in reality their practices are far from it. With all these new, green products in the marketplace, it can be difficult to know which ones are truly good for the environment. Here are a few tips on how to become an eco-friendly consumer yourself:

  1. Check the Contents

The easiest way to tell if a product is eco-friendly is to check its contents. Here is a list of eco-friendly materials to search for:

  • Recycled or Upcycled: Many companies are turning trash into treasure by using recycled materials or upcycling old materials to make their merchandise. From shoes to backpacks, toys to yoga mats, many of the products we use every day are made from recycled materials. Even fine art is created through upcycling, like the one-of-a-kind sculptures found in the Snares to Wares: Capacity for Change exhibition at the Detroit Zoo. The Snares to Wares initiative upcycles illegal, inhumane snare traps from national parks in Uganda and turns them into sculptures of the animals that could have been trapped in the snares. The sculptures are then sold, providing much-needed income for the Ugandan artists. This is a great example of how repurposing materials can benefit not only the environment but also the lives of animals and humans.

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  • Organic: The non-organic agriculture industry uses pesticides and fertilizers that have negative impacts on the health of the environment, wildlife and humans. Organic products are those produced without these harmful substances. Though we typically associate the term “organic” with fruits and vegetables, it can apply to plant-based materials found in fabric and beauty products.
  • Natural Over Synthetic: While some items can’t be organic, choosing ones made from natural materials instead of synthetic that take thousands of years to decompose is the better choice. Clothing and other textiles can be made using materials such as hemp, soy silk/cashmere, cotton and linen. Bamboo is another great material because the plant doesn’t need fertilizer or pesticides, is biodegradable and requires little water. Eating utensils, toothbrushes, “paper” towels, flooring, furniture and even bed sheets can be made from bamboo.
  • Locally Sourced: The amount of travel it takes for most of our products to reach the shelves results in a tremendous amount of harmful emissions along the way. By choosing to purchase items that are locally sourced or made from locally sourced materials, you can significantly reduce the environmental cost of shipping.
  1. Read the Labels

There are many products that claim to be made from all-natural ingredients and advertise themselves as eco-friendly, but one of the only ways to really tell is to read the product’s label for yourself. Go through the ingredients and make sure that if they’re claiming to be natural that only natural components are listed or at least are the very first ingredients. Also, look for labels that certify that the product is eco-friendly such as the USDA Organic Certified label or the EPA Safer Choice label that signifies the product’s ingredients and manufacturing process have met stringent government standards for our health and the environment.

  1. Find the Right Company

Making sure the company you are purchasing from follows environmentally safe practices is just as important as their products being made from eco-friendly materials. Just like individual products can be green-certified, so can entire corporations. One of the most prominent certifications is the B Corps certification; Certified B Corporations are businesses that “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” A searchable list of Certified B Corps is found on their website, making it simple to find eco-friendly shopping opportunities. Another helpful resource is the World Fair Trade Organization; WFTO members are verified fair trade enterprises. Their products adhere to the 10 Principles of Fair Trade, Principle 10 being “Respect for the Environment” which stresses the importance of a circular economy (upcycling) and organic agriculture. The WFTO website also features a search engine to help you find fair trade products and businesses.

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The right, eco-friendly business may be closer than you think –in 2019, the Trading Post, a retail concession featuring all sustainable merchandise, opened at the Detroit Zoo. The store, itself made from a re-purposed shipping container, features eco-friendly and fair trade products from all around the world. Stop by the Trading Post on your next visit to the Detroit Zoo to purchase eco-friendly souvenirs!

Students Showcase Sustainable Solutions in 2019 Green Prize Competition

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is seeking inventive ideas from local students who wish to join us on our Green Journey toward a more sustainable future. K-12 classes, green teams and schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties may enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition now through March 1 and be eligible for cash prizes and a field trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Students are encouraged to research green practices – from incorporating renewable solar energy to eliminating plastic water bottles – and then create and implement ideas that lead to a better tomorrow. The winners of the 2018 competition were members of the West Bloomfield High School EARTH Club, who came together as a team to determine how much energy the science department was using and develop strategies to reduce this rate. Ultimately, they switched to LED lights and installed solar panels to completely power the department. Their project – from inception to execution – exemplified environmental stewardship.

To enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition, students are asked to complete the following:

  • Identify an environmental or sustainability issue
  • Propose a solution that will address the issue
  • List the material and labor needed to implement the solution
  • Describe the positive impact this solution would have on the environment
  • Submit a video, artistic rendering of the project or any other method that portrays your green journey

Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place. First-place winners will receive $1,000 and a class field trip to the Detroit Zoo, which includes an in-depth look at the DZS’s Greenprint initiatives that are already in action. Second-place winners will receive $600; third-place winners will receive $400. All entries will receive a certificate of participation for their efforts in making the world a greener place.

The top three entries will be selected and notified on March 15. The winners will be showcased during GreenFest, the DZS’s celebration of Earth Day on April 27 at the Detroit Zoo. Visitors will have the chance to see how these students are paving the way to a more sustainable environment.

All 2019 Green Prize entries should be submitted to rhandbury@dzs.org

The Detroit Zoological Society is a leader in environmentally sustainability, with all operations guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative. As part of our Green Journey, we are working to create a healthier environment for all animals, visitors and the planet. We’re doing this through initiatives such as our waste-to-energy anaerobic digester, keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water, using permeable pavement in our new pathways and parking lot, and installing a solar panel system called the smartflower. Learn what you can do to lessen your footprint by downloading our Shades of Green Guide.

Greenprint: Celebrate Earth Day during GreenFest April 16-17

For the fourth year in a row, the Detroit Zoo is hosting our annual Earth Day celebration called GreenFest on April 16 and 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This Zoo-wide event will provide visitors with environmentally friendly activities and tips that can be used throughout the year to increase environmental stewardship.

GreenFest will feature earth-friendly crafts, kids games, zookeeper talks, science experiments, a trail mix station by Kroger, interactive performances by Drummunity and exhibitions from businesses and nonprofits working to keep our planet a healthy place to live.

GreenFest is an initiative of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint, a strategic plan to improve daily practices and facilities, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy in the community. All GreenFest activities are free with Zoo admission; each GreenFest guest who brings a cell phone for recycling will receive a reduced admission price of $9.

If you’re unable to join us for GreenFest this year, please consider these three easy activities that will greatly improve your impact on the environment:

  • Plant a tree at your home or a nearby park (with permission from park management) – a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants a year and produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen.
  • Upcycle, donate or recycle unwanted clothes and textiles – according to the Environmental Protect Agency, Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year.
  • Commit to eating less meat throughout the year. A lot of energy and water goes into meat product; by simply cutting back on meat consumption you can greatly decrease your environmental footprint.

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Education: Compassion Footprint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenprint: Three Easy Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Beth Wallace is the Manager of Sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

We work hard to celebrate the Earth Detroit Zoological Society Greenprint logoyear-round through the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint initiative, and with Earth Day approaching, we are hoping you’ll join us on our green journey! Below is a list of actions we plan to take at the Zoo that we invite you to consider in your own lives:

Plant a tree at your home, or at a nearby park. This fun activity provides your family with a memorial and a tradition to follow for decades while giving back to the environment. Did you know that a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants a year, and produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen? That’s enough to support two people!

Spring clean with eco-friendly cleaning options both inside and out. Switch your surface cleaners to non-toxic and environmentally sensitive products that are better for the Earth and your family. For yard clean up, consider creating a compost pile or mulching leaves. And if you plan to minimize the clutter in your home, donate your products to a local organization and always try to recycle what you aren’t able to donate.

Join us for GreenFest on April 18 and 19, which is free with Zoo admission. Those who bring in an old cell phone for recycling receive a discount on admission – tickets are only $8 per person for each cell phone donated. The Zoo-wide celebration includes earth-friendly crafts, an endangered species scavenger hunt, zookeeper talks and exhibits by local conservation groups.

Follow the Detroit Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and share with us what you and your family do to celebrate Earth Day!

– Beth Wallace