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.

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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.

 

 

DreamNight – A Night to Remember

The Detroit Zoological Society hosted more than 500 guests for DreamNight, a private nighttime event for families that include a child with special needs or chronic illnesses. The goal of this event was to provide an opportunity for families to spend time, all together, in a stress-free environment. This was the first event of its kind held at the Detroit Zoo, and we were delighted with the reception of the event as well as the outcome.

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DreamNight brought families to the Zoo from around Michigan and parts of Canada. Excited and happy faces emerged as guests walked through the front gates. Without the crowds, many were able to make observations of the animals and experience the Zoo, without being overwhelmed. Penguins were a huge favorite with kids and adults alike. Some children needed the quieter buildings to enjoy the animals who live in the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, National Amphibian Conservation Center or Arctic Ring of Life.

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We saw looks of pure joy as children, for the first time, watched penguins swimming. Parents showed relief on their faces as they observed their children watching the animals or exploring the hands-on opportunities. Entire families explored activities together  ̶̶  talking and playing through their shared experiences. We were also grateful for an excited group of staff and volunteers, ready and willing to support each family as they explored the Zoo.

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Throughout the event, families enjoyed dinner, courtesy of Service Systems Associates (SSA), our catering partner, who donated a vast majority of the food and labor for the evening. Stations with hands-on activities were spread throughout the Zoo, which invited guests to explore butterfly wings with handheld microscopes or play with sand in front of the camel habitat or weigh out food for an otter’s diet. Face painting, donated by Kaman’s Art Studio, was also available for all who attended. Our Zooper Hero mascots celebrated with us, and were loved by the families in attendance. Many children danced along to the music from a live band and watched a sensory-friendly version of the 4-D movie in the theater.

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We had an amazing time meeting these wonderful families and getting to know them. The Detroit Zoological Society strives every day to ensure that our entire community is welcomed within our organization. We have recently been certified through the The KultureCity® Sensory Inclusive™ program, which helps us to think strategically about how we can prepare guests before they arrive and provide a positive experience while they are here. Staff and volunteers have participated in training to be aware of our guests needs and learn strategies for supporting them during their visits. Sensory-friendly bags, which contain headphones, fidget items and a feeling thermometer, are available to be checked out to use throughout the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. We look forward to hosting future events like DreamNight and ensuring that all families can experience the Detroit Zoo.

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

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!

Humane Education: Recognizing Youth Making a Difference

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has a long history of helping animals. We trace our origins to a group of animals abandoned by a bankrupt circus that came through Detroit in 1883. Concerned citizens responded by generously giving food and money to provide for their care. Our commitment to Celebrating and Saving Wildlife is ongoing, magnified by the support of people in our community who are doing amazing things to help wildlife and wild places.

We want to celebrate the inspiring actions young people are taking to make a difference in the lives of animals. We want to recognize those who are spearheading their own initiatives, from creating awareness of animal issues to fostering empathy for animals through hands-on projects.

This year, to honor students in kindergarten through senior year of high school who are making a positive impact for animals, we are presenting the first annual Detroit Zoological Society Humane Youth Award. From now through November 5, 2018, you can nominate yourself or someone you know for this incredible honor. The nomination form can be found on our website. Nominees will be eligible for one of two categories: elementary school students or middle and high school students.

In 2001, the DZS created the Berman Academy for Humane Education with the focus of helping people help animals. One of the key tenets of humane education is that “we have a responsibility to consciously consider, respect, care for and protect all creatures and the environment”.

Our humane education programming extends far beyond the 125 acres of the Detroit Zoo. It focuses on building reverence and empathy for animals through hands-on, engaging experiences for guests and program participants and by providing opportunities for members of our communities to make informed, humane decisions in their everyday lives. Each and every one of us has the power to make choices and take action that positively impacts animals in large and small ways.

Learn more about the DZS’s humane education programs.

Reading, Writing and Recycling: Go Green Back to School

Back-to-school season is in full swing as an estimated 58 million students are preparing to hit the books this fall. Parents and kids all across the nation are shopping for clothes, shoes and supplies, looking for the best bang for their buck. However, one aspect shoppers may want to consider is how their shopping affects the environment. Buying environmentally friendly school supplies and packing eco-friendly lunches can go a long way toward conserving and protecting our planet’s resources.

Here are some tips to help guide you toward a more “green” back to school experience:

  • Buy 100 percent recycled paper and notebooks – be sure kids use both sides of the sheets whenever possible
  • Write with recycled pencils
  • Recycle while at school – Consider which trash can be saved from a landfill
  • Use refillable pens – each pen can last up to a decade

Small efforts can have big impacts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That means just one average-sized middle school creates more than 40,000 pounds of waste each year. Packing a waste-free lunch also saves an average student $250.

Here are some ways you can pack a more sustainable lunch this fall:

  • Adopt reusable bag practices – send lunch in a reusable bag instead of a paper or plastic one.
  • Purchase a refillable water bottle – it takes three times the amount of water that’s in a plastic water bottle to create the bottle in the first place.
  • Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers – consider perhaps a waxed fabric sandwich bag.
  • Compost peels and pits – some students have compost programs at their schools, but for those that don’t, encourage them to bring their apple cores and cherry pits home.

There are many other ways students – with the help of their teachers – can help reach environmental goals. If 133,000 schools switched to recycled paper, they could save about 6 million trees per year, according to The Green School Initiative. America’s schools spend more than $7.5 billion annually on energy – more than they spend on textbooks and computers, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If school districts worked to conserve 25 percent of that energy, they could save $1.5 billion per year.

Students can also make change themselves by contributing toward green goals through programs such as Michigan Green Schools, which inspires schools to adopt more sustainable practices such as recycling, installing rain gardens and planting edible or native Michigan gardens. Applying to become a Michigan Green School can be pivotal in teaching the next generation essential green practices.

Our future depends on protecting the health and well-being of our children. Educating this generation with the skills to solve the global environmental problems we face is just as important as educating them about math and history. It’s a substantial task to put on such young people, but each small step is one taken toward a more sustainable future.

Be Green by Eating Clean

There are many simple ways you can turn your lifestyle into a more environmentally friendly one, right down to the food you eat. But eating clean is about more than just buying and consuming fruits and vegetables. It’s about finding the food that is beneficial to both our bodies and the environment.

Take a look at some clean-eating tips:

  • Eat Local. Be the “locavore” that you know you are, by consuming food grown within a few miles of where you live. Locavores make frequent trips to farmers’ markets and purchase fresh produce within a local range. A great place for locavores in Michigan is Detroit’s Eastern Market, which is just 13 miles away from the Detroit Zoo. Other farmers markets are popping up all over the metro Detroit area including in Royal Oak, Birmingham, Clawson, Farmington, Grosse Pointe Park, Northville and Plymouth. Check your local websites for farmers’ markets near you. This simple change can not only lighten your carbon footprint because there are fewer miles for the food to travel and less gas being used to get there, creating less pollution on its way to your table. There’s also a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the production, packaging and transportation of your food, and it helps local farmers stay in business. There’s also something special about meeting the people who grow the food you put on your table.
    • Tips from a locavore:
      • BYOB (Bring your own bag). When visiting a farmers’ market or grocery store, bring your own reusable bags to cut down on the amount of plastic being used
      • Recycle any packaging that was on the foods you bought
      • Save gas by taking public transportation, a bike or carpool with family or friends
      • Make a genuine connection with the farmers whose produce you purchase
      • The produce at farmers’ markets are what is in season
      • If you’re buying non-organic, make sure to thoroughly wash your produce

  • Eat less meat: Try choosing veggies over meat; it’s healthier and you can help the planet. Perhaps try eating meat twice a week instead of four times, or even just once a week. Varying studies indicate the animal agriculture industry causes anywhere between nine and 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This means that by eating less meat, you can lower the amount of greenhouse gas emissions – and you can save water! Did you know that by skipping one burger, you can save enough water to shower with for three weeks? There are also health benefits to eating less meat, such as a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, among others.

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. Offering options for visitors to eat clean at Zoo concessions is just one of the ways we’re working to create a more sustainable future.

The Detroit Zoo’s Pure Greens Café has a 100 percent vegan menu, offering items such as the “impossible burger”, made from simple ingredients in nature such as wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and heme. Visitors can also try our Mexican burrito bowl or vegan tofurky sausage. All of the vegetables come from Michigan farms, solidifying Pure Greens’ “locavore” status. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available at the Artic Café and American Coney Island, including a vegan burger basket, soups and salads.

Humane Education: Ethical Consumerism

Every day we make consumer choices. We decide what to wear, what to eat and which products to use. These actions can collectively benefit the Earth and its inhabitants when we pause for a moment to reflect on their potential impacts.

A number of years ago, I read the book “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things” as part of my graduate studies at the Institute for Humane Education. It was a huge eye opener for me. The book details the life cycle of common products, such as coffee and a T-shirt. As I read about the various facets of creating these products, it was the first time I truly began to recognize the greater impact my purchases have on people, other species and the planet.

As consumers, we’re often presented with different possibilities regarding which products we might purchase. Take coffee, for example. Upon examination, we may discover that conventional coffee is grown in areas of the rainforest that have been “clear cut”, meaning that the trees have all been removed, negatively impacting ecosystems and inhabitants. Alternatively, we might have the choice of purchasing shade-grown coffee, which is grown under the canopy layer of trees. Not only does this preserve native trees, this method also conserves the habitat for many animals. When I first began doing this research 10 or so years ago, I had a challenging time finding shade-grown coffee and actually had to order it online. I find it exciting to note that you can now find it in many local grocery stores!

 

We can consider the impact of our consumer choices 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?

Another example is that we might discover the cosmetics, toothpaste or cookies that we buy are made with palm oil. Conventional palm oil is grown in areas where the land has been cleared for oil palm plantations, which has had devastating impacts on animals such as orangutans and pygmy elephants. Alternatively, there are companies who work to produce sustainably harvested palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil works to certify those who responsibly produce palm oil.

There are a number of organizations working to gather this helpful information for consumers. There are even a number of apps available these days that help support ethical consumerism. For eample, if you want to purchase a cruelty-free product, you could check out The Leaping Bunny Program. If you’re interested in minimizing your impact on animals and the planet, you might check out The Better World Shopper, “a site dedicated to empower people to make the best choice as consumers and to help build the world we want to live in”. In addition, for those who want to research further, the Institute for Humane Education has put together an entire Pinterest board dedicated to ethical consumerism.

Our choices really do add up! When we take a moment to examine the products we’re purchasing, it empowers 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.

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