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.

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.

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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.