Detroit Zoo Hosts First International HAZWOPER Training

The Detroit Zoo recently hosted the first international Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training, facilitated by the Alaska Sea Life Center of Seward, Alaska. Part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS’s) dedication to conservation includes annual training for DZS staff in HAZWOPER, which allows them to be prepared to respond immediately and help save wildlife affected by oil spills and other environmental emergencies locally, nationally and internationally.

The first international HAZWOPER training included 10 DZS staff members and eight other individuals from zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Currently, there are only 90 individuals from 50 AZA institutions who have this level of training, which included a two-day classroom course, an eight-hour online course on the nationally recognized Incident Command System, and an environmental disaster drill. The eventual goal of AZA and the Alaska Sea Life Center is to develop regional emergency centers across the country.

DZS staff has responded to three significant oil spills, providing assistance with the rehabilitation of several species and tens of thousands of animals.

Deepwater Horizon/BP
The largest marine oil spill in history took place in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and the BP pipe leaked an estimated 2.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf every day for nearly three months. This oil spill affected 400 different species of wildlife, including 8,000 birds, 1,100 sea turtles and 109 mammals. DZS Veterinary Technician Amanda Dabaldo traveled to New Orleans in July 2010 to assist with the recovery efforts.

Amanda spent two weeks working with the Audubon Nature Institute providing medical care for more than 140 juvenile sea turtles.

The Enbridge Oil Spill occurred in July 2010, when a broken pipeline leaked oil along 25 miles of river between Marshall and Battle Creek, Mich. An estimated one million gallons of oil affected thousands of animals including birds, mammals and reptiles – turtles were most affected. The Detroit Zoo, along with other AZA zoos including the Toledo Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Potter Park Zoo and the John Ball Zoo, partnered with teams such as Focus Wildlife, TriMedia Environmental and Engineering Services LLC, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set up a rehabilitation center in Marshall. Nine DZS staff members spent more than 600 hours between August and October 2010, providing daily care for frogs and turtles.


In June 2000, the oil freighter Treasure sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa and 1,300 tons of fuel oil spilled near the largest colonies of African penguins.


Forty percent of the penguin population was affected by this oil spill; 19,000 of the birds had oiled feathers and went through the rehabilitation process, 3,300 chicks that were abandoned were reared and released; and about 19,500 birds were air-lifted and taken several miles up the coast and released.


Two DZS penguin keepers, Jessica Jozwiak and Bonnie Van Dam each spent three weeks assisting with this project.

– Bonnie Van Dam is the associate curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Amphibian Conservation: Wyoming Toads Prepare for Breeding

A pair of small gold eyes peers out from under a mass of sphagnum moss. In a day or two, this warty creature will complete its climb out from the depths of the sandy soil where he has spent the last 30 days sleeping and “chilling” at a cool 38 degrees. Along with seven other individuals of this species, he will awaken due to an increase in temperature and light. By the time the temperature reaches 74 degrees, he will have completely removed himself from the soil and be sitting atop it, hopefully alongside his companion, a slightly larger female. In the week that follows, events these two small cold-blooded creatures will go through could lead to producing thousands of their species in a matter of hours due to their “explosive” nature.

The Wyoming toad (Anaxyrus baxteri) is one of North America’s most endangered species and one of the amphibians we work with as part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) at the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center.  This toad’s wild populations began declining in the 1970s, and by the 1980s was listed as an Endangered Species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Possible causes for the population decline are use of aerial pesticides to eliminate mosquitoes, habitat manipulation, and disease in the form of the amphibian chytrid fungus. Realizing a decline was occurring, the last remaining toads were collected and by 1994, all remaining wild-born Wyoming toads were believed to be entirely in captivity. The IUCN now describes the Wyoming toad as extinct in the wild, meaning any toad currently found in the wild has come from captive breeding, in which the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has been actively involved.

The Wyoming toad SSP is managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The DZS has been a member of this conservation program since 1995 and since 2001 has sent a total of 6,505 tadpoles and toadlets to the wild. All Wyoming toads are the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), so members of the AZA work closely with them to follow all USFWS permit guidelines for keeping them in captivity. The goal of any captive breeding program is to produce healthy offspring for release into the wild with the goal of rebuilding them into a self-sustaining population. Each toad in captivity is identified and tracked, which helps to pair toads that will produce the most genetically diverse and healthy offspring. Breeding pairs of toads are chosen almost a year in advance so toads have plenty of time to move from one zoo to another to create the breeding pairs.

Although not as well known as Jabari and Kivuli, the giraffe couple at the Detroit Zoo, Wyoming toads Butler and Beverly are a very important couple of toads. They are part of a “bio-secure” population and will never be seen by the public, which ensures they will not accidentally release diseases, known or unknown, into the wild via their offspring. They are held with four other pairs of Wyoming toads in a special room away from all other amphibians, so they will remain free of diseases that could otherwise be found in species not native to the western region of North America.

At the AZA’s recommendation, Butler arrived at the Detroit Zoo last October to be paired with Beverly, who arrived in 2012. Both are now 3 years old, which is about middle aged for a Wyoming toad. In early April, they were placed together into a thermostat-controlled “hibernaculum”, which is used to cool the toads, simulating the hibernation period a wild Wyoming toad would go through during the winter. The toads are kept cooled for about a month to help prepare them for breeding; eggs or sperms may develop and mature as a result of this cooling. The toads are given plenty of sandy soil to bury down into and sleep in just as they would have in the wild, and the Zoo’s animal care staff checks in on them weekly to make sure they are doing well.

At the end of May, the temperature in the hibernaculum will be increased to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the toads will begin to awaken. Once they have climbed out from the soil, we will place them back into regular husbandry for a few days where they will continue to warm up and eat. Recordings of male toads calling are played during this time to condition toads further for breeding. Within a few days of emerging from hibernation, Butler and Beverly will be placed into a breeding chamber with 2-3 inches of water. The pair will hopefully go into “amplexus” within a few hours, which happens when the male positions himself on top of the female using his front legs and squeezes her, encouraging her to lay eggs. He fertilizes the eggs as she lays them, usually in the dark, overnight. Butler and Beverly should lay thousands of eggs, which is typical of toad species. Described as “explosive breeders”, the more eggs they can lay the better the chance offspring have of surviving the elements, diseases and predators. Since this is a captive breeding, we can help the thousands of eggs that Butler and Beverly produce survive into strong, healthy tadpoles.

Approximately two to three weeks after eggs have hatched into thousands of hungry tadpoles, arrangements are made with the USFWS to ship the tadpoles to Wyoming, where they will be released into protected wetlands. These tadpoles will add to those previously produced in captivity sent yearly by the zoos that participate in this program and the USFWS.

The wetlands are monitored during the spring and summer as part of yearly field surveys done to track the health and population of the toads. This year we hope that Butler, Beverly and the three other pairs of Wyoming toads at the Detroit Zoo are able to contribute thousands of healthy tadpoles to the wild population.

– Rebecca Johnson is the associate curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Veterinary Care: Ultrasound Exams for Frogs

Spring is in the air, and as I hike and bike the trails in southeast Michigan I find myself excited to be immersed in the lovely chorus of spring peepers and tree frogs as they prepare for this year’s breeding season. This also means it won’t be long until it is amphibian breeding season at the Detroit Zoo! Each year, the veterinary team works closely with our amphibian staff to provide support for our amphibian breeding programs. Our curators and keepers set up special breeding areas and adjust the temperature, light cycles, humidity and water access to simulate conditions in the wild and encourage natural breeding. They even set up simulated rainfall and play tape-recorded sounds of breeding calls collected from the wild.

Even with all of this, some of our endangered amphibians need a little more help to breed successfully.   At the Detroit Zoo, we have over a decade of experience administering special hormones to Wyoming toads and Puerto Rican crested toads to help with breeding. We have been very successful with these programs; two years ago the amphibian staff sent 3,914 Wyoming toad tadpoles to Wyoming and last year they sent 22,571 Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to Puerto Rico for release into their native habitat. This is important work and we are proud to be able to help.

As zoo husbandry staff and amphibian reproductive experts have gained expertise, it has become clear that not all amphibians respond the same way to changes in their environment and established hormone protocols. Two years ago, we purchased a high frequency ultrasound probe, and we have found that we can monitor the appearance of the ovaries and follicles as they develop and mature within female frogs and toads. This provides a very powerful tool for understanding the impact of the husbandry and hormone treatments that we apply, and will allow us to establish assisted reproduction methods for other endangered species.

This season we have some exciting things planned, and have started the early work to check the females we are hoping to breed. Last week, we performed ultrasound exams on our three female giant waxy tree frogs, and were able to see that they are all developing large, follicle-filled ovaries. Based on the appearance of the follicles, we think that they will be ready to breed in the next few weeks to a month.

This week, we will be conducting ultrasound exams on our endangered Mississippi gopher frog females. Once we see their degree of follicle development, we’ll be able to plan a hormone and husbandry strategy for this year’s breeding season. Hopefully we will have exciting news to share in the coming months!

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

Amphibian Conservation: Species in Crisis

Let’s focus our attention on the smallest residents living at the Detroit Zoo: amphibians. No other class of vertebrates has the ability to adapt and evolve as quickly in our ever-changing planet as amphibians. They have used every reproductive strategy and developed life stages influenced by environmental factors; they can be colorful, camouflaged and cryptic, regenerate limbs, and have been on Earth for the last 200 million years.

Marcy Blog 4

Currently, amphibians are the most threatened group of animals in the world with 40 percent of all species at risk. This crisis is considered the greatest extinction event in history; it’s also the Earth’s sixth mass biological extinction. While previous mass extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated directly with human activity. This epoch started when human activities began having a significant impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) participates in Global Assessments, which provide a comprehensive inventory of the conservation status of biological species as well as a critical dataset for evaluating the health of key elements of biodiversity and identifying threats to their survival. Newly described species emerge yet extinctions are occurring at an even faster rate. Climate change is the most dramatic cause of declines, and it affects amphibians both directly and indirectly, as reproduction is dependent on temperatures and seasonal transitions. Low pond levels expose embryos to more ultra violet (UV) light and UVB radiation is harmful to many species. The shorter periods and earlier opportunities for breeding ultimately reduce the chances of success. Amphibians are also dependent upon water, which makes them vulnerable to desecration when ponds dry too quickly. But since amphibians rely on the environment, they also are excellent storytellers. They can help us determine where pollutants are and if there is misuse of habitat.

When the National Amphibian Conservation Center (NACC) opened at the Detroit Zoo in 2001, it was the first major facility dedicated entirely to conserving and exhibiting amphibians. The award-winning, state-of-the-art amphibian center is home to a spectacular diversity of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians, many of which are the subjects of field research and part of cooperative management programs called Species Survival Plans (SSP). Amphibians selected for an SSP are generally threatened, endangered and sometimes even extinct in the wild. The DZS is actively involved in many of these programs, including for the Wyoming toad, Puerto Rican crested toad, Panamanian golden frog, crawfish frog and Mississippi gopher frog. Some amphibians bred at the Detroit Zoo have been released into the wild to boost endangered populations, and others require us maintaining a “captive assurance population” because due to factors in the wild, they cannot be released just yet. When it’s safe for these species to return to their native homes, we have a population ready to release. We have specially designed, bio-secure rooms that can hold each of these species so they won’t be exposed to other amphibians or anything else that may be harmful when they are released.

In addition to maintaining our captive amphibian population and our efforts in cooperative breeding programs, DZS staff participates in several field projects and research programs, offers citizen science training and provides support for wildlife rescues, including those from the exotic pet trade.

– Marcy Sieggreen is the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the National Amphibian Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field: Blood Moon in Peru

Hola mis amigas y amigos!

I’m nearing my last days in Peru but I couldn’t have ended on a more delightful note – the lunar eclipse was amazing!  We had a late night observing frogs the evening before and slept a couple of hours before we were back out on the river at 3 a.m.  The morning began with clear skies and the moonBlood Moon was completely visible until 5 a.m., when clouds came in and threatened to ruin our view. We waited for them to dissipate, but it never completely happened.  About 5:50 a.m., we couldn’t see anything so we ended up using a compass to determine where the moonset should occur and watched.  All of it paid off as the reddish hue was projected beautifully for about 30 seconds! The next one isn’t until September, so I was very grateful to have seen this one.

Marcy - PeruThroughout the remainder of the day, we had several electrical storms making for a beautiful night. Once the weather subsided, everything was out in full force: frogs, insects and birds were all calling. One of my favorites here are the Phyllodmedusa species, basically long-legged tree frogs. They are stunning and very interesting to watch as they navigate high in the canopy.


Sometimes observations aren’t easy – when you hear calls there is always a strong desire to find what you are listening to. This occasionally leads to us sharing the water with other animals that are also looking for what is calling – more for a feast then to admire its beauty and log for data collection. Although the storms came back, we were still able to squeeze in another four hours of observations before having to call it quits for the night.

Early the next morning, we awoke to the pleasant call of other early risers (or late nighters).  A wonderful way to wrap up another season!  Until next time… Saludos!

– Marcy Sieggreen

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field: Amphibians in Peru

Hola mis amigas y amigos!

I am still in Peru, though my colleague, Paul Buzzard, director of conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society, has returned home. This time of year is high water season, which means that everything is a little different, as animals seek out and share the only dry areas that they can find. This includes snakes, which means they tend to be closer to human living spaces. It’s important to us that we educate people about snakes and explain why they are an important part of the ecosystem. We want to impart that snakes are not to be feared, but rather respected.

The high water doesn’t seem to be negatively affecting anything; however, it is still rising at a steady pace, nearing that of the historical levels set in 2012. Amphibians seem content and in mass abundance near islands that we regularly monitor. When I was here in November, I noticed that few amphibians were seen during the day.  This time, in one of the areas that we frequent, we saw many during the day and very few at night. We also noticed very few insects, which is good for us but bad when you are looking for frogs. It’s hard to narrow down what may be the cause, since so many were found during the daytime.

This weekend there will be a partial eclipse, which is the first one I will experience in the last six years of my travels here. I am looking forward to observing any change in behavior or patterns amphibians may show. Stay tuned… buenas noches!

-Marcy Sieggreen

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field – Bats and Frogs in Peru Part II

Buenos dias from Lima, Peru.  I’ve been here for two weeks with the Detroit Zoological Society’s curator of amphibians, Marcy Sieggreen, to visit the sites being used for our amphibian conservation studies and to investigate the potential for bat conservation projects. It’s been a wonderful and productive trip.

One of our last trips into the rivers and flooded forests started with a little drama but thankfully ended well:  It was 6 a.m. and the sun was rising when Marcy and I climbed into the dug-out canoe with our local guide. These dug-out canoes are carved out of single tree trunks, and they ride very low in the water. I also knew from previous experience that these canoes often let in a little bit of water. But this was a little more than “a little” and right after we left the dock, I informed our guide that a pretty steady stream of water was coming in. He and Marcy laughed and told me to finish my coffee and start bailing out water, which I promptly did. But as the water rose to several inches, we decided it best to turn around and made it back before a morning swim with the piranhas.

We soon found another boat and continued our trip into the forest and observed squirrel monkeys and dusky titi monkeys feeding in the trees. Since I’d already seen both the saddle-backed and black-mantled tamarin monkeys, I was thrilled to see a total of four monkey species during the trip. I also consistently saw new bird species such as the hoatzin – interestingly, the young chicks have claws to climb in trees. We also saw a variety of other interesting wildlife such as tree iguanas, snakes, and three-toed sloths.

I had the chance to join Marcy on some boat trips just after sunset to look for frogs at the edge of rivers/lakes and in floating vegetation. We saw so many that Marcy could barely keep up her documentation as we called out the frogs we saw.  We saw some fishing bats on these trips too.

I also had the chance to meet with a Peruvian bat researcher to discuss a potential collaboration in bat conservation projects.  We had a great meeting, and I think there will be opportunities to get baseline data on bat diversity and the importance of bats as seed dispersers.

– Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the Director of Conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field: Bats and Frogs in Peru

Buenos dias from northeastern Peru. Paul and Marcy in PeruI’ve been here for several days with Marcy Sieggreen, the Detroit Zoological Society’s Curator of Amphibians, to investigate the potential for bat conservation projects and to see the sites being used for our amphibian conservation studies. There was a quick turn around from my work with snow leopards in China – I left Detroit less than a week after returning from the chilly mountains of China, so I was looking forward to the 80-degree temperatures of the tropics. I was thrilled to visit Peru for the first time, and it’s been a wonderful and productive trip thus far.

Our first stop was the city of Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon River to meet with a Peruvian researcher. We had a very productive meeting discussing the potential for bat baseline inventories and the availability of weather data. These data on temperature, rainfall and other factors will be essential to better understanding changes in the amphibian diversity.

Next, we headed up the Amazon and Napo Rivers. Although bats are the focus of my trip, it was great to have the opportunity to see pink river dolphins. Because it is the high water season we were able to visit the flooded forest to see an overwhelming diversity of birds including Amazonian umbrella birds, kingfishers, toucans and even ospreys which also live in Michigan.

Bats seem to be common here, flying in our rooms and flying by our faces on night walks to find frogs and toads. During these night walks I have definitely gained a new respect for the work of amphibian researchers. I am used to walking transects slowly – perhaps 1 kilometer per hour to sight monkeys or look for deer and/or carnivore tracks or scat. But the amphibian pace seemed glacial at first – at a clip of 1 kilometer in four or five hours – because the well-camouflaged frogs and toads are hard to find.

When a frog or toad is found, the delicate dance begins. My task is to catch the squirmy frog and hold it ever-so-gently so Marcy can rub a cotton swab on its belly and feet to test for chytrid fungus – a fungus that has been devastating amphibian populations in many parts of the world.

Between frog finds we can enjoy the incredible diversity of tarantulas and other spiders as well as insects such as katydids, walking sticks and even a beetle that lights up like a lightning bug.

I’ll be here for several more days, visiting more sites and searching for frogs in the flooded forests. I’m also meeting with a Peruvian bat researcher about the potential for future collaboration before returning to Detroit.

Hasta luego!

– Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the Director of Conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Education: Family Dose of Vitamin Z

Claire Lannoye-Hall is the Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

One of the most frequently heard comments during our summer camp check-in is from parents who are wishing they could attend camp with their children. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend more time getting to know the animals and discovering more about the world around us?

Our team got together and brainstormed Education: Family Programs at the Detroit Zoowhat we love to share about the Detroit Zoo with our families and friends. The result is an amazing line-up of programs that we are ready to reveal: Beginning later this month, Friday nights will become Family Fun Nights! We want to showcase everything the Zoo has to offer and provide a heightened sense of wonder through stories, activities and experiences. Knowledgeable staff members will accompany families as they travel through the Zoo, exploring what happens in the evening after the Zoo closes and everyone else heads home. Each Family Fun Night will include a hike through the Zoo, hands-on activities, a snack and an opportunity to meet Zoo staff.

Frog - Detroit Zoo Family Education ProgramsIn March, we’ll learn about frog calls and visit the amphibians in the National Amphibian Conservation Center, then hike through the wetlands to listen for early spring arrivals. We hope families will go home and listen for frogs and toads in their own backyards for the rest of the spring.

In April, we’ll prowl for owls as one of our bird experts will join us to search for wild owls while visiting some of the Zoo’s resident birds along the way.

There are several more programs from May to September to enjoy. Check out all the great topics we have to offer!

– Claire Lannoye-Hall

Notes from the Field – Peru

Hola amigas y amigos!

Alas, my work this season is almost completed, today is my last day in the rainforest. Since my last post, I ran into staff from the Detroit Zoological Society education department, who were in Peru for the Adopt-a-School program, and who assisted in an overnight adventure with the amphibian club. We all spent the night at a research station where we were able to enjoy an evening walk through the jungle looking for amphibians, the canopy walkway and the next day a morning walk back to the boats. We saw salamanders, several species of frogs and they have been very busy with their observations while I was back in the states.

Marcy - rainforest     Marcy - canopy rainforest

During November, the season begins where the rain becomes heavier and frequent, almost daily. This is when the rivers start to rise. Since I landed in Peru the river has already had a noticeable increase. However, one of the many lakes we visit in high water was still dry enough we could walk to it.

Last night, we traveled by boat to the edge of the narrow stream to hike to the place called Lorenzo Lake. This is one area that we monitor twice a year and expect to see hundreds of amphibians and calls that are nearly deafening. We were not expecting to see so many of the giant hunting ants (locals call bullet ants for the pain they inflict when they bite), we had to be especially careful passing brush from the narrow path carved out by our machete. Many scorpions and beautiful moths plagued the long hike to lake, but the calls we could hear before we docked could even dock the boat. It was a beautiful night!

– Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Amphibians Marcy Sieggreen is doing fieldwork in Peru, studying amphibians in the lower elevations of the Amazon River to see how they are faring with increased human populations and impacts in their habitats.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.