Juvenile Madagascar giant hognose snakes recently moved into new homes in the Detroit Zoo’s Holden Reptile Conservation Center and indicators measured showed this had positive welfare impacts.
Although Madagascar giant hognose snakes can grow to 6 feet in length, the individuals that live at the Detroit Zoo are still rather small, and have been living behind the scenes since they hatched two years ago. They have a distinctive upturned snout, which they use to burrow and search through leaf litter and other ground substrates in search of food and shelter. Several months ago, the reptile department created new, more naturalistic habitats for the snakes, providing them with additional opportunities to display species-typical behaviors.
These larger spaces were outfitted with multiple types of shelter and natural substrates such as sand, mulch and cork bark. Complex spaces with ample options for making choices can contribute to positive welfare and one of our recent residents at the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare and Ethics, Marisa Spain, decided to conduct a study examining the impact that these new habitats had on the snakes. Little attention has been given to the welfare of reptiles, and as such, less information is available about conditions in which they thrive than for mammals and birds. Marisa studied the snakes before and after they moved into the new spaces, spending hours recording their movements. In their new habitats, the Madagascar giant hognose snakes significantly increased their rates of tongue flicking, which is indicative of exploratory behavior. Similar increases have been seen in other reptile species and categorized as positive indicators of welfare. The snakes also increased how much time they spent burrowing, which is a species-typical behavior now better supported by their enhanced environment. The snakes exhibited more active behaviors in general, something we were hoping to see, as activity levels can indicate how engaged an animal is with its environment. The snakes also showed an increase in behavioral diversity, which is also being used as an indicator of positive welfare.
Overall, we were thrilled to see that the move to their new homes was a valuable change for the snakes. Reptiles perform activities for the same reasons other animals do; for example, to seek food, to explore and to find comfortable places to rest. Because of these welfare studies, we have a better understanding of how reptiles living in the care of humans are faring. All individual animals have welfare needs and while it is our responsibility to ensure those needs are met, it is also incredibly rewarding to see the animals thrive.
– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare and Ethics.
We are thrilled to welcome scientists and educators from all over the world for the 2017 International Science On a Sphere Users Collaborative Workshop April 25-27 at the Detroit Zoo. It is an honor to be the first-ever zoo selected to host this global workshop, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and share how we can engage the community with science by combining important environmental messages with technological advances.
Science On a Sphere (SOS) is a 6-foot spherical display system developed by NOAA that can showcase data simulations as visual media regarding climate, weather and animal movement. While it is used by more than 130 museums, science centers and other organizations to help people understand global connections between land, water and the atmosphere, the Detroit Zoo is one of only three zoos in the country to feature SOS. It is located in the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery and is free with Zoo admission.
The upcoming workshop is titled “Pole to Pole: Connecting People, Places, Animals and Spaces”. Topics will be focused on the various ways SOS can be used to educate audiences of all ages, especially about animals, habitats and the environment. Most of the communication among the SOS community happens online, so having the chance to meet in person once every 18 months is a benefit both personally to those who work on this system, and professionally – giving participants the chance to advance the educational capacity of this technology as a larger group.
If you haven’t spent time with SOS during your Zoo visits, we encourage you to stop and take a look. This amazing piece of technology is regularly updated with different content. If you love technology and want to see the types of data available on a flat screen, using SOS Explorer is a great place to start. This is also a great tool in the classroom, which can complement a field trip to the Zoo either before or after your visit. You can find it at https://sos.noaa.gov/SOS_Explorer/. The content you see on the Detroit Zoo’s SOS is ever-changing, so each time you visit, there’s a good chance you will see and learn something new.
Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.
In a number of instances, the work we do to enhance the welfare of the animals at the Detroit Zoo is a result of collaboration and partnerships. One such partnership is with Madonna University. Students enrolled in a class that is part of the humane education curriculum join us each semester to undertake projects that will benefit the animals.
We work with animal care staff to select projects suited to each species and the students are responsible for learning about that species to better understand the impact that their project will have on the animals’ welfare. The students are divided into three groups and each group is assigned a particular project. The groups work with mentors from the Life Sciences division and over the course of several weeks, complete their project. On the last day, all of the students get the chance to see the results of all of the projects in order to gain more appreciation of the various ways in which we can positively impact animals living in the care of humans.
Over the course of the last few years, the Madonna University students have participated in projects benefiting warthogs, amphibians, giraffes, gorillas, reptiles, rhinos and birds living in the Free-Flight Aviary, to name a few. This year, the students will help us to modify habitats for giant anteaters, flamingos and kangaroos and wallabies in the Australian Outback Adventure. This will involve the creation of nesting areas for the flamingos, as well as planting shrubs for the anteaters and kangaroos in order to add more complexity to their environments and create additional areas of shade. These types of modifications are important to ensure that animals encounter novelty and have more opportunities to display species-typical behaviors.
This wonderful partnership is an example of how the Detroit Zoo provides educational and inspirational opportunities for students and is always finding ways to design engaging habitats for the animals.
– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the Director of Animal Welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.
Hola mis amigas y amigos!
My Peruvian friends have been telling me that the last few months have been very dry, so I had no idea what to expect upon my arrival. I was very surprised to see that the Amazon River was at least 30 or more feet lower than when I was here in March, which could potentially have a huge impact on what amphibians we see. Areas where there would normally be ponds could be completely dry. As you can imagine, I couldn’t wait to get out into the rainforest and see what may be waiting for us.
Unfortunately, my suspicions were accurate and amphibians were much harder to find than usual. Since we monitor some of the same areas year after year, I had a pretty good hunch on where and what I might find in certain areas. When we have time, we always check other areas but our priority is to first survey our research sites. Among many other pieces of data we have been collecting, we are looking at diversity and abundance of species – basically, what types of frogs and toads and how many. This year seems to be the most obvious change, likely, due to the dryness. The humidity levels even felt different – normally my skin stays moist but this time I was using lotion.So far, the most interesting or peculiar sighting was a toad that had climbed a tree. The toad, common to South America, was at least four feet off the ground with no visible easy climbing point. I can hardly wait to see what else we may find!
– Marcy Sieggreen is the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society and 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.
The Detroit Zoological Society’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare (CZAW) has been hosting workshops to train other professionals around the world to assess and improve animal welfare each year since 2012. In that time, more than 50 people have come to the Detroit Zoo to learn more about the ways in which animals are impacted by living in captive settings, and how to address the challenges they face. This year is no different. Another class is here spending five days with us and participating in lectures, discussions, group projects and exercises in the Zoo.
One of the most fun and impactful activities might sound a little silly. We ask the participants to walk around the warthog habitat, first as a human, then as a “warthog”! Every species – and really every individual –experiences the world in different ways. When they are being warthogs, the participants crawl around while wearing goggles that occlude their vision. This is to simulate what it might be like for a warthog living in the habitat, as they rely less on vision than humans do, and to allow each person to get a better sense of how different the world is from the perspective of another species. Once we start to ask ourselves how the animals experience the world we have created for them, we can truly begin to understand what is working for them and what may need to be improved.
One of the goals of CZAW is to provide animal welfare training, and although it is a whirlwind of activity, it is incredibly rewarding for our staff. Not only do we get to meet others who have the same desire to improve the welfare of the animals for which they care, but we get to play a part in helping them to make animal welfare a priority at their own institutions.
Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.
Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the director of conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.
We are very happy to report that 10 Siamese crocodiles recently hatched at the Detroit Zoo and will soon be released into the wild in Cambodia. The Siamese crocodile is one of the most endangered species of crocodile in the world, and was thought to be functionally extinct in the wild until the year 2000, when a small population was found in the highlands of southwest Cambodia. Now a total of around 250 Siamese crocodiles are believed to remain in three sub-populations. But it is still necessary to bolster the wild population so it can be sustainable into the future.
With Siamese crocodiles at zoos, there is sometimes a concern that there has been previous mating with other crocodile species, but genetic testing of the Siamese crocodiles at the Detroit Zoo confirmed that they are genetically pure and could be included in the Siamese Crocodile Species Survival Plan (SSP). An SSP is a program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which strives to manage and conserve species populations in zoos and aquariums to ensure the sustainability of healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically diverse populations.
When suitable areas are available within the natural habitat of a species, individuals from SSP programs can sometimes be returned to the wild. The young crocodiles from the Detroit Zoo will be raised for several months by an adult crocodile pair at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida while permits are arranged for them to be released into protected areas of Cambodia.
– Dr. Paul Buzzard
Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the director of conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.
Since 2007, the Detroit Zoological Society has been working to restore the population of common terns on the Detroit River, and more recently on Lake St. Clair. DZS staff monitor, improve and create suitable nesting habitats respectively on Grosse Ile, Belle Isle and the restored lighthouses on Lake St. Clair through a partnership with the Save Our South Channel Lights organization. Each year, staff members also attach colored leg bands to common tern chicks to monitor their movements in the Great Lakes.
In early July, several staff members successfully attached leg bands to more than 30 chicks at one of the lighthouses on Lake St. Clair. Gathering the flightless chicks is a hazardous time for staff as the adult terns swoop down to protect their young. Amid the squawking adult terns, DZS staff quickly and gently placed several chicks at a time into small holding corrals. Other staff then attached leg bands promptly and efficiently to avoid undue discomfort to the chicks. The chicks were then released close to where they were collected to avoid additional stress. A total of 118 chicks have been banded by DZS staff over the last two years.
This year, with water levels especially high in the Great Lakes, some common tern nesting sites have been flooded out. Thus, the nesting sites at the Lake St. Clair lighthouse and also on Belle Isle are particularly important. DZS staff have improved the habitat at both of these areas by clearing vegetation and, in the case of the Belle Isle colony, establishing a predator-proof fence. So far this season, two common tern chicks have fledged (reached sub-adulthood) at Belle Isle. In addition, the first chick from Belle Isle was banded. In the past several years, only one common tern chick has fledged at Belle Isle.
This year’s high water has also delayed the life cycles of many animals – including common terns – and more than 100 eggs still remained to hatch when we banded the first chicks on July 1. DZS staff will continue banding and monitoring to enhance common tern conservation.
– Paul Buzzard