Texas Rescue: 10 Years Later

Maroo, a male red-necked wallaby, passed away on November 11, 2019. Although this may seem like a sad way to begin a blog entry, this is a celebration of Maroo’s life for the almost 10 years he lived at the Detroit Zoo. He was part of the wallaby mob living in the Australian Outback Adventure, and seemed to enjoy exploring this expansive space and sharing his time with others of his species. He was cared for by dedicated zookeepers and observed by attentive volunteers as well as visitors. Maroo will be missed. His story could have had a much different trajectory, had it not been for the intervention of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

TR Maroo

In December of 2009, six DZS animal curators and supervisors travelled to Texas to provide expert care for more than 27,000 animals seized by authorities in the largest exotic animal rescue in the history of the United States. We were contacted after an investigation revealed inhumane treatment of these animals – including spiders, reptiles, amphibians and numerous exotic mammal species – by an exotic animal dealer who was selling them. Our staff members spent almost two months at a temporary care facility in Dallas, helping to triage and care for these animals who had been kept in dismal conditions. Not only did this include basic care, such as proper food, water and medical treatment, but it was also the first time any of these animals were treated with the respect they deserve. Unfortunately, many did not survive due to the illnesses and injuries they sustained during the time they spent as part of the exotic animal trade.

TX-Beth Johnson and Sloths

Hundreds of these animals – 961 to be exact – about two-thirds of which were amphibians, came to the Detroit Zoo to spend the rest of their lives in comfort and receive the care each one deserved. Although many of these animals have passed due to old age over the past decade, some are still at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. Two ring-tailed lemurs were among the animals rescued, and the female was actually pregnant at the time. She gave birth to healthy twins, and all four still live in the group you can observe at the Zoo. Four Linne’s sloths were cared for by our staff and have gone on to live good lives at other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Of the four matamata turtles who arrived here, one can still be seen at the Holden Reptile Conservation Center. You can also visit two tiger salamanders at the Belle Isle Nature Center. In total, there are about three dozen of the rescued animals still living in our care. Five wallabies originally joined the mob at the Detroit Zoo as part of this important rescue effort, and Maroo was the last of this group.

TX-black spiny toads

Maroo’s story is a great example of the impact the DZS has on the lives of individual animals. The exotic animal trade is not only having drastic impacts on populations of wild animals, it is also an industry that creates and promotes severe animal welfare issues for individual animals. Our mission is Celebrating and Saving Wildlife, and our efforts to assist with rescues and provide sanctuary for animals are a critical part of this mission. The next time you visit the Detroit Zoo, look for signs identifying rescued animals and learn more about their stories.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is deputy chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics.

Education: What is a Species Survival Plan?

Red pandas Ta-Shi and Shifu have produced several adorable cubs at the Detroit Zoo, most recently little Tofu. North American river otters Whisker and Lucius have sired a couple pups and reticulated giraffes Kivuli and Jabari are well known for their now 13-foot-tall calf Mpenzi. Pairings like these and the offspring that follows are not by chance; each is carefully planned out and managed through what is known as a Species Survival Plan (SSP).

The 230 accredited zoological institutions that comprise the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) work together through these cooperative management programs to ensure genetically healthy, diverse and self-sustaining populations of threatened and endangered species. More than 450 species are apart of an SSP throughout zoological institutions in North America, overseen through a comprehensive population management system, which includes a Studbook and a Breeding and Transfer Plan. Each of these identifies population management goals and makes recommendations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically varied animal population.

The Detroit Zoo has individuals from 98 of these species under its care, including 38 birds, 30 mammals, 24 reptiles, four amphibians, one fish and one invertebrate. Many of these species are animals that require immediate attention to save the remaining wild populations. Our cooperative breeding efforts have proven extremely successful – for example, the Detroit Zoo has been credited with restoring the population of a Tahitian land snail called partula nodosa, once extinct in the wild. Additionally, in May of last year, 22,571 Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles bred at the Detroit Zoo were released into the wild of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. In 2014, a record 3,945 Wyoming toad tadpoles bred at the Detroit Zoo were released into the wild. This long-running effort was previously recognized as No. 1 on the AZA’s list of the Top 10 wildlife conservation success stories.

AZA institutions and partners work together to carefully monitor SSP species both in the wild and in zoo populations. Organizations will often move SSP animals to other zoos and aquariums so they can mate with individuals to ensure a long-term healthy future for the species. Breeding recommendations are made with consideration given to each animal’s social and biological needs as well as transfer feasibility.

Be sure to look for the SSP logo on animal signage as you explore the Detroit Zoo on your next visit. Each time you see the logo, you’ll know that there are countless individuals working at zoos, aquariums and in the field around the world to do everything we can to save and rebuild the remaining populations of these species.

Veterinary Care: Martens in Manistee

Dr. Ann Duncan is the chief veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

One of my favorite things to do is assist with work in the field. It is very rewarding to be able to use our veterinary expertise to help animals succeed in their natural habitat. This month, I and Dr. Wynona Shellabarger each had the opportunity to spend a few days near Manistee in northern Michigan, assisting with health assessments of free-ranging martens.

The American pine marten (Martes Americana) is an important carnivore species that was originally found throughout most of our state. Habitat loss and overhunting led marten populations to drop to zero by the early 1900s. In 1986, the U.S. Forest Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources reintroduced 36 martens into the Manistee National Forest. Early monitoring of the released animals indicated that the population was not expanding as expected. Professor Paul Keenlance from Grand Valley State University has been leading research efforts to better understand this group’s habitat range and preferences, breeding success, and the distribution of their young, known as kits.

His research team is also working to better understand what they eat and to determine the degree of genetic diversity. The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) participation is in support of the work Dr. Maria Spriggs from Busch Gardens is leading to assess the overall health of the Ann Duncan - Martenpopulation. To conduct this research, the martens are captured in what are known as Hav-A-Heart traps – which are humane traps that close in such a way that they do not harm the animal. The traps are set carefully to ensure that martens have a nice snug spot. We cover each trap with pine needles and leaves for warmth and nest building, and put large pieces of bark on top to protect them from rain and snow. We also place meat bait and grapes in each trap so that they have a snack and a source of water.

Our visit this spring marked our fifth trip to the field site. A typical day in the field starts at 7 a.m. because we want to make sure that any martens that have been captured do not have to wait long. Each trap is marked on a map with GPS coordinates and we drive from one trap to the next. Empty traps are restocked with bait and grapes as needed.

Ann Duncan - martenIf we catch a marten, things get very exciting. Each marten is given anesthetic gas with a face mask to allow an examination. During the procedure, we measure several parameters to ensure that anesthesia is safe and smooth. We measure body temperature to make sure martens are not too cold or hot. Next, we collect a body weight, perform a thorough physical exam, check the teeth to determine age and check for ticks and fleas. We collect urine, feces and hair samples, and collect blood for an overall health panel and to determine exposure to viruses. Lastly, each marten is fitted with a GPS collar. The DZS provides GPS collars that are able to provide a location every 15 minutes to an hour for many months.

During a typical week, we usually catch between five and 10 martens. Each capture expands our understanding of these amazing creatures. The information that has been gathered so far has lead to changes in the management of the forest in which they live, and will be used to inform decisions about marten protection in the future.

– Dr. Ann Duncan