Cincinnati Zoo Employees Awarded Grants to Save Wildlife

Posted January 26, 2022 by Angela Hatke

One unique thing about working at the Cincinnati Zoo is the amount of passion each employee has for wildlife and wild places. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by so many individuals who care so deeply about the Zoo, the animals and also their wild counterparts.

Every year, Zoo employees are invited to submit requests for a specific conservation project to be funded. This year, the Zoo’s Conservation Committee received many proposals and selected four.

In Situ Rescue and Rehabilitation of Wild Native Aquatic Birds

Cody in South Africa

Cody Sowers, Head Keeper, Aviculture Department

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden does a great deal of amazing conservation work all over the globe. Our Aviculture department over the years has added to that global list by donating proceeds from our Behind-the-Scenes tours to SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) to assist in their mission with African penguins. Their mission is what inspired me to become involved with oiled wildlife and led me to become HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) certified. As CZBG’s institutional representative for oiled wildlife, I am always looking for more ways to assist in that mission, especially stateside. While working in South Africa for the Kimberly flamingo rescue, I worked alongside Kylie from International Bird Rescue and saw firsthand her dedication to rescued wildlife. I also learned a lot about what her facility does for birds in the Pacific flyway. CREW’s internal conservation grant honestly felt like a perfect fit for this facility. With CREW’s help, we can add to our global conservation list and help over 100 species of seabirds affected by oil and chemical spills.

Birds are sensitive indicators of changes in our environment, and their health is failing.

Elegant Terns during Spring courting ritual. Photo by Sandrine Biziaux-Scherson

This grant will provide financial support for our in situ efforts to mitigate human impact on wildlife native to the Pacific Flyway.  At the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation programs in California, they rescue and rehabilitate an average of 3,500 native aquatic birds each year (115 different species), and release them back into the wild. As a “referral hospital,” they treat the most challenging injury cases that are beyond the capacity or skills of other regional wildlife centers and clinics. While many of their environmental partners focus on systemic issues such as habitat loss/conservation, they provide equally important, immediate, and present-day responses that mitigate the human impact and quite literally save and improve the lives of individual animals. Each case they treat is a step away from the negative effects of human impact and activity, and towards restoring balance to our local, regional, and global ecosystem

This grant will help keep wild animals wild and to give each injured bird the individualized care it needs to heal.


Conserving a Population of Critically Endangered Bali Starlings in the Local Community Through Local Breeding and Educational Awareness

Laura at the Cincinnati Zoo

Laura Carpenter, Cincinnati Zoo Keeper

We’re lucky to have Bali starlings at the Cincinnati Z00! Because they are critically endangered, it is truly remarkable for people to be able to come here and see and learn about them, and hopefully, be inspired to help their wild counterparts. The Cincinnati Zoo not only strives to provide the best care for its animals in Cincinnati but also supports their wild counterparts all over the world through in-situ and ex-situ conservation projects.

At the Begawan Foundation, they strive to save the Bali starling through community engagement and inspiring future generations to care for and respect their national bird and its habitat. In 1991, it was estimated that there were only 15 Bali Starlings remaining in the wild and thus, in 1994, it was considered “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN Red List. The illegal bird trade has been identified as a major threat.

This grant will help with their objectives to save Bali starlings.

Short term goals:

  1. To continue conservation and environmental awareness into both the adult and student community through conservation education at all levels (presentations at village centers, and after-school activities and workshops for students and adults at our Learning Centre).
  2. To ensure continued and increased safety for the released Bali Starlings through active community monitoring.
  3. To release by the end of 2021 a number of juvenile birds to create a flock that future chicks from wild pairs can join

Long term goals

  1. To continue to release birds, which breed in the wild, around the village so that the fear of wild bird extinction is lessened for the Bali Starling 2.
  2. To ensure that the local community-run eco-tourism initiatives that benefit themselves, be it social enterprise (shops/homestay) for birdwatchers or bird-watching walks guided by local youth with paying guests.


Population Ecology and Conservation of Freshwater and Terrestrial Turtles in Southwest Florida

Ryan, second from the left, and his team at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Ryan Dumas, Cincinnati Zoo Keeper

This grant will help these animals and work to keep them common and wild. It also is a way of investing in students, who are all deeply involved in the work and being developed into our future Field Biologists, Scientists and Chelonian Enthusiasts!

Turtle and tortoise populations continue to decline in nearly all habitats they are found. With only about 360 extant species, they are a highly vulnerable taxon. Considering the time needed to reach sexual maturity and the high mortality of their offspring, it’s amazing they are holding on as long as they have in many of their home ranges. Oddly enough, these declines are happening in the USA’s own backyard. The Southeastern United States has an amazing diversity of turtle species, most of which are in some sort of decline. Habitat loss and poaching have been the major threats. As populations decline, we are not only losing the animals, but we are losing opportunities to study them and gain valuable natural history knowledge. Information used from natural history studies can shape conservation action plans, land management and even legislation policies.

Collage of photos displaying participation in research and acquisition of skills by students in prior project iterations

The following proposal consists of three major objectives. All are critical in assessing and managing the conservation status of turtle species in Southwest Florida providing general data on their ecology and life history that may be limited or outdated, and continuing to provide an in-depth and experiential opportunity for students to participate in science; Population Ecology and Conservation of Freshwater and Terrestrial Turtles in Southwest Florida.

  1. Continued monitoring of the understudied Florida Box Turtle and Diamondback Turtle in peninsula Florida in both mainland and coastal populations. Monitoring would continue from previous ARC grant-funded projects and would continue to focus heavily on surveying, marking, tagging, and attaching radio transmitters and GPS transmitters (Box Turtles specifically) in order to continue assessing population size, habitat use, and home range assessments. The information collected will provide pivotal data for upcoming stakeholder and legislative meetings about the species at the state and potentially federal levels.
  2. Studying populations of data deficient species (Mud turtles and Chicken turtles) and presumed common species (Softshell, snapping turtles, and Cooter species), in collaboration with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), at several locations where populations are likely to persist in the southern reaches of the state. These populations will be monitored in a similar fashion by tagging, marking, and utilizing radiotelemetry to further our understanding of their basic ecology and population status. While both of the aforementioned objectives focus on classical research it should be noted that any and all projects will include full participation from individual students and student groups to enable the building of skills and experiences in ecology and the natural sciences in general.
  3. Study to continue inviting and facilitating the student experience. The additional equipment will allow for continued student engagement for at least three semesters of participation allowing for upwards of 6-12 students to join the project.

Understanding the population status of these animals via monitoring in both short-term and long-term capacities is imperative for future conservation action and potential legislation. D

Laos’ First Natural History Museum

Dawn at the Cincinnati Zoo

Dawn Strasser, Cincinnati Zoo Keeper

The goal of this project is to give Lao a properly functioning natural history museum where Lao citizens and tourists can come to learn about the beautiful natural history of the country. Currently, the country of Laos does not have a natural history museum. This grant will help to purchase preservation materials for deceased wildlife from the Lao Conservation Trust for Wildlife, display cases to exhibit specimens, dual language educational signs (Lao and English) and a custom-built terrarium to exhibit a few turtle/tortoise hatchlings from their breeding programs before they are released.

The museum will be in the old Lao Zoo souvenir shop, which is currently under renovation to improve its longevity and aesthetic for the official grand opening of Lao Conservation Trust for Wildlife to the public in April of 2022. LCTW has always operated on the grounds of the Lao Zoo as well as managed all aspects of the zoo since it began operation over 3 years ago. Beginning in January 2022, the Lao Zoo will officially close, allowing the entire site to be officially the LCTW. The goal is to open to the public as LCTW in April 2022 and with that will come big changes.

The most notable changes are to allow for important educational opportunities for visitors that come to the center. Education, of course, is the greatest way we can ensure that both forests and species will survive in the future. The hope is that when people come to LCTW they will learn about the wildlife of Lao and how to conserve it, thereby taking the conservation torch and carrying it with them wherever they go. Education will take many different forms to maximize what people will learn when they visit. Empowering the local people of Lao to become stewards of their country and wildlife is a priority.