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Zoo Blog

Find out about the animals, events, behind the scenes information and more from the staff of Blank Park Zoo.

People for Pollinators

Posted on 07/28/2015 at 2:07 PM

 Last week, Blank Park Zoo’s Plant.Grow.Fly. had a wonderful opportunity to plant a new butterfly garden at the Zoo in parternship with Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge and People for Pollinators. The new garden is near the train tracks between the Trumpeter Swan and Wallaby exhibits. 

This garden consists of plants native to Iowa that attract a variety of pollinators. Milkweed, the host plant of the monarch butterfly, was planted in abundance. Milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars eat, and the only plant on which the adults can lay their eggs. Just planting a few milkweed plants here and there can have a huge impact on monarchs! 

Combining both nectar and host plants, we hope this garden will become a new oasis for butterflies and bees! You can help out your fellow pollinators by creating your own butterfly garden and registering it at ww.plantgrowfly.com

We are excited to partner with Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge and People for Pollinators! Stay tuned for more information to come!



Conservation Fusion

Posted on 07/27/2015 at 9:36 AM

In the last blog, we explored some of the work of Conservation Fusion in the small village of Lavavolo on the southwestern coast of Madagascar.   But there is much more to the story. 

Lavavolo was the CF team’s home during their stay in southern Madagascar.  They conducted activities outdoors, with tarps spread on the ground, since the village had no school or other building when their first arrived.  (Since then, their “Dream School” has been completed.  See my previous blog.)  Small children and their parents made tortoise puppets, while older children had lessons on animal adaptations, then given the opportunity to create a painting.  For many, this was the first time they had used paints and brushes, thus creating another special connection with the environment.

Other Conservation Fusion activities in Lavavolo include Project “Tsara be”.  Marin Krause, CF’s student intern, learned that many of the Malagasy families do not have access or knowledge about simple hygiene.  Since a healthy lifestyle is the foundation of a healthy life and environment, these inadequacies often underpin conservation action. 

Tsara be means “Good Job” in Malagasy and Marin’s hygiene project was just that!  A total of 130 students received a hand-sewn bag, crafted by high school sewing clubs in Omaha, that contained a toothbrush, paste, soap, washcloth, and a handwritten note from middle school students in the Malagasy language about protecting the environment and living a healthy, happy lifestyle.  

But we’re not done yet!  Here comes Sokake-O-Rama!  In Malagasy, sokake means tortoise.  Welcome to the Festival of Tortoises!

Children in Lavavolo helped create banners, costumes and original songs, to celebrate the Radiated Tortoise.  Honorary costumed “tortoises” were chosen to lead the parade, held on Market Day when the entire community was out and about and could witness the songs, celebration, and hard work of the teachers and children.

The kids all showed up with their tortoise puppets and sang during the parade.  They also wrote and recited poems for the local government officials.  Sokake-O-Rama will no doubt have a lasting impact on the people of Lavavolo long after the parade was over.
Blank Park Zoo is proud to support the efforts of Conservation Fusion in Madagascar.  Please go to their website  www.ConservationFusion.org to learn more about this amazing organization.   Until later!

---- Kathy Krogmeier, Volunteer

Photos courtesy of Conservation Fusion


Conservation Fusion: Lavavolo village, Madagascar

Posted on 07/22/2015 at 11:43 AM

There are approximately 70 children in Lavavolo, a small village on the southwest coast of Madagascar.  

As Conservation Fusion began their work at Lavavolo, they talked with the village elders.  The elders’ dream was to have a local school to provide education for their children, and a place that could serve as a foundation for their community.  The majority of the villagers are unable to read and write.  They simply couldn’t make the journey to the distant schools.  

CF was able to make their “Dream School” a reality.  CF funds were used to build the structure, build and paint the benches, and provide supplies.  They will also provide partial funding for the teacher for three years.  The whole village was involved in building the school.  Surveys were done about needs, including conservation curriculum and sanitation needs. 

Dr. Edward Louis, Jr. from Omaha Zoo is also currently working in this area.  As they collared a Ringed-Tail Lemur, the children were able to get up close and personal with a lemur for the first time.

The community of Lavavolo is about protecting the tortoises.  They believe the tortoises are sacred and that they bring the rain. (Sometimes it doesn’t rain for up to five years.)  The people don’t touch the tortoises, but outsiders come into the area to poach them, as they are worth a lot of money on the black market for the pet and meat trades.  

The children’s lessons have benefited the tortoises.  In 2014, poachers came on boats along the coast.  They collected hundreds of tortoises and flipped them upside down in the sand on the beach so they couldn’t get away.  But their boat broke down.  The children knew they needed to tell local officials, and as a result, the tortoises were rescued and returned to the wild.

This happened again in 2015 when local conservation guides discovered poachers and the tortoises were rescued.

Community pride and education are paying off for the tortoises!  For more information, visit www.conservationfusion.org.

Next time, we’ll dive into some of the other activities by Conservation Fusion during their time in Madagascar.  Until then!
---- Kathy Krogmeier, Volunteer

Photos courtesy of Conservation Fusion



Posted on 07/10/2015 at 4:38 PM

Think of an animal that stands 5 feet tall, weighs over 100 pounds, can run over 30 miles per hour, rumbles like a bass drum, and has deadly 4 inch claws. Dinosaur might be the animal that comes to mind; but, in fact, what I am describing is the cassowary, a large tropical bird from Australia. 

The cassowary is one of my favorite animals and one of the most impressive birds in the world. Cassowaries can be dangerous. They have the ability to: run, hiss, jump 6 feet high, and kick chest level with more force than a heavyweight boxer. Sydney, our 5 year old female, demonstrates these behaviors often. For these reasons, keepers work with this species via protected contact. 

These birds aren’t all fight. They are also quite shy, solitary, and gentle birds. Our 31 year old male, Big Bird, will cautiously walk up to keepers and take a grape out of our fingers quite delicately. He is the stoic one of the pair. Both Big Bird and Syd are equally enjoyable to work with. 

--Megan Stegmeir, Bird and Reptile Keeper


Conservation Fusion: Itampolo village, Madagascar

Posted on 07/10/2015 at 8:47 AM

Itampolo village, Madagascar

In 2014, Conservation Fusion received a conservation grant from Blank Park Zoo.  Very quickly, the grant funds were put to good use at the Itampolo village (located on the southwest coast, about halfway between the southern tip and Toliara) in Madagascar.  
This area is one of the few strongholds for the beautiful Radiated Tortoise.  Sifakas and Ring-Tailed Lemurs also are found in this area.  When visiting with Susie McGuire, founder and director of Conservation Fusion, she shared with me that the Malagasy thought the tortoises and lemurs were found around the world, and they were very surprised at the uniqueness of the animals and their environment.  
To uplift the villagers pride in their environment, Conservation Fusion used Blank Park Zoo funds to create a mural on the local school.  The mural celebrates the biodiversity and features, front and center, the Radiated Tortoise, along with the lemurs and many species of plants unique to their habitat.
Other funds were used to purchase supplies for an environmental education crate, filled with puzzles, instruments, puppets, and art supplies.  The children made tortoise puppets, learned songs with environmental messages, role played with the lemur puppets, and danced like the Sifakas.  (They bounce!)
Adults like to attend, as well, and hundreds of children and parents, along with local leaders, crammed into the small classroom to learn more about the local lemurs and tortoises.  Some children were climbing trees outside the window so they could hear the messages.  With the focus was on their pride in their environment, and the education may help their leaders and residents make informed decisions about land and resource use that has a direct impact on their daily lives.

The student to teacher ratio in Itampolo is 58:1.  There is a little or no personal interactions, so the children definitely enjoyed the connection with the CF staff.  And surveys reveal that 95% of the children will share their puppet and the lessons they learned with their parents, other siblings, and neighbors.

For more information about Conservation Fusion, visit their website at www.conservationfusion.org. Next time, we’ll dive into the village of Lavavolo and the exciting work Conservation Fusion is doing in that area.  Until then!

---- Kathy Krogmeier, Volunteer    

Photos courtesy of Conservation Fusion



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