Zoo Blog - Blank Park Zoo

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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.

What’s with the Point: Rhino Horns and Poaching

Posted on 10/28/2015 at 9:45 AM

What’s large, gray, looking powerful with two horns - the front one longer than the other behind it, and walks on four stubby short legs? You probably guessed it! There’s no mistaking it. It’s a rhino. 

When thinking of a rhino most people think of the White Rhino with two horns and lips that are rectangular. They are the classic light earl gray, perhaps enhanced with mud to keep their skin moisturized and cool. Or maybe it’s the Black Rhino, like seen at Blank Park Zoo, that comes to mind who also has two horns but is a darker gray, their top lip coming to a point like an additional hand that can search around and help move food into their mouths. But these aren’t the only looks that rhinos have. Some may have one horn or have skin that look like plates of armour, like they are warriors. 

As you can guess, there’s more than two species of rhinos, but not as many as people may think. There exists only five rhino species today, and of those, four are closely threatened with extinction due to poachers who kill rhinos for their horns. Particularly in trouble are the populations of the Javan and Sumatran (which the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) believes has less than 100 members each), and the Black Rhino. But just because the White Rhino currently has the greatest number in population, it still isn’t safe and is still threatened. 

In South Africa alone, poachers will kill three or more rhinos per day due to the popularity of rhino horn for the black market. So what’s the big deal about the horns? What makes them in demand and worth the risk of poaching - which ultimately leads to almost 800 rhino deaths just this year already?

Rhino horn is made of tightly compressed keratin which is what makes up hair and fingernails. Except instead of being lightweight like what we are used to, it’s heavier, bigger, and denser. Rhino horn is used in China to cure any number of ailments, and in Vietnam it is used as a status symbol as well as to treat ailments despite having NO scientific evidence or proof that it can do any of those things.  

Fighting poaching isn’t simple, but IRF has determined 10 ways to try to decrease, and hopefully eventually stop, the poaching. 

With limited resources, IRF does what it can for the rhinos, and Blank Park Zoo is proud to contribute financially to the foundation to help them with their resources and make a greater impact to save the rhinos. 

Luckily intense anti-poaching efforts have been able to help keep the population of some species from decreasing (though the Javan and White Rhinos are considered potentially stable) and has even allowed some to increase in population - though slowly (which include the Black and Greater One-Horned Rhinos). One country, Nepal, has even been able to say that no poaching occurred in 2013 and 2014 (according to IRF)!

But the efforts don’t stop here. A very real danger still exists for rhinos, but with the help of Blank Park Zoo and you, we can make a real impact. 

To learn more go to the International Rhino Foundation website at www.rhinos.org and come visit Blank Park Zoo’s very own sweet Black Rhinos Kiano (male) and Ayana (female)!

And don’t forget that a visit to Blank Park Zoo can help since a portion of every admission goes to save animals in the wild!

Family Nature Club

Posted on 10/14/2015 at 4:48 PM

The leaves are changing colors and it’s almost time for our Family Nature Club’s first outing! Family Nature Club is a new program here at the zoo. We are collaborating with Polk County Conservation to encourage families to explore parks in and around Des Moines. It is important for children to play and delve into nature, not only for their own well-being and developmental needs, but also to feel more connected and inclined to protect nature and wildlife as they get older. Family Nature Club meets once a month to give children and families the opportunity to discover and learn more about the wild world around them.

This month we are meeting at Brown’s Woods, where a naturalist will be leading us on a hike. In November, we will be meeting back at the Blank Park Zoo, to walk some trails on the outskirts of the zoo. We will make our way around the wooded area behind the giraffe and rhino enclosures to discover what kind of wildlife lives there. To learn more about Nature Club or to sign up for upcoming excursions, click here.

Congrats to PGF Photo Contest Winners

Posted on 09/28/2015 at 11:19 AM

Congratulations to Jamie Lamb! She is our first place winner of the PGF gardener's photo contest! Taken in her PGF garden: James Talbott Memorial Garden!


Congratulations to Carlin Peer! She is our second place winner of the PGF gardeners photo contest! Taken in her PGF garden: Payton Pollinating Station!

A Quick Thank You From PGF

Posted on 09/25/2015 at 1:41 PM

Thank you to the Ackworth Garden Club for their support of Plant.Grow.Fly! They have nearly 100% participation from their members in the project! We appreciate your efforts to help our pollinators! Send us your Plant.Grow.Fly. story at conservation@blankparkzoo.org

Vultures at Blank Park Zoo

Posted on 09/04/2015 at 8:47 AM

“Ptera, go.” She waits a second, unsure of what to do. “Ptera, go.” The cue is given again as the keeper in front of her points to a second keeper just a few feet away. She looks to the second keeper.  “Ptera,” the second keeper says as she moves the orange frisbee to get her attention. You can see it, that look in her eyes.  It clicks. She immediately runs to the second keeper where she is gladly greeted with a “good” and a chunk of meat. The keeper then sends her back to the first keeper with another “Go.” Only this time, she does not hesitate. She immediately runs over to other orange frisbee to receive her reward.  

Blank Park Zoo is fortunate to be home to three vultures: a king vulture, “Chulia” and two cinereous vultures, “Ptera and Virginia”.  All three vultures are female and have their own personalities.  Ptera and Virginia can often be seen running back and forth by the mesh during Zoo Brews trying to get the tiger, Misha, next door to follow along.  Ptera, usually the ring leader, loves to hop around gathering sticks for her “corner” at the back of the exhibit as well. Virginia tries to help, but also loves to just go back and forth across the exhibit.  Chulia is in an exhibit with the squirrel monkeys, and her keepers have recently discovered through the monkeys’ enrichment that she loves peanut butter. She actually stole a yogurt cup of it from them. 

Vultures are intelligent and magnificent animals. It’s easy to see just how smart and quick to understand a vulture really is during a training session like the one described above.  They eat a variety of deceased animals spotted while flying above.  At the zoo, they get a diet consisting of a meat mixture called “Bird of Prey” diet that is balanced and provides them with the proper nutrition they need.  In addition to this meat mixture, they also get a variety of deceased rodents like mice and rats.  On certain days, they will receive knuckle bones or ribs in place of the rodents and meat.  Because a vulture’s stomach is made to digest such decomposing meat, they play an important role in the ecosystem by removing deceased animals that may have been infected with diseases.  

Tomorrow, September 5th, Blank Park Zoo is celebrating these incredible creatures with International Vulture Awareness Day by educating the public on their importance to the environment and conservation for endangered species.  Come check out these awesome birds for yourself and see their intelligence in action during some training sessions and see how you compare to their 8 foot wingspan.

-    Sam Gooding, Bird and Terrestrial Reptile Keeper 


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