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

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



Big Cats

Posted on 07/08/2015 at 12:18 PM

The Blank Park Zoo is honored to have two sassy senior cats on exhibit. Falala the lion is 18 years old. Her birthday is January 14. She came to the zoo in 1999 as part of the Big Cats Exhibit renovation and grand opening. She spent many years enjoying the original pride of her sister Gavivi and pride male Chacha. Her name means “a gift” and her attitude has been just that to anyone who gets to know her! 

Goldy the tiger is also 18! Her birthday is February 18. She came to Blank Park with her sisters for the grand opening. As part of the breeding recommendations her sisters were moved to other zoos so that her mate Kavacha could come to stay here in 2001. Goldy’s hips and legs don’t work as well as they used to but her spirit remains full of spunk! She often matches wits with our young female Misha who is here for future breeding opportunities. 

Big cats typically live 13 to 15 years in the wild. In captivity they can survive longer. The animal care staff and vet staff keep a close eye on our seniors. It is our goal to maintain the best care for as long as possible for our special ladies. Next time you visit, thank them for their dedication to educating our visitors. They will really appreciate it!

--Bonnie Van Ellen, Carnivore and Primate Area Supervisor


Woodlands Creek “Flutterby” Garden

Posted on 07/07/2015 at 11:38 AM

Woodlands Creek Silvercrest residents and staff are delighted with the completion of our “Flutterby Garden”.  Our adventure began with the Polk County Conservation guiding us with suggestions as to the type of plants we needed to attract butterflies in Polk County.  Next, our staff trimmed the bushes and trees in our courtyard, gathered the plants, added seating, and began our journey to creating a beautiful area for the butterflies and us. 

Our residents made butterfly feeders, butterfly puddlers, butterfly stepping stones, helped plant and water the plants, as well as decorated the courtyard garden. Additional butterfly projects are planned for our residents to further enhance our garden.

We are looking forward to watching our plants grow and our butterfly population expand. We are also thankful for our resident’s and employee’s efforts, which played important roles in this process.

Blank Park Zoo’s Plant.Grow.Fly. project is delighted to have this garden in our program! Register your garden today at www.blankparkzoo.com



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