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.

National Pollinator Week

Posted on 06/15/2015 at 4:38 PM

Today marks the kickoff of National Pollinator Week! Started eight years ago by the U.S. Senate and Department of Agriculture, each year for one week in June, the critical issue of declining pollinator populations is highlighted along with the celebration of these bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles and a call for action to help save these vital species. Pollinators play a crucial role in the environment with a large amount of our world’s biodiversity relying on the services of these pollinators. Many animals also depend on the seeds and fruits they help create. More than 1/3 of our global food supply depend on them, and honey bees alone, add more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States.

Unfortunately, pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, are declining at an alarming rate. This is due to a variety of reasons but the main cause is loss of habitat and feeding resources. Butterfly habitat alone decreases by a rate of about 2.2 million acres a year.

Last year, during National Pollinator Week, President Obama announced the first comprehensive pollinator conservation program ever created throughout the federal government. The signing of this Presidential Memorandum is bringing federal actions to key pollinator issues including increasing forage on federal lands, assessing the effects of pesticide use, educating the public, landscaping federal facilities for pollinators, and many more. We hope that Pollinator Week can be just as beneficial this year. No effort is too small and a great way you can make a difference is participating in Plant.Grow.Fly. here at Blank Park Zoo! Butterflies depend on large strips of suitable habitat to navigate between nectar sources. Just having flower pots in your yard or at your school or work can act as bridges to other gardens and can have profound impacts in helping butterflies and bees travel and survive. Once you plant your garden, you can register it at plantgrowfly.com where you’ll then receive a certificate acknowledging your support while also being recognized on our website. 

Be sure to stop by our Pollination Celebration this Saturday, 6/21, at Easter Lake Park in Des Moines! It will be an afternoon filled with pollinator fun put on by Polk County Conservation, Blank Park Zoo, and Reiman Gardens! We will make take-home insect hotels, go on insect hunts, fold origami insects, and also check out some cool butterflies! The event is from 1-4 PM and is free to the public, so grab the whole family and come on out!


Blank Park Zoo’s Japanese macaque troop

Posted on 06/15/2015 at 9:04 AM

A part of keeping a sustainable macaque troop at Blank Park Zoo is a successful breeding program.  The Association of Zoo and Aquariums (AZA) has what is called a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for over 450 species, one of them being the Japanese macaque. Previously Japanese macaques where a phase out species, meaning it was decided that zoos would no longer actively manage populations of them.  Because of this, we stopped breeding them here at Blank Park Zoo. More recently, the SSP was reinstated and the AZA encouraged breeding programs to start again. Japanese macaques are the northern most non-human primate and can tolerate a variety of climates. They are one of the only primate species that can be out on exhibit in the winter. Therefore, many northern zoos think they are a great species to have.

In order to restart breeding, we brought in three young males (two have since moved to Great Plains Zoo in South Dakota).  Introducing the males was successful, but since then our troop has struggled with maternal care of infants. This is in part because maternal care is a learned behavior.  None of our females that were young enough to breed had seen a mother raise an infant. We tried many different ways of encouraging maternal care including showing them videos and pictures of primates caring for infants. The keepers sought advice from many other zoos and primate behavior researchers.  

Over the last three years keepers have hand raised four infant macaques that were abandoned by their mothers. While those macaques are now healthy, well-adjusted members of the Blank Park Zoo troop, the goal was to have the mothers raise their own offspring. Females inherit their rank in the social structure from their mothers, in order to keep a stable troop it is important infants stay with their moms. This year we are happy to share that we have the first mother raised infant in 20 years at BPZ. Mother and baby are happy and healthy and can be seen on exhibit daily.

---Kayla Stokes, Primate and Carnivore Keeper



Kinabantagan River Spirit Initiative

Posted on 06/01/2015 at 3:38 PM

The Kinabantagan River Spirit Initiative is a project operated by the Malaysian non-profit organization Indigena (Society for the Conservation of Indigenous Fishes). This group was established to help conserve native Malaysian fish species through local community engagement and research. By working with local villagers, the goals of the River Spirit Initiative are to enhance knowledge of freshwater fish diversity, ecology, and conservation status, and to enhance local capacity and commitment for management and conservation of freshwater fish resources.

Most successful conservation efforts, in one way or another, are fueled by the support and participation of local peoples. Natives of the small villages in eastern Malaysia rely heavily upon the Kinabantagan River, primarily for its main resource – fish. Since so little information is known about the ecosystem and fish found in this river, the River Spirit Initiative collects much knowledge from local fishermen. This knowledge then guides the scientific studies carried out to learn more about the river ecosystem, which then influences the methods necessary to save it from threats such as invasive fish species, pollution, and over-fishing. A healthy river ecosystem combined with sustainable fishing practices will ensure that local peoples’ way of life can endure for many generations.

Though the island of Borneo is over 9,000 miles away from Iowa, local Des Moinesians have some things in common with native Malaysians. While we aren’t quite a fishing village, a lot of Iowans enjoy fishing. Freshwater fish thrive in non-polluted waterways free of invasive species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels. Iowa fishermen can help keep their waterways clean by recycling, properly cleaning boats to avoid species transfer, and reporting any new sightings of invasive species to their local Fish and Wildlife station.

To learn more about the Kinabantagan River Spirit Initiative, please visit http://kinabatanganriverspirit.weebly.com

International Snow Leopard Trust - More Community-Based Programs

Posted on 05/22/2015 at 3:36 PM

Last time, we talked about one very important way International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT) helps local herders in snow leopard habitat – Snow Leopard Enterprises.  But, ISLT has several other valuable programs that help the herding families, in turn helping to protect the snow leopards.  Here are two:

Livestock Vaccination Program:  Herder families sometimes lose up to five times more livestock to disease than to snow leopard predation.  The loss of even one animal can bring severe economic hardship.  To solve this problem, the Snow Leopard Trust began livestock vaccination programs for herding communities at little to no cost.

In order to participate, each herding family must sign an agreement to protect nearby snow leopards and their wild prey species from poaching.  Herders also agree to limit the size of the herds.  With fewer domestic animals to compete with for food, the number of wild sheep and goats (the favorite food of snow leopards) rises.

The herders in turn sell excess animals at local markets, thus earning additional income for necessities.  And smaller herd sizes mean healthier herds, helping to alleviate economic hardships on the families.  And more wild herds mean more food for the snow leopards.  

Livestock Insurance Program:  Snow leopards are predators, and they occasionally kill domestic livestock.  When domestic herds compete for with wild sheep and goats for food, wild numbers can decrease.  Domestic animals are often easy prey, and with wild prey numbers down, snow leopards may target livestock more frequently than hunting.  The Livestock Insurance Program allows herders to submit a claim to a committee made up of local residents.  In turn, they receive reimbursement for their loss.    
In order to participate, each herder must sign a conservation agreement in which they pledge to protect the snow leopards and wild prey species in their area from poaching. If any community member violates this contract, they are no longer able to participate in the insurance program.  Additionally, a small annual bonus is paid out from the insurance fund to the participating herder who loses the fewest animals to predation. This creates a financial incentive to prevent snow leopard access to herds by increasing herd safety and herder vigilance.

For more information about other ISLT programs, visit www.snowleopard.org.   Next time on the Blank Park Zoo Conservation Blog about snow leopards, we’ll focus on BPZ’s very own snow leopards – Elsie and Tai Lung.  Until then!

---- Kathy Krogmeier, Blank Park Zoo Volunteer

International Snow Leopard Trust - Snow Leopard Enterprises

Posted on 05/06/2015 at 4:04 PM

As with many of the most endangered ecosystems, they are surrounded by some of the most impoverished people.  To help protect the animals and their environments, we must take care of the people.  This lays true with snow leopard habitat.  Did you know in Mongolia, for example, herders subsist on less than $2 per day?  Many Americans spend more than that each day on coffee or sodas.

Herders rely on their animals to survive, and they can ill afford to lose animals to predators such as the snow leopard.  Sometimes retaliation killings or poaching of snow leopards take place to protect herds or livestock or to earn extra money.

The International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT) developed Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE), working with local communities to increase their annual income and at the same time help protect the snow leopards.  

Here’s how it works:

  • Herders collect raw wool from their herds.  Training and equipment are provided by SLE to turn the wool into a variety of beautiful, handcrafted items.  
  • SLE purchases the items from the herders at mutually-agreed upon prices, then sells the items around the world via their on-line store
  • This program has drastically increased the value of each herding family’s raw wool, and can boost annual household income by up to 40 percent!
  • This is a community program.  For a community to participate and earn this additional income, each member must sign a conservation agreement, which is reviewed and signed each year.
  • The conservation agreement requires each person to protect the snow leopards and wild prey species living in their area from poaching.
  • If a participating community fulfills their collective conservation agreements, an additional cash bonus is awarded at the end of each year.  However, if any poaching takes place during that time, the entire community loses the bonus.  This provides a strong financial incentive for the community to work together to protect snow leopards.

Snow Leopard Enterprises has been very successful in helping herding communities.  Won’t you help them out by visiting ISLT’s website and purchasing an item to enjoy yourself or give as a gift?  You can find the site here: http://www.snowleopard.org/shop/

Next time on the Blank Park Zoo Conservation Blog, we’ll talk about the other programs that have been put in place by ISLT to help protect the snow leopards in the wild.  Until then!

----- Kathy Krogmeier, Blank Park Zoo Volunteer

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