Zoo Blog - Blank Park Zoo

Bookmark and Share Zoo Blog

Zoo Blog

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

Giraffe training

Posted on 06/24/2015 at 3:51 PM

Every day we provide the giraffe with several types of enrichment objects. These objects allow the giraffe to demonstrate species-typical behaviors that enhance their psychological and physical well-being. There are many different types of enrichment we have for our animals including: dietary enrichment, manipulative items, and sensory enrichment. An example of dietary enrichment is browse, branches and leaves. These allow our giraffe to forage and eat like they would in their natural habitat. Manipulative items are anything that can be moved, licked, or even kicked by the giraffe. Our male, Jakobi, loves large buoys that he can bang his head against and boomer balls on the ground that he can kick around. Lastly, sensory enrichment is anything involving: scents, sounds, tastes, and even different tactile objects. An example of tactile enrichment is streets sweeper brushes that all our giraffe love to scratch on.

Our giraffe also participate in a daily training program. They know several behaviors ranging from targeting, body positioning, and other husbandry behaviors. The target behavior is very basic and allows us to easily move the giraffe. A target is any object that the giraffe will come to. When they touch that target object they receive a treat. Body positioning behaviors include: backing up, presenting the sides of their bodies to the keepers, and remaining steady and not moving. These are beneficial because it allows us to move the giraffe in different ways a target can’t. Lastly, husbandry behaviors are any behaviors that allow us to take better care of our giraffe without being too invasive. One of the major husbandry behaviors is voluntary blood draw. We start by de-sensing them to being touched, then poked with many blunt objects until they are comfortable with being poked with a needle for a blood draw. Thanks to training, we have had several successful blood draws on one of our females, Zuri.  

--Patrick Nepp, Large Mammal Keeper

Greater Prairie Chicken

Posted on 06/17/2015 at 9:21 AM

“Don’t Forget the Natives!”  Often people think about saving wildlife in far off places like Africa or the tropical rainforests of South America, but in reality, there are animal issues right outside your door. 

In 2010, the Blank Park Zoo (BPZ) expanded its conservation efforts by starting a "Coins for Conservation" Program. The goal was to let every guest become aware that a visit to the zoo helped animals "in the wild". Funding comes from a "conservation tax" of $.25 per admission and $1 per family membership. This, along with other fund-generating ideas, is expected to generate about $75,000 for conservation projects annually.

For the local project, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Wildlife Diversity staff was consulted as to what possible projects the zoo could partner on and participate in. One idea that came out of this conversation was an evaluation of the dwindling Iowa Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) (GPC) population. An estimated 30 birds remained on public and private lands in an area one hour south of the zoo. 

For five springs, Blank Park Zoo staff have joined forces with IDNR staff to trans-locate 100 birds from Nebraska to southern Iowa and northern Missouri. The Grand River Grasslands has the only remaining GPC habitat left in Iowa. With the conclusion of the March 2015 trapping season and documented successful hatches in the Grand River Grassland area, translocations will be discontinued while the newly revitalized population is monitored via radio telemetry, lek, nest and brood surveys. In celebration of the successes, a Prairie-Chicken Festival was held at the zoo. It included Chief Blue Star Eagle with drumming and dancing demonstrations relaying the cultural significance of the species to the Yankton Nation.

Greater Prairie Chickens were one of the most abundant game birds in Iowa. Bird numbers peaked around 1880 when Iowa was a mosaic of small grain fields, hayfields, pasture, and native prairie, ideal habitat for prairie chickens. As agricultural land use intensified, populations of prairie chickens declined. The last verified nesting prior to reintroduction attempts was in Appanoose County in 1952.

Through a guest’s visit to the zoo, not only are funds raised to support an in-situ conservation effort but the connection is made between the visit and wildlife action. In addition, BPZ staff has the opportunity to be directly involved, providing animal handling skills and improvements to animal welfare during the translocation procedure. This, ultimately, supports the paradigm of “zoos as conservation organizations”.


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

Copyright © 2016 Blank Park Zoo. All Rights Reserved.