Conservation Can’t Wait:
The Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCareTM Institute
Trish & Michael Abbene
Saint Louis Zoo Docents
Can one institution halt the rate of habitat destruction and animal extinction? No Way! But what if you focus conservation efforts and public awareness toward specific projects while leveraging available knowledge and resources? In this presentation, learn how the Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCareTM Institute is coordinating the efforts of Zoo staff and a multitude of conservation organizations in twelve Conservation Centers around the world. Discover how Saint Louis Zoo Docents are spreading the word at the Zoo and making a difference in how the public perceives the role of zoos.
Where We’re Coming From
As Zoo and Aquarium interpreters we are all aware that wildlife around the world is facing significant rates of endangerment and extinction. Many scientists believe species are disappearing at rates hundreds of times above predicted natural rates. Many factors including habitat loss, poaching, spread of known and emerging diseases, and pollution have been identified but there are other factors that have not yet been identified, much less fully understood.
Historically, with a few notable exceptions such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, zoos focused conservation and research activities on the species housed on their own campus. Most common participation was in Species Survival Plans (SSPs) and related AZA programs. There might have been contributions toward field-based programs, but typically these would have been relatively limited.
But the last ten years have seen increased emphasis on field research and conservation. This enhanced focus on the wild offers zoos a tremendous opportunity to use their resources for conservation, to go beyond being simple recreational venues. It is possible that when you combine their access to the general public with the educational and research resources of zoos, we may have a huge untapped resource that can be used to address the global extinction crisis. What follows is part of the story of how the Saint Louis Zoo is starting to tap this resource.
Consider Our Strengths
The Saint Louis Zoo’s new approach began in 1997 when it started the Field Research for Conservation program that funded projects up to $10,000. Since then it has provided support for 67 projects in 22 countries. In that same year, the Zoo’s Research Department launched a major conservation initiative in the Bosawas region of Nicaragua that rapidly grew to a $100,000 per year effort. In 2002, a Field Conservation program was created to support non-research conservation projects.
It became apparent that the need far exceeded the resources and project-based focus of these programs. In 2003, the Zoo staff considered the creation of a more comprehensive program. Zoo Curators were invited to propose programs based on:
1) Key world conservation needs.
2) Areas of Saint Louis conservation expertise.
3) Areas where a directed Saint Louis effort would have a reasonable chance of having a positive conservation impact.
Each area was to be called a Conservation Center and would be sponsored by a Zoo Curator or member of the Research Department. A critical feature was that each Conservation Center could be integrated into existing research, educational, marketing and development programs at the Zoo.
In May 2004, the Saint Louis Zoo launched the WildCareTM Institute naming Dr. Eric Miller, DVM, the Zoo’s Director of Animal Care and Research, as its director. Funding has come from the Saint Louis Zoo Friends Association, which has committed $750,000/year for operations over 4 years and an additional $16 million to create an endowment for long-term operational expenses. Another $350,000 per year comes from fees for rides on the new Conservation Carousel. (The Carousel’s signage notes, “our ride lasts several minutes, but your contribution lasts lifetimes.”)
The curators made their proposals and the first twelve Conservation Centers have been named. (Some detail about each center is provided in the Appendix.) Based on their maturity, the centers can be organized into three groups:
1) Bosawas, Nicaragua Dr. Cheryl Asa, Director-Research
2) Center for Avian Health in the Galapagos Dr. Patricia Parker-Des Lee Professor of Zoological Studies at University of Missouri-St. Louis and the Zoo, and Dr. Eric Miller, Director-WildCare Institute
3) Center for Equid Conservation in the Horn of Africa Martha Fischer, Curator-Mammals (Ungulates)
4) Lemur Conservation Center, Madagascar Ingrid Porton, Curator-Primates
5) Center for Conservation of Humboldt Penguins at Punta San Juan, Peru Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, President Saint Louis Zoo and Michael Macek, Curator-Birds.
Development Underway: These Centers are in their early stages of functioning and rapid growth can be expected.
1) Conservation Center for Near Eastern Vipers Jeff Etling, Curator-Herps
2) Sahelo-Saharan Wildlife Recovery Conservation Center Bill Houston, Assistant General Curator
3) Hellbender Conservation Center Ron Goellner, Director-Animal Collections
4) American Burying Beetle Conservation Center Jane Stevens, Curator-Invertebrates
5) Papua New Guinea Conservation Center Alice Seyfried, Manager-Emerson Children’s Zoo
Early Development: These Centers are still identifying their primary focus and/or partnerships in the field.
1) Horned Guan Conservation Center Michael Macek, Curator-Birds
2) Cheetah Conservation Center Steve Bircher, Curator-Mammals (Carnivores)
The Conservation Centers are asked to consider and incorporate activities in each of the following areas:
– Wildlife management and recovery (which can include captive breeding and research).
– Conservation science (research to assist in conservation decisions).
– The human dimension (ranging from community development to education and training programs).
– The connection to the Saint Louis Zoo.
A particular strength of the WildCareTM Institute is its strong emphasis on reaching out to create “conservation consortiums” that include other zoos, universities, governmental and non-governmental (NGO) agencies. To date, 47 institutions are or soon will be collaborators. When involving other zoological institutions the WildCareTM Institute insures that each partner has a specific portion of the program they can “adopt” and present to their audience, while they receive credit for a larger project that might otherwise be beyond their ability to maintain. But beyond zoos, there are the institutions and organizations with knowledge and expertise that is needed if conservation efforts are to be successful. For example, the WildCareTM Institute hopes to work with organizations such as Heifer International (www.heifer.org) to develop sustainable, ecologically sound community development efforts.
Financial Support of the Centers
Each Conservation Center is asked to view support received from the Institute as “seed money” towards future support from grants. This support may come from local governments, NGOs, or our university partners. In addition, as each Conservation Center seeks sponsors to fund expansion into new areas of research and conservation, they are directed to seek funding for at least a portion of current WildCareTM Institute-paid expenses. As funds are freed from one Center, the grant will be moved to another of the developing Centers.
Funding commitments for most long-term conservation projects are made in 3-year increments with an annual review. This recognizes that little can be done in many conservation issues in only one year, but underscores that a financial commitment is clearly based on results and is finite.
The Institute has established a WildCareTM Institute Review Committee that includes Zoo staff and external members from universities and conservation organizations. This group will help review strategies and programs so that we have both internal and external input.
A larger panel of “Conservation Fellows” has been created. This group of national and international experts who have worked with the WildCareTM Institute’s Conservation Centers will act in an advisory capacity to the Institute and the Conservation Centers.
Spreading The Message: The Role Of The Education Department
As part of its educational mission, the Saint Louis Zoo is working to make our visitors and supporters aware of the Conservation Center field projects. This is being done in several ways
1) On-site graphics – There are large graphics on the Zoo grounds near enclosures of animals that represent the Conservation Centers. Each graphic discusses the animal, its habitat, reasons for endangerment, and what the project is designed to accomplish.
2) Outreach Many of the Zoo’s outreach efforts to Zoo Friends members are tied into Conservation Center animals. For example, this year’s Zoo Friends calendar highlights a different Conservation Center each month and the Zoo Friends largest fund-raiser this year was built around the theme of Madagascar and lemurs.
3) Internet The WildCareTM Institute has its own section on the Zoo’s web site where visitors can read about the various projects. The Institute pages can be directly accessed from the top menu bar of www.stlzoo.org or at www.wildcareinstitute.org.
What about the Docents? With the Institute being so new, the role of docents is just beginning and is evolving. We have been involved in both episodic as well as more structured approaches to enhance the message to our visitors. For example:
– During the Earth Day celebration this year, docents were placed around the Zoo with displays, biofacts, and activities that highlighted each of the Conservation Centers.
– The WildCareTM Institute and the Conservation Centers are now highlighted in a Conservation Tour developed for 7th through 12th grade. Since we have many of the animals available, the tour can be adapted to visit the appropriate enclosures.
We are sure that even more activities and tours will be developed in the near future.
What You Can Do At Your Zoo
If your Zoo is one of the cooperating institutions (see Appendix), you can find out more from your Zoo staff and include that information in your programs. Your Zoo may not be working with the WildCareTM Institute but may have other key field research programs that could be highlighted. Be sure to look at all the conservation efforts that your Zoo is supporting. What about local conservation? On the Saint Louis Zoo web site we point out how the Zoo is conserving and recycling and how readers can conserve at home, at work, or on the road.
There are many ways that we can share conservation messages with our visitors. The important thing is to help make them aware. When people learn, they can care. When they care, they will participate.
We hope the WildCareTM Institute will serve as a significant step forward in making the Saint Louis Zoo and its zoological partners true Conservation Centers. We believe that the “great” zoo of the future will be an integrated combination of enjoyable exhibits, excellent animal management, as well as internal and external conservation efforts. As docents we can participate in this evolution and show the visitors why conservation matters.
Conservation Centers Detail
Zoo Sponsor: Dr. Cheryl Asa, Director-Research.
This project was initiated in 1998 by Dr. Asa as part of her interest in the Meso-American Fauna Group (she is the Chair). The Bosawas area is the largest extended forest north of the Amazon. The program was initiated at the request of the local indigenous people who wish to maintain their current lifestyle. It features hunting/fishing monitoring studies to determine if their off-take from natural resources is sustainable, and more recently, an active educational program. The program has also recently expanded form the Manyanga Indian territories to those of the Miskito Indians. In a related program, The Nature Conservancy (our major partner) is seeking to gain legal title to the land for the indigenous people.
Current Partners: The Nature Conservancy; International Center for Tropical Ecology at University of Missouri-St. Louis; St. Louis University; Penn State University; Idaho State University; Missouri Botanical Garden; Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Additional territories surveyed, development of management plan, cultural anthropology research with Penn State-sponsored post-doctoral fellow, botanical survey, increased environmental educational programs.
Center for Avian Health in the Galapagos
Zoo Sponsor: Dr. Patricia Parker, Des Lee Professor of Zoological Studies at University of Missouri-St. Louis and the Zoo, and Dr. Eric Miller, Director-WildCareTM Institute This project was initiated in 2000 in response to a request from the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park to monitor the health of the birds in the Galapagos. For example, avian malaria has not yet appeared there and they did not wish to repeat the example of Hawaii with its catastrophic extinctions. The program has featured workshops for Ecuadorian students that teach recognition of avian diseases and field collection techniques for biomedical samples and for collection of tissues from any birds that may be found dead. Since 2002 the Zoo has based a full-time veterinary pathologist at the Research Station. Additionally, active survey work (blood collection has taken place obtaining over 3000 samples from 16 species on 11 of the archipelago’s islands) is ongoing.
Current Partners: University of Missouri-St. Louis; Charles Darwin Research Center; Galapagos National Park; Zoological Society of London
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): A Population and Habitat Viability Assessment workshop on Galapagos penguins was held in early 2005. Ongoing field monitoring and stationing of a pathologist at the Charles Darwin Research Station. We hope to find outside funding sources for a training program for an Ecuadorian veterinarian in avian pathology at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
Center for Equid Conservation in the Horn of Africa
Zoo Sponsor: Martha Fischer, Curator-Mammals (Ungulates)
Currently, the primary focus of this Center is the conservation of Grevy’s zebras in Kenya. However, it is developing programs for the conservation of Grevy’s zebras and African wild asses in Ethiopia, and for wild asses in Eritrea. In July 2004, an agreement between Lewa Conservancy, Kalama village and the Saint Louis Zoo was signed to formalize our commitment of 3 years of community support (education, game guards, water source, etc.) to that communal area.
Current Partners: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization, IUCN Equid Specialist Group, AZA Equid Advisory Group, AZA Grevy’s Zebras SSP, Northern Rangelands Endangered Species Wildlife Program, Grevy’s Zebra Conservation Program, Princeton University.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): After 3 years, potential for assisting in the construction of an ecotourism lodge in Kalama village, increased educational programs, and expansion of some of the concepts that have worked in Kenya to tribal lands in Ethiopia. An enhanced educational component is also anticipated. We are also attempting to seek further expansion of protected territories by soliciting other zoos to support protected area like Kalama (if all eligible areas are supported, up to 680,000 acres will be under protection).
Lemur Conservation Center
Zoo Sponsor: Ingrid Porton, Curator-Primates
Madagascar is considered among the highest of conservation priorities because many of the animal and plant species are found nowhere else in the world. Lemurs are one large group of animals found only in Madagascar. There are 48 species of lemurs ranging from the smallest living primate, the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only one ounce, to the long-legged sifaka that can weigh up to 15 pounds. But Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and the impact of human agriculture, fuel wood collection and livestock activities has resulted in wide-range habitat loss leaving 15 species extinct and 17 endangered. The Saint Louis Zoo has a long history of managing and developing husbandry expertise with lemur species, particularly in the science of endangered species reintroduction techniques through the release of captive ruffed lemurs into Betampona. Such expertise will help future reintroductions for similar primates. The Lemur Conservation Center will conduct research to understand and monitor the health status of free-ranging wildlife. And coordinate an island-wide research program that safely collects blood and other samples from wild lemurs for health evaluations. Compare captive populations, asses disease risks associated with reintroductions or translocations and manage lemur populations in protected reserves. It will also provide educational opportunities for Malagsy graduate students and conservation agents who will then provide in-country training courses in conservation biology, natural resource management, environmental education, veterinary science and even eco-tourism and eco-friendly small business development.
Current Partners: University of Missouri-St. Louis; Missouri Botanical Garden; Madagascar Fauna Group; University of Antananarivo; University of Tamatave; Washington University in St. Louis; Parc Zoologique d’Ivoloine; University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Nutrition Department, Freund Family Foundation.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Expansion of biomedical surveys, genetics studies of the relationships of diurnal lemurs, increasing local capacity through training. Possible support for Malagasy graduate students at the International Center for Tropical Ecology at UM-St. Louis and further development of the Parc Ivoloine Training Center.
Humboldt Penguin Conservation Center at Punta San Juan, Peru
Zoo Sponsor: Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, President Saint Louis Zoo and Michael Macek, Curator-Birds
This Center is protecting the breeding ground of more than half of Peru’s Humboldt penguins (8000 birds) from disturbance by guano gatherers, poaching and predators. It is an equal contribution by the Saint Louis, Philadelphia and Brookfield Zoos, and we are operating under a 1-year agreement that will hopefully lead to a 3-year agreement.
Current Partners: Brookfield Zoo; Philadelphia Zoo; Spondulus; AZA Humboldt Penguin SSP; AZA Penguin
Taxon Advisory Group; Conservation International-Peru.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Address long term capital needs, such as rebuilding
portions of protective wall, collate scientific data already collected at the site, and develop an ongoing research
program there. A Population and Habitat Viability Assessment workshop will probably take place in early 2006.
Conservation Center Development Underway:
Conservation Center for Near Eastern Vipers
Zoo Sponsor: Jeff Ettling, Curator-Herps
This program is designed to protect multiple endangered species of mountain vipers. The first targeted species is the Armenian Mountain viper that has suffered an 85% decline due to being killed by farmers or captured for the European pet trade. Radio-telemetry studies were initiated in June 2004 that will seek to determine their field habits, set up educational programs for the local framers, and enlist the support of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums to discourage the pet trade.
Current Partners: Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Tula Exotarium; Bioresources management Agency (Armenia); University of Goteborg (Sweden). The St. Louis and Kansas City Herpetological Societies have also provided support for this project.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Put in place basic field studies of numbers and
behavior and use those data to design protection programs. Also enact local education programs for the farmers,
and in exchange, consider providing assistance in improving their livestock.
Sahelo-Saharan Wildlife Recovery Conservation Center
Zoo Sponsor: Bill Houston, Asst. General Curator.
This Center is dedicated to the preservation of multiple species of desert animals, with a focus on desert antelope in Sahelo-Saharan region of Africa. The Zoo has a long history of breeding and performing research on addax, a desert antelope that may only survive in 1or 2 reserves in the wild. Currently with several other zoo partners, we are helping to support the Termit Biosphere Reserve in northern Niger, an area where a Zoo-funded survey recently found addax remaining. Cheetah and other endangered species have also been seen in this park. Additionally, we have committed to providing support for an Executive Director for the Saharan Conservation Fund, a newly formed fund from the Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group.
Current Partners: Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group; The Living Desert (Palm Desert, CA); the National Zoological Park; Cincinnati Zoo; Marwell Zoo, Hannover (Germany) Zoo.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): The primary focus will be on providing support for the Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group. This may include paying the salary for an Executive Director since this position is critical to developing a long-term conservation plan for these species. We may participate in a reintroduction project for ostrich since they have been nearly eliminated from the area and they would provide a model to work out any problems, before we attempted what are likely to be the more problematic antelope reintroductions.
Hellbender Conservation Center
Zoo Sponsor: Ron Goellner, Director of Animal Collections.
Missouri is the only state to have both subspecies of hellbenders. However, they are undergoing a population decline and the juvenile class is missing for reasons that are not understood. The Zoo is currently funding research at University of Missouri-Rolla that is comparing health measures between Missouri Ozark populations and hellbender populations in North Carolina and Georgia that are considered stable. Additionally we have agreed to fund a survey for hellbenders by Dr. Nickerson from the University of Florida, the researcher who undertook the original surveys in the 1970s
Current Partners: Missouri Department of Conservation; University of Missouri-Rolla; University of Florida; St. Louis University; US Fish and Wildlife Service
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Results of the census and the biomarkers studies will hopefully provide the most promising avenues for future research and conservation. Research can also be carried out on the captive colony of hellbenders held here at the Zoo.
American Burying Beetle Conservation Center
Zoo Sponsor: Jane Stevens, Curator-Invertebrates.
This Center is first seeking to determine if the American Burying Beetle still exists in Missouri. Although the last documented sightings were in the 1960s, they are still found in several contiguous states. If not located, or if in small numbers, then consideration will be given to a reintroduction program. In August 2004, the Zoo initiated its first captive colony of American Burying beetles (13 of them) established with animals from Arkansas. That colony has grown to over 200 individuals.
Current Partners: US Fish and Wildlife Service; The Nature Conservancy; Missouri Department of Conservation; Missouri Department of Natural Resources; Roger Williams Park Zoo; The Wilds.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Reintroductions in selected sites with animals from the Zoo’s breeding colony.
Papua New Guinea Conservation Center
Zoo Sponsor: Alice Seyfried, Manager-Emerson Children’s Zoo.
The Saint Louis Zoo is one of only two zoos in the US to breed the short-beaked echidna. This program, in collaboration with the Roger Williams Park Zoo, is studying the habitats and behavior of the more endangered long-beaked echidna on the Huon Peninsula in Papua, New Guinea. In addition, it is working with tree kangaroos and community conservation education. Finally, recent attention has been paid to supporting the Rain Forest Habitat Zoo in Lae; PNG to create an educational resource for the local community and a training opportunity, e.g., practice field restraint techniques for local and international scientists.
Current Partners: Roger Williams Park Zoo; Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle); Conservation International; University of Papua, New Guinea; Washington University in St. Louis; University of Rhode Island.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Additional genetic and behavioral studies of long-beaked echidna. Bringing PNG graduate student to US for training. Also provide for further development of the
Rain Forest Habitat Zoo for 1) better animal management, 2) a local and national educational resource, and 3) a training center for field biologist.
Horned Guan Conservation Center
Zoo Sponsor: Michael Macek, Curator-Birds
The Horned Guan inhabits the high montane pine/oak forests (cloud forests) of southeastern Mexico and Guatemala. They have been particularly affected by logging and farming activities and now are limited to isolated pockets of forest. Today less than 1,000 birds exist in the wild and the pavon is listed by the IUCN as critically endangered. The Zoo has a strong track record with cracids and has successfully developed artificial insemination techniques. As the conservation status of the horned guan is of the highest immediate priority, the taxonomic identity of geographic sub-species needs to be defined. The role the guan plays in the regeneration of montane forests is of paramount importance, but the complex dynamics of seed dispersal and predation are little understood. Nutrition and plant ecology studies will help illuminate this role. The center will also help initiate local education programs. These programs coupled with enforcement action will help reduce the threats caused by illegal timber removal and hunting. The reduction of coffee plantations and the formation of additional reserves can provide potential for eco-tourism resulting in alternative economic opportunities for local communities.
Current Partners: The Cracid Specialist Group; AZA Cracid Taxon Advisory Group; The Nature Conservancy; Birdlife International; Instituto Ecologica; Fundacion Natura; African Safari Park (Puebla, Mexico); Leon Zoo (Mexico).
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): Michael Macek made an exploratory visit to Mexico in the fall of 2004 to better identify partners and conservation needs. It is hoped to have a strong community development component to offer the refugees in Chiapas an alternative life style than hunting in the forests. We are looking to transfer artificial insemination techniques developed at the Saint Louis Zoo on the common piping guan to non-breeding endangered horned guans maintained in Mexican zoos. The WildCare Institute also funded a survey of Mexico’s El Triumfo Reserve to evaluate the status of horned guans in that critical habitat.
Cheetah Conservation Center
Zoo Sponsor: Steve Bircher, Curator of Mammals (Carnivores)
Currently, this Center is seeking a geographic focus for its activities. We are currently supporting an initiative by Dr. Sarah Durrant of the Zoological Society of London who is studying cheetahs in the Serengeti. We may continue to support that Center, or move our main efforts to another area (e.g., Rebecca Krisher in Botswana, Laurie Marker in Namibia, or the DeWildt Cheetah Center and Jubatus Ranch in South Africa). The WildCare Institute has also agreed that we will provide $15,000/year for 3 years towards supporting a PhD program for Maurus Msuhu, the Carnivore’s Institutes’ Tanzanian manager.
Current Partners: Zoological Society of London; IUCN/CBSG Global Cheetah Forum; Cheetah Conservation Fund Namibia; Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute.
Planned Expansion for Immediate Future (1-2 years): To be determined.
Other Zoos and Zoo Associations (50+)
University of Missouri-St. Louis
American Zoo and Aquarium Association (multiple University of Missouri Columbia groups)
University of Missouri Rolla
European Zoo and Aquarium Association
Washington University (St. Louis)
Brookfield Zoo (Chicago, IL)
St. Louis University
Southwest Missouri State
Zoological Society of London
Roger Williams Park Zoo (Providence, RI)
Webster University (Missouri)
National Zoological Park
University of Arkansas
Ivoloine Zoo (Tamatave, Madagascar)
University of Florida
The Living Desert (Palm Desert, CA)
Idaho State University
Leon Zoo (Leon, Mexico)
Michigan State University
Africam Safari Park (Puebla, Mexico)
Pennsylvania State University
40 more zoos in Madagascar Fauna Group
University of Rhode Island
University of Goteborg (Sweden)
University of Papua, New Guinea
University of Atananrivo
University of Tamatave
Conservation Organizations and Agencies (17)
The Nature Conservancy
Missouri Department of Conservation
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Arkansas Fish and Game
Galapagos National Park
IUCN Equid Specialist Group (IUCN = International Union for the Conservation of Nature)
IUCN Cracid Specialist Group
IUCN Global Cheetah Forum
Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Bioresource Management Agency
Tanzanian Wildlife Research Station
Instituto de Ecologia
Conservation International Peru
Research and Community Development Organizations (7)
Missouri Botanical Gardens
Madagascar Fauna Group
Charles Darwin Research Station
Danforth Plant Science Center
Russian Academy of Sciences