Central Illinois zoos conserve endangered species
The Associated Press
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — Zoos often use entertainment and the “cute” factor of a new birth to attract — and then educate — visitors, because knowledge about a species in captivity can save their brethren in the wild.
“Kids are like sponges,” said Ken Frye, assistant director at Scovill Zoo in Decatur, and a nugget of information can spark interest in a specific species or breed.
Nature also plays a role, so the Association of Zoos and Aquariums tracks the success of zoo breeding programs. Miller Park, for instance, is recognized for its red wolves, a species considered endangered. (Two red wolf pups were born at Miller Park this spring). It also has a strong hedgehog breeding program to provide babies to other AZA institutions.
“We want to be a significant player in building the (red wolf) program,” said Miller Park Zoo Superintendent Jay Tetzloff.
Nationally, the number of gray wolves has rebounded in recent decades, and Scovill Zoo redesigned its exhibit to encourage a closer relationship between its three animals and zoo visitors. Another program allows donors to give pocket change (or more), with a specific amount dedicated to conservation and education of cheetahs.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund provides guard dogs to Namibian farmers, who help save cheetahs forced to find new feeding grounds now that man’s water practices have destroyed their natural hunting areas.
Scovill’s two cheetahs, it turns out, like squirrels. At least, that was the consensus after zookeepers found a number of tails during spring cleaning of the brothers’ habitat.
Miller Park Zoo, Illinois’ only recognized breeding site for San Clemente goats, is a far cry from the California island for which the animals are named. Moved there in the mid-1800s from their native Santa Catalina Island, the goats quickly adapted to San Clemente’s rocky outcroppings, hills, small bushes and grasslands, sharing the island with the native people and some sheep. The U.S. Navy took control in 1934, establishing an airstrip and training base, and added deer and pigs to the mix in the mid-1950s.
The AZA tracks each endangered species, compiling breeding, birth and habitat information. Some zoos have too few or too many of a certain animal; using the AZA information, zoos can whittle or add to their population based on need, want or cost.
Just like among two-legged varmints, a pairing of zoo animals may not produce offspring. Split up the couple and assign them to different partners, put them in a different environment or give them different neighbors, and zoos may get different results.
Miller Park’s proposed master plan, for instance, would group animals and habitats by geography, rather than by space available. Chosen diversity may mean only one gibbon and no lion, but the additions of a komodo dragon and a pair of black swans.
A zoo’s population isn’t determined solely by what is born or dies. Sometimes, it’s as simple as switching out a tank. Rather than leave an empty space when a display needs cleaning in Zoolab, Miller Park zookeepers just put in something that hasn’t been seen for awhile.
Want to see a giraffe or hippo? Tetzlaff believes you’re willing to travel to Peoria for that, and that will let him spend money on a different animal.
The animals on San Clemente outgrew the island’s available food, and about 30,000 goats had to go. Hunters took care of some; trappers moved others to mainland farms, adoptive families and zoos. The last goat was exterminated in April 1991. Today, the San Clemente Island Goat Association works with breeders and promotes the animals’ history. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy “has asked that all healthy does be bred, or we’ll be looking at extinction in about 20 years.”
A number of creatures, including several at Miller Park and Scovill zoos, are listed as endangered species or breeds. National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has traveled to hundreds of zoos, including Miller Park, to record images of those several thousand animals, birds and invertebrate.
His goal is to catalog all of them.
“The Miller Park Zoo is playing a vital role not only in the conservation of endangered species, but also in education,” Sartore told The Pantagraph. “With the majority of us now living in urban areas, zoos like Miller Park are going to be the only place the public can see and learn about animals in a very real way. And that’s the critical first step in saving anything: awareness that a problem exists. The Miller Park Zoo is a great facility and deserves our full support.”
Frye, at Scovill, said work can start with something as simple as recycling or donating money. Habitats and animals are destroyed, trapped or poisoned by our castoffs; rescue groups can provide hands-on work and general awareness.
People need “a sense of pride that we do live on this planet,” said Amanda Hall, a Scovill zookeeper. There are “little bits of responsibility so we can do our part.”
Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com