Western lowland gorilla ©Kristen E. Lukas
AZA Conservation Endowment Fund (CEF) supports an extraordinary range of projects. Here are brief descriptions of a recently funded project in each of the CEF funding categories. [full list of all CEF Awards]
CEF Category: Animal Health
Gorilla Health Project (2007)
The health issues of gorillas in AZA-accredited zoos help researchers understand the plight of wild gorillas. Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered. At their present rate of decline, they may disappear from the wild by 2050. While the full extent of heart disease in the ex situ gorilla population is unknown, heart disease has been a factor in at least one third of adult gorilla deaths in zoos in North America.
In November 2006 a ground-breaking meeting of human medical experts, veterinarians, pathologists, and keepers established the Gorilla Health Project - recommended the development of a comprehensive database of gorilla medical, nutrition and husbandry records.
With funding from the AZA Conservation Endowment Fund, the National Gorilla Cardiac Database - which is a collaboration among the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Ohio State University, the Chicago Zoological Society / Brookfield Zoo, and Zoo New England - will track rates of heart disease and disease trends over time. The database provides the foundation for prospective studies focusing on the etiology of disease syndromes, improved treatment protocols, and effective means of preventing disease in the captive population.
CEF Category: Animal Welfare
The African Wild Dog Reintroduction and Conservation Program (2004)
The African wild dog is critically endangered, with fewer than 5,000 individuals remaining in small areas of its former range. With help from the AZA Conservation Endowment Fund, the wild dog population in the area has increased substantially through births and reintroductions by the end of 2005.
Drs. Michaela Szykman, Steven Monfort, and David Wildt of the Smithsonian National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center have focused on reintroduction strategies to bolster this species in the wild. With funding from the AZA CEF, the African Wild Dog Reintroduction and Conservation Program seeks to understand individual and pack health, stress, reproductive success, and survival of packs established through reintroductions.
The team focused its 2004 CEF award on assessing endocrine physiology as a means of measuring stress in packs of reintroduced wild dogs. Using non-invasive fecal samples, the researchers studied short-term stress during the reintroduction process, and long-term stress resulting from food competition with lions and spotted hyenas. The team was testing the hypothesis that stress in wild dogs may affect disease susceptibility and reproductive health.
In December 2004, the program reintroduced a pack of wild dogs into the KwaZulu-Natal province in eastern South Africa to complement an already existing pack of 34 individuals living in the province. Endocrine samples were collected before each dog was moved and sample collection continued throughout the translocation and after release into the wild. Fecal samples were also collected from the established wild dog population to complete an ecological analysis of competition with other predators in the area. The research team determined overlapping ranges of carnivores through radio-tracking and spatial analysis and combined these data with physiological monitoring of wild dogs.
CEF Category: Conservation Education
Lake Victoria Species Survival Plan® In Situ Program (2006)
Lake Victoria - the largest of the African Lakes - faces an ecological crisis from over-fishing, the introduction of non-native species, and deleterious land practices that contribute to pollution, oxygen depletion, and the mass extinction of native fishes.
East African conservationists needed to reach the people who live in Uganda and Kenya - which border the lake - to help them understand the nature and extent of the crisis. The Toronto Zoo, New England Aquarium, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, members of the AZA Lake Victoria Species Survival Plan, collaborated to create culturally sensitive traveling exhibits which were funded by a 2006 CEF Award.
Using materials developed in 2000 for the New England Aquarium and customized for East African audiences, the exhibit, called Nyanja – Africa’s Inland Sea, focused on the loss of the native haplochromine fishes in this ecosystem and the impact of that loss upon the local people. The exhibit used local terminology, native languages, and colloquial species names.
Supplementary materials included a DVD called Perspectives on Lake Victoria as well as educational texts. The exhibit will be shared by several partners, including the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, the National Museums of Kenya, and the Fisheries Resources Research Institute in Uganda, for many years to come.
CEF Category: Field Conservation and/or Reintroduction
Biogeographic Patterns, Population Structure, and Conservation of the Threatened Banggai Cardinalfish (2003)
The beautiful Banggai Cardinalfish has become highly prized in the pet trade in recent years. More than 700,000 Banggai cardinalfish are exported annually from its restricted geographic range in Indonesia. Scientists hope to list this species in the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendices, which would create a commercial trade ban.
Alejandro Vagelli of the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences has been studying the Banggai cardinalfish with the help of CEF funding. During the 2004 expedition funded by the CEF, the commercial process for capturing wild cardinalfish was filmed for the first time. Vagelli obtained permission to create two small marine protected areas for the species. The future of this project lies in understanding the logistics of the conservation area and promoting local involvement to ensure long-term success.
CEF Category: Management and/or Breeding
Developing a Successful Clouded Leopard Breeding Program in Thailand (2003)
Clouded leopards are among the most charisimatic and least understood of Thailand's many cat species. Little is know about the behavior and status of these shy and elusive creatures. However, extensive habitat loss is threatening their survival in the wild. In 2003, there were 24 clouded leopards in a consortium that included the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand, the Nashville Zoo, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, and the Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan.
But breeding clouded leopards in captivity is challenging. Katharine Pelican and JoGayle Howard of the Smithsonian's National Zoo, and Nadja Wielebnowski of the Brookfield Zoo used CEF funding to analyze reproductive steroid hormones found in the feces of clouded leopards. The resulting database will by used in management strategies not only for clouded leopards, but for breeding carnivores worldwide.
CEF Category: Research
Radiotelemetry Field Study of the Wyoming Toad (1997)
In 1994, the Wyoming toad was near extinction in the wild. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department captured the few remaining toads and began a captive breeding program with the ultimate goal of reintroducing the toad into its native habitat in the Laramie Basin, near Laramie, Wyoming.
However, very little was known about the toad's general ecology, which posed a threat to its long-term survival. In 1997, Brint Spencer of the John Ball Zoo and R. Andrew Odum of the Toledo Zoo used a CEF grant to conduct a radiotelemetry field study of toad behavior. The results added to the growing body of knowledge needed to restore the Wyoming toad to a secure status in the wild.