The Association of Zoos & Aquariums, with its member aquariums and zoos and a variety of partners, are taking action to save species through AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. SAFE combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA members and partners, all focused on saving species. Our collective action will help save vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protect them for future generations.
SAFE Eastern Indigo Snake Program Leader: Michelle Hoffman, Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation Director, Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Garden
What’s the first thing you do when you see a snake in your yard? Run? Chase it away? The stigma around snakes is that they are nothing more than something to fear in your yard or a nuisance to get rid of. However, like all animals in the world, they are an essential species to the environment. They are a key link in the ecosystems food chain acting as both predator and prey, and help ensure that our ecosystem and environment continue to run smoothly and efficiently. In the southern parts of the United States, the Eastern Indigo Snake population has taken a hit due to the destruction of the pine leaf ecosystem. With the help of partners, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are taking the next steps in reintroducing the Eastern Indigo Snake into southern Alabama and northwest Florida, helping to restore the population to a healthy sustainable level.
This reintroduction program was initiated in the early 2000's with the establishment of the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Committee; however, habitat restoration at the eastern indigo snake reintroduction sites has been taking place for much longer. Partners have been working to reestablish the eastern indigo snake in areas where the species has been extirpated for many years. In 2014, the Central Florida Zoo partnered with the Orianne Society to operate the captive propagation center, Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC) that was established by the Orianne Society around 2011. Currently the Welaka National Fish Hatchery is head starting between 20 and 35 snakes each year to aid in these efforts. Between 2010 and 2019, 169 eastern indigo snakes have been released in the Conecuh National Forest in southern Alabama. Between 2017 and 2019, 47 eastern indigo snakes have been released in The Nature Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in the Florida Panhandle. This long term reintroduction program is part of a multi-partner effort including: US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ALDCNR), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation, Orianne Society, Auburn University, The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service, Zoo Atlanta, Welaka National Fish Hatchery, Zoo Tampa, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Alabama Natural Heritage Museum, and others.
In 2018 additional partners were added to the Eastern Indigo Snake reintroduction efforts: The Welaka National Fish Hatchery and Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park. The Welaka National Fish Hatchery constructed a room for the purpose of head starting Eastern Indigo Snake prior to release. They obtained 10 Eastern Indigo Snake from the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation in January 2018 which were raised for the last four months of their two-year head start period at the hatchery and then released into the wild. In August 2018, the Welaka National Fish Hatchery received 24 Eastern Indigo Snake which were hatched in 2016 from the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation and they were raised until June 2019 when they were released. This year, the Welaka National Fish Hatchery is housing 30 Eastern Indigo Snake until 2020 when they are scheduled for release. All of these snakes were bred and hatched at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation for the purpose of reintroduction. In early 2018, Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park received five Eastern Indigo Snake to raise until they were ready for release in the spring of 2018. After these five snakes were released, they received another five which were released in spring 2019. They have not received snakes for head starting after the five were released in 2019, but will be attempting to breed Eastern Indigo Snake for education and display purposes utilizing newly constructed outdoor enclosures and a designated Eastern Indigo Snake rearing space. Zoo Atlanta, one of the EIS reintroduction program’s original partners for head starting Eastern Indigo Snake prior to release, housed snakes involved in the program up until 2017. Zoo Atlanta is currently constructing an area specifically for rearing Eastern Indigo Snake for the program and will receive snakes soon.
With increase in populations within facilities multiple AZA facilities have expressed interest in obtaining Eastern Indigo Snakes for their facilities. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) is working to fulfill these needs using the animals at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation and other AZA breeding facilities. Many snakes transferred to other zoo’s from the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation are offspring of wild males and females that were acquired from non-AZA sources and have unknown lineages. In order to make more informed breeding recommendations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Auburn University, and the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation partnered to acquire funds which include genetic screening of snakes at zoos and aquariums with unknown lineages. Additional funding supporting the captive propagation of Eastern Indigo Snake at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation for reintroduction efforts has accumulated ~$152,000. These funds are used to cover veterinary expenses at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation as well as veterinary costs of snakes at the Welaka National Fish Hatchery which utilizes the veterinarian for the Central Florida Zoo. They have also covered enclosure costs, disease testing, and a full-time temporary position at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation and incubation materials. The funding support for reintroduction efforts include: Conserve Wildlife Tag (FWC) award, Cooperative Agreement between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Orianne Society, Conservation Fund through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Fish and Wildlife Fund via the Nature Conservancy.
The reintroduction efforts for the Eastern Indigo Snake are only the beginning of building a healthy sustainable population. With the continuous help and support from partnerships and AZA facilities, the Eastern Indigo Snake is on its way to becoming a thriving species in the southern U.S. and continue to play a vital role in our ecosystem.
Author: Kayla Ripple, AZA SAFE Coordinator
SAFE African Vulture Program Leader: Dr. Corinne J. Kendall, Curator of Conservation and Research, North Carolina Zoo
SAFE African Vulture Vice Program Leader: Dr. Graeme Patterson, Vice President for Field Conservation, Denver Zoo
Image Credit: Corinne Kendall/North Carolina Zoo
Conservation collaboration within the AZA community continues to grow through SAFE. Through the development of three-year SAFE Program Plans, our members set priorities and build strategies that garner multi-institutional support and engagement. The SAFE African Vulture Program Plan was approved in March 2018, and is helping to conserve six species of African vulture threatened with extinction. The program identified priorities for African vulture population monitoring, poisoning prevention, collision prevention, rehabilitation, public engagement, fundraising, and capacity building in range countries. Considerable progress has been made in just six months, targeting four countries of high conservation significance for African vultures – Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa. Four new Program Partners have joined during this time, for a total of 14 AZA-accredited institutions currently unified in African vulture conservation priorities. Here’s a glance at what our members and collaborators have been up to!
New mass survey efforts are underway to assess populations in previously understudied areas. These include helicopter surveys of Ruppell’s vulture cliff nests in Northern Kenya and surveys through the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania – Africa’s largest game reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Six students are supported in all four target countries to further these research efforts, and a groundbreaking study updating the status of vultures in Botswana was published recently.
Community groups and rangers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana were trained in efforts to reduce poisoning, as well as in the use of telemetry studies to assess vulture mortality rates. Efforts to mitigate collisions with powerlines are underway in Kenya and South Africa, where the threat is greatest. Rehabilitation and captive breeding projects have resulted in the release of over 50 vultures in South Africa.
The program is raising awareness in the U.S. by developing materials that zoos, aquariums, and partners can incorporate into their conservation communications. On September 1, International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) engaged more than 110 organizations globally and at least 14 AZA-accredited institutions, reaching over 2 million people. Surveys after IVAD revealed that these efforts helped to improve the awareness and attitudes of guests towards vultures. Next year, the team hopes to develop and include materials detailing how our guests can contribute directly to these conservation efforts.
The SAFE African vulture program aligned their strategies with the Convention on Migratory Species’ Multi-Species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian vultures. Using these priorities, the team outlined clear methodologies that have allowed them to contribute $100,000 to projects currently, and secure funding to build the projects further. Three projects were awarded funding through the AZA Conservation Grants Fund and two were awarded funding through National Geographic’s “Recovering Species on the Brink of Extinction” grant program for work in 2019.
Saving a species (let alone six) can be hard work, but the SAFE African vulture team is well on their way to getting there. There are many opportunities to be involved in helping to implement the SAFE African Vulture Program Plan. Please contact Corinne Kendall and Graeme Patterson, or reach out to SAFE@aza.org to learn how you can become a Program Partner for the SAFE African vulture program.
Originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Connect Magazine.
Author: Ronda Schwetz, Executive Zoo Director at Henry Vilas Zoo, Orangutan SSP Field Committee Chair, SAFE Orangutan Program Leader
Wild orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra are considered critically endangered under the IUCN Red List. These species face constant pressure of extinction due to many complex issues such as loss of habitat, illegal mining and logging, and high consumer demand for palm oil found in many consumer products. These factors also contribute to the illegal pet trade which leaves many wild orangutan infants without their mothers and in unsuitable living conditions. Several rehabilitation and rescue centers have been established to focus on the rehabilitation and release of orphaned and injured orangutans in their range countries.
The SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction orangutan program was launched in 2018 to focus on these threats and how AZA institutions can assist in the recovery of the species. Founding AZA institutions include Henry Vilas Zoo, Kansas City Zoo, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, and Seneca Park Zoo. The SAFE orangutan three-year action plan was recently submitted for review and approval through the Wildlife Conservation Committee. Much of the work that will be done under this plan adopts and supports long-standing orangutan conservation initiatives led by the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP)® program. As part of these efforts, to benefit wild and rehabilitant orangutans, AZA members participate in SSP-led field trips to Asian zoos and orangutan rescue centers. These trips have been occurring for over 10 years and have facilitated information exchange focused on training, husbandry, and enrichment among professional colleagues for rehabilitated orangutans in range countries. Other efforts include donations of equipment and medicine, professional exchanges with caretakers and veterinary staff, global education awareness of the issues impacting wild orangutans, and work with local communities to develop solutions that benefit both humans and orangutans.
CREATE (Corridor Restoration for Animals Threatened and Endangered), a project started by the Kansas City Zoo and in partnership with APE Malaysia, is an excellent example of one such collaborative effort. By hiring local community members to plant, maintain and grow forest trees to link gaps in wildlife corridors, CREATE provides a sustainable way of life for local people and animals. In November 2018, a team of AZA experts from four AZA-accredited zoos traveled to Northeast Borneo to help not only with the habitat restoration efforts but also to work with a local zoo on how to enhance their animal welfare. To offset the consequences of unsustainable slash and burn agriculture practices, participants planted 130 trees and performed maintenance on another 300 trees that will eventually grow to expand habitat for the animals, including orangutans, which live there.
Investing in trips like this and providing extra people-power for these projects can be a great benefit for all who participate. Facilities on both ends, expand their knowledge and networking, which ultimately results in better orangutan care, habitat conservation, and even release back into the wild. AZA professionals who take part in the trips come back able to enthusiastically share their conservation and welfare efforts with visitors at their zoo, as well as engage their own staff to share this experience. To learn more about these efforts or to get involved, visit The Orangutan SSP website or the AZA SAFE species page.
Originally published in the February 2019 issue of Connect Magazine.
Poster art designed by Frank Fallano.
Along the upper Texas coast, sea turtles frequent beaches to nest in April, May, and June every year. But sometimes sea turtles are in perilous situations that require immediate medical attention. Sea turtles have been found in the area that have swallowed fish hooks, are entangled in shoe laces, plastic bags, or other debris. The Sea Turtle Standing and Salvage Network, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and partners, is on call 24/7 and responds during all hours of the day and night. But rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles can take weeks, months, or even years and sound partnerships are the key to success. The Houston Zoo provides pro bono medical services, including surgery and other expensive procedures. The Houston Zoo Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Joe Flanagan, is always on call and conducts life-saving procedures at a facility in Galveston, Texas. The facility is especially overwhelmed during the winter months when cold-stunning events can occur. Cold-stunning occurs when sea turtles experience symptoms similar to hypothermia in humans due to long exposure to cold waters. Sea turtles can die from cold-stunning, and having Dr. Flanagan and the Houston Zoo staff such as Martha Parker able to assist the Galveston facility is crucial for saving sea turtles. For an interesting story on these key persons working hard to save sea turtles, see: Sea Turtle Superheroes.
Peter Thomas, International and Policy Program Director at Marine Mammal Commission, discussed concerns for the critically endangered vaquita marina in a recent interview with CCTV America. The interview focused on the impacts of illegal totoaba fishing in Mexico on the vaquita, and the steps that are being taken to help protect vaquitas in the wild. The Mexican government has issued a ban on gillnets, the biggest threat to the vaquita, and is beginning to use drones in an effort to catch poachers who continue to fish illegally. As totoaba fishing is driven largely by the Chinese market, this interview is particularly significant because CCTV has a global reach. CCTV is one of 42 TV channels produced and broadcast by China Central Television, the world’s largest broadcaster with a reach of more than 1.2 billion people. The channel can be seen in more than 85 million homes across more than 100 countries and territories. To see the full interview and learn more about threats and conservation efforts surrounding the vaquita, watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jVp-7vAwYE&feature=youtu.be.
Below are a few updates about the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction program.
The criteria for qualifying a species as an SMSS is finalized and the Implementation Task Force (ITF) is working on identifying a few model SMSS species. The AZA Field Conservation Committee (FCC) has agreed to receive, review, and approve SMSS applications and is collaborating with the ITF to finalize the application and the approval processes which will be launched at the January 2017 Directors Policy Meeting.
We are very happy to announce that two new SAFE CAP Project Coordinators have been confirmed since our last update. Jim Wharton, Director of Conservation and Education at the Seattle Aquarium, will be one of the AZA SAFE Shark and Ray Conservation Action Plan Public Engagement Project Coordinators. Jim has over 20 years of experience with informal science education, program development and public awareness, as well as in shark and ray conservation and protection.
Beth Firchau, Director of Husbandry at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, will be the AZA SAFE Shark and Ray Conservation Action Plan SSP Sustainability Project Coordinator. Beth is the Marine Fishes TAG Chair and brings a deep set of knowledge and experience about SSP programs and their needs. Beth has over 20 years of experience in aquariums and has worked for many years on shark and ray conservation.
Learn more about the SAFE Signature Species: People have asked for a place where they can go to learn more about what is happening with the SAFE Signature Species and how they and their AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium can become directly involved in coordinating or collaborating on a SAFE CAP Project. To meet this need we have created species-specific SAFE Project webpages that identify critical actions to date and the project coordinators, collaborators and funders. To find out more visit: https://www.aza.org/safe-signature-species, select the species you’re interested in, and then select the “Conservation Projects” link in the right-hand column.
Two new tools have been created and are available for you to use. A SAFE 101 PowerPoint has been created and is available for you to brief your staff, your volunteers or your governing authority on SAFE. You can find it on the Governing Authorities Resource Center page: https://www.aza.org/governing-authorities-resource-center . In addition, a SAFE Frequently Asked Questions document has been developed. This is available in the SAFE community on the AZA network in the Resources area: http://network.aza.org/communities/community-home?CommunityKey=e6aa9f3b-6be8-4f6c-ace4-8fe2d296fc14 NOTE: You need to be logged in to the AZA Network to access the resources.
We want to thank the 47 AZA zoos, aquariums, and commercial members who have pledged nearly $2.7+ million over three years to the Founders Circle to provide the seed money for the science, planning, and public engagement strategies for SAFE. In particular, we thank our commercial members for their support including SSA, Miles River Direct, Schultz & Williams and Morey Consulting. We invite your participation in the Founders Circle to help us reach our $3 million goal. For information, please contact Gregg Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jill Nicoll at email@example.com.
Remember to Tag Your Posts with #SavingSpecies: Please use the #savingspecies hashtag. We are watching for your posts and sharing them with our followers. Let’s keep it up!
Join the AZA SAFE Community on the AZA Network: We utilize the AZA Network, posting updates and files available in the AZA SAFE community, which can be accessed here: http://network.aza.org/communities/community-home?CommunityKey=e6aa9f3b-6be8-4f6c-ace4-8fe2d296fc14 . Please note that you need to be logged in to the AZA Network to access these resources.
Upcoming Calendar: AZA, working with several AZA committees, will be providing materials related to Focus Days in 2016. Thank you for helping to make World Rhino Day a success!
December 4 – International Cheetah Day
The Palm Desert Patch reports: During La Gran Fiesta, The Living Desert will also be raising awareness of the plight of the vaquita, the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Current estimates state there are fewer than 60 of these small porpoise left in the northern Gulf of California. The vaquitas’ major threat is entanglement in fishing gillnets. As a way to help save the vaquita, attendees at La Gran Fiesta are invited to take part in the inaugural vaquita parade. Guests are also encouraged to ‘adopt’ a vaquita to help support their recovery in the wild – adopters receive an adoption certificate, book, hat, and fact sheet – and all proceeds go to support the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) vaquita conservation action plan. Read more
Through exemplary collaboration, the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Seafood for the Future program and NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center developed Storied Seafood: Vaquita Conservation. Storied Seafood tells the story of the vaquita through the lens of a group of innovative fishermen from the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. These fishermen are working with global fishing experts, government and nongovernment organizations to develop and test non-entangling fishing gear. The new gear is expected to reduce fishery impacts on the critically endangered vaquita as well as other protected species in the region. Storied Seafood will also highlight various perspectives and efforts throughout the seafood supply chain to address specific ocean conservation issues associated with seafood. It will provide a platform from which to discuss, develop, and inform the public about collaborative solutions for healthy people and ocean ecosystems. You can learn more here: http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/seafoodfuture/storiedseafood
The vaquita, the smallest porpoise in the world, needs our help. In this KVOA/News 4 Tucson video, Reid Park Zoo’s Jed Dodds and Education Coordinator Jennifer discuss how the Zoo is helping the critically endangered species. Watch the video
From Metro News Calgary: Whooping cranes nearly vanished in the mid-1900s.
Since then, the population has stabilized with the help of the Calgary Zoo and several other conservation centres across North America. So much so, that they were honoured by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums with the North American Conservation Award.
But what is it that made the program so successful? Read more ...