Conservation Nation scientists were on hand to represent the five 2019 showcase projects at ZooFari: Bite Night, a benefit for wildlife sponsored by GEICO, on May 16.
With presentations and games, they taught guests about their important work all over the world. Some brought activities that highlighted a key component of their research – for example, scientist Alfonso Alonso used an audio game to test guests’ knowledge of animal vocalizations to tie in with an acoustic study of marine mammals off the coast of Peru.
Also on hand with an activity was Dr. Don Neiffer, a nationally recognized Smithsonian veterinarian, who taught guests how scientists safely dart wild tapirs to provide them with medical care.
The “spectacled” Andean Bear already stands out, thanks to distinctive eyeglass-shaped facial markings and its newfound celebrity status as none other than the movies’ Paddington Bear. Add to that its recent slew of unexpected appearances at South America’s most famous ancient site – the ruins of Machu Picchu – and you might think this shaggy fellow is obsessed with the limelight.
Not so fast. The Andean Bear is notoriously shy—and also vulnerable. As the only bear species native to South America, with habitats extending through Venezuela, Columbia and Peru, the Andean bear population has been depleted in the wild because of farming, mining and other human impacts.
That’s why Dr. Don Neiffer, a nationally recognized Smithsonian veterinarian, applied for Conservation Nation support in 2016. In association with the INKTERRA Machu Picchu Spectacled Bear Project, Dr. Neiffer was part of a team that travelled to the Machu Picchu sanctuary two years in a row to collaborate and educate range country researchers and veterinarians regarding care and conservation of this bear species.
“Capitalizing on the reputation of the Smithsonian, our NZP/SCBI team and our partners at INKATERRA were able to design two workshops that attracted people working with both wild and free-ranging Andean bears in several range countries,” Dr. Neiffer says. “In addition to researchers, veterinarians and animal care staff, government officials and National Park/Reserve managers were in attendance. Having all these decision makers and animal advocates in the same place to exchange ideas and interact is of paramount importance where the long-term sustainability of conservation projects such as this are concerned.“
Dr. Neiffer advised staff about how to monitor, diagnose and treat four resident bears at the sanctuary, hoping that by sharing expertise, the population of bears at INKATERRA might help boost the numbers of this dwindling species in the wild. And the team fostered a sense of collaboration even with those scientists who could not attend, live streaming lectures and giving presentations. By the second year of the project, the number of participants had doubled, showing increased interest in protection efforts for this species.
The Andean Bear Conservation Program in Peru is a perfect example of how our staff can help wildlife and their habitats around the world.—Dr. Don Neiffer
A Saturday film screening and shopping for a snazzy new dress might not normally make you think of conservation outreach, but Conservation Nation isn’t just any old fundraising initiative …
First off,fierce fashion.
Clothing brand Lilly Pulitzer has long been known for its cheerful patterns and ‘60s silhouettes—now it’s also known for making an impact for animals in the wild. On April 6, five Washington D.C.-area stores banded together to host a shop and share event, with 10 percent of their busy in-store Saturday’s proceeds benefiting Conservation Nation. The final amount raised? More than $2,300.
Throughout the day, employees spread the word about Conservation Nation’s 2019 showcase projects. They also provided creature-themed snacks and pointed out some of the store’s fun animal patterns, including colorful designs featuring pandas, turtles and foxes.
Lights, camera, action (for elephants)!
More than 100 films screened at the Environmental Film Festival this March, and the ongoing event was co-hosted by environmentally focused venues across Washington D.C.—from the National Geographic Museum to the Museum of Natural History.
One such screening on March 16 featured the work of a Conservation Nation scientist who joined a panel discussion to talk about his ongoing project to save Asian elephants in Myanmar. Scientist Shifra Goldenberg, international project manager and research fellow for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, is also heading a 2019 Conservation Nation showcase project to track and personality test elephants who were formerly in work camps.
At the screening, Conservation Nation hosted a booth featuring a real elephant GPS tracking collar for guests to view, and elephant enthusiasts were encouraged to learn more about how important it is for researchers to have the tools they need to track pachyderm movements in the wild.
Thank you to the fine folks at the Environmental Film Festival for helping to spread the word about one of Conservation Nation’s projects!
Not many people can say that they raised a thousand chicks at one time. Curator Steve Sarro is one such person. He has been a leading African penguin researcher for decades—even travelling to South Africa after an oil spill in 2000 affected 40,000-50,000 penguins.
The spill occurred during the birds’ breeding season no less, and Steve was in charge of raising the abandoned chicks whose parents had been doused in oil and needed expert care themselves. “It was one of the most rewarding and humbling things I’ve ever done,” Steve says.
Today Steve is still working hard to save chicks in the wild, as an advocate and contributor to the nationwide AZA SAFE African Penguin Nestbox Project. It was through Steve’s involvement with African penguin conservation efforts that this project became one of five that Conservation Nation partially funded in 2018. And thanks to Conservation Nation’s donation to the project, more than a hundred specially designed and tested nest boxes will be built locally.
Home is where the (penguin poop) nest is.
Life for newly hatched African penguin chicks typically begins in a burrow. A poop burrow, to be precise. Their natural nests are made of guano (penguin dung), and these burrows provide young chicks with a sanctuary before they take their first steps in a new world.
A guano nest might sound gross, but here’s the really crappy news: guano also can be sold as fertilizer, and harvesting it from the penguins’ habitat is lucrative in South Africa and Namibia. Without their nesting material, many penguin parents have resorted to making inadequate substitute nests in drainage pipes and along man-made structures. Penguins then overheat in the sun and are forced to abandon their young before they’ve even hatched.
Scientists estimate that over the course of 15-20 years, these new AZA nests will provide a safe place for 30,000 penguin chicks to grow and thrive. Although the nests aren’t made from guano—they’re made from a resilient resin that will last years—they were designed to be ideal for penguin families.
Conservation Nation’s contribution to the project came from gifts large and small, including a successful fundraiser hosted by a supporter this past autumn. Appropriately titled the Penguins & Pumpkins Brunch, this one party alone contributed $3,000 to the cause. It was a simple afternoon event, but from the efforts of just that one group of friends joining forces to paint pumpkins and talk conservation, more than 1,500 penguins will now have a place to call home.
Thanks to the hard work of researchers like Steve, and dedicated donors who did their small part to make a big difference, today a collection of durable nest boxes have been assembled and are ready serve as home to a new generation of penguin chicks!