Experts Unite to Save Cheetahs


Suffice it to say, Morgan Maly is dedicated to cheetah conservation. Not only did this big-cat expert write the first, major academic paper about cheetah puberty, but she also will do whatever it takes to learn more about this endangered species. That includes patiently crouching in the grassy terrain of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s sprawling Front Royal, Virginia campus, waiting for one of the resident cheetahs to poop. Why would she do such a thing? To collect a fecal sample, of course.


Thanks to Conservation Nation, this North Carolina State Ph.D. student is in the early stages of a project studying cheetah diets, establishing how what these cats eat critically impacts the microbes in their guts, which in turn can impact the overall health of this species in human care. The project involves the coordination of breeding centers and research institutes all over North America, as Morgan gathers dietary information and fecal samples from as many cheetahs as possible. And the project will culminate in Morgan travelling to Namibia this February to study individuals in the wild, and to gather fecal specimens—giving Morgan and other researchers valuable information about optimizing the cheetah diet that could help preserve the species.


Morgan collecting data


Dr. Adrienne Crosier, cheetah curator and research biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, says the project is unique in that in addition to making groundbreaking fieldwork possible, it also encompasses scientific contributions from many across the continent dedicated to saving the species.


“Cheetahs are very challenging,” she says. “We’ve got geneticists, nutritionists, pathologists—all sorts of people with amazing expertise working together.”


The team decided to plan the final wave of the project, Morgan’s expedition to Namibia, for February to coincide with ideal weather conditions. In addition to making Morgan’s trip possible, Conservation Nation also is purchasing specialized extraction kits that will allow her to study the DNA microbes found in specimens. The scientists hope their findings will allow them to prevent gastritis, a common ailment for cheetahs in human care.


Stay tuned for more information about Morgan’s progress in the months to come!


Photos courtesy of Morgan Maly
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Spoiler: It’s a Fluff Piece

Homo sapiens aren’t the only species that can support Smithsonian science to save wildlife—at the second annual The Fast & the Fierce 5K, pets can step up to save rhinos, and fundraise for other animal projects all over the globe, as well.


Let’s face it—if your beloved pet doesn’t already have an Instagram account, your social media content is probably mostly photos of your fluffy (or scaly) best friend anyway. Now, using Conservation Nation’s website, you can harness your pets’ popularity to create a fundraising page specially for them. That’s right: your four-legged pal can leverage his or her legendary cuteness to save wildlife.


And on race day Sept. 14, you’re welcome to bring your conservation-supporting pet to Freedom Plaza to be by your side as you walk or run through the heart of the nation’s capital.


Here are some things to keep in mind before you get started with your fundraising page:


Want to run with your pup? Be safe! September can still be blazing hot in D.C., so be mindful of scorching paws on cement (protective pup shoes might be in order), and other factors. Read this helpful article about how to train your pup to run with you.



Did we mention you can wear matching costumes? See this spectacular image from last year’s race – no surprise this wonderful duo won the top prize for Best Costume.




All species are welcome … within reason! Maybe leave the pet python at home. Just ask us first, okay?


Human registration is $40, and pet registration is $18. (If you’d rather run for rhinos solo, that’s okay, too.) Can’t make it to the race but still want to fundraise? Virtual registration is $0.


For more information and to set up your fundraising page today, click here.

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Flamingo Expedition Set for August
Pink Flamingo Portrait - The altiplano - Bolivia

Flamingo Expedition Set for August

There’s no doubt about it—Andean flamingos are charismatic. They perform a hilarious ballet-like dance in flocks (watch the video here—it’s worth it), and, of course, they are known for that famous, one-legged pose. But one thing we don’t know is where the flamingos migrate and when. With that crucial information, we can develop a plan to protect those areas.


Last year, Conservation Nation fundraised to outfit 10 wild Andean flamingos in remote Argentina with solar-powered satellite transmitters. Now researchers are forging ahead with the project, thanks to Conservation Nation’s support, with a collaborative expedition planned to tag the birds this August.


“Andean flamingos are a huge conservation concern, and little to nothing is known about their movement during the non-breeding season,” says Dr. Brandt Ryder, the Smithsonian scientist who is leading the project. “The Andean flamingo is one of the highest priorities for conservation in South America, and this work tracking their movement throughout the annual cycle will identify crucial habitats essential for the protection of this species.”



It won’t be easy to study and save this endangered bird. The Andean flamingo is the rarest species of flamingo, with an estimated population of less than 39,000. Its wetland habitats have been impacted by “mineral extraction and water diversion,” according to the Center of Biological Diversity, plus this tropical bird is vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet.


And Dr. Ryder says another challenge is finding the flocks as they migrate through remote areas—many of the wetlands they visit are composed of temporary, shifting bodies of water, making the birds difficult to track. But that’s why research like this will be so important moving forward.


In the past, Smithsonian research efforts have focused more on North American wetland birds. Dr. Ryder says this project is one of many launched by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to track the migration patterns of tropical birds, establishing key areas for environmental protection and paving the way for better conservation plans for migratory species.


“Tracking tropical migration is truly the next frontier in migration ecology,” Dr. Ryder says. “Effective conservation requires understanding when and where species face threats.”

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The Sunscreen Dilemma


To apply sunscreen or not to apply sunscreen—that is the question. And for many of the conservation-minded, the answer can be complicated. According to the National Park Service, 6,000 tons of sunscreen are likely washing off beachgoers and harming coral reefs yearly.


The problem is so widespread that this past month the House of Representatives voted to approve a bipartisan bill to restrict the use of certain sunscreens in parts of Florida, protecting nearby reefs. The city of Key West, Florida approved a ban earlier this year, as has Hawaii.


Why does sunscreen hurt coral?


Active ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to reef “bleaching.” And it’s not just coral—ingredients in sunscreen are toxic to fish and other marine life, too. According to the Ocean Foundation, these minerals “catalyze the production of hydrogen peroxide, a well-known bleaching agent, at a concentration high enough to harm coastal marine organisms.”


Many visit these areas because they love nature—and yet are inadvertently contributing to its decline by simply trying to be safe in the sun.



Is there a kind of sunscreen you can purchase that will not harm marine life?


There are reef-safe sunscreens that eco-friendly retailers, such as REI, have begun to offer. Unfortunately, studies still show these less harmful options likely still impact marine ecosystems negatively. And many of the products on the market haven’t been confirmed by scientists as truly reef-safe.


Another way to stay protected from the sun without poisoning the ocean? Cover up—by wearing clothing that has an ultraviolet protection factor, you can drastically reduce your sunscreen use.


What is being done to protect coral species?


Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have been at the forefront of coral research. Not only have they been able to breed coral from different regions, strengthening species fading in the wild as the oceans warm, but they also have cryogenically frozen and preserved endangered coral populations.


This means that should coral in the wild die out, there will be a repository of species that can be used to repopulate our oceans. Learn more about the Smithsonian’s groundbreaking work saving coral here.

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