Rhino Experts to Meet in Two Weeks
Black Rhino at Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Rhino Experts to Meet in Two Weeks

Their bags are packed. Thanks to Conservation Nation, Smithsonian scientists are headed to Kenya in two weeks for a conference uniting the world’s top rhino experts with vets who are working to save rhinos on the ground. There, they will share research and resources, including special kits designed to make it as simple as possible to capture diagnostics and samples correctly for analysis.


“Despite being considered critically endangered … Kenya’s black rhino population has increased in recent years, and field vets play a critical role in this recovery,” says James Hassell, a Smithsonian scientist working on the project. “This workshop will educate these vets in the most recent advances in rhino medicine that can be applied when treating individual animals that are injured or fall sick, and monitoring the reproductive performance of rhino populations.”


The four-day conference is structured to imitate how a veterinarian would provide care for any rhino patient. Beginning with how to safely capture a patient, the conference will then move onto other topics, such as diagnostics and treatment. It will include post-mortem training, so those on the ground will know how to gather the most accurate data should they need to determine why a patient passed away. And the final day will include a round table focusing on conservation planning for rhinos in central Kenya.


“The conference is unique in that it is gathering together vets from across Kenya to ensure that the best information about rhino health is getting to those who need it most,” Hassell says.


James Hassell talking about the project at a recent conservation fundraiser.
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Red Siskin Initiative Soars to New Heights

After receiving Conservation Nation support to launch key aspects of their project, the Red Siskin Initiative (RSI) was just awarded a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy to continue their important work on this endangered South American bird.


And this is just one of many big steps recently taken by the coalition—our friends at RSI also recently completed a new center specially designed to preserve the species and grow its numbers in the wild. The new Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) is located in Aragua, Venezuela, and earlier this year, opened its doors to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce siskins, aiming to bolster wild Venezuelan populations of this bird.


None of this would have been possible without the initial fundraising boost provided by Conservation Nation donors in 2018. This funding directly empowered the project’s in-country lead, Miguel Angel Arvelo, to devote his time to the initiative in its early stages, while receiving critical support and guidance from Smithsonian experts.


A screened corridor at the new conservation center in Venezuela.


And the momentum isn’t slowing down—in the last three months, the RSCC has rescued eight siskins. Two birds came from confiscations by the wildlife authorities, and six came from new members of RSI’s program designed to foster sustainable behavior among aviculturists, encouraging people who used to participate in illegal trade to instead surrender their birds, pledging to no longer participate in the trade. Now, they help RSI with Red Siskin conservation.


Smithsonian researchers are invested in this struggling species here in the states, too. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia was the first facility to have siskins in 2015. Researchers there have fledged 16 chicks, including two chicks they hand-reared.


These combined efforts from dedicated conservationists thousands of miles apart have ignited hope for this national symbol. And now, with the recent grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the future of the species looks even brighter—the grant will boost RSI’s Birds and Coffee project, focusing on expanding shade-grown coffee practices and restoring tropical forests, so that siskins in the wild can flourish yet again.


Congratulations to our friends at the Red Siskin Initiative!


Red Siskin chicks at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. | Note: photo in header features siskins at SCBI as well.
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Tracking Giraffes in Kenya
In 2017, scientists tagged 11 reticulated giraffes with high-tech, solar-powered, satellite transmitters. Just months later, the information gathered revealed a sobering reality—four of the animals had been poached.

Tracking Giraffes in Kenya


In 2017, scientists tagged 11 reticulated giraffes with high-tech, solar-powered, satellite transmitters. Just months later, the information gathered revealed a sobering reality—four of the animals had been poached.


And for this giraffe, primarily found in Kenya’s arid plains, poaching isn’t the only – or even primary – danger. Like so many wild animals across the globe impacted by human development, giraffe populations have fallen by 30 percent in the last three decades, largely because of land fragmentation and fencing. Habitats are increasingly determined not by where resources or migratory patterns are, but, rather, by where humans are not.


“We’ve never been able to track giraffes for long periods. It’s partly due to the animal’s morphology,” says Smithsonian scientist Dr. Jared Stabach, a lead researcher on the project.



A giraffe herd migrates across the plains of Kenya.


In the past, Dr. Stabach explains, conventional collars were used to middling effect, thanks to giraffes’ famously long necks. This led researchers to design a new model, which attaches to the “ossicone,” the hornlike protrusions on top of a giraffe’s head, providing a much more reliable transmission of data from the animal’s highest point.  Data are being collected every hour of every day. These devices also are solar powered, extremely lightweight, at just 180 grams, and can last for up to 2-4 years.


Conservation Nation partially funded the tracking effort by purchasing five of these transmitters, and by supporting the team’s challenging work in the field. “These collaring activities are risky,” Dr. Stabach says, adding that a wild giraffe has to be safely sedated for the transmitter to be correctly placed.


Even with the risks in mind, and even when the study endures tragic setbacks like animals lost to poaching, this research is key for the future of the species in the area. Already, a pipeline project is planned to extend across the region. If researchers can get the most comprehensive data, they can work with local communities and the Kenyan government to influence the project, perhaps even to shift the pipeline’s path, so as to impact these struggling creatures the least.


And that’s why, Dr. Stabach says, expanding the sample size for the study is crucial. The collaborators leading the project, which includes the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and San Diego Zoo Global, hope to get substantial information about another 20-30 animals to provide a more comprehensive view of the spatial ecology of the species across the region. This past August, they finished another expedition in the area, which included safely tagging 28 new participants in the study. This represents the largest tracking study on any species of giraffe ever conducted and an important step towards an increased understanding of the species.



A team celebrates after a successful giraffe tagging.
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