Safe and sound
Dusky Dolphin playing along the Kaikoura Coast.

Safe and sound

Eavesdropping on cetaceans—someone’s got to do it. And thanks to Conservation Nation, and supporters like you, that someone is going to be marine biologist Dr. Ximena Velez-Zuazo and her team.


Dr. Velez-Zuazo borrowed the equipment she needed last year to record marine mammals’ underwater sounds off the coast of Peru. She was able to discover multiple species had made the area their home, and near a busy maritime port, no less. To really protect these species, though, the scientists need more data. That’s where Conservation Nation comes in.


The equipment needed to record the species’ sounds


We’re going to get Dr. Velez-Zuazo not one, but three acoustic recorders, so she can continue her study. These recorders – and the data they provide – will be instrumental in determining how humans are impacting animals near the port.


“Every month, we conduct long walks along the beach at the central coast of Peru. We cover 16 kilometers and record any stranding we detect,” Dr. Velez-Zuazo says. “Many of the strandings are of the two most elusive species: the dusky dolphin and the Burmeister’s porpoise. We are uncertain if the stranding is the result of the interaction with fishing nets and hooks used by fishermen at the beach or if they are drifting from southern areas with high fishing pressure.”


That’s not the only piece of the puzzle the team might solve with more data—If they can determine when the animals are visiting the terminal, they might be able to work with the local industries to decrease human maritime activity during those times.


“To help species you need to know them. Or at least where they are, how many, and for how long,” Dr. Velez-Zuazo says. “By acquiring our own equipment, we will be able implement a long-term study according to our experimental design.”


Start a fundraiser to help Dr. Velez-Zuazo and her team today. Let’s help them figure out how they can protect these marine mammals so dolphins are rarely if ever found stranded on Peruvian shorelines.




“Studying behavior and movement of large marine vertebrates is a great challenge. In the open ocean, creatures are elusive and very difficult to detect! Using acoustics as a tool to elucidate where they are and how long they stay is vital to design and refine conservation strategies, like identifying critical habitats. Along the central coast of Peru, we are studying the interaction of dolphins and porpoises with human activities and infrastructure to inform best practices for their conservation.”—Dr. Ximena Velez-Zuazo


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Scientists spread the word about 2019’s projects

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.
















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Machu Picchu’s shaggy star

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


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Conservation Nation Around Town

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!


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Saving Chicks, One Nest at a Time

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.


Steve Sarro in the field

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!


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John’s Climb for Conservation

Ascending 19,341 feet of treacherous mountainside is no small feat. Add to that raising nearly $10,000 for conservation projects in the wild, and we can safely say John Mina rocked 2018 as a world-class adventurer and a Conservation Nation all-star.


This past fall, John, 54, conquered no less a mountain than Mount Kilimanjaro—plus he used his epic trek to fundraise for endangered animals, enlisting as many friends, family and fellow conservation enthusiasts as he could to give to his Conservation Nation page. When it was all said and done, he had raised about fifty cents for each foot climbed.


John Mina and fellow adventurer David Scheven atop Kilimanjaro

And those steps sure weren’t easy. There was rain—six days of rain to be exact, and almost white-out conditions near the summit.


“You start at midnight and hike for about six or seven hours to the top, just following the person in front of you on the trail, and visibility got down to maybe 15 feet at some points,” John says. “It was rough going, and that’s where people start dropping out. You’re so close, just a few hours from the summit, and people are just too cold, too tired, or getting sick from altitude. It becomes very real.”


But John, president for an insurance broker and risk management company, knew the risks and forged ahead—ultimately reaching both the peak and his fundraising goal.


“I don’t think any of us really know what we’re able to accomplish until we set out,” John says. “We’re often surprised at the result.”

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Track and test Asian elephants
Asian elephant

Track and test Asian elephants

Elephants out of a job? It might sound like a joke, but for endangered Asian elephants trained to work in logging camps, unemployment is a serious problem. Smithsonian scientists have launched a pilot program to test these pachyderms. In addition to tracking elephant movements using GPS collars, scientists will send a researcher to conduct behavioral and personality tests on some of the unemployed elephants. This way, they can gauge whether the animals fear and avoid humans, as well as how they cope when faced with obstacles, such as gathering food. This cautious and thoughtful approach will save lives by giving researchers the best idea of whether these pachyderms are potential candidates for future release into the wild.

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Turn the tide for marine mammals

Dolphins and porpoises living off the coast of Peru face daily threats: industries expanding into their native waters and a lucrative poaching trade. To help, Smithsonian researchers need to study at least three species—namely, the bottlenose dolphin, the elusive dusky dolphin and Bermeister’s porpoise—that have been spotted near a busy maritime port. With two acoustic instruments and a hydrophone, they plan to record the animals’ underwater sounds, gauging how they’re impacted by maritime infrastructure, as well as identifying other species in the area. The sensors only listen, so they’re safe for marine mammals. This project will help scientists provide guidance to those living and working on the water about how best to coexist with these animals, giving them the best chance to rebound.

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Protect the vulnerable Lowland tapir
South American tapir

Protect the vulnerable Lowland tapir

The Lowland tapir is critical to the biodiversity of the Paraguayan Chaco’s rich ecosystem. But because of habitat loss and poaching, this species’ numbers are falling. That’s why we want to send a nationally recognized Smithsonian zoological veterinarian to the region to learn more about the tapir’s habitat use. As part of this three-year project, a research team will evaluate and track these animals using GPS collars. The information gathered will allow researchers to provide local communities with guidance on how to craft tapir-friendly policies and enact effective conservation plans.

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Preserve critically endangered black rhinos
A Black Rhinoceros mother and six month old calf in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Preserve critically endangered black rhinos

You are what you eat. And for dwindling numbers of the southern black rhinoceros, that saying is true now more than ever. The black rhino is critically endangered – fewer than 5,500 remain. Without the preservation of rhinos in human care, leading to their successful reintroduction, it’s likely this species will go extinct in the wild. To protect these majestic creatures, researchers are studying how the wrong diet can compromise their immune system and ability to reproduce. To do that, Smithsonian researchers are collaborating with groups in South Africa to get microbe samples from wild black rhinos. This will allow them to gain a better understanding of how to keep this at-risk species as healthy as possible, so we can work toward a future in which rhinos live and thrive in their natural habitat.

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Track the iconic Eastern meadowlark
Western Meadowlark (sturnella neglecta) singing among flowers

Track the iconic Eastern meadowlark

The song of the Eastern meadowlark sounds like a flute that drops its pitch—beautiful and distinctive. These days bird enthusiasts hear the meadowlark’s sweet call in the wild less and less, as its population has declined by 70 percent since the 1970s. This is likely because of habitat loss, and conservationists predict the meadowlark’s plight will only be worsened by climate change. To protect this iconic grassland species, known for the bolt of bright yellow around its chest, scientists want to use tiny transmitters to track where they travel year round across North America. That way, they can recommend land conservation in those critical areas, and with your help, we can set the stage for the meadowlark to sing its song in healthy numbers again.

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