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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To Track a Tapir
Brazilian tapir, Tapirus terrestris, on land in Brazil

To Track a Tapir

 

The dry forests and savannahs of the Paraguayan Chaco encompass a large swathe of South America. Like the Amazon, this area is home to a complex and diverse ecosystem. And like the Amazon, this species-rich region is vulnerable to the effects of human development and activities, including rapid deforestation.

 

That’s why nationally recognized veterinarian Dr. Don Neiffer and a team of collaborators have centered research projects in the area, including the Conservation Nation-funded, two-year project to track and study Lowland tapirs, which began this summer.

 

Scientists plan to outfit at least five individuals with GPS tracking collars, two of which were funded by Conservation Nation. The data collected by these trackers will help establish where these animals go and why. This will make it possible for conservationists to work with local communities in managing both protected and private lands for many species, tapirs included, which move freely through regions currently segmented by fencing and farming.

 

It’s no surprise that climate change has made expeditions more difficult. Dr. Neiffer’s first trip to the area this past July was planned to align with the Chaco’s dry season; the reality was the opposite—unseasonable and sometimes heavy rains persisted for many days prior to the team’s arrival, making it less likely the team would catch a wild tapir. That’s because the animals did not need to concentrate around isolated water holes, which are the only source of water for tapirs during the dry season.

 

Camera traps strategically positioned throughout the countryside produced both nighttime and daytime images of tapirs, moving through an area just as researchers inconveniently had set up capture blinds somewhere else.

 

In one bit of footage, a tapir slobbers on the camera trap lens before stomping away into the brush. This recording of the tapir, combined with clips of other species going about their daily lives, serves as an invaluable clue as the project progresses. Pumas, capybaras, giant anteaters and more have been filmed, providing insight into both animals’ movements and the area’s great biodiversity.

 

Dr. Neiffer plans a return trip in August or September of 2020. Until then, other groups from the research team will take turns on site through November using large-scale box traps installed in an attempt to safely catch wild tapirs as they pass through the area.

 

Stay tuned for more updates.

 

 

Tapirs, peccaries, capybaras, pumas and anteaters were captured on film.

 

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An Elephant Feat
tusker in aggressive mode

An Elephant Feat

 

13,000 pounds balanced on 18 pachyderm toes.

 

This sums up just one challenge faced by Asian elephants as they move their huge bodies, sometimes across vast distances, and with all that weight bearing down almost exclusively on their toes. Not only do these intelligent and fascinating creatures have to deal with deforestation and poachers, but also painful inflammation that results from their immense size, as well. Asian elephants can even die from foot inflammation, should it remain untreated.

 

This past year, Conservation Nation “footed the bill” for a high-tech, new thermography camera to study Asian elephants’ feet as part of ongoing pachyderm research.

 

With this device in her scientific arsenal, esteemed Smithsonian scientist Dr. Janine Brown recently travelled to Thailand, where she scanned 10-20 elephants for painful inflammation. The technology is truly groundbreaking—the device can scan from great distances, without bothering the animal or requiring researchers to sedate the patient for an accurate reading. The thermography scanner gives researchers real insight into the health problems of pachyderms living in very different situations, and identifies points of inflammation not evident to the naked eye.

 

 

The thermography device scans a pachyderm patient.

 

Another project will investigate how much weight an elephant can carry without causing skeletal or joint problems. Sensors are taped to limbs and a computerized gait assessment is made, followed by thermal scans to assess heat build-up. Preliminary data suggest elephants are capable of carrying at least 10 percent of their body weight (about 250 kilograms for a normal size elephant!) with little observable effects.

 

This is only the beginning of Dr. Brown’s research. She already is planning a second trip to the region this fall.  The thermography camera also is just beginning its work; with this technology, Dr. Brown expects to amass more data with collaborators, potentially scanning hundreds of elephants in Thailand, and possibly nearby Lau, as well.

 

Stay tuned for more updates!

 

Dr. Janine Brown preparing a patient for a test.

 

Thermal image of an injury resulting in inflammation, not evident to the eye.

 

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First Set of Meadowlarks Take Flight
One small GPS transmitter by man; one giant leap in conservation for birdkind.

First Set of Meadowlarks Take Flight

 

One small GPS transmitter by man; one giant leap in conservation for birdkind.

 

Earlier this summer, Conservation Nation began purchasing tiny high-tech GPS tracking devices to outfit eastern meadowlarks—the transmitters are smaller than a dime and weigh less than four grams, so they won’t hinder birds in flight. Thanks to these bits of avian-friendly tech, Smithsonian researchers will soon know the path of a depleting population of songbirds as they migrate up and down the East Coast. Tagged eastern meadowlarks have taken flight, and researchers await their first round of data this month.

 

As a species known to announce spring’s arrival, the meadowlark’s song has long been a welcome sound, a sign winter is finally over. And in just eight days, a single female meadowlark can create a tightly wound nest for its pink-speckled eggs. But this songbird, once considered a common sight in Appalachian communities and other regions of North America, has declined rapidly, with its population dropping 90 percent in the past four decades.

 

A meadowlark nest discovered in the species’ grassland habitat.

 

“When meadowlarks and other key grassland species decline, that is a sign their ecosystems—which we humans share—are also in trouble. Think of them as the canary in the coalmine, for our region’s working grasslands,” said Virginia Working Landscapes program director Dr. Amy Johnson.

 

The Virginia Working Landscapes program has made this project possible; this group of private landowners are generously letting researchers, like Dr. Johnson, conduct conservation projects on their properties.

 

Also integral to the project are collaborators at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the Smithsonian’s Movement of Life initiative.

 

With Conservation Nation’s continued support, scientists will soon have the information they need to seek protections for these areas. Once grassland areas are preserved, these efforts in turn will benefit a diverse range of interconnected species who rely on the same habitats to survive.

 

Look for more updates as the birds journey south!

 

 

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On your mark. Get set. Save animals!

You’re fast. You’re fierce. You want to help rhinos and other endangered animals all over the globe. Here are some ways you can participate in The Fast & the Fierce 5K, sponsored by Aegis Project Controls. Whether you attend the event on September 14 or participate virtually on your own, you can make a difference and help wildlife.

 

Run solo. Create your own fundraiser and fundraising webpage. Aim high and set a goal. If 500 people each raise $500, Conservation Nation would earn $500,000 for rhinos and animals in the wild. 

 

 

Lead a herd. Fundraise with friends or family. Each member will create their own personal fundraising page, and a team page will be created so you can see the impact you’re having together!

 

Join a team. Has someone you know already named a team? Join it and be part of the impact! You’ll get your own fundraising page and see your successes reported on the team page.

 

 

Support a participant. Know a person, pet or team who are participating? Donate to their campaign. Show up and cheer them on!

 

Be an ambassador. Use your voice to amplify the call to help rhinos and other animals. Get your network to migrate to Freedom Plaza on 9/14.

 

Be a social butterfly. Spread the word about the 5K by amplifying the message on your social media channels. Use #fastfierce5K to find and share posts.

 

 

Still not registered? What are you waiting for?

Sign up now!

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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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Protecting a Symbol

 

The dedicated folks at the Red Siskin Initiative are unflappable.

 

With Conservation Nation’s support, the initiative has focused its energies on commencing daily conservation activities at the brand-new Red Siskin Conservation Center in Venezuela. Coordinator Miguel Angel Arvelo helped agronomist Luis Arrieta train local farmers on shade-friendly growing techniques to benefit the species, and prepared for visits from certification experts; while RSCC Curator Leo Ovalle even dug trenches to keep future red siskins at the RSCC safe from predators.

 

Leo, a fellow conservationist as well as veterinarian, says the siskin is a distinctive songbird, known for its range of melodies and an intense energy that matches its bright coloration.

 

“In particular with the Red Siskin, I began to know it and to observe its presence in the Lara state culture, approximately 20 years ago when I moved to live in that region,” Leo says. “However, I noticed with concern that despite this value that is granted in the region, very little effort was made to help preserve it.”

 

And the need to protect this species is great. The Red Siskin’s population plummeted a century ago because of a lucrative European pet trade, with some estimating at one time fewer than 200 birds remaining in their natural habitat. Progress is being made, however, thanks in large part to the Red Siskin Initiative.

 

But conservation efforts don’t exist in a vacuum. As Venezuela experiences political upheaval and many face economic hardship, RSI and Smithsonian scientists have discovered that the illegal trade threatening this bird continues. However, now more than ever for this country in turmoil, the Red Siskin can be a beacon for unity and identity—the bird is featured on currency and in traditional folk songs.

 

Fortunately, efforts to preserve the siskin by Miguel and his fellow conservationists have produced economic benefits for farmers, who are shifting toward sustainable coffee farming to encourage their national symbol to flourish in the wild. One such farmer is Luis, a field agronomist for the project.

 

Luis stresses the importance of using your power as a consumer to support farmers like himself, trying to both make a living and protect this endangered bird crucial to his regions’ cultural identity.

 

“Today I know that by cultivating the forest,” Luis says, “I can help them and feel satisfied that I’m contributing to conservation.”

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more updates about the initiative, including their ongoing campaign to fundraise to make their new facility a success!

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