Oregon Zoo busy with science-related conservation, education efforts

The folks at the Oregon Zoo in Portland sure have been busy lately. In fact, they’ve been filling up SIP staff inboxes with news releases on a variety of their happenings, many of which are entertainment-based.

However, a few have relevance to science directly or through the context of conservation or education. Here’s a brief roundup of some of these items:

Juvenile Asian elephant Samudra in the pool at Elephant Lands. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham.

Juvenile Asian elephant Samudra plays in the pool at the Oregon Zoo’s Elephant Lands exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Zoo/Michael Durham.

Elephant welfare — A collection of peer-reviewed studies presented in PLOS One may support the zoo’s efforts in how it cares for its captive elephants. According to zoo staff, the findings in the collection validate practices the zoo has in place already for managing its pachyderms. Staff also said its “the first and only multi-institution study to comprehensively identify and measure variables that significantly contribute to North American zoo elephant welfare.” Some of the studies findings were: 1. Elephants need to spend time in social groups, not isolation, to promote their behavioral health. 2. Material on the floor of elephant habitats are important to reducing risk of foot and joint problems; for example, too much time spent on hard flooring can lead to problems. 3. Food diversity and timing promote health; for example, less predictable feeding times lead to more walking and social interaction, which can improve body composition/weight concerns. *** The findings also may have an impact beyond elephants kept in zoos, potentially informing conservation and management efforts of wild elephants who are increasingly confined to small reserves and protected areas.

An orphaned bobcat kitten in Veterinary Medical Center. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham.

An orphaned bobcat kitten in is shown in the zoo’s Veterinary Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Oregon Zoo/Michael Durham.

Bobcat kitten — The zoo’s veterinary medical center is temporarily caring for a male bobcat kitten that was taken from the woods near Eagle Point. The estimated 2-month-old kitten was taken by people in a well-intentioned but misguided rescue effort. The kitten came into the zoo’s care after Oregon wildlife officials determined the cat would not survive if released into the wild. A permanent home for the bobcat kitten now awaits at another accredited zoo, thanks to the help of staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. *** Removing young animals from the wild is illegal and actually can lower their chances of survival. Often, people may see a youngster alone and think it’s abandoned, but usually the mother is nearby, possibly searching for food, wildlife officials said. Bobcat kittens, in particular, become difficult to release into the wild if they are housed and fed by humans for just a few days. They become habituated to people and will cause problems to people, pets and livestock if put back in the wild. Rather than attempt a “rescue” yourself, it’s best to call the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State Police or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. For more information, see ODFW’s frequently asked questions about injured and young wildlife.

Ishi the toucan from the Wildlife Live show. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham.

Oshi the toucan is among the birds featured in the zoo’s “Wildlife Live” show. Photo courtesy of Oregon Zoo/Michael Durham.

“Wildlife Live” — Visitors have a daily chance to learn about wildlife and conservation as part of this program, held on the zoo’s central lawn. At 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., “Birds of the World” presentations will focus on how birds adapt to their habitats worldwide and feature Sonora the Harris hawk, Oshi the toucan and Clyde the turkey vulture. At noon, “Scale Tales” will highlight the importance of snakes to the environment and introduce guests to one of the zoo’s boa constrictors. The program will run through Sept. 7, except on concert days, and all shows are weather-dependent. To get a preview before you go, check out a video from rehearsals for the show.

Rescued elephant calves take an afternoon walk with staff at the Sepilok Wildlife Medical Care Center in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo courtesy of OregonZoo/Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit.

Rescued elephant calves take an afternoon walk in the company of staff from the Sepilok Wildlife Medical Care Center in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo courtesy of OregonZoo/Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit.

Elephant conservation — Oregon Zoo Foundation has set aside $1 million to create a permanent endowment to aid in Asian elephant conservation. According to zoo staff, the zoo and its foundation has long supported conservation efforts aimed at Asian elephants but lacked dedicated funding to put toward those efforts. In the past, the foundation has had to do what it did earlier this year: use $10,000 from its foundation’s Endangered Species Justice Fund to buy formula for orphaned elephant babies in Borneo. Rather than continuing with a catch-as-catch-can approach, creation of the million-dollar fund will give the zoo a permanent and self-sustaining source of money it can direct toward fighting extinction of Asian elephants. The elephant fund is the fifth $1 million endowment created by the foundation to further the zoo and its work. For more information, see the zoo’s endowments page. To contribute to the Asian elephant conservation fund or learn about other ways to help, call 503-914-6029.

Cooling the polar bear habitat will produce heat used to warm Asian elephants. Illustration by Glen Marcusen, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.

This graphic shows how cooling the zoo’s polar bear habitat helps produce heat used to warm Asian elephants. Illustration courtesy of Oregon Zoo/Glen Marcusen.

Even more about elephants — The zoo’s Elephant Lands exhibit, which houses a family of Asian elephants, has been recognized with a Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which honors sustainable building practices worldwide. Some of the exhibit’s sustainable design features that helped it earn the certification include: a filtration and water-treatment system that cleans and replenishes the new 160,000-gallon elephant pool every hour; collection and storage of rainwater from Forest Hall’s roof, which reduces peak loads on the city stormwater system and conserves potable water that is then used at Forest Hall for flushing toilets and washing down enclosures; a geothermal slinky system that cools polar bear swimming pools by shunting heat away from them, sending the heat through pipes and pumps, and delivering it to indoor parts of the elephant exhibit to warm them; and a solar array on Forest Hall’s roof.

To learn more about the zoo’s conservation, education and research work, visit its website.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

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