The Palm Beach Zoo became involved in in-situ conservation work in Brazil in 2004 when Keith Lovett, Director of Living Collections, began collaborating with Karen DeMatteo, PhD on a project designed to learn about the basic ecological requirements and the behavior of the bush dog (Speothos venaticus). Observations of the bush dogs at the Palm Beach Zoo and recordings of their vocalizations allowed for the development of techniques to locate, trap and mark individuals in the wild.
Only five zoos in North America exhibit bush dogs and the Palm Beach Zoo houses three breeding pairs accounting for six of the 21 animals currently residing in North American zoos. In recent years, zookeepers have been called upon to assist researchers by gathering samples from these animals. For example, collected scat samples from pregnant females have provided researchers with critical information about the hormone levels through a bush dog's pregnancy. Collected DNA samples (including hair, scat, and blood) provide scientists with genetic analysis opportunities. In fact, the compiling of enough genetic information could ultimately produce a bush dog "genetic library," allowing for the ability to identify an animal on an individual level.
In 2007, with continued funding from the zoo, the project moved to northern Argentina. Within the Province of Misiones Argentina, a region that contains the largest remaining tract of interior Atlantic forest, all protected areas are under constant threat from logging and hunting and many are crisscrossed by a large network of highways that expose wildlife to devastating losses by road kills.The current project is focused on defining areas that can be used as corridors through the altered habitat between protected areas and locations that can function as wildlife crossing under/over roadways for wide-ranging landscape species, such as jaguars, that inevitably leave the boundaries of protected areas and cross into modified and fragmented habitat occupied by humans.The study uses three noninvasive techniques (detector dogs, advances in genetic methodologies, GIS technology) to rapidly collect the needed ecological data for carnivores so that applied conservation management strategies can be generated. Detector dogs are used to find scat samples used to evaluate population densities of jaguars, ocelots, pumas, and bush dogs as well prey availability for the carnivore species. This was made possible by training the detector dog to find scat of the various species by using samples collected at the zoo.
In July 2009, zoo staff members travelled to Argentina to take part in field conservation work. During their stay, staff took part in scat sample collection and met with various local conservation organizations to identify ways the Palm Beach Zoo could partner with them to assist with and expand conservation work in Misiones.
In July of 2010, Palm Beach Zoo staff once again traveled to Argentina to continue the zoo’s jaguar/bush dog conservation work in Misiones, Argentina. A number of new programs were implemented focusing on conservation education. Utilizing conservation education packets funded by the Palm Beach Zoo, hundreds of school children in Posadas spent a couple of weeks being taught lessons on habitat preservation, forest ecology, recycling, human/wildlife conflict, animal and plant adaptation, etc. The zoo funded the bus transportation of over three hundred students to El PUMA Ecological Parque (PUMA) to partake in Palm Beach Zoo staff guided facility tours focusing on the native species of Misiones, PUMA’s wildlife rehabilitation program, and discussions of the impact of illegal hunting and pet trade trafficking with emphasis placed on showing the hundreds of confiscated animals residing at PUMA. While at PUMA, the students were engaged in numerous conservation based games and activities to help further teach important conservation messages. Fifty secondary school students were transported to Uruguayi-i Provincial Park for a weekend of educational activities. The students, who camped at a local eco-lodge at night, were led on nature hikes through the forests, viewed demonstrations and were able to practice the use of wildlife surveillance and census gathering techniques including animal track reading, GPS, radio collar telemetry, camera traps, and scat gathering detector dog use.
During this trip, zoo staff also worked directly with the staff at PUMA to develop a husbandry and outreach training program as well as renovating many of the enclosures to allow the animals to behave in species-appropriate ways. Zoo staff worked with PUMA staff on the development of an in-house conservation education interpretation program to enhance the educational offerings to guests of the Parque.
The Palm Beach Zoo will continue to work directly with PUMA staff to assist in the development of the animal care facilities, staff professional knowledge, and the implementation of a comprehensive in-house conservation education program. Zoo staff will also continue to census the jaguar, puma, ocelot, tigrina, and bush dog populations in Misiones and to study the movement pattern of carnivores in and between the parks and bio-reserves of Misiones to aid the development of biological corridors and safe wildlife passage tunnels under the paved roads of the park system.
Desert pronghorn are on the critically endangered list. With less than 200 individuals left in 1995, a recovery program was initiated in the single area in central Baja, Mexico to restore their numbers. Working with multiple AZA zoos and the staff of the El Vizcaino Desert World Heritage site, a breeding program was established that resulted in over 300 animals. Since little was known about the health and veterinary care of these animals, work to gather data to protect their health and safely trans-locate them to other areas has been a major goal of the program. Translocations and releases into historical range occurred in 2005, and twice in 2009, with over 330 animals moved in total. Work is ongoing to monitor the wild herd, establish a database of information on their health, protect the habit, and educate local communities.
Five species of sea turtles can be found in the coastal waters of Venezuela, including the critically endangered leatherbacks (Demochelys coriacea), and researchers are taking action to protect nesting sites. The Palm Beach Zoo has been financially supporting this project, the goal of which is to prevent the extinction and promote the recovery of sea turtles that nest and forage in Venezuela through integrated research, technical training, and environmental education, since 2001. Local assistants are trained to work in the field to identify females and locate nests. Educational materials are distributed and workshops are conducted to educate community members, teachers, students, and tourism providers to increase awareness and conservation action. To date, 855 adult female sea turtles have been tagged and over 73 thousand hatchlings have been released. The Palm Beach Zoo will continue to provide support to ensure the future of this successful project and urges you to get involved by adopting a turtle, nest, or hatchery. To learn more about these opportunities, go to www.tortuadoption.com.
A new project has been initiated in collaboration with veterinary researchers at the University of Mexico City to study the health of wild howler monkey populations. The focus is on using field-ready diagnostic kits to look for the presence of tuberculosis and other diseases on these populations. This study will help determine the impact of human-wildlife interactions and environmental changes. Supported by Chembio Diagnostics Systems, Inc.