SILVER SPRING, Maryland, December 18, 2007 (ENS) – From breeding toads back from extinction to developing a hormone test for North Atlantic right whales, 200 zoos and aquariums across the United States are working as members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to ensure the survival of rare and endangered animals. Today they issued a Top 10 List of wildlife conservation success stories for 2007.
In the last five years, facilities accredited by the nonprofit Association of Zoos and Aquariums, AZA, funded 3,693 conservation projects in more than 100 countries. Annual spending on conservation by member organizations averages nearly $70 million per year.
AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy said, “The 2007 top 10 list is just a small sample of the important work of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums.”
From amphibians to dolphins to gorillas, “AZA accredited institutions and their partners are at the forefront of wildlife conservation here in North America and around the world,” said Maddy.
Top 10 AZA Wildlife Conservation Success Stories of 2007
1. Wyoming toads Staff at the Detroit Zoo are raising 40 juvenile Wyoming toads, one of the most endangered amphibians in the United States. The species is now considered functionally extinct in the wild, with the last remaining individuals only found in zoos and aquariums across the country. The zoo breeding partnership, led by Central Park Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, has successfully released more than 6,000 tadpoles, toadlets and toads in Wyoming since the programbegan in 1995. This summer in a monitored protected area, conservationists discovered the first clutch of Wyoming toad eggs found in the wild in 10 years.
2. Perdido Key beach mice This summer, Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida, began housing 52 Perdido Key beach mice to protect the species from extinction. The mice originated from the University of South Carolina, but needed to be relocated after damage from Hurricane Ivan. The Brevard Zoo , Florida Aquarium and Palm Beach Zoo have since shared in the responsibility of caring for and studying the mice. There are only a few hundred individuals left in the wild, inhabiting one barrier island off the coast of Pensacola. Scientists fear that a hurricane could be disastrous to the beach mice. Breeding studies have commenced to safeguard their numbers.
3. North Atlantic right whales The world’s rarest large whale, fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales currently exist in the world, and are threatened by ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear, habitat loss, pollution, and disease. The New England Aquarium’s Right Whale Research Project has developed a hormone test to learn more about the reproductive rates of the endangered species.
4. Black-and-white ruffed lemurs Black-and-white ruffed lemurs born in zoos are getting a feel for their new home at the Betampona Natural Reserve in eastern Madagascar. The Madagascar Fauna Group and the Duke Lemur Center coordinated the plan to reintroduce zoo-bred lemurs to the wild, with the help of other partners and institutions, including Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo , the Los Angeles Zoo and the Santa Ana Zoo. The released lemurs have done well so far, with four offspring born from three mothers.
5. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle population is in bad shape, but cooperation between U.S and Mexican officials and scientists is protecting nesting sites. The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, and Mexican conservation workers have protected the turtles’ nesting sites on beaches in Tamaulipas, Mexico and Padre Island National Seashore. The zoo reports an increase in nests by the hundreds each year on the Mexican Gulf Coast, indicating success of the program.
6. Grevy’s zebras The Saint Louis Zoo has partnered with several Kenyan non-profits help Grevy’s zebras that are threatened in Kenya by poaching and competition from livestock. Efforts to raise awareness in Kenyan villages have been paying off. Several communities have established livestock-free conservation areas, which benefit not only the zebras, but all forms of wildlife in the region. Over 30 Grevy’s zebra foals have been born and raised at the Saint Louis Zoo over the past five decades.
7. Great white sharks For the third time since 2004, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has placed a young white shark on public exhibit. The shark was caught accidentally in commercial fishing gear off Southern California. Through its White Shark Research Project, the Aquarium has worked since 2002 to learn more about white sharks in the wild, and has since tagged and tracked 10 juvenile white sharks off Southern California. White sharks are in decline worldwide, in part because they are slow to reproduce and because of growing fishing pressure. Their fearsome reputation has also made them a target of trophy hunters and the curio trade. The aquarium hopes its exhibit will change public attitudes and promote greater protection for these ocean predators.
8. Florida butterflies The Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network, which includes Brevard Zoo, Central Florida Zoo , Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Jacksonville Zoo , Lowry Park Zoo, and Miami MetroZoo, is working to survey butterfly populations throughout Florida. Volunteer citizen scientists trained by the zoos conduct monthly counts of butterflies in both natural and manufactured habitats on zoo grounds.
9. Vancouver Island marmot The Vancouver Island marmot is the most endangered animal in Canada. Native to British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, these creatures are being threatened by massive habitat destruction in the wild. Their current wild population is estimated at nearly 50 animals, but thanks to breeding centers devoted to the species, such as the Toronto Zoo , the population is now around 150. Calgary Zoo in Alberta was the first to successfully breed the marmots at their facility, and produced an impressive five litters in 2007.
The Vancouver Island Marmot lives only in the alpine areas of the mountains on central Vancouver Island. The zoo plans to reintroduce the pups in their natural habitat at Mount Washington, British Columbia.
10. Bald eagle America’s national symbol, the bald eagle, this year was removed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species List. This was a grand feat for the species, which just a decade ago faced dwindling populations.
The San Francisco Zoo has been instrumental in breeding and releasing captive eagles, and has reintroduced more than 100 bald eagles over the past 22 years. The zoo reports about 200 nesting pairs of bald eagles in California today.