By visiting adorable new animals at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, guests have a window into the zoo’s broader conservation efforts around the world.
The zoo is participating in 64 conservation projects in 19 countries this year, said Michael Kreger, vice president of conservation and sustainability at the zoo. These projects support 33 different organizations and 11 Saving Animals From Extinction programs, which were established by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Internal conservation efforts include the recent births of a baby elephant on June 16 and a baby sea lion on June 17, according to a June press release.
The two baby animals will gradually be introduced to other animals to help mimic their natural socializing environments, said Randy Junge, vice president of animal health at the zoo. It will also be an opportunity for two of the other young female elephants to learn how to take care of a baby.
“Elephants are naturally herding animals, and in nature the baby would be born into a herd of other moms and babies and grow up in this social environment,” Junge said.
Although the elephant calf is never reintroduced into the wild, it is important when it comes to maintaining the elephant population in zoos, Kreger said. Asian elephants are currently considered an endangered species and are endangered due to human interactions.
“The main threat to elephants, really [for] Asian elephants – it’s not ivory, as it is with African elephants – it’s this conflict between humans and elephants, ”Kreger said. “We have to work with local people and conservation organizations and governments to try to achieve more human-elephant coexistence instead of conflict.”
One of those conflicts revolves around the oil palm plantations typically found in Borneo and Indonesia, Kreger said.
“Elephants actually roam these oil palm plantations, and the point is that the people who work in the plantations don’t see elephants as a threat to these plantations and don’t want to wipe out these elephants, which sometimes means them. kill or trap them. “Kreger said.” It’s not about telling people, ‘Don’t grow oil palms,’ it tells them that if you’re doing this, consider the wildlife.
To remedy the situation, the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil program, which exemplifies the Columbus Zoo’s mission to source ethical palm oil, is helping farmers live alongside elephants while continuing to provide palm oil. palm, Kreger said. The zoo also participates in SAFE programs through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, such as the SAFE programs for Asian elephants and black rhinos.
The Asian Elephant Program has three components: researching the Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus – a disease that can kill elephants, educating people about the dangers facing the Asian elephant population, and development of a registry for the Indonesian government of every elephant in human care in Indonesia. The aim of the registry is to prevent illegal trafficking in Asian elephants, Kreger said.
Visitors can participate in the upcoming Plastic Free EcoChallenge in July – a campaign to remove plastics from the oceans, Kreger said. Participants can find the challenge on the program website and record their consumption of single-use plastics, with the aim of reducing their consumption.
“It’s kind of a friendly competition between zoos and aquariums, you know, and other organizations, but everyone is welcome, and it’s a good way to keep plastics out of waterways. and oceans, ”Kreger said.
He said reducing plastics in the oceans is important, as rescue facilities frequently find that plastic ingestion and entanglement of nets are common problems for sea lions and other marine animals.
“They’ve got it wrapped around them, or maybe some kind of 6-pack plastic ring,” Kreger said. “With puppies, you know, it’s even worse because puppies can easily get tangled in this stuff, and not only is it hard for them to move, they can drown in it, or it can prevent them. to feed. “
The zoo is also involved in manatee rehabilitation, having released more than 30 manatees into the wild by 2021. The zoo currently has five manatees and is one of only two facilities in North Florida to participate in the Rescue and Rescue Partnership. manatee rehabilitation – the other being the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
“If they need several years of care, they will be sent to a place like ours, and then we will allow them to grow up here until they are ready to be released, and if they are not released. , certainly staged for release, ”Kreger said. “Typically, the release site is where the manatee was first found.”
Kreger said the zoo is also working to build partnerships for rhino conservation. Upcoming conservation efforts focus on the great one-horned rhino in India and Nepal and the critically endangered eastern black rhinos in Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
“Even though it’s been a tough year, we’re still there,” Kreger said. “We are a conservation institution.