Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Black-footed Ferrets Get a Boost From Science

19919848834_168797a6a5_oThese Black-footed Ferret kits born in 2015 are more than cute -- they represent a breakthrough for this critically endangered species that could benefit rare animals around the world. 

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19919841354_371f4469e2_kPhoto Credit:  Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

 

In 1981, scientists found only one small wild population of Black-footed Ferrets in Wyoming.  Wildlife organizations, including zoos, have since brought this critically endangered species back from just 18 individuals to more than 2,600 in the wild today.  This summer, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) broke the genetic bottleneck facing the species by using semen that had been cryopreserved for 10 to 20 years to artificially inseminate live female ferrets. This breakthrough will increase the number of black-footed ferrets born in human care while enhancing genetic diversity within the species.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed and oversees the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) manages the Black-footed Ferret breeding program with a breeding population composed of about 300 animals. For this study, all the males were managed either at SCBI or at the USFWS National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center. Scientists collected semen samples from adult Black-footed Ferrets that ranged in age from one to six years old. All females were solely managed at SCBI.

Initially, scientists used fresh semen to artificially inseminate females who failed to naturally mate with males, resulting in 135 kits. With just a few founders to rebuild an entire species, early managers of the Black-footed Ferret recovery program knew that genetic diversity could be lost. Loss of genetic variation can lead to increased sperm malformation and lower success of pregnancy over time. Researchers routinely collected and preserved Black-footed Ferret semen for later use as part of standard operating procedures.

Read more about Black-footed Ferret breeding and see more photos below.

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Newly Described Poison Dart Frog Hatched in Captivity

Photo Jorge GuerrelSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) scientists, working as part of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, hatched the first Andinobates Geminisae Froglet born in captivity.

Photo Jorge GuerrelSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute (2)

Adinobates geminisae tadpole_3_Photo Brian GratwickeSmithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Adinobates geminisae tadpole_Photo Brian GratwickeSmithsonian Conservation Biology InstitutePhoto Credits: Brian Gratwicke (Images: 3,4,5,6) ; Jorge Guerrel (Images: 1,2 7,8)

The tiny poison dart frog species only grows to 14 millimeters and was first collected and described last year from a small area in central Panama. Scientists collected two adults to evaluate the potential for maintaining the species in captivity as an insurance population.

“There is a real art to learning about the natural history of an animal and finding the right set of environmental cues to stimulate successful captive breeding,” said Brian Gratwicke, Amphibian Conservation Biologist at SCBI and Director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. “Not all amphibians are easy to breed in captivity, so when we do breed a species for the first time in captivity it is a real milestone for our project and a cause for celebration.”

Scientists simulated breeding conditions for the adult frogs in a small tank. The frogs laid an egg on a bromeliad leaf, which scientists transferred to a moist petri dish. After 14 days, the tadpole hatched. Scientists believe adult Andinobates Geminisae Frogs may provide their eggs and tadpoles with parental care, which is not uncommon for dart frogs, but they have not been able to determine if that is the case. In the wild, one of the parents likely transports the tadpole on his or her back to a little pool of water, usually inside a tree or on a bromeliad leaf.

After the tadpole hatched, scientists moved it from the petri dish to a small cup of water, mimicking the small pools available in nature. On a diet of fish food, the tadpole successfully metamorphosed into a froglet, after 75 days, and is now the size of a mature adult.

Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project scientists are unsure if Andinobates Geminisae Frogs are susceptible to the amphibian-killing chytrid fungus. However, since it is only found in a small area of Panama and is dependent on primary rain forests, which are under pressure from agricultural conversion, they have identified it as a conservation-priority species.

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project breeds endangered species of frogs in Gamboa, Panama and El Valle, Panama. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a partnership between the Houston Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, New England Zoo, SCBI and STRI. This study was supported by Minera Panama.

More amazing photos, below the fold!

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Four Litters of Red Panda Cubs Born at SCBI

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All four Red Panda pairs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., successfully bred and had cubs this year. Of the 10 cubs, more born at SCBI than any other year, seven have survived.

The latest pair to have cubs was Shama and Rusty, who are best known to the public. Rusty gained national attention in June 2013 after he escaped from his enclosure on Asia Trail at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Shama, an experienced mother, gave birth to three cubs June 26. This is the first litter Rusty has sired. Keepers had been monitoring Shama closely the past few weeks since her behavior indicated she might be pregnant. Keepers are observing the cubs via a closed-circuit camera, and the cubs appear healthy.

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Rusty and Shama’s three cubs join three other litters born within the past five weeks. Two cubs were born May 27 to female Yanhua and male Sherman. It was their first litter.

Two more cubs were born June 16 to female Regan and male Rocco. One cub was stillborn; the other is being hand-reared to increase chances of survival. The surviving cub is currently in critical condition and receiving round-the-clock care. Keepers took extra steps to prepare for the birth of Regan’s cubs. She has given birth before, but has neglected cubs in the past. As a result, keepers trained her to voluntarily participate in ultrasounds, and they moved her to the veterinary hospital before the birth and monitored her 24 hours a day when she began showing signs consistent with an impending birth. Regan is very genetically valuable to the red panda population in human care, and keepers took every precaution to increase the likelihood of a successful birth.

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Endangered Micronesian Kingfisher Hatches

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The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute rung in 2014 with the hatching of the most endangered species in its collection—a Micronesian Kingfisher— on January 1. The chick, whose sex is unknown, is the first offspring for its 8-year-old father and 2-year-old mother. This boost brings the total population of Micronesian Kingfishers to 129 birds. They are extinct in the wild.

Micronesian Kingfishers are extremely difficult to breed due to incompatibility between males and females, and the inability of some parents to successfully raise their own chicks.  Animal care staff are hand-raising the chick, which involves feeding it at two-hour intervals, seven to eight times per day.

Visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo can see these critically endangered birds on exhibit in the Bird House.

Kingfisher 2Photo credits: Victoria Lake / Conservation Biology Institute

See a video of the hatchling:

 

Micronesian Kingfishers flourished in Guam’s limestone forests and coconut plantations until the arrival of the brown tree snake, an invasive species that stowed away in military equipment shipped from New Guinea after World War II. Because these reptiles had no natural predators on Guam, their numbers grew and they spread across the island quickly. Within three decades, they had hunted Micronesian Kingfishers and eight other bird species to the brink of extinction.

In 1984, Guam’s Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources captured the country’s remaining 29 Micronesian Kingfishers and sent them to zoological institutions around the globe—including the National Zoo—as a hedge against extinction. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums created a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the birds. The SSP pairs males and females in order to maintain a genetically diverse and self-sustaining population in captivity.

As the captive population increases, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Guam’s Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources continue to look for suitable release sites in Guam. The availability of release sites continues to shrink, however, due to deforestation and human expansion. Controlling the brown snake population remains a significant challenge as well. Scientists are hopeful that initiatives for snake control and forest protection signify that the reintroduction of the Micronesian Kingfisher may soon become feasible. Additionally, field studies of a different subspecies of wild kingfishers are underway on Pohnpei, another Micronesian island, to secure essential biological information on wild populations and to test various reintroduction techniques for use on Guam.


Two Cheetah Litters Born at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

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The Smithsonian's National Zoo celebrated International Cheetah Day (December 4) with ten genetically valuable cubs! They were all born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute last month. First-time mother Miti birthed a litter of seven cubs on November 12. Six of her cubs made it through those critical early days—five females and one male. Experienced mother Ally gave birth to a litter of four cubs on November 26. Animal care staff have not fully examined Ally’s cubs yet but both litters are doing well so far. Staff are keeping an eye on the litters with closed-circuit webcams, and will have more updates in the coming weeks.  

The birth of these ten cubs is excellent news for this Vulnerable species; according to the Internation Union for Consservation of Species, there are an estimated 7,500 adult Cheetahs in the wild. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, launched in 2010, works to conserve endangered species and train conservationists. 

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Photo Credit: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute / Amber Dedrick (1) 


Romping with Cheetah Cubs - a ZooBorns First!

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Last Monday my ZooBorns' co-founder, Chris Eastland, and I (Andrew Bleiman) made a very special trip to Dallas Zoo to meet their twin Cheetah cubs, Kamau and Winspear. We also met their canine companion, a black Lab puppy named, Amani. 

It's extraordinarily rare that we get to interact, let alone romp, with real-live zoo-borns. However these special cubs are being raised as education animals so socialization with humans, even goofy ZooBorns guys, is part of their regular day. Their puppy friend, Amani, is a calming influence who will also help with these efforts. 

The cubs were born at Smithsonian's Front Royal Conservation Biology Institute on July 8th. 

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The feline duo put on quite a display. Stalking and pouncing on us / one another / furniture and just about anything else worth clawing at occupied most of the morning. The cubs made a variety of noises, from bird-like chirps, to gutteral growls, to purrs that would remind you of your house cat, just a lot louder. 

With wild Cheetah populations hovering somewhere around 10,000, the species is considered vulnerable to extinction. Cheetahs thrive in vast expanses of land. Human encroachment and habitat destruction are central threats to this iconic species.

Institutions like Dallas Zoo serve an invaluable role in building empathy and awareness for wildlife conservation. We here at ZooBorns are proud to help spread the word about these efforts and consider ourselves incredibly priviliged to meet Dallas' newest Cheetah ambassadors. 

Special thanks to the Dallas Zoo staff that made our visit possible. Pictured left to right: Chris Eastland (ZooBorns), Candice Davis, Chris Johnson, Robin Ryan, and Andrew Bleiman (ZooBorns). Not pictured: Laurie Holloway

Photo credits: ZooBorns / Juan Pulido