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Passion Into Conservation Action (PiCA) Program


shutterstock_71354635The Birmingham Zoo’s Passion into Conservation Action (PICA) Program, allows employees to submit conservation research projects that the Zoo will fund. These projects support the Zoo’s conservation initiatives. After the applications were reviewed and narrowed down through a selection process, individuals were awarded grants to fund their chosen projects.

2014-2015 Passion Into Conservation Action (PICA) Grant Recipients


Bridget Beury, Africa East/ Pachyderm Keeper

Destination: Botswana
Project: Elephants for Africa 

Elephants for Africa is dedicated to ensuring the survival of the African elephant through research and education in the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park (MNPNP). For the past 11 years Elephants for Africa has specifically been examining male elephant ecology in Botswana.
Benefit to  Conservation:

  • Will assist with field research that contributes directly to our understanding of African elephant behavior
  • Will return with knowledge gained in field of the threats elephants face in the wild & share with Zoo guests what they can do to aid in conservation of the species
  • As part of grant monies requested, will purchase much needed field supplies to donate to Elephants for Africa

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

BZI already contributes to Elephants for Africa, but establishing a long-term connection with an organization that is dedicated to the research, education and conservation of elephants, specifically with male elephants, would be extremely advantageous to both organizations.

Benefit to Career:

Participating in field work would broaden my skill set to include data collection, research and observation. The opportunity to witness male elephants in a free roaming bachelor herd and how the adolescent males interact with each other would be an incredible and awe- inspiring experience that I would be able to share with guests.

Carrie and koala

Carrie Brooks, Education/ Education Program Coordinator

Destination: Australia
Project: Save the Cassowary, Garner’s Beach Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

The Southern or double-wattled cassowary is an iconic yet endangered bird of Queensland, Australia. It is threatened by habitat destruction, feral pigs, dog attacks and vehicle strikes. Rainforest Rescue has created the Save the Cassowary campaign launched throughout Australia in March 2014; with plans to become global in 2015.

Benefit to Conservation:

  • Participating at the Garner’s Beach Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre at Mission Beach and in the Daintree Rainforest will directly benefit the local conservation efforts.
  • Educating Birmingham Zoo visitors about the conservation of the cassowary, as well as other animals and plants in their ecosystem will allow our guests to take part in the conservation of this incredible animal.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

  • By participating in the campaign, educating visitors and providing them with opportunities for assisting in raising funds for this cause, BZI will show its commitment to the conservation of the cassowary.
  • Bringing this global campaign to BZI will help make us a strong international partner of Rainforest Rescue and within the AZA, EAZA and ZAA network.

Benefit to Career:

  • Will give me a greater knowledge of the cassowary, its ecology, plight and conservation which I will apply to education programs.
  • Will be able to use my interpretation skills, newfound knowledge and ideas to create new learning experiences for visitors.

rachel gulley

Rachel Gulley, Children’s Zoo/ Alabama Wilds Keeper

Destination: New Zealand
Project: Rebuilding the New Zealand Falcon Population, Wingspan Raptor Center

Wingspan Bird of Prey Center in Rotorua is New Zealand’s leading conservation, education and research organization for birds of prey. The mission of the Wingspan Bird of Prey Center’s is the conservation effort of the threatened ‘Karearea’ New Zealand falcon.Benefit to Conservation:

Will participate in hands on action for captive breeding and release of the New Zealand falcon, is the only endemic bird of prey to New Zealand

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

  • The opportunity to observe and learn new falconry techniques that can be utilized by the raptor trainers of the Children Zoo’s Alabama Wilds.
  • Skills learned would greatly benefit one raptor in particular, our Mississippi Kite “Spike“, as the NZ falcon is very similar in behavior and size to him.
  • Will bring back new ideas for Children’s Zoo activities and ways to inspire and inform the public about raptors and their conservation.

Benefit to Career:

  • Greater understanding of raptor management and the use of falcons in free flight demonstrations.
  • Strengthen my passion and enthusiasm for animal management, while expanding my knowledge of raptor conservation.


Stephanie McCain, Animal Department/ Director of Animal Health

Destination: Indonesia
Project: Orangutan Veterinary Advisor Group Workshop

A large number of orphaned orangutans exist in rehabilitation centers across Borneo and Sumatra. These orangutans – which number approximately 1,600 – arrive bearing a host of physical and emotional wounds and require intense veterinary care to recover. The OVAG workshops focus on the issues relating to orangutan releases, primarily health issues regarding pre and post released individuals.
Benefit to Conservation:

Rehabilitation and release of orangutans that arrive at rescue centers is vital in helping maintain wild orangutan populations. It is essential that the veterinary staff on the front lines fighting this battle have as much information as possible on recent advances in veterinary medicine. As part of the Advisor Group, I would be able to provide insight on case management, diagnostics, therapeutics, and disease management.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

With the next phase of construction at Birmingham Zoo being an Asian exhibit, this project would help show the public and potential donors our commitment to helping conserve orangutans in the wild.

Benefit to Career:

  • Would allow me to develop relationships with veterinarians in the field who work with orangutans on a daily basis , thus allowing me to become a long term resource and consultant.
  • Enable me to expand my network of colleagues that I work with to a much broader extent.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

With the next phase of construction at Birmingham Zoo being an Asian exhibit, this project would help show the public and potential donors our commitment to helping conserve orangutans in the wild.

Benefit to Career:

  • Would allow me to develop relationships with veterinarians in the field who work with orangutans on a daily basis , thus allowing me to become a long term resource and consultant.
  • Enable me to expand my network of colleagues that I work with to a much broader extent.

amy toman

Amy Toman, Trails of Africa-West/ Animal Care Professional

Destination: Namibia
Project: Conserving Namibia’s Desert-Dwelling Giraffe

It is estimated that less than 80,000 total giraffes exist in the wild. Giraffe Conservation Foundation is currently on the front lines in several countries throughout Africa aiding in conservation research. GCF plays a vital role in many conservation aspects to ensure a sustainable future where all giraffe populations and subspecies are protected and secure in the wild.

Benefit to Conservation:

This study will be the first ever giraffe conservation status assessment in Namibia, which is projected to form the baseline data for scientific research to help develop the first ever National Giraffe Conservancy Strategy for Namibia.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

  • Will allow us to continue to build ties with this conservation organization, such as we did on World Giraffe Day
  • Strengthen ties and collaborate with our zoo colleagues that also support this research.
  • Sharing my direct experience in the field studying giraffes with guests to inspire them to take action to conserve giraffe populations in the wild.

Benefit to Career:

Opportunity to work alongside highly esteemed professionals in giraffe conservation in the field will not only offer tremendous learning opportunities for me as an animal care professional but will also allow for personal growth well.

2013-2014 Passion Into Conservation Action (PICA) Grant Recipients

Jessie Griswold

Jessie Griswold, Animal Health Center

Destination: VulPro Institution in South Africa
Project: Vulture Conservation Programme: VulPro Volunteer

VulPro is a nonprofit conservation institution that rehabilitates, tracks, breeds, researches and educates the public about the importance of multiple species of Vultures in the ecosystem and they’re impact on local people of South Africa. Vultures of interest are primarily Cape and African White-backed, but VulPro also rehabilitates other Bird of Prey species and I would assist in the care of those species.
Benefit to Conservation:

Vulture species are an important part of the ecosystem in South Africa. Development and use of chemicals have contributed to vulture numbers plummeting.  By educating local people, offering rehabilitation services and conducting research with local universities, VulPro works to save an often underappreciated species.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

By participating in VulPro’s conservation and research efforts, BZI contributes to fulfilling AZA accreditation standards.  BZI also benefits by supporting and fostering the personal growth and development of its employee as well as their professional experience that will aid in the exceptional care of its animals.

Benefit to Career:

  • Opportunity to gain more experience capturing and restraining larger species.
  • Gain medical experience caring for injured vultures.
  • Educate the public with the use of live animal demonstrations while working across cultures to protect species of conservation concern.

Lauren Kimbro

Lauren Kimbro, Animal Interpretation & Programs

Destination: San Diego Global in San Diego, California
Project: Animal Interpretation with San Diego Global

The Programs Department’s main goal is to educate the public about conservation through our animal interactions, wildlife shows and Zoo to You programs. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park to gain valuable insight into how a large scale, highly developed Programs department functions and how they interact with the 10,000+ guests that visit a San Diego Zoo Global institution each and every day.  This program is two-fold in that it allows me to gain valuable insight into working with larger programs animals and gain knowledge about how our institution can become more involved in conservation and better inspire our guests to become involved in conservation.

Benefit to Conservation:

The programs department in any zoo serves as the voice of conservation for the zoo. I aim to become a better ambassador for conservation and work with our zoo to take a larger role in supporting conservation projects worldwide and to better educate our guests about these projects.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

BZI would benefit if the Programs Department learned new and innovative ways to present the program animals and the conservation messages behind them to the public. Animal Interpretation with San Diego Global would introduce me to new ways other animal departments work with their animals and present conservation messages to the public.

Benefit to Career:

  • Exposure to new training techniques as well as show behaviors that we can use for our animals here at BZI.
  • Ability to network with other keepers and the potential to collaborate on future projects and presentations.
  • Better perform my job here in Birmingham and be able to take a larger role at this zoo.

Cindy Pinger

Cindy Pinger, Curator (Birds, Reptiles & Children’s Zoo)

Destination: Great Lakes Piping Plover Project in Dauphin Island, AL
Project: A survey of wintering Piper Plovers (Charadrius melodus)

The Great Lakes Piping Plover Project (GLPP) is a consortium of several conservation agencies-Fish and Wildlife, Detroit Zoo, The University of Michigan Biological Station, and the University of Minnesota.  The Detroit Zoo staff coordinates staff members from other zoos to run the captive-rearing station at UNBS.  To bolster the GLPP population the captive birds are released into the wild at the end of the season.  Since the GLPP population is well documented and banded on the breeding grounds, it would be helpful to know if GLPP regularly visit and winter on Dauphin island and to have a more complete picture of the population in both the breeding grounds and wintering grounds.

Benefit to Conservation:

The Great Lakes Piping Plover are endangered and  wintering ground data is important because a substantial portion of annual mortality in shorebirds occurs away from breeding areas. Knowledge of their winter behavior could lead to improved measures of conservation on the wintering grounds and potentially reduce winter mortality.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

As BZI has already committed 5 years of resources to this project, BZI staff can expand upon an already established project and help the GLPP project come full circle.

Benefit to Career:

People can be involved on two levels: breeding and wintering grounds to help conserve a local, native species.  It is also a low-cost project and as I plan to take other staff with me, it will help to incorporate this type of quality local conservation projects into our culture at the Birmingham Zoo.

Marcia Riedmiller

Marcia Riedmiller, Curator (Mammals)

Destination: Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia
Project: Cheetah Conservation Fund Internship

CCF volunteers, serving as ambassadors, help to achieve one of the primary goals which are to turn the local farmers into conservationists while improving their livestock and farm management skills.  CCF relies entirely on donations and volunteers to operate.  Their volunteer program is fee based which enables them to continue to run the day to day operations of the facility along with educating many across the world about the plight of the cheetah.

Benefit to Conservation:

As a volunteer, I would have the opportunity to have a direct impact on the survival of the cheetah through: ecosystem research, livestock guardian dog program, participate in animal care for resident and wild cheetahs being held for relocation and present educational outreach programs consisting of farmer presentations, school talks, attending farm shows and providing guided day-visitor tours at CCF.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

This program ensures the availability of cheetahs for effective public awareness and the support of conservation and research.  Through this program and the Cheetah SSP, the Birmingham Zoo has been recommended to receive 2.0 cheetahs to exhibit enabling us to tell their story through our education message, exhibit design, and public interactions.

Benefit to Career:

Having the opportunity to go to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia and provide hands on assistance in the survival of the cheetah would provide me a “first hand” experience to share with my fellow staff members, public, and colleagues.

Kelley Rogers

Kelley Rogers, Zoo Keeper (Africa Department)

Destination: Birmingham Zoo in Birmingham, AL
Project: Infrasound Study in a Bachelor Herd of African Elephants

Infrasonic (sound with a frequency too low for humans to hear) communication has been studied in elephants over the last few decades in wide range of scenarios, but no one has studied infrasonic communication in a bachelor herd of elephants in the wild or in human care.  What I would like to do is study the vocalizations and behaviors of the elephants in our collection by using audio and video recordings as well as ethogram data to create a database or vocabulary of the communication between elephants in our collection.

Benefit to Conservation:

A greater understanding of the significance of low-frequency vocalizations will provide support for African elephant management . Evidence to support this model for bull management might be used to encourage other zoos to try this technique, thus reducing space requirements for bull elephants.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

In order for the Birmingham Zoo to be the leader in African bull elephant management, it is essential to understand every aspect of the behavior of the elephants in this unique management situation.

Benefit to Career:

By learning as much as I can about the natural behavior of the animals that I take care of, the better decisions I can make when it comes to managing them.

Dan Self

Dan Self, Zoo Keeper (Reptiles Department)

Destination: Grand Cayman Islands
Project: Head Start Program & Habitat Restoration, Blue Iguana Recovery Program

The endemic Grand Cayman Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) is one of the most endangered lizards on Earth. By 2005 the wild population was considered functionally extinct. Today the Blue Iguana numbers around 290 wild individuals thanks to the development of a captive rearing and head start program. This conservation program has been very successful, saving the Blue Iguana from the brink of extinction and now the Blue Iguana population is being promoted as a major ecotourism attraction.

Benefit to Conservation:

In addition to being one of the most endangered species of lizard on the planet, the Blue Iguana is an iconic and flagship Caribbean species. This project helps ensure its survival.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

  • Opening the door for future conservation opportunities and partnerships for conservation, in particular conservation in the Caribbean.
  • Increase Birmingham Zoo’s conservation commitment and profile within the zoo community by its participation with a flagship Caribbean species.

Benefit to Career:

  • Make contacts within the international conservation organizations.
  • Gain up close and personal experience helping save a unique and beautiful endangered species.

2012-2013 Passion Into Conservation Action (PICA) Grant Recipients

In 2012, the Birmingham Zoo started the Passion into Conservation Action (PICA) Program, which allows employees to submit conservation research projects that the Zoo will fund. These projects support the Zoo’s conservation initiatives. After the applications were reviewed and narrowed down through a selection process, individuals were awarded grants to fund their chosen projects.


Travis Coty, Zoo Keeper (Predator Department)

Destination: Karoo Cat Research Farm in South Africa
Travel Dates: March 7-24, 2013
Project: Research with Small African Felids

Travis assisted Dr. Mircea Pfleiderer on a research farm in South Africa and learned about the keeping, behavior and ecology of the local felid species (Serval, Caracal, African Wild cat and Black-footed cat). This research included both observing the cats in captivity and field investigations. Main research subjects were: social and hunting/feeding behavior, maternal behavior and ontogenesis, comparative ethology, ecology, systematics and taxonomy, and zoo biology.

For a detailed account of Travis’ PiCA Grant trip to the Karoo Cat Research Farm, please click here.

Benefit to Conservation:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The breeding program addressed the reintroduction demand for South African preserves, as well as the need to increase rare felids in zoos to broaden genetic populations.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:

  • Gained knowledge of wild African cats in their native environment.
  • Created a positive public impact, showing visitors that the Birmingham Zoo plays a direct role in small felid animal research and is always trying to find a better way to care for its animals.

Benefit to Career:

  • Further developed husbandry skills for small felids.
  • Networked internationally with experts.
  • Increased communication skills by presenting to groups and colleagues about experience in South Africa.


Brandon Moyer, Zoo Keeper (Reptile Department)

Destination: Pelican Point in Weeks Bay, Alabama
Travel Dates: April 5-7, 2013
Project: Oyster Reef Restoration

Brandon assisted in the Nature Conservancy’s ongoing project in Mobile Bay to restore three acres of oyster reef, which in turn will protect two miles of coastline and promote the growth of about 30 acres of sea grass beds. Oyster reefs provide suitable habitats for juvenile fish and invertebrates and protect the shoreline from wave erosion. The oysters themselves filter sea water and improve water quality.

Benefit to Conservation:
This project helped to create habitats for oysters and countless other species that rely on oysters to provide suitable habitats. These artificially created reefs also absorb wave energy and protect shoreline habitat from erosion.

Benefit to the Birmingham Zoo:DSC_0120

  • Furthered Zoo’s involvement in an important conservation issue that occurs in the state of Alabama.
  • Brought attention to a local conservation issue and communicated new knowledge to Zoo staff and guests.

Benefit to Career:

  • Allowed Brandon to better communicate with Zoo visitors about critical conservation issues happening on a local/statewide level.


Jeff Pribble, Zoo Keeper (Bird Department)

Destination: The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana (CNMI), specifically the Island of Saipan
Travel Dates: May 4-June 6, 2013
Project: Mariana Avifauna Conservation Program

Jeff assisted with the Mariana Avifauna Conservation (MAC) Program created by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana (CNMI) to save bird populations at risk due to predation by the brown tree snake in CNMI. The establishment of the brown tree snake on Saipan serves as a direct threat to the survival of many of the CNMI’s endemic and rare bird species.

For a detailed account of Jeff’s PiCA Grant trip to Saipan, please click here.

Benefit to Conservation:Saipan-056
The Mariana Avifauna Conservation (MAC) Program was created by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana (CNMI) with objective to work in partnership with AZA to save bird populations at risk due to predation by brown tree snake on the island of Guam.

Benefit to the Birmingham Zoo:

  • The brown tree snake is likely solely responsible for the extirpation/severe reduction of all 25 bird species on the Island of Guam.
  • Participating will aid program in preventing reduction of bird populations on the CNMI islands.

Benefit to Career:

  • BZI has participated in the MAC program for three years. BZI currently holds Buff-hooded ground doves and have successfully bred this species (4 offspring).
  • This program ties in with the mission statement of BZI being a Conservation oriented program.


Danielle Williams, Zoo Keeper (Primates Department)

Destination: Matang Wildlife Center in the Kubah National Park of Malaysia
Travel Dates: August 1-14, 2013
Project: AZA Orangutan SSP Field Visit

The Matang Wildlife Center, MWC, focuses on the rehabilitation of confiscated and rescued orangutans, macaques, gibbons, sun bears, crocodiles, binturong, civets and other primates.  MWC is located within Kubah National Park, which is approximately 45 minutes outside of Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

For a detailed account of Danielle’s PiCA Grant trip to Malayasia, please click here.
Benefit to Conservation:
Danielle’s trip focused on enrichment, training (both with the animals and the staff), and information sharing.  She spent most of her time in Malaysia working with three female orangutans on trade and hand injection behaviors, as well helping develop staff knowledge to help further these goals.

Benefit to the Birmingham Zoo:

  • Opens a line of communication with Malaysian Orangutan professionals that currently does not exist.
  • Gain firsthand experience so that the Zoo staff will be better able to clearly communicate with the public regarding challenges wild orangutans face.

Benefit to Career:

  • Able to build and strengthen connections with dedicated orangutan staff both abroad & in U.S.
  • Become more culturally aware by traveling to Malaysia.
  • Will return with real examples of the impacts of deforestation and palm oil plantations on local orangutan and human populations.


Daniel Self, Zoo Keeper (Reptile Department)

Destination: Black Warrior River (Alabama)
Travel Dates: May-June, 2013
Project: Captive Head Start Program for Alabama’s Endemic Flattened Musk Turtle

Daniel’s trip examined the flattened musk turtle. The flattened musk turtle’s range of movement is limited to a small area of Alabama’s Black Warrior River drainage–one of the most restricted ranges of any North American turtle.  It is listed by the IUCN Red List as a Critically Endangered species due to its small natural range and continuing decline.  Threats to this species are myriad and include loss of and alteration of suitable habitat, pollution, disease, and illegal collection. 

For a detailed account of Daniel’s PiCA Grant trip to the Black Warrior River, please click here.

Benefit to Conservation:
It will directly contribute to the continued survival of a critically endangered, local turtle species found only in Alabama.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:
Participation in this project established the Birmingham Zoo as a local and regional conservation leader, while inspiring the local community to help preserve vanishing species and habitats.

Benefit to Career:

  • Opportunity to learn from and partner with a larger institution.
  • Sharpen turtle husbandry techniques and knowledge
  • Acquire skills and knowledge necessary to develop and organize similar conservation projects.


Lindsey Moyer, Zoo Keeper (Predator Department)

Destination: Sausalito, California
Travel Dates: August 2013
Project: The Mammal Marine Center

Lindsey worked with the Marine Mammal Center (MMC), whose mission seeks to release rescued animals back into the wild or place them in a suitable zoo or aquarium. The MMC’s research helps protect endangered animals with assistance from their strong volunteer base of more than 1,000 volunteers.

For a detailed account of Lindsey’s PiCA Grant trip to the Marine Mammal Center, please click here.

Benefit to Conservation:Picture2
Assisting in the MMC mission to rescue marine mammals in need

Benefit to the Birmingham Zoo:
The experience gained at the center provides a greater understanding of marine mammals, particularly the Birmingham Zoo sea lions.

Benefit to Career:

  • Gain knowledge about California sea lions that can be applied to any facility that I may work at now or in the future.
  • Better able to educate the public about how wild sea lions are rehabilitated at the Marine Mammal center and what the general public can do to protect them.


Christine Hoskinson, LVT, Clinic Manager (Animal Health Center)

Destination: Various parts Mississippi
Travel Dates: August-September 2013
Project: A Health Assessment of Black Bears in Mississippi

Little, if any, data on the health or density of the American black bear (Ursus americanus) in Mississippi, which is vital information when determining conservation needs.  Christine has surveyed the health status of the bear population in Mississippi by collecting relevant data on anesthetized bears including serum chemistry panels, complete blood cell count (CBC), serology for select disease, fecal parasitology exams, ectoparasite levels, and body condition.

For a detailed account of Christine’s PiCA Grant Assessment of Black Bears in Mississippi, please click here.
Benefit to Conservation:

  • The black bear population in Mississippi is not well studied.
  • Would benefit bear population by determining the health of individuals thus population as a whole.
  • Allow educated decisions when dealing with bear/human interactions.

Benefit to Birmingham Zoo:
By participating in this study, the Birmingham Zoo can directly affect, and help to protect, the state’s natural fauna. The Zoo can also help protect public by learning more about these animals and how they could impact human activities or lives.

Benefit to Career:

  • Fulfills professional goal to continue research efforts focused on conservation.
  • Results of study would be published in a peer-reviewed journal and presented at a national conference, increasing recognition for Christine and BZI as playing an important role in conservation efforts.