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2014 Passion into Conservation Action (PiCA) Grant Recipients

Jessie Griswold, Animal Health CenterJessie Griswold

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.