Conservation Creation: Red Panda-monium, featuring DIY Seed Bombs!

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Red pandas are undeniably one of the world’s cutest animals. With bright red fur, striking facial features and a big fluffy tail, these animals have quickly become popular throughout the internet and in the hearts of our guests. However, these traits serve a larger purpose than to pull at our heartstrings! Red pandas are native to Southeast Asia, particularly in the temperate forests near the Himalayan Mountains. In these areas, temperatures remain cool and that large fluffy tail is used almost like a blanket to keep these small animals warm. In addition to providing warmth, that beautiful thick red fur helps these animals camouflage themselves within the red lichens that grow in their natural habitat.

Believe it or not, the red panda is the original panda. Red pandas were discovered around 50 years before the black and white giant pandas that we typically think of. These animals have caused quite a headache for scientists over the years as they’ve tried to figure out the relationship between red pandas and giant pandas.

Currently, red pandas are classified in their own unique family called Ailuridae. However different these animals may seem, they do share some commonality. For one, both the red panda and the giant panda love to eat bamboo! These animals are also both greatly affected by habitat loss. Here at the Greensboro Science Center we support the Red Panda Network, an organization dedicated to preserving these animals. You can also help red pandas by donating to the Red Panda Network here (https://www.redpandanetwork.org) and by continuing to visit the Greensboro Science Center and other AZA accredited zoos and aquariums!

Remember to join us during the month of September on Tuesdays and Thurdsays at 10:30am and 2:30pm at our red panda habitat to participate in our Conservation Creation activity as well as on September 14thfor Red Panda Day!

While red pandas live thousands of miles away from us, there are things we can do for animals effected by habitat loss right here in North Carolina! Some of these animals include our local pollinators such as bees and butterflies. As we move in to the cooler months of fall, we can begin planting flowers and other plants to help out these animals. To get started, we have a cool DIY activity for you to do at home that will be fun for you and beneficial to our local pollinators: Seed Bombs!

DIY Seed Bombs

What you will need: Air-dry clay, potting soil or compost, water, seeds, a large mixing bowl, a measuring cup of any size

To choose seeds that will be the most beneficial to your area, visit this website: https://www.ourstate.com/tips-bee-friendly-garden-north-carolina/

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Seed bomb ingredients

Step 1: Take 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost and combine them in your mixing bowl.

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Combine 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost

Step 2: Use your hands (or a large spoon) to mix the ingredients together, adding water as necessary. Your final mixture should be similar to Play-Doh in consistency.

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Mix ingredients, adding water as necessary, until the mixture has a Play-Doh-like consistency

Step 3: Add your seeds of choice to the mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Add seeds

Step 4: Form the mixture into balls or another fun shape of your choosing.

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Form the mixture into balls

Step 5: Allow 2-3 days for your seed bombs to dry and then toss them wherever you would like your seed bombs to grow! Seed bombs don’t require care or attention so they can be placed wherever you would like to see your flowers. Visit them often in the Fall and Spring to see if you have any insect visitors!

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Completed seed bombs!

Greensboro Science Center Announces 2019 – 2020 Conservation & Research Grant Recipients

The Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC) Research Committee is pleased to announce the recipients of its annual Conservation & Research Grant. Each year, GSC employees are given the opportunity to apply for funds to pursue a conservation or research project. The 2019 – 2020 grantees are as follows:

Michael Motsch, Zookeeper

Project: Red Panda Network’s Zoo Eco Trip

The Zoo Eco trip allows keepers to track red pandas with the professionals who study and monitor wild populations. Michael, the lead red panda keeper at the GSC, will travel to Nepal in December to participate in this program. The experience will unite Michael’s passion for red pandas and his interest in their conservation via hands-on field work.

Sara Payne, Exhibits & Design Manager

Project: Human-Chimpanzee Conflict Awareness Project

The Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) works with primate conservation organizations across Africa. Sara will develop educational materials, including banners and posters, for Chimpanzee Trust, a PASA member, that will be distributed throughout the region to inform locals about human – animal conflict and emphasize the importance of primates.

Katie Ruffolo, Educator

Project: North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC) Website Content- Species Profile Updates

The NCWRC is updating the herpetofauna species profiles on their website. Katie is combining her love of herptiles with her love for writing to assist the commission in creating profiles. She will travel across the state to meet with species specialists, gather information for their profiles, and write content that will appear on the NCWRC’s website.

Lindsey Zarecky, the GSC’s VP of Conservation & Research, says, “We are excited to have such diverse projects submitted for this year’s grant cycle. The Research Committee is happy to support these unique and individualized projects.”

 

 

Studying Bats for Species Conservation

The Greensboro Science Center’s Conservation and Research department is actively involved in saving the seven bat species found right here in the Piedmont. Bats in North Carolina are insectivores, meaning they consume insects. Every night from late spring until early fall, you may see bats swooping through the skies, foraging for insects. They are a great, natural pesticide – which is just one of the endearing qualities that makes us want to protect them!

In 2011, researchers began to see signs of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) on hibernating bats in the mountains. WNS is a fungus that adheres to the bats’ skin, particularly their muzzles and wings. The fungus is an irritant that causes the bats to wake from torpor, or hibernation. The process of waking burns a lot of calories, so the bats are hungry, but in winter, there are no insects to eat to sustain them. Large numbers of bats have perished from WNS by burning up their fat reserves before their spring emergence. Some species of bats are more prone to WNS than others, so some species have seen a much more dramatic decline than others.

Researchers across the country, particularly in states impacted by WNS, want to know the abundance and diversity of bats. Researchers collect this information to help construct a long-term understanding of populations before, during and after WNS. It allows scientists to make more informed decisions to combat the disease.

In order to understand what species live here, we sample the population. Since bats use echolocation, we use ultra-sonic recording devices to record calls. We can then interpret the call to identify the species and discover whether they are foraging or navigating their environment. We also use mist-nets to catch bats and obtain diversity and abundance information. This allows us to not only know what species is present, but also the sex ratio, age, and overall health of our bat populations.

Mist-netting is a technique where you string a mist-net between tall poles mounted in the ground like flag poles. Mist nets range in size from 3 meters to 12meters and can be combined to reach up to 30 meters high. Nets are placed at sundown and remain until 1:00am, with researchers checking them every eight minutes. Bats typically go through two rounds of foraging, one at sundown and one just before the sun rises. Mist nets look and feel like hair nets and they are designed such that bats fly into them and safely fall into a net pouch. Researchers carefully remove the bat from the net and place them into a mesh bag.

Once we have a “bat in hand”, we can collect information, including weight (1), species (2), arm length (3), age (4), gender (5), and wing rating (6). Then, we place an ID band on its wing (7) and release it so it can continue foraging. All data collected from these outings are tracked by the state.

The combination of acoustic recordings and mist-netting gives us an understanding of our bat populations. This data allows us to look at trends over time and see how species diversity and abundance change in response to situations like WNS. From this information we can make informed decisions on maintaining bat roosts, including caves, bridges and forests. Wildlife is wild and we are here to guide decisions that allow wildlife to thrive! Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so we need as much data as we can gather before we make any decision that could alter the natural behaviors or species composition in a habitat.

It is thanks to years of data collection that we have seen a plateau in the decline of WNS-impacted species. It is encouraging to think the large scale declines are coming to an end. We have also seen juveniles of those impacted species, which gives us hope that species are trying to rebound. Bat work will continue to help researchers understand this unique mammal and to help protect their habitats.

Greensboro Science Center Vet Technician Responds to Flamingo Crisis

In May, the Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC) Veterinary Technician, Sam Beasley, spent two weeks in Kimberley, South Africa, assisting with a flamingo crisis thanks to the GSC’s Conservation & Research Grant Program.

In January, the Kamfers Dam began drying up. As adult flamingos followed the dwindling water source, they left hundreds of eggs and hatchlings exposed to the elements. Through funding made available by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), locals in Kimberely South Africa built a large pen, complete with a makeshift dam, at the local SPCA where the abandoned hatchlings could be rehabilitated, then released.

Beasley, who was originally scheduled to use her grant money to assist with a sea turtle project, changed her plans to respond to this more urgent crisis.

Sam and Flamingo

Beasley says her day began at 7:45 each morning. She, local volunteers in Kimberley and a fellow volunteer from the GSC were responsible for feeding 600+ birds four times each day and misting them 3 times per day. In addition, they maintained water quality by conducting regular water changes on the dam and smaller pools, performed grounds maintenance both inside and outside of the pen and administered any daily medications.

The birds were primarily fed a flamingo red feed, in addition to duck pellets, dog food and additional supplements. Unfortunately, the flamingo red feed’s consistency had begun building residue on the bird’s beaks and feathers, at which time volunteers were instructed to begin cleaning all birds individually.  Manually removing the residue from the bills and bathing the birds occupied much of her time on site. Beasley says the sheer number of birds and the limited resources available made the situation extremely challenging. With one hose and no hot water on site, it took between 45-minutes and one hour to bathe just one bird.

The hard work did pay off when Beasley assisted in the release of 110 of those 600+ birds during her last two days in South Africa.

“I would do it over again any day of the week,” Beasley says. Thanks to her time spent in South Africa, she says she knows more about flamingos now than she could have ever hoped, which will be extremely beneficial when the GSC exhibits these birds in its Revolution Ridge zoo expansion (expected to be complete in 2020).

Busy Bees and Other Prominent Pollinators

Here at the Greensboro Science Center, we love all animals – big and small! One of our smallest residents is perhaps one of our most important: the honey bee.

Bees are social insects that live in colonies all over the world. These colonies consist of one queen, female worker bees and male drones. Worker bees, which make up the majority of the hive’s population, do all of the work – from gathering nectar to creating honey and building the hive. Worker bees have to be incredibly efficient because their lifespan is only around 45 days, which is much less than the lifespan of their queen, who can live up to 7 years! Drones are there only to help reproduce and keep the hive populated.

Honey bees are one of our most important pollinators. When they fly from flower to flower looking for nectar, pollen gets stuck on their hairy legs. When they are visiting other flowers, some of that pollen will fall off – and that is how those plants become pollinated. Through this process, we estimate that bees are responsible for pollinating plants that create 1/3 of the food that we eat here in the United States! Unfortunately, bee populations have been decreasing, which not only affects wildlife, but us as well.

You can help bees by choosing plants that they like for your gardens at home such as Purple Coneflower, Great Blue Lobelia and Goldenrod. You can also join us at the Greensboro Science Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am and 2:30pm in August by our beehives in Friendly Farm to get a packet of seeds as well as help create a community beehive from bottle caps!

Fun Fact: Do you know what to do when you’ve been stung by a bee? Believe it or not, you don’t want to swat at the insect! When a honey bee gets crushed, it releases a pheromone that signals danger to other bees which causes them to swarm. When a bee stings, its stinger comes out so it cannot sting you more than once. Remain calm, brush the bee off and remove the stinger from your skin.

Now for an easy DIY way of helping bees beat the August heat!

Just like us, bees and other pollinators need water to stay healthy. You can help them by leaving trays of water out for them!

What you will need: A tray like a pie tin or small bowl, marbles or decorative stones, and fresh water.

Bee-Materials

Step 1: Place your marbles or stones into the tray.

Bee-Marbles

Step 2: Pour water into the tray so that the tops of your marbles or stones are just above the water. The idea is that they will give insects something to sit on so they can drink without risk of drowning.

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Step 3: Place your tray somewhere in your yard for bees and other insects to stop and get a drink! If you don’t like insects near you or your house, you will want to place these somewhere that you won’t be bothered by them.

 

If you want to monitor your station to see who drops by, consider tracking your visitors with the iNaturalist app! You can read up on this app in our previous Conservation Creation blog. And don’t forget to get plenty of water yourself and stay hydrated in the summer heat!

GSC Penguin Keeper Shares South African Experience

IMG_0307GREENSBORO, NC — Shannon Anderson, lead penguin keeper at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), spent 10 days in South Africa assisting with the rescue, rehabilitation and release of seabirds at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).Anderson’s participation was part of SANCCOB’S Animal Professional Experience, an exchange program for penguin keepers wishing to apply their husbandry knowledge in order to assist with the conservation and welfare of wild penguin populations. Her experience was sponsored by the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant, funding which offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project.

Anderson worked side by side with the organization’s bird rehabilitation staff and volunteers, practicing her current skills and learning how to care for sick, injured, oiled, and abandoned African penguins and other seabirds. Most of her time was spent working in the chick rearing unit, where she was responsible for as few as eight chicks and sometimes as many as 23. There, her responsibilities were preparing and administering food and medications – which included tube feeding chicks four times each day – as well as cleaning the pens and reporting welfare checks.

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Anderson says she learned a lot during her time at SANCCOB. The autonomy of the work reiterated how capable she is at husbandry and affirmed the depth of knowledge she has about African penguins. She enjoyed the opportunity of working with wild penguins, which was far different from her zookeeper work. Anderson says, “It was very different working with wild birds. We were encouraged to be rough. There was no talking. We didn’t handle the birds. You didn’t caudle them, you pushed them to meet milestones to keep them on track with their development and growth. In the end, the chicks were going to rejoin the colony and they had to have the skills necessary to survive. We didn’t want them to get imprinted or they’d just end up needing additional human intervention.” Anderson says that this approach has proven successful for SANCCOB, which boasts an 85% success rate of returning birds to the wild following admission.

Anderson’s experience in South Africa greatly contributed to the conservation of wild birds in her care, but it also gave her new knowledge that she was able to apply at the GSC. Shortly after she arrived home in late December, Anderson found a compromised egg in one of the nest boxes. By following SANCCOB’s protocols regarding incubation, humidity, temperature, and timing, she was successfully able to hatch the chick using sterile forceps and precise timing. All the skills applied to make sure this chick survived, she learned during her time in South Africa. She also took the skills learned from working in SANCCOB’s ICU unit to create a new diet for an ill bird, leading to that bird’s quick recovery. Anderson will admit the confidence to take the lead and use those skills also had something to do with her time at SANCCOB.

Anderson was one of three staff members who received project funding through the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant program. The GSC’s staff can apply for funds to support research projects, conservation work or relevant professional development. Applicants must submit a written application, provide a presentation to the research committee and, if funded, present a program recap to the GSC’s board and staff.

The GSC has long supported SANCCOB via its annual Tuxedo Trot, a 5K and Kids’ Fun Run designed specifically to raise funds for endangered African penguins. The event, which has raised $50,000 since its inception in 2013, will return on Saturday, April 27, 2019. More information about the event can be found online at http://www.tuxedotrot.com.

Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research at the GSC said, “The GSC Research Committee was thrilled to send Shannon to assist with a conservation organization we have supported for years. We receive thank you letters, photos, progress reports, and field updates from SANCCOB, but to see the glow in the eyes of someone who got to experience wild penguin conservation makes our 5K fundraiser so much more meaningful.” When we asked Shannon what her major takeaway was from this trip she said, “In our hearts, zookeepers want to do this, we want to make a difference, and that is why we work with animals. But you never know if you will actually get a chance to use your skills. This trip just made everything worthwhile.”

Species Sampling: Crayfish

In late January, with temperatures hovering in the low 30s, a team of GSC staffers took to the streams to identify crayfish. Why, you might ask, would you wait for such a cold day for this particular project? We, the marketing department, had the same question as we were unceremoniously dragged from our heated office spaces to document the activity. According to our fearless leaders, Lindsey Zarecky, the GSC’s VP of Conservation and Research, and Brena Jones, of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, digging up crayfish is actually one area of research that lends itself to a winter excursion. The lack of new growth present at this time of year makes it easier to spot crayfish burrows and holes in the streambed.

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We know what you’re thinking… crayfish aren’t all that exciting. We thought so, too, initially. But read on! We’re going to share some truly fascinating factoids about a species present in our own backyards.

The first step to identifying crayfish, we learned, is locating them. Crayfish are burrowers. They are categorized based upon their habitat preference as primary burrowers (meaning they spend most of their time in burrows), secondary burrowers (meaning they are more often found in streams than burrows), or tertiary burrowers (meaning they are only found in burrows during breeding season). In order to find the animals, our team walked slowly through the stream, lifting rocks and looking for movement and searching for raised mounds that could indicate the presence of a burrow.

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Once the crayfish were found, the real fun began. Each animal was first identified by looking for several characteristics that distinguish one species from another. When it comes to pincher claws on a crayfish, size matters – for identification purposes, of course. The fat pinchers of the Cambarus are relatively obvious when compared with the long, narrow pincher claws of the Procambarus. Since crayfish can regenerate their claws, a tip Brena had for our team was to always look at the bigger claw for better accuracy.

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In addition to pincher claw size, the width between the lines on top of the animal’s carapace (or top shell), the presence or absence of spines on the carapace, and the pointiness or bluntness of the rostrum (which is a fancy word for the space between the eyes) can all be used for identification purposes. With that being said, there are a lot of undescribed species of crayfish in North Carolina, which can make identification challenging!

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Once the species was identified, some – ahem – personal information was also collected and recorded, such as the overall size and the sex. Males, Brena showed us, have an extra set of swimmerets, rigid in nature, on the underside of their tail. Each animal was also given a gentle squeeze. Pardon the scientific terminology here: a “squishy” crayfish may have recently molted. A shed exoskeleton means a growing crayfish!

Now, on to the big questions: why, exactly, are we digging up crayfish? Well, scientists, including the GSC’s own Lindsey Zarecky, are studying the effects of urbanization on wildlife. The recent sampling of species performed in our stream will establish a baseline for comparison as our facility continues to grow and expand. Knowing what the ecosystem looks like before, during and after construction will help scientists understand how to find a balance between continued development and maintaining native wildlife populations. The ultimate goal is to discover how to create a scenario where everyone wins – both humans and wildlife alike.