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.

Greensboro Science Center Aquarist Participates in Prestigious Coral Restoration Workshop

Rachel-PR-BlogGREENSBORO, NC — Rachel Rodgers, coral aquarist in the Wiseman Aquarium at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), participated in a five-day coral restoration workshop at Mote Marine Laboratory in December, 2018. Rodgers’ participation was sponsored by the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant, funding which offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project.

The workshop was led by Dr. David Vaughan, President and founder of Plant A Million Corals and former Senior Scientist and Program Manager at Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration. Workshop participants were exposed to the history of coral restoration (both land-based and ocean nurseries), coral reproduction and the future of restoring coral reefs in light of bleaching, or starvation, episodes occurring around the world.

The workshop offered hands-on experience in land-based micro-fragmentation and fusion coral restoration efforts. Participants learned how micro-fragmentation expedites the growth of corals. Using a specialized saw to cut very small pieces of coral, usually 1-5 polyps, the coral tissue is stimulated to grow, allowing scientists to clone at 25-50 times the normal growth rate. Clone fragments of coral recognize each other and fuse together to form large colonies. By implementing techniques such as micro-fragmenting and fusion, scientists and aquarists hope to bolster the resilience of reefs at local scales.

Workshop participants included coral biologists, conservationists and academics who have been doing coral fragmentation on existing reefs. As the only aquarist to participate, Rodgers brought valuable knowledge about land-based work to the team, including water quality, building of aquarium systems and coral husbandry. Now that the workshop is complete, Rodgers is excited to maintain relationships she built during the experience. She plans to continue collaborating with fellow participants so coral labs can be built all around the world.

“This workshop brought a lot of hope,” Rodgers says. “You hear ‘50% of coral reefs are bleached and 30% are dead’ and you begin to feel hopeless. But, when you have dedicated people learning to build reefs, there is hope for coral reefs.” This experience not only taught Rodgers techniques for restoring corals, but strengthened her passion for the work she does as well as drew her into a world of coral restoration opportunities.

Rodgers was one of three staff 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.

Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research at the GSC says, “The GSC research committee is thrilled to be able to offer this grant opportunity. There is such gratification in seeing the hope, passion and illumination in the eyes of staff who experience field conservation work and become re-energized to do what they can to conserve wildlife.”

Living the Mission: GSC Staff Awarded Conservation & Research Grants

This year, the Greensboro Science Center provided staff a brand new opportunity to apply for what is known as the Conservation and Research Grant. This annual grant offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project. Eligible proposals can range from pursing a professional development opportunity, facilitating an existing field project (like mussel surveys or bat acoustic work), creating a conservation project (like a stream clean-up or butterfly garden), or taking on a new research question. After undergoing an extensive assessment by our staff Research Committee, this year’s recipients have been announced.

Shannon Anderson, Zoo Keeper: SANCCOB’s Keeper Exchange Program

Penguin DivingShannon will travel to South Africa to work with SANCCOB staff to refine her skills in bird care and chick rearing; Shannon’s knowledge and passion for penguins led her to pursue this program. On this trip, she’ll have the opportunity to work with field biologists, conservationists and sea bird specialists to expand her knowledge and will share her experience with staff at a presentation following her time in South Africa.

Rachel Rogers, Aquarist: Mote Marine Coral Restoration Workshop

coral 02Rachel, the GSC’s coral aquarist, has a passion for propagating and conserving coral species. At the workshop, she’ll learn the micro-fragmenting techniques used to propagate staghorn and elkhorn corals. She will also visit coral nurseries in the Florida Keys to gain knowledge on the best methods for growing and reproducing coral. She, too, will share her experience with staff at a presentation following the workshop.

Sam Beasley, Vet Tech: Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium

Sam Beasly | 36 | EditSam works alongside veterinarian Dr. Sam Young to care for the animals in our collection. Sam has a lifelong passion for turtles and rehabilitation of sea turtles. She will work with the vets and technicians at the Sea Turtle Care Center to rehabilitate sea turtles and care for injured turtles. There, she will learn new skills and receive hands-on training that will benefit her vet career. Sam will also be sharing with staff her experience when she returns.

We’re thrilled to have a team of staff who supports our mission of conservation by putting the “hands” in “hands-on.” Return to our blog in the near future for updates on the good works these team members will be doing!

Armadillo Burrows: A Great Way to Beat the Heat

Notes from the Field – in cooperation with Dr. Arnaud Desbiez of the Giant Armadillo Project

You may be familiar with the nine-banded armadillo or even the screaming hairy armadillo at the GSC – but did you know there is a giant armadillo? These giants can weigh as much as 70 pounds! Little is known about giant armadillos, but Dr. Arnaud Desbiez’s pioneering work on the Giant Armadillo Project is bringing to light the ecology and biology of these prehistoric-looking creatures. Since 2011, Dr. Arnaud and his team have spent hours seeking out giant armadillos. These unique animals are native to South America, where they spend their days foraging on termites and other insects, worms and spiders.

The Greensboro Science Center is a proud supporter of Dr. Arnaud’s work. His research in Brazil’s Pantanal has proven that giant armadillos are true ecosystem engineers. In other words, they’re organisms who create or modify habitat for the benefit of other organisms. In the case of giant armadillos, they build burrows that provide shelter and cool temperature for other species. Dr. Arnaud’s team uses motion sensing cameras to film burrow entry points. In this way, the team has observed more than 25 other species making use of giant armadillo burrows. Check out these amazing photos from the field that Dr. Arnaud and his team recently shared with us:

From top left: Crab eating fox, agouti, lesser anteater, nine-banded armadillo, ocelot

What makes these burrows such appealing spaces? They hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while air temperature outside of the burrows can reach highs into the 90’s. The stable environment the burrow provides is appealing to the many species looking to get out of the hot sun. Given the large sizes of giant armadillos and the fact they cannot roll into a ball like other armadillos can, the burrows are large and have gaping entry holes well suited to animals of varying sizes. Giant armadillos are nocturnal, so other animals can stay overnight while the armadillos are away. Also, armadillos don’t remain in the same burrow for long; therefore, other animals can make themselves at home in the abandoned burrows.

Media Release: Brews & Bubbles Beer Tasting Conservation Fundraiser

GREENSBORO, NC – The Greensboro Science Center (GSC) is hosting Brews & Bubbles, its annual beer tasting fundraiser, on Friday, April 20, 2018 from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at greensboroscience.org. Prices are $40 for GSC members and $45 for non-members, with 100% of proceeds supporting local and global conservation initiatives.

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Last year, the event raised $12,000 for conservation and this year, GSC officials hope to raise $15,000.

Lindsey Zarecky, the GSC’s VP of Conservation & Research, says, “Funds raised last year supported conservation partners around the globe, helping to protect species including fishing cats, seahorses, Komodo dragons, sharks, monarch butterflies, lemurs, and penguins. Event proceeds also helped to support our local conservation partners, including the Piedmont Land Conservancy. We’re excited to provide a fun evening event that also raises money to help sustain some of the amazing work being done around the world!”

Each Brews & Bubbles ticket includes beer samples from participating North Carolina breweries, a souvenir tasting glass, hors d’oeuvres, and live music from Graymatter and duo Blind-Dog Gatewood & Abe Reid. Capacity is limited and the event tends to sell out, so GSC officials recommend purchasing tickets in advance.

Project Seahorse Announces iSeahorse.org

By Regina Bestbier, Research Biologist with Project Seahorse, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and the University of British Columbia

Project Seahorse is delighted to announce the launch of our new, improved iSeahorse.org website – our pioneering citizen engagement tool who gathers information about seahorses while building a community of committed contributors that will be empowered to take action for seahorses and marine conservation.

Anyone can join. Whether you’re a diver, fisher, scientist, or just on a beach holiday, you can share your seahorse observations with a click of a button. If you’ve seen a seahorse in the wild, join iSeahorse.org or download the app to upload your seahorse observations and photos. You can also help us identify species, explore maps, beautiful photos, fun seahorse facts, and take action for seahorse conservation.

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Photo by Joshua Feingold/Guylian Seahorses of the World

Since we launched iSeahorse in October 2013, scientists from Project Seahorse and around the world have used this vital information to better understand seahorse behaviour, species ranges, and the threats they face.  Together, we use this knowledge to mobilize governments, policy makers, and ocean advocates to protect seahorses and the marine ecosystems they call home.

To date, almost 500 contributors have shared their 2400+ seahorse observations, and we now have information on 30 of the 43 recognised seahorse species.  The user-contributed observations on iSeahorse have also greatly expanded our knowledge of the known ranges of several seahorses – 15% of all iSeahorse observations are from outside of a species known geographic range!  We are also learning much about the depth ranges and habitat preferences of the species observed, which will contribute to conservation planning efforts in the near future.

We are building a community and alliance of citizen scientists, conservationists, experts and more, all working towards a common goal – to protect seahorses and expand our scientific knowledge of these mysterious and beautiful animals.  There are now ten long-term seahorse population monitoring projects established on six continents (North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia) and we have more than 25 seahorse experts and enthusiasts from 16 countries participating as iSeahorse National Seahorse Experts and program Ambassadors.  iSeahorse empowers users to take action and generate conservation change.   In fact,  the newly created 70 ha Marine Protected Area and seahorse sanctuary in Anda, Bohol, Philippines resulted from newly discovered seahorse populations reported through iSeahorse.

To learn more about Project Seahorse, iSeahorse and seahorses, and to get involved, visit projectseahorse.org and iseahorse.org.