Tigers Return to Greensboro

On Friday, January 10, 2020, two-year-old Sumatran tiger brothers, Rocky and Jaggar arrived at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC) from Florida’s Jacksonville Zoo. The pair is currently being housed behind the scenes as they acclimate to their new surroundings. An exhibit debut date has not yet been determined.

Jessica Hoffman-Balder, the GSC’s VP of Animal Care and Welfare says, “Rocky and Jaggar arrived safe and sound Friday afternoon. They did very well with transport and settled in quickly to their new home.”

VIDEO: Tigers arrive at Greensboro Science Center

The GSC’s tiger exhibit has gone through extensive renovations over the past two years. The original holding facility was completely rebuilt to support a breeding pair of tigers, which allows the GSC to actively participate in the Sumatran tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) in the future. The new building features four individual rooms that can be combined as needed to form larger rooms. This allows for a future denning space – as well as a separate area for mom and cubs if a breeding recommendation is received from the SSP.

The exhibit space itself has also seen significant changes. Waterfalls, bridges, rocks, scratching posts, climbing structures, shade structures and a cave have all been recently added. In addition to providing guests with a more aesthetically pleasing view, animal care staff hope these changes will provide the animals with plenty of mental and physical stimulation.

Rocky and Jaggar will spend the foreseeable future adjusting to their new home and keepers. They’ll slowly be granted access to the exhibit space to explore their surroundings while the GSC is closed. Once the animal care team is confident the animals are well adjusted and ready to meet the public, an official opening date will be announced.

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.

Lindsey Crayfish Research DSC_7165

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.

Lindsey Crayfish Research DSC_7132

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.

Lindsey Crayfish Research DSC_7195

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!

Lindsey Crayfish Research DSC_7183

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.