The Toronto Zoo has been involved in the recovery program for the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) since 1992. Since then, the Toronto Zoo has produced hundreds of kits and animals have been reintroduced to the United States, Mexico and Canada. Genetically valuable animals are kept in the Species Survival Plan program for future breeding. This program is a high priority for the Zoo as we attempt to re-establish black-footed ferret populations across North America. Autumn 2009 marked the first Canadian release of black-footed ferrets into the wild -- the crowning achievement of the Canadian recovery program.
In Canada, the black-footed ferret historically ranged in the western prairies (southern Alberta to southern Saskatchewan) but was listed as extirpated in 1978 by COSEWIC. The area in and around Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan contains the largest black-tailed prairie dog population in Canada and the prairie dog is protected within the park. As the prairie dog is the primary food for black-footed ferrets, this site is ideal for ferret reintroductions.
In 2003, the Toronto Zoo spearheaded black-footed ferret recovery in Canada and in 2004, in partnership with Parks Canada, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Calgary Zoo, private stakeholders and other organizations, a joint Black-footed Ferret/Black-tailed Prairie Dog Recovery Team was established to set up the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets into Canada. As a result of extensive planning, 34 ferrets were released onto Canadian soil on October 2, 2009. Grasslands National Park now supports Canada’s first wild population of black-footed ferrets since they disappeared from the country several decades ago. Since then 75 captive-bred ferrets have been released into Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. The park now supports Canada’s first wild population of black-footed ferrets since they were extirpated several decades ago, although infectious diseases still threaten their survival. Toronto Zoo staff have been active in ferret monitoring, conducting annual surveys and health assessments, and administering vaccines. Field researchers also monitor the status of prairie dogs, the ferrets’ preferred prey, since they, too, are threatened by disease. As this highly successful program pertains to an endangered Canadian species, it is of great conservation significance and remains a high priority for the Zoo.
Toronto Zoo has bred hundreds of black-footed ferrets for reintroduction to the wild in USA, Mexico & Canada.
Toronto Zoo partners with Parks Canada, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Calgary Zoo, private stakeholders and other organizations, for black-footed ferret recovery efforts in Canada.
First Canadian black-footed ferret release took place October 2, 2009.
Toronto Zoo staff assists Parks Canada staff in black-footed ferret releases and monitoring.
Annual releases have continued and 75 captive-bred ferrets have been released in Saskatchewan.
Other monitoring sessions focus on capturing ferrets to check the health status of adults and to vaccinate and implant microchips into any new wild-born kits. Funded by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund, Toronto Zoo staff members have participated in these monitoring sessions since 2010.
Grasslands National Park now supports Canada’s first wild population of black-footed ferrets.
One of only six mammals endemic to Canada, the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is a critically-endangered species found only on (surprise!) Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Their numbers have steadily declined over the past 30 years because of predation and habitat alteration. At one point the wild population dwindled to only 30 individuals making the Vancouver Island marmot North America's most endangered mammal. In 1997, the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team determined that a captive breeding and reintroduction program was the only viable solution to save the species from extinction. In 1997, the Toronto Zoo received six wild-caught marmots to found today’s captive population. Captive breeding efforts have been very successful and captive-born marmots have been released into the wild annually since 2003. The wild population is now estimated to be 150-200 individuals. The miraculous recovery of the wild marmot population attests to the value of zoo-based captive breeding and release programs.
With the great success of the captive breeding program, the plan is to continue to increase the number of marmots released each year. Survival rates are encouraging as captive-born animals have now survived several hibernation periods and are now reproducing in the wild. As well, Vancouver Island marmots can now be found on several mountains where previous extirpations had occurred. We are very excited about the continued and growing success in the recovery of this highly endangered Canadian species.
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Polar Bears - Non-invasive Reproductive Monitoring and Pregnancy Diagnosis in the Polar Bear (T. Roth, M. Stoops)
Zoos are strategically breeding polar bears in efforts to develop a self-sustaining, captive population, and to educate visitors about global warming and wildlife conservation. Unfortunately, high neonatal mortality and poor reproductive success overall in captive bears threaten the genetic health and long-term viability of this species in zoos. Furthermore, population management by the SSP is particularly challenging because of the pronounced seasonality of this species and associated timing of breeding and cubbing seasons. In a previous study, the use of fecal hormone metabolite monitoring for characterizing reproductive function in female bears was developed and validated. The first goal of this research is to expand on previous work by adding male bears to the study. Because so few bears have given birth over the last two years, the database of pregnant bear hormone profiles is quite small. Continuous monitoring of bears in breeding situations will hopefully add data to the database in an attempt to achieve levels of statistical significance. This information hopefully will identify a means of distinguishing pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy, so that zoos prepare accordingly for cubs or the next breeding season in a more timely fashion. The second goal is to begin monitoring male bears for testosterone concentrations throughout the year. This information is important to characterize the natural reproductive seasonality of males, to help determine if peak reproductive function in males is synchronized with the females estrus and mating behaviours, and provide some preliminary data on the potential effects of latitude and climate differences on male polar bear reproductive function. The latter could have implications for the impact of climate change on this species.
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Polar Bears - Ongoing behavioural assessment (Dr. S. MacDonald, M. Franke)
Behavioral observations have been done on a regular basis since 2009 to assess how the bears have adapted to their new exhibit, and to each other. Activity levels (including mating behaviors, relative frequency of play and stereotypical behaviors such as pacing) are assessed.
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Polar Bears – Olfactory Communication in Polar Bears - Implications for Conservation in the Face of Increasing Habitat Fragmentation (M. Owen, R. Swaisgood)
Polar bears are largely solitary and breed seasonally. As such, the need to find appropriate mates at the right time is dependent upon effective, and long-range, social communication. Intra- specific communication in the polar bear is not well understood. Theoretically, polar bears should rely on olfactory signals, especially during the early phases of estrus to locate appropriate mates. The goal of this research is to determine whether chemical communication may be an important part of intra-specific communication for the polar bear. Scent discrimination tests will be performed on captive adult polar bears and to test the differential responsiveness to male versus female pedal scents, as well as estrus versus non-estrus females. This study utilizes pedal swabs that have been collected from wild bears on Alaska’s North Slope. Samples will be presented to captive bears at a variety of N. American zoos. Bears will have olfactory access only to the scents and gustatory or tactile access will be precluded during scent presentation. Scents will be presented to subject bears in a plexi-glass “sandwich.” Data collection during scent presentation trials will follow methods developed and used in previous studies with polar bears and giant pandas. All scent presentations will be videotaped and behavioural responses will be decoded.
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Polar Bear Provincial Park –Toronto Zoo ESRF
Support studies on Polar Bear health, status and determine the effects of global change on Polar Bear populations in the region
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Monitoring Thyroid Function in Polar Bears
Thyroid hormones regulate elements of development, energy balance and metabolism in all mammals and have been important biomarkers for exposure to endocrine-disrupting organic pollutants in a variety of wildlife species and humans. In polar bears, there is a negative association between organic contaminants and thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones also reflect the nutritional status of mammals and are reduced during periods of nutritional stress in polar bears. Thus the measurement of thyroid hormones has the potential to reflect both exposure to organic pollutants and nutritional stress associated with climate-induced habitat loss. Unfortunately the collection of blood samples from wild animals requires capture. An alternative to blood sampling is the non-invasive assessment of hormones in the feces and urine.
These techniques are widely used by zoos and wildlife biologists to assess gonadal and adrenal function and allow repeated longitudinal sampling without causing stress to the animal. There have been no reports of using non-invasive techniques to monitor thyroid function in wildlife except for a recent report in tree swallows.
The objective is to develop an effective non-invasive method of assessing thyroid function in polar bears for use in field studies. Fecal samples will be collected from three captive polar bears to assess the effect of sex, reproductive status, season and stress on thyroid function. Fecal endocrine measurements in captive polar bears will be compared with those measured in wild polar bears.
As an addendum to the above project, the techniques currently used to assess adrenal function and gonadal function in other species for use in polar bears will be modified. This will be a graduate student project in collaboration with Dr. Suzanne MacDonald's ongoing behavioural assessment of the polar bears housed at this zoo.
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Estimating Polar Bear Age
This project aims to determine how telomeres vary with polar bears of known sex and age, and why polar bear sex and age distributions are important to local Inuit hunters.
Telomere length measurement assays will be optimized using fresh tissue or flash-frozen tissue (provided by the Toronto Zoo) and tissue stored in anticipated field survey conditions (frozen at -20°C) from bears of known age. While fresh or flash-frozen samples will be collected from zoo animals, tissue plugs have been previously collected through a capture-mark-recapture survey in the Eastern Canadian Arctic and stored at Queen’s University. It is anticipated that the genetic techniques optimized through this research will be applicable to tissue samples (hair, blood, and faeces) that have been non-invasively collected by collaborators at Queen’s University and the Gjoa Haven Hunters and Trappers Organization in Nunavut. Determining Inuit perspectives of polar bear sex and age distributions will provide further insight into important parameters inherent to polar bear population dynamics.
This project will require 1 10mL fresh or flash frozen blood sample from each bear of the TZ. Previously collected and stored samples would suffice if they have been saved. If not, blood collection and sample collection would be performed by a TZ staff member when the bears are next anesthetized.
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Polar Bear DNA Study
Characterize the DNA (genotype) of target animals (polar bear or rhino) by trying to characterize the DNA found in the facees of these species. Dr Ley at Cornell is trying a completely different genetic approach to help census these animals in the wild. Her approach is to amplify the 16S rRNA genes of bacteria commonly found in the faeces of these animals and then to sequence this piece of DNA. She asks if the sequences of these gut bacteria are different among individuals. In her previous work (Ley at al, Nature 444 p. 1022, 2006) she has shown that the sequences of the bacterial colonies in humans differ enough to allow the identification of specific human individuals from their bacterial DNA sequences, and applied this technique successfully to a variety of captive animals including rhinoceros and polar bear (Ley et al, Science 320 p. 1647, 2008). The good news about this approach is that the DNA of interest is in relatively high copy number and relatively undegraded in contrast to the gut epithelial cells of the rhino/bear. This makes the technique potentially more practicable.
While Dr Ley's lab has generated bactrial sequences from the faeces of the Javan Rhino and Polar bear, before we can determine whether this technique can be used to discriminate among individuals of our target species we need to run a few tests and we are requesting Toronto Zoos assistance. The gist of the tests, are to determine if bacterial DNA sequences are significantly different among individuals over time. To complete this assay we would like to collect samples from all your bears and rhinos once a week for six weeks.
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In 1989 at the first World Congress of Herpetology, a global gathering to discuss the study of amphibians and reptiles, it became clear that frogs, toads and salamanders – animals that rely on wetland habitat for most or part of their life - were declining worldwide. At the Toronto Zoo, many visitors and local community members expressed their concern over the loss of frogs at their cottage, or the disappearance of toads that once shared their gardens. Eager to take action, a group of zoo staff formed an Amphibian Interest Group to promote water and wetland conservation throughout the Zoo. In 1991, Adopt-A-Pond was chosen as the name for Toronto Zoo’s Wetland Conservation Programme. The programme’s purpose was to engage families in identifying important wetland habitats and the creatures that these habitats support. Its first educational poster “Amphibians are disappearing - If you love to hear frogs sing, no-one wants a silent spring” was sent to over 1 million school children. With its early success in community wetland conservation, Adopt-A-Pond was awarded the American Zoo Association’s North American Conservation Award in 1997. Partnerships created through Adopt-A-Pond have resulted in the production of a series of unique Ontario focused reptile and amphibian identification guides, frog call CDs, and the Zoo’s first citizen science programme – Frog Watch Ontario. Adopt-A-Pond now maintains an expanded group of citizen science initiatives that include the Wetland Guardians Registry and Ontario Turtle Tally along with a wide range of conservation projects focusing on local amphibian and reptile species. Back to top
Turtle Island Conservation Programme (TIC)
Toronto Zoo's Turtle Island Conservation programme (TIC) respectfully shares the hopes and goals of First Nations partners in our commitment for the preservation of biodiversity. The programme celebrates culturally diverse and community-based approaches to conservation, recognizing that socially relevant programming is an imperative component to educating and motivating people to take action for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat. The Turtle Island Conservation Programme has partnered with FN communities to develop culturally appropriate programming to protect and preserve community knowledge and significant natural and cultural landscapes since 2005.
Turtle Island Conservation programme’s objectives are:
To increase understanding of and appreciation for the diversity of First Nations culture and ways of knowing among all people.
To promote and acknowledge understanding of the connections between traditional ways of knowing and western science.
To facilitate intergenerational knowledge sharing through the creation of educational resources and community-based conservation projects.
Our TIC staff visit numerous First Nations communities each year and have developed strong ties that enable a sharing of experiences and knowledge that fosters stewardship and sustainable practices.
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Turtle Tally and Frog Watch
Ontario Turtle Tally is a wildly popular programme that encourages nature lovers from all walks of life to report observations of turtles they see in the wild to an online registry at the Zoo, and this data, in turn, helps to implement habitat conservation projects and inspires participants to become advocates for turtles all across the province. Our work with Blanding's turtles is a great representation of how the Turtle Tally program has directly influenced turtle conservation through the input of citizen scientists. At a site in Southern Ontario we were made aware of large numbers of Blanding's turtles hit on the road through sightings from Turtle Tally participants. We were able to work with local landowners and the road authority to erect permanent wildlife fencing and improve a wildlife crossing under the road to help the turtles move under the road rather than over it. Toronto Zoo staff monitored the Blanding’s Turtles in the area for several years and not only found them successfully using the crossing structure but discovered that this relatively unknown population contained over 100 individuals. The information gathered through Turtle Tally is made available to a number of local conservation groups so that they too can use it to help turtles all across the province. Our staff visit communities to provide turtle identification training to those wishing to participate in the program.
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Urban Turtle Initiative
Many of the turtles that live in our watershed are Species at Risk, protected by both Federal and Provincial legislation created to ensure their long term survival. Over the past 10 years, the Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme has undertaken a series of research projects, as a collective entitled the Urban Turtle Initiative, to learn more about what species of turtles are in the Rouge Valley, where they are living, and how they use the landscape to survive.
During the Rouge Valley study we caught Painted turtles, Snapping turtles, Northern Map turtles and Blanding's turtles. To find out what habitats they were living in, we used radio telemetry to track their daily movements. By attaching a small (6-20 gram) radio transmitter to the shell of each turtle, we can follow them by "tuning in" to the radio signal emitted from their transmitter. Over the course of 10 years we radio tracked a total of 7 Snapping turtles, 7 Blanding's turtles, and 3 Northern Map turtles within the valley.
The turtles led us to their foraging areas, overwintering areas, nesting areas, and the travel routes in between. We found that the home range size for Snapping turtles was linear along the rivers, covering on average a 2 km stretch. Blanding's turtles moved in a less linear fashion covering an average of 15 hectares throughout the valley wetlands, while Northern Map turtles had an even larger non-linear home range size of about 25 hectares! Within these home ranges were a variety of habitats to suit the turtles different needs. Both Snapping turtles and Northern Map turtles spent over fifty percent of the time in rivers, while Blanding's turtles frequented marsh habitats most of the time, and pond habitats as a close second. One female Blanding's turtle moved over 2 kilometres up the Rouge River to a nesting site she used for three consecutive years! The Urban Turtle Initiative now focusses on the remaining population of urban Blanding’s turtles living in the Rouge watershed and uses this past information to make sure these remaining turtles have everything they need to survive in an urban environment.
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Blanding’s Turtle Head Starting and Reintroduction
Toronto Zoo has begun the long term annual release of Threatened Blanding’s Turtles back into the Rouge Valley. Blanding’s Turtles were once abundant in this area but urban threats such as loss of habitat and road mortality have caused their numbers to dwindle. This project has been an enormous undertaking, involving the collection of eggs from nests laid in unsuitable conditions, incubating the eggs here at the Toronto Zoo, and raising the young for two years in our turtle nursery before finally releasing them out into the wetlands.
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These turtles start their journey in agricultural fields, not far from the wetland homes of their parents. Our Zoo team is in contact with the farmers who let us know when they see mother turtles making their way through the fields in the spring. Staff visit the farms and walk through the fields, hoping to spot the mother turtles as they look for a place to nest. After the mother turtles nest, we gently collect the eggs and transport them back to the Toronto Zoo where they are incubated in our turtle nursery. If these eggs were left in the fields, they would be plowed over or the quick growing corn would shade out the nests, not allowing them to warm up enough to incubate and hatch successfully.
Back at the Zoo, these eggs incubate for approximately two months under the watchful eye of our wildlife care staff. Once the eggs hatch, they spend the next two years in the nursery under optimum conditions to help them grow big and strong for release. A few months before release, they are moved from the nursery to outdoor enclosures where they experience daily temperature and weather variations, are introduced to live food acclimate to the natural seasonal light cycle, and refine their natural behaviours.
We release approximately 50 young Blanding’s Turtles back into the wild each spring. To keep informed of their activities we attach tiny radio transmitters to their shells. We continue to monitor them as they interact with their new environment and undergo important milestones such as migration and hibernation. The information gained from monitoring these turtles will help to inform us about their habitat requirements and what we can do to ensure they are continually provided with suitable areas to live.
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Wood Turtle Head Starting
The Toronto Zoo has been assisting the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry with the conservation of the Wood Turtle in Ontario for several years. These turtles are highly prized by poachers and now exist only in very small numbers in the province. Ministry staff monitor the Wood turtles in their natural habitats and collect their eggs, which are raised in captivity as part of a head-starting program. As with all turtles, the young have an extremely high mortality rate due to environmental pressures. They bring the young turtles to the Zoo where we raise them for 2 years before releasing them back into the wild. Once released, the turtles are monitored through the use of radio telemetry equipment to learn more about their behaviour and the overall success of such programs.
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Population Investigations for the Endangered Blanchard’s Cricket Frog
The Blanchard’s Cricket frog is an endangered species in Canada, although there have not been confirmed sightings since the early 1970’s. Efforts are underway to verify the presence or absence of this species in its last known location in Canada and investigate the possibility of reintroduction. Toronto Zoo has teamed up with the Pelee Island Bird Observatory to install a series of audio recorders that turn on each evening to record the sounds of calling frogs from several wetlands. These recordings are used to verify the absence of Blanchard’s Cricket Frog calls and verify the presence of other amphibians in the area. Toronto Zoo has also mapped potential wetlands that would be suitable for Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs should a reintroduction program become a viable option to re-establish this species within its historical Canadian range.
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Wetland Guardians Registry
Our Wetland Guardians registry provides an informational resource for individuals and groups who are interested in wetland stewardship. This online database allows individuals and communities to share their experiences with wetland stewardship activities so that others may learn about how wetlands are being saved throughout Canada. If you have undertaken stewardship activities in a local wetland we encourage you to register your wetland and help others by providing details on how you completed your stewardship projects, for example by sharing partner organizations, innovative approaches, or general advice. Those who are looking for information on stewardship ideas can search the registry to see what others have done and how to get started on their own projects.
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Wetland Evaluations and Management Guidelines for Landowners
The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Programme is expanding our Wetland Guardians project to help landowners learn more about their wetlands and the wildlife that rely on them. We work with landowners who provide habitat to Species at Risk reptiles and amphibians in Ontario. Adopt-A-Pond staff certified in the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System, visit with landowners to help determine the quality of a given wetland. Wetlands that are evaluated by this system are assigned a point value based on their features and importance in the local landscape. When a wetland is evaluated, we provide an evaluation report which can be submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources for consideration as a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW). The area in which a qualifying PSW is located is protected from development that would negatively affect the wetland. We also provide the landowner with habitat management guidelines that support the local species found on the property and advise the landowner on ways to maintain or enhance the habitat.
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Raising Awareness about the Western Chorus Frog
The Western Chorus Frog lives throughout Southern Ontario but its numbers have been declining in the Eastern portion of its range. To assist recovery experts in learning more about the Western Chorus Frog, Adopt-A-Pond staff visit landowners to determine the presence or absence of this frog on their property. Advice is provided on improving habitat for the Western Chorus Frog and understanding its role in the environment. Audience specific guidelines on habitat enhancement are left with landowners to help them in implementing projects to benefit the Chorus Frog. If Western Chorus Frogs are suspected but now found during the visit, we provide landowners with audio recorders to place in the wetland which will record frog calls to verify the species present.
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Wetland Restoration on the Toronto Zoo site
A partnership between the Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Programme and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to restore wetlands for wildlife in the Rouge River Valley has been ongoing since 1999. Adopt-A-Pond has mapped and ground-truthed 192 existing and potential wetland sites in the Rouge River watershed, and has been working with TRCA to implement wetland restoration projects based on a priority-ranking system. This project involves work at a number of different wetland sites along the Rouge River. The most intensive undertaking of the project is dredging and re-contouring the shorelines of three permanent ponds and six ephemeral ponds to create deeper and more diverse wetland habitat. These wetland areas also require the removal of invasive Phragmites australis plants from the wetland areas and adjacent uplands. After removal of invasives, native species will be planted along the shorelines of the ponds. To directly assist wildlife, 2 turtle nesting sites adjacent to the largest pond will also be created. This project also involves community groups in restoring the ponds through volunteer planting events, invasive species removal projects and turtle nesting site creation projects.
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Habitat Enhancement for Reptiles and Amphibians
The Adopt-A-Pond team has years of experience in creating and improving habitat for reptiles and amphibians. We provide personalized assistance to landowners who are interested in taking stewardship action on their own properties. This includes helping with professional advice towards building turtle nesting beaches, snake hibernaculums and restoring wetlands and shorelines. We also help communities get turtle crossing signs and snake crossing signs installed in areas with high reptile road mortality.
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World Turtle Day School Challenge and Turtle Outreach
World Turtle Day is celebrated on the 23rd of May each year. The Toronto Zoo raises awareness of the threats to turtles by including local schools in special on-site activities. Classes learn about turtles and create turtle models from recycled materials to send to su at the Zoo. These turtle models are then put on display for World Turtle Week, when visitors have a chance to vote for their favourite turtle model. The class with the most votes gets a special experience to learn about turtles at the Zoo while all participating classes get a visit from the Adopt-A-Pond staff to teach them about Ontario’s local turtles. During the fall months we also visit classrooms within the GTA to teach children about the threats turtles face and how they can help. We always encourage classes to participate in Ontario Turtle Tally, to help them discover the turtles that live in their own communities.
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Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Programme is the Provincial Coordinator for the Canada wide Frog Watch program, now nationally led by the University of Ottawa. This programme monitors amphibian population health throughout the country and uses the information to educate research on long term climate change among other things. This program takes place throughout Canada and we also work closely with volunteers to provide species identification training to help familiarize people with their local frog species.
Everyone that submits a sighting to Turtle Tally or Frog Watch is invited to a day at the Zoo every autumn which includes hearing presentations from researchers working to save reptiles and amphibians in Ontario and a chance to learn more about the reptile and amphibian conservation projects happening at the Zoo.
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New tools for amphibian monitoring: Establishing environmental DNA (eDNA) as a means of monitoring amphibians in Ontario
A new method for surveying amphibians that uses the detection of genetic material from sloughed cells and other waste material in water is becoming an important tool in species assessment in aquatic environments. This type of environmental or extracellular DNA (eDNA) is being used to detect and quantify the presence of animals even several weeks after amphibians have left wetlands. Toronto Zoo has partnered with researchers from Trent University, McGill University and Laurentian University to test this new tool here in Ontario. We will be sampling known occurrence locations for at-risk species based on location data from our FrogWatch Ontario records. Because the amount of recoverable eDNA correlates with population abundance and provides high detectability, this new approach will help us conduct long-term monitoring and determine the health of amphibian populations.
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Working Together To Save the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is Ontario’s only venomous snake and is at risk of extinction. This snake is timid and prefers to move away from danger and avoid conflict. In addition, loss of wetlands and habitat fragmentation due to expanding human settlements and high road mortality are threatening the survival of this species.
The Toronto Zoo initiated the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake conservation strategy in the late 1980’s in response to increasing demand from the public for information about the species. At the same time, it was reported that populations in Ontario were in decline and becoming isolated. In 1991, COSEWIC listed the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake as Threatened and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake National Recovery Team was founded. The team is a network of researchers, biologists, government and park representatives and zoo officials working for the species’ conservation. The Toronto Zoo was one of the team’s founding members and in this position the Toronto Zoo is able to contribute to the rattlesnake’s conservation through rattlesnake loans to conservation partners in Ontario for use in exhibits and public education and outreach programs. Through these loans, and Toronto Zoo’s own exhibit, zoo workshops and public programs, we reach many thousands of people with good snake conservation messaging that will benefit recovery efforts for this snake. Our snakes have been to the Ojibway Nature Centre in Windsor, Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre in Midland, Science North in Sudbury, the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve and Greater Georgian Bay Reptile Awareness Program in Parry Sound, Bruce Peninsula National Park and Killbear Provincial Park.
Over the years, the Toronto Zoo has produced a variety of outreach and education resources including informative posters, snake identifiers and stickers intended to make the public more familiar with the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, and consequently, more tolerant towards the species. A newsletter, “Rattlesnake Tales”, no longer published, celebrated people who peacefully share habitat with rattlesnakes to inspire other people in Ontario to do the same. A Stewardship Guide provides information about sharing habitat with rattlesnakes and how to live with wildlife.
In addition, the Toronto Zoo contributes to the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake National Recovery Team with veterinary expertise and scientific research. We are currently collaborating with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, AZA zoos and private land owners to conduct long term population monitoring in southwest Michigan by participating in field surveys for the snake in hopes of better understanding its population dynamics (mortality, reproductive, and population growth rates).
Toronto Zoo is also working to determine whether and how translocation of snakes can be effectively used to mitigate the impact of highway construction throughout the range of the massasauga in Ontario by collaborating with Wildlife Preservation Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Laurentian University on a three-year experimental translocation at Pointe au Baril.
The Toronto Zoo also provides recommendations for husbandry protocols of zoo populations to ensure their health and encourage breeding. Toronto Zoo manages our massasauga population using full scientific analysis that results in recommendations ensuring the long term survival and fitness of individual animals. We follow a comprehensive approach that ensures that our snakes have the best chance of fulfilling their conservation potential to facilitate recovery of threatened species by collaborating with many partners in Ontario and the US. We support conservation projects in the field, public education, professional training, scientific research. Our zoo rattlesnakes are also considered to be an assurance populations that may serve to augment or re-establish wild populations in the future.
The Toronto Zoo hosts “Living with Rattlesnakes” workshops twice a year, in April and November. Attendees learn about the challenges facing the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, the conservation efforts to save it, and how they can help. They become familiar with the rattlesnakes’ biology and behaviour. Guests also learn to identify the rattlesnake and other snake species that are similar in appearance. Some snake species are often misidentified as rattlesnakes and are killed by humans out of fear.
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Prairie Rattlesnake in Grasslands National Park
The prairie rattlesnake is protected by the Alberta Wildlife Act and the Saskatchewan Environment Act in response to populations’ declines. In Alberta, the prairie rattlesnake’s hibernation dens are protected by law and are monitored yearly. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has initiated research on the rattlesnake’s population size and distribution, hibernation dens inventory, and tracking rattlesnakes using radio telemetry to identify and protect critical habitats. In Saskatchewan, the prairie rattlesnake is protected by the Saskatchewan Environment Act. Remarkably, a concerned citizen initiated the production of a poster providing information about the species status in Saskatchewan, its identification, precautionary measures, and safety instructions. The poster was produced by Toronto Zoo in cooperation with local residents, businesses and Grasslands National Park. The poster was distributed to the public to raise awareness about prairie rattlesnake conservation and public safety.
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The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Toronto Zoo has supported research and public engagement for Pacific rattlesnake conservation in British Columbia. The Pacific rattlesnake can only be found in the Okanagan Valley in British Colombia. This species is protected under the British Colombia Wildlife Act. Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre of the Osoyoos Indian Band received Toronto Zoo support to engage local citizens in species recovery efforts, community outreach programmes and research.
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Oregon spotted frogs
Toronto Zoo is working with the British Columbia Recovery Team for the Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa) which is critically endangered throughout its North American range. It is Canada’s most endangered amphibian, with an estimated population of fewer than 340 adults in the wild.
Potential threats to Oregon spotted frogs and their habitat include habitat loss and degradation due to human activities, the presence of non-native predators, risk of drought and climate change, water quality, emerging disease and small population size.
Toronto Zoo has a breeding group of frogs in our Amphibian Rescue Centre (ARC) that supports the recovery team’s long-term goal to improve the Oregon spotted frog’s long-term chances for survival, prevent its extirpation, and to maintain or restore self-sustaining viable populations throughout its current, historic and naturally occurring range. The recovery team has an established reintroduction program and have release captive born frogs to protected habitat. Oregon spotted frogs have successfully bred at Toronto Zoo and we will be returning some of our offspring to British Columbia this year.
Mudpuppy Conservation and Citizen Science: A Partnership Project among Zoos and Aquariums in the Great Lakes Basin
The mudpuppy salamander is found throughout the Great Lakes, and is an excellent bio-indicator of environmental health in freshwater lake ecosystems. However, very little is known about the distribution or abundance of populations living in the Great Lakes Basin. The Toronto Zoo is part of the Great Lakes Mudpuppy Education and Monitoring Partnership (GLMEMP), a network of zoos and aquariums around the Great Lakes basin, working with community-based organizations around the Great Lakes to engage citizens in a public information campaign and applied research study on the status of the Great Lakes mudpuppy. The partnership, which includes the Detroit Zoological Society, Buffalo Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks and the Zoo EcoMuseum in Quebec, engages community-based organizations and local stakeholders including schools, marinas, waterfront property owner associations, bait shops, conservation organizations, environmental organizations, chambers of commerce, tourism organizations and other lake-related organizations. Toronto Zoo has developed a citizen science reporting and monitoring page for mudpuppies at www.torontozoo.com/mudpuppy as well as posters and resources to solicit observations from the public. In future years this partnership will review historic records and conduct surveys at recorded historic sites and data deficient sites to determine mudpuppy abundance, distribution and behavior.
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Eastern Loggerhead Shrike
Captive Breeding Program
The eastern loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus sp.) recovery program has released over 600 shrikes and it is now recognized that a significant proportion of the birds returning to breed each year have been produced through captive breeding. Increased predation, increased numbers of mosquitoes and the presence of West Nile Virus are factors that affect birds in captivity and the wild. The loggerhead shrike recovery program has gained some recognition in conservation circles and several zoos in the United States have expressed interest in becoming involved. The ELOSH Recovery Team is actively seeking new institutions to participate as captive breeding centers.
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Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction
Prior to European settlement, it is probable that the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) resided in Ontario. In 1982, the restoration program began with swan eggs collected from Grande Prairie, Alberta. The program was later revitalized with an increase of Alaskan birds into Ontario. The birds are fed after release and eventually disperse at maturity. Since 1996, wild swans have nested at the Toronto Zoo. In 2008, Weston Pond was graced with 4 cygnets from a wild pair that again returned. In total, over 60 trumpeter swans have been born at the Toronto Zoo.
The Toronto Zoo is one of several release sites for immature birds. Presently, the population has increased to 1000+ free-flying birds in southern Ontario. At this time, it is estimated that at least 80 pairs went to nest. As of yet, the total number of fledglings has not been determined. Prospects for a successful restoration are good despite continued problems encountered with lead poisoning resulting from the ingestion of spent shotgun shells and fishing weights.
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Captive Breeding of the Karner Blue Butterfly
The last Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) was observed in Ontario in 1991. The Toronto Zoo joined the Karner Blue Recovery Team in 1992 to actively pursue the re-introduction of this species into Ontario. For five years, a protocol was developed and produced to rear this species in captivity. Since recovery efforts of the release sites were lagging behind captive breeding efforts, Toronto Zoo stopped working on the captive breeding and put more emphasis into the study of the microhabitats of restored release sites. In 2008, the Karner Blue was upgraded from “Endangered” to “Extirpated”. This simple change has caused several changes in the way that governments look at the species. The Karner Blue has gone from Provincial jurisdiction to Federal jurisdiction and the movement in the conservation of this species now will require different assessments and studies. Toronto Zoo will continue to work on returning this species to Canada.
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The bi-lingual Great Lakes Outreach has been operating for over 10 years and is a free, curriculum-based program. The Outreach objective is to raise public awarenss to issues of the North America Great Lakes and to “Keep our Great Lakes Great”. The outreach program has an annual audience of over 20,000 students and educators. Presentations are also offered to libraries, scout groups, water festivals and environmental organizations.
This outreach initiative strives to be multi-lingual and materials are available in Punjabi, Urdu and Mandarin, in addition to English and French, to reflect our changing cultural communities. Students, educators, and their families are encouraged to “Keep Our Great Lakes Great!” while learning about five local fish species at risk, freshwater mussels, and water conservation. The Program focuses on species at risk: Atlantic salmon (extirpated), redside dace (endangered), eastern sand darter (threatened), American eel (endangered in Ontario), and lake sturgeon (threatened) and recently, freshwater mussels.
Partnering with the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Education in 2014, the Great Lakes Program has produced a unique curriculum resource for all grade 8 students in Ontario, entitled Great Lakes Teaching Resource for students with an accompanying teacher guide. Applying inquiry based learning techniques the Zoo has two complementary modules one in traditional print format and the second as an online, interactive module. The Zoo is especially pleased to be working in partnership with the two Ministries to promote Great Lakes awareness in schools throughout the province.
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Great Lakes: Redside Dace –
Conservation and Community Involvement
The redside dace is federally recognized as an endangered species (COSEWIC) and provincial status as well. Working on redside dace since 1992 as the species was formerly found in the Rouge River located on Toronto Zoo property, it represents a program to conserve a species in the Zoo’s own backyard. The Zoo is undertaking local rehabilitation projects in historical rivers with our partner, Ontario Streams. The Curator of Fishes and Marine Invertebrates is a charter member of the Redside Dace Recovery Team. This provincial committee is now undertaking its action plan and working with the Department of Fisheries & Oceans at the national level. The seasonal “Minnows Move Mountains” Exhibit at the Zoo shows visitors the habitat improvements underway in our local rivers to improve conditions for this unique “flying fish” Canadian species. Redside dace has been an important outreach species for the Zoo since 2002 and now a focus species of the Great Lakes Outreach.
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Bi-lateral and International Partners
Taking the successful Great Lakes Program and linking students in E. Africa with Ontario classrooms, Aqua-Links has been running since 2002. Toronto Zoo has a strong link with fisheries conservation for Lake Victoria, Africa and with internet advances educators, biologists and students connect with shared learning resources discussing issues and solutions with their respective Great Lakes. Select Ontario classes are also working with U.S. schools and have friendly competitions for shoreline cleanup events and Skype events.
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Aqua-Links Salmon in a Classroom
This popular program attracts many participants as they raise Atlantic salmon eggs in their classrooms, following lesson materials and presentations by the Toronto Zoo Great Lakes staff. Over 2,500 salmon are to be released in late spring 2015, the sixth season of the program. Students also are offered the opportunity to interact with African biologists and educators, conservation partners of Toronto Zoo, who discuss their local endangered species, half way around the world.
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I am Important! I am Protected!
Freshwater Mussels Conservation Campaign
Freshwater mussels are cited by the IUCN as being one of the world's most endangered species assemblages, particularly those species in North America. The Great Lakes Program’s “I am Important, I am Protected” public awareness campaign for freshwater mussels was first launched in 2011 to show cottagers and landowners the important role of these “rock-like” animals, most call “clams”. Filtering up to 9litres of water each day and the ability to live as long as humans, they are often thought of by biologists as canaries- in- the- mine species for water quality indicators. Often overlooked and greatly affected by shoreline changes or poor water quality Toronto Zoo’s campaign aims high to bring rural landowners on board to conserve these special creatures.
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Field Conservation for our Great Lakes – Freshwater Mussels
Contributing to an effective public awareness campaign of “I am Important. I am Protected” is the need to understand the local populations of freshwater mussels in Ontario waters. Key studies have been conducted in the inland waters of Lake Ontario with the Zoo working with the Department of Fisheries & Oceans, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Toronto Region Conservation Authority. The results of these first surveys were published in the May 2014 issue of the Toronto Field Naturalist, have also permitted the Program to promote awareness of these important indicator species. During the 2014 field season, new waterbodies were investigated, including the Credit and Humber Rivers.
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Freshwater Mussels Rearing –
New Conservation Endeavour
In 2014, the Zoo also became involved in a mussel culture project at Normandale Fish Culture Station led by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The culture of freshwater mussels is a challenging endeavor, as their early life stages are parasitic on fish and the survival of these early life stages is not yet well understood. Zoo staff are working at the Culture Station to assist with developing new protocols to raise mussels from wild stock. Up to four species are involved in the 2014 project.
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Sustainable Seafood and Shark Conservation
Since 2008,Toronto Zoo has been a partner of Seafood Watch, a program dedicated to raising awareness on sustainable seafood issues, and encouraging sustainable consumer behavior. The Zoo hosts an annual “Seafood for Thought” fundraiser event, with sustainable seafood dishes cooked by several of Toronto’s top chefs, as well as displays that highlight “sustainable sea foods” for Torontonians, and the effects that bycatch can have on marine species such as sharks. The Toronto Zoo aims to raise awareness of sustainable seafood and shark conservation issues, dispel myths surrounding sharks, and to ultimately decrease consumption and use of shark products. Early development of the Toronto Zoo’s shark conservation program focuses on promoting Seafood Watch, working with existing international organizations, and collaborating with
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Dr. Christopher Dutton has been running Chemical Immobilization Courses for the Canadian Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians and in association with Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. These aim to train OMNR staff so that they are able to immobilize problem black bears for relocation.
Investigating Enteric Coccidiosis in the Endangered Black-Footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes)
Black-footed ferrets are the only native North American ferret species and the most endangered North American carnivore. Previously considered to be extinct, they have been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1967. Since 1986, a multi-institutional effort has been breeding this species in captivity with recent successful reintroduction back into the wild, in selected locations in Canada and the USA.
Coccidiosis is a major cause of death in young black-footed ferrets. The signs of this disease include mucoid diarrhea, lethargy, appetite loss, vomiting, and dehydration. Animals may be found dead without any previous signs. Two species of coccidia have been described in black-footed ferrets: Eimeria ictidea, and Eimeria furonis. There is a significant information gap regarding the nature of this disease in ferrets, and molecular characterization of the identified Eimeria species has not been undertaken. Intestinal coccidiosis is poorly understood in ferrets, and thus further research is important to more appropriately target treatment and prevention methods.
The Toronto Zoo is home to a colony of black-footed ferrets, as part of their North American recovery program. Coccidia are endemic in this, and many other, black-footed ferret colonies and routine passive fecal collection is ongoing in these groups during cleaning of enclosures. In this study, we will attempt to better characterize the intestinal coccidia isolated from the captive black-footed ferret population. Isolates will then be inoculated into domestic ferrets to determine the feasibility of their use as a model for coccidiosis in the black-footed ferret. These are the preliminary steps in a larger project, evaluating current and novel methods of coccidial treatment for use in black-footed ferrets, and investigating the development of an anti-coccidial vaccine.
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The Successful Hand-Rearing of a Neonatal Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) From Birth at the Toronto Zoo
On October 11, 2011, one of Toronto Zoo’s 11-year-old female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) gave birth to three cubs. Initially, proper maternal care was observed. However, for unknown reasons, the dam later rejected her young. The two surviving cubs were brought to the Wildlife Health Centre intensive care unit (ICU) where the third cub later died from its injuries. The second cub, a 700 g male still in its amniotic sac, was to remain in the ICU for hand-rearing. Sterility and close monitoring were of the utmost importance; therefore, a dedicated team was designated to care for the cub. Because the cub received no colostrum from the dam, multiple maternal serum injections of 3 mL each were given subcutaneously during the initial days of care. Several milk formulations were created in order to closely mimic the natural maternal milk, and the cub was fed frequently on a 24 hour schedule. Adjustments to the volume of formula given at each feed and the frequency of feedings were made as the cub developed. At two to three weeks of age, the cub suffered a medical crisis that required intensive veterinary intervention. Adaptations to feeding techniques and the ICU environment were made to accommodate the unique husbandry and habitat needs of the cub throughout maturation. Ambulatory developmental delays were also noted which required various physiotherapeutic techniques to correct. On February 3, 2012, the cub was presented for the first time to the public in his exhibit during a media release, where he was seen as a lively, healthy, and well socialized young polar bear.
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Development of Reproductive Technologies for Wood Bison
Wood bison are currently listed as threatened and the conservation of the remaining free-ranging populations is at risk due to the ongoing presence of disease, such as tuberculosis, and brucellosis. Reproductive technologies may be the best way to preserve the germplasm of the remaining individuals and develop methods to produce non-infected offspring. The first major objective of the study has been to examine basic mechanisms that are involved in embryo development. The second objective of the study has been to assist the Bison Reproductive Research Group with the development of appropriate techniques for embryo production in bison, including ovarian synchronization, superovulation, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer. These data will ultimately be beneficial in understanding why in vitro embryo production techniques have not been overly successful in a variety of bovid species. To date, we have produced young male and female bison calves from artificial insemination using both cooled and frozen sperm.
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Investigation of Key Physiological Measurements to Evaluate Loggerhead Shrike Success in Captivity
The loggerhead shrike is currently classified as nationally endangered and ongoing threats from habitat loss and other human-related pressures have resulted in a drastic decline in the number of breeding pairs remaining in Southern Ontario. The goals of this study have been to evaluate reproductive and stress hormone levels in feces and feathers from loggerhead shrikes in various southern Ontario captive breeding sites in an attempt to understand the underlying factors influencing reproductive success among breeding pairs in the different captive populations. This study will provide valuable information to enhance loggerhead shrike captive breeding programs.
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Establishment of Cell Cultures for Freshwater Fishes Conservation
In response to a global call to action from the IUCN’s Freshwater Fishes Specialty Group, development of regional cell culture banks of native endangered fishes has become a priority. However, an understanding of cell culture parameters is necessary in fishes so that the production of healthy cell lines can be ensured. Fin biopsies from a variety of fish species have been used to evaluate tissue storage and processing techniques on the viability, longevity, and normality of fish cell cultures. This will provide us with the information required to establish adequate protocols for initiative a genome resource bank for endangered freshwater fishes.
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An Evaluation of Browse as a Feed Component For Zoo Herbivores
Browse is the collective term for edible leaves, twigs, bark, buds and flowers from trees and shrubs. The availability of browse is for many wildlife species an essential daily requirement for nutrition and welfare and there is a strong demand for browse at the Toronto Zoo. Scientific studies have indicated that browse provides unique nourishment and is essential for well-being. Zoo-wildlife, which is genetically predisposed to consume browse and are provided significant amounts of it every day generally have better health, increased welfare and increased longevity. Common nutrients and also very specific compounds are provided by browse. Along with this supply comes the variable morphology of branches, volume and generally a low nutritional density typing browse as a "Slow Food" important to provide essential psychological stimulation for captive animals. For example: At Toronto Zoo earlier research with Moose (unpublished) indicated significant favorable effects on wellbeing from browse feeding and more recent research findings at Toronto Zoo (Gorilla behaviour/nutrition study 2010) indicate significantly reduced negative behaviour (i.e. Regurgitation and Re-ingestion of food), more time spent foraging and digesting by captive Gorillas when browse supply was increased on a daily basis.
A research project to better quantify the edible portion and to identify measurable effects of browse nutrition was initiated and executed in the context of a Nutrition Intern (MSc-by thesis) project in cooperation with the University of Guelph.
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Project: Assessing locally available apple browse as a suitable edible enrichment item.
Currently, the Toronto Zoo’s Wildlife Nutrition Centre (WNC) provides three species of browse for a large proportion of their animal collection. This type of enrichment is of vital importance for mental stimulation of captive animals. However, the bark and leaves may contain certain and possibly controversial chemical compounds named plant secondary metabolites (PSMs). There has been great interest over the past few decades about the potential health risks and benefits of different PSMs. Recently apple PSM, notably the polyphenols, are receiving some attention for their ability to influence oxidative stress, atherosclerosis and certain gastro-intestinal cancers in humans and rats.
The voluntary consumption of bark and leaves is observed in various wild animals including Canadian species like Moose, Beavers, Deer and Lagomorphs etc. However, it is generally not known how much “edible” material is actually offered (in captivity) or available (in the wild) and /or consumed when animals are browsing.
The first step of this study determined how much edible bark and leaves are on an apple branch. To establish this, gorillas were used as bark stripping aids to speed the up the process and improve accuracy.
In the subsequent part of the study, domestic feeder rabbits were used to determine if there is any chance that the apple bark and leaves have any effect on feed intake, growth, serum liver enzymes, anti and or liver histology at controlled levels of intake.
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Testing The Efficacy of New Feeding Systems For Amphibians
New types of feeding systems are being developed to be used in general for the successful husbandry of captive amphibians. This is important as major global threats of disease determines the need for successful captive breeding. Almost a third of global amphibian species are threatened with extinction. The development of better systems for captive husbandry of amphibians could prove to be crucial for their, including Canadian species like the Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa), present at Toronto Zoo, survival in the future. The new systems are considered generally applicable and suitable for many species. Currently, systems are being tested on Puerto Rican Crested Toads because of the availability of these and follow up trials in the coming years intend to include other amphibian species (obviously depending on availability).
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Project: An investigation Into the Efficacy of Two Types of Feeder Crickets (Acheta domestica) and Two Commercial Cricket Gut-Loading Diets in Growing Puerto Rican Crested Toads (Bufo lemur).
As part of its conservation efforts, the Toronto Zoo has been involved with the captive breeding of critically endangered Puerto Rican Crested Toads (Bufo lemur). These-toads are bred at several North American Zoos and at Toronto Zoo with the intention of releasing the tadpoles in Puerto Rico for the purpose of supporting the wild population. Starting in 2004, the PRC toads in the North American captive populations displayed signs of disease and were indicated to have a nutrient deficiency. A lack of the dietary supply of Vitamin A or/and Carotenes has been put forth as a possible main cause.
Crickets are a main source of feed for captive amphibians but crickets reared commercially are naturally low in calcium, iodine, vitamins A, D, E, B1, B6 and B12.
For this trial, common feeder crickets and a nutritionally enhanced feeder cricket, which is apparently more nutritious, than average are used. Both types of crickets are “gut-loaded” (In some husbandries crickets destined as feed for captive toads are “gut-loaded’ i.e. offered a very nutritious diet before being fed to amphibians) in order to supply required nutrients to the end-users. This practice has met with inconsistent success possibly due to the available gut-loading diets, along with inadequate methods used to maximally gut-load the crickets. One established and one newly available cricket gut-loading diets are used with optimum cricket feeding methodologies and time periods as developed at Toronto Zoo. The next phase in the assessment of the new enhanced cricket and the new gut-loading diet is to determine their efficacy to insectivorous amphibians. In this trial nutrient analyses will at minimum include proximate analyses, minerals Ca, P and Mg, fatty acid profile, carotenes and vitamin A (retinol acetate) and possibly more.
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Captive Studies to Improve Diet Estimates and Bioenergetic Modelling of Polar Bears in the Wild
Sea ice habitat in many parts of the Arctic is changing rapidly through the effects of climate change. Many species depend on the predictable availability of sea ice for such key natural processes as feeding, migration and reproduction. One species which depends heavily on the sea ice for all three of these processes is the polar bear. The ongoing reduction of sea ice habitat has led to predictions that the foraging patterns and energy budgets of polar bears will shift accordingly, given the reduced hunting time and altered prey availability associated with decreased ice cover. A deeper understanding of these foraging shifts, and their consequences for polar bear energy budgets will allow scientists to better predict the effects of climate change on polar bear populations and give managers and policy makers the ability to make more informed management decisions. An understanding of polar bear nutritional physiology is critical for wild polar bear conservation, and can only be obtained through studies of captive polar bears.
Within the framework of the above the following research projects were established at Toronto Zoo where implementation was possible.
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Project: Establishment of Dietary Fractionation Values for Fatty Acids and Stable Isotopes From Two Captive Male Polar Bears Fed a Mimicked Wild Diet, Fall and Winter 2013/2014.
A study on polar bear nutrition and physiology is continuing. All required samples and intake data were collected in the winter of 2013-2014 from two captive male polar bears, owned by Toronto Zoo and temporarily held at the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat Ontario. The bears were fed a mimicked wild diet (i.e. meat/bone and oil from sustainably harvested harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) and fortified with vitamins and minerals) from September 17, 2013 until January 2 2, 2014 (127 days). Samples of diet and polar bears (blood, fat, hair and claw scrapings) were collected and prepared for analyses of the fatty acid profile and stable isotopes of C and N. The aim of the study is to possibly improve fractionation values of above mentioned parameters. These accurate values will be very helpful in bio-modelling to better estimate the source (e.g. type of prey species) and approximate incidence (days, months and year) of feeding of polar bears in the wild leading to a better understanding of the nutritional ecologies and their anticipated changes, of wild polar bears.
Currently a part of the sample chemical analyses is completed and it is expected to have final analyses results in early 2015. The findings of this work will be presented at scientific and public conferences and will be submitted for peer reviewed publication.
We obtained good data on feed intake and bodyweight development. So far the experience with feeding seal oil to our polar bears has been very good and it made us change our polar bear diets to be more marine based. This has been predominantly achieved by the addition of (sustainably harvested) seal oil and this enabled us to apply a better and more natural, seasonal feeding program. Our polar bear keepers are using the seal oil as a training reward to better train our captive bears and are already able to execute improved animal management (e.g. measuring total body length while not immobilized) and health care procedures.
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Project: A Validation of the Relationship of Body Measurements, Bodyweight and Body Condition (Visibly Scored and Measured by Electronic Impedance Technique, Toronto Zoo Polar Bears)
Body measurements, bodyweight and body condition (visibly scored and measured by electronic impedance technique) was done, opportunistically, on two immobilised captive male polar bears in January 2014. Body length was also estimated (part measured and part estimated) on two non-immobilised female bears at Toronto Zoo.
We can now accurately estimate the body composition (fat, protein and ash) of our captive bears as we know their length and body weight. This is very useful for captive polar bear nutritional management, because we can now better apply a more natural seasonal feeding regime. We are now feeding our female bears considerably more (such that they gain considerably in weight) from March until July and then reduce their diet (such that they lose bodyweight considerably). By knowing their body condition every time we weigh them (weekly weighing) we can manage this seasonal feeding quite well and avoid situations of over feeding and where a too low body condition could negatively influence reproduction and lactation.
We are (with Memphis Zoo) relating the seasonality and composition of the diets to yearly hormonal patterns of our female polar bears.
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Project: A Study of Nutrient and Energy Intake, Growth and Activity in a Captive Polar Bear Cub
The rearing 'orphaned' polar bear cubs, Hudson and Humphrey, provided a unique opportunity to study food (energy) intake, growth rate and activity in a growing polar bear. Their daily food intake was regimented and intake and growth were measured and documented from around 16 weeks of age until 1 year. During the summer of 2012 ethograms were made during a period of 6 weeks and local weather data were documented. These data will be combined and evaluated.
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