Capacity Building in Belize

October 08, 2019

By Justin Elden, Herpetarium Keeper

Belize is a naturalist's dream come true. Much of the country has been set aside as wildlife preserves for hundreds of species of animals. Having such healthy, viable ecosystems can cause some issues for the people living side by side with nature. The lush rainforest and beautiful blue oceans are great places to find wild animals, and there are plenty of venomous snakes.

One species of venomous snake, called a terciopelo, is a very common and potentially deadly species of pit viper. These snakes are the cause of many snake bites throughout Central America due to their abundance and ability to make themselves right at home around villages. Working with potentially deadly snakes can be difficult, and the people who work with Belize wildlife certainly have their hands full.

While in Belize for a conference this past June, I taught a workshop to rangers from the Belize forestry department in collaboration with the Crocodile Research Coalition and the International Herpetological Symposium. In this workshop, rangers learned about basic serpent biology and the misconceptions and myths associated with them. This workshop included hands-on training from experts such as myself, and the students took turns using hooks and tongs to move a surrogate venomous snake, a Boa constrictor from the local zoo. The goal was to better prepare these front-line staff with the skills necessary to safely manage snakes in the field. The next time there is a problematic snake, the Belize forestry staff will have the skills and experience to relocate the animal in a manner that is safe for people and the snake.

At the Saint Louis Zoo, my fellow Herpetarium keepers and I not only take exceptional care of our collection of animals, but we also use our expertise to help wildlife and communities around the globe through fieldwork, research and capacity building. Not all conservation is science. Sometimes it's as easy as teaching a course and having long conversations with the people who work with animals in the wild.

Allowing keepers to share their expertise around the globe for the benefit of people and wildlife is something the Zoo takes pride in, and it is an integral part of human/animal conservation strategies.

Born to Be Wild: Studying the Behavior of Young Somali Wild Asses

September 19, 2019

By Corinne Kozlowski, Ph.D., Endocrinologist

Somali wild asses are considered one of the most endangered wild horses in the world, with fewer than one thousand individuals remaining outside human care. The Saint Louis Zoo is committed to conservation of this species in the wild in Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, as well as in zoos, and participates in a cooperative breeding program to maintain a healthy population as a guard against extinction. In 2013, all 5 females in our herd gave birth to foals within the span of about two months (three males: Hirizi, Tristan and Rebel, and two females: Farah and Luana). Their births provided Zoo scientists with a unique opportunity to study the biology and behavior of young Somali wild asses.

Behavioral data collection began when the foals were introduced to other herd members (around 2 to 3 weeks of age), and it continued throughout the first year of life. Interns in the Zoo’s Department of Reproductive and Behavioral Sciences worked in teams to document social interactions 6 days a week. Using a pre-defined list of behaviors called an ethogram, interns recorded which foals initiated instances of nursing, lying down, chasing, kicking, greeting, and biting, among other behaviors. Interns also detailed who received the behaviors. This information allowed us to determine whether foals were more likely to interact with their mothers, other foals, or non-related females. Finally, we collected fecal samples for hormone analysis. The fecal samples would tell whether levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with activity, metabolism, and sometimes stress, changed as the foals grew.

The results demonstrated that from 0 to 3 months of age, foals interacted almost exclusively with their mothers. By 6 months of age, however, most social interactions occurred between foals. Interactions with mothers were mostly comprised of nursing and kicking, whereas foals were more likely to chase, bite, and threaten to bite other foals. We saw differences among individuals, with Rebel, the youngest foal, engaging in more social behaviors than the other foals. Similar to studies of domestic horses, we also observed that males were more likely to engage in social interactions than females. Results from our hormone testing revealed that cortisol levels were highest for foals during the first month of life, and then declined with age. We suspect that this decrease might be the result of switching from nursing to foraging, adjusting to their surroundings or others in the social group, or seasonal factors.

As scientists, we are always excited to learn new information from the animals in our care. This study, which is the first to document the biology of young Somali wild asses, provides insights into how social dynamics change as foals grow from infants to yearlings. Currently, we are also analyzing behavioral data from our adult Somali wild asses to learn more about their behavior. Taken together, behavioral and hormone data allow us to support excellent welfare and improve breeding programs for these endangered animals.

On July 30, Tobias, a male Somali wild ass foal was born to mom Tukia and dad Hiriz.

Click a photo below to see a larger image.

St. Louis Cats & Birds Coalition

September 12, 2019

By Anne Tieber, Curator of Birds

The newly formed SLCBC (St. Louis Cats & Birds Coalition) is a group of St. Louis metro area non-profit pet rescue and environmental conservation organizations whose shared goal is to maximize the health and happiness of the cats we love and protect the wildlife we value. 

While we are still developing our mission and vision statements, our hope is to create more awareness about the hazards that pet cats face when left outside and how cat owners can keep their cats safe and healthy by keeping them indoors. Some of these hazards include getting hit by cars, being attacked by other cats, dogs, raccoons or coyotes, exposure to diseases such as rabies, feline leukemia or distemper and even being exposed to cruel people who want to hurt them.

Why is the Saint Louis Zoo involved?

The Saint Louis Zoo is a leader in conservation collaborations and we are working together with other organizations such as St. Louis Audubon, World Bird Sanctuary, Animal House rescue and Wild Bird Rehabilitation to name a few to spread our message. This not only helps cats but also helps our local native wildlife as it is estimated that in the US, free roaming cats kill billions of birds, small mammals and reptiles every year.

What Can You do?

Keep pet cats safe by keeping them indoors

  1. Provide your cat a stimulating and enriching environment inside by providing window shelves for them to watch the outdoors.
  2. Play with your cat each day, they like and need exercise. Paper bags, boxes and tissue paper are great, easy and inexpensive ideas that can provide endless hours of entertainment, in addition to the wide array of cat toys and puzzle feeders available
  3. Only allow your cats out onto a screened in porch or consider building a “Catio” so that they can enjoy the outdoors safely. Consider taking them out for a walk on a leash.
  4. Spend time with your cat. They can make great lap companions while watching television
  5. Take unwanted cats to a shelter to give them the best chance of adoption.

Click this link for more information.

The loggerhead shrike is one of the many wildlife species that has benefitted from research and conservation by AZA zoos and aquariums. Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy of Canada.


The “catio” at the Brevard Zoo showcases how cats can access the outdoors without access to wild birds. Photo courtesy of the Brevard Zoo.