Saint Louis Zoo's American Burying Beetle Conservation Program Recognized with National Award
from Association of Zoos & Aquariums
Silver Spring, Maryland (Sept. 21) – The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced that the Saint Louis Zoo has been recognized with AZA's 2017 North American Conservation Award for the Zoo's significant achievement with the American Burying Beetle Recovery Program.
This annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild.
"This award highlights the crucial work aquariums and zoos are doing to help save threatened and endangered animals within our own backyards," said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. "The team at Saint Louis Zoo is a leader in conserving North American wildlife, protecting American burying beetles and our natural heritage through the American Burying Beetle Recovery Program. They are saving animals from extinction."
The critically endangered American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) was once found in 35 eastern and central states, as well as the southern borders of eastern Canadian provinces. Because of their parenting behavior, the American burying beetle stands out as one of the more unique species among the 350,000 beetle species identified to date. By the time this carrion feeder was placed on the United States federal endangered species list in 1989, the only known remaining population was in Rhode Island. Since its federal listing, field surveys have discovered populations in six other states; however, until the Saint Louis Zoo's reintroduction efforts, no American burying beetles had been found in Missouri since the mid-1970s.
Habitat loss and fragmentation leading to a decrease in suitable habitat and carrion is most likely one of the contributors to the decline of the American burying beetle. Working with agencies such as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), the Saint Louis Zoo formed a strong partnership aimed at the nationwide recovery of this endangered species.
"I am extremely proud that the work on the American burying beetle at the Saint Louis Zoo, in conjunction with that of the Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Missouri Department of Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, the USFWS and others has been extremely successful," said Eric Miller, Executive Director of the WildCare Institute at Saint Louis Zoo. "Not only have we bred the beetles in our Zoo, but their return to the wild at Wah' Kon-Tah Prairie has been so far the first known successful reintroduction of a species that had gone extinct in Missouri."
Since 2005, the staff at the Saint Louis Zoo's Monsanto Insectarium has successfully bred American burying beetles from the relatively small original captive population drawn from the wild in Arkansas. Beetle pairs are carefully matched based on genetic compatibility and diversity. As of 2017, the Zoo's colony has produced over 11,000 beetles. Many have been used to start colonies in other zoos. The Zoo's expertise in the husbandry and reproduction of this species also has played an important part in the reintroduction of thousands of beetles into wild places deemed appropriate by USFWS.
Since 2012, staff from the Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Department of Conservation, USFWS, TNC and youth volunteers from the Zoo's teen volunteer program have marked, transported and reintroduced burying beetles to Missouri, at the Wah' Kon-Tah prairie in St. Clair and Cedar counties. These reintroductions have been very successful — with 2016, finding a significant number of beetles. Overwintering numbers and naturally produced beetle numbers were eight times higher than the previous year — encouraging progress toward the goal of establishing a self-sustaining wild population.
As survey work and research progresses, the Zoo anticipates that it will be able to present insights into the process through the Monsanto Insectarium's containment room window for visitors. This display of federally endangered species will uniquely connect the Saint Louis Zoo's WildCare Institute with Zoo visitors. The Zoo's Education Department also has introduced teen volunteers to field work while saving this beautiful beetle from extinction.
The Center for Conservation of the American Burying Beetle presents an opportunity for the Saint Louis Zoo to develop a strong conservation focus on a unique and endangered insect. The Center continues to research the reasons behind the disappearance of this important species, and continues to work with strategic partnerships to take steps to reestablish the beetle's presence in Missouri and other states. The Center has also funded a zoo based curricula that has been distributed to AZA-accredited zoos throughout the historic range of the beetles.
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and seven other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.