Zoo news letterhead

May 30, 2013

Saint Louis Zoo 314/646-4633; 646-4639; 646-4703
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 573/234-2132
Missouri Conservation Dept. 636/300-1953 ext. 4112
The Nature Conservancy 314/968-1105


Media photo/interview opportunity Thursday, May 30 (1:30-4:30 p.m.) and Friday, May 31 (times to be determined.) Zookeepers will be prepping the beetles for next week’s reintroduction. Approximately 600 beetles will be paired together and marked by “notching” each beetle’s elytra, or hard wing covers. The notch distinguishes captive-bred and wild beetles, and beetles are notched based on release location. Please call the Zoo’s public relations office 314/646-4633 or 646-4639 to arrange photos and interviews.

Media details for Tuesday, June 4, reintroduction:
Media can visit the reintroduction site on Tuesday, June 4 (raindate: Wednesday, June 5). All involved in the reintroduction will meet at the Missouri Department of Conservation Office in El Dorado Springs, MO, at 2 p.m. on June 4. All media representatives planning to visit the site need to call in advance so that the reintroduction team will know who is coming. Everyone needs to caravan to the site due to its remote location. Call the Zoo’s public relations office to get the address of the Conservation Office, to reserve your news organization’s spot in that caravan and for contact phone numbers—cell phone service is not readily available. To reserve a spot, dial 314/646-4633 or 646-4639.

Approximately 600 Saint Louis Zoo-bred American burying beetles are scheduled to be reintroduced in Southwest Missouri on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. This is more than twice as many animals as the first-ever release one year ago, when 236 beetles were reintroduced in the same area. The 2012 reintroduction marked the first time any federally listed endangered species has been reintroduced in Missouri.

Five Zoo-trained staffers will spend the day reintroducing the beetle through a project jointly managed by the Zoo’s WildCare Institute Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation; the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; the Missouri Department of Conservation; and The Nature Conservancy. Staff from partner organizations and local volunteers will also help with the reintroduction.

The burying beetle is being reintroduced across the 4,040-acre Wah’ Kon-Tah Prairie in St. Clair and Cedar counties on land jointly owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.

On Thursday and Friday, May 30-31, the beetles will be notched, that is, marked by notching the elytra, the hard, modified forewings that encase the thin hind wings used in flight. The notch distinguishes captive-bred and wild beetles, and beetles are notched based on release location.

The beetle release process involves digging holes, or plugs, at specially selected sites, placing the carcass of a quail and a pair of notched beetles in each cavity and replacing the plugs.

This process simulates a natural underground setting for the beetles’ life cycle. The plug sites will then be monitored for signs of breeding activity by checking for larvae, and later, new adult beetles.

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 in the Midwest but none in Missouri.

“The beetle was last seen in Missouri in the mid-1970s, and for the last decade, the Zoo has been monitoring for existing American burying beetles but with no success,” said Saint Louis Zoo Zoological Manager for Invertebrates Bob Merz. Merz is also director of the American burying beetle center that is part of the Zoo’s 12-center WildCare Institute dedicated to saving animals across the globe and at home.

Surveying for the endangered beetles has been the focus of the Zoo’s American burying beetle conservation efforts for the past several years. “Our contribution to reintroduction efforts by returning the beetle to parts of its former range is the beginning of the recovery of this beautiful beetle,” says Merz. “It was really encouraging to find a few offspring from the beetles that were reintroduced last summer during our follow up surveys.”

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BACKGROUND: The Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute Center for the Conservation of the American Burying Beetlein Missouri. Genetic work organized by the Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation provides a firm base for both reintroductions and breeding programs. The Center is involved in a number of important developments for this species. Through its WildCare Institute, the Zoo focuses on wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife in 12 conservation hotspots around the globe, including three in Missouri. www.stlzoo.org

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov.

The Missouri Department of Conservation. This state agency protects and manages the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state of Missouri. The state agency facilitates citizens’ participation in resource management activities and provides opportunities for use, enjoyment and education about nature. http://mdc.mo.gov/.

The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy in Missouri is one of the state's leading conservation organizations. Established more than 50 years ago, the Missouri program has an impressive history of success. www.nature.org.

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