Andean bears are an important flagship species for the unique and fragile Tropical Andes ecosystem, the richest and most biologically diverse region on Earth. Currently listed as vulnerable, the species faces a number of threats, including habitat reduction and fragmentation, and high mortality caused by anthropogenic factors.
To address these threats, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo established the Andean Bear Conservation Alliance (ABCA) in 2011. The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute has been a supporter of the ABCA since 2012. The ABCA works to tackle conservation threats using a multifaceted approach, which includes field research to better understand bear ecology and distribution. It also uses engagement of local protected area management to establish and scale conservation plans on population monitoring and capacity-building projects. An early focus of ABCA was on designing, testing and refining tools that accurately evaluate the distribution and status of the remaining Andean bear populations. These tools that ABCA developed are now being used by different government and nongovernment organizations throughout the Andean bear distribution. As importantly, a Monitoring Program Development Workshop, partially funded by ABCA, was held in July 2017 at Chingaza National Park. Its main focus was the development of an Andean Bear Conservation Strategy for the Occidental Mountain Range of Colombia. As of 2017, there are a total of six institutions involved in the Alliance— the WildCare Institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, IUCN Bear Specialist Group, Nashville Zoo and Bear TAG.
Ecuador ranks third in the world for amphibian diversity behind Brazil and Colombia, but it is actually more diverse when you consider the number of species per unit of area. Currently there are 564 described species. It is presumed that Ecuador could have over 700 species of amphibians, many still undiscovered. This small country in South America is said to have over 9 percent of the world's amphibians with over 44 percent endemism. This means almost 258 species of amphibians are only found in Ecuador and nowhere else on the planet. Since 2006, the WildCare Institute has supported Luis Coloma, Ph.D., with his incredibly important amphibian conservation work in Ecuador. Dr. Coloma is the founder and Director of the Centro Jambatu de Investigación y Conservatión de Anfibios (Jambatu Center for Research and Conservation of Amphibians), a breeding and management facility that houses over 21 species of amphibians, 18 of them listed as endangered or critically endangered. Given the threats amphibians face, in situ (on-site conservation) management is not enough to save many of these species, and ex situ management (protecting a species outside its natural habitat) is urgently needed. This is a proactive solution to save amphibians from extinction. To date, Centro Jambatu has one of the largest and most significant assurance populations of amphibians in the western hemisphere.
In 2017, the longnose stubfoot toad (Antelpous longirostris) was rediscovered by Elicio Tapia of Centro Jambatu after it had been presumed extinct in 1989. The Centro Jambatu is now housing this species to create a sustainable, captive population in the hopes of reintroducing this species soon. As with most species, habitat destruction and fragmentation is playing a major role in their demise. Expansion of the Junin Community Reserve is needed to secure habitat for this species. Propagation in human care may be the only hope for A. longirostris unless specific habitat can be acquired and secured.
The WildCare Institute is determined to help fight this mass extinction of amphibians by supporting the Centro Jambatu, both through regular visits to Ecuador by Mark Wanner, Zoological Manager of Herpetology and Aquatics, and through biannual financial contributions. Rising temperatures, habitat destruction and the spread of the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus have wiped out multiple amphibian species in recent years and continue to decimate critical amphibian populations.
With the situation for wild elephants so precarious, those who truly care about elephants have an obligation to take action before it is too late. The Saint Louis Zoo's support for elephant conservation begins at home with the elephants in our care, and through the WildCare Institute, our care extends all the way to Asia and Africa to ensure a future for elephants worldwide.
In Asia, we support elephant conservation through the International Elephant Foundation (IEF). This organization links dedicated conservationists at zoos with those in the field and fosters collaborative partnerships to provide long-term support to wildlife programs around the world. Since 2005, the WildCare Institute has provided more than $342,500 to the IEF to support Asian elephant conservation in situ (in its natural habitat). The WildCare Institute also has provided support to Elephant Response Units, which work to mitigate human-elephant conflict, protect wild Sumatran elephants and engage members of the communities in and around Way Kambas National Park. In Africa, we support elephant conservation through the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a community-led initiative that forms a true union of Kenyan communities through field conservation, community development and educational programs. Our partnership with the NRT has helped to create a mosaic of 35 conservancies working together across an estimated 44,800 square km. This community collaboration is supporting 418,205 people to re-establish conservation areas for wildlife and restore historical migration routes for elephants. Since 2004, the WildCare Institute has provided more than $865,000 to NRT community conservation efforts, a conservation investment that benefits not only elephants, but all of the wildlife in northern Kenya.
The WildCare Institute supports great ape conservation through two major programs: 1) Goualougo Triangle Ape Project (GTAP) in the Republic of Congo and 2) HUTANKinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme (HUTAN) in Malaysian Borneo. The WildCare Institute has provided continuous support for these programs since the opening of the Donn and Marilyn Lipton Fragile Forest in 2005.
The mission of the GTAP is to promote the long-term conservation of both chimpanzees and gorillas. Research projects at this site include behavioral studies, health monitoring and population dynamics within the changing conservation landscape of the Congo Basin. The GTAP has recently formed an unprecedented partnership with Olam International Ltd, the region's largest forestry concession manager and one of only four logging companies in the Congo Basin that has adopted Forest Stewardship Council certification standards. This partnership has enabled the GTAP to assess timber harvesting and associated impacts on great apes and to use the results to help refine forestry policies and certification measures. The GTAP also partners with Congolese researchers to develop research skills in-country, therefore securing long term sustainable monitoring through capacity building.
HUTAN was created in 1998 to develop and implement innovative solutions to conserve orangutan and other wildlife species in Sabah, Malaysia. HUTAN now has a team of over 45 community members who work to achieve a holistic strategy of long-term scientific research, wildlife and habitat protection and management, policy work, capacity building, education and awareness, and community outreach and development. HUTAN initially focused primarily on orangutan-related research, notably having carried out the first landmark study of orangutans in secondary (previously logged or disturbed) forest. Twenty years later, there are now a number of distinct components within this program, which include: the Orangutan Research Unit, the HUTAN Environmental and Awareness Program, Pangi Swiftlet Recovery Program, the Wildlife Survey and Protection Team, and the Reforestation Team. Both programs receive $10,000 annually from the WildCare Institute, and we have given well over $200,000 in total to great ape conservation.
Endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the okapi is an elusive relative of the giraffe. Even today, the okapi largely remains a mystery to the outside world. For 26 years, the Zoo and the WildCare Institute have been dedicated to the care of okapi in zoos and in the wild. For okapi in human care, the Zoo has long been an active participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Okapi Species Survival Plan. For okapi in the wild, the WildCare Institute supports the Okapi Conservation Project. Initiated in 1987, the Okapi Conservation Project works to secure a protected area for okapi in one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, the Ituri Forest. It also supports local communities by training and equipping wildlife guards, providing community assistance (clean water, medical services, school supplies, etc.) to the people living next to the reserve, and offering conservation education.
In 2017, the WildCare Institute sponsored World Okapi Day celebrations in St. Louis and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Zoo, keepers shared okapi conservation messages with visitors, while in Africa, educational programming and 10K World Okapi Day races were sponsored in five different villages within the okapi's range. The WildCare Institute sponsored the community of Niania, while other international zoos sponsored races in Epulu, Mambasa, Wamba and Mungbere. Thanks to the World Okapi Day events, an estimated 15,000 children and adults participated across the four territories. This new World Okapi Day community celebration was an innovative way to create lasting excitement for protecting the wild okapi.
Partula snails once populated the South Pacific Islands, from Palau to the Society Islands, including Tahiti and Moorea. These snails, however, experienced a devastating decline when the predatory rosy wolf snails (Euglandina rosea) were introduced to the islands in the 1970s as a form of biological control. In the 1980s, scientists began to notice the rapid decline of Partula snails and zoos began to create ex situ (protecting a species outside its natural habitat) assurance populations. In 1990, the Zoo initiated the Partula Species Survival Plan (SSP) to manage the Partula populations on a national scale, and Zoo staff coordinated the plan until 2006. Since 2012, both the species coordinator for the Partula SSP and the regional studbook coordinator have been Zoo staff. The Zoo also works closely with the International Partula Conservation Programme (IPCP), coordinated by the Zoological Society of London, which is involved in breeding programs for 25 Partula species in 15 zoos, together with field work in the species range. Through this cooperative effort, the WildCare Institute has provided funding for staff, equipment for field surveys, the construction and monitoring of predator exclusion reserves, and reintroduction efforts. In 2015, the Zoo sent 140 individual snails to the London Zoo, where the snails received a thorough health screening before being reintroduced in Tahiti. In 2017, Zoo Invertebrate Keeper Glenn Frei went to Tahiti to assist in the reintroduction of additional zoo-raised snails and to conduct surveys with the IPCP field researcher.
Concerned about the rising threats to polar bears in the wild, the WildCare Institute has forged a partnership with Polar Bears International (PBI)—a non-profit organization dedicated to worldwide conservation of the polar bear and its habitat. The WildCare Institute supports a PBI maternal den study conducted by scientists in Svalbard, Norway to document the denning behavior of polar bear mothers that are choosing to den on land, possibly sensing that the sea ice is too unstable for their dens. PBI scientists are observing bear mothers and cubs to determine when they emerge from their dens, how long the families remain at the den sites before heading to the sea ice to hunt seals, and how sensitive they are to disturbances. Study results help wildlife managers and governing authorities develop plans to protect and preserve polar bears for future generations.
As part of the Alaska Initiative, the Zoo has partnered with six Alaska Native villages through the Alaska Nanuuq Commission (ANC), the first U.S. polar bear co-management organization. The goal of this partnership is to work toward a common goal of climate change mitigation and polar bear conservation. Alaska Native communities have extensive, direct and relevant experience, not only with polar bears, but also with the impacts of a changing climate and ecosystem. Because of this, Alaska Native people are the leading voice at the Zoo's McDonnell Polar Bear Point exhibit featuring ground-breaking "first voices" interpretation. In 2017, a second video premiered from the Native Village of Gambell.
As part of the partnership, Zoo staff travel to villages in Alaska to provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and conservation-based educational programming. In fall of 2017, Zoo staff visited the villages of Wales and Savoonga. The Zoo also offers free distance learning programs with the villages to stay connected as much as possible throughout the year. The Zoo works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to learn more about the status of Alaska's polar bears and polar bear research.
In 2017, the WildCare Institute provided up to $25,000 toward efforts for polar bear conservation.
The Tasmanian devil was once common throughout the island state of Tasmania; however, the species has experienced a rapid decline since the 1990s due to a rare disease that has spread throughout the population. Unique to Tasmanian devils, devil facial tumor disease is a contagious and fatal cancer that is spread through direct contact during social feeding encounters and mating. The disease produces tumors in and around the devil's mouth and neck. As the tumors multiply and grow, the infected animals become unable to eat and die. The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) was established in 2003 by the Tasmanian government in response to the rapid decline of the Tasmanian devil population. The STDP has since joined forces with universities and zoos worldwide in their effort to halt the effects of this disease. The STDP has created three distinct stages in their efforts to save the devil: 1) understand the disease, 2) establish an ex situ (protecting a species outside its natural habitat) population under human care and 3) initiate a Wild Devil Recovery Program. The WildCare Institute has provided financial support to the STDP since 2015. In addition, the Zoo has had ambassador devils in its care since 2016. These charismatic ambassadors help raise awareness about the challenges facing wild Tasmanian devils. Volunteers are stationed at the Tasmanian devil exhibit to interpret the natural history of the Tasmanian devil and educate visitors about the challenges devils face in the wild. These interactions provide the perfect opportunity to promote the work the STDP is doing to ensure the devil's future in the wild.