Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Naples zookeeper goes global

Naples zookeeper goes global



By Naomi Reiter  02/21/2006



 Caribbean Gardens General Curator Conrad Schmitt, center, assists a team from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association in setting up a camera trap in Zimbabwe. The camera traps take three digital photographs per minute when it detects movement.  

When most people think of Africa they think of animals and safaris. There is an assumption that, since the animals are prevalent and money is made on the safaris, there is a font of knowledge about these animals and their habitat.


The truth is that there is a serious lack of research in the areas where it is needed most. In Zimbabwe's Matopos National Park and it's largest park, Hwange National Park, a project was begun in 2001 to gather information about the natural habitat of that nation's carnivores including leopards, cheetahs and hyenas.


The Matabeleland Leopard and Cheetah Project was started by networking members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to study the overall wellness of the area in terms of the carnivores' ranges and numbers, the amount of prey animals, and the effects of weather systems on the ecosystem.


"It was a natural fit for us to get involved because our zoo has a lot of the carnivores in Zimbabwe...especially the smaller ones," said Schmitt who recently returned from Zimbabwe. Caribbean Gardens has servals, caracals, spotted hyenas, leopards and African wild dogs.


The team, including Chris Pfefferkorn of the Oregon Zoo, Alan Sironen of the Cleveland Metropolitan Zoo, and Vivian Wilson, a veteran of the area, intended to do some capture and radio collaring but the record drought afflicting Zimbabwe finally broke to record rainfall.


"We were limited to how far we could go into the bush," said Schmitt.


They moved some traps to new locations and introduced some trial run camera traps, which allowed them to view still photos of animals in the area. This allowed them to get a broader picture of the types and numbers of species present. For example, a camera trap took a picture of a 6-month-old caracal (the African equivalent of a lynx) so the team could infer that a mature female (the cat's mother) was also in the area.


The Zoo is currently working in conjunction with Florida Gulf Coast University to create a hair snare to gather DNA samples from animals, so the team also evaluated where these devices might be most useful. They collected 35 species of plants to begin a list of flora and identified other species such as frogs, snakes and insects.


"There is a great opportunity for someone to work with butterflies," said Schmitt. "We saw six or seven species."


No one has ever made check-off sheets of mammals and birds in these parks before, so even the most simple species was important to record.


"We watched animals...saw things you don't see in a captive environment," said Schmitt.


He continued, "I think it's pretty exciting that a Zoo of our size is involved in an international project like this. It's great for the community and great for the zoo."


For more information call Caribbean Gardens at 262-5409.


For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

Sign our petition here:


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