Posts Tagged ‘smithsonian’

posted by | on , , , , , , | No comments

By Angela Trenkle, technical writer and DC EcoWomen member

Throughout the DMV metropolitan area, there are different organizations that give people the opportunity to learn about conservation, restoration, and the natural world that we are lucky to call home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the Smithsonian Institution – an organization that is easily recognized when mentioned. What’s not always known, however, is the amount of work that goes on behind-the-scenes and that it’s easy for people to get involved.

My work with the Smithsonian Institution spans a decade and includes three institutions – the Natural History Museum (NMNH) in downtown D.C., the Environmental Research Center (SERC) south of Annapolis, and the Marine Station (SMS) in Fort Pierce, Florida. At each of these institutions, I had the incredible opportunity to work with different organisms that the general public does not always get the chance to see during their visit.

My work included, but was not limited to, curation and collection management of invertebrates and insects (specimens only a handful of individuals could see), and live aquatic organisms that were used for research purposes to answer scientific questions. I also cared for animals, both aquatic and terrestrial, that the public could learn about and see.

When I’ve shared these experiences with people, one of the first questions they often ask is, “how did you become involved?”. They’re always surprised when I tell them it’s a lot easier than they’d think!

One of the overall goals of the Smithsonian Institution is education and they are always looking for volunteers to help in different capacities, whether its for a long-term commitment, a short-term commitment, or for a day.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum

At the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the opportunities to volunteer are split into two different categories: behind-the-scenes and public engagement.

The behind-the-scenes category gives volunteers the opportunity to help on projects out of the public eye, whether it’s assisting with data entry, cataloging museum specimens, or researching scientific literature.

The public engagement category gives volunteers the opportunity to inspire the museum’s visitors by allowing them to teach visitors about the natural world. Volunteers in the public engagement category get to work with live insects and butterflies in the butterfly pavilion and insect zoo. They can also showcase different objects in the Ocean Hall, the Hall of Human Origins, and Qriuis – a section of the museum that is dedicated solely to visitor enrichment and education.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the opportunities to volunteer are split into two different categories: citizen science and environmental education.

The citizen science program allows volunteers to help SERC researchers on projects that are going on in the field or in the lab. These projects can include work with mud crabs, river herring, and environmental archaeology.

Volunteers in the environmental education category can teach school groups, which gives students the opportunity to connect with the natural world around them. Volunteers in the environmental education category get to lead canoe trips, run different environmental stations (seining, oysters, plankton, etc.) for field trips, and develop educations materials, among other activities.

Smithsonian National Zoo

At the Smithsonian National Zoo, there are opportunities to volunteer in several categories, such as education, zoo support, and special events.

Volunteers in the education category can learn about the ins and outs of different exhibits throughout the zoo. They can then pass this knowledge onto the zoo’s visitors, which come from around the world.

The zoo support category gives volunteers the opportunity to work with staff behind-the-scenes and assist with animals. Zoo support volunteers can care for animals in different places around the zoo and assist with research projects that are taking place at the time of volunteering.

Finally, the special events category provides volunteers with short-term commitment opportunities. These volunteers can come as little, or as often, as they wish, whether its just for one event or for multiple. Some of the events that these volunteers can assist with include ZooFari and Zoolights.

These are just a few examples of ways that people can help with the Smithsonian. By taking the time to volunteer with this organization, people can learn, pass on information to others, grow and make a difference in the natural world. I hope you consider volunteering!

Angela is a technical writer in Maryland with a scientific background. Preserving the natural world is an important goal for her and she plans to use what she has learned over the years to help do her part in restoring local watersheds for future generations to enjoy. In her free time, when she isn’t found exploring the world of aquatic biology, she enjoys acting in musicals, running, reading, writing, and traveling to new places.

 

Photo Credits: Corey Cavalier CC BY 2.0, Quadell CC BY 3.0, and Judy Gallagher CC BY 2.0.

posted by | on , , , , , , , | Comments Off on With Zoo Science, Extinction Isn’t Forever

Three Fascinating Animals Extinct In The Wild,  On Exhibit At The Zoo

Right now, people are flocking to the Zoo to see a cuddly, chubby, toddler: giant panda cub Bao Bao. I’d be the first to admit that she sure is cute — I was fairly panda-agnostic before she was born, but now I’m as besotted as everyone else. But what sometimes gets missed in all the fuss over the fubsy is that she’s also part of an important conservation story:

Giant pandas are an endangered species. Fewer than 2,000 remain in the wild mountains of China, and habitat loss, climate change, and human encroachment threaten their future. Zoos and breeding centers, and celebrated births like Bao Bao’s, are helping save pandas.

But the Zoo holds even more dramatic stories — some of the animals at the Zoo wouldn’t be around at all if it weren’t for zoos. Once an animal has disappeared from its natural habitat, but before it disappears entirely from the planet, it can become “extinct in the wild.” That means that, while the wild animal is extinct, the species lives on in human care, in zoos, aquariums, or breeding centers.

(Not) the Last Unicorn

via Smithsonian National Zoo

For most people, extinction means gone forever. And sometimes it does. But with extraordinary efforts, unusual resources, and dedication, extinction doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

Take, for example, those animals you rushed past in a hurry to get to the pandas. Did you see something that looked a bit like a white deer out by parking lot A? You might have stopped to marvel at its long, arching horns, but you probably didn’t stay long. That’s a scimitar-horned oryx and may be the animal that inspired the legend of the unicorn.

The oryx is a fascinating species. Native to the sub-Saharan grasslands, they’re adapted to make do with very little water. Back in 1988, only a handful lived in the wild, and none have been seen since then.

However, the species survived in private hands, in zoos, and in conservation centers. Careful management, including strategic breeding and research on oryx biology, is helping bring the species back from the brink.

In addition to the oryx at the Zoo, 15 oryx live at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), the Zoo’s 3,200-acre facility in Front Royal, Virginia. Out there, animals have more space to live in a naturalistic herd environment. There are a handful of other institutions in the country like Front Royal; together they form the Conservation Centers for Species Survival, and they work with endangered species that need open spaces.

Conservationists hope to reintroduce oryx into their native habitat. But that won’t happen until scientists are sure that the threats that drove them to extinction the first time around — habitat destruction and poaching — are under control.

BFFs: Best Ferrets Forever

Another phenomenal extinction story lurks somewhere you might never look: In a corner burrow in the Small Mammal House. Curled up next to the prairie dog exhibit is a small, sleeping, critter: a black-footed ferret.

North America’s only native ferret, black-footed ferrets used to be abundant, feasting on prairie dogs and living in prairie dog burrows for centuries. With the advent of the John Deere plow and programs to poison prairie dogs, black-footed ferret populations crashed.

In 1967, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as endangered. No black-footed ferrets were seen between 1975 and 1980, and scientists assumed they were extinct. Until 1981 when a ranch dog named Shep killed a small animal and brought it home. It was a black- footed ferret.

Biologists moved quickly and discovered a colony of at least 129 black-footed ferrets near Meeteetse, Wyoming. Three years later the population had fallen to 31. Canine distemper and sylvatic plague were devastating the last surviving black-footed ferrets.

Researchers collected the remaining 24 ferrets, of which 18 survived (seven males and 11 females). No one knew much about black-footed ferret reproduction or biology, but through careful study and breeding, the population is recovering. The National Zoo has a colony of black-footed ferrets at SCBI Front Royal and has bred more than 750 kits, both through natural breeding and through artificial insemination.

Thanks to all this effort, black-footed ferrets are no longer extinct in the wild. Reintroduction began in 1991 and continues today; more than 2,000 ferrets have been reintroduced to their native habitat.

Wishing for Horses

via Smithsonian National Zoo

This last example of an extinct-in-the-wild species may be my favorite: who doesn’t love a horse story? Przewalski’s horses (which are typically called “P-horses”) went extinct in their native Mongolia and China in the 1970s. Some Przewalski’s horses survived in zoos and in private hands. Breeding, including at SCBI in Front Royal, has helped build up the population.

The Zoo had the first surviving foal born from artificial insemination in August of 2013. Zoo scientists have also done some ground-breaking work on Przewalski’s horses, including performing the first reverse-vasectomy on a genetically valuable horse. You can see a Przewalski’s horse on exhibit at the National Zoo next to the Small Mammal House.

The Neverending Story

These aren’t the only three species zoos have rescued from extinction. If you take care to read the signs, you’ll discover many more: a golden frog species that’s suffering from a fungal plague, birds extirpated from their island homes, and cat species that are so genetically similar that one bad plague might wipe them all out.

All of these species (and many more) have teams of National Zoo and SCBI scientists working to ensure their future survival, through techniques including improved veterinary knowledge, assisted reproductive procedures, improved insight into diseases and pathogens, environmental studies, and nutrition research.

It’s all happening at the Zoo!

Brittany Steff is a freelance science writer, web editor, and zoo devotee who lives in DC. Find more of her work at SpeciesRichness.com.

Editor’s Note: Eager for more on extinction? If so, join the DC EcoWomen Book Club on February 12 to discuss “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.” This book combines the natural history of the Amur tiger, the illegal trafficking of animal parts to China, the sociological history of the Russian people in the Far East, and the difficulties faced by conservationists on the ground, all while following the hunt for a man-eating tiger in Eastern Russia. We hope you will join us for what will be a fascinating discussion (even if you don’t get a chance to read the book)!