We put our passion for wildlife to work at Zoo New England, but outside Zoo gates, we remain dedicated to conservation both locally and globally.
Giving our Best for the Nest
You’ve heard the phrase: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but have you seen it in action? Zoo New England staff and volunteers display their extraordinary will to protect, preserve and improve the lives of animals on a daily basis. Visit our Bird’s World exhibit for a shining example of this dedication.
Thanks to the efforts of one such volunteer, Franklin Park Zoo’s Gouldian finches, budgerigars, kiwis and pygmy falcons have all received wooden nesting boxes handcrafted for their individual needs. Boxes provide cavity-nesting birds with shelter and a private spot to reproduce or tend to their young, so it’s important that birds feel comfortable in these spaces.
Working with staff, this Bird’s World volunteer creates each nesting box to exact specifications, literally down to the nuts and bolts. Certain materials are unfavorable or even toxic to some species, but fine to use for others. There’s research and careful planning behind every nesting box created, which is why they can take weeks to complete. Be sure to check out our volunteer’s work, most easily seen in the Gouldian finch exhibit if you look along the left-hand wall.
Build your own nesting box
Inspired by our nesting boxes? Build your own box and become a certified “NestWatcher,” assisting NestWatch --a nationwide nest-monitoring program-- in their efforts to learn more about the impact of environmental change on bird reproduction.
In the wild, nesting boxes can provide needed shelter and brooding space, due largely to habitat loss from increased development and removal of trees. Different design features target the habits and preferences of individual bird species and design plans are available for a wide range of nesting boxes including the chickadee PVC nest tube, tree swallow, eastern bluebird, small songbirds, owls, mourning dove, and American robin. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a treasure house of information about the birdhouse network and can provide specific information on species preferences.
Here are the basic birdhouse guidelines and considerations: use of natural untreated wood (pine, cedar or fir), walls at least ¾ inch thick for insulation, properly sized entrance hole and placed at the correct distance from the ground, extended sloped roof and recessed floor with drainage holes to protect against heavy rain and ventilation holes to keep the interior cool. Also, to assist the fledglings’ exit, rough or grooved interior walls. (Sometimes an adult bird is unable to climb its way out and will get stuck in boxes because the inside walls are too smooth.) Caution: no outside perches that aid predators but do secure a predator guard at the bottom.
A nesting box should be monitored for activity, and once eggs are in place viewing times should be limited to less than a minute once a week.
Just for Kids!
Learn how to become a certified NestWatcher in our Kids' Corner!
The Great Orangutan Project
A note from senior zookeeper Michelle O’Brien:
"I’m participating in the Great Orangutan Project at Matang Wildlife Centre in Malaysian Borneo, for two weeks. Orangutan populations are threatened because of habitat loss, mainly due to palm oil plantations, which mass produce palm oil used in numerous food items in the U.S. and around the world.
I’m working with rescued and orphaned orangutans, helping with enrichment projects for animals at the center. The goal of animal enrichment is to mentally stimulate animals, and this is done through the use of feeder toys, furniture, novel foods, and even scents and tactile items. The center also houses gibbons, sun bears, binturongs, civets, and many bird species.
The center has far fewer resources than U.S. zoos do, and often relies on volunteers to assist them in their work. I’ll be able to use my experience and skills from Zoo New England to help the center improve the care of their collection, and to help achieve our mission towards conservation."
You can follow Michelle’s progress on her Facebook page.
Reconnecting & Rehabilitating: New World Primates in Panama
Thanks to the Jonathan Gilmour Memorial Scholarship Fund, Franklin Park Zoo zookeeper Katelyn Deaton was able to spend two months in the Chiriquí Province of Panama studying and rehabbing injured primates.
Deaton has worked at Franklin Park Zoo since 2012 – first in the Tropical Forest, then in the Children’s Zoo, where she currently works. After working with red pandas and prairie dogs, Deaton decided she wanted to reconnect with New World primates (South and Central American primates), like the ones she had worked with in a previous internship.
Deaton's scholarship supported her work in Panama at the Alouatta Sanctuary. She says:
“The Jonathan Gilmour Scholarship is a really unique and specific opportunity for us to get funds for research projects, adventures abroad that are usually field studies, or extra education.”
Although the sanctuary gets its title from the scientific name for howler monkeys, it also serves as a rehabilitation center for tamarins, capuchins, and other wildlife species.
In Panama, interns had to deal with the lack of resources that comes with being in the jungle. “In the jungle, you don’t have anything," says Deaton.
"How do I clean a wound on this monkey when he’s been attacked by a dog? How do I set up a situation so that he can receive medication, or that I can treat his wounds, in a safe setting? How do I catch a tamarin that escapes when we don’t have a net, or bite gloves?”
Despite having to contend with the challenges of a different work setting, Deaton was able to learn things she might not have at home. “It helps you appreciate things, in a way, but it also helps you become more resourceful,” she said. “If something were to break or if there were challenges with a particular animal, I have these experiences to draw on, despite how different they were.”
Institutions like the Alouatta Sanctuary play a huge role in the local grassroots movement, as they attempt to educate local communities and expand research. Concern for the howler habitat grows as the wave of industrial development creeps ever closer to the edge of the Panamanian jungle.
The ultimate goal of Alouatta is to fully rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals and return them to the wild, and they have already successfully returned four individuals into the wild - two howlers and two capuchins. The timeline and extent of the release varies quite a bit, depending on the individual. Some, like the Geoffroy's tamarins at the sanctuary, will never be able to return to the wild; their time in the pet-trade unfortunately robbed them of skills necessary to survive outside captivity. For others, there is hope.
“With Rugby, one of the baby howlers, I have no doubt that she would integrate without a problem,” said Deaton. “She is very capable as a rehab howler. You could already see her independence in the way that she navigated trees or the way she interacted with her surroundings.
While being released into the wild is the ultimate goal for these animals, they also had to be well-cared for during their rehab. Recognizing the primates’ need of a stimulating environment, Deaton worked to improve enrichment practices for the animals.
“You don’t have to think of enrichment as this complicated thing," said Deaton. “It can be easy. Just as long as you do it. These animals are in our care and we owe it to them to provide them with a stimulating environment. This isn’t about us, this isn’t about me having this great experience in Panama, this is about providing for the animals that are in our care. It was rewarding to be able to teach people about enrichment, coming from a place of experience.”
Sit. Stay. Save a cheetah.
"We took [Fin] to a location where wild cheetahs were known to frequent and on his first day he found five scat samples – four of which we would not have found without him."
Assistant curator Chris Bartos spends her free time training dogs, but one of her pooches isn’t just winning agility competitions—he’s part of a global mission to save cheetahs in the wild. Bartos’ rescued border collie, Finn, was part of the Cheetah Conservation Fund's (CCF) cheetah census team, trained to sniff out cheetah scat (poop) in order to track the cats’ movements. Bartos traveled with Finn to Namibia, where Bartos helped CCF staff learn how to work with the dog to search for and indicate scat.
Scat location is recorded with a GPS device and then analyzed by geneticists to identify individual cats through DNA, examine diets, and track cheetahs’ range. Based on the results, CCF uses data regarding population size (which is steadily decreasing) and distribution to aid in conservation strategies.
Finn is now a full-time partner at CCF in the fight to save the wild cheetah, and Bartos hopes to return to Africa to continue her important work.