The Zoo: On the Road to Recovery. ConservationInAction

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1 The Zoo: On the Road to Recovery Keeper Bazel with one of the Zoo d Abidjan s young chimps. BioScape Spring The Zoo d Abidjan was built in 1930 as a private animal collection and was taken over by the Cote d Ivoire government in 1972 when it became a national zoo showcasing the indigenous animal species of West Africa. Now run by the Ministry of Water and Forests, the facility is rebuilding after 12 years of unrest and civil war through partnerships, donations and the expertise of Richard Champion, a British zoo consultant. Champion volunteered his services in Abidjan in 2011 while rebuilding a zoo in Mali, and began working as deputy director in May 2013 through a two-year sponsorship with the Swiss Embassy in Cote d Ivoire. When I arrived the animals were in poor condition and the enclosures were in fact cages with concrete floors they had nothing inside of them for the animals to sleep on, walk on, climb on, etc., he said. In less than a year, however, Champion has secured sponsorships and government money to build two new enclosures and enlisted the help of specialists, including Eschenbrenner and Dr. Zimmerman, to improve existing enclosures, increase animal enrichment and begin training zoo keepers with modern techniques. With future plans to build new exhibits for the lions and chimpanzees, in addition to an educational center for children and students, Champion is now working to upgrade the facility as a whole. Incremental improvements already completed are paying off with visitor attendance that has increased from 12,000 a year in 2012 to 40,000 in 2013, to about 2,000 a week currently, a number that continues to rise every week as the zoo gets better, he said. There have been big improvements in animal welfare, diets, enclosures and animal husbandry, but there is still much to do and I expect the zoo to continue to improve and be self-sustainable in the future. -- Richard Champion, Deputy Director, Zoo d Abidjan Plans for the Zoo include building an education center to benefit an increasing number of children and students visiting the facility. MouseClick Improving conditions at the Zoo d Abidjan, Deutsche Welle, 8/8/13

2 The Animals: Proper Care and Feeding Every moment was a teaching moment for Dr. Zimmerman, who instructed zoo staff while performing visual examinations on each of the 170 animals in the Abidjan collection and treating some, including a blind African dwarf crocodile, a tortoise with a hole in her shell, an elephant with an eye infection and various crocs with jaw abscesses, bite wounds and calcium deficiencies. He pointed out, however, that the main animal care concerns at the facility are centered on learning basic husbandry, protocol and proper feeding techniques. To help instill these procedures, he spent a great deal of time instructing the facility s vet, Dr. Soro S. Daouda, who began volunteering his services last year, but according to Dr. Zimmerman, has training that is closer to that of a vet tech. He s hungry to learn, like a big sponge, said Dr. Zimmerman, who taught him as much as time and circumstances allowed. It would be great for him to come to the BioPark where we have more equipment and can provide so many more training opportunities. Most of the keepers, too, are extremely willing, but are also untrained. Some have been keepers for 40 years, but have never been taught the basic skills necessary to care for these animals, said Dr. Zimmerman. He illustrated with two occurrences of animals that died as a result of feeding issues, including a bush buck that was found to have a stomach full of plastic, presumably eaten in the exhibit, and a vervet monkey that starved to death. They were putting all of the monkeys food in one big pile because it was easier to clean, he said, explaining that this allowed the dominant animals to eat everything while the lower level individuals got nothing. In response, Dr. Zimmerman taught keepers to spread the food out and create more naturalistic hunting conditions with techniques such as putting the food in toilet paper tubes so the monkeys would have to work more to get it out. Sponsorships secured over the last year are funding construction for spacious new exhibits, creating a more naturalistic setting. A sulcata tortoise is treated to a shell scrub and iodine soak as Abidjan keepers learned animal care techniques. The zoo s last surviving elephant, CAN, was born in 1992 and named after the soccer team that won the Africa Cup of Nations that year. BioScape Spring

3 continued from previous page Other concerns included implementing basic quarantine protocol before putting new animals into an exhibit. Wildlife in this country is an issue and the zoo can t always pick and choose the animals it takes in, said Zimmerman, citing that many of the chimps, much of the hoofstock and some of the monkeys were either donated by people who could no longer manage them as pets, or reported as nuisance animals monkeys that were begging food from customers in a restaurant s outdoor eating area, for example that were creating problems in the community. Some of them are much better off here, he added. To help improve some of the animals living conditions, Dr. Zimmerman had the staff move two baboons that were behaving neurotically from a cage that was much too small into a larger enclosure with climbing structures and more options for moving around, a change that made an immediate difference in the behavior of one of them. He also helped change the crocodile yard so the animals could better spread out. Overall, compared to what I believed I d see before getting here, the place is in surprisingly good shape, said Dr. Zimmerman. In a very short time, Richard Champion has done an amazing job of cleaning up exhibits, improving animal diets and increasing enrichment, and we re just helping to support what he s done so far. Mia the pygmy hippopotamus enjoying her new enclosure, 8/3/13 MouseClick BioScape Spring 2014 Next issue in Part II of this story, Matt Eschenbrenner talks about teaching the language of crocodile to French-speaking keepers, helping a city with a huge suchus problem, and working to save the extremely endangered West African slender-snouted crocodile. 10

4 Parlez-Vous Zoo, Part II Photos courtesy of Matt Eschenbrenner In the last issue of BioScape, we told you about the animals and facilities at the Zoo d Abidjan in Cote d Ivoire, where ABQ BioPark Senior Herpetology Keeper Matt Eschenbrenner and Head Veterinarian Ralph Zimmerman, with funding from the New Mexico BioPark Society, worked this past January to help with rebuilding efforts after nearly 10 years of civil war. This issue we will focus on their work involving two recently-identified species of crocodile, one of which is extremely endangered. Matt Eschenbrenner Training in Teamwork BioScape Summer While filling his shopping cart full of duct tape, electrical tape, and 300-foot lengths of rope, Matt Eschenbrenner wondered if the people at Home Depot thought he was a criminal loading up on supplies. In reality, these were just a few of the items to be included in a care package he was sending ahead to Abidjan from Albuquerque to provide necessary equipment, such as incubator parts and training gear, for the crocodile program training he would be supervising over two weeks at the Zoo d Abidjan in Africa s Cote d Ivoire. Although navigating the various cultural differences was difficult, Eschenbrenner found soon after arrival that language barriers presented one of the biggest challenges when trying to communicate with keepers, all of whom speak only French. Although classroomtype training sessions on husbandry, safety and correct capture techniques were conducted with the help of a translator named Clovis, whom Eschenbrenner described as invaluable, the initial hands-on croc captures (done for medical examinations) dissolved into frenzied attempts to communicate through frantic yelling and wild gesturing.

5 One capture session in particular started out in chaos with a crocodile getting temporarily tangled up in a rope as all training and procedure went out the window. Things went south right away, said Eschenbrenner. The guys were working as individuals, not communicating and not listening to directions. After a disastrous morning in which only three crocs were captured, followed by a lunchtime lecture on teamwork, everyone began speaking the same language and the afternoon went almost perfectly with 11 croc captures. The day had totally turned around and my thinking went from: What am I doing here? to being very proud that I was, said Eschenbrenner, who found that his perspective had broadened after working in a third-world country. I can call up any number of zoos in the U.S. when I have a question and find someone qualified within a day, but this is the only zoo in the country; the people here have never seen another facility and have no basis for comparison I realized just how good we have it. West African slender-snouted crocodile Ultimately, Eschenbrenner oversaw exams some hands-on and some visual for the zoo s entire crocodile population which includes 21 Nile, three African dwarf, and 37 West African slender-snouted. Other priorities during the trip included changing the crocs diet from organ meats, which do not provide the nutrients these animals need, and implementing a training program for the crocs themselves. This was the first time in years the crocs got fish, said Eschenbrenner. They need it and love to eat it. Ensuring a supply of appropriate food will also provide motivation for the animals when training them for tasks such as entering transportation crates when prompted and holding still for medical exams. We didn t do as much training as I had hoped, he said while adding that the animals need to be more accustomed to having humans near them before this type of program can be successful. I wish I could have been there longer to see the progress, but we set up a training protocol and will stay in touch by . BioScape Summer

6 In terms of advancing breeding efforts for the extremely endangered West African slender-snouted crocodiles, Eschenbrenner was part of a team that converted a used restaurant refrigerator into an incubator to help increase the number of croc babies born in Abidjan, and also assisted in choosing six Founding Fathers to expand the gene pool in the U.S. breeding system (See A Species Apart, page 11). Even though there are no immediate plans to send any of the crocs to Albuquerque, Eschenbrenner hopes that one day soon the ABQ BioPark Zoo will be able to house some of them. Our experience in working with these animals matters big-time when facilities are being chosen by the SSP (Species Survival Plan) authorities to facilitate breeding programs, said Eschenbrenner. A lot of people don t get the opportunity to do this, and I am thrilled even now to be a link in the chain that is helping to pull these crocs back from the brink. Rigorous approaches to species delimitation have significant implications for African crocodilian systematics and conservation, by Matthew H. Shirley, Kent A. Vliet, Amanda N. Carr and James D. Austin African Crocodiles are Seven Species, Not Just Three, by James Foley in Nature World News, December 20, Zoo d Abidjan keepers weighing a crocodile BioScape Summer In mid-april, Eschenbrenner reported that the Zoo d Abidjan was incubating 49 West African slender-snouted crocodile eggs in the incubator (top left) he helped build by converting an old refrigerator. The eggs were laid in new nesting sites at the Zoo d Abidjan which keepers cleared and designated with help from the U.S. croc team. They also learned to mark the top of an egg with an X to prevent embryos from drowning. If all goes well, the eggs will hatch around June 18, marking the first successful reproduction of this highly endangered species in Abidjan.

7 Separated by time and terrain, African crocodile species have undergone subtle but significant changes due to ground breaking events beginning about seven million years ago that ultimately formed a mountain range along the Cameroon Volcanic Line. Eventually, these mountains isolated animal populations on either side, leading each group to adapt to their different environments with unique physical characteristics and genetics. Soon after his arrival, Eschenbrenner used some of the supplies he brought to make the first ever targeting poles at the Zoo Abidjan. These are used as a point of focus for animals that are being trained. Until five years ago, biologists believed that there were only three species of African crocodile: the dwarf, the Nile and the slender-snouted. However, the release of three different genetic studies: one in 2009 identifying three species of dwarf crocodile; another in 2011 separating suchus from Nile; and the last finding two distinct species of cataphractus, now known as African and West African slender-snouted crocodiles, was published on December 11, This latest research was led by Matthew Shirley, Ph.D., and appeared in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Towards the end of their trip, the croc team of Eschenbrenner, Dr. Ralph Zimmerman, Matt Shirley, Ph.D., and others, were invited to the Ivory Coast capital of Yamoussoukro to meet with the governor and a number chiefs from surrounding villages about the city s crocodile problem. Here, a population explosion of Crocodylus suchus some up to 2,000 pounds fill the waters surrounding the presidential palace, have tunneled out of the lake that is supposed to contain them and are nesting in the palace grounds and surrounding village. As a result of their digging, there are blocks of collapsed concrete, fallen guard rails and croc tails hanging out from under various ledges. After evaluating the situation, the croc team made recommendations that included tearing out the walkway to make a nesting area so the crocs won t tend to wander, and creating more feeding stations. The more plentiful African slender-snouted crocodile is found in central Africa, while there are approximately only 49 of the West African species now existing in the wild, making it a candidate for a Critically Endangered listing on the IUCN Red List. The Zoo d Abidjan houses the world s largest captive group of 37, while here in the U.S., there are 38 distributed between 10 facilities.according to Matt Eschenbrenner, senior herpetology keeper at the ABQ BioPark Zoo, however, only five are from wild stock, which means that 33 are of them are related. To expand the U.S. gene pool, Eschenbrenner worked with Matthew Shirley, Kim Lovich, a San Diego Zoo assistant curator, and ABQ BioPark Zoo Head Veterinarian Ralph Zimmerman to choose six of the most genetically compatible West African slender-snouted crocodiles from the Zoo d Abidjan s collection to send to the U.S. As of mid-april, these Founding Fathers were awaiting final approval from the Ivorian ministry for their journey to the San Diego Zoo, a trip facilitated by Lovich, who handled the travel arrangements and export permitting issues while she was in Africa

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