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Conservation

At The Gladys Porter Zoo, we carry out our conservation mission by contributing to various conservation projects to preserve endangered species such as Kemp's ridley sea turtles, Western lowland gorillas, and Philippine crocodiles. The Zoo also contributes funds to support conservation or research programs that take place in the home ranges of specific animals in need of attention. In the past, the Zoo has supported field projects to benefit Galapagos tortoises, Matchie's tree kangaroos and several species of rhino, just to name a few. We also participate in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's (AZA's) Species Survival Plan program to help ensure the survival of selected wildlife species.

Species Survival Plans - A Last Refuge for Disappearing Species
In an ideal world, we wouldn't need captive breeding. There would be no man made threats to wild populations, no human-caused mass extinction underway. Of course, we don't live in an ideal world. Not only are species being driven extinct by human activities, but the truth is, far more species are disappearing than we could possibly save with the resources we have. The hedge against extinction is to have a viable population in captivity, so that if the species disappears from the wild, we at least have a chance to re-establish it someday.

This gets us to a whole new group of difficult questions. How many individuals are necessary? How much will we have to duplicate nature to enable their descendants to return to the wild? We have to have a plan. In the zoo world, it's called a Species Survival Plan (SSP).

The Gladys Porter Zoo supports and participates in over 40 Species Survival Plans (SSP's) for animals within its collection. These and numerous other endangered or threatened species of animals are involved in captive reproduction, research projects, or conservation education programs.

Gladys Porter Zoo Sea Turtle Conservation Program -- Kemp's Ridley Project
Of the eight species of sea turtles in the world, the Kemp's ridley, Lepidochelys kempii, is the most endangered. It is also the smallest sea turtle and the only species that nests primarily during the daytime.

In 1978, a collaborative bi-national program between Mexico and the United States was developed to try and restore this species' population to a self sustainable level, and in 1981, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked the Gladys Porter Zoo to administer the United States' field portion of the joint U.S./Mexico effort to protect and increase the production of Kemp's ridley sea turtles in their natal beaches located in the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico. To date, the Zoo still carries out that role.

Sea Turtle Medicine
In addition to the long term program that GPZ has undertaken to save the Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle, the veterinarians of GPZ are the attending doctors for rescued sea turtles brought to Sea Turtle, Inc. (STI) on South Padre Island. STI is dedicated to the education, conservation, and rehabilitation for the preservation of sea turtles and their environment. Sea turtles are a charismatic resident of the south Texas/Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and offer a unique way to educate the public on marine conservation. Four species of turtles, Kemps Ridley, Green, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead have been treated by the GPZ vets for wounds, cold stun, exhaustion, generalized infections, etc. The goal of STI and GPZ is to recover the turtles so they can be released back to the wild. For more information see: www.seaturtleinc.com

International Rhino Foundation
Gladys Porter Zoo's Director Emeritus, Don. D. Farst, D.V.M., serves as a member of the Board of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), whose mission is to contribute to rhino conservation by providing technical, administrative and financial services and support for programs which emphasize intensive management and scientific research both in situ (in the wild) and ex situ (in captivity) as equally important components of rhino conservation.

The IRF is a non-profit organization, dedicated to the worldwide conservation of the five living species of rhinoceros: Black, White, Indian, Javan and Sumatran.

In order to support IRF conservation programs, the Gladys Porter Zoo makes an annual financial contribution to the organization.

International Iguana Foundation
The Zoo's General Curator, Colette Hairston Adams, serves as a member of the Board of the International Iguana Foundation (IIF), whose mission is to actively support conservation, awareness and scientific programs that enhance the survival of wild iguanas and their habitats.

The IIF is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to raise the financial resources essential to implementing iguana conservation programs. Working in concert with the Iguana Specialist Group (ISG) of IUCN - the World Conservation Union and other conservation organizations, it provides critical support to initiatives prioritized in the ISG's Conservation Action Plan and Species Recovery Plans. In addition, the IIF works to generate public awareness of the many threats facing iguana species today.

In order to support IIF conservation programs, the Gladys Porter Zoo makes an annual financial contribution to the organization.

Putting Wildlife Back
The Animal Health Department at the Gladys Porter Zoo is the principal wildlife rehabilitation unit for the Rio Grande Valley. Wildlife rehabilitation involves caring for injured, ill and orphaned wild animals with the goal of releasing each into its natural habitat. Animals are brought to the zoo by citizens or animal control officer or Texas Ordinarily it is illegal for a citizen to possess wildlife for any reason. The zoo holds state and federal permits that allow it to legally hold wildlife during treatment.

Our goal is always to release an animal back into the wild; rarely the animal will be kept in a zoo or other licensed facility as an ambassador for its species to be used for educational purposes. Sometimes, because of an untreatable injury an animal is deemed “non-releasable” and is humanely euthanized. The Zoo spends approximately $30,000 a year treating injured wildlife and we receive no federal or state funding towards this cause.

Texas Tortoise Health Assessment
The Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) is listed as a threatened species in the state of Texas and is protected by state law. They are found in South-Central Texas and northern Mexico into the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas. These beautiful tortoises have become threatened for many reasons. In 1977 they were listed in the state of Texas as a protected non game (threatened) species which means that wild specimens cannot be possessed, sold, or exported.

One threat to tortoise populations all over North America is a form of Upper Respiratory Tract Disease caused by Mycoplasma agassizii. This sophisticated organism causes disease in tortoises and dramatically affects their ability to forage for food and reproduce normally. Dr. Amanda Guthrie, Associate Veterinarian of the Gladys Porter Zoo has recently acquired grant money for field research to characterize the prevalence, distribution, and impact of the Mycoplasma organism on populations of the Texas tortoise.

Oil Spill Response
It has only been by good fortune that the Texas coast has avoided a serious oil spill for quite some time, and Zoo staff felt it was important to be ready to help the animals in case one occurred. In February 2008, Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center (WR&E) held a training session specifically dedicated to oil removal and recuperation for 45 volunteers at the Gladys Porter Zoo.

Saving the American Ocelot
The Animal Health Department at the Gladys Porter Zoo is actively involved in assisting US Fish and Wildlife Services with ocelot health monitoring at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (LANWR). When an ocelot is trapped, a GPZ veterinarian will go to LANWR to give the ocelot a physical exam and full medical work-up. This includes a battery of testing to determine overall health and to detect internal and external parasites and infectious diseases.

The ocelot is listed as a federally endangered animal. The only ocelot population on public land in the USA is the less than 30 animals thought to be at LANWR. These animals live exclusively in thorn scrub habitat and their habitat and thus their populations are diminishing rapidly. The Gladys Porter Zoo also supports and is active in the Bi-national Ocelot Recovery Project. For more information on LANWR and other Rio Grande Valley wildlife refuges see: www.friendsofsouthtexasrefuges.org.

North American Cooperative Conservation for the Philippine Crocodile
Staff from the Department of Herpetology work with the Philippine government and the Philippine National Recovery Team to coordinate a cooperative effort to support in-country efforts to protect and reclaim habitat for the critically endangered Philippine crocodile. With only an estimated 200 adult animals remaining in the wild, several other North American institutions have committed to assist with captive rearing of offspring produced at Gladys Porter, as well as to help support the long-term captive conservation of the species.

Determination of the Origin of Captive Galapagos Tortoises
A great number of the Galapagos tortoises that are currently in captivity were taken off of various islands in Galapagos early in the 20th century and brought to North America. Many of them were taken off the largest island, Isabella. Isabella is home to several different races of giant tortoises, and, like the tortoises from other islands in Galapagos, each race has developed different physical characteristics that have allowed it to thrive in its particular habitat. In order to preserve the genetic makeup of each race of tortoise, including their unique physical characteristics, a genetic study was undertaken by Dr. Ed Louis, formerly of Scott Davis' lab at Texas A & M University.

CONSERVATION THROUGH PROJECT SUPPORT

International Giraffe Conservation
GPZ is providing valuable support to the International Giraffe Working Group (IGWG) a multi discipline group dedicated to preserving the evolutionary potential of all giraffe populations. Dr. Thomas deMaar, the zoo’s Senior Veterinarian, is a founding member, and present treasurer of the IGWG. GPZ acts as one of the financial ‘base camps” for IGWG projects.

IGWG activities include extensive genetic analysis of wild giraffe populations to resolve taxonomic uncertainties and determine levels of genetic diversity in wild populations. A giraffe census and DNA collection expedition was recently conducted in Zambia.

Feline Research in Northeast Mexico
The Gladys Porter Zoo contributes funds to the work of Arturo Caso, an independent researcher that has successfully radio-collared, tracked and monitored native wild felids for the past seven years. In addition to his research on ocelot and jaguarundi, a small population of margay has been identified within his study area.

Status of the Neotropical Otter in Southern Tamaulipas
The Neotropical river otter (Lontra longicaudis) is widespread in Latin America, but little is known about its current status. It is listed in the IUCN Red List as data deficient. It is widespread in Mexico, and the Tamesí River System in southern Tamaulipas probably represents its northeastern coastal limit. Gladys Porter Zoo has provided funding for a study to determine otter distribution in La Vega Escondida Protected Area (LVPA), and produce a GIS map of the study site and surrounding area depicting aquatic communities and anthropogenic factors such as human developments and water pollution sources.

Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in Papua New Guinea
The Gladys Porter Zoo joins many other contributing organizations to support this dynamic project, which began in 1996 as a research study of the conservation status of the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo and has evolved into a comprehensive community-based conservation program. The ultimate goal of the TKCP is the establishment of a 150,000-acre Wildlife Management Area to ensure the long-term sanctuary of several rare and endemic species, including the tree kangaroo and the long-beaked echidna.

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