As part of our Shark Week celebration August 12-18, we held a coloring contest with Giant Eagle. We had many talented participants who entered. Although it was a difficult decision, 10 winners were selected and their artwork is currently being displayed in Water’s Edge. Check out their pictures in the slideshow below, or see them in person in Water’s Edge this week at the Zoo.
Then, keep an eye on our social media throughout the next few days – another coloring contest opportunity will be announced this week!
The SECORE team has been hard at work setting up the nursery for both the collected spawn and brooders, which are corals that fertilize their embryos internally as opposed to externally. The kreisels, specially designed tanks where the embryos will develop, are now up and running in the coral nursery.
The SECORE team collected gametes from the elkhorn coral at both the Spanish Waters and Sea Aquarium dive sites. These corals spawned and released their gametes at 9:20p.m. on August 4, as the spawning is synced with the stages of the moon and occurs during a full moon.
This year the elkhorn corals only spawned on one night during their normal spawning period. It is believed that this year there will be a split-spawn. This means that the coral spawning will be potentially divided into two spawns due to the fact that there are two full moons in August because of a blue moon. The blue moon is an extra full moon that occurs every few years due to the additional 11 days in the annual lunar cycle.
The new PhD student working with SECORE and CARMABI (Caribbean Marine Biological Institute), Valerie Chamberland, will be in Curacao for the potential second spawning, which is expected to be after the second full moon and should happen early in September.
Throughout the trip, Bob Snowden, Aquarist at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, has also been busy leading the brooder workshop. He took the team out on a collecting dive to collect Golf Ball Corals, Favia fragum, and Sun Polyp Corals, Tubastraea coccinea. The team will gather larvae from both of these corals. The corals are put into containers each night before sunset so that when they release their larvae, they can be harvested later at night and early the next morning. Many larvae were collected and settled onto ceramic tiles. These tiles were pre-cultured in the tanks so that they had the right biofilms growing on them. Biofilms give the corals the proper chemical cues to trigger a settlement response so the coral will settle and grow. Bob taught the rest of the team how to facilitate this process and how they can do similar work at their institutions when they return. By doing this, they can potentially raise new, genetically diverse corals in their tanks and reduce demand on wild populations. It is hoped that the brooding corals settled at SECORE will continue to grow throughout the year so that the team can brood them the following year.
Since arriving in Curacao a week ago, the SECORE team has been hard at work with preparations for the upcoming Elkhorn coral spawning. There have been meetings to settle logistics and “check out dives”, which are test dives when the coral is not spawning that give newer folks the opportunity to get comfortable with diving at the reef dive sites. All of this is to prepare for the big spawning event that is predicted to happen within the coming days.
Education is a big part of the work that SECORE is doing. In the mornings, several
presentations have been given to the team to discuss collection techniques and best practices for working with and rearing coral. Coral rearing is the process of the coral growing up from tiny larvae to be an adult coral, which can grow to be 10 feet wide in the Elkhorn coral family. Presenters include Dr. Dirk Petersen of the SECORE Foundation, Mike Brittsan from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Bob Snowden from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Valerie Chamberland who is a doctoral student at the University of Amsterdam, and George Keifer from the Curacao Sea Aquarium. Paul Selvaggio, creative director and photographer at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, also shared the SECORE video that was produced to increase outreach.
After the practice and familiarization dives, the team prepared for the first night dive of the trip. This occurred on the first night after the full moon, so spawning, which typically occurs a few days after the full moon, was not expected. However, the team began the night dives at this time since nature can be unpredictable and in the event that spawning occurred early, they would be ready. At 8:45p.m., the team entered the water and began looking for signs of coral spawning, but no spawning was observed. It is anticipated that the peak spawning will occur at any time now.
The brooder workshop also began and is being led by Bob Snowden, an Aquarist Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. The team will work with brooder corals and collect larvae from them. The team will continue the night dives in the hopes that the corals will spawn this weekend, and another generation of Elkhorn Coral will be fertilized and reared.
Throughout the next three weeks, our blog will feature updates about a major conservation effort that is happening right now with which the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is actively involved.
This is the fifth year for the SECORE annual coral spawning field workshop in Curacao. SECORE is a consortium of aquarium professionals and scientists. These experts work together to study coral and partake in conservation efforts. During this trip, the SECORE experts will try to breed new Elkhorn coral, which is an endangered species, and release it into the Caribbean waters.
To breed the coral, SECORE experts will collect gametes, which are (to oversimplify) tiny bundles of male and female reproductive cells that are released from the coral at very specific times of the year based on the cycle of the moon. The release of these reproductive cells is known as coral spawning. Because the coral spawning is synchronized with the cycle of the moon, many corals will spawn at the same time. When their gametes mix, the female and male reproductive cells will mix with the female and male reproductive cells of other corals and create new corals.
Due to many natural and human-imposed environmental factors, coral has been vanishing and not spawning as successfully as it previously has. SECORE experts will collect gametes from spawning coral, mix gametes from different corals in the lab, grow new corals on tiles, and release these tiles into the waters around Curacao to help the endangered coral thrive.
Bob Snowden, an aquarist from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, is in Curacao working on this spawning workshop. He is exceptionally knowledgable about coral and also is active in planning SECORE events and working on SECORE initiatives. Paul Selvaggio, the Creative Director for the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and also an experienced and talented photographer, is also in Curacao taking pictures and video of the SECORE efforts to document the work. SECORE’s efforts would not be possible without the help and expertise of many experts like Bob and Paul, and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is thrilled to be able to partake in such an important initiative.
Curacao is the largest of the Netherlands Antilles islands and lies off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea. The group will be working on this spawning workshop for the next three weeks in the waters around Curacao. Bob and Paul will be sending updates and information as often as possible and our blog will be updated with interesting information and stunning visual elements at least twice per week throughout the next three weeks.
Hear ye! Hear ye! The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Royal Pets slideshow is here!
Do you have a royally wonderful pet? Send your snapshots to email@example.com and have your princess tabby or regal beagle included in our Royal Pets slideshow! Costumed pet queens and kings, or everyday images of your furry friends are welcome.
Then, be sure to attend our Royal Party on August 5th at the Zoo to enjoy costumes, crafts, music, and more (sorry, human royalty only at the party, no pets allowed in the Zoo). Find out more about the party here: http://pghzoo.me/MU2XLK
While they look much like our beloved household pets, African painted dogs are also very different—and not just because of the painted dogs’ big mouse-like ears. These medium-sized pack animals are native to Africa, but cover much less of the continent today then they have in the past. Not long ago, more than half a million painted dogs lived in packs of 100 or more all across sub-Saharan Africa, but now their populations have dropped to less than 5,000, most of them living in Eastern and Southern Africa. Those dogs that still roam the savannas and grasslands today are threatened most by habitat loss—these open areas are no longer so open, and the dogs are often killed by vehicles.
We at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are responding by working to conserve these now-endangered animals. We have a research-based partnership with a Painted Dog Bush Camp in Zimbabwe, Africa, but we also have partnerships here in Pittsburgh that help educate the public and raise money for more research.
Through the African Painted Dog Project, Greg Rasmussen and his team at the Painted Dog Bush Camp in Zimbabwe are providing the Zoo with the latest knowledge, gained through extensive research in the field. They use collars to track populations and they screen each of the dogs to prevent the spread of diseases. One of the biggest threats to the painted dogs, however, is other people—the team uses cutting-edge technologies and the best practices to minimize poaching, reduce accidents between vehicles and the dogs, and to keep farmers and ranchers from killing the dogs in defense of their own livestock.
To keep up our end of the partnership, we use our Painted Dog Bush Camp here on Zoo grounds as an education-hub to help get the word out about painted dog conservation. We also provide expertise on caring for dogs outside of Africa through our own keepers and graduate students. These experts help with our breeding efforts here at the Zoo. We have had several litters of puppies in the past few years, but possibly the most trying of these litters was in 2009 when the pups’ mother died just after their birth. Keepers stepped in and found a domestic dog from a shelter to act as a surrogate to nurse the pups—the first surrogacy of its kind.
One of our Pittsburgh partnerships is with Project Destiny, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and inspiring at-risk youth. The Project Destiny kids have adopted our African painted dogs as the symbol of their program. We have taught them about the dogs, and they are helping to educate the general public about conserving African painted dogs both here at the Zoo and in the wild.
Come to the African Savanna at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to visit the dogs up-close at the viewing window or to learn more about conserving these unique animals.
Coral is a fascinating organism that lives in tropical waters around the world. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium has a partnership with the SECORE Foundation, an organization that focuses on coral conservation initiatives. Currently, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Marine Invertebrate Aquarist, Bob Snowden, has traveled to the beautiful Caribbean island of Curacao, Netherlands-Antilles to do some very important work for the coral conservation efforts.
The main focus of the trip is for Snowden to share his expertise and train a new PhD student from the University of Amsterdam. The student will be working for the SECORE Foundation to manage and care for SECORE’s coral nursery at the Curacao Sea Aquarium.
During the first two days of the trip, Snowden and SECORE officials were able to see the rarely documented day-spawning of the Grooved Brain Coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis. They were able to collect some of the reproductive cells from the coral, known as gametes, which were released in the spawning process. The gametes were then fertilized in the SECORE lab. The team has been tracking the embryonic development of the gametes. This is valuable information, as the development of this species in the embryonic stages is poorly understood.
Check back for more updates in the coming days about the trip and the coral conservation efforts in Curacao.
Like sea otters, sea turtles are animals who always seem cheerful and carefree, so you might not know what kind of danger they face. All seven species of sea turtles are listed in the Endangered Species Act, six of them being categorized as “endangered” and one as “threatened.” Though you may see many small sea turtles together, only around one in a thousand actually survives to reproduce.
At the Zoo, we are dedicated to protecting sea turtles—our primary goal being to re-establish wild populations and to maintain them long term. To achieve this, we developed several programs that focus on giving compromised sea turtles a second chance. Some of these sea turtles are being affected by everyday habitat destruction and pollution; others are victims of large environmental disasters. In both cases, we rescue, rehabilitate, and return the sea turtles to their natural habitat if possible.
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Caring for animals big and small is a top priority at the Zoo, and to help handle the diversity of patients, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is opening a new Animal Care Center.
“We we are here today because of the wonderful and continuing support of our donors and sponsors,” says Dr. Baker. “Without them, this project would never have come to fruition.”
The Colcom Foundation, The Eden Hall Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, UPMC, and The Vet Tech Institute were key contributors to the new Animal Care Center. Financial assistance on this project also was provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Thomas W. Corbett, Governor.
“Our original animal hospital was 1,400 square feet and was built in the 1990s when we only had a couple hundred animals to care for,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “Now we care for nearly 4,000 animals, from fish to elephants.”
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It’s easy to be mesmerized by our elephants, especially when the little ones are playing out in the yard or the big ones are getting a bath. It’s an unforgettable experience seeing elephants up-close, their size alone being breathtaking. But in the next 40 years there will be fewer and fewer chances to get up-close with elephants in North America and around the world. The Zoo population in the U.S. is aging and losing genetic diversity, while elephants in Africa are disappearing because of illegal hunting and habitat destruction. In order to conserve these massive, unique animals, the Zoo collaborates with other organizations around the world to conduct research and ensure that the population remains stable or even grows. We also have developed our own innovative breeding program that has led to multiple elephant births in the last 13 years.
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