Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute

Saint Louis Zoo

The Saint Louis Zoo, located in St. Louis, Missouri, is a world leader in saving endangered species and their habitats. Many of the animals at the Zoo are threatened in the wild by shrinking habitats, disease and poaching. The need for conservation is greater than ever, with one vertebrate species disappearing from the Earth every day. Ultimately, we need to save the ecosystems on which animals and humans depend. The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, with the support of its Conservation Fellows, takes a holistic approach to troubled ecosystems by addressing three key ingredients in conservation success: wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife.

Conservation Work in the Wild
The Saint Louis Zoo has been involved in saving endangered species and their habitats around the world for decades.  Zoo staff hatched and reared over 46 endangered Micronesian kingfishers since 1986.  Since 1974, 38 cheetah cubs have been born at the Saint Louis Zoo.  In 2000, Zoo scientists performed the first successful artificial insemination of a piping guan, in 2011 the first captive breeding of the endangered Ozark hellbender, and in 2015 the first hatching of the endangered horned guan.

This map's green dots show the locations of the WildCare Institute Centers. The red dots are locations of organizations that the WildCare Institute supports, financially or with staff.

WildCare Institute Created in 2004
When the Zoo created the WildCare Institute in 2004, its conservation efforts took on greater depth and focus.  In addition, by extending its reach beyond the Zoo's fence to places like the forest of Madagascar, the foothills of Armenia (pictured) the vast tracts of the Sahara, or the streams of Missouri, the Institute staff made sure the Zoo's conservation work at home became intimately connected to saving wild things and wild place worldwide.  With all 12 centers and the Zoo's Institute for Conservation Medicine, the WildCare Institute has been focused on responding to threats, researching diseases, assessing animal health, educating and supporting communities, sustaining habitats, breeding endangered animals, reintroducing animals into the wild, and augmenting wild populations.
Center for the Conservation of the American Burying Beetle
An insect that embalms carrion with naturally secreted fluid, the American burying beetle is a necessary part of our ecosystem–removing dead and decaying animals naturally. The American burying beetle is also a proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” providing warning to us that something harmful is happening in our environment. This beetle, in decline for many years, was last seen in Missouri in the mid-1970s. This Center has been working for more than a decade to breed thousands of American burying beetles on the Zoo campus. In 2012, working with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy, the Center reintroduced captive beetles to Southwest Missouri. Each year after that, the Center conducted another reintroduction—bringing to 1,500 the total number of beetles that have been reintroduced. Genetic analysis provided a firm base for both reintroductions and breeding programs. In addition, educational opportunities have expanded awareness of the importance of this insect and the need to save it. 

A female American burying beetle.

Center for Avian Health in the Galapagos Islands
The isolated location, volcanic activity and tropical currents of the Galápagos Islands combine to create nature’s own laboratory. These islands are home to species found nowhere else in the world.   Yet the cumulative effects of human contact, climate change and the introduction of new diseases have taken their toll on wildlife there. Scientists from the Center for Avian Health in the Galápagos Islands, the first-ever avian health program, have worked to save some of the world’s rarest and most fascinating birds and to help save captive birds because lessons learned on the Galápagos Islands can be used with birds in the care of other conservation organizations. Education is core to the Center’s mission with more than a dozen nations represented in the mix of students at the research center. Center Director Dr. Patricia Parker and her research team have also written 85 scientific papers—all in the interest of sharing their findings so that conservationists can work together to save avian species on the islands.

A blue-footed booby in the Galapagos Islands.

Center for Conservation of Carnivores in Africa
This Center’s initial focus was on conserving the world’s fastest land animal, the long-legged cheetah, which is losing its race for survival. Over the past 50 years, cheetahs have become extinct in at least 13 countries. Over the years Center staff have educated stakeholders, supported sound scientific research and developed programs in East and southern Africa to save this species. These conservationists have also been working with partners to develop an effective cheetah census technique, reduce livestock conflict, conserve cheetahs outside protected areas and address veterinary and health issues. In 2013, the Center expanded its census and monitoring effort to include all 35 carnivore species in Tanzania, while continuing to support cheetah researchers and project managers in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. These recent initiatives include support for training for researchers and managers in the field, public awareness campaigns and community participation and education programs in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.  
Center for Conservation in Forest Park
In St. Louis City’s largest park—Forest Park, a variety of animal species rely upon the health and vitality of park habitats. More than 200 species of birds have been sighted there—some are migratory, others regular denizens. This 1,371-acre park is the Saint Louis Zoo’s “backyard.” With the Zoo’s partner, Forest Park Forever, this center works to engage area youth—particularly those young people with little opportunity to learn about natural habitats. Staff offers teachers an opportunity to bring second through sixth grade students closer to nature to learn about wildlife through up-close encounters with animals at Forest Park. These sessions begin with Zoo staff making a classroom visits that include native animals followed by a field trip to Forest Park, where the students use dip nets to catch such species as crayfish and dragon fly nymphs, study frogs and toads with magnifying glasses and check out arboreal creatures with binoculars.  The students then record all they have seen and done in journals. 
Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation
The largest species of salamander native to North America, the subspecies known as the Ozark hellbender has experienced a 70 percent decline in the wild due to stream impoundments, pollution, siltation and other factors. For 30 years, the hellbender has been a concern for Saint Louis Zoo staff so it was only natural that the Zoo would build fully-functioning, simulated streams, complete with a rock bed, the occasional afternoon rain shower and the freshest and purest water in the area. Tweaking temperatures and water quality and mimicking the conditions in nature, the hellbender team managed a first: they successfully bred hellbenders in late 2011. By November 2012, the Center announced that eight female Ozark hellbenders had laid a total of 2,809 fertile eggs in the Zoo’s artificial nest boxes. Earlier, three dozen Ozark hellbenders that had been head-started at the Zoo were outfitted with radio-transmitters and released at two sites where the eggs were collected in south-central Missouri. In subsequent years, the Center has worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation to release more than 2,700 Ozark hellbenders, bringing this animal back to life in Missouri Rivers.
Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa
The Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa links dedicated conservationists at zoos with those in the field and fosters partnerships to provide long-term support to wildlife programs in Kenya and Ethiopia. Center activities support conservation efforts for several unique Horn of Africa species, such as the Grevy’s zebra, mountain nyala, hirola, Ethiopian wolf, African elephant, among others. One of the Center-supported organization, Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT), is working to save a species that has declined to fewer than 2,200 individuals in the wild.  In Kenya, GZT enlists community support and trains community-based field teams (scouts, ambassadors and warriors) to monitor multiple regions to protect this species.  The Center also strongly supports Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), which for more than a decade, has helped an ever-increasing number of communities establish conservancies (now numbering 33), set up democratic management structures and attract conservation and development funds.
Center for Conservation of the Horned Guan in Mexico
The horned guan (or pavon) lives in the high montane pine/oak forests of southeastern Mexico and Guatemala. By the early 1930s, logging, coffee farming, and hunting had greatly reduced its numbers. Today there are only 1,000-2,000 birds left in the wild, and the pavon is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered. The Saint Louis Zoo has a pair of horned guans—the only U.S. zoo ever to exhibit this species. In addition, the Zoo was also the location for the first ever hatching of a chick from the artificial insemination of a cracid species and the 2015 hatching of two horned guan—the first for the Zoo and only the second recorded breeding of the species in the United States.  Center staff has worked for a decade with its partners to conduct research on this elusive species and to encourage improved habitat management—advocating for increasing the protected area that is home to the horned guan and working to limit the factors that threaten vulnerable wildlife in this area. 

A skull of a horned guan shows how the crest is actually bone of the skull that grows as the bird ages.

Center for Conservation in Punta San Juan, Peru
This Center was founded to secure the future of the endangered Humboldt penguin and other vulnerable marine wildlife in Punta San Juan, Peru. The presence of these penguins and large numbers of sea birds has produced some of the most fertile guano fields in the world. Guano, the excrement of these birds, provides a soft substrate the penguins can use to dig their nesting burrows. Center partners worked to have these marine waters formally declared a protected area. In 2009, Punta San Juan was included with 33 other “guano” islands and peninsulas in Peru’s protected areas system—a major conservation milestone.  In 2015, staff from the Center and its partners participated in the 13th comprehensive census of the entire Peruvian Humboldt penguin population. That census showed that the number of penguins continues to grow.  In 2015, the Center also tested the use of drones as a potential tool to count penguins in areas that are hard to reach and see.

Fur seal pup in Punta San Juan.

Humboldt penguins on the beach in Punta San Juan, Peru.

Institute for Conservation Medicine
Conservation medicine research focuses on diseases that affect threatened and endangered wildlife species. Scientists study the origin, movement and risk factors of diseases to better understand their impact on wildlife. They explore the links between the health of zoo animals and free-living wildlife populations and monitor the movement of diseases between wildlife, domestic animals and humans. Since its founding in 2011, the Institute has been involved in several projects, including: research on endocrine disrupting compounds that can interfere with natural hormones and adversely affect human and animal health—particularly reproductive and neural systems; a study on box turtle movements and their health status in urban and rural areas around St. Louis is linked with tortoise movement ecology research and education programs in the Galápagos Islands on the giant tortoise: health assessments of dromedary camels in Kenya used for milk—the lack of pasteurization results in millions of humans being exposed to zoonotic pathogens, since camel milk may carry bacteria, viruses and parasites: health assessments of Lemurs in Madagascar also include placing collars on animals for behavior studies and to track their movements. 
Center for Conservation in Madagascar
More than two decades ago, the Saint Louis Zoo became a founding member of an international consortium of 20 zoos, botanical gardens, universities and related organizations committed to conserving Malagasy biodiversity.  This group hoped to save both lemurs and other endangered plants and animals in Madagascar’s eastern rainforests. The consortium—Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG)— focuses on four strategies: research, education, capacity building and conservation action. This collaborative effort involves working to conserve the island’s animal species through reproduction, field research and training programs for rangers and wardens, and through acquisition and protection of native habitat on the island. The Center’s work is based at the 5,505-acre Betampona Natural Reserve, a diverse remnant of the eastern lowland rainforest and the site of the first and only reintroduction of captive born lemurs into the wild. The Center also supports the MFG-managed Parc Ivoloina and the Forestry Station. Parc Ivoloina offers a zoo for the conservation and breeding of endangered species and is a safe haven for confiscated endangered animals. 
Center for Native Pollinator Conservation
With 80 percent of flowering plants needing pollinators to produce seeds and fruit for reproduction and 75 percent of crop plants grown across the globe relying on pollinators, food security and ecosystem stability are threatened as pollinator numbers decline. This Center works to educate people about the importance of pollinators in their own lives. It distributed over 1,500 milkweed plants with Monarch Watch for local restoration programs, and in 2015, began to work overseas when it was awarded a grant to develop a comprehensive biodiversity inventory of bee pollinators and their associated flora in Kenya.  In Missouri, the Center is working with the Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative to develop and implement a state-wide conservation and action plan to save pollinators, and since 2014, this Center has planted over 24 miles of pollinator and monarch-friendly roadsides along state highways.    This Center is also working with the Monarch Collaborative, a group convened by the Keystone Policy Center to identify and implement solutions to address the declining butterfly population, while meeting agricultural productivity and habitat conservation goals. 
Saharan Wildlife Recovery Center
This Center partnered with other zoos and institutions to create the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF), the only organization dedicated exclusively to the conservation of Saharan wildlife. SCF works to raise awareness about the silent crisis of extinction in the Sahara, apply the tools of science to better understand the threats, develop workable solutions and generate additional project funding from international agencies and organizations. Through SCF, the Saharan Wildlife Recovery Center has worked to bring zoo-born addax and scimitar-horned oryx back to national parks in Tunisia. SCF helped bring create Niger’s Termit & Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve (the largest protected area in all of Africa) to preserve addax, dama gazelles, desert cheetah, Barbary sheep and other species. SCF also established a breeding and reintroduction center for the critically endangered Saharan red-necked ostrich in Niger and in 2016, helped return the scimitar-horned oryx to the wild in Chad—nearly three decades after their extinction there.  
Center for Conservation in Western Asia
Three of the 34 biodiversity hotspots designated by Conservation International are in Western Asia. The area’s wildlife and habitats are threatened by overgrazing, mining, agricultural development, poaching and overharvesting of timber for fuel wood. Since 2004, this Center has focused its efforts in Western Asia on the Armenian viper to counter an 88 percent decrease in its numbers.  With multiple partners, the Center has conducted long-term ecology and population genetics studies and developed strategies to save the viper. The Saint Louis Zoo has also become a leader in breeding and raising captive vipers, offering useful information on reproduction and behavior. In 2014, the Center expanded its conservation work to include other mountain vipers, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals in Western Asian. The creation and expansion of wildlife reserves is a major focus, as are educational programs that involve local communities in Armenia and eventually other countries in the region. In 2015, the Center and Zoo supported development of Armenia's first conservation breeding center dedicated to saving that nation's endangered reptiles and amphibians from extinction.
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The WildCare Institute is dedicated to creating a sustainable future for wildlife and for people around the world.

Please visit www.stlzoo.org/wildcare for more information about the WildCare Institute, a full list of our partners in conservation, and details on how you can help.

Many thanks to the staff of the Saint Louis Zoo for all of their hard work.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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