Here at the zoo we have over 420 staff members working hard to save wildlife, but our jobs as conservationists don’t end when we leave the zoo for the day. We all want to go above and beyond to do everything we can to save wildlife, and our unique program called the Staff Conservation Fund allows us to do just that! The Staff Conservation Fund was created as a way for staff to participate in wildlife-saving efforts around the globe. Each year, zoo employees can donate a portion of their hard-earned wages to the fund. This fund is then used to provide support to staff members who successfully create or enhance a conservation project and apply for funding to bring the project to life. To date, this fund has made it possible for 63 staff members to carry out 43 projects in 14 countries around the world!
One of the latest projects is being carried out in the northern Western Ghats region of India by Chris Bednarski, a senior keeper in the herpetology department. The Western Ghats is home to one-third of the plants, almost half of the reptiles, and more than three-fourths of the amphibians known in India. Unfortunately, this strip of rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate due to logging and conversion for agricultural uses. In 2013, the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust purchased 3500 acres in this region and began implementing several conservation initiatives. Chris’s goal is to survey within this section of land and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild! Chris has been documenting his trip, and sent us this journal entry to share with all of you about his first day in the field:
“After 22 hours of flights, a quick nap and several cups of chai my team and I were headed to our first survey zone. It’s a beautiful plot of primary and secondary forest surrounded by several rice fields and pineapple farms. It is a “sacred forest” that the local villagers have set up shrines and a small temple. No plants or animals can be removed or harmed within this forest which makes this area so important for us to survey. Over the years we have documented over 20 species of reptile and amphibian, too many birds to count, leopards, tigers, elephants and amazing invertebrates on this property.
This is our first survey post monsoon this year and we had high hopes. Past years have produced well for us and this trip was not a disappointment. Our searching began at around 6:30pm as the sun was setting and we wrapped up around midnight. We walked forest paths, streams, and around the temples. In the lower branches of the trees we documented a critically endangered species of bush frog (Psuedophilatus sp.), in the streams an endangered species of Indian cricket frog (Minervarya sp.), and along the temple walls a plethora of Brook’s geckos (Hemidactylus brookii). Many other species were found but these were the high lights for sure!
Time to get all our data logged into our computers and get ready for the next day of surveys!”