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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on a more personal level.
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July 14, 2014

Black-footed Ferrets in the Centennial State

By: Steve Forrest, Defenders of Wildlife Blog 

Black-footed ferret, © Kylie Paul/Defenders of Wildlife
It’s been 33 years since the black-footed ferret did its Houdini act by reappearing on the high plains of Wyoming.  Only a few years earlier, it had been declared extinct in its southern range, and had not been seen in the wild for years anywhere. The ferret loss was due to the dramatic human-caused destruction of prairie dogs – its main food source – and prairie dog colonies. Then, in 1981, there it was again, its small head once again periscoping from prairie dog burrows near Meteetsee, Wyoming as it surveyed its dwindling habitat. Even the most jaded recognized this as a sign – a “do-over” rarely offered up by Mother Nature. That may be one reason for the passion that has followed this recovery effort. Collectively we’d fumbled the “last chance” once before and it wouldn’t say much about our commitment to conservation or our technical skills if we let the slinky-shaped ferret slip through our hands again given this reprieve. After many false starts, genuine recovery efforts started in the mid-1990s.

A reintroduced ferret scopes out its new home.

Ft. Belknap Ferret Release, © Russ Talmo
Last month, I attended the first-ever meeting of the Colorado black-footed ferret working group.  You might think it curious that Colorado biologists had not convened earlier to discuss the fate of the species in the state, since Colorado has been “ferret central” for decades.  Wellington, Colorado houses the federal captive breeding center where most of today’s ferrets are produced and trained for life in the wild.  The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs has likewise been producing ferrets for reintroduction for decades and is where the lead advisor of the group tasked with ensuring captive breeding success resides.  The Wellington center is also home to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Black-footed Ferret Recovery Coordinator, and the Regional office of the USFWS  is in Lakewood, where all things Endangered Species Act for most states within the range of the ferret are decided.  Thus, the path to recovery for the ferret has always been led through the state.

Ferret reintroduction was given a chance here many years ago, in the northwest corner of the state. Unfortunately this early ferret reintroduction effort failed – likely due to a lack of protection for prairie dogs (a primary food source for ferrets), both from unregulated shooting and from plague, which killed many prairie dogs.  In truth, not everyone in Colorado was gung-ho on ferret reintroduction.  Colorado legislators passed a bill several years ago that precluded ferrets (and other endangered species) from being reintroduced anywhere in the state without legislative approval, which hindered participation of state biologists in the ongoing ferret recovery program for years.

Black-footed ferret, © Jonathan Proctor/Defenders
Persistence paid off as the USFWS relentlessly chipped away at resistance to ferret restoration in Colorado. What broke the logjam in 2013 was a new program offered up by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in coordination with the USFWS that offered private landowners compensation for growing prairie dogs.  At the same time, a new statewide “Safe Harbor Agreement” between the USFWS and the state gave regulatory assurances that the presence of ferrets would not hinder existing activities like ranching or oil and gas development. Seeing an opportunity to turn their wildlife management challenge into a benefit, private landowners made it known that it might not be such a bad idea for some to get into the ferret-friendly ranching business.  And so a year ago, black-footed ferrets were released on private land.  The Walker Ranch near Pueblo, Colorado is the state’s first try with the new program.  Already, this year, demand is so high for the program that Defenders is supporting the NRCS and USFWS efforts to sort through the prospective new ferret-friendly landowners. We do this by supplying a contractor to collect data on prairie dog abundance that will help prioritize which landowners have the largest prairie dog colonies – and therefore the best chances of success for ferret reintroduction.

And so, amidst the glaze of donuts and the pots of coffee, Colorado’s biologists, those working for state, federal and nonprofit agencies, are at last sitting down to chart the future of the species in the state.  Speaking personally, the renewal and hope that accompanies restoration and reintroduction stands in sharp contrast with what most people in the room are faced with daily…the tally of disappearing habitat, lost opportunities, and impacts to wildlife from things great and small.  So the mood is jolly, a chance to get in on the ground floor of what we hope will be a new growth industry in Colorado…the comeback of the black-footed ferret and the grassland ecosystem it protects through its presence.

Steve Forrest is the Senior Rockies & Plains Representative for Defenders of Wildlife
Original article posted at: http://www.defendersblog.org/2014/06/black-footed-ferrets-centennial-state/

July 7, 2014

Meet Roxie!

Roxie, the Zoo’s 37-year-old western lowland gorilla, is the oldest gorilla in our troop of seven. She also just might be the coolest animal at the Zoo, according to Mandy Hester, Primate World Lead Keeper. 
Though she’s older and has had a few health issues, she still loves to play with the younger gorillas and her best gorilla buddy, 21-year-old Kwisha.
“Roxie and Kwisha love to play together,” Hester said. “When the two of them are separated from the rest of the troop for husbandry training, they giggle, grumble and wrestle with each other. It’s great to see them support each other, since they are the two that are the lowest in dominance.” 
Gorillas are always live in troops, or groups. Within each troop, there is a hierarchy based on dominance.  The silverback gorilla is always at the top of the social structure and each female has their place below the male.
“Roxie may be the lowest ranked gorilla, but she’s the nicest,” Hester said. “She gets along with everyone in the troop and is great with the kids. Dembe, our youngest gorilla, can frequently be seen relaxing or playing on Roxie’s belly.”
Roxie is also great at learning new husbandry behaviors. Throughout her life, she’s had a few health issues, including one non-working kidney and abdominal and groin abscesses. Hester was able to train Roxie to place her toes on the training mesh and lean way back so Hester could spray an antiseptic on her sores. Hester says the training has been invaluable for caring for them, but also it’s a great indication of just how smart Roxie is.
“She learns complex behaviors very quickly,” Hester said. “She seems to really enjoy her training time, and is always eager to work with keepers. Because of how quickly she learns, she’s taught me a lot about animal training, and I’m a better animal keeper because of her.”
Hester is currently training Roxie to voluntarily participate in heart ultrasounds. Roxie is asked to press her chest up to the training mesh, while Hester holds the ultrasound equipment to her heart for a short period of time.
“Since she’s higher in age, and we know that gorillas can have the same heart issues as older humans, we are attempting to proactively monitor her.” Hester said. “We are working with Rafiki on the same heart ultrasound training.”
Hester says she also loves what Roxie does after her session is over.
“After Roxie is done training, she stays and watches Kwisha’s training sessions,” Hester said. “It’s really amazing; she’s actually given Kwisha more confidence in her training and is a big comfort to her. She also occasionally gives extra encouragement and starts to clap during training.”
Roxie was never able to have offspring due to health issues in her younger years, but Hester says that she’s always been a natural caregiver to the gorilla kids, and that she’s an integral part of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo gorilla troop. 

June 19, 2014

World Giraffe Day - June 21

By: Andrea Bryant, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo  Giraffes/Lions Animal Keeper

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is home to one of the largest and most prolific giraffe herds in the country.  Our herd is currently comprised of 18 individuals with 198 giraffe calves born at the Zoo since the 1954.  With giraffes being such a common and successful zoo animal, wild giraffes must be doing well too, right?  Unfortunately the answer is no.  

Wild giraffe populations are declining due largely to human activities such as agricultural expansion, habitat loss, and poaching.  In 1999, there were an estimated 140,000 giraffes in Africa.  Today, fewer than 80,000 giraffes remain in the wild, a decline of more than 40% in just over a decade. 

Luckily, there is hope.  Field conservation organizations like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) are working to protect these amazing animals.  By collecting data on giraffe populations, locations, and behaviors, conservation initiatives can be enacted to help save giraffes. 

To help raise public awareness of the “silent crisis” wild giraffe populations are currently undergoing, GCF and zoos around the world are gearing up for the first ever World Giraffe Day on Saturday, June 21 – our zoo will celebrate the event from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in African Rift Valley.

Please join Cheyenne Mountain Zoo as we celebrate the longest-necked animal on the longest day of the year. At the event we will celebrate the gentle giants while learning what can be done to help save wild giraffes.  Activities for World Giraffe Day include: learning how reducing your carbon footprint, taking a pledge to save giraffes, testing your skills in identifying individual Cheyenne Mountain Zoo giraffes based on their spot patterns and participating in a giraffe parade. 

For more information, please visit:  http://www.cmzoo.org/docs/WorldGiraffeDay2014.pdf.

June 5, 2014

Strawberry Avocado Salsa

This week, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's chefs mixed up a recipe for strawberry-avocado salsa. This versatile salsa is a great topping for pork, burgers, sandwiches, pitas, crackers, bread and more!

Strawberry Avocado Salsa


  • 1 cup finely chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped peeled avocado
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped seeded jalapeƱo pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar


  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; toss gently. Serve immediately.

May 30, 2014

Flight for the plight of vultures

When Jenyva Turner, Lead Animal Keeper in African Rift Valley, heard that there was an opportunity for her to travel to Africa to talk to the people of Botswana about vulture conservation, she knew she needed to go. Vultures have been her focus and a passion for several years. She was the champion of the Zoo’s Cape vulture Quarters for Conservation (Q4C) project from 2009-2013 and, with your quarter votes, raised $30,000 for vulture conservation!
Q4C funds were used to support VulPro, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has identified an urgent need to protect threatened vulture species and create a partnership between the southern African countries of Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia.  Vultures do not acknowledge international borders, flying between countries in search of food and roosting and nesting areas. Therefore, these countries need to work together to address several issues, especially poisonings, that are affecting their decline – this is how the “Flight for the Plight of Vultures” campaign was born.
With generous help from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s docents and support from the Zoo, Turner joined Kerri Wolter of VulPro in a week-long awareness campaign that traveled around Botswana, visiting the key communities of Kasane, Maun, Ghanzi, Gaborone, and spreading the word about the plight of vultures today.
“There are not many things that I prefer doing more than talking to people about vultures!” Turner said. “However, the audience that I faced in Botswana was vastly different from the guests I speak to in the U.S.”
Turner and Wolter spoke to members of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Department of Tourism, local police, local safari guides, farmers, members of various NGO conservation organizations and her favorite group to speak with - school children.
“In all, we spoke with 400 people,” Turner said. “Our focus was to help people understand how important vultures are in our ecosystems and how they personally are benefited by the presence of vultures. We also talked a great deal about how we all need to help protect vultures, no matter where we live – Colorado or Africa.”
She reported that the feedback they received was mostly positive.
“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to educate people all over the world,” Turner said. “We need to work together to find solutions for helping not just vultures, but all wildlife.” 
As Turner was leaving Africa, several people expressed a desire to serve on a task force to address issues that wildlife face, which made her hopeful about the future of African vultures. “I have been asked to return to Botswana by Birdlife Botswana to continue visiting schools and talking with children and educating the next generation of responsible stewards of our earth,” Turner said. “I would also like to continue developing the Zoo’s partnership with VulPro to expand our educational reach in South Africa. After all - together we can make a difference!”