Making Change for Wildlife
What happens when you visit the Zoo? Maybe you get to see a type of animal you’ve never encountered before, or you might learn something new about a species you’ve seen many times. But did you know that you’re also making positive change for wildlife? That’s right! Each time you visit Zoo Atlanta, a portion of your ticket goes into our Conservation Fund, which is used to support field conservation projects around the world.
One of the many initiatives supporting this fund is the Quarters for Conservation (QFC) program, which invites Zoo team members to champion conservation projects. Since its inception in 2016, QFC has supported 18 different programs for species ranging from tiny pollinators to Earth’s largest land mammals. We recently kicked off the 2023-2024 program year with three projects helping wildlife close to home. This year’s projects happen to all be based in the Americas. Learn more about each project below, and don’t forget to vote for your favorite project to help them earn some extra funding!
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in the spring and summer months, you likely see a plethora of native birds and may not realize that this group of animals faces serious challenges. A recent study found that North American bird populations have suffered a net loss of almost 30% compared to 1970 population levels. This is concerning in and of itself, but especially so in consideration of the essential ecological services birds provide. That’s why North American Songbird SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) is partnering with zoos and aquariums to reduce threats to North American songbirds.
If you want to help North American songbirds, you have lots of options! Buildings of all shapes and sizes can be dangerous for birds both day and night, including our homes. Fortunately, we can make simple modifications to make them safer for birds, like applying window collision stickers and turning lights off when it’s dark outside. Other things you can do include growing native plants in your outdoor space, which will provide native birds with food, shelter, and resources for nest building. And keeping feline (cat) members of your family indoors helps all sorts of small animals that may fall victim to their hunting prowess.
We’ll need to migrate south for the winter to learn about the other projects for this program year, which are both based in South America and focus on mammals. Chinchillas, sloths and many other species are losing habitat to development, mining, illegal logging, climate change, and many other causes. Though they face similar threats, successful conservation requires a unique approach based on a species’ behavioral biology, natural history, and the unique ways threats affect the species.
Imagine you’re a sloth. You spend nearly your entire life hanging from tree branches. One day, there’s a big gap in the familiar canopy you rely on to find food and shelter. Any arboreal (tree-living) species would feel vulnerable crossing the ground, but many could probably scurry quickly across the open space to reach safety on the other side. Sloths, however, cannot do this. You thought they moved slowly in trees? Well, they move even slower on the ground, and doing so occupies one of their few defense mechanisms – their claws. So, it’s no surprise that they would rather use things like power lines to move between forest patches. Unfortunately, these power lines are not always well insulated, resulting in electrocution and other injuries.
The Sloth Conservation Project is the branch of the Jaguar Rescue Center focused on rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing injured, sick, or orphaned sloths back into protected habitat. They are also working to make the environment safer for sloths by collaborating with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute to insulate power lines. You can also help protect sloth habitat by looking for the Forest Stewardship (FSC) logo when you shop. This logo tells you that wood or paper was produced in a way that reduced impacts on wildlife.
Were you surprised when I mentioned that chinchillas are experiencing habitat loss? If you’ve only ever been exposed to chinchillas as pets, you may be surprised to hear that both species of wild chinchillas are endangered! While hunting for their soft fur decimated their populations in the past, mining in the Chilean highlands is the greatest current threat to their populations. The Chinchilla Conservation Project is a research initiative with a goal to document and monitor existing wild chinchilla colonies and use this information to expand and connect protected habitats. If you want to help, you can recycle electronic devices so the minerals in them can be reused, which reduces the need to mine for new minerals in wildlife habitats.
These are just a few of the Zoo’s current conservation partners, but many more are making positive change for wildlife. Follow us on social media for updates on these projects throughout the year and to learn about Zoo Atlanta’s other conservation partnerships. Whether you buy a single-day ticket or visit the Zoo year-round as a Member, your visit strengthens the capacity of these conservation projects. On behalf of wildlife near and far, thank you!