Working to Preserve Native Wildlife
The Maryland Zoo is committed to preserving all wildlife, including native wildlife, and to this end maintains a strong working relationship with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The Zoo participates annually in DNR’s Black Bear Project, sending a veterinary team to western Maryland to work side by side with DNR colleagues, lend support to an important wildlife management program, and contribute to the conservation of the American black bear, a flagship native species. The Zoo also works closely with DNR to monitor and protect other native species, including endangered bog turtles, brown pelicans in the Chesapeake Bay, and snowy owls wintering in Maryland. Eastern box turtles and many other native species thrive in the dense forest of the Zoo and the rest of Druid Hill Park. The Zoo has been studying box turtles in the park since the 1990’s, and continues to monitor the population’s health and movements in the ecosystem they share with us.
Click the sections below to learn more about different projects.
Yearly, the Maryland Zoo veterinary team works with colleagues at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on their annual Black Bear Den Survey, which has assessed the health and reproduction of the American black bear population in Western Maryland since 1999. During the surveys, bear mothers, also known as sows, and their cubs are tagged and microchipped for future identification and are examined for overall health. Adult bears are also fitted with VHF radio collars so that their movements can be monitored throughout the year. Blood samples are taken from the bears and tested for general health at the Zoo’s hospital laboratory. Tests are also performed to look for infectious and zoonotic (able to be spread between humans and people) diseases. This information aids the Zoo’s veterinarians and the Maryland DNR to determine the overall health of the state’s bear population as well as the risk of disease to the bears, other wildlife, pets and people that live in proximity to black bears in our state.
The Zoo has been studying Eastern box turtles that reside in Druid Hill Park since 1996. When a turtle is found on zoo grounds, the animal and veterinary teams collect important data on the individual–including body measurements, blood samples, and x-rays of females to check for eggs—and a microchip is placed under the skin for future identification. A subset of these turtles also receives radio transmitters so that their locations and habits can be monitored by staff and participating citizen scientists, which include students and volunteers. As of September 2018, 132 wild turtles have been recorded, tagged and released. Because the species is in decline across much of their range in the eastern US, monitoring their health and movements is key to gaining the knowledge needed to conserve them.
In addition, a large array of injured wildlife, ranging from peregrine falcons to hummingbirds and snakes to turtles, found in the park are treated at the Zoo’s animal hospital. In 2018, the Maryland Zoo’s rehabilitation efforts gained international recognition after a turtle’s severe injury, a fractured plastron (bottom shell), required the hospital team to build a customized LEGO wheelchair to allow the turtle adequate mobility during his recovery.
Though their range spans from New York State to Georgia, one third of all bog turtles are found in Maryland. A critically endangered species, the bog turtle population has decreased by 50% within the state since 1980. This drop in number is mainly the result of disappearing wetlands, many being drained for commercial or agricultural development.
The Zoo plays an active role in bog turtle conservation through rehabilitation efforts and sending staff into the field to assist the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with the annual monitoring of the remaining bog turtle sites in the state of Maryland. The Zoo’s veterinary and animal staff are currently collaborating with the DNR on a health and genetic study to learn more about the risks that Maryland bog turtles face.
Over the past decade, Maryland Zoo staff has assisted Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist Dave Brinker in documenting the health of brown pelican chicks found on islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Each summer, Brinker places identification bands on over 90% of newly hatched chicks within the Chesapeake Bay in order to track the species’ migratory patterns. Maryland Zoo veterinary staff assists the DNR State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Cindy Driscoll in collecting blood and swab samples from a subset of the banded chicks which are then tested for West Nile Virus, Avian Influenza, and other parameters to monitor the health of the brown pelican population.
Since its creation in 2014, Project SNOWstorm has carried out an ongoing, comprehensive ecological and health study of North American snowy owls. Researchers outfit the owls with GPS transmitters in order to track the birds’ migratory routes and hunting patterns, and also collect feather and blood samples to learn more about their diet, genetics, and overall health. As a partner organization, the Maryland Zoo collects blood samples from snowy owls that find their way into Maryland in the winter. The Zoo also plays the role as the central laboratory for all samples taken from snowy owls across the USA when biologists are placing satellite transmitters. These samples are tested in the veterinary laboratory at MZIB to assess the owls’ basic health and sent to participating laboratories to determine the level of man-made toxins in the owls’ blood (University of Pennsylvania) and infectious diseases. In addition to compiling an unprecedented amount of data on the behavior and movement of these birds, the results of the project will allow researchers to identify human caused health issues in snowy owls and make informed decisions to protect this amazing species.