Washington snowy owl hit by bus, recovering


This video from the USA is called Snowy Owl Treated at Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

From the Washington Post in the USA:

Snowy owl doing well at rehab facility: Was hit by a bus Thursday morning

By Michael E. Ruane and Peter Hermann, Updated: Friday, January 31, 4:04 PM

The snowy owl that was struck by a Metro bus in downtown Washington on Thursday was reported to be in stable condition Friday.

“The snowy owl is doing well this morning,” Alicia DeMay, clinic director of City Wildlife, the D.C. rehabilitation facility that is caring for the owl, said in an e-mail.

“Today we will be doing the very important X-rays needed to see how extensive the break is in the toe,” she said. In addition, she said, “the blood work should be back today which will tell how well the internal organs are functioning and the sex of our famous bird.”

The owl was hit by the bus early Thursday near 15th and I streets NW, according to D.C. police spokesman Araz Alali.

It was brought by police to the National Zoo, where it was treated and examined, and was then turned over to the rehabilitation facility Thursday.

It suffered a broken toe on its left foot, and may have suffered internal and head injuries as well. The rehab facility will care for it until it is well enough to be released back into the wild.

The owl captivated Washingtonians in recent frigid days when it made several appearances near McPherson Square and outside The Washington Post. It has striking white feathers and yellow eyes. Snowy owls are native to the Arctic, but can venture south in search of food.

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Saving wetlands and their wildlife


This video from the USA says about itself:

(Recorded in 1989) A wacky and entertaining video featuring Bill Nye “The Science Guy” talking about the importance of wetlands. Produced by the Washington State Department of Ecology with funds from the National Oceanic Administration (NOAA) under the Coastal Zone Management Act.

From the University of Essex in England today:

Helping protect the world’s wetland landscapes

23 minutes ago

Action to help preserve some of the world’s most valuable ecosystems is behind a major international project, led by the University of Essex.

The culmination of the five-year project has been the development of an integrated action planning toolkit on wetland conservation and management, which can be adapted to help provide bespoke solutions to protect valuable ecosystems around the globe.

Launched today at events in China, India and Vietnam, the Wetland Resources Action Planning (WRAP) toolkit offers researchers, technical planners and policymakers a systematic approach to conserve and to sustainably manage wetland ecosystems and biodiversity. …

This major initiative focused on highlands in Asia as they often harbor endemic species not found elsewhere or species threatened with extinction globally, such as the marbled eel in China and the golden mahseer and snow trout in India. What is concerning environmentalists is that these valuable ecosystems are increasingly under pressure from deforestation, land-use change, overfishing, flooding and worsening climate change impacts.

United States people sick from salmonella during government shutdown


This video from the USA says about itself:

Raw Chicken Responsible in Salmonella Heidelberg Outbreak; Foster Farms Implicated

15 Feb 2013

An outbreak of salmonella in 12 states, but mostly Oregon and Washington, has been linked to Foster Farms, a major player in the chicken industry.

By James Brewer in the USA:

US shutdown cripples investigation of salmonella outbreak

11 October 2013

An outbreak of Salmonella poisoning had sickened 278 Americans in 18 states, mostly centered in California, as of October 7. The source of the bacteria has been traced by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to three Foster Farms chicken plants in California, Oregon and Washington. In the face of this, the government agencies responsible for conducting inspections and investigations into foodborne diseases are prohibited from conducting their work—or even entering their offices—as a result of the shutdown of the US government.

Of the 12,825 employees of the CDC, 8,754 have been furloughed. In a remarkable comment, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden posted a statement on his twitter feed: “CDC had to furlough 8,754 people. They protected you yesterday, can’t tomorrow. Microbes/other threats didn’t shut down. We are less safe.”

Frieden stated that the pause in the CDC’s work is causing potentially permanent damage to research and crippling the CDC’s ability to track foodborne diseases and other infectious illnesses. “If an experiment was set up in the lab, a project was started, it may be that it could be stopped and resumed, but it may also be that there’s real damage to that.”

A CDC staffer told Maryn McKenna of Wired on Monday, “I know that we will not be conducting multi-state outbreak investigations. States may continue to find outbreaks, but we won’t be doing the cross-state consultation and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders.”

McKenna added: “That means that the lab work and molecular detection that can link far-apart cases and define the size and seriousness of outbreaks are not happening. At the CDC, which operates the national foodborne-detection services FoodNet and PulseNet, scientists couldn’t work on this if they wanted to; they have been locked out of their offices, labs and emails. (At a conference I attended last week, 10 percent of the speakers did not show up because they were CDC personnel and risked being fired if they traveled even voluntarily.)”

On Monday, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a “notice of intended enforcement” to the CEO of Foster Farms chicken producers. The notice threatened to remove FSIS inspectors from the three plants, which would mean the plants would be required by law to close.

Foster Farms’ response was a press release claiming to be working with the FSIS and the CDC “to reduce incidence of Salmonella Heidelberg on raw chicken products” from the three factories. The company claims that it “has instituted a number of additional food safety practices, processes and technology throughout company facilities that have already proven effective in controlling Salmonella in its Pacific Northwest operations earlier this year.”

Despite the public health alert issued by the FSIS “due to concerns that illness caused by Salmonella Heidelberg is associated with chicken products produced by Foster Farms at three facilities in California,” no recall has been put into effect.

The company is conducting a cynical public relations campaign to enable it to conduct business as usual with impunity. It claims that despite the health alert and the FSIS “notice of intended enforcement,” the agency has publicly assured the safety of Foster Farms chicken. It adds, “Foster Farms chicken is safe to eat but, as with all raw chicken, consumers must use proper preparation, handling and cooking practices.”

Salmonella Heidelberg is an aggressive strain of antibiotic-resistant salmonella, which is responsible for outbreaks in 2004, 2012 and earlier this year. The disease can have lifelong consequences ranging from arthritis to kidney trouble to heart disease.

According to Monday’s alert, “On July 1, 2013, FSIS was notified of a Salmonella Heidelberg cluster with Pulse Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern JF6X01.0258. Since that time, CDC has defined the outbreak to include six additional patterns … as part of the case outbreak definition.”

It is widely known that the rampant overuse of antibiotics has contributed to strengthening the strain of Salmonella Heidelberg against antibiotics such as ceftriaxone as well as ampicillin and ciproflaxin, all important for treating young children against salmonella infections.

The CDC, like many other government agencies, has been operating under “minimal support,” and until Tuesday had only two of 80 foodborne pathogen-analyzing staff on duty, according to a report by ABC News.

As a last-minute measure, 30 CDC staff members were brought back on the job Wednesday to work on the case. The CDC gives investigatory backup to the FSIS, but as Director Frieden says, “We don’t have the systems up. We don’t have early warning systems as robust as they should be or could be.”

Since the shutdown, some research and reference labs have gone from staffs of 80 to as little as two. The CDC’s hospital-acquired infections phone line—which Frieden says receives about 100 calls a day—has also been shuttered. FSIS inspection staff is also crippled as a result of the shutdown, functioning at only 87 percent capacity.

On October 7, the CDC issued a report entitled, “Multistate Outbreak of Multidrug-Resistant Salmonella Heidelberg Infections Linked to Foster Farms Brand Chicken,” explaining the outbreak and that the investigation is ongoing. It is of concern that incidents occurring after September 1 may not yet be reported due to the two- to three-week timeline for reporting the illness. Clearly the shutdown of the investigatory body can have deadly consequences.

Among the many critically important services that have been devastated by the ongoing federal government shutdown, closure of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one that is likely to have severe long-term effects: here.

Saving Canada’s seabirds


This video from the USA says about itself:

The marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a small Pacific seabird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in California, Oregon and Washington. Rarely seen by humans, they spend the majority of their lives at sea forage, rest, and mate. For years, ornithologists did not know where this mysterious bird nested. It wasn’t until 1974 that the first marbled murrelet nest was discovered in North America. Generally, they nest in coastal old-growth forests, characterized by large trees with multiple canopy layers and moderate to high canopy closure.

From BirdLife:

Parks Canada aims to make seabird island IBAs rat-free

Fri, Sep 20, 2013

Following a pilot eradication on two smaller islets, Parks Canada staff are clearing invasive rats from two important seabird breeding islands in the north of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, a dense chain of islands in the Pacific off the coast of British Columbia.

Rat bait containing a rodenticide is being dropped on the islands by helicopter, a technique first developed in New Zealand, and also used by BirdLife to restore seabird breeding islands in the South Pacific.

The Haida Gwaii archipelago includes many Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) recognised for their populations of breeding seabirds. Parts or all of nine IBAs are protected by the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

“Half the world population of Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus breed on Haida Gwaii, and approximately half of these breed within the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve”, said Laurie Wein, the project’s manager at Parks Canada.

One of the two target islands, Murchison, lies within the Ramsay and Northern Juan Perez Sound Islands IBA, which also meets IBA criteria for its population of Cassin’s Auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus.

The Ancient Murrelet population is decreasing in North America. The global population is also suspected to be in decline owing to predation by invasive species, especially rats.

Parks Canada is carrying out the eradication work in conjunction with the Haida Nation.

“The introduction of rats to many of the forested islands of Haida Gwaii has meant the demise of several historic seabird nesting colonies,” said Haida Nation president Peter Lantin. “Of particular interest is the Ancient Murrelet, a species at risk. Also known as SGin Xaana or Night Bird, this was once an important food source for our people.”

Parks Canada representatives attended the 2013 BirdLife World Congress in Ottawa, Canada, to speak about their work in the islands.

“Nature Canada applauds the leadership of Parks Canada in the restoration of these globally important bird areas,“ said Stephen Hazell, Senior Conservationist at BirdLife co-Partner Nature Canada. “The coastal areas around Haida Gwaii are a global hotspot for marine breeding birds, and efforts to rid the islands of rats are a first step towards restoring the ecological integrity of these islands.”

The rats, which were brought by ships in the 18th and 19th centuries, eat eggs and chicks, and attack adult murrelets and other ground- and hole-nesting species. Ramsay Island, the largest and most important seabird breeding island in the Ramsay and Northern Juan Perez Sound Islands IBA, is currently rat-free. But as long as rats remain within the group, there is the ever-present danger that they could be accidentally introduced from nearby islands.

“Introduced predators are a major threat to colonial ground-nesting seabird species, including murrelets and storm petrels,” said Jon McCracken, Director of National Programs for Bird Studies Canada (BirdLife co-partner) and co-chair of the birds subcommittee for COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. “Bird Studies Canada is strongly supportive of efforts by Parks Canada and the Haida Nation to protect seabirds by eliminating rats from islands in the Haida Gwaii.”

Populations of Endangered Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus, Leach’s [Petrel] Oceanodroma leucorhoa and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel O. furcata, and Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani are also expected to recover once the rats are gone.

Nearly half a million seabirds die in gillnets every year, but solutions exist: here.

Crows’ intelligence, new research


This video is called Joshua Klein: The intelligence of crows.

From Scientific American:

Crows Show Off Their Social Skills

New findings on crows’ intelligence lend perspective on how social smarts evolve

By Harvey Black

August 26, 2013

The intelligence of the corvid family—a group of birds that includes crows, ravens, magpies, rooks and jackdaws—rivals that of apes and dolphins. Recent studies are revealing impressive details about crows’ social reasoning, offering hints about how our own interpersonal intelligence may have evolved.

One recent focus has been on how these birds respond to the sight of human faces. For example, crows take to the skies more quickly when an approaching person looks directly at them, as opposed to when an individual nears with an averted gaze, according to a report by biologist Barbara Clucas of Humboldt State University and her colleagues in the April issue of Ethology. The researchers walked toward groups of crows in three locations in the Seattle area, with their eyes either on the birds or on some point in the distance. The crows scattered earlier when the approaching person was looking at them, unlike other animals that avoid people no matter what a person is doing.

Clucas speculates that ignoring a human with an averted gaze is a learned adaptation to life in the big city. Indeed, many studies have shown that crows are able to learn safety behaviors from one another. For example, John Marzluff of the University of Washington (who co-authored the aforementioned paper with Clucas) used masked researchers to test the learning abilities of crows. He and his colleagues ventured into Seattle parks wearing one of two kinds of masks. The people wearing one kind of mask trapped birds; the others simply walked by. Five years later the scientists returned to the parks with their masks. The birds present at the original trapping remembered which masks corresponded to capturing—and they passed this information to their young and other crows. All the crows responded to the sight of a researcher wearing a trapping mask by immediately mobbing the individual and shrieking.

Although humans take it for granted, this type of social learning is cognitively complex and rare in the animal kingdom, according to Marzluff. “It’s one thing to learn from one’s own experience and another to observe that happening to other individuals and infer it could happen to you,” he explains.

A crow recognizes human faces using the same visual pathways in the brain as humans do. A 2012 study using PET scans found that when crows viewed human faces that they associated with threat or care, the birds had increased activity in the amygdala, thalamus and brain stem—areas related to emotional processing and fear learning. In response to threatening faces, areas that regulate perception, attention and fleeing also lit up.

The similarity to human brain activity and the parallels in social intelligence in general are significant because they may have evolved after our last common ancestor existed 300 million years ago. That would make our species’ similarities a case of convergent evolution, when two vastly different organisms develop the same traits independently. “Evolution has arrived at the same solution again and again,” says Alex Taylor, a crow expert at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Remarkable Abilities of Birds

Toolmakers

The woodpecker finch from the Galápagos Islands can use a twig to pry insects out of bark.

Kea parrots are keen problem solvers and can use sticks and string to push or pull food into reach.

Bird communication

An African grey parrot named Alex learned a vocabulary of more than 100 words and the labels of more than 35 objects. He could use words correctly in a sentence, saying “no,” “come here,” “I want a banana,” and “wanna go back,” when he was tired of testing and wanted to go to his cage to rest.

Siberian jays can modulate their alarm calls to warn their peers whether a nearby hawk is perched, searching for prey or attacking.

Food habits

Ravens can share information about the location of a carcass.

African honey-guides direct humans to bees’ nests, which contain honeycomb. When their unwitting accomplices crack open the nests, the birds scavenge leftover treats.

Scrub jays have strong spatial memory and can relocate food they have witnessed others hiding.

Visual skills

Pigeons can learn to distinguish a painting by Picasso from one by Monet.

As with crows, magpies can recognize a specific face out of thousands.

Bird’s-eye view: Why crows thrive in the urban jungle: here.

Sharks in Potomac river, USA


By Sarah Laskow in the USA:

One more reason to stay out of the Potomac: It’s got sharks

This was in the river. Really.
Buzz’s Marina
This was in the river. Really.

Three years ago, a D.C. fisherman nabbed the first bull shark to be caught in the Potomac River in 37 years. This week, he caught two more.

The first shark, the Washington Post reports, was found dead in John “Willy” Dean’s fishing net. The fishermen, not surprisingly, thought that would be their lone shark catch for the day. But then, the Post says:

[Willy's son] Greg Dean and the biologist returned to shore with the shark, and Willy Dean and deckhand Patrick Ridgell went back out to collect their ordinary daily catch. They saw fish acting strange, maybe even frightened, swimming closer to shore than usual. Then Willy Dean and Ridgell saw something that looked like “a big gray cloud,” as Greg Dean put it. And then a dorsal fin.

As a rule, sharks don’t really want to eat people. But these are some of the fiercest and most dangerous sharks on earth. They’re 300 pounds and more than eight feet long. No one really know what they’re doing in a river in D.C., but people keep seeing them there. The Post:

As for why the sharks have been spotted there in two of the past four Augusts, Greg Dean says it is anybody’s guess.

“I look at it like this. They’ve been out there for a very, very long time. And I guess a lot of them are figuring out when the water gets a little bit warmer, they can go a lot closer to the shore to get their food instead of being way out in the deep,” he said. “Everybody has their theories. That’s mine.”

So, uh, maybe don’t go swimming in the Potomac. Although it’s pretty disgusting anyway. The sharks may be in more danger from the river than we are from them.

Source

Sarah Laskow is a reporter based in New York City who covers environment, energy, and sustainability issues, among other things. Follow her on Twitter.

What is the Biggest Shark? A Chart Shows the Diversity of Shark Sizes: here.

Aliens of the Deep: Deep-sea Sharks Are the Hidden Stars of Shark Week – See more here.

Removing sharks from coral reefs causes declines in algae-eating fish that keep reefs healthy: here.

How to tag a shark (and keep all of your fingers): here.

October 2013. A team of scientists from Canada and Australia has discovered that a decline in shark populations is detrimental to coral reefs: here.

NSA spies confuse Washington and Egypt


From the Washington Post in the USA:

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds

NSA spying

By Barton Gellman, Friday, August 16, 2:48 AM E-mail the writer

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

Read the documents

NSA

NSA report on privacy violations

Read the full report with key sections highlighted and annotated by the reporter.

FISA court finds illegal surveillance

The only known details of a 2011 ruling that found the NSA was using illegal methods to collect and handle the communications of American citizens.

What’s a ‘violation’?

View a slide used in a training course for NSA intelligence collectors and analysts.

What to say (and what not to say)

How NSA analysts explain their targeting decisions without giving “extraneous information” to overseers.

More on this story:

FISA court judge: Ability to police U.S. spying program limited

FISA court judge: Ability to police U.S. spying program limited

Carol D. Leonnig 2:48 AM ET

Spy court chief judge says it must rely on government to say when it improperly spies on Americans.

NSA statements to The Post

NSA statements to The Post

Barton Gellman 3:10 AM ET

The National Security Agency offered these comments on The Post’s story on privacy violations.

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.[FISA judge: Ability to police U.S. spying program is limited]

The Obama administration has provided almost no public information about the NSA’s compliance record. In June, after promising to explain the NSA’s record in “as transparent a way as we possibly can,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole described extensive safeguards and oversight that keep the agency in check. “Every now and then, there may be a mistake,” Cole said in congressional testimony.

The NSA audit obtained by The Post, dated May 2012, counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications. Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.

In a statement in response to questions for this article, the NSA said it attempts to identify problems “at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures wherever possible, and drive the numbers down.” The government was made aware of The Post’s intention to publish the documents that accompany this article online.

“We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” a senior NSA official said in an interview, speaking with White House permission on the condition of anonymity. …

In the case of the collection effort that confused calls placed from Washington with those placed from Egypt, it is unclear what the NSA meant by a “large number” of intercepted calls. A spokesman declined to discuss the matter.

See also here.

Good North American bumlebee news


This video is called Bumblebee – genus Bombus.

From Reuters:

Return of long-absent bumblebee near Seattle stirs scientific buzz

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington

Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:07am EDT

A North American bumblebee species that all but vanished from about half of its natural range has re-emerged in Washington state, delighting scientists who voiced optimism the insect might eventually make a recovery in the Pacific Northwest.

Entomologists and bee enthusiasts in recent weeks have photographed several specimens of the long-absent western bumblebee – known to scientists as Bombus occidentalis – buzzing among flower blossoms in a suburban park north of Seattle.

US American zoo and world biodiversity


This video from the USA is called White-Naped Cranes at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute TBD.

The main source for this post is the United States Department of State. Which, like all governmental information, also on some other subjects and in some other countries, should never be taken for granted. And not in all zoos in the world, things go as well as in the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in the capital of the USA; as well as the United States Department of State claims that they go.

Here it comes:

America’s “Superzoo” Promotes Biodiversity, Conservation

By Jane Morse, 11 July 2013

Washington — If you think of a zoo as only a collection of sad animals locked in cages, then you haven’t been to the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.

About 2,000 animals representing 400 species live and thrive at this 66-hectare urban park located in northwest Washington. The only federally funded zoo in the United States, the National Zoo was founded in 1889 to provide leadership in animal care, science, education and sustainability.

More than 2 million people from around the globe visit this facility each year. What most people never get to see is an array of endangered species and the small army of scientists and wildlife experts who study them at the zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI).

Located on 1,295 hectares of rolling hills in Front Royal, Virginia, SCBI is devoted to training wildlife professionals in conservation biology and to propagating rare species through natural means and assisted reproduction.

“We are the focal point for conservation for the entire Smithsonian Institution,” Dr. Steven L. Monfort, SCBI’s director, told a group of foreign journalists who recently visited the facility as part of a program offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Press Center.

No other institution, Monfort said, has a pool of expertise to draw upon that includes some 500 scientists with doctoral degrees, plus graduate students, postdoctoral students and trainees. Since the 1960s, all this brainpower has enabled the zoo to publish 4,800 scientific papers, more than any other zoo.

SCBI’s mission, Monfort said, is not just to understand biodiversity, but to take an active role in saving it — both in the United States and around the world. SCBI scientists work in 25 countries, including Panama, Peru, Gabon, Namibia, Botswana, Thailand, Malaysia, Mongolia, China, India and Jamaica.

“We’re about fundamental science, but we are using science to help resolve conservation problems and work on helping to train the next generation of scientists,” Monfort said.

SCBI also has one of the top reproductive science programs in the world, according to Monfort. “That’s important,” he said, “because we know virtually nothing about the way that species reproduce.”

Of the 5,500 known mammal species, Monfort said, about 220, mostly lab and farm animals, are understood in terms of their reproductive biology and behavior. “So we are right at the point of the tip of the iceberg in understanding how some of these species reproduce,” he said. “We bring them into captivity and they don’t reproduce and we don’t know why.”

But slowly some of the 25 species of mammals and birds kept at SCBI are divulging their secrets. Case in point: cheetahs.

Cheetahs are listed as “vulnerable” by the World Conservation Union, which has more than 1,000 government and nongovernmental organizations as members. Only an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 cheetahs are thought to endure in the wild. The fastest animal on land could not, it seems, outrun the depredation of human conflict, hunting and habitat loss.

Only about 30 percent of cheetahs in captivity reproduce, Monfort said. But by patiently collecting and analyzing fecal samples, scientists have discovered that when female cheetahs are kept in groups, as is the case in some zoos, the dominant member will excrete a hormone that represses the reproductive cycles of the others.

In the wild, female cheetahs live alone, and a male will pass through the territories of various females to find a mate to accept him, Monfort explained. So at SCBI, four and a half hectares are devoted to female cheetahs, each of which has her own yard. The males are paraded past them. End result: Four litters have been born at SCBI. And while this may not seem like a lot, it is a success for a struggling species.

With some 25 percent of all vertebrate groups at risk of extinction around the world, we humans need to worry, Monfort said. “Humans are part of biodiversity,” he said. “Ecosystems help humans survive.”

If ecosystems collapse, Monfort said, humans lose out on climate regulation, flood and disease controls, and many other benefits, including those yet to be discovered.

Smithsonian Institution resources make it uniquely qualified to uncover some of the mysteries, Monfort said. In addition to its own work on conservation and saving endangered species, SCBI is an international hub for other training organizations.

As for America’s “superzoo” as well as many others, Monfort observed: “Zoos have evolved from being places with a circus-type menagerie for people’s entertainment. … Zoos are looking into becoming conservation centers.”

See the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute website for more information.

Learn more about the world’s largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums, nine research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world, at the Smithsonian Institution’s website.

Zoos & Wildlife Conservation: here.