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Conservation Action Network


In 1998, the Memphis Zoo created the Conservation Action Network (C.A.N.), the grants division for supporting local, national and international conservation projects for endangered species and their habitats. We firmly believe that every zoo C.A.N. make a difference for the continued survival of the animals and plants we hold in public trust. Since its inception, the zoo has awarded more than $300,000 to zoo staff and our research associates for conducting projects in the U.S., Brazil, China, Latin America, Caribbean, Russia and Africa. The application process is by invite only and has allowed the Memphis Zoo to focus on its core mission for select species and habitats while supporting the professional development and experience of our employees and partner institutions. Each spring the zoo awards $25,000-$40,000 in grant funds to projects that are peer-reviewed by our external scientific advisory committee (SAC). Once these evaluations are completed the CAN board members review the comments and make funding decisions in late April.

The Memphis Zoo raises conservation dollars through several venues including operational support, wishing well fountains throughout the zoo, Individual donors, conservation fund check-off on zoo membership, donation boxes, and our annual fundraiser Wild World of Wines and Beer. The success of our projects has been the result of a grass-roots effort and we thank the Memphis community for all their support throughout the years. Your continued support of C.A.N. is greatly appreciated – if you would like to make a donation to C.A.N. and help save our remaining wildlife please click here to find out how. We would like to Thank our Scientific Advisory Committee and C.A.N. board for all their time and resources they devote to making the Memphis Zoo a world-renowned conservation organization.

Scientific Advisory Committee:

  • Dr. Judy Cole – University of Memphis
  • Dr. Karyl Buddington – University of Memphis
  • Dr. Tara Massad – Rhodes College
  • Dr. Mary Ogilvie – Christian Brothers University
  • Dr. Ashli Brown – Mississippi State University

Conservation Board

  • Dorothy Kirsch
  • Steve Priddy
  • Joe DeWane
  • Maria Leggett

C.A.N. Grants 2013-2014

Detecting Chinese giant salamanders in the Qinling Mountains
The Chinese giant salamander is the largest amphibian in the world. Its wild population has declined sharply since the 1950s and was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2004. In order to protect this endangered species, it is important to obtain basic information such as where they are and how many are there. Researchers traditionally surveyed wild giant salamander population with “bow hooks” or “turning substrate” method. However, as the wild population declined, the two methods became inefficient. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a new technology, which became more popular in aquatic studies recently. The approach of eDNA is efficient for detecting rare, secluded, and nocturnal species, such as the Chinese giant salamander, which is hard to find using traditional methods. It would be valuable to develop an eDNA protocol appropriate for detecting the Chinese giant salamander, since there has been no such kind of study in China yet. We aim to test this method and compare its efficiency with “bow hooks” method before applying it to a broader region to verify the presence of the salamander, and provide information for its population management.

Developing methods for the collection, characterization, cold storage and cryopreservation of snake sperm
Common to longleaf pine ecosystems, two endangered snakes, the Louisiana pine snake and the eastern indigo snake breed readily in captivity when allowed to hibernate. The highly endangered Louisiana pine snake has had successful breeding colonies. Unfortunately, habitat loss and fragmentation are contributing to wild populations declining, and genetic loss is ongoing. Removal of animals from the wild to increase captive breeding is now nearly impossible due to increased regulatory restrictions. Thus, it is essential to develop assisted reproductive techniques such as cryopreservation and artificial insemination (AI). However efficient protocols of semen collection, semen evaluation, short-term storage, cryopreservation, and AI need further investigation and optimization. The bull snake is a good model species to develop cryopreservation protocols and AI methods to be used in the endangered species.  Moreover, using the bull snake as a model will enable determination of more accurate of sperm characteristics, appropriate storage solution for cryopreservation, longevity of spermatozoa during cold storage, the effects of cryopreservation on sperm quality upon reactivation and AI protocols with the ultimate goal to use the knowledge we gain to collect and gene bank two highly endangered North American snake species. 

Translocation of imperiled bird species in the Northern Marianas Islands to snake free Islands  
The introduced brown tree snake has decimated forest birds on the island of Guam, and now poses a threat to endemic species in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). To avoid further extirpations and extinctions, translocation of birds to sanctuary islands free of the snake has been proposed and undertaken over the last several years through the Mariana Avifauna Conservation (MAC) Program, in partnership with the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). Preliminary results of DFW surveys show successful breeding on the sanctuary island of Sarigan for two Marianas endemic species translocated from Saipan, the bridled white-eye and the golden white-eye. The Mariana fruit dove was most recently translocated from Saipan to Sarigan, and breeding surveys will be conducted in 2013. The primary goal of Phase Nine will be to translocate a seed population of the Tinian monarch, found only on Tinian, to the snake- and human-free managed reserve island Guguan. In addition to the imminent threat of the snake, the monarch faces habitat alteration due to expansion of US military operations on Tinian. Bridled white-eyes may also be translocated from Tinian to Guguan as resources permit. The secondary goal will be to collect Tinian monarchs and Mariana fruit doves for captive breeding programs in US zoos. Captive breeding populations will provide a secondary safeguard against extinction and offer potential research colonies to learn more about these rare birds.

Evaluating sperm for cryopreservation in the Natterjack toad  
To preserve threatened species, cryopreservation of sperm for assisted reproductive techniques is important.  However, many factors affect semen quality, such as seasonality, and each species has a different set of parameters for cryopreserving sperm.  For frogs and toads, sperm has never been frozen in any Iberian species despite having many threatened species only found in Spain.  In this study, we will evaluate the effect of seasonality on frozen sperm.  Moreover, we will also assess the status of the DNA fragmentation, or how much the DNA strands have broken apart, as it relates to successful embryo development.  This will be the first time that this factor has been evaluated in an amphibian and related to embryo survival. Therefore, the results from this study could be an important step toward the ex situ conservation of endangered amphibians.

 Examining the seasonality of breeding in male and female bears 
Genetic isolation and loss of diversity is of concern for both ex situ and in situ populations of giant panda and polar bear. Testosterone metabolites found in giant panda and polar bear urine will be examined to improve captive breeding success and provide greater understanding of bear reproductive biology. Urinary testosterone will be examined through enzyme immunoassay and further identification of testosterone metabolites verified through liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. In male giant panda, urinary testosterone will be compared during breeding and non-breeding seasons for typical (February-May) and atypical (June-January) female estrus. Urinary testosterone in male and female polar bears will be compared between breeding and non-breeding seasons, and longitudinal profiles compared to the testosterone metabolite patterns found in the feces. These data will allow zoo managers to non-invasively monitor optimal testicular function in males and identify sexual receptivity in females. Knowledge regarding the occurrence and duration of sexual behavior and receptivity of male and female bears will help guide husbandry decisions, and allow managers to plan breeding pair introductions. In addition, this study will allow for a better understanding of the poor reproductive rates of bears in captivity and provide information regarding the concurrence of behavioral and physiological cues for successful breeding.   
Developing a conservation landscape plan for the Memphis Zoo  
The Memphis Zoo Horticulture Department is dedicated to the conservation of the Memphis Zoological Society’s arboreal heritage, and is committed to environmentally sustainable initiatives. The Memphis Zoo was built in Overton Park in 1906, yet many of the trees from that era are aging and creating a hazard for the Memphis Zoo’s animals, guests, and staff. Furthermore, some of the new non-native species planted in more recent years by horticultural staff require greater water resources than the native species. A need to create an Arboreal Sustainable Landscape Management Plan was established when it was discovered that the Memphis Zoo does not have a Tree Inventory or Tree Replacement Plan. Thus, we propose to complete an Arboreal Sustainable Landscape Management Plan, by which Phase 1 consists of a Geographical Information System (GIS) survey of the current tree distribution across the Memphis Zoo. The main goal of this initial survey is to further assist in Phase 2 of the Arboreal Sustainable Landscape Management Plan that will focus on replacing aging trees with appropriate native species.  By planting trees that provide shade, design elements, and sustainability for the next generation, we anticipate reducing the environmental footprint of the Memphis Zoo. The ultimate goal of Memphis Zoo’s Arboreal Sustainable Landscape Management Plan is to create a Zoo Arboretum certified by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. 

Comparing fresh and frozen sperm in boreal toads from the southern Rocky Mountains  
In response to global declining amphibian populations, captive assurance colonies are being established in order to safeguard genetic diversity and propagate threatened populations through breeding and reintroductions. One of the main challenges to the long-term success of such captive breeding programs (CBPs) is effective genetic management of the breeding population to ensure that the genetic variability in captive cohorts is representative of the population as a whole. The southern Rocky Mountain population of boreal toad has experienced substantial declines over the last three decades, resulting from increasing environmental pressures and disease. The proposed study will investigate the potential for fertilization of eggs from captive females using fresh and frozen sperm collected from wild individuals. Success in this project will provide a means to increase the fitness of captive colonies by introducing genetics from the wild and reintroducing genes using frozen-thawed sperm, aiding in the long-term genetic management of this species. 

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