This particular species of zebra is an endangered species found only in northern Kenya and southeastern Ethiopia. There are less than 2,500 left in the wild today.
It is up to foals like Bakari to rebuild the Grevy’s zebra population. As his new name suggests, Bakari may be the one to succeed in doing just that.
Due to the conservation efforts and support the Phoenix Zoo provides, Bakari’s destiny for success is more possible now than ever before. Currently, Phoenix Zoo is a partner of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, an organization dedicated to the conservation of the species.
The zoo remains active in conservation of zebras in the wild and at the zoo. Since their partnership began, the Phoenix Zoo has seen 19 births of Grevy’s zebras. The conservation efforts of the Phoenix Zoo reach many more species than the Grevy’s zebras. The Phoenix Zoo has two separate components to their overall conservation program, each carrying out different tasks.
“People don’t realize how active the Phoenix Zoo is,” said Stuart Wells, director of conservation and science at the Phoenix Zoo, “We’re very proud of that.”
Phoenix Zoo’s conservation efforts began in 1963 when it began working with the Arabian Oryx, a species that had begun going extinct. Originally, the Phoenix Zoo had nine Oryx which they began breeding.
By 1972, the Arabian Oryx had gone extinct in the wild. In 1982, the zoo was able to release bred Oryx into the wild. Last year, the species upgraded from endangered to threatened. If the population continues to grow as it has been, it may be able to be removed from the list altogether.
Currently, the zoo works with seven local native species and funds an international grant program. It also partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The work done with local species varies based on the present needs of each specific population. For example, there are two components to the local conservation efforts of the Chiricahua leopard frog, a species the Phoenix Zoo began working with in 1994.
One component is a head start program. With the help of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, eggs are brought to the Phoenix Zoo to be raised.
After they reach an age where survival can happen they are reintroduced into their natural habitat. This process, called the recover plan, is the second component. Once the frogs have matured and are likely to survive in the wild they are placed into specific areas that need augmentation to repopulate the areas.
They have already seen the success of 16,000 frogs, said Wells.
Another component of Phoenix Zoo’s conservation efforts is the International Grant Program that began in 2009. Each year people have the opportunity to submit an application to receive a grant to help fund a conservation program abroad. These programs are dedicated to field conservation.
It “gets the boots on the ground,” said Wells.
The program provides funds to people in the animals’ habitats leading to active participation, whether it is habit restoration or counting sightings to know how much of an animal population exists. Last year’s cycle resulted in the Phoenix Zoo’s support of 17 projects in 13 countries.
Staff members also have the opportunity to apply for the Staff Field Conservation Grants Program. If chosen, members have the opportunity to go to international locations to complete fieldwork. Others have the opportunity to “spotlight,” which means they will work with local species.
In the past 25 years the conservation efforts provided by zoos have changed drastically. Originally zoos were there for educational purposes and simply served as a buffer against extinction. There were no active efforts to create change.
Each year, more zoos have changed their conservation efforts to become more active participants in extinction prevention. Instead of simply housing extinct animals, zoos are beginning to practice field conservation by creating programs such as those already in existence at the Phoenix Zoo.
“The Phoenix Zoo is ahead in many cases than what zoos are doing now,” said Wells.
As for the future? “We will make sure we continue with that legacy of conservation locally and internationally,” said Wells.
The zoo is in the beginning stages of piloting a new conservation program for the Mount Graham Red Squirrel, a species only found in the Piñaleno Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The species was added to the endangered species list in 1987 because it was known to be rare and at risk of extinction due to it being an isolated population of red squirrel. Currently there are only around 240 Mount Graham Red Squirrels left in Arizona.
The program, the Piñaleno Ecosystem Restoration Project, will help restore the squirrels’ natural habitat and protect it from the threat of fires. The other component is the captive breeding pilot program, which will be carried out at the Phoenix Zoo. This new program would use knowledge to help breeding and further develop knowledge about the species to help enhance its survival.
Much of the research on the Mount Graham Red Squirrel came from Dr. John Koprowski, a professor of wildlife conservation and management at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“The research of my students and I has provided insight into why numbers have remained low,” said Koprowski.
Koprowski’s research has provided useful information about the threats facing the Mount Graham Red Squirrel. Understanding why the animal is endangered can help provide solutions.
For example, Koprowski’s research has led to the discovery that the female only produces one litter in her lifetime.
“My other research, and hopefully continued collaboration with the Phoenix Zoo on this and other imperiled species, will enable use to learn more about how we can best conserve biodiversity,” said Koprowski.
Although there are still questions regarding the fate of the Mount Graham Red Squirrel, one thing is certain. The Phoenix Zoo will continue its efforts in local and international species conservation and restoration.
“The Phoenix Zoo is one of the ‘new breeds’ of zoos that realize the incredibly important role that they can play in the conservation of biological diversity,” said Koprowski. “The zoo has increased its standing and is emerging as a true leader in the field.”