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  • August 19, 2020 8:23 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    August 17, 2020

    CONTACT: Devin Murphy   Global Wildlife Conservation

                       Lindsay Renick Mayer
     Global Wildlife Conservation                    lrenickmayer@globalwildlife.org    202-422-4671                                       San Diego Zoo Global
                       Public Relations

    WEBSITE: SanDiegoZooGlobal.org


    President of Cameroon Suspends Logging Concessions

    in Ebo Forest

    Conservationists Urge an Inclusive

    Land-use Planning Process to Determine Ebo’s Future

    Nearly three weeks after the government of Cameroon approved a forestry management unit that would destroy Ebo Forest in the country’s Littoral Region, on Aug. 11 President Paul Biya withdrew the decree establishing a logging concession and suspended the process for a second concession. Conservationists welcomed the news and are hopeful that the government will embark on an inclusive land-use planning process with local communities to determine the future of Ebo Forest.

    Ebo Forest is the ancestral land of more than 40 communities. The local Banen communities depend on Ebo Forest for food and traditional medicines. Any non-consensual development of the forest would heavily affect them. Before Cameroon’s independence in 1960, many communities lived in the forest, and their patriarchs and matriarchs are buried there.

    Chief Victor Yetina of Ndikbassogog and a representative of the Association Munen Retour aux Sources, and Ekwoge Abwe, manager of the San Diego Zoo Central Africa Program’s Ebo Forest Research Project, issued a joint statement following the news of the suspension of the logging concession: 

    “We welcome the suspension, for now, of logging plans in Ebo Forest, but are concerned that its fate remains unclear,” the statement read. “This decision must be the first step toward recognition of Banen’s rights and forest protection. We call on the government of Cameroon to adhere to its international commitments, and to promote participatory mapping and land-use planning with local communities. Land tenure reform must have, at its core, the full recognition of communities’ rights. We also call on international donors and NGOs to support these processes with technical expertise and resources, both in Ebo Forest and across the Congo Basin.”

    Ebo Forest is a hotspot for conservation research and discoveries. The forest provides critical habitat for many species of endangered primates, including gorillas, chimpanzees and red colobus monkeys. Researchers believe that the small population of gorillas in Ebo may be a new subspecies, because they are geographically distinct from other populations of western lowland and cross river gorillas. In 2005, researchers discovered that the tool-wielding Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees in Ebo Forest are culturally distinct from any other group of chimpanzees in Africa. They are the only chimpanzees to use tools to both fish for termites and crack hard-shelled nuts.

    The Cameroonian government had signed an international agreement to protect gorillas and their habitats on July 20, but two days later, it issued a decree establishing a logging concession in Ebo Forest. 

    “The president’s intervention to halt the imminent destruction of this unique forest is hugely welcome,” said Bethan Morgan, San Diego Zoo Global’s Central Africa Program head, who has been working to conserve the great apes of Ebo since she first observed gorillas there in 2002. “We hope that the international community will seize this opportunity to work with the government of Cameroon to make Ebo a showcase for long-term conservation, in harmony with very challenged communities. These communities have been responsible for the preservation of the treasures of Ebo to date, and an inclusive land-use planning process is now needed to fully share information, in order to make clear and calculated judgements about the future of the forest and its people.”

    Ebo Forest makes up half of the Yabassi Key Biodiversity Area, making it a site of global importance to the planet’s overall health and the persistence of biodiversity. It sequesters 35 million tons of carbon. Botanical survey efforts, supported by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with Herbier National Camerounais, have resulted in the discovery of 29 species new to science, and the area is known to contain 52 globally threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Ebo is a proposed tropical Important Plant Area.

    “We are hugely happy with this positive news for Ebo,” said Martin Cheek, head of the team working on African Important Plant Areas at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “Not only is Ebo of incredible global importance for its documented plant diversity, but it is the most exciting forest in Cameroon in terms of the high numbers of new scientific discoveries of species still being found.”

    Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry signed two orders Feb. 4, proposing the classification of two forestry management units for timber extraction in Ebo Forest. The units would have destroyed the entire gorilla habitat and would have leveled the western part of the forest. The orders were posted publicly March 9, but that did not give the local communities living around Ebo sufficient time and opportunity to provide their input.

    “Ebo Forest is such an important site for primate conservation,” said Dirck Byler, great ape conservation director at Global Wildlife Conservation and vice chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Primate Specialist Group. “With their habitat shrinking across Africa, it’s especially good news that Ebo can continue to provide a home for gorillas and chimpanzees. Hopefully it will be protected from any unsustainable development in the future."

    In April, more than 60 conservationists, including experts from the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and Global Wildlife Conservation, signed a letter to Cameroon’s Prime Minister Joseph Ngute, asking that the plans for the logging concessions be put on hold and the government work with local communities to develop a sustainable land-use plan. They argued that adopting a more inclusive process would signal to Cameroon’s international partners during this critical year for biodiversity that the government intends to honor its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    About Global Wildlife Conservation

    Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. The organization maximizes its impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at globalwildlife.org.

    About San Diego Zoo Global

    Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to over 1 billion people annually, reaching 150 countries via social media, our websites and the San Diego Zoo Kids network in children’s hospitals in 12 countries. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible with support from our incredible donors committed to saving species from the brink of extinction. To learn more, visit SanDiegoZooGlobal.org or connect with us on Facebook.



    Link includes: Photo: A field camera photo of a gorilla in Ebo Forest in Cameroon. Ebo Forest is home to a small population of gorillas that may be a new subspecies. The gorillas live about 200 kilometers away from any other groups of western lowland or cross river gorillas. (San Diego Zoo Global)

  • August 05, 2020 9:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    2014 AZH Plant Conservation grant recipient Dr Murphy Westwood recently published results from study partially funded by AZH for "In situ and ex situ genetic diversity of the endangered Georgia oak, Quercus georgiana"

    Effectively conserving biodiversity with limited resources requires scientifically informed and efficient strategies. Guidance is particularly needed on how many living plants are necessary to conserve a threshold level of genetic diversity in ex situ collections. We investigated this question for 11 taxa across five genera. In this first study analysing and optimizing ex situ genetic diversity across multiple genera, we found that the percentage of extant genetic diversity currently conserved varies among taxa from 40% to 95%. Most taxa are well below genetic conservation targets. Resampling datasets showed that ideal collection sizes vary widely even within a genus: one taxon typically required at least 50% more individuals than another (though Quercus was an exception). Still, across taxa, the minimum collection size to achieve genetic conservation goals is within one order of magnitude. Current collections are also suboptimal: they could remain the same size yet capture twice the genetic diversity with an improved sampling design. We term this deficiency the ‘genetic conservation gap’. Lastly, we show that minimum collection sizes are influenced by collection priorities regarding the genetic diversity target. In summary, current collections are insufficient (not reaching targets) and suboptimal (not efficiently designed), and we show how improvements can be made.

    Read more about this exciting project...https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2020.0102

  • June 24, 2020 4:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    One goal of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s conservation team is to increase the availability of plants that are native to our imperiled pine rockland habitat in South Florida. However, some species prove to be especially tricky to grow from seed and with the support of AZH we are now working towards unlocking the secret to their germination. Once we are successful, we will be able to grow these species in greater quantities, which will allow us to distribute them more widely through our outreach program the Connect to Protect Network as well as in habitat restoration projects in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties.

    The pine rockland is a fire dependent habitat and many species germinate abundantly after a fire, especially those growing in the herbaceous understory. Therefore, it is likely that at least some pine rockland species will produce seed whose germination is triggered by chemical signals from smoke.

    Navy Wells Preserve in Miami-Dade County three months after a fire in 2013 (photo by Jennifer Possley)

    By creating a smoke solution, we were able to bring the effect of fire into our seed lab. To catch all the water-soluble compounds of smoke we burned pine straw in a bee smoker and guided the smoke through a heater hose into a side-arm flask filled with water.

    Setup to create a smoke solution that can be used to test the effect of fire on seed germination.

    So far, we can report that using this smoke solution has improved germination in two species that were previously difficult to grow from seed. The most dramatic effect was in Blodgett’s silverbush (Argythamnia blodgettii) a federally listed species endemic to South Florida. But also, the germination of Pineland croton seeds (Croton linearis) improved significantly after the smoke solution treatment.

    Germination of Blodgett’s silverbush seeds without treatment (left) and after soaking in smoke solution for 24h (right).

    Besides testing how chemical signals from smoke can increase germination of pine rockland species we are now working to improve germination of additional species with different seed dormancy breaking methods, such as scarification, desiccation, and gibberellic acid.

    We are very grateful for the support of this project from AZH!

    Sabine Wintergerst, Seed Lab Manager, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

  • June 14, 2020 9:23 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The alligator lizard Abronia campbelli is considered the most threatened Abronia species in Guatemala. Campbell’s alligator lizard is critically endangered due to habitat degradation and destruction. Habitat loss affects many species around the globe, but the impact can be especially drastic for an arboreal species with a naturally restricted distribution as A. campbelli. Local land-use change has originated from three different fronts: livestock and agriculture on private farms, firewood consumption from surrounding communities and subsistence farming from local families. Based on this, our strategies include the creation of biological corridors on private farms, accompanied by the creation of community forests to remove pressure on habitat restoration areas.

    With this project we begin to tackle the third component that drives habitat loss in the area: subsistence farming. We teamed up with 100 local families and turned a threat into a conservation opportunity. Now each smallholding used to grow food for a family will also serve to house biodiversity, reconciling local means of support with conservation. We believe that successful conservation is voluntary and locally driven, so our project focuses on making livelihoods compatible with the protection of biodiversity, resulting in long-term sustainable conservation strategies. 



    Our plan of action started with nursery maintenance actions designed to provide the native key forest species needed for the creation of the biological corridors. These activities consisted of seed collection, soil preparation, seed sowing, irrigation, fertilization, pest control and daily oversight to ensure general and ongoing care of the seedlings. Thanks to the support of Association of Zoological Horticulturists Conservation Fund and from the local community our nursery will produce approximately 15,000 seedlings exceeding the original project goal by more than 3 times.

    We have completed the 8 Site Planning sessions with each of the families participating in our project. We visited the plot to plan and map the reforestation areas. During these activities we noted that family plots varied greatly in size, because of this the number of trees was customized to each family according to the size of the land and reforestation strategy.

    Families responded to the project with great enthusiasm, wanting to participate with a wide variety of family owned plot sizes ranging from small yards at home (0.03 ha) to considerable land extensions (9 ha) within mountainous areas. Many families also had the desire to reforest their entire plot not just the edges, in order to create small forest patches.

    We knew we had to rise to the occasion and harness the level of participation that we obtained from the community. We multiplied our efforts in the nursery, which resulted in an unexpected but satisfactory expansion of the objectives and goals of the project. This new goal will not only meet the level of local participation but also the necessary scope of actions necessary to ensure the resilience of A. campbelli.

    Our habitat focused conservation work is accompanied by species reintroduction efforts through our captive breeding program. Right now, we are waiting for females to give birth, for families to liberate neonate A. campbelli in habitat remnants and in our previously reforested areas.

    What is next

    Build key allies in local communities through awareness-raising activities that culminate in tangible conservation actions, this is the foundation and key to the success of our conservation projects. However, the Conservation sessions, Nursery sessions and Conservation presentations in schools (all awareness activities in this project), are on hold since March due to the preventive measures against COVID - 19 imposed by the government of Guatemala. Social meetings are not allowed, schools are suspended, department borders are blocked, the country is under curfew and lockdown. We are in contact with families and local leaders to carry out the activities as soon as the situation changes. Due to the great progress in the other aspects of the project, we feel completely confident that when the restrictions in the country are lifted, we will achieve the project's goals and that the only change to the original plan will be in the scheduling of the activities.

    We are also waiting for the start of rainy season in order to begin reforestation activities with the families. I addition we already have established alternative methodologies to be prepared in case the reforestation is carried out under restrictions due to COVID - 19.

    Brad Lock, Oklahoma City Zoo

  • May 26, 2020 11:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Our Mangrove propagules are well on their way, happy and healthy, and ready for transplanting. There are over 1000, all from propagules collected here at The Florida Aquarium. We were scheduled for a planting at Veterans Park in St. Petersburg, Florida this month in partnership with Keep Pinellas Beautiful and St. Pete College.

    Also a second planting was tentative for mid May with the City of Tampa and Tree Inc. Both are on hold, with no set date for a definite reschedule. The St. Pete event is holding July 11th as a possibility only at this point. The Florida Aquarium did have to suspend our most recent internship program as well during this current Covid 19 situation. Our Horticulture intern was slated to have this as part of her required project, and she hopes to return as an Aquarium volunteer when things are back to normal to help continue this project.

    Mangrove propagule propagation area

    To date we have spent: $1046.42 of the $2000 grant. We do not plan to spend more until or unless this project is confirmed that is can be completed as intended. We will look for alternatives if needed. That being said, is the Committee assessing current Zoological circumstances and allowing for alternatives to the utilization of funds, or a facilities ability to complete their projects as intended?

    Thank you again for the opportunity of receiving this grant.

    Stephen Schwanebeck


  • May 21, 2020 11:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Ex-situ conservation of four ‘new’ and unprotected plant species at Parc Ivoloina, central-eastern Madagascar

    Summary Progress report for the Association of Zoological Horticulture

    May 2020

    In January 2020, Missouri Botanical Garden, on behalf of the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group, was awarded $7470 for a project that aimed to conserve ex-situ, as growing plants at Parc Ivoloina, four newly discovered Malagasy plants known only from unprotected forests that are high threatened.  The four target species include: a species of Polyscias (Araliaceae), a species of Astrocassine (Celastraceae), a species of Rhopalocarpus (Sphaerosepalaceae), and a species of Vitex (Lamiaceae). These plants were located during previous fieldwork in the Ivoloina and Ifontsy River valleys, close to Parc Ivoloina, but, at that time, seeds were not available and the plants were not propagated.  To achieve the stated objective we will implement four main activities: 1) relocation and flagging of the target species in the wild by an experienced botanist; 2) identification of reliable local people who will be trained to monitor the phenology of the target species and to collect vouchered samples of mature seeds as these became available for dispatch to Parc Ivoloina; 3) accession and propagation of the seed samples at the native plant nursery at Parc Ivoloina; 4) plantation of the resultant plants within the Parc ensuring each plant is permanently tagged with its accession number.

    The field botanist identified for the first of these tasks was Patrice Antilahimena.  He was selected because he had been part of the team that had originally discovered these plants and thus knew them well.  Patrice has been working for 2 years in this area, is known and trusted by local people and knows which people could be reliably tasked to monitor phenology of the target plants and to collect seed samples.  Unfortunately, Patrice did not become available for this work until February 2020 and therefore his first fieldtrip for this project was in March 2020.  This trip coincided with the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Madagascar but despite this Patrice was able to relocate the first of the target species: the presumed Astrocassine.  Patrice also selected a local person to monitor the phenology of the plant and collect mature seeds.  On 15th May 2020, Platini, the nurserymen at Parc Ivoloina received a seed sample consisting of 206 seeds of this species.  These seeds have now been sown.

    Unfortunately, the end of Patrice’s fieldtrip coincided with restrictions on movement imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Madagascar, and consequently he was forced to delay his return home for a few days – leading to some extra expenditure on hotels and meals.  The situation in Madagascar with respect to the pandemic is obscure: until recently the State reported few cases and no deaths but, at the time of writing, many more cases are being reported and there have been two COVID-19 related deaths.  Many of the newly reported cases are Tamatave, the major town close to Parc Ivoloina and therefore travel in this part of the country have been severely restricted.  Consequently, at the moment, there can be no fieldwork in this area until the pandemic is under control and travel restrictions within Madagascar are lifted.  It is not possible to predict when these conditions will exist.  Whatever is next, it is certain that the implementation of this project will be much delayed.

    In conclusion to date this project has successfully sampled seeds from one of the four target species, but the timetable for work on the other species is uncertain.

    Young fruit of the possible “new” species of Astrocassine

    Seed sample of the supposed new species of Astrocassine received at Parc Ivoloina 15 May 2020

  • May 05, 2020 12:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With our upcoming AZA accreditation, I took it upon myself to review and update our Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)/Safety Data Sheet (SDS) paperwork for the Horticulture department. I have had some really good ideas in my life, but this was not one of them. In reviewing the existing books, I found chemicals that we no longer use, found SDSs dating back in the ’90s and found more than a few roach egg casings. We had more than 250 SDSs to review. This was looking like an incredibly dumb idea. But who better to organize these than the OCD curator? Again, not my best idea.

                So, my first move was to rip (literally) the pages out of the book. And I gotta tell you that it felt really really good. We hadn’t used some of those papers in three decades. I then started printing out all new SDSs.

                After I printed out all new and updated SDSs, I noticed that not all SDSs are the same. My question is, why the heck not? We put men on the moon and can’t use one format for SDSs? So, I am going to review my process and let you know what I learned from this “project.” This is for your own good. Pay attention.

    • 1.      Never volunteer for this project.
    • 2.      If you are volunteered for this, say no, unless it is under threat of firing.
    • 3.      If you volunteer for this project, you are insane and deserve what you get.
    • 4.      Make sure you have an updated chemical list in your chemical shed (or locker, shoebox, trunk of your car, etc.).
    • 5.      Also keep a digital copy safe in the 10,000 files you are already keeping safe.
    • 6.      Make sure the SDS you are searching for matches the actual chemical you have. A lot of different companies make horticultural oil but match it to what you have (a huge pain in the buttocks).
    • 7.      Cross reference the EPA # and make sure they match.
    • 8.      Try to find the most updated copy (harder than it sounds and, again, buttocks are involved).
    • 9.      Don’t do what I did, which was print out more than 200 SDSs only to be told by my administrative assistant that she also needs a complete copy for her office AND I needed to download those copies onto a jump drive so she can update our online SDS database which was out of date.
    • 10.  Remember all those sheets I ripped out of the book with wild abandon? Well, now OSHA requires you to keep SDSs for 30 years. Who the heck knew that!? If you raise your hand, I will smack you at the next conference.
    • 11.  Keep all outdated SDSs, fool.

    • 12.  Keep a table of contents.
    • 13.  So, not only do I have two notebooks (A–L and M–Z).

                I also have an obsolete notebook of chemicals we no longer use, per OSHA—although I think I will have to change the title.

                That is actually a good idea, I just wished I had known that in paragraph two.

                So, it took me two weeks to do this project and I have aged five years. There is a ton of online data about keeping records and MSDSs. I Googled “saving MSDSs”

    and there were 3,690,000 documents. I read four. I recommend www.msdsonline.com/. It’s the rule, guys. Catch it before they catch you!

                So, this month’s word of advice: don’t volunteer, but if you do get stuck with this project, find someone on light duty… Good luck!

    ’Til next time.

    Denise Rogers

  • March 29, 2020 8:11 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

         The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has issued an alert to a new pest recently discovered near Bellingham, Washington: the Asian giant hornet. It is not yet known how widely this introduce species has spread. Please take extra care when working outdoors this year.

         Asian giant hornets are the world’s largest hornet species. They attack most insects, but prefer honeybees and can kill entire hives. A few hornets can destroy a hive in a matter of hours by entering a "slaughter phase" where they kill bees by decapitating them. They then defend the hive as their own, taking the brood to feed their own young. They also attack other insects but are not known to destroy entire populations of those insects. They have also been known to feed on fruit.

         Unlike most wasps and hornets, the Asian giant hornet nests in the ground. This species also poses a human health threat because their venom is more toxic than that of any local bees or wasps and can be deadly if one is stung more than once. Learn more about them at agr.wa.gov/hornets.

         Special precautions for pesticide applicators and pest control companies:

         • When working outdoors, keep an eye out for Asian giant hornets. If you see any, please report them (with a photograph if you can get one safely) at agr.wa.gov/hornets. or your state agriculture department.

         • DO NOT approach Asian giant hornets if you see them. They can sting through normal clothing as well as typical beekeeping attire.

         • Take extra care not to step on an Asian giant hornet nest. Asian giant hornets prefer nesting in wooded locations in the ground, but also have been known to nest in rotted tree trunks near the ground and—rarely—in human habitations.

         • Repeated stings from an Asian giant hornet can kill you. If you receive multiple Asian giant hornet stings, seek medical attention immediately.

         • If you are contacted by the public to remove an Asian giant hornet nest, contact your state department of agriculture. The WSDA has obtained special equipment for the safe removal of Asian giant hornet nests. Attempting to remove an Asian giant hornet nest without proper safety equipment could prove deadly.

         Report Asian giant hornet sightings at:



         • 800/443-6684

         The original version of this article was sent to pesticide operators in Washington state. It has been edited it for the AZH Blog. Additional information about the Asian giant hornet and descriptions of more common hornets can be found at agr.wa.gov/hornets.

    Katrina Lindahl, Woodland Park Zoo

  • February 26, 2020 11:49 AM | Anonymous


    I hope that the new year and decade has brought a renewed declaration for the passion we all feel for our work and institutions. What about AZH?  I am excited to share the large amount of work that has been happening over the last 5 months and how these efforts can offer you helpful resources, opportunities to get involved, and ways to impact your own zoo and aquarium horticulture programs.

    Planning for the 2020 AZH “Art in the Garden” conference in Denver is well underway.  Denver Zoo is thrilled to host this year’s event and we are working hard, together with several of the committees, to offer a robust and thought provoking experience! Not to mention…having some fun in the Mile High city while we’re at it.  The Call for Presentations is live on the website.  Presenting is great way of sharing your challenges and insights relating to your world inside zoos and aquariums.  Our program is only as good as the presenters who make it!

    Look for updates throughout the next few months: https://azh.org/Conference

    During last year’s conference, I presented the drafted 2020-2025 strategic plan for the association.  Attendees participated in live action survey during the sessions to offer feedback to the board on the plan and the requested priority of focus and importance.  We have used that feedback to adjust the plan a bit and the board has approved the plan!  We will be working with every committee to implement the new plan over the next 5 years through a variety of action items for improved and new programs to offer.  This is an exciting plan and underscores the need for increased participation from our members so that we may better support each by reaching the goals of the plan. 

    There have also been a large amount of board member changes and motions carried recently.  The offices of the Vice President and the Treasurer are currently vacant.  For reasons of career shifts, we received resignations from the past serving officers, but I am excited for both of them in their new endeavors.  I would like to thank both Kaaren Pearce and John Murgel for their commitment and service to this organization!! They will be missed. Please contact the Nominations Committee with your interest in running for the board this year. Serving on the AZH Board of Directors is an incredibly fun and rewarding experience!

    Happy Upcoming Spring!

  • February 16, 2020 12:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    2019 AZH Internship Grant Project


    The 2019 AZH internship program fund was used in support of the Project and Site Design Internship at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. It funded a special project that represented a joint effort between the intern and several departments of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium - including Planning & Design, Horticulture, Animal Nutrition (Browse Program), Animal Health, and Animal Care.

    Project Background

    The Columbus Zoo is structured such that Capital Improvement Projects are managed by the Planning and Design Department. Once a project is completed, installed landscapes are managed by the Horticulture Department. The Horticulture Department maintains all existing landscapes both within and outside of the animal habitats throughout the Zoo. The Browse Program utilizes these landscapes as well as browse collected off-site and the program is based within the Animal Nutrition Department. These three departments (Planning and Design, Horticulture, and Animal Nutrition) all communicate with the Animal Health Department to gain approval to add new plants to the Browse List or to install landscape plants not yet reviewed for toxicity. While all four of these departments communicate with one another on daily needs, the rapid growth of the zoo and daily demands have offered little overlap in shared resources. In the few times a plant has been suspect in an Animal Health concern, the four departments have scrambled to collect relevant landscape history. This project was designed in part to help streamline the action response process in the event of a plant-based Animal Health concern.

    Project Statement

    The purpose of the project was threefold: First, to identify and consolidate historical planting information for every region of the zoo and document it in a single place. Second, to compare these findings to current plant selection and plant toxicity policies. And third, to outline a new policy governing plant specification and selection for internal use, but also for design consultant use.

    Project Outcome

    The final outcome of the project resulted in a working document that will be used as a resource for select members of the involved departments. The document is designed to be a common resource in the event of a plant related question or incident. It was decided that while this document should be easily accessible, the information should not be made public to all zoo employees, given the nuances of plant identification and plant toxicity, in addition to the variable influx of new scientific knowledge. Because of the fluctuating nature of scientific discoveries and the quasi-temporary nature of the zoological landscape, the document will stay in a “working” form to assimilate the ever-changing information that drives zoological and horticulture best practices. 

    The document categorizes and lists past plantings by zoo region. In addition to the historical and current species lists, there is an approved browse list and a “Do Not Plant” list. The browse list is overseen and periodically updated by Animal Nutrition. The “Do Not Plant” list includes plants that are known to be toxic and/or invasive species in the State of Ohio. The list also notes species that are considered to be undesirable by the zoo’s standards due to their maintenance needs or performance issues. An example of an undesirable plant type is running bamboo. Its inclusion is based on its aggressive spreading habits which have caused maintenance issues in the past.

    Further Insights

    Interdepartmental discourse played a key role during the course of the project. The project generated discussion about implementing a biannual meeting between the departments to share new knowledge related to browse and plant toxicity. This meeting would serve to insure that the document would be revisited and updated. 

    While reviewing the historical plant lists it was interesting but not surprising to find species such as Lonicera maackii (honeysuckle) and Berberis thunbergii (Barberry) included in plans drafted during the 1990s. This discovery generated further discussion about the role that invasive plants play in the zoo. It can be a challenging task to balance the zoo’s aesthetic, browse, and animal health needs in regards to horticulture. 

    The tension between plant performance and ecological standards is well documented and presents a conundrum for zoo design and maintenance. When undesirable species play functional roles well, addressing this paradox is a complex task. For example, in the mid-west, the invasive plant such as bush honeysuckle (L. maackii) leafs out early and holds its leaves late into autumn, and grows well in shady conditions. Due to these characteristics, it performs as an optimal screening plant. While not intentionally planted in the past 20 years, local wildlife disperses its seeds, and we find honey suckle growing up under evergreen trees planted with the intention to hide views. Keeping these plants in check throughout the zoo’s buffer areas is not always easy due to the size of the grounds and the availability of resources and staff. While the removal of these plants is a priority (due to their invasive status), many times they play critical roles in screening both undesirable views and back of house areas (adding to the experiential nature of the zoo), as well as acting as a buffer between animal habitats contributing to the animals health through sense of safety and privacy. Eradicating honey suckle often means an equally strong performing screening plant must be purchased to continue to screen unwanted views.

    Another example of this issue is the presence of thistle in the lion habitat. Part of the habitat is defined by steep earthen slopes which are eroding due to original plant failure. Thistle has established itself on the slopes and its root systems are now acting as slope stabilizers. This mitigates erosion and also prevents the zoo from having to replace the slopes with an expensive and undesirable concrete wall. Management plans are in place to prevent the thistle from spreading, but full-on removal would compromise the slope’s integrity.  An untraditional management plan is being discussed to manage thistle (do not permit to go to flower) until other more desirable plants can be established and the thistle removed.

    These issues, while not the focus of the project, are brought forward to illustrate the complexity of horticulture within the zoo, as well as the importance of communication between departments in an effort to work more collaboratively.


    We are very grateful to the AZH for funding this project. The document that was produced will greatly benefit multiple departments at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The working document, when deployed in conjunction with other sources and staff expertise, will serve to further improve interdepartmental connection - something we believe to be a priority and an asset. Overall the project created healthy discussions centered around practical horticulture and design policy. More specifically, the project illuminated the benefit of cross departmental dialogue in respect to horticultural practice. 

    If you have any questions related to the project, we welcome you to reach out to us. It is our hope that the collaborative nature of this undertaking will extend to other zoos as well. 

    Stoyan Iordanov - Horticulture Manager

    Karen Schenk - Director of Project and Site Design, Landscape Architect -Karen.Schenk@columbuszoo.org

    Jonathan Stechschulte - Project Intern

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