La Sierra Adventist University and Cologne Zoo join forces to protect nature

January 25, 2023 | La Sierra, California, United States | Sierra | Adventist World

As representatives of nations at a UN summit in early November grappled with the details of a global conservation plan, some scientists were developing their own methods to prevent the extinction of species struggling to survive in pockets of the planet.

They include a contingent of herpetologists from La Sierra University and Germany’s Cologne Zoological Garden, who in November 2022 began a project that will take place at La Sierra this academic year: a conservation breeding program designed to reduce the extinction of five endangered species. Tabby gecko from Vietnam.

Thomas Ziegler, curator of Cologne Zoo Aquarium and coordinator of biodiversity and nature conservation projects in Vietnam and Laos, said that this type of project is called a modern ship. The project will be the first in the United States to date for the vulnerable tabby geckos, which Ziegler’s team has raised in a zoo and at support stations in Vietnam, with the goal of ensuring their continued existence.

The ship concept of rearing endangered animals at satellite sites ensures the survival of the species in the event of natural disasters, political unrest, disease outbreaks or other harmful activities in the country. Mr. Ziegler explained the origin. “Natural habitat conservation is of course very important, but sometimes we are not fast enough or conditions do not allow for adequate in situ conservation. But if a species is lost, it’s too late – forever, “he said. “Here, modern zoos managed by scientists can help, including building modern arches for the protection of species and developing insurance colonies to prepare for recovery measures after the problem is solved in nature. »

The Cologne Zoo program chose La Sierra University as the location for the tiger gecko ship because of its connection to Lee Grismer, a La Sierra professor of biology and a world-renowned authority on research and conservation, Ziegler said. The two scientists have known each other since 2009, have published scientific papers together and are currently involved in research on Myanmar’s endangered reptiles. “We are both committed to research and biodiversity conservation in Southeast Asia, and we have both discovered and described a number of gecko species, including a new species of tiger gecko,” Mr Ziegler said.

The success of La Sierra University’s Gecko Ark belongs to Sarah Goymer, 21, a La Sierra undergraduate student from Paradise, California. Her strong interest in herpetology, love of nature, commitment to conservation and strong academic sense made her an ideal candidate for the position, said biology teachers Lee Griesmer and her son Jesse, assistant professor of biology and a herpetologist. Ms. Goymer’s job will be to care for 50 beautifully marked tiger gecko offspring every day. They will arrive at the La Sierra campus in the spring of 2023 from a zoo in Germany, once paperwork is completed and other equipment such as glass cages and speed controls are installed. high humidity and temperatures between 72 and 78 Fahrenheit (22 and 25.5 C).

The ultimate goal of the ship project is to successfully breed the endangered species into healthy adults, which can then be released into their natural habitats in Vietnam.

To prepare for the possible arrival of the geckos, Ms. Goymer spent the Thanksgiving holiday at the Cologne Zoo under the direction of Mr. Ziegler and his team. She learned how to feed adult and juvenile geckos, care for their eggs and provide them with a suitable habitat. He helped photograph each gecko and learned how to protect the fragile eggs, which resemble miniature dinosaur eggs, from deadly condensation. On the other hand, adult geckos’ cages should be sprayed with water daily to prevent any dampness.

“The reason I was there was to learn about their conservation program and more specifically how to take care of these geckos so we can bring them back and do it here,” Goymer said.

Cologne Zoo’s conservation program covers around 100 endangered species, including giant monitor lizards and crocodiles. Some of them have been returned to their natural habitats to support declining populations, including the critically endangered Philippine crocodile, which has been repatriated to the Philippines. “They breed some of the most endangered lizards in the world, and this is the only place in the world that does it, and they’re very successful,” Lee Grismer said.

There was an earlier attempt to start a conservation ship partnership by transporting animals from Cologne Zoo to La Sierra, but the COVID-19 pandemic complicated plans and an animal keeper was not available. Grismer’s lab analyzes hundreds of specimens collected during expeditions across Southeast and Central Asia, but the care of live animals is not usually part of the lab’s activities.

When Ziegler contacted Lee Grismer again in the summer of 2022, the necessary elements were in place to inquire about their involvement in the conservation vessel project.

All of the Griesmers have had the opportunity to observe Goymer over the past few years in their classes, in the laboratory, and on herpetological expeditions to the Santa Rosa Mountains and other local areas. Although such tasks are usually given to graduate students, their impressions led to the selection of Ms. Goymer for the important role of looking after the geckos this year. “We have already tested it in the field and seen his passion [pour] nature,” Jesse Grismer said.

“We knew he had a strong connection to nature,” which set him apart from the many biology students who go on to medical careers at La Sierra, Jesse said. We said to ourselves, “The only way to do this project is to have someone who puts animals first.” “

“This is an opportunity that undergraduates don’t get anywhere else,” said Lee Grismer, “to be sent to one of the world’s leading conservation centers. All expenses for Goymer’s trip to Germany were covered by the Deanship of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Mrs. Goymer is also fluent in German as a second language, which was proven during her training experience at the zoo. It’s a random trait he learned about after his teachers chose him to take care of animals.

“It was a really cool experience,” she said, adding that the tabby geckos are “absolutely adorable” and “bite a bit, so you have to be careful.” They like to cling to you.”

Ms. Goymer was struck by the revolutionary and unique nature of Cologne’s nature conservation program and the importance of the work of conservationists in the face of commercial interests. “It’s really important to have another point of conservation here because a lot of zoos don’t really have that priority,” he said.

For Ziegler, future conservation depends on the participation of younger generations. “If we want to reverse the biodiversity crisis, we need to invest in the younger generation to be more conservative. Many of my former students now hold positions not only in zoos, but also in conservation organizations such as the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Germany, and are now committed to better conservation of diversity. I’m sure Sarah will follow this path and will undoubtedly become a passionate explorer of diversity and conservation. »

The Griesmers hope Goymer’s work with the Cologne Zoo and tiger geckos will lead to a conservation focus in La Sierra’s biology curriculum and eventually to a full major in conservation biology. They plan to take a herpetology class and Goymer on a field trip to the San Diego Zoo in the winter, and to showcase the Cologne Zoo’s conservation boat project to generate interest in a similar collaboration.

“We are happy and flattered that Cologne Zoo has enough confidence in us,” said Lee Grismer, to bring the project to La Sierra. “La Sierra University’s biology department will now be professionally linked to Cologne Zoo, which is simply an extraordinary conservation site. »

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