Zoo donates funds to conservation project

Visitors to Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot would be hard-pressed not to notice Mashama and Kianga, the gangly-necked giraffe pair that reside there. Throughout the zoo season, for $5 patrons had the option to hand-feed these spotted ungulates their “browse,” or fresh leaves and twigs giraffes commonly munch on.

“People can hold the stick and giraffes’ tongues wrap around the branches,” described the zoo’s hoofstock keeper, Allison Suda. “It’s a healthy treat.”

The station drew in about $3,500 over the 2013 season. “It could have been doubled,” she said, considering the zoo’s late start mid-summer and some weekends of foul weather.

This year, the money accumulated at the feeding station will be going to a novel cause. The zoo pledged that money to the “Care for Karamoja” program (C4K), which the keeper first became acquainted with while attending the annual Ungulate Taxon Advisory Group convention held this April in Glen Rose, Texas.

“It’s the first time the money has gone back to giraffes,” Suda said.

C4K is a conservation project aimed at protecting endangered Ugandan species such as the Rothschild giraffe and wild Kidepo ostrich by training the people living in the plighted Karamoja region to raise ostriches for food and valuable feathers. To that end, funds raised by the group have gone toward providing incubation systems with which to hatch the giant birds’ eggs, as well as the necessary training for their raising.

“It’s a really huge incubator,” Suda explained, with models purchased from the Florida-based NatureForm Hatchery Systems and shipped abroad.

Karamoja is a semi-arid region similar in size to Massachusetts located in northeastern Uganda in central East Africa, bordering Kenya and South Sudan. Home to around 1.2 million people, the troubled place is plagued by food insecurity, endemic poverty, civil unrest, health problems, water shortages, high unemployment and a myriad of other related issues.

Such problems tend to incentivize poaching, both for the meat they provide and the profits to be had on the black market. Partnering with the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, C4K hopes that the establishment of ostrich breeding and reintroduction centers will better the livelihoods of locals while lessening the pressures which may draw them to poach. In addition, the group works with local schools to start up wildlife clubs and regreening projects that foster better appreciation for the region’s natural resources.

“This one really drew my attention,” said Suda. Similar efforts in the future are likely. “Conservation is going to start becoming a priority, not just at this zoo but at other zoos across the nation.”

The Minot zoo’s male giraffe Mashama and his mate, Kianga, are both reticulated giraffes, one of the nine subspecies of camelopardalis. Though not the rarest, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation there are about 5,000 left in the wild. At 15 and 14 years old, the pair have been popular attractions at Roosevelt Park Zoo for some years. Following the evacuation of animals during the 2011 flood, the pair were sent to Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, Kan., and returned this May.

For more information on C4K, visit the group’s website at (www.care4karamoja.org).