Women on the Move: Technology and Animal Tracking, Part III: Land
>> Shellie Pick: Hello, and welcome to Women on the Move, technology and animal tracking. Did you know that even though women make up half the world only 30 percent , or one-third, of all scientists are women? All week we've been lucky to hear and learn from Smithsonian women who use STEM, or science technology engineering and math, to track animals across land sea and sky ecosystems. On Monday, we met Kim and Sarah who track fish and whales in aquatic habitats.
On Wednesday, we learned how Autumn-Lynn tracks birds flying through the air and we even met a zoo keeper and some pelican friends. Today, we are closing out the series, and we are so excited to be celebrating Earth Day 2022 with all of you. Can you guess where we'll be tracking animals today? My name is Shellie, I'm an educator at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, DC. My pronouns are she/her/hers, and I'll be your host for today. This series was made possible by the American Women's History Initiative, and is a collaborative event between the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the Environmental Research Center, and the Earth Optimism Initiative. During this program, you will gain knowledge of wildlife and wild places, understand the roles of two Smithsonian women in STEM, and learn how tracking is saving these terrestrial species. Before we meet our guests for today, you're going to see two polls pop up on your screen. But first, how are
you celebrating Earth Day today? Maybe by watching this webinar, exploring outside, going bird watching, cleaning up your neighborhood, or something else! Let us know by putting it in the chat. The second question is, if you joined one of our previous programs this week what was your favorite species you heard about? The river herring, baleen whales, the brown pelicans, or maybe the arctic tern! While you take some time to answer those polls, I'm going to go over the format of our program today. This webinar is live captioned, you'll want to locate that CC button at the bottom of the screen for those to appear. We have both English and Spanish captioning available for this series.
To access the Spanish live captioning, the link will be provided in the chat. This program is also being interpreted in two languages. To access the Spanish translation, locate that globe icon and select Spanish. You can see that we are also being interpreted in American Sign Language, this view is best viewed from a desktop computer rather than a tablet or phone. If you are having trouble with any of our services, please chat us so we can assist you. Remember this is a webinar, so we cannot see or hear you. However, we encourage you to engage
with us in a number of ways! You already saw that we'll be launching polls throughout the program today. Additionally, you'll see that the q&a is open for you to ask us questions. Use the q&a at any time throughout the program to ask questions. Try to keep them on topic, and you can check under the my questions column to see if your question has already been answered.
You'll see that you can also use the emoji reactions, so find that button and I want you to send me a big thumbs up if you are excited to celebrate Earth Day today! Oh I'm seeing so many already! Today's program will be about 45 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes at the end for a live q&a where we will get to as many questions as we can. Educators, if you are streaming for your whole class be sure to keep your keyboard close by to chime in on their behalf. And lastly you'll see that the chat is open for you to message us. If you haven't done so already, find the chat and I want you to tell me your name and where you are joining us from. I am so curious to see who is trekking, virtually, the farthest! Let's see where folks are joining from. We have, uh, Langley school
is joining, and they said they're gonna plant flowers! I love that, that's such a good Earth Day activity. Welcome Peter from Wisconsin. Welcome, we have folks joining from Nebraska, from Edgewater Maryland but originally from Ecuador, wow! We have folks joining from Toronto, Ontario, and Canada. Let's see who else is joining, we have folks from Arlington Virginia, New York. Amazing! Oh, somebody's going to the Cleveland Zoo that's a great way to celebrate Earth Day! Lake Tahoe, California. Let's see who else...Oh Olivia's joining us all the way from New Zealand! We have Colorado Springs,
uh Beaver Dam Virginia...Hello from Maryland! That is so exciting to have folks joining from all around the globe on this Earth Day 2022. I also want to quickly introduce my team who is helping behind the scenes today. Joining us from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, which you might also hear us call SERC, we have Karen, Emily, Lizzie, and Shelby. And joining us today from the zoo, we have Erika, Kaden, Hanna, and Emily. You might see some answers or responses from them in the chat and q&a. So once again, welcome to Women on the Move technology and animal tracking. I am
so thrilled to welcome our first guest to the program, Dr. Katherine Mertes. Welcome! Would you like to introduce yourself? >>Dr.Katherine Mertes: Hi everyone, I'm Dr. Katherine Mertes, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I'm a research ecologist at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. >> Shellie: That is so neat, thank you for joining! Can you quickly tell us what a research ecologist is, I think that might be a new term for many of our viewers. >>Dr.Katherine: Sure! It means I work on practical conservation projects to
save species and conserve biodiversity, but I also conduct scientific research on ecology questions. So, for me, that means researching animal movement, seeing where animals go in space, and analyzing their movement behavior and habitat preferences. >> Shellie: That's so neat. So I heard you say animal movements, um, and seeing where animals choose to spend their time. Audience, we've heard a lot about
animal movements this week, mostly talking about migrating animals. Um, so try to recall as much as you can while I launch this poll, what do you think are some reasons that, um, Dr. Katherine might study some animal movements? What are some reasons that animals might move to a different habitat? Maybe it's food availability, predators, change in climate, the closeness or proximity of humans, or for reproduction and breeding! Feel free to answer in the poll, or put it in the chat. We're getting tons of responses already, I'll give folks another few seconds on that poll.
And just so you're aware, um, Emily is dropping some explanations of some, um, more difficult terms in the chat so if you don't know what something means look in the chat. Great, I'm gonna close this poll in three, two, one. Let's see...alright Dr. Katherine, most people said pretty much all of them, but top contenders were food availability and change in climate. What do you think? >>Dr. Katherine: Well I would say that
all of these options are correct. All animals need to move to find enough to eat to survive themselves, and to reproduce and support their offspring, to avoid predators, and to find mates. And they make choices about where to move to find all these resources based on the information that's available to them wherever they are. So I use data on environmental factors like vegetation conditions, rainfall, and temperature to understand the movement decisions that animals are making. >> Shellie: Very, very, neat and so what species are you currently studying and tracking? >>Dr. Katherine: So I track two species of African hoof stock, scimitar-horned oryx and addax. >>Shellie: Oh wow, oh! That's, they're so cute! Um, they look a little bit similar, but I am noticing some differences, and I would love for our audience to put some observations in the chat.
Can you notice any similarities or differences between these two different African hoof stock? You can see...Yes Isaac, exactly, their horns are different. You can sort of see that the addax, they almost have a little curve to them whereas the scimitar-horned oryx goes straight back. Yes folks are getting them, oh Alex did say that their colors are just slightly different. Yes Denise, you got it too the horns and coloring are slightly different, that's great! So why are you studying these specific species? >>Dr. Katherine: Well, scimitar-horned oryx are actually classified
as extinct in the wild by the IUCN Red List. And addax are critically endangered, there's probably less than 200 left in the wild so by knowing where these animals move, how they use space, and what habitats they prefer, we learn what areas and habitats we need to protect to conserve them. >>Shellie: I, I thought I heard you just say that the scimitar-horned oryx was extinct in the wild. Viewers, if you know what the word extinct means put it in the chat, because when I hear the word extinct, I think of our dinosaur friends. Let's see what folks think extinct means... Oh yes, Langley got it, you are all getting it. Absolutely Isaac, extinct means there's none left so there were no oryx left in the wild Dr. Katherine?
>>Dr. Katherine: That's right, the very last sighting of oryx in the wild occurred sometime in the 1980s and the only oryx left in the world lived in places like zoos. >> Shellie: Wow, so none left in the wild. So, how did it get to this point? Why have they become extinct in the wild? >>Dr. Katherine: Well, oryx were historically hunted in
their native range in North and Central Africa, but World War II really brought 4x4 vehicles and advanced firearms to Northern Africa which led to unsustainable levels of hunting on the species. Oryx started disappearing from their native range in the 1930s, and they were last seen in the wild in the 1980s, and then declared extinct in the wild in the 2000s. >>Shellie: Oh wow, so by 1980 there were no more oryx seen in, in the wild. But, I know that you are currently working with them so there are some left somewhere? >>Dr. Katherine: That's right! There were more than 10,000 oryx in zoos and private collections around the world so it was possible to reintroduce this species from captive populations. We released
the first 23 oryx into a large reserve in Chad in 2016 and we've released more than 240 so far. >>Shellie: That's amazing, and again I just want to repeat how amazing this story is. So from 1980 to 2016 there were NO oryx seen in the wild, but because of zoos like the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, we were able to breed them and eventually reintroduce them into places like Chad.
Personally, having worked with many zoo animals before,I know that a lot of our animals are probably used to humans. They know their keepers, and their animal care staff, so I imagine you can't just release any oryx back into the wild. Can you walk us through this, uh, process a little bit? >>Dr. Katherine: Yes! So all the oryx we've reintroduced in Chad come from the captive population managed by the environment agency Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. So this population is very carefully managed for breeding and genetic diversity, and animals are tested and immunized for lots of different diseases, and potential candidates for reintroduction are selected every year. And then
transported to Chad in groups of 25. >>Shellie: Why 25? >>Dr. Katherine: Because that's how many oryx you can fit on a cargo plane! >>Shellie: Very efficient! Got it, so in groups of 25 they're selected, the ones that we think would make great candidates for return to the wild, um, and shift over. That's really, really neat. And once they're shipped over and then they're released, and, um, I believe we have a really neat video of one of the first releases of the oryx, let's take a look. So this is just preparing, I'm guessing, wow. >>Dr. Katherine: So these are crates that animals are transported in. They're loaded one animal to a crate in Abu Dhabi. And then the crates are loaded
onto the cargo plane, and they have about a seven hour flight. And then they land in Chad and are transported by truck to the release site where...they get to come out! >>Shellie: There they go! That is unbelievable. *gasp* Oh wow! That is SO incredible Dr. Katherine! I get so emotional to seeing animals that, again, were extinct in the wild, being released, and it just gives so much hope for so many other endangered species.
And, again, you know, uh, why our zoo populations are so important for conservation. So can you tell us why you are tracking the oryx once you release them? >>Dr. Katherine: Absolutely, so we track almost every single newly released oryx to see where they go after they're released into the wild, and how they respond to this completely new, totally unfamiliar environment. As you mentioned, these are animals coming from captivity. They're used to getting their food and water on a regular schedule and
not having to find it for themselves. So we want to see how they perform in this unfamiliar landscape after their release. >>Shellie: That makes a lot of sense, I know personally, you know, if I go somewhere new and there's lots of things to see and explore, I always like to know where the closest coffee shop is, but I imagine some of our viewers might want to know where the closest zoo is or the closest toy store is. That's really neat. Um, what are some other reasons you might track oryx? >>Dr. Katherine: So we track oryx that are newly released into the reserve, and we also track ones that were born in Chad to learn whether animals with different experiences make different movement decisions or different habitat selection, or use space differently. >>Shellie: That's very cool, and have you learned something since tracking them of how they use their space? >>Dr. Katherine: Well, we've learned a
lot of things, but a really exciting detail is in just the last couple years we've seen an emerging seasonal movement where reintroduced oryx are moving about 20 to 40 kilometers to the Northwest during the wet season when there's more food, more grass available for them to eat. >>Shellie: So you said 20 to 40 kilometers, that's about 13 to 25 miles. That's a pretty long distance! Seasonal movement sounds a lot like migration, is this a migration? >>Dr. Katherine: It's like a migration in that oryx are responding to changes in seasonal conditions, but the distance they travel is pretty small only tens of kilometers; so far. >>Shellie: That's really, really neat. Um, earlier this week we learned about some larger animal migrations like the arctic tern that's traveling all the way from the arctic all the way down to Antarctica. Um, so, did the oryx not always do this mini migration if we're just seeing it in the last couple years? >>Dr. Katherine: So part of what makes studying scimitar-horned oryx so exciting
is that we actually know very little about them. They went extinct in the wild before modern tracking technologies like GPS collars were available. So, there's some historical evidence that oryx may have performed seasonal migrations, but these data are pretty limited. So it's just incredibly interesting to see this emerging seasonal movement and we'll see if it will develop into a regular, longer distance movement as these reintroduced animals gain more experience in the wild. >>Shellie: That's so cool that our technological advances are now providing us with such valuable data to back up, back up what was historically probably anecdotal or just word of mouth of 'We think we're seeing this'. So I see here some pictures of these trackers, it looks
like collar trackers, we learned about acoustic trackers for river herring, some GPS backpacks on pelicans, can you tell us a little bit more about the type of tracker you're using on the oryx? >>Dr. Katherine: Sure! Oryx are actually pretty straightforward to track. Their body shape is a lot like deer, so we can put a GPS collar around their neck and it won't slide around or get damaged too much. It's much easier than tracking some other species like giraffe where you can't really put a collar on their really long, sensitive neck, or some bear species that have short thick necks and small ears so that they can push their collars off or they can slide off. So, this is an example of a
GPS collar that we use on addax and oryx in Chad. It weighs less than one kilo-, one kilogram, which is less than one percent of the typical body weight of an adult oryx. And, the environment in Chad is very open. There's not steep hills, there's not dense canopy cover, so there's very little interference with the collar's GPS signal or VHF signal. >>Shellie: That's really neat, and then you can track them from anywhere in the world or do you have to be on the ground in Chad to track them? >>Dr. Katherine: We can track them from anywhere in the world. We have a field team who can do track radio signals and VHF tracking and then we can see their positions from anywhere! >>Shellie: And can you show us their positions right now? >>Dr. Katherine: Absolutely! >>Shellie: That's so cool.
>>Dr. Katherine: So this is the entire reserve in Chad where we're reintroducing animals, it's very large about the size of Maine and if I zoom in I can show you where one of my favorite animals blue 23 red 2 has been spending most of her time in the last three weeks. And every single one of these dots represents real-time tracking information from one oryx or addax that we've released into the wild. >> Shellie: That's so neat, so you can see the greater picture of where they're spending their time or even just track one individual animal. And I love that you have a favorite animal, what makes that animal
your favorite? >>Dr. Katherine: So this was the very first animal that we captured in the field after her initial release. So she's been living in the wild for almost six years, and we get to compare her information from right after she was released to now that she's got so much more experience and see what she might be doing differently on the landscape. >>Shellie: That's really, really neat. Um, we had a question specifically about the babies that are born. How do you tag, or capture the, the, um, juvenile oryx and put the, um, trackers and the collars on them? >>Dr. Katherine: So it's unfortunately not safe to put a collar on a young animal simply because their necks are growing so fast, that they just, it wouldn't be safe for the animal. Um, we can, we've been developing
some really interesting alternative tracking devices that we might be able to put on younger animals like on their horns. >>Shellie: Got it, and do all of the trackers run on batteries? >>Dr. Katherine: That's right, so our collars that are about one kilogram all the batteries are in this one little part of the collar. And so we can't put that many batteries in it because then it would be too heavy for the animal to carry. So all of our collars can last for up to three years, and that's our limited slice of
their adult lifetime that we can see using collars. >>Shellie: Got it, so if you wanted to track for longer you would need a different type of tracker? >>Dr. Katherine: That's right, so those horn mounted tags I mentioned are also solar powered and we're trying to develop them to track the species for more reproductive cycles to get a better sense of how many calves they can produce and just get a longer timeline of how they're behaving after reintroduction. >>Shellie: That's so neat. So just to reiterate, you are trying this new, innovative type of tracker that is a solar powered tracker that you mount on their horns instead. See if you can spot it, send me a thumbs up if you could spot that tracker
on this picture of these scimitar-horned oryx. Those blended in so, so well. That is so amazing. Um, Dr. Katherine, this has been such an incredible story to hear about how you are tracking these critically endangered, extinct in the wild animals and you're trying these, um, new innovative trackers. Are you shipping these trackers to Chad and trying them on the animals there? >>Dr. Katherine: Well one of the benefits of working in a place like the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is that we can work with captive animals kind of as a test collection to try out these new technologies.So we worked with the ungulate keeper team at SCBI to test some attachment mechanisms and some functioning tags on captive oryx to see how well they worked, if they were damaged by oryx using their horns. And we collected a lot of behavioral observations, and
fecal samples, to make sure that animals didn't get too stressed out when we attached these trackers. >>Shellie: That's really, really neat. Now switching gears a little bit, how did you get into this career saving species like the oryx and the addax? >>Dr. Katherine: Well, I always liked animals, and I actually grew up in
Northern Virginia so I went to Smithsonian's National Zoo quite a lot; but I wasn't really in to science or math until kind of late in college when I figured out that I liked ecology. And then I did a semester abroad in Australia themed around ecology, and I did a senior project on buffer zones around protected areas and that really set me on my path for working in ecology and with wildlife for my career. >>Shellie: It's nice to hear that even though you didn't originally have an interest in science and math, that you still found a passion in the science field, um, and a way into this field a little bit later in life. That's really great! And do you, did you, have many women mentors, um, getting into this field? Are there a lot of women doing this kind of work? >>Dr. Katherine: Well there are definitely women in the field, but most animal movement researchers are men. And I was
lucky enough to have a great woman mentor, actually, when I was getting my master's degree; when I took several pretty tough spatial analysis and remote sensing courses at the same time; which I would not recommend. That was a really tough semester, but the same woman professor was teaching both courses and she was really supportive and eventually helped me apply to PhD programs. And then it turned out she moved to the institution where I was accepted for my PhD, and ended up being the remote sensing specialist on my PhD committee. So, two classes in one semester turned into about seven years
of mentorship and collaboration. >>Shellie: That's so nice that it worked out that she was able to sort of follow your same path along and you have her the whole way. And, I don't want to ruin the surprise of our next guest but there is another woman who works on the same project with you, correct? >>Dr. Katherine: That's right, and it's someone who has taught me an incredible amount about working in conservation biology, especially how to work successfully with big international teams on large scale conservation projects like this. It's Dr. Melissa Songer. >>Shellie: Awesome. Thank you so much Dr. Katherine for sharing this amazing work, and project that you're doing to save a critically endangered species. A species that's extinct in the wild. Um, and we will see you in a bit for our q&a! And I am so pleased to welcome our next guest Dr. Melissa Songer, welcome, would you like to
introduce yourself? >>Dr. Melissa Songer: Sure thing! I'm Dr. Melissa Songer, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I'm a conservation biologist at Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. >>Shellie: That's so neat. We just got a sneak peek into one of the projects that you work on, but can you briefly tell us what a conservation biologist is? >>Dr. Melissa: Sure. A conservation biologist can be many things, but a key part of the job is that we're not just answering important questions about nature, but we're using what we learned to solve conservation challenges such as saving endangered species. And the tagline I like to use, is that I'm developing and implementing science-based strategies for restoring endangered species and their ecosystems. >>Shellie: I love that, science-based strategies. And again, we just heard this reintroduction story of the oryx almost going extinct.
Besides the scimitar-horned oryx, what are some other species that you are studying to save? >>Dr. Melissa: In addition to the oryx, I work on giant pandas, Pzrewalski's horses, Asian elephants, and swift foxes. >>Shellie: Now, I know how excited folks get about our giant pandas. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their arrival here at the National Zoo, so if you want to hear more about Dr. Mel's work with giant pandas, specifically, you'll see a link put in the chat for a previous Unzoousual Careers panda panel that Dr. Mel joined us for. Um, so take a look at that after this program. Dr. Mel can you repeat the second species that you mentioned, Przewalski's horses? >>Dr. Melissa: Sure, the Przewalski's horse is the last species of wild horse that's still living in the world.
And it's pronounced a little differently than how it's spelled, because it's a Polish name. It's taken from the explorer that first reported the species to European scientists. >>Shellie: Got it. And so, give me a thumbs up with those emojis if you've ever heard of a Przewalski's horse before. And let's all practice saying this together. PRZEWALSKI. That's great, so we do like to call them p.horses for short so you might hear us refer to them as that. So, Dr.Mel, can you tell us a little bit about why you are studying p.horses? >>Dr. Melissa: Well, they once ranged over desert and
step habitats across central Asia and Europe, but a combination of changing landscapes, increasing hunting, and, especially, livestock pressures drove them to extinction in the wild by the end of the 1960s. >>Shellie: Oh wow, so similar to the oryx - extinct in the wild. There were none left in the wild, but it does sound similar there were maybe still some in zoos? >>Dr. Melissa: Yes. There were still some in zoos and reintroduction efforts to return them to the wild began in the 1990s in Mongolia and then later in China and other parts of their former range. So the goal was to help them get back to the wild. >>Shellie: Wow, that's so amazing. Um, so again, once again all these organizations like the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute took what p.horses we had, began breeding them, for eventual
release into their native lands. >>Dr. Melissa: That's right. >>Shellie: And what is your research focusing on specifically? >>Dr. Melissa: Well, my research focuses on what they do after they're released to the wild. And, these are, again, like the oryx, are horses that have been fed and lived inside fences their whole life, suddenly they have to find food, water, figure out how to survive - a range of challenges they've never had. So there's a lot they need to learn, and then there's a lot we want to learn about them since they disappeared before scientists really had a chance to study them. >>Shellie: Yeah, of course, again the presence of technology gives us so much. A bigger advantage into studying these animals. And how exactly are you studying all these questions that you raised? >>Dr. Melissa: Well, again, one of the great
things about being with the National Zoo and SCBI is that we can learn a lot about the p.horses basically in our own backyard. About their hormones, their stress, health, nutrition, even social behavior. >>Shellie: Wow that's really, really neat that you can just use the animals that we have in our collection here to influence the changes that we make for the species in the wild. >>Dr. Melissa: Yeah, it's especially helpful if we are going to track them with collars, or some other means, that we can test it out at, uh, SCBI or at the zoo, um, make sure that it's not going to affect them, and once we know it's not going to hurt them we can put the collars on the horses either before or after they're released to the wild. >>Shellie: Very cool. So just like Dr. Katherine was sort of testing the new solar tracking on the zoo's collection of oryx, you are testing the collars on the zoo's collection of p.horses. But p.horses
obviously don't have horns for those solar power ones it looks like they're just using the collars? >>Dr. Melissa: Yes, well, we start, we've mostly used the collars and, uh, I can show you, it's pretty similar to the oryx collar. Uh, and so mainly that's how we've done it. >>Shellie: Very cool. And then, let's see, so once you have the trackers on let's see sort of what this looks like; the data that you're getting. I think this is a video that we can see exactly where they pinpoint. So is that just two, two individuals? >>Dr. Melissa: That's two individuals that are collared, but they're moving in groups so we're actually
tracking between seven and maybe ten horses with the one collar. They stick very close together. So we can learn a lot about what they're, what they need, what, where they're going, what kind of habitat they're selecting, uh, their home range size. We could start to learn about their social relationships, group dynamics, all these sorts of things. And you can see in the background there how there's the, um, the map that's showing different amounts of green, and that's satellite imagery that tells us what the what, what's present on the ground. So once we put that together with where the horses are, uh, we learn a lot about what they're, what they're selecting and what they need to survive. >>Shellie: That's so
neat. So I noticed you just listed off a bunch of questions, uhm, and it's such a great way for everyone watching to get involved in science themselves. Be curious! What do you have questions about? So, Dr. Katherine told us about that she's trying to solve this issue with the batteries by using solar power. Are you running into any issues that you're trying to solve with tracking the p.horses? >>Dr. Melissa: We did. When we first put collars on, we put collars on females and males, and we really wanted
to know what they were doing because they do very different things; I mentioned the family groups. Uh, the females are in, and the foals are in a family group with one stallion. While the young males are in bachelor groups. And so they run around together and move very differently. They also get into a lot of fights. They want to figure out who's the toughest, who gets to be the boss. And as they fight for position, they're actually able to bite and pull at the collars and they destroyed the collars, I've got it, one here. You can see what the males do to a collar. >>Shellie: Oh no! *laugh* >>Dr. Melissa: So *laugh* we stopped putting those on, uh, the males. And, but we still wanted to know what was going on so
we decided to try to figure out another way to place them. >>Shellie: That's so cool, and I'm going to launch another poll here. I would love to hear from our audience, where do you think Dr. Mel and scientists were trying to attach, uh, the trackers to the male Przewalski's horses? Do you think maybe on their back? On their mane? On their tail? Or on their hoof? And I'll give you a couple seconds. That is so cool, and we talked a little bit throughout the week about the cost of some of those trackers. So I imagine we really want to try to avoid damaging them as much as possible. So let's see, where folks think that we
are starting to track Przewalski's horses. And I'm going to close this poll in three, two, one. Let's see... Oh very interesting! Alright Dr. Mel, most people guessed hoof. >>Dr. Melissa: Interesting. Good guesses! >> Shellie: Where are you applying these trackers? >>Dr. Melissa: We decided to try to braid them into their tails. So I can show you a little bit what that looks like. This is a model, uh, and these again were, uh, with with solar panels so they're much lighter. And so, we have done a lot of different demos where we, we tried to do some with, um, yarn and tried to figure out how to really braid that in. You know horses aren't used to getting their tails braided, so we needed to be very efficient about it and, um, this, we actually, keepers gave us a part of a horsetail which is very different material. So we had to you know practice and figure out how to
really get it to stay in, and then test it to see how the horses reacted. >>Shellie: And I actually think our next picture we have a picture of these horses, again, at our facility in Front Royal, Virginia the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. So this is the data of those horses trying this out. >>Dr. Melissa: Right, and we found that it actually, they mostly left the trackers alone. We didn't know if the other horses would would do try to get them off or anything like that; so that, it does seem to be a good solution for something that they can't remove. Uh, we are, they are having trouble keeping them on as long as we can have collars so that's something we're still working on. >>Shellie: And we actually
just got a comment, someone said that their horse sometimes loses hair so I wonder if that's a similar issue we're running into. >>Dr. Melissa: That's right, yes, that's one of the one of the challenges is, what, when horses are systematically losing hair and so they don't, they're just, they're not as strong as collars. >>Shellie: Very neat. Um, and can you just quickly tell us how you got into this career? Did you have very many women, role models in conservation biology in your, um, journey to this job? >>Dr. Melissa: Well, I'm just a bit older than Katherine *laugh* and early on I really didn't have a lot of exposure to women in science. Uh, they just weren't very visible to me, but early in my career when I started with the Smithsonian, I had a chance to meet some women who were true pioneers in the field. For example, Dr. JoGayle
Howard, uh, she innovated new reproductive technology techniques for highly endangered species. Dr. Devra Kleiman, she led a major effort to use captive animals to help endangered wild animals with the golden lion tamarind in Brazil. So, they both showed me that women could be leaders in conservation, and make a difference in saving species. So, now, there are so many more women in their field. It's really fantastic to see that, how much it's changed, and I'm fortunate to have worked with many brilliant women within the Smithsonian and beyond. >>Shellie: I love to hear that! Um, as
a person who has worked with many species named after Dr.JoGayle Howard, it's incredible that they have so many role models here in the Smithsonian; and that now you, yourself, Dr. Mel can serve as a role model for many other up-and-coming, uh, women and girls in STEM. Well, we have a special guest who is very ready to meet everybody. Um, once again, we've learned sort of throughout this program how Dr.Mel and Dr.Katherine use the animals here at the zoo to help learn, and apply what are
the things that we learn, our knowledge, to tracking animals in the wild. So Dr. Mel, I'm going to invite you back in a few minutes for our q&a while we meet our next guest. If you have any guesses who our special guest will be, put it in the chat. And I am so thrilled to welcome, um, our special ZooCam.
>>Debbie: Hi! My name is Debbie, I'm an elephant keeper here at the National Zoo, I have 40, 40, no, I don't have 40 *laugh* I have 21 years experience taking care of elephants. This is Becca, and our elephant Swarna! Swarna is a 47 year old Asian female elephant, she's about 7 feet tall, and almost seven thousand pounds. One of the ways that elephants at the zoo help scientists learn about elephants in the wild, is testing equipment used to track them. Today we'd like to show you how we put
a tracking unit, in a bracelet, on an elephant. So we've taught Swarna how to lift her foot... *laughs* Stage fright. *laughs* She's going to lift her foot, she's going to extend it, and hold it in place, while Becky puts the bracelet around, her wrist, and attaches the clip! *click* Now this doesn't bother Swarna at all, in fact, she can just walk off for the rest of the day doing all the things she likes to do. Doesn't get in the way. And when we gather the tracking data at a later date, we can see where Swarna has been throughout the day and how long she stayed in each place! We can also see where she has laid down, and how long she stayed sleeping in that same spot. In this way, if everything goes well, we can see that this equipment works well for tracking elephants in the wild, and in that way that's how elephants at zoos help scientists learn about elephants! >>Shellie: That is so neat Debbie thank you so much for joining! >>Debbie: You're welcome! >>Shellie: Can you repeat for us, um, how old is Swarna? >>Debbie: Swarna is 47 years old! >>Shellie: 47 years old, and how long has she lived at the National Zoo? >>Debbie: She's lived here for eight years now. >>Shellie: Wow, very cool. >>Debbie: She and her, um, her pseudo-sister,
her companion Kamala, sorry, Kamala came here along with Kamala's daughter Maharani. And they've integrated into our herd, and then their longtime companion, Spike, who also used to live with them at a previous facility in Calgary Canada moved here as well. They're all reunited. Terrific elephants, good family group. >>Shellie: Amazing! And I'm hearing in the background a little bit of a clicking, can you tell us what that clicking is? >>Debbie: Yes! So one of the ways that we let an elephant know that they're doing the correct behavior is, by using a bridge. A bridge is, um, a sound generally between the command that we give ,and them performing the behavior we ask. *click*
In this case it's a clicker, and it sounds like this. It could be a whistle, it could be the word 'good' and we ask the elephant to do the behavior; when they've completed the behavior you hear the click, and they understand that they're going to get a food reward in her case. >>Shellie: Very cool, and this allows the elephants to sort of have a choice in participating and you use the same sort of positive reinforcement, we call it, when it comes to their veterinary procedures too! So that almost like when, um, kids or adults even go to the doctors we might get a lollipop as a reward so if she does the behavior you ask, she'll get a little treat reward, right? >>Debbie: Definitely, yes! And, um, depending on how difficult the behavior is or the elephant's interest, they may get something they could get something as tiny as a grape or they might need some encouragement as large as a watermelon. >>Shellie: As large as a watermelon, those are quite different sizes, that's amazing! >>Debbie: They're very individual in their likes and tastes. >>Shellie: That's so amazing, so I noticed obviously here you're using a bracelet, but in the wild we know that they're using collars. What is the
difference between those? >>Debbie: We actually have a radio tracking collar so that we can show you. It's well worn, probably not unlike what a radio tracking collar would look like after it had been removed from an elephant living in range country for a long time. Becky's gonna bring that up for us. Oh, it's very heavy, to us, not for elephants! This is the component, ugh, like I said but, um, we, it's connected by these little screws and this metal plate. So we would ask one of our elephants to come close, we practiced for a very long time throwing it up over their neck, and pulling it down attaching it. And then we tested that equipment as well to make sure it was comfortable for the elephants, didn't cause any abrasions, or stopped them from feeding or lying down to sleep. Um, and then we actually tested on, on, the one specific elephant we worked with we checked her for those things, um, every single day; kept note of it, and she was fine, there were no behavioral changes and, um, and this was the actual collar! And they are actually using these collars for tracking elements in the wild. Oh my goodness, thank you. >>Shellie: That's so amazing, and I did launch a poll Debbie and
people were guessing on how much an elephant tracking collar weighs: 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 25 pounds or 50 pounds. Do you know off the top of your head how heavy that was? >>Debbie: Hmmm, I, maybe 25 or 30 pounds? It's pretty, it, it seems pretty heavy to us, the higher you hold it, the heavier it is. But for them it's really no big deal at all. I don't, don't even think they really notice it.
>>Shellie: That's really amazing. Debbie thank you SO much for joining and for giving us this special view and, once again, how our zoo animals like our Asian elephants like Swarna here help to trial things, advance our technology, advance our knowledge to help their wild cousins. Debbie, again, thank you so so much for joining we had just the best time and we have reached our 45 minutes folks so I'm gonna launch our last polls in case some folks need to leave. And, um, I am going to invite Dr. Katherine
and Dr. Mel back on so keep those questions coming in the q&a, and we are going to dive right in. And this closing poll is: how did you feel about today's program? Did you love it? Like it? It was okay, or not for you. And how did this program leave you feeling? Connected to the Smithsonian, motivated to save species, curious about careers with animals. and inspired by women in STEM?
Once again, thank you so much for joining Dr. Katherine and Dr Mel! We have gotten so many questions! And let's start with, Nicole asks, this is for Dr. Katherine, um are oryx predators in the wild or what are their predators in the wild? >>Dr.Katherine: So, while oryx may occasionally fight each other, especially the adult males do for mating opportunities, they are subject to predation by a number of other species. In the reserve where we're introducing oryx in Chad, the only predator of oryx that's left in the wild is the jackal. And so they're fairly small, dog-like animals that would mostly predate
very young calves less than 30 days old. >>Shellie: Oh wow, and, um, how many babies have been born? The Langley School asks. >>Dr.Katherine: So more than 330 scimitar- horned oryx calves have been detected in the wild in Chad since the first animals were released in 2016. So it's a really rapidly growing population, and it's really incredible to see how frequently, and how many, tiny little baby oryx are being found in the wild. >>Shellie: I think, you know, animals that have been reintroduced and successfully breed and have
babies is the ultimate sort of measure of success, right? >>Dr.Katherine: Absolutely, our primary goal and really the goal of any reintroduction program, is to establish a self-sustaining population that can keep itself stable or growing through reproduction and low mortality. >>Shellie: That's so neat, um, Dr.Mel, the next one is for you. So we saw Swarna show us her hoof, her paw, to, um, put the bracelet on but obviously our wild elephants aren't going to be trained for this behavior, can you walk us through a little bit of how you would put a collar on a wild Asian elephant? >>Dr.Melissa: Sure, it is quite an operation. And the work where we've done the, most of the collaring has been done in Myanmar. And there they have many, many, what we call 'working elephants'. They actually work in
timber operations, they do the heavy lifting, so they're very trained. Here you could see one. And, we work with a team of, of elephants. Of four or five elephants, and they are actually trained to help capture other elephants. In, they're, they're actually trained for capturing them for more work but we work with them in order to capture and collar them. So, uh, dart, we have trackers, that, that find them and we dart them with very strong, and basically it's, it's, um, they go to sleep! We get the collar on, and then we reverse the drug, and move away very quickly. And, uh, yeah it's, it's really an exciting operation. And, um, the elephants really get all the credit, they're very highly trained
um, in terms of being able to deal with a, with a wild elephant and not run away. >>Shellie: That's so amazing. So we did see some maps earlier from the oryx and the Przewalski's horses, but this is great of an elephant wearing one of these collars and exactly pinpointing where they're traveling to. Um this is great, a great question probably for both of you, I'll leave it up to you who wants to answer Lindsey asked about removing the trackers once the batteries run out, how do you do that? >>Dr.Katherine: Well I could answer for all of the collars that we put out on scimitar-horned oryx and addax. And for many of the collars that are made these days, they actually have an automatic drop-off device. So there's a section in the collar that will actually separate on a programmed date, or after a certain amount of time so the collar will simply fall off the animal and you can go pick it up in the field. And you
can also insert, what are called 'weak links' so a more fragile material than the typical leather or nylon of the collar belt or the tag bands that will gradually wear away over time and fall off the animal after a couple years or so. >>Shellie: That's so neat. Is it the same for the elephants too? >>Dr.Melissa: It is, now. It, originally there were not really those kind of remote drop-offs but now we've built in things that will rest and make sure that they're not wearing that for their whole life. >>Shellie: Again, another cool advancement in technology that they'll just automatically, and we can salvage those pieces and reuse them. That's fantastic. Um, Alex and Andrew had a question about which, um,
organization breeds the most Przewalski's horses? >>Dr. Mel: Which breeds the most? Well actually the wild horse breeding center in Xinjiang, China is the largest. They have, approximately, 120-130 horses, uh, and this is one of the organizations that we work with that's releasing horses in the Northwestern part of China.
>>Shellie: That's so neat. Let's see...and, again, questions for both of you. I believe, um, Dr.Katherine briefly mentioned this, but did the trackers, do these collars bother the animals at all? >>Dr.Katherine: No, and one of the, kind of, ground rules for tracking animals and that's been mentioned for all the species we've talked about today, and probably on the other days that you guys have held similar programs, you can't make it too heavy. So that's the critical first piece is making sure
that the weight is sustainable for the animal to carry over time. And then, so that ties into solar powered, battery-powered, all these questions. Just to make it as light as possible, and then working with the captive collections to check their behavior. Are they stressed? Look at their fecal samples to see if we can find stress hormones or high levels of stress hormones, so all of these hardware parts and research parts really get put together to make sure we're not negatively impacting animal welfare. >>Shellie: That's so amazing, um, great, and another question from Alex and Andrew: Um, Mel, what have been your favorite moments from working in the field? >>Dr.Mel: Well, definitely seeing a species be being released, uh, and visiting, seeing, and being able to see them in the wild. And think
this, this animal didn't used to be free, and that's that's a highlight regardless of the species to, to see that, uh, it really. I don't know, that's probably the most exciting thing. >>Shellie: That's so amazing. And so both of you have talked about studying the ecology, the environment, the habitats. Have you noticed any changes in the ecosystems that you are reintroducing the once extinct animals back in to? >>Dr.Katherine: Well, one of the things that helped settle where oryx and addax should be reintroduced
in Chad was a long-term analysis of vegetation and climate trends. So actually the reserve where oryx and addax are being released right now, underwent a 'greening trend' through the 1990s which may be a surprise to everyone who expects generally higher temperatures and drier environments under climate change, but in some areas their rainfall is changing, and in Chad it's changing so there's more precipitation in fewer rainfall events, but overall the system is, uh, has gradually greened over the last couple decades. Short-term changes, we're seeing lots and lots of livestock. So in the reserve in Chad people will, families will bring their camels, their goats, their sheep, their cows into the reserve during the rainy season to take advantage of all the green grass.
And over time there's just been more, and more, and more livestock coming in. So there's a lot more cows around the oryx than there used to be in Chad. >>Shellie: Alright, are you seeing any changes in the ecology, where the Przewalski's horses or Asian elephants live Dr.Mel? >>Dr.Melissa: Well, we have seen some similar things where we see increased human impact in that way. So in Mongolia, in Khustain Nuruu, where we work, we've been seeing more, more livestock coming in and that is a concern because there can be, you know, not enough forage for everybody and some of the overlap we worry about uh, in, in China one of the, one of the challenges we've seen from human activities was from development of drilling some oil. And it's a very large reserve, it's 14,000 square kilometers, but there were areas where they were starting to, to build up areas that were for mining. And so it was, there was several years where we were really pushing, you know we, we want to try
to limit this we really don't, you know, want this to get close to the horses. And it was actually considered that that, that they did, um, limit the expansion uh, because of the of the horse project so that was that was really great to see. >>Shellie: That's amazing, and Olivia had a question, potentially for both of you, what are some of the subjects that you studied in order to do sort of ecology and conservation work now? We can start with you Dr. Katherine. >>Dr.Katherine: Sure! So this might not be the answer that anyone wants to hear, but statistics is really important. That's how we tell a change over time in anything, environmental conditions, animal behavior, animal habitat selection. You have to be able to use statistical tools to tell those things apart. And a lot of my work, I actually analyze data from
satellites, so remote sensing, and I analyze, you know, points in space where all of these collars are reporting their location. So lots of spatial data, lots of satellite data, and lots of statistics. >>Shellie: That's amazing, what about you Dr.Mel? >>Dr.Melissa: Yeah, I would agree. I think, uh, spatial analysis and mapping, uh, really learning to use GIS can be helpful for so many different fields. And then beyond that, the fun stuff for me was biology and botany, and mammology, and where you really get to learn about the about the species. So, um, you can never have too much of that. >>Shellie: That is so amazing, and I know that we are still getting so many questions, unfortunately we are running out of time. I do want to say thank you SO much to Dr. Katherine and Dr. Mel, and a special shout out to Debbie and
Swarna joining us from the elephant house. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our viewers? Um, potentially any things that, you know, your favorite ways to celebrate Earth Day? >>Dr.Katherine: Well I have two little kids, and we'll be going to the zoo! *laughs* >>Shellie: That's a great one! >>Dr.Katherine: I encourage anyone who has questions about the species you might see at the zoo to look at websites and look at, there are so many amazing video content that the zoo has posted online. There's so much to learn about all
these different species both in captivity, and then how to conserve them in the wild. >>Shellie: Thank you, what about you Dr.Mel? >>Dr.Melissa: I think a great thing to do, to celebrate, is to get outside, and it's a beautiful day, so get out and hike! That's something that I always did growing up is grab those chances and, um, you know and I think too, think about what, what actions we're taking. I think anyone, we can make decisions in our life every day in what we're, what we're eating, what we're buying, what we're consuming, that can make a difference for animals and habitat so, you know, you don't have to be a scientist or a conservation biologist. And I think Earth Day is a great day to remember, you know, we can make a difference. >>Shellie: And I love that, just last question any advice, again this is Women on the Move, any advice for young girls, women interested in science, in STEM, in conservation or ecology? >>Dr.Melissa: Um, well I, I think about this like when I was a young girl, what would I tell myself? And something
that, it's, that always was a problem for me was speaking up. Uh whether it was being the only woman in the room, or just being a shy person, I struggled with speaking to groups, uh, but I think if you stay quiet you're really missing opportunities for connection and contributing to ideas. So I, I guess that's a message that I would, I would say to to women, um, you know, make yourself heard! And, um, I think, um, you know, the more you do that, the more, the easier it gets so... >>Shellie: I love that! Thank you so much. Well thank you both for joining us on this Earth Day we had SUCH an amazing time this week highlighting Women on the Move and learning about scientists tracking species across land, air, and sea habitats. Thank you so much Dr. Mel and Dr. Katherine for joining us. Well we have been talking about saving species around the world this week. There are some things
that we can all do to help save species, as we mentioned. One, to help our aquatic species that we learned on Monday, like our herring and our whales, we can eat more sustainable fish. To help our shore and seabirds that we learned about on Wednesday, avoid single-use plastics. And, to help our animals here at the zoo like our Przewalski's horses, our oryx, and our Asian elephants, come visit or support the zoo by watching these webinars, visiting, telling your friends and family all about what you learned. You can help support the zoo, and some of these amazing species. After learning about how scientists track river herring, whales, birds, oryx, Przewalski's horses, and elephants we want you all to now put on your researcher hat, and think of an animal that YOU would want to track and design a tracking device for that animal! You'll be able to find this tracking activity on our website later next week, and you can submit your drawings through our website and we'll post them on our learning lab as well. Recordings of all three programs will be made accessible, and
posted on our website along with more resources next week. And if you're posting to our social media, to your social media, be sure to tag us and hashtag BecauseOfHerStory. We would additionally love your feedback on today's program, you'll see a survey pop up when we close this webinar. Educators,
if you wouldn't mind taking a few minutes to fill that out. On behalf of the Smithsonian's American Women's History Initiative, the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute,