Preserving Endangered Species at the Maryland Zoo

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The Maryland Zoo, centrally located in Baltmore’s Druid Hill Park, has historically been a place for families to socialize, exercise, and learn firsthand about a vast array of animal life. Since its establishment in 1876, the shady, green campus functioned as an urban oasis for humans and animals as the zoo evolved from a menagerie into a renowned facility housing native animals and endangered species threatened by climate change and habitat loss.

“People don’t always understand how important zoos are at helping animal populations survive in the wild because a lot of that work goes unseen,” says Michael Evitts, Senior Director of Communications. The zoo staff participates in animal and habitat conservation programs in Baltimore and around the world, “and we are stepping up more than ever as environments are being challenged.”

According to President and CEO Kirby Fowler, the majority of their staff members have degrees in biology, zoology, and environmental science, and, whether they are veterinarians, educators, or keepers, all are engaged in local and global conservation work. The zoo’s state- of-the-art animal hospital, for example, organized a national study of COVID vaccine response in big cats through a partnership with the Felid Taxon Advisory Group from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“We have a cryobank that goes back decades, and people reach out from all over the world to access samples,” says Evitts. “We are also working on one repopulation initiative for turtles native to Maryland and another with the Panamanian golden frog, which is extinct in the wild.” As a leader in this effort, the Maryland Zoo team is working with conservation partners in the U.S. and Panama to establish a new parent colony that could repopulate this beloved amphibian.


Our hope is that, by fostering empathy, our guests develop lifelong support for conservation of wildlife and wild places.
Kirby Fowler

For those who love the penguin exhibit, with its innovative design that allows visitors to watch the endangered birds from a fish-eye view, it’s worth noting that this is the largest colony of African penguins in North America. Over four decades, the zoo developed a successful breeding and health program here in Baltimore and works closely with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, an internationally-renowned seabird rescue and rehabilitation organization, to address continued population decline in the wild. It regularly sends staff members from Baltimore to assist with field work in South Africa and Namibia.

The zoo is also involved in a satellite geo-tracking study of African elephants in Botswana, researching why larger males are expanding their territory, which can lead to dangerous incursions with farmers and villages.

Closer to home, Fowler recounts a seasonal trip to monitor the health of black bears in western Maryland, assisting with newborn cubs while their mother was examined. “Our veterinary team regularly helps state and county agencies with health checks on wild animals,” Fowler says. His staff also travels to help clean Chesapeake Bay tributaries. “These external projects reflect our values as a conservation organization.”

The zoo recently expanded its animal care team to better understand animal behavior. “Data generated by the team is used to improve long-term animal wellness and health,” Fowler says. “It also helps us constantly improve environments so that the animals are emotionally and intellectually challenged.”

“We do so much more than provide world-class care for the animals that live at the zoo,” says Fowler. “Every day we engage people in the wonders of the living world through personal encounters with animals here in Baltimore. Our hope is that, by fostering empathy, our guests develop lifelong support for conservation of wildlife and wild places.”

This story is from Issue 14: Environment, available here.

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