Our project will take place at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Specifically, within our “Rain Forest Dome”—a tropical-themed exhibit that homes colorful species of birds, turtles, and frogs typically found in Indonesia, including eight species listed by the IUCN as Near Threatened (NT), Endangered (EN), and Critically Endangered (CR).
The Rain Forest Dome is a 5,000-square-foot exhibit filled with thick, tropical vegetation, making it perfect for the birds but difficult for us to monitor them! To census and care for the flock, our animal care professionals must search for the birds or sit and wait for each individual to appear. This process can be time-consuming and inefficient, as some birds are tiny, and others like to hide within their enclosures. This method can also stress the birds and affect reproduction.
With the addition of passive acoustic monitoring and access to bioacoustic analysis software, our data collection process will be much more efficient and less intrusive, making it possible to provide each animal with a well-rounded assessment. (And, because the recorders are discreet, the birds will have more opportunities to live and reproduce without human interaction.)
We will use two Song Meter Mini acoustic recorders and Kaleidoscope Pro software to collect data and develop a computer-assisted analysis for censusing the birds. Implementing this technology into our animal care practices is so important because it will give our team timely information to act on.
To that end, we’ll mount two recorders in the Rain Forest Dome to record bird calls in the morning and evening. We’ll then use those recordings to create a 3D digital map of the enclosure and a call library of the 52 individual birds that live within our collection. With the library, we’ll be able to identify our birds and signal to zoo staff when an individual makes an unusual call or exhibits unusual call patterns, prompting staff to locate the bird and provide care.
At the time of our Wildlife Acoustics grant application, the Zoo cares for eight species of IUCN-listed birds. Changing our monitoring practices to incorporate bioacoustics will create a more natural, low-stress environment to keep breeding pairs happy and reproducing. Domed, spacious habitats like ours are common for bird populations in human care, and we believe our processes will be adaptable to other institutions caring for sensitive and endangered species. We intend to share our methodology with other zoological organizations that face similar challenges.
Collaborating on this project will be Jason Johnson, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of Saint Francis, and research students. Under the guidance of the Zoo’s animal care professionals, students will sort and categorize bird vocalizations using the cluster analysis function within the Kaleidoscope Pro software to build a library of bird call data over several months.
Dr. Jean Elick oversees the Zoo's Environmental Quality Program, including conducting field measurements and laboratory procedures to evaluate animal enclosure features. Before joining the Zoo in 2021, Dr. Elick worked at the University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) for over 20 years. During her tenure, she played a dynamic role in the University's Chemistry Department, most notably as a Chemistry Professor and Department Chair. She holds her MSc in Chemistry and PhD in Biology (with an emphasis in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) from Bowling Green State University (Bowling Green, OH).
Fort Wayne Children's Zoo is a nonprofit zoological facility and conservation-driven organization in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Since 1965, we have shared our mission of connecting kids with animals, strengthening families, and inspiring people to care about the world around them with over 24 million people. Between four themed realms, including African Journey, Australian Adventure, Indonesian Rain Forest, and Central Zoo, we care for over 1,500 animals of over 100 unique species.