Zoos Victoria

Victoria, Australia

Zoos Victoria

Victoria, Australia
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Schut E.,University of Groningen | Aguilar J.R.-D.,CSIC - National Museum of Natural Sciences | Merino S.,CSIC - National Museum of Natural Sciences | Magrath M.J.L.,Zoos Victoria | And 2 more authors.
Immunogenetics | Year: 2011

The major histcompatibility complex (MHC) is a vital component of the adaptive immune system in all vertebrates. This study is the first to characterize MHC class I (MHC-I) in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), and we use MHC-I exon 3 sequence data from individuals originating from three locations across Europe: Spain, the Netherlands to Sweden. Our phylogeny of the 17 blue tit MHC-I alleles contains one allele cluster with low nucleotide diversity compared to the remaining more diverse alleles. We found a significant evidence for balancing selection in the peptide-binding region in the diverse allele group only. No separation according to geographic location was found in the phylogeny of alleles. Although the number of MHC-I loci of the blue tit is comparable to that of other passerine species, the nucleotide diversity of MHC-I appears to be much lower than that of other passerine species, including the closely related great tit (Parus major) and the severely inbred Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). We believe that this initial MHC-I characterization in blue tits provides an important step towards understanding the mechanisms shaping MHC-I diversity in natural populations. © 2011 The Author(s).

Singh D.,University of Texas at Austin | Dixson B.J.,Victoria University of Wellington | Jessop T.S.,Zoos Victoria | Morgan B.,Conservation and Research for Endangered Species | And 2 more authors.
Evolution and Human Behavior | Year: 2010

In women of reproductive age, a gynoid body fat distribution as measured by the size of waist-hip ratio (WHR) is a reliable indicator of their sex hormone profile, greater success in pregnancy and less risk for major diseases. According to evolutionary mate selection theory, such indicators of health and fertility should be judged as attractive. Previous research has confirmed this prediction. In this current research, we use the same stimulus for diverse racial groups (Bakossiland, Cameroon, Africa; Komodo Island, Indonesia; Samoa; and New Zealand) to examine the universality of relationships between WHR and attractiveness. As WHR is positively correlated with body mass index (BMI), we controlled BMI by using photographs of women who have gone through micrograft surgery for cosmetic reasons. Results show that in each culture participants selected women with low WHR as attractive, regardless of increases or decreases in BMI. This cross-cultural consensus suggests that the link between WHR and female attractiveness is due to adaptation shaped by the selection process. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.

PubMed | Monash University, La Trobe University, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Healesville Sanctuary and 2 more.
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Molecular ecology | Year: 2016

Genetic diversity is positively linked to the viability and evolutionary potential of species but is often compromised in threatened taxa. Genetic rescue by gene flow from a more diverse or differentiated source population of the same species can be an effective strategy for alleviating inbreeding depression and boosting evolutionary potential. The helmeted honeyeater Lichenostomus melanops cassidix is a critically endangered subspecies of the common yellow-tufted honeyeater. Cassidix has declined to a single wild population of ~130 birds, despite being subject to intensive population management over recent decades. We assessed changes in microsatellite diversity in cassidix over the last four decades and used population viability analysis to explore whether genetic rescue through hybridization with the neighbouring Lichenostomus melanops gippslandicus subspecies constitutes a viable conservation strategy. The contemporary cassidix population is characterized by low genetic diversity and effective population size (N(e) < 50), suggesting it is vulnerable to inbreeding depression and will have limited capacity to evolve to changing environments. We find that gene flow from gippslandicus to cassidix has declined substantially relative to pre-1990 levels and argue that natural levels of gene flow between the two subspecies should be restored. Allowing gene flow (~4 migrants per generation) from gippslandicus into cassidix (i.e. genetic rescue), in combination with continued annual release of captive-bred cassidix (i.e. demographic rescue), should lead to positive demographic and genetic outcomes. Although we consider the risk of outbreeding depression to be low, we recommend that genetic rescue be managed within the context of the captive breeding programme, with monitoring of outcomes.

News Article | February 2, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

Researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia are studying how orangutans are able to learn and make social choices by exposing the animals to digital technology such as Microsoft's Xbox Kinect system. In earlier studies, animal experts from Melbourne's Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces and Zoos Victoria tried to use touchscreen computers and tablets to determine the social interaction and cognitive challenges that orangutans typically experience. However, because of the animals' curiosity and immense strength, the researchers would have to stay alongside the orangutans in order to guide them in using the computers or tablets. The animals had to put their hand or fingers through a strong mesh when operating the devices. Despite these challenges, the researchers were able to discover that the orangutans had a penchant for using technology, especially if it gives them the chance to interact with humans. Sally Sherwen, an animal welfare expert from Zoos Victoria, wanted to allow the orangutans to use the technology the way they see fit. She believes that it would provide the animals a richer and more engaging interaction as they can use their full range of body movements. "They enjoyed using the tablet but we wanted to give them something more, something they can use when they choose to," Sherwen said. The researchers developed a new natural user interface (NUI) technology and incorporated it to the Xbox Kinect, a gaming console accessory that allows users to make virtual actions using their voice and body movement. Using the Xbox Kinect, the research team is now able to create a full body-sized projection that provides the orangutans the opportunity to engage images through their body gestures. The Xbox Kinect projection serves as a touchscreen for the animals to use without requiring any physical devices be placed inside their enclosure. During their testing this week, the researchers found that the orangutans were very receptive to the projected interface. Malu, a 12-year-old male orangutan from Melbourne Zoo, was shown a projection of a red dot. Once he saw the projection, he went over to the dot and proceeded to kiss it. The red dot then exploded. When the projection reappeared, Malu kiss it again. Malu's actions indicate the orangutans' keen sense to using not only their hands whenever they interact. The researchers aim to develop a new method of stimulation for the orangutans, which would allow the animals to have fun while also motivating them to use their problem solving skills. One of the team's primary goals is to find out how the orangutans, which are known to enjoy social engagements, would behave toward humans when they are given control of their interaction. Various computer games, picture galleries and painting applications are now being developed for the use of the orangutans.

We heard recently about the amazing experience of a visitor to Melbourne Zoo who sat to breastfeed her child and was watched with interest by a female orang-utan. Families are also regularly captivated by the antics of the Zoo's youngest orang-utan, who seems to delight in playing near children on the other side of the glass. Now Zoos Victoria and technology researchers are collaborating to explore whether digital technologies could let orang-utans choose to interact safely with visitors in entirely new ways. For modern zoo organisations such as Zoos Victoria, the animals' wellbeing is top priority. Cognitive enrichment is vital, particularly for species such as primates and elephants which evolved astonishing intelligence and problem-solving skills to meet the challenges of survival in the wild. Research suggests that orang-utans like to watch what's happening on the visitors' side of the glass, and interacting with visitors could be an important form of enrichment for them. There is a real art to developing enrichment that encourages smart animals to use their intellect to explore and solve problems. On occasion, keepers at Melbourne Zoo have taken hours to prepare a new fiendish food puzzle, only to see the orang-utans solve it in a matter of minutes. And of course enrichment must be safe and robust (an orang-utan can be nine times stronger than a human), which limits the equipment that zoos can use. To continue to provide novelty and variety, primate keepers have started to add digital enrichment to the range of existing activities. At Melbourne, and a number of other zoos, orang-utans have learned to use a tablet computer through the wire of the enclosure to play with chase games, music-making and painting apps. As a team of technology researchers and zoos professionals, we are investigating new forms of digital enrichment. Our collaboration began as the result of a happy accident: a Melbourne Zoo staff member happened to visit the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces, and had the opportunity to play a video game with the Microsoft Xbox and Kinect body tracker. She quickly realised that motion-based games could provide entirely new ways to address the challenges of orang-utan enrichment. Computer-based enrichment is an attractive prospect for zoos. It could be easily modified to provide new challenges, or tailored to an individual orang-utan's skill level. It overcomes some of the safety issues of introducing new physical objects. And it might allow animals a choice of enrichment when keepers are not available. We have created an interactive projection which works like a touchscreen on the floor, using a projector and a Microsoft Kinect body tracker placed outside the enclosure. Recently we have been trialling simple games to show the orang-utans that this interactive projection responds to their touch, and start investigating how they might use it. In our first game, which has proven a big success, large coloured dots move around the projection and explode in pulsing waves of colour when touched. The interests of Melbourne Zoo's orang-utans have inspired some of our apps, including one which allows the animals to view photos or videos, choosing them from a gallery. We are confident that the orang-utans would quickly learn to use the touchscreen if we train them to. However, as part of our research we have let orang-utans explore the touchscreen without direction. By not rewarding them for using the projection, we have been able to investigate how interesting this enrichment is to them, see how intuitively they take to it, and see their preferred ways of interacting with it. The six orang-utans at Melbourne Zoo have all tried out the interactive projection, and most seem to have learned that fun things happen when they touch the bright moving shapes on the floor. Excitingly, they have shown us some unexpected styles of interaction, such as kissing the projection, sweeping it with the back of the hand, exploring how it works with physical objects and even swooshing a cloth at it from above. We hope that digital technology will allow animals greater choice over their environment and enrichment. A first step will be for orang-utans to choose which game to play. In the future, they might be given control over lighting or temperature, or perhaps even feeding schedules and interaction with other animals or humans. As orang-utans seem to find humans interesting, we are experimenting with creating a shared digital space where orang-utans can choose to interact safely with keepers and even visitors. In our first trial of a game for humans and orang-utans, we saw with delight that they chose to play even with people they had not met before, creating a powerful sense of connection for the human player. The day is perhaps not far off when digital technology might let you get closer than ever to our primate cousins. Explore further: A happy life is a long one for orangutans

Pearson E.L.,University of South Australia | Lowry R.,Zoos Victoria | Dorrian J.,University of South Australia | Litchfield C.A.,University of South Australia
Zoo Biology | Year: 2014

With significant biodiversity loss occurring presently, increased emphasis is being placed upon the capacity of zoos to contribute to species conservation. This paper evaluates an innovative conservation education campaign 'Don't Palm Us Off' implemented at Melbourne Zoo, Australia. This sought to address a lack of public awareness regarding palm oil (the product most threatening the survival of the orang-utan) and to create public support for mandatory labeling of palm oil on food products, allowing for informed consumer purchasing. Communication tools utilized included an educational video presentation played on-site, as well as You Tube video, celebrity ambassadors, and social media. Evaluation took place across four time-points: baseline, mid-point, conclusion (12 months), and follow-up. Zoo visitors (N=403) were randomly selected whilst visiting the orang-utan exhibit, completing a questionnaire regarding knowledge about orang-utans, attitudes toward orang-utans, support for palm oil labeling, previous conservation behavior, and intentions for future behavior. Results revealed significant increases in palm oil awareness; attitudes toward orang-utans; support for palm oil labeling; and indicating labeling would influence purchasing behavior, at all times relative to baseline (P<0.01). There were also significant increases in self-reported conservation behavior at the end of the campaign and follow-up (P<0.05). In excess of 160,000 people additionally signed an associated petition for mandatory palm oil labeling. Overall the findings support the efficacy of this multi-faceted initiative; highlighting the importance of continued innovation in zoo-based conservation education and practice (including the integration of emerging technologies with traditional on-site education) to maximize contributions to species conservation. © 2014 The Authors. Zoo Biology Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

News Article | December 5, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

Environmentalists have warned that Australia’s repeated delays on mandatory palm oil labelling are allowing deforestation and the destruction of orangutan habitats to continue unabated. A proposal requiring palm oils to be specifically listed on food labels has now been under consideration by Australian and New Zealand ministers for more than five years. The changes would prevent palm oil from being listed generically as “vegetable oil”, helping to inform consumers, limit demand for unsustainable palm oil products, and reduce the devastating impact that plantations have on rainforests and orangutan habitats, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. The proposal again came before the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation late last month, but any decision was put off until at least April. The Zoos Victoria chief executive officer, Jenny Gray, who is leading one of several concurrent palm oil campaigns, said she was confused about what additional information the ministerial council was seeking. “We know we’re losing a thousand orangutans a year at the moment, so if we delay for another year, that’s more habitats destroyed, that’s more orangutans impacted by this,” Gray said. “Longer delays, it really is unclear why we would want to do that when this is such an urgent issue,” she said. The decision on palm oil labelling is wrapped up in a broader review of labelling laws, which began in 2009. In 2011, an expert panel, led by former Labor health minister Neal Blewett, recommended that added sugars, oils or fats be individually labelled. The ministerial forum made some progress at its meeting late last month, splitting its consideration of palm oil from other labelling changes. Blewett told Guardian Australia he thought the process had been “fairly slow”, but said the labelling reforms were complex and presented plenty of issues for stakeholders to “fight over”. “It’s been fairly slow, I’ve got to say. And I’ve not been following it closely because I’ve not been involved in the later debates,” he said. He said he had recommended mandatory palm oil labelling on health grounds, because it was arguably not as healthy as other vegetable oils. Deforestation and habitat destruction, he said, were environmental concerns and couldn’t really be considered in the labelling process. “The value side issues… you can’t start laying down rules for those,” he said. “What you can do is get the market to work effectively so that companies will feel the need to, when they list vegetable oils, find it necessary to say that they haven’t got palm oils.” The move faces opposition from the food industry, represented by the Australian Food and Grocery Council. A council spokesman said many Australian companies had already begun using only sustainably sourced palm oil in their products. He said that created a risk palm oil labelling would confuse consumers, who would be unable to tell sustainable and unsustainable products apart. “The problem is there is low understanding of [certified sustainable palm oil] and consumers may confuse products that use responsibly sourced palm oil with those that don’t,” he said. “We want to encourage companies to make the substantial investment in CSPO, but potentially lumping CSPO and non-CSPO products under one label may act as a disincentive.” A survey commissioned by Zoos Victoria found 84% of Australians and 92% of New Zealand consumers supported the initiative. The labelling of palm oil, which is high in saturated fat, is also supported on health grounds by the Australian Medical Association. The European Union implemented specific oil labelling in 2014, and the United States and Canada have adopted similar measures. The EU’s experience, according to Gray, showed that the costs to industry were negligible. She said it may actually be more costly for companies to maintain two different labelling regimes; one for Australia and another for the EU or US. “It’s easy to say we don’t want change because it would cost us, it would be really good to see how they would quantify that,” Gray said. “Then to give the consumer the choice, I think people are happy to pay a few extra cents to know that they’re buying a sustainable product.” The ministerial forum will meet again on 28 April.

Gillespie G.R.,55 Union Street | Kum K.C.,Zoos Victoria
Victorian Naturalist | Year: 2011

The Bleating Tree Frog Litoria dentata is a pond-breeding species distributed along the east coast of Australia from southern Queensland to southern New South Wales. We report the discovery of a population of this species in Victoria, near Genoa, East Gippsland. This finding constitutes a southerly range extension for the species and takes to 38 the number of frog species known to occur in Victoria.

Knowledge of life history and population demography of threatened amphibians is poor. I used skeletochronology in conjunction with mark-recapture data to examine growth rates, age at maturity, and longevity of the spotted tree frog, Litoria spenceri, a critically endangered Australian species. Ages were reliably determined for 578 individuals across two populations at 335- and 1110-m elevation. Females attained larger body sizes than males and took longer to reach sexual maturity, consistent with most anurans. Males matured at 2 yr and females at 3-4 yr at lower elevations, whereas at higher elevations, males matured at 3-4 yr and females took up to 6 yr to mature, which is slow compared with most anurans. Overall, L. spenceri is long-lived, with a maximum confirmed age of 14 yr. These life history attributes have implications for population dynamics of L. spenceri, which may have markedly different demographic responses to certain threatening processes compared with faster growing, shorter lived species. This study highlights the value and need for more life history and demographic data on threatened species. Generalizations about population demography and dynamics across environmental gradients should be made cautiously. © 2011 The Herpetologists' League, Inc.

Leadbeater's possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) is a cryptic, endangered species that is notoriously difficult to detect using conventional mammal survey methods. However, the imitation of the species' social contact and/or alarm calls has previously been found to attract resident animals. Call imitation was employed as a secondary survey method to confirm ongoing site occupancy by Leadbeater's possum at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve. All call imitation reported here was conducted at sites currently or previously known to be occupied by particular family groups. The results indicate that the method has considerable promise as a tool to facilitate broad-scale surveys targeting this species. However, 'false negatives' did occur during the surveys at Yellingbo, highlighting that additional testing is required to adequately characterise the species' response patterns, in particular variation in the response rate in occupied territories and the distance over which animals will respond. A detailed understanding of these factors is essential to permit reliable interpretation of survey findings.

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