Memphis, Tennessee – The Memphis Zoo recently was awarded two grants totaling $627,160 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for facility upgrades and research. Out of 583 applications, IMLS awarded 217 grants totaling $25,996,400. The Memphis Zoo was one of only five zoos to receive a grant. The grants were part of $650,000 federal funding for Memphis to help attract more tourists. The remainder of the money was granted to the Metal Museum so that they could digitize their archives.
According to the Memphis Zoo’s website, the first grant for $146,745 will be used to make environmental and collection improvements to the Zoo’s herpetarium, which was built in 1960. These improvements include updating and improving heating and lighting in the older units to ensure that the optimum health, environmental enrichment, and welfare of the species in the collections are maintained, as well as, installing new animal exhibits. The majority of the changes will be made in holding areas behind-the-scenes.
The principal investigator for both grants is the Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, Dr. Steve Reichling. Dr. Chuck Brady, CEO of the Memphis Zoo, stated that, “These awards will help facilitate groundbreaking research in the area of amphibian and reptile reproduction and conservation. Grants like this one are critical to the Memphis Zoo’s vision of preserving wildlife through education, research, and conservation as we continue to build on the Zoo’s reputation as a world leader in developing assisted reproductive technologies for amphibians, reintroductions of threatened species and support for Species Survival Programs.” The area behind-the-scenes will be renamed the Conserving Amphibians and Reptiles from Extinction Center – Or the CARE Center. It is certain that these improvements will allow the zoo to increase the number of supported threatened species of reptiles and amphibians at the Memphis Zoo and expand their current breeding program with the hope of reintroducing these threatened species back into the wild.
Dr. Andy Kouba is the principle investigator for the second grant for $480,415, which will be used for research and help establish the first National Amphibian Genome Bank (NAGB). It will focus on collecting DNA from threatened wild and captive amphibian species with the hope of preventing their imminent extinctions. Their current work has already resulted in the release of over one hundred thousand tadpoles being released into the wild due to improvements in assisted breeding.
Dr. Kouba stated that, “A little over 30% of all amphibians are currently vulnerable or threatened with extinction and are at risk of disappearing forever. This grant will allow us the opportunity to help re-establish native populations of endangered amphibian species by securing our captive assurance colonies and providing animals for reintroduction programs.” Joining the Memphis zoo in this work will be Mississippi State University and a number of additional partners including the U.S
Fish and Wildlife Service, State Fish and Wildlife agencies, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Detroit Zoo, the Toronto Zoo, the Huston Zoo, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, and many more. Additionally, the grant gives the opportunity to employ undergraduate and graduate research students, post-doctoral students, and research associates to gain experience in molecular techniques and conservation biology. The grant will also allow for educational experiences and outreach for Memphis Zoo visitors to learn about amphibian extinction and what they can do to help.