The Minnesota Zoo has been conducting wildlife conservation and research for decades, and partnerships have been key to the success of these programs from the very beginning. The Zoo’s Conservation Department has worked with collaborators at Dakota County Parks and Transportation on several wildlife and natural resource initiatives over the years aimed at protecting Minnesota’s wildlife.
The Minnesota Zoo is located on nearly 500 acres of land situated within Dakota County and shares borders with Lebanon Hills Regional Park, one of the largest parks in the greater metro area and managed by Dakota County Parks. Due to the Zoo’s physical location, and given that many of its acreage is undeveloped forest and wetland, the collaboration with Dakota County Parks was a natural one. Beginning in 2018, researchers at the Zoo teamed up with natural resource scientists at Dakota County to survey and monitor wild bees found on Zoo site. Wildlife population surveys are an important tool in conservation practices as they help scientists gain a better understanding of population status and distribution. During the Zoo survey that year, approximately 120 individual bees were temporarily captured, marked and then released. Bees marked with a small dot of paint can be recorded if sighted again in the future, giving scientists a glimpse of the movement patterns of individual bees. Surveys can also occasionally turn up very interesting finds. In 2018, researchers recorded sighting the endangered rusty patched bumble bee for the very first time on Zoo grounds!
The Zoo’s freshwater turtle program has also benefitted greatly from the growing partnership with Dakota County Parks. Turtles in Minnesota face an array of threats today, including mortality on busy roadways. It is estimated that thousands of turtles die each year trying to cross roads. Researchers at the Zoo have been studying these threats and testing various mitigation strategies in partnership with agencies across the state. Data collected by Zoo researchers throughout this study have been used by Dakota County Transportation staff to determine the need for installing wildlife underpasses. Due to this partnership and collaborative research project, underpasses are currently being installed at a few of the busier road sites in order to reduce wildlife mortality.
In addition, our partnership with Dakota County Parks and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources saw the return of bison to Spring Lake Park Reserve this past fall. Bison once numbered in the tens of millions here in North America, including across much of Minnesota. But persecution by European settlers along with the loss of prairie habitat across the continent resulted in the near disappearance of this magnificent species. This past fall, a small herd of bison were reintroduced to roam the restored prairie at Spring Lake, and you can now visit the park to observe and welcome these beautiful animals home.
Wildlife conservation is, by necessity, often a collaborative field of study. Wild animals don’t adhere to city, county or even national borders. And in order to protect them and their habitats, experts and community members must come together with every tool at our disposal to be most effective and impactful. The Minnesota Zoo is fortunate to have such dedicated and knowledgeable partners in the fight to save wildlife.
Funding for this work provided in part by: