By KELSEY KLOSS / FOR THE REGISTER
SANTA ANA – Not too far from the lemurs, two-toed sloths and a few emperor tamarin monkeys, the Santa Ana Zoo will make room for new residents by January. But the newcomers will bring computers and tracking devices instead of fur.
The zoo will offer laboratory space to five United States Geological Survey researchers to study Orange County wildlife on site. The research will help the zoo meet conservation efforts required by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said Ethan Fisher, zoo registrar.
“They do a very detailed check of everything in the zoo, and one topic is looking at your conservation work and commitment to it,” Fisher said. “We don’t do as much as we’d like to, so this is a great partnership for us.”
The USGS will purchase an office trailer for researchers to use near the zoo’s administration offices. Researchers will provide quarterly ecology-based lectures to zoo guests, which the city agreement states will save outside consulting costs. But no payments to or from the city-owned zoo are involved, Fisher said.
The scientists, who currently work in an Irvine office without a lab, will use the zoo’s laboratory to study how animals interact with urban Orange County.
“They will track and survey populations by going out and counting animals, or set camera traps to take pictures of them,” Fisher said. “There’ll be sinks and countertops here, and if they need to take samples, they can use our space.”
Habitat fragmentation, an urban disruption of natural animal habitats, will be a research focus. A visible indication of habitat fragmentation is the wandering of bobcats and coyotes into neighborhoods, said Erin Boydston, a USGS principal investigator who studies wild carnivores.
“As people report these animals, we’re interested in that information,” Boydston said. “A positive aspect of working with the zoo is wider outreach with the residents to better tap into knowledge untraditionally.”
Normally, the scientists would not establish physical home offices at zoos, but Santa Ana is prime for research, Boydston said.
“Orange County is one of the fastest developing areas in the country, but also an area of a lot of biodiversity,” Boydston said. “It might show how other landscapes may look in the future. We can take the lessons learned here and apply them to other places.”
The zoo may also consider involving the public in research, Fisher said.
“Citizen science is a very big evolving area now,” Fisher said. “The AZA has a program called Frog Watch, where they train people on how to listen for different frog calls. They can monitor populations that way.”
The local conservation lectures would be an added incentive for families to go to the zoo, said Lakewood resident Luan Price, who visited last week with her 1-year-old son.
“It’s something I would check out,” Price said. “It depends on the age group, and for someone a little older I might be able to explain more, but it is still fun to learn about.”
The zoo’s next AZA evaluation is in 2016.