Invasive Species Removal Benefits Park and Zoo Animals

Dec 11, 2019 | 4 min

(This video was originally broadcast on Iowa Outdoors, Episode 905, November 20, 2019.)

Just off the trail behind Grays Lake in Des Moines, a battalion of volunteers armed with clippers and saws are going to battle with invasive and overgrown plants and trees. These are "upcycled stewards."

Andrea Boulton, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation: Basically if you're familiar with the whole concept of upcycling - taking something old and reusing it or repurposing it - it's a very similar concept here. We're taking something that an invasive species or a non-native species here in our parks and reusing it to be able to feed animals at the zoo. A variety of species will benefit from what we're taking out of our parks and and providing it to them.

Honeysuckle, willow, mulberry, elm and other brush is being removed, loaded up, and hauled away to Blank Park Zoo.

Andrea Boulton: I mean evasive plants tend to take over an area and prevent those native plants that are good for the ecosystem from from thriving. So they're shading out the plants that need the sunlight to grow. And those plants provide a wealth of benefits to the land whether that's soil, or protecting from soil erosion, providing some water quality benefit or being the habitat and food that a wildlife may need. So getting rid of the invasives provides those more beneficial plants to thrive.

Chris Eckles, Blank Park Zoo: We want to get invasive plants and plant I might be just kind of over growing out of the woods and just make the to have a healthy woods. But our animals also need browse in their diet. So it's a win-win for everyone because we can take a lot of the stuff back to our animals so they can browse on it, or perch on it, or roll in it or just kind of have fun with it too. 

The twigs and foliage are called "browse". It's food and fun for the animals at the zoo. Each animal has its normal daily diet maybe pellets, meat, or fruits and vegetables . And browse is an important addition to that. Some animals browse in their natural environments like the giraffes, which browsing trees in the savannas. So the zoo wants to provide opportunities for the animals to do the same in captivity.

Chris Eckles: So that's what will hang it so they have to really use their their neck and their tongue and really pull on the leaves, and and have something yummy to eat that's a little different than the hay and the other stuff they're getting. The rhinos enjoy it very much. And our new baby rhino Kamara is even enjoying it though she can't eat it she's pretending she's eating it just like mom. So she's imitating mom which is really fun to watch her go around with browse in her mouth and try to figure out what to do, And our gibbons love it, our tigers love it, our lions love it, the goats of course they love it as well. So every animal just loves what we bring from upcycled.

Volunteers with upcycled stewards gather periodically to work on different areas. Just like the old saying Gray's Lake's trash is Blank Park Zoo's treasure. 

Andrea Boulton: People want to give back and not everybody can do that financially. And it's an opportunity to actually be on the land and do the work and make a make a difference that they can see, and have that impact that the community can see at a popular park like Gray's Lake. And then see the difference it's making at a popular destination like the zoo.

Chris Eckles: And at Blank Park Zoo we believe in conservation. We believe it's not just far away places that we want to conserve and protect. We want to protect Iowa and we want to protect our native plants and animals as well. So when we're doing this we're helping our pollinators, and our birds, our bunnies, by giving them better habitat to live in and then also growing our native flowers and our native trees are gonna have a better

chance when you thin out your forest. So we want to give back, not just globally, but we really feel it's important to get outside the zoo walls and give back to our local environment and work with our partners who are doing that work every single day.

Gilchrist Foundation