August 15, 2022 – The ABQ BioPark is strengthening its relationship with the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge to help curb the growth of a problematic tree species while feeding the zoo’s giraffes.
Valle de Oro donates tree branches from the invasive Siberian elm as “browse” — or food — for the ABQ BioPark herd of giraffes. This is an expansion of an existing partnership between the BioPark and Valle de Oro which has previously provided grazing for the elephant herd.
Valle de Oro, located in Albuquerque’s South Valley, aims to promote native habitat, according to Kaitlin Murphy, an Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps (ALCC) Individual Placement Biological Technician at the refuge. Siberian elms are “undesirable” there, she says. “It’s not native to this region, so we’re trying to phase it out.”
The partnership was born when Lisa Moore, lead keeper of the ABQ BioPark hoof park, visited Valle de Oro on a birding tour in April. She spotted elm trees during the tour and contacted Valle de Oro staff about a possible partnership.
“I think it’s a great way for the BioPark to connect with our community and a local organization like the shelter,” Moore said. “I’m a big advocate for integrating our community and thought it was a good way to start.”
Charisa Bell, a bioscience technician in Valle de Oro, said the project was a good fit because the refuge aims to partner with the local community as much as possible.
“We do our best to provide things to the community before we throw things flat, so it was nice to be able to say, ‘oh there are giraffes that need elm and we don’t have any need,'” she said. said. “We also have the program where we chip some of our elm trees and then provide free mulch to the South Valley community through a permit. (It’s) another opportunity for us to support our community, and that’s one of our main goals at the shelter.
Several Valle de Oro staff and members of their Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) visited the zoo on July 26 to meet the herd of giraffes as a token of appreciation for the refuge’s collaboration. Dakota Dominguez, youth employment coordinator in Valle de Oro, said the visit was a great way for youth in the program to explore different programs and job opportunities.
“I thought it was a great opportunity, so now they can come here, and we’ve already met two people who work here at BioPark who already had experience in YCC,” he said. “So it’s another way for these guys to just explore careers and see different connections in the community and opportunities.”
In addition to Valle de Oro, the BioPark also partners with several other local groups to secure the course of the herd of giraffes. This includes the Rio Grande Nature Center and a local tree farm. Additionally, the elephant team collaborated with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy and PNM.
“Our herd of giraffes are going through so many elm trees that we’ve found several places we can go to cut, but we’ve exhausted that,” Moore said. “So in order to allow that to replenish itself, it was great to find Valle de Oro and see that they needed their resources to be used in a different way. We hope to continue this partnership so that it helps ancestral lands and help our herd of giraffes.