The Topeka Zoo is actively engaged in work to support the preservation of Monarch butterflies in the wild, and their migration.
Annual population numbers of monarchs continue to show dramatic decline due to habitat loss. The loss of habitat available to monarchs has been measured at approximately 6,000 acres per day across the U.S. or 2.2 million acres each year. The loss of this much monarch habitat is accompanied by the dramatic loss of milkweed – their larval plants, and flowering plants – their source of nectar for nutrition.
Those milkweed and nectar plants still left to monarchs are then suffering from exposure to pesticides that kill monarchs who come to them for egg laying or feeding, genetically modified crops, and other challenges that when combined are imposing more losses to each years monarch migration than those suffered in the previous year.
The Topeka Zoo is leading the charge to provide more habitat for monarchs in the form of monarch friendly butterfly gardens on and off grounds, and coordinating the efforts of accredited zoos across Kansas to do the same.
The Topeka Zoo currently has 14 butterfly beds in the zoo, covering 6,383 square feet of space offering monarchs milkweed as their larval plants, and flowering plants for nectar to feed adults. The zoo is also currently pursuing off grounds sites to establish even larger monarch friendly beds in the community.
While working to establish more on and off-grounds monarch beds, the Topeka Zoo has also taken the leadership role in coordinating the efforts of the other six accredited zoos in Kansas to provide more monarch habitat as well, in an attempt to increase monarch habitat across the state by utilizing the resources of the accredited zoos across the state. This increased monarch habitat across the state will benefit both monarchs living in Kansas and those millions of monarchs migrating across Kansas each year.
The Topeka Zoo recognizes that increasing monarch friendly sites on zoo grounds and off, and even increasing monarch habitat across the state is still not enough. Education is key to raising the level of awareness about the challenges monarchs face, and to inspiring citizens across Kansas and throughout monarch migration routes to plant more monarch friendly larval and nectar plants, milkweed and flowering plants, to provide more habitat for monarchs. Toward that end, the Topeka Zoo initiated programs for schools, formal education groups, and the community at large in monarch specific conservation, including the citizen science of monarch tagging for research. The zoos new partnership with the Kansas Museum of History, with their large tract of restored prairie co-located with the water source and timber required for monarchs, has afforded the zoo an excellent location to provide public programming about monarchs along with an excellent location for finding, catching, and tagging monarchs during their fall migration through NE Kansas.
The zoos will continue to work toward monarch migration until the safety of their numbers has been assured by sufficient monarch habitat availability throughout their flyways and migration routes. The zoos work to produce measurable efforts toward conserving monarchs and promoting similar conservation efforts throughout Kansas, is only one indicator of the Topeka Zoo & Conservation Centers dedication to conservation of wild places and wildlife here at home, across the nation, and around the world.