Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium began working with Madagascar orchids in 2000 as part of a collaborative project with the National Genetics Resources Bank in Fort Collins, Colorado. The project involves field biology studies in Madagascar, seed collection, genetic sampling, GPS mapping, orchid habitat and species documentation and the involvement of local residents. The educational components of the project include biotechnology training for Malagasy nationals at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, seminars at the University of Madagascar and the United States Embassy in Antananarivo and involvement with local school children in Madagascar.
Thousands of Malagasy orchids were propagated at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s plant laboratory. The National Genetics Resources Bank assisted in seed cryopreservation and helped determine best practices for cryobanking.
Young plants were taken back to Madagascar in-vitro and re-established in their natural habitat in Ranomafana National Park in 2004 and 2005 to supplement the orchid population where the seeds were previously collected. Seventy percent survived the reintroduction process and are blooming with fruits.
A portion still remains at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium for future research, hands-on training for Malagasygraduate students and professors and for educational use. Many Malagasy orchid cultures are initiated in Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s plant laboratory. Hundreds are grown in the Zoo’s greenhouse for future Malagasy exhibits.
The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. was another collaborator on this project. This is where excess plants at the Zoo are entered into the national collection housed at the United States Botanical Garden.