Monarch butterfly populations began a precipitous decline beginning in 2004 and as of March of 2013 have fallen 59% according to counts in their specific over-wintering areas in Mexico. The main cause is thought by most experts to be the decrease of milkweed plants, the lone source of food for Monarch caterpillars, due to the monoculture farmlands of the modern American Midwest. By creating and maintaining a Monarch Waystation, Nashville Zoo is contributing to monarch conservation, an effort that will help the preservation of the species and the continuation of the spectacular monarch migration phenomenon.
Although the Zoo already had enough milkweed growing wild on property to be certified as a Waystation by Citizen Science’s Monarch Watch program, we supplemented the amount by planting more from seed beginning in 2009, specifically in the raised beds above the education show amphitheater. We also planted native seeds supplied by Monarch Watch which provide nectar for other butterfly species including the Gulf Fritillary and the Painted Lady. Many of these plants have established themselves both in the amphitheater planter and in nearby outlying areas.
Docents assisting with our amphitheater shows often educate visitors regarding our waystation, and many of those guests have expressed interest in creating waystations on their own property. Nashville Zoo strives to inspire action in the general public for conservation efforts such as the Monarch Waystation program.