Monday, August 3, 2015

Hands-on summer learning

Posted by: Eli Weiss, Education

Originally published July 24, 2015 on Raikes Foundation blog

Summer is here and at Woodland Park Zoo our youth programs are in full swing. On our 92 acre grounds and beyond, middle and high school students find a place to learn and grow outside of the classroom, through participation in the ZooCrew and ZooCorps programs. We provide youth an opportunity to make real life connections to science, develop communication and job skills and explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and conservation careers. Each year 300+ middle- and high-school-aged youth are engaged in free out-of-school time and summer programs, which are rooted in youth development best practices.

In 2014, with support from the City of Seattle Families and Education Levy, we piloted the ZooCrew Summer Learning Experience, a new, five-week hands-on STEM program for middle school students that takes on summer learning loss with a fresh new approach. What makes our program unique? We strive for a seamless integration of academic and enrichment elements. In ZooCrew, participants spend less time in a traditional classroom setting and more time digging into science practice through outside investigations and field trips around the region.

ZooCrew at the Cedar River watershed.

Currently our second cohort of ZooCrew Summer students from Asa Mercer, Washington and Denny Middle Schools are engaged in a summer of learning focused on a watershed theme. Over the course of the program, students will engage in weekly science investigations and field trips as they deepen their understanding of each part of the watershed. For many students this will be the first time they have visited local sites, including the Cedar River watershed, Snoqualmie pass, a salmon hatchery and a water treatment plant. In addition to developing science and communication skills, participants keep their math and literacy skills sharp through activities that tie into the theme. Our ZooCrew participants are also developing a STEM identity through interactions with experts and investigations that make science learning exciting and relevant.

Julia, a student at Asa Mercer Middle School and a participant in our ZooCrew afterschool and summer programs recently shared: “In ZooCrew, we act like scientists, we make observations, we do experiments, we work on projects. I learned more about people who go out into the field and actually work with animals and you don’t have to be in a lab always to do science.”  

ZooCrew students observe animals and write in their nature journals. Photo by Caitlin Potter/Woodland Park Zoo.

By providing dynamic opportunities for youth who might not otherwise have the access to science and STEM enrichment programs, we are helping to reduce summer learning loss and providing pathways for students to develop a love of learning and a positive, hands-on connection to science.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Winners of the MyZoo Kids’ Thank a Tiger Hero Contest

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Conservationists and rangers are real heroes working to protect tigers and their habitat. In May, we asked young MyZoo magazine readers to create their own thank you posters and we’d send them straight to our colleagues in the tropical forests of Malaysia.

Drum roll please…


Suhyeon Choi, age 8, won the Grand prize (ages 7-10) which includes a zoo Overnight Adventure on August 15, 2015. Congratulations Suhyeon! This is what Suhyeon had to say about tigers, "I love tigers because they are cute yet fierce and I love animals all the same". We couldn’t agree more. Suhyeon’s creativity and her rainbow palette really stood out to the judges.



Ella Gruner, age 6, won the Grand prize (ages 3-6) which includes a tiger ZooParent adoption and plush! When asked why she loves tigers, Ella said, “I love tigers because they live in one of my favorite places, the jungle.” We really loved her delicate tiger drawing as well as the amazing penmanship and tiger font! Way to go, Ella!

Reece Holberg, age 8 and Hannah Harms, age 6 were our two lucky runners up and will each receive a Woodland Park Zoo t-shirt and giraffe feeding tickets.



Thanks to all the awesome entries, we have a beautiful stack of "Thank You" posters to send to our colleagues who are dedicated to protecting tigers. We will send copies of ALL of the entries to our field partners in Malaysia to thank them for being tiger heroes.

Field researcher Wai Yee checks a camera trap used to study tiger populations in the area. 
It takes a team of heroes.

Thank YOU for supporting Woodland Park Zoo and our conservation partners in Malaysia and all across the globe who protect wildlife and wild spaces.

Andrew Barrett, age 9. Your collage skills are fantastic, Andrew!

Jamison Oleksy, age 8. Two tigers, two mediums and one fine masterpiece!

Sophia Lee Honton, age 7. These are the best tiger gifts we'd ever seen! She even labeled each package.

Artist unknown, but we love that purple!

Vivian Anschell, age 7, a little collaboration with her grandmother Janelle Loewen. We think they make a pretty awesome team!  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Reasons for Hope on Global Tiger Day

Posted by: Dr. Fred Koontz and Bobbi Miller, Conservation Team

Tigers have always been around, right? Who didn’t grow up seeing Tony the Tiger hawking breakfast cereal, watching Tigger bounce (“Bouncing is what Tiggers do best”) across the pages of Winnie the Pooh, or hearing the story of How the Tiger Got His Stripes? The fictional tigers that brought us a happy childhood are still around, and will be for generations to come, but can the same be said for the real deal—tigers in the wild?

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Today we focus on those real-life wild tigers, and what can be done to ensure that they too remain for generations to come.

Global Tiger Day was set aside to promote the protection of wild tigers and their habitat, and to further awareness and support for their conservation. If there was ever an animal that needed our protection, it’s the majestic tiger.

Photo courtesy of Reuben Clements
Just over 100 years ago there were as many as 100,000 wild tigers living in Asia. Today there are fewer than 3,200 wild tigers, with only 7% of their original habitat remaining in 13 Asian countries. In the last 80 years, three subspecies of tigers; Javan, Caspian and Bali, have gone extinct in the wild. That leaves five subspecies to be saved—which is what today is all about.

Here at Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ), with your help we’re doing something to save those remaining tigers. In 2012, WPZ joined forces with Panthera’s Tigers Forever Program, and on-the-ground partners Rimba and Pemantau-Hijau in Malaysia to protect the Malayan tiger. In collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and in concert with Malaysia’s National Tiger Action Plan, our collaborative project aims to assess the status of critically endangered Malayan tigers where they live, protecting not only these iconic cats, but their habitat and prey species as well.

While the numbers are low—less than 350 Malayan tigers left in the wild—we are optimistic that with your help, we can increase those numbers. Here’s what’s happening that gives us hope:

Camera traps have revealed core habitat to protect
In 2014, Rimba, our partner on the ground in Malaysia, assisted DWNP in setting up nearly 200 camera traps throughout our research site. Information gathered provides a baseline on the status of tigers and other threatened species, including leopards, clouded leopards, sambar deer, Malayan tapirs and Asian elephants. Initial results confirm the presence of  tigers, but  that the primary prey base of sambar deer is  low, likely due to human hunting. This gives Rimba and DWNP the critical information they need in order to begin protecting those tigers and finding ways to protect their prey base.
Photo credit Courtesy of Rimba.
Several poachers arrested
Permantau Hijau (“Green Monitor” in Malay) is our partner organization that  supports the researchers and government agencies in monitoring Malaysia’s changing natural environment. Through the use of state-of-the-art technology, the team is able to achieve real-time detection of activities threatening natural resources. Their work on the ground has already contributed to the arrest of seven foreign poachers on two separate occasions in joint enforcement operations with the army and police in our project area. 

Documenting an illegal campsite near the Taman Negara border - Photo courtesy of Suzalinur Manja Bidin, MYCAT.
Citizen involvement
Another exciting component of the project is our involvement with the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT). MYCAT conducts citizen conservationist trips—called “Cat (Citizen Action for Tigers) Walks.” Over the course of several days, regular citizens like you and I traverse parts of the Yu River Wildlife Corridor. These “voluntourists” do not act as law enforcement and don’t confront criminals or poachers. What they do is supplement law enforcement officers by increasing the number of eyes and boots on the ground. While on these walks, they collect data to help enforce wildlife conservation laws and notify authorities of any sign of poachers in the area.

Foot patrol along the Taman Negara border.  Photo courtesy of Suzalinur Manja Bidin, MYCAT.
Washington Leading the Way
Finally, WPZ is partnering with Vulcan on Citizen’s Initiative 1401. I-1401 is a Washington state ballot measure that is designed to help save animals threatened with extinction. The measure would prohibit the purchase, sale, and distribution of products made from a list of 10 endangered animal groups being exploited to the point of potential extinction, and will be enforced by strong penalties. The animals protected by I-1401 include elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, pangolins, sharks and rays. To learn more, check out www.zoo.org/yeson1401 for current news.

Here are a few things you can do to help us in our fight to save tigers.

1. Come to WPZ and see our three tiger brothers – Liem, Eko and Olan, then learn more about our conservation program to save tigers in Malaysia. The WPZ-Panthera Malayan Tiger partnership is highlighted in the Banyan Wilds “field house,” a conservation action center going in to depth on our project.
Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

2. Purchase the first-class “Save Vanishing Species” tiger stamp. Whether to save, or use, these stamps feature a graphic depiction of an Amur tiger cub. Your purchase benefits conservation projects that re helping create hope for the future for tigers, and other endangered species. As of October, 2012, over $1.74 million has been raised to protect and conserve endangered species.


3. Vote yes on I-1401 this November. Help us be the first state to take a strong stance against the illegal trafficking of wild animal parts. Working together, we can win the race against extinction. We can save threatened animals! Join the campaign. Help get the word out. Make a donation. And vote YES on I-1401!

Thank you for supporting tigers Liem, Eko and Olan here at the zoo and tigers all around the world by sharing #GlobalTigerDay with your friends.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

50th penguin chick marks Woodland Park Zoo milestone

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

…49…50!

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

With two late-in-the-season Humboldt penguin hatchings, Woodland Park Zoo has hit a new milestone—50 chicks hatched since 2010, the first breeding season in our new penguin exhibit.

Over the last six breeding seasons at the zoo, penguin chicks have typically hatched between April and May. While the two chicks are latecomers, they are genetically valuable to the North America population. They are the first offspring for 3-year-old father Maximiliano and numbers 11 and 12 for 8-year-old Dora.



The chicks are off exhibit in nesting burrows where they are under the care of the parents. To ensure the chicks are achieving growth milestones, staff weighs them as they develop. Staff minimizes intervention to allow the parents to raise their chicks and gain parental experience.

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

This year’s breeding season produced a total of eight penguin chicks, six of which have now joined the other 39 penguins on view in the award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit. Look for the older chicks on your next visit with their tell-tale lighter, more grayish feathers.

Before the two newest chicks reach fledging age and go outdoors on exhibit, they will be removed from the nest so keepers can condition the birds to approach them for hand feeding and other animal care activities. The chicks also will have round-the-clock access to a shallow pool where they can swim in a more controlled and less crowded environment. The two will join the colony of penguins in the outdoor exhibit sometime in early fall.

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Humboldt penguins. An endangered species, these birds are important conservation ambassadors to teach visitors about the impacts humans have on penguins in their range countries. SSPs are sponsored by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, conservation and genetics. AZA-accredited institutions manage each species as one population in North America to maximize genetic diversity, with the goal of ensuring the long-term survival of the population and the health of individual animals.

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

The penguin exhibit, which opened in 2009, takes zoo visitors to the desert coast of Punta San Juan—home of the largest colony of wild Humboldt penguins in Peru. The 17,000-square-foot naturalistic home features shoreline cliffs, viewable entrances to nesting burrows, rocky tide pools, crashing waves and a beach.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

People do not usually think of penguins as a desert species. Unlike their ice and snow-dwelling Antarctic cousins, Humboldt penguins inhabit hot, dry coastlines in Peru and Chile. They live on rocky mainland shores, especially near cliffs, or on coastal islands. Humboldt penguins have a body made to swim. Using their strong wings, they “fly” underwater, usually just below the surface, at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. They steer with their feet and tail.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

It is estimated that only 12,000 survive in the wild. Woodland Park Zoo is committed to conserving Humboldt penguins by supporting the Humboldt Penguin Conservation Center at Punta San Juan, Peru, breeding the birds through the Species Survival Plan and encouraging visitors to choose sustainable seafood options.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Every time you visit, you make this work possible. Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. are an especially great time to learn more during the penguin keeper talk. See you there!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Conservation researchers observe rare early parenting behaviors in young gorillas



At Mbeli, we follow twenty-one groups of gorillas that come to feed in the clearing. The number of individuals in a group ranges from just two to around 13. In gorillas, it is generally only the mother that takes care of her infant, with no assistance from the other members of the group.

Mom Dinka carrying her male infant Duma on her back.  Photo by Marie Manguette

On rare occasions however, we have observed juveniles carrying their siblings on their back or helping them when they are climbing trees. These altruistic behaviors have been observed in only two of the groups followed at Mbeli, and in both female and male juveniles. While rare in the wild, this phenomenon seems quite common in habituated or captive groups of gorillas. 

Zulu’s group is one of these groups where juveniles have been observed caring for and supervising their siblings without interruption from the mother. There are a total of eight individuals in the group, including the silverback, Zulu. The rest of the group is composed of Bofi, a young silverback; Dinka, the only adult female left in the group; two of her offspring: Hutu, a female juvenile and Duma, an infant male. There are also three other juveniles in the group, two males: Teke and Kikuyu, and a female, Baluba. All the juveniles in this group assist in the care of Duma, who is still dependent on his mother. To date, we have never seen Duma’s mother Dinka interfere or prevent the siblings from interacting with Duma. 

Kikuyu carrying his half-brother Duma on his back. Photo by Vidrige Kandza.

Although the behavior of carrying young siblings around is quite rare in the Mbeli population, it is quite common in Zulu’s group. We have even observed the juvenile Baluba following infant Duma into a tree and extending her hand to help him climb safely. She then continues to monitor Duma’s travel up the tree.


So far it is unclear why these behaviors occur only in some of the groups observed. In certain groups, sibling intervention is not even tolerated by the mothers who are very possessive over their offspring. Over time, we hope to record more of these behaviors and evaluate the influence of specific factors such as the age of the mother, the time the group spends together, and the presence of their own juveniles in the group on the tolerance of the mother toward the help of those juveniles. It would also be very interesting to know whether these early parenting opportunities have an influence on the future reproductive success of these individuals.

The Mbeli Bai GorillaStudy is one of Woodland Park Zoo’s Partners for Wildlife programs. Established in 1995, the goal of the project is to continue providing information on the population dynamics and demography of western lowland gorillas. The study monitors over 430 individual gorillas, as well as other species such as forest elephants, sitatungas, forest buffalo, and 46 unique plant species. Research helps to inform scientists on gorillas’ vulnerability to threats, helps them to predict their ability to recover from decline, and formulate effective conservation strategies. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Browse gardens abundant with edible flowers

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.


The delicate petal of a sweet rose, the crisp stem on a freshly cut camellia and a mouth full of luscious nasturtiums leaves! The zoo’s browse gardens are bursting with color and we are celebrating this summer yield with a special delivery of mouthwatering garden plants to our resident herbivores. This is the fifth summer of cross-department collaboration between horticulture, animal management, ZooCorps and the commissary. The program has been a great success in ensuring the animals receive fresh summer treats as well as providing an excellent learning opportunity for our ZooCorps teens.

Cat nip is attractive to our big cats, just as it is to a house cat. The plant contains the feline attractant nepetalactone. This honey bee seems to enjoy it as well! 
Fennel, mint and sugar-snap peas grow together in the browse garden behind the Tropical Rain Forest unit.
Browse gardens are scattered throughout zoo grounds, tucked behind buildings and in-between exhibits, they offer an extra space for horticulture to grow fresh herbs, flowers and some fruits and vegetables. When summer does its part and the browse gardens begin to flourish, the teens in ZooCorps assist with tending the gardens and arranging delivery to the animal units. The teens are trained on how to identify the plants, where to cut and most importantly—who is eating what!

Zookeepers put in requests for their units and notes for the browse gatherers. ZooCorps teens get together twice a week to deliver the goods to a variety of animal units including tapirs, orangutans, raptors, flamingos, tree roos, elk, sloth bears, gorillas, waterfowl, bugs as well as residents of the conservation aviary, presentation animals, Family Farm, Day House, Australasia, Northern Trail, Savanna and Adaptations. The Animal Health team even requests special browse for their in-house patients. The demand for freshly picked browse is zoo wide.

Sweet William add a pop of color to the browse enrichment bouquets. The edible flowers have a clove-like scent.
The ZooCorps teens gather a variety of herbs, flowers and vegetables that are placed into brown paper sacks. Depending on the week the content varies, but all of the plants are edible and safe for the animals to enjoy.
Almost-ripe tomatoes and beans climb the bamboo poles in search of sunlight.

The browse garden program invites ZooCorps teens to work directly with animal care staff and get hands on experience with animal nutrition from the dirt to table paws. We spoke with these green thumbs and asked them to fill us in on the browse program:

Casey Iwamoto is a Senior at Chief Sealth High School and has been a ZooCorps member for 3 years, she is currently a ZooCorps intern.
Casey says she had never thought of herself as a gardener, but has learned to appreciate the role that plants play in both animal nutrition and enriching their exhibits. Her work with head starting the Oregon silverspot butterflies introduced her to a species whose very existence is tied to the plant it thrives on, the early blue violet. Casey’s favorite animals are the ocelot and the jaguar, so she puts a little extra cat nip in their browse bags. She hopes to go into veterinary medicine or environmental studies.

Sophie Yasuda is a Junior at Nathan Hale High School, she has been a ZooCorps member for 2 years.
Sophie Yasuda came to the zoo all the time when she was younger, so it was a natural fit to join ZooCorps. Her favorite aspect of the Browse Garden program is seeing the animals receive their browse. She says one thing that surprised her is that the animals are particularly interested in the colorful flowers and vibrant shoots—even animals love getting a bright bouquet! Sophie is interested in studying wildlife conservation or education. 

Xander Barbar is a recent graduate of Ingraham High School, has been a ZooCorps member for 4 years (currently finishing up 2nd year as a ZooCorps intern).
Xander Barbar remembers visiting the zoo at a very young age and says he was inspired to connect with animals and learn more about them. He says the most surprising aspect of the browse enrichment program has been that while he expected the browse to be used primarily as food—a lot of the animals are very playful and curious towards the new treats. They are smelling and touching the leaves, looking at the bright colors—just like humans would. Xander says that being proactive, flexible and asking lots of questions has served him well as a ZooCorps volunteer. He will continue to pursue his passion for animals at UCLA this fall and plans to major in environmental science or education policy.

Erica Bonilla is a Senior at Liberty High School, she has been a ZooCorps member for 3 years.
Erica Bonilla says she enjoys the therapeutic nature of collecting plants for the animals. She also really likes the idea that she is seeing the life cycle all the way through, “I get excited because I am literally redistributing energy. Each time I pick a flower it’s going to a living thing—towards new growth.” Her plan is to attend WSU’s Vet Study program and major in molecular, genetic or marine biology.

Thank you, ZooCorps for taking such excellent care of our animals and enriching their lives with fresh, fragrant browse! And special thanks to our Senior Gardener, Katrina Lindahl, Zookeeper Amy Davis and Warehouser, Tonya Duncan for working with ZooCorps teens and inspiring them to get excited about plants and animal nutrition!

Teens not interviewed: Amy Do is a Junior at Chief Sealth High School. Ashley Arthur is a Senior at Roosevelt High School. Kaitlin Peli '15 graduate from Henry M. Jackson High School (intern) and Gabriella Olague '15 graduate from Liberty High School (intern).