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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Lion brothers heading off to their next zoo adventure

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The mane news of the day: we're preparing to say goodbye to lion brothers Tandie, Gandia and Mandla as they get ready to move to Oakland Zoo next month. They'll be living there together as a bachelor group.

The departure date is not yet final but we expect to see them off sometime in mid-to-late-May. Please come see the brothers before they leave!

The move is based on a recommendation made by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to increase the genetic diversity and enhance the health of species populations.

A lion pride typically consists of one adult male and young males often form bachelor groups while they develop the skills to have their own pride. The accredited Oakland Zoo offers them a place to thrive together in that natural structure.

Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

They've grown so big and now each sport a shaggy mane, but it wasn't too long ago that we were watching the brothers take their first steps. Born October 24, 2014, they were the first litter for parents Adia and Xerxes together. We melted at the first footage of them, watched them explore outside with dad for the first time, and came together to give them names to reflect their developing personalities.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zoo curator Martin Ramirez reflects, “It’s been a pleasure to watch these young lions grow up and discover their world. Their curious, playful personalities brought a whole new energy to the exhibit that was genuinely fun to watch. We will definitely miss having them here, but we’re confident in the decision made by the SSP to move them to Oakland Zoo where they’ll continue to live together and capture the hearts of another lucky community.”

A Woodland Park Zoo keeper and staff from Oakland Zoo will accompany the trio during their travels to ensure a safe arrival and comfortable adjustment.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Xerxes and Adia will remain at Woodland Park Zoo and can be seen on exhibit following the boys' departure. Currently, there is not a plan for the pair to reproduce. The zoo will continue to work with the SSP for future recommendations.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

As few as 20,000 African lions are estimated to survive in the wild and their future remains uncertain. The three main threats facing African lions today are killing in defense of human life and livestock, habitat loss, and prey base depletion. Through the Wildlife Survival Fund Program, Woodland Park Zoo supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project focused on improving local conservation knowledge and attitudes towards wildlife in Tanzania’s Ruaha landscape.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Baby Yola confident as she learns gorilla ways

Posted by: Stephanie Payne-Jacobs, Zookeeper


Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

At 5 months old, Yola’s physical strength and self-confidence continues to develop in leaps and bounds, influencing the steps we take to ensure a smooth transition into her gorilla family. We’ve come a long way from the initial visits during Yola’s first months, which consisted of a mostly sleeping infant, to the current youngster in perpetual motion.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Yola’s burgeoning confidence and expanding knowledge of complex gorilla social cues is evident in the way she interacts with her mother and responds to the activities within her group. She watches closely as the gorillas communicate vocally and physically throughout the day. Yola has observed rambunctious play sessions, common displays of dominance and subordination, nest building, foraging and occasional disputes peacefully settled.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

As Yola’s independence and confidence flourish, the visits between Yola and her mother Nadiri have become increasingly interactive. In the early months of the visits, before Yola was mobile, keepers would often have to assist Yola with the transition from human caretaker to gorilla mom, giving her a few pats of encouragement and comfort during this time. Now, however, she merely sits and watches expectantly for her mom to join her and the visit to begin. Both Nadiri and Yola anticipate their time together and enjoy one another’s company. Establishing this bond between them has been an important part of the process towards integrating Yola into her group.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Yola and Nadiri’s comfortable bond with one another has allowed keepers to gradually reduce the amount of time that they are present for the visits, giving Yola a better sense of what it will be like to be a full-time member of her gorilla family. Instead of sitting close by throughout the visit, keepers now watch or listen from afar, tending to other needs of the unit. Yola now spends most of her time with Nadiri playing on various climbing structures. She is now adept at climbing and grasping, holding on with one hand or foot while simultaneously reaching for her mom or another nearby branch. Yola’s grip with her hands and feet is so incredibly strong that her human caretakers no longer need to hold her. She simply hangs on. This not only helps build and maintain her muscles, but also encourages her natural behavior, as clinging to her mother’s arm or back is how she would typically be traveling at this age.




In addition to climbing and grasping, Yola is now knuckle walking like a champ, and is able to follow her mom from place to place. Keepers have noticed that when Nadiri moves, even shifting her position by just a few feet, Yola will climb down to move closer to her mom before climbing back up off the ground. Occasionally, however, Nadiri will move around the corner into another room and out of Yola’s sight. Depending on Yola’s mood, she will continue climbing without much concern, or immediately begin whimpering for her return. Nadiri is very receptive to Yola’s vocalizations, and will return to reassure Yola with a content grunt (which is similar to a much louder cat’s purr). This immediately calms Yola down.

Before Yola could walk as quickly and steadily as she does now, we would often see Nadiri encourage Yola to travel throughout the rooms using this vocalization. When Nadiri would get too far ahead of Yola, causing her to vocalize, Nadiri would return within Yola’s sight and content grunt, as if to say, “You’re fine, I’m right here. Now come this way.” When Yola’s emotional needs have required more than a content grunt, Nadiri has comforted her further with a few hearty pats on the head, or gently covering Yola with a nearby burlap blanket. This is Nadiri’s preferred calming gesture towards her baby (and one that keepers have adopted for the sake of consistency and to best mimic Nadiri’s behavior). Surprisingly, this seems to work, as Yola will calm down and begin walking or climbing out from under the burlap blanket, contented and ready to get back to business.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Lately, however, there has been little need for Nadiri to comfort an upset youngster. Since Yola is such a confident walker and climber, Nadiri is rarely too many steps ahead of her daughter, and the fact that Yola has some control over this seems to have brought on a new sense of self-assuredness that is apparent in her quiet determination to be near her mother. For her part, Nadiri has become increasingly playful with Yola, soliciting play with her through touch, picking her up and allowing Yola to climb on her. Nadiri was even observed balancing Yola on her feet as she lay on her back, much like the “airplane” game many of us have played with our own kids.

Yola’s range of vocalizations is also a good measure of age appropriate development. She is very expressive about things that upset her or make her feel unsure, and while the vocalizations associated with these feelings may sound similar to those who are less exposed to gorilla communication, there is a subtle difference in tone and delivery that expresses each emotion distinctly. We’ve even heard a warning grunt or two—much like the occasional disciplining grunt that she hears from her mother—when she has opposed strongly to something she dislikes. Most often, however, Yola exhibits a great affinity for giggling and open-mouth laughing, usually encouraged by some serious tickling and wrestling.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Another developmental milestone occurred just last week, when Yola’s two upper molars erupted, bringing her current number of teeth to 10. Like any teething youngster, everything ends up in her mouth. As a result, Yola’s human caretakers have had to master the warning, or correcting, vocalization which is best described as a sharp, loud cough. She is much more receptive to this vocalization—proper gorilla-speak—over the human response of “OUCH!” 

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

With her growing number of teeth, Yola’s chewing ability is finally catching up with her interest in solid foods. She is beginning to pick up and eat, rather than just mouth, the items that she sees her mother eat. So far, Yola has shown a preference for cucumber, romaine, celery, kale, carrots, spinach and any fruit she can quickly get a taste of before her mother reclaims it. Nadiri is very patient with her baby, but Yola seems to know instinctively that when Nadiri makes that correcting vocalization, she needs to give up that prized food item she’s taken from her mom. One of the first solid foods Yola tasted and consumed came from the most important gorilla food group of all: browse. Favored, edible foliage, or browse, is one of the main components to a gorilla diet, and Yola seemed to appreciate this fact from the start, with some of her favorites being willow, fern, forsythia flowers and bamboo. 

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

We are all incredibly pleased with Nadiri’s patient and nurturing interest towards her baby. Yola’s strength and activity level increase daily, influencing the interactions between mother and daughter and strengthening their bond. In the next few weeks, based on the signs that Yola and Nadiri give us, we will be working on the steps involved towards physically introducing Yola to her other group mates, Leo and Akenji. The success of this integration will be the result of the invaluable gorilla skills Nadiri and the other gorillas have exposed Yola to over the last five months. We are all looking forward to watching these skills in action as she becomes a thriving member of her gorilla group. 

Editor’s Note: 

This Earth Day, Yola reminds us what’s at stake for critically endangered western lowland gorillas. In honor of how Yola brightens our world, let’s brighten the future for wild gorillas. 

Thanks to you, Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts through the Mbeli Bai Study, building the scientific basis for conservation strategies. Learn more about the zoo’s wildlife work in Africa and beyond. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How do you celebrate the birthday of North America's oldest armadillo in a zoo? Cake and naps!

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22 25! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Happy 25th birthday to Maria, our three-banded armadillo! It’s a big milestone for Maria in more ways than one: she’s now a quarter of a century old AND she is the oldest living three-banded armadillo in a North American zoo. (Think about it: Wilson Phillips topped the Billboard charts the day she was born at San Antonio Zoo on April 20, 1991 and Steven Seagal ruled the box office.)

Make a wish! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

To celebrate this milestone, Maria’s keepers and local Girl Scout troop 44261 made her a “cake” out of cardboard decorated with tissue paper flowers and paper and straw "candles." Keepers then sprinkled bugs on top as a special treat. Maria ate a few of the bugs, and then it was nap time once she was full. Her Burmese mountain tortoise neighbor was happy to step in to help her celebrate.

Maria's having a ball (excuse the armadillo humor). Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Maria moved to Woodland Park Zoo in 2000 and became a resident of the Night Exhibit. When it closed, she relocated to the Day Exhibit where she resides today with the Burmese mountain tortoises. (Pssst...did you know the Night Exhibit is coming back?!)

Too much birthday cake? We've all been there, Maria. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Maria is quite the amazing architect, excavator and construction worker. She builds amazingly deep and long burrows in the exhibit that are able to withstand the weight of a person walking over them! About twice a month keepers add new leaf litter to the exhibit which always sets Maria into overdrive. She loves to explore the new smells and eat any bugs that may have come in with the leaves.

These moments of excitement are balanced with hours and hours and hours of rest. Armadillos are nocturnal and sleep for up to 16 hours a day. Though she lives in her exhibit 24/7, Maria is not always visible given her nocturnal nature. The best time to try and catch a glimpse of her is right when the zoo opens before she goes to sleep for the day (no guarantees though!).

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sometimes Maria will sleep on the surface of the exhibit; when she does this, it’s usually under the heater in the far back of the right side of the enclosure. Occasionally, visitors can spot her eating out of the tortoises' feed pans; she’s also been known to pull off and eat large pieces of pumpkin from the jack-o-lanterns given to the tortoises during Halloween time.

Eduardo, Maria's son. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Maria’s had three offspring at Woodland Park Zoo, one of which is Eduardo, an ambassador animal at the zoo. Born in 2003, he's a familiar face to many who have seen him during zoo classes and programs that teach visitors about armadillos, the threats they face in the wild and how to protect them. You’ve probably seen him at one of our zoo events (Tasting Flight, for example) and you should keep your eye out for him as one of the stars of our new ad campaign this summer!

Eduardo on the set of our commercial video shoot. He'll be a star this summer in the zoo's advertising campaign. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Maria has certainly made a legacy here at Woodland Park Zoo. She is a beloved member of our zoo family and today we celebrate her.

Here’s to you, Maria! Happy birthday, and may there be many more.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tales from the savanna, part two: making harmony

Posted by: Kelly Gross, Zookeeper


The African Savanna exhibit expertly mixes species. With a few new individuals and species added recently, keepers are working hard on getting all the savanna denizens to live in harmony! Archive photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The savanna enclosure is a mixed-species exhibit; a large space where zebra, gazelle, giraffe, ostrich, guinea fowl, Egyptian geese and now bontebok live together, hopefully in harmony. Some of the combinations of animals are more compatible than others. In the past, our antelope species (fringed-eared oryx and Grant’s gazelle) seemed to do fine together, although to be fair, age had mellowed them and they seemed to prefer nothing better than spending the afternoon lying in the warm sun, their sparring days behind them. So far the Egyptian geese haven’t seemed to mind the thundering hooves of the zebra as they gallop past. But perhaps some of you remember last summer when the giraffe and ostrich never seemed to be in the exhibit at the same time? No, you weren’t just imagining things. Our male giraffe, Dave, became quite nervous whenever our male ostrich, Mbuni, came near. The following routine played out over and over all summer long. Mbuni would approach Dave rather nonchalantly. Dave, possibly remembering his last encounter with the 8-foot-tall, 300-lb bird, would run away from him. Ostrich can be quite reactive, so Mbuni would of course give chase, and on-lookers witnessed the ridiculous spectacle of ostrich chasing giraffe in a comedy of errors that at first glance appeared rather amusing. In reality, this was a potentially hazardous situation with fences and drop-offs that could injure either animal. So for their safety we had to manage them separately for the summer.

This photo from 2007 shows how giraffe and ostrich have shared the savanna exhibit for a long time, but their ability to co-exist peacefully is always kept interesting by the unique temperament of each individual animal! Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Or you might remember our young male zebra chasing our young giraffe, nipping at his sides as a border collie might nip at his flock of sheep to keep them in line. Zebra are very territorial and Obi—sorry Star Wars fans, he is not named after Obi Wan but rather after his father Oblio—is no exception. He stands guard along the edges of the exhibit, watching for potential intruders into his space, keeping everyone within his domain in check. Have you ever observed the savanna exhibit from the school house in the African village? Have you seen Obi standing there on the hill looking back at you? He practically poses for photos doesn’t he? From my vantage point in the barn I always thought he was looking at guests, and he well may be. But one morning the zebra were unwilling to shift into their barn so I cleaned the exhibit while they were still grazing. Obi was standing on the hill by the pool looking into the school house, but there were no visitors there. From my new perspective I could see that Obi appeared to be looking at his own reflection in the glass railing. Does he recognize himself, does he like what he sees? Or does he think he needs to defend his territory against another male zebra? Only Obi knows.

A keeper's-eye-view of Obi looking back towards the African Village school house. What are you looking at, Obi? Photo: Kelly Gross/Woodland Park Zoo.

So now that we have added gazelle and bontebok into the equation, matters suddenly have become even more complicated. How are we going to introduce all of these species together? We will do so slowly, methodically and with care.

We will start by introducing new animals to the exhibit by themselves. This allows them the chance to learn the boundaries and terrain of the exhibit while they are calm and relaxed. Then we will start mixing in the least problematic of the species, or sometimes, the least problematic members of the species. For example, sometimes we let the more docile female ostrich out first before adding the more reactive male. As the animals continue to acclimate to each other we hopefully create a mostly harmonious situation that will result in an engaging and dynamic exhibit for you, our guests. But please be patient, this process may take a while! Spring and summer may be rather exciting for the savanna exhibit this year, so stop by and take a look. You never know what you might see!

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Don't miss your chance to celebrate these wonderful animals with us at Woodland Park Zoo's first Spring Safari: African Wildlife Conservation Day, coming up Saturday, April 16, 2016.

National Volunteer Week (Spoiler: We think we have the best volunteers!)

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

ZooCorps volunteer Paul Houser, Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

Let's begin with a quote from William James, "Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does."

When it comes to our dedicated volunteers, we could not find a truer sentiment. This National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, we'd like to acknowledge the 750+ Woodland Park Zoo volunteers who help our zoo shine.

From their devotion to the zoo's animal care mission, to their passion for protecting wildlife and wild places—our  volunteers offer a host of wisdom, kindness and patience that inspires our guests and instills in our community a sense of wonder and gratitude. 

Alycia Moncrieff assists the horticulture team in the Tropical Rain Forest. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Volunteers range in age from 12 to 94, and come from all over the place—some commute as far as Kennewick, WA.  From ZooCorps to Counselors in training to docents and animal unit volunteers, there are a variety of volunteer jobs which are tantamount to the success of our zoo.  All in all, zoo volunteers racked up 84,184 volunteer hours in 2015 alone!

Docents Marilynn Pray and Wendie Bark give guests a close up experience with a wriggly subject. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.
ZooCorps volunteers learn about tracking wild river otters. From left: Sophie Yasuda, Katherine Fry, Hannah Parker, Nyaila Flight, Ashley Huang and Emily Huang. Photo by Jeremy Dywer-Lindgren/WPZ.

If you have visited the zoo, you’ve surely encountered some of our wonderful volunteers. They are the ones with the biggest smiles, most interesting zoo tales, directions to your favorite animal and recommendations on the best-kept secret zoo spots to visit on a rainy day.  As one of the Volunteer Engagement Coordinators Julie Ann Barowski explains, “Their impact also reaches far beyond our zoo grounds. The work of every volunteer extends Woodland Park Zoo’s capacity to achieve our mission of saving animals and their habitats, both locally and around the world. Our volunteers often are directly involved in conservation actions and act as strong advocates in their own communities, educating others and leading by example to help achieve a bright and environmentally sustainable future for all.”

Here’s to our lovely volunteers, thank you for all that you do!

Taking a donkey for a leg stretch is one of the more glamorous volunteer jobs, here Judy Nyman-Schaaf does the honors. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tales from the savanna, part one: new faces

Posted by: Kelly Gross, Zookeeper


Have you been wondering why the savanna exhibit at times looks empty?  Or have you been one of the lucky guests who has seen a beautiful new species of antelope springing about on the freshly growing grass?

Bontebok. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The savanna exhibit is going through a bit of a transition right now. After our two elderly antelope passed away last year, the exhibit started looking and feeling rather empty. Managers worked to identify animals that were available and would fit in with our current collection. In the fall we received two female Grant’s gazelle and two male bontebok from San Diego Wild Animal Park.

The bontebok are a striking new addition to the savanna. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Gazelle tentatively explore their new savanna home. Photo: Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

We have displayed Grant’s gazelle before and hope to eventually acquire a male to begin breeding, so we can contribute to the zoo population. Bontebok are a new species to Woodland Park Zoo, and we are very excited to be able to display this attractive antelope and share its story with you.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The bontebok is a dark brown, mid-sized antelope with a beautiful white blaze down its face and a white rump. It is from the South African Cape and during colonization almost went extinct. As the land was cultivated, bontebok were seen as competition and were shot. Herds became isolated until all that remained were 17 individuals, fenced in on one farmers land. In 1931, a new national park was established: Bontebok National Park. Later the park was moved to include the native vegetation, called fynbos, and the bontebok population began to grow. Today it is estimated between 2,500 and 3,000 individuals. Those original farming fences, no match for other species of antelope that can easily jump heights of 10 feet, were able to contain the bontebok and ultimately may have saved the species.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

This inability to jump very high was one thing we considered when preparing for the bontebok to be introduced to the large savanna exhibit. Perhaps our bontebok didn’t read the manual, however. On the first day we allowed them out to explore we encountered an unexpected setback. After sparring intensely and chasing each other around the savanna, one of them ended up in the patas monkey exhibit. Fortunately he was OK, but since that time we have not felt comfortable putting them on exhibit together. We are currently working on a solution that will allow us to display them successfully. In the meantime, we continue to give them time together in an off-view corral with supervision so they can interact with each other and maintain a bond.

Our bontebok, Hodor and Tyrion, will turn 2 years old this month. They were named at San Diego after characters from the book series/television show, Game of Thrones; Hodor because he was the larger of the two and Tyrion because he was much smaller. This will make sense to you if you have seen the show. I have not, so I can’t personally speak to the accuracy of this statement, but I’m told it is true.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Since they are about the same size now it is more challenging to tell them apart, One way you can identify them is by tail length; Tyrion has a shorter tail. Another way to identify them is by their behavior, the differences of which are quite obvious when watching them navigate the savanna enclosure. Hodor is the dominant animal, is much more confident, and has explored all over. You may have seen him eating hay, knocking branches and logs about with his horns, or even chasing the mallards. Tyrion is much more timid during his exhibit time, choosing most often to stay near the corral where his buddy is waiting.

Hoser shows off the origin of her name in this behind-the-scenes shot. Photo: Kelly Gross/Woodland Park Zoo.

The two female Grant’s gazelle have had a much quieter life so far here at Woodland Park. Spirit, so named because her zoo identification number ends in 76 (as in, the Spirit of '76), was partially hand-reared with impala and is a bit hesitant in new situations. Hoser, which was just a nickname at first, is definitely the more food motivated of the two, and carrots are her treat of choice. Often she is the first to the food bowls and devours all of the carrot slices before Spirit even has a chance to get up!

I should mention her name has nothing to do with a Canadian insult. When antelope are shipped they have horn guards or in this case cut sections of garden hose taped to their horns to keep them from injuring themselves or each other during transport. When the gazelle arrived, only one section of hose remained attached. It was one way we could easily tell them apart, and Hoser kept her adornment for quite some time, so the name just stuck.

Spirit and Hoser on the move! Photo: Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

Like the bontebok, the gazelle are physically very similar to each other, but if you look closely you can see that Hoser has a thicker band of black across her nose. The gazelle really seem to prefer the comfort of the barn, and who can blame them with all that rain we had this winter. Even when we have given them the choice of an outdoor area, they seem most content to rest under their heaters on the soft shavings inside. They have very slowly made progress up to this point, but just recently have begun exploring the exhibit, so hopefully you will start seeing them more soon!

Don't miss your chance to celebrate the wonders of wildlife with us at Woodland Park Zoo's first Spring Safari: African Wildlife Conservation Day coming up this Saturday, April 16.