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Friday, May 27, 2016

Baby porcupine vs. gravity (we all win here)

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Nearly three weeks old now, our little porcupine baby is making bolder choices during outdoor adventures. Porcupines are natural climbers and the porcupette's instincts drive it to scamper up each mound, log and tree root it spots.

Sometimes we need to be there with a helping hand.

A heavily gloved helping hand.

Because a baby porcupine tumble-and-rescue needs to be watched on infinite loop, here's that moment again:

Don't worry, little one. Gravity always gets me down too.

Though the porcupette is brave when exploring, it's also perfectly content to stay in its den for as much as possible. That's where it nurses with mom in the evening and the darker coziness appeals to these primarily nocturnal animals. Its time outside can be pretty irregular but lucky trekkers through the Northern Trail might spot this little one on their next visit. The baby will spend more and more time outside of the den over the coming weeks. You can also look for older sister, Skyáana, who shows off some much more impressive climbing skills during the Ambassador Animal program, offered daily at 1:00 p.m.

Hello, Skyáana. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Heading into the Realm of the Tiger

Posted by: Bridget Dunn, Communications

Christine Anne behind the scenes with the zoo's Malayan tigers. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

As a tiger keeper, Christine Anne is used to seeing tiger brothers Eko, Liem and Olan playing, eating and stretching out their claws. They’ll be on her mind this summer when she travels across the globe to explore wild tiger habitat.

The forest realm of the Malayan tiger. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Christine is joining other zookeepers from around the world on Realm of the Tiger, a trip hosted by Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) to explore peninsular Malaysia. Realm of the Tiger is a five-day program designed especially for zookeepers and docents to enhance their understanding of tiger habitat and the big challenges facing Asian rain forest conservation.

Seeing signs. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

To accomplish this, Realm of the Tiger guides participants through an important wildlife corridor that connects Malaysia’s main northern mountain range with the Taman Negara National Park. In this tropical rain forest, the home base of WPZ’s tiger conservation field work, participants seek out signs of activity from tigers and their prey as well as search out poachers’ snares. They take note of tiger activity and dismantle poachers’ traps. The trip includes resetting camera traps and participating in an anti-poaching surveillance walk.

Putting boots on the ground and eyes in the forest are effective ways to monitor and deter activity. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo partners with several organizations (including Panthera, Rimba and MYCAT) in Southeast Asia to support conservation of tigers and their habitat. Loss of habitat and illegal poaching have pushed tigers to the brink of extinction; there are a mere 3,200 in the wild, a decline of 97% since the start of the 20th century. Opportunities such as Realm of the Tiger give our keepers and conservation staff unique, firsthand experience with the challenges facing rain forest and endangered species conservation, and they use this knowledge to improve education and outreach here in Seattle.

We recently had a chance to chat with Christine about her upcoming trip:

WPZ: You have traveled internationally before. How does this trip compare? 

CA: I traveled to Spain for three weeks as part of a cultural learning program right after high school, which focused on art, culture and language. In 2006, I traveled to Ecuador and stayed for about three months where I volunteered with the Andean Bear Conservation Project led by researcher Armando Castellanos. This trip required extensive backcountry hiking in the northern region of Ecuador to cut trails in order to radio track bears and to set culvert traps to capture Andean bears to be fitted with radio collars. I also spent time in eastern Ecuador working with a community-based animal rescue center and ecotourism destination. This portion of my volunteer work required me to help rebuild animal enclosures, care for the animals in the rescue center, and help train the local staff on how to care for the animals that they had rescued, including tapirs, agoutis, monkeys and parrots. The trip to Malaysia will be similar to the trip to Ecuador in that it will require long days of hiking in densely forested tropical areas. Malaysia has a very different culture and climate than Spain or Ecuador, and the focus of the trip will be proactive immersive education in order to have an in-depth understanding of where Malayan tigers live, how they survive in densely forested areas, and how the threats to their survival impact their ability to thrive in their natural habitat.

WPZ: What are you most looking forward to on the trip? 

CA: I am most looking forward to being immersed in the natural habitat of the animals I spend my time caring for at the zoo—to obtain a better understanding of what tigers experience in the wild.

WPZ: What do you hope to learn on the walk? 

CA: I hope to get a better understanding of how topography and forest cover influence the way tigers are able to communicate with other tigers through marking their territories. I also hope to get a better understanding of the obstacles that the researchers are experiencing when trying to study tigers in dense forest cover to accurately estimate population levels.

WPZ: Why is visiting Malaysia important to your work at the zoo? 

CA: Experiencing the wild habitats of the animals I care for gives me a more in-depth understanding of their needs. First-hand experience with the threats to the tiger species allows me to more accurately convey conservation messages to zoo visitors and other people in my life.

WPZ: What has been your favorite part about working with tigers? 

CA: Tigers are typically solitary species in the wild, with the exception of females with young. Most of my experience working with tigers has been working with solitary captive tigers. I am fascinated with animal behavior, and it has been very interesting working with a group of three young males. I have learned a lot about tiger behavior by watching their behaviors change as they become mature males, and seeing how the social dynamics influence the personalities of each tiger. Tigers also chuff, which is a friendly vocalization that they will do with each other when they are young, and tigers will chuff at keepers they are familiar with as well. A good morning or good night chuff always makes my day better.

WPZ: What can readers in the United States do to help tigers in Malaysia? 

CA: The good news is we can all help tigers regardless of where we live. First, by simply visiting the zoo you are taking a conservation action. And while you’re here, you’ll learn more about what we’re doing to save tigers. Our Malayan tiger conservation partnership with Panthera is making great strides on the ground in Malaysia—you might consider making a financial donation to the project. Finally, please join the Woodland Park Zoo Tiger Team to receive breaking news and updates directly from our partners in the field and stories about tiger conservation efforts all over the world.

We can't wait to welcome Christine Anne back after her trip and hear her stories during tiger exhibit talks. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Adapted from an article first published in the Spring 2016 issue of MyZoo magazine. Zoo members receive MyZoo quarterly as a benefit of membership.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Slow and steady: World Turtle Day spotlights 25 years of turtle conservation

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Today is World Turtle Day and the perfect time to join Woodland Park Zoo and zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to take action to help save the endangered western pond turtle from extinction.

For 25 years, Woodland Park Zoo has partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to recover western pond turtles, including raising and releasing turtles back to protected wetlands. Oregon Zoo and other state, federal and private partners have since joined the effort to bring the imperiled species back from the brink of extinction.

This western pond turtle hatched overnight as World Turtle Day dawned. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The species once ranged from Baja California to Puget Sound, including the Columbia River Gorge. In 1990, only about 150 western pond turtles remained in the wild in Washington. These last remaining individuals struggled for survival as they battled predation by the non-native bullfrog, disease and habitat loss. Since 1991, the collaborative, multi-institutional project has restored the population to more than 1,000 turtles at six sites in two regions of Washington state: Puget Sound and the Columbia River Gorge.

AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, and other like-minded organizations, are collaborating through a bold effort focused on saving species from extinction and restoring them in their natural ranges. AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) combines the power of engaging 183 million annual AZA-accredited zoo and aquarium visitors with the collective expertise of these facilities and their conservation partners to save signature species, including the western pond turtle. SAFE also provides a unique platform for AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to increase the collective impact of their field conservation efforts and conservation contributions through conservation action plans (CAPs).

Getting ready to release a pond turtle into a protected Washington wetland. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The SAFE Western Pond Turtle CAP focuses on: addressing knowledge gaps about western pond turtle distribution; establishing a Western Pond Turtle Rangewide Conservation Coalition to organize conservation efforts rangewide; and developing and implementing effective methods for identifying, treating and/or preventing a currently unidentified shell disease in Washington state, among other initiatives.

According to Fred Koontz, PhD, Woodland Park Zoo's vice president of field conservation:

"Turtles have existed on our planet for more than 220 million years. While the western pond turtle continues to survive, its recovery is as slow as a turtle. Saving wildlife depends on people. Everyone, no matter how old you are, can take action at home to help ensure this turtle thrives into the future."

To help make a difference for western pond turtles on World Turtle Day and every day, consider these additional actions:
  • Reduce pollutants to native turtle habitat by eliminating chemical pesticides from your gardening practices.
  • Improve the quality of wildlife habitat necessary for native turtle survival by joining a habitat restoration program in your community and using native plants in your own yard.
  • Take care not to release unwanted pets or animals into wild habitat—invasive species can outcompete or prey on native turtles. Call your local animal shelter to find a new home for an unwanted pet.
  • Access Unite For Literacy’s free Western pond turtle digital children’s book to help teach kids about this species.

Take your turtle love to the next level and think globally. Almost 50% of known turtle species are listed as threatened with extinction. Zoo educator Amanda Vandel shares these great tips for making the world a more turtle-friendly place:

"There are some very practical things you can do in your everyday life to help these awesome animals across the globe. The biggest thing you can do today to help turtles is to limit your plastic use. Going grocery shopping? Bring and use a reusable shopping bag. The average person uses 350-500 plastic bags annually. Going out to a restaurant? Opt not to have a one-time use straw with your drink. 500 million straws are used in the U.S. every day. Planning a birthday party? Use streamers instead of balloons. And never, ever release balloons. These small changes can make a huge impact for all wildlife."

You can learn even more from Amanda and other zoo staff at the turtle-themed talks featured at the new Alvord Broadleaf Theater this week. In true turtle-style, we're taking our time and celebrating World Turtle Day all week long!

Happy World Turtle Day! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Yola fits right in with her gorilla family

Posted by: Stephanie Payne-Jacobs, Zookeeper

Yola is taking steps outdoors as she prepares to join the exhibit in June. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Since the time of our last update, Yola’s caregivers are happy to report that her introduction to her full family group has progressed wonderfully, with each positive step cautiously leading to the next.

Now that Yola has outgrown the need for midnight and 3:00 a.m. bottles, our first step was to ask Nadiri to keep Yola with her overnight to allow them time to bond quietly while nesting down for the night. This narrowed their time apart from one another each day to approximately 4-5 hours, when Leo’s group in on exhibit. Keepers noticed a fairly immediate change in Nadiri’s interactions with Yola, whose company, at six rambunctious months old, may be a lot more fun for Nadiri than a needy newborn. Over the past month, play sessions have increased, and Nadiri is carrying Yola more and making more protective gestures towards her.

Yola's name means "firefly," in part inspired by the bright little tuft of fur on her backside. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Almost concurrently, we began giving Nadiri and Yola access to the outdoor exhibit first thing in the morning while the zoo is still closed, in order to give Yola time to get familiar with the lay of the land and the opportunity to navigate the pathways. Yola has not shown much interest in the great unknown of the exhibit yet, and has spent most of these mornings in the back of the exhibit playing in the clover.

She doesn't go far, but she has fun where she does go. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Once Yola and Nadiri were comfortably established in this new routine, keepers moved on to the physical introduction of silverback Leo. We decided to introduce Leo before female Akenji based on our observations of Leo’s fondness for Yola through the mesh over the past months, and her comfort in Leo’s proximity. Leo did not prove us wrong. The first morning that he shifted into the rooms with Nadiri and Yola, there were multiple content grunts, along with calm body language and respected personal space. We also saw that Nadiri was cautious about allowing Yola to approach Leo, which was exactly what we were hoping for. It was important to see Nadiri’s protective instincts kick in before taking the next step of adding Akenji to the visits, who would likely be more curious about Yola, and, as a result, more interactive.

Yola loves to climb. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

As soon as we saw signs that the visits with Leo were becoming routinely comfortably and relaxed for all three gorillas, it was time to take the final introductory step and add Akenji to the mix. This was just a bit nerve wracking for us all, as Akenji is one of our most playful and outgoing gorillas. We weren’t sure how this energy would translate to a new, small potential playmate.

As she grows more comfortable exploring outdoors, we hope to see Yola join the exhibit in June. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Akenji is also incredibly intelligent and socially savvy, and this was evident on the first morning she joined the visit between Nadiri, Leo and Yola. The energy and excitement that we all anticipated was, and continues to be, expressed through occasional and playful displays through the bedrooms. When Akenji  does approach Yola, she does so cautiously, knowing full well that Nadiri and Leo are watching and listening for any signs of distress coming from Yola. While Akenji  has shown that she is (mostly) able to restrain her excitement when it comes to this new family member, she will occasionally do something that makes Yola react (she likes to flip her over like a turtle, for instance). When this has happened, Leo and Nadiri have come running—not aggressively, just quickly enough to be present for Yola or to displace Akenji if necessary.  It’s been a pleasure to watch this group slowly coming together at each step. Their fondness for one another has been a huge asset to the process.

We're all fond of Yola: keepers, visitors and gorillas alike. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

We continue to see positive behavior among the adults and towards Yola and the visits are becoming longer in duration each day. The next step will be to allow the group outside together while the zoo is closed, in order to give them time to grow comfortable with one another in their outdoor space. Once that is established, we will work towards having the group outside and on view at some point each day.

Today is Endangered Species Day. Yola is a reminder—one that hits us right in the heart—of what's at stake for critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

We all are extremely appreciative of everyone’s patience in this process, from zoo directors to zoo visitors. It has been invaluable to be afforded the time to work towards slowly introducing and establishing the relationship between Nadiri and Yola. This process could not have been rushed, so we thank everyone for their patient contribution towards our anticipated end result: Nadiri and her baby together in their family group.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Turtle hatching a conservation coup for critically endangered species

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor with Jennifer Pramuk, PhD, Curator

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Little bigger than a penny, a flowerback box turtle hatched at Woodland Park Zoo on May 7, 2016. This is the third hatching success of this critically endangered species at the zoo, each one a triumph in the fight against extinction.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The common name for this turtle refers to the beautiful colors and ornate designs on its carapace. Native to China, Vietnam and Laos, it is endangered because it is desired as an ingredient in some traditional medicines and for the pet trade.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Turtles have been around for 220 million years and survived the massive extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Yet these ancient survivors are now going extinct faster than any other group of terrestrial vertebrates. Almost 50% of known turtle species are listed as threatened with extinction.

It’s a sobering figure, but it’s not too late for turtles. 

Woodland Park Zoo’s conservation work continues in the field where we’re working with partners to save endangered turtles in the Pacific Northwest, Asia and beyond. It can continue at your home, too.

A western pond turtle raised at Woodland Park Zoo is released into protected Washington wetlands to repopulate the state endangered species. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Turtles in your community need clean water and viable nesting grounds, and you can help. Start by reducing pesticides in your gardening practices to keep chemical runoff out of our waterways, and consider using native plants that naturally thrive here. Take it further by joining habitat restoration projects in your area, which is also a great way to involve friends and family to make an even bigger impact for turtles.

World Turtle Day is coming up on May 23. Share this story to spread the turtle love and help us raise awareness for turtle conservation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Adventures of a baby porcupine

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Hello! If you are wondering, yes, “porcupette” is categorically the most adorable word in the English language.

We have some prickly news to share.

A baby porcupine, known as a porcupette, was born on May 7, 2016. The little critter is not yet on exhibit but has taken its first practice steps outdoors. As it grows more comfortable with crawling, climbing and exploring, it will make its official debut in its Northern Trail home soon. 

As baby explores, mom Molly is doing exactly what porcupine mothers do. She is eating a lot and leaving her baby alone in its cozy den for most of the day. During the evening and throughout the night, Molly nurses the porcupette. In the wild, this behavior of nursing once a day allows the baby to rest, but it also keeps predators from spotting the baby. Porcupines are nocturnal, so the daylight hours are used for relaxing in a burrow of grass and leaves. This is the fourth baby born to parents Oliver and Molly at Woodland Park Zoo.

As of today, the porcupette weighs just 750 grams (about the same as a chubby pineapple). Keepers tell us that they won’t be able to determine the sex of the new porcupine for a few more weeks. What we do know is that this little one is quite independent! While mom ate a lunch of lettuce and biscuits, this little cutie took the opportunity to explore the exhibit. 

We shadowed the baby as zookeeper Amy watched to be sure it didn’t get too tired. For a baby porcupine, sniffing buttercups, climbing logs and tasting leaves is hard work. After about 15 minutes of practicing some difficult log climbs and even adventuring into one of the outside dens, the porcupette made its way back to mom and the den for a well-deserved nap.

We weren’t sure if you wanted to see photos of this baby adventure, but just in case, here they are.

The porcupette explored the yard while keeping an eye on our photographer.

This porcupette shares its birthday with one of its keepers, which is just about the best birthday present you can get!

There were some curious objects in the exhibit.

The baby will nurse for about four months. Adult and young North American porcupines eat plants, shrubs, clover and grass as well as tree bark and stems. When you are this small, the grass is quite dramatic!

The porcupette makes quiet whines and grunts, but the noises are hard to hear unless you are very close to it. This is one way the porcupette communicates with mom.

A young porcupine is born with very soft quills, but after only a few hours these quills will begin to harden into sharper versions.

Porcupines are excellent climbers, but when they are on the ground they tend to waddle and shuffle along.