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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Going Green: Middle School Youth Learn About Sustainability

Posted by Ryan Driscoll, Education

Note from the Editor: Each term, ZooCrew empowers middle school youth to become conservation leaders by providing science learning experiences that inspire them to learn, care, and act through after school and summer expanded learning opportunities.

Through the ZooCrew programs, we excite youth from communities across King County about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects by engaging with real-world conservation issues, preparing them for continued involvement in Woodland Park Zoo’s youth programs, and inspiring them to consider a broad range of STEM and conservation careers. We believe engaging these students, as well as youth across Washington state, is key to solving current conservation issues in our own backyard and around the world.

What does the word sustainability mean?  That was the question we asked during the ZooCrew Summer Learning Program, and 22 middle-school students from across Seattle came up with some great definitions:
  • To continue to do something indefinitely without causing harm
  • To be able to reuse something again and again that lasts into the future
  • To keep balance of nature and human action

Over two four-week sessions this summer, we focused on exploring the personal actions that we can all take to make our lives greener.  We used both the zoo and field trips across the city to explore topics such as food impacts, water waste, and living with urban wildlife.  From planning and cooking their own lunches with sustainability in mind to creating phone-based video games to teach people about what they could do, students took full advantage of this free program funded by the Families & Education Levy through the City of Seattle Department of Early Learning.  By the end of the summer, the next generation of conservation leaders returned to their communities ready to share tips of living greener with their peers and neighbors.

Team Building
We started our program with an overnight camping trip to the Key Peninsula.  There, we focused on the different types of leadership that each youth brought to the group and asked them to “step up and step back” so that everyone could have a chance to grow as a leader.  We proceeded to put this to the test the next day with some team building exercises.  We also spent some time bonding through kayaking and paddle boarding in the sound, lots of games, and far too many s’mores around the campfire.  After getting to know each other and forming a tight-knit team, we were ready to delve into our summer topics.

Getting across a series of platforms with just two boards takes a little planning and lots of cooperation.  
Rock-paper-scissors solves all disputes in ZooCrew including who gets to use the kayak next!

Owen needed to test a couple of s’mores before he was willing to give them his approval.

Arguably no age group is more concerned with food than middle schoolers.  With that in mind, the first topic we delved into was where our food was coming from and the impact that different foods have on the environment.  Armed with this information, students paired off and created their own menus for different lunches throughout the summer.  Not only did they have to justify why their meals were taking sustainability into account, but they had to make a shopping list, plan out their cooking and prep times, and help staff cook the meal!  Chicken adobo, fish tacos, and mac and cheese were some of the many dishes students cooked up, and they were often accompanied by local, seasonal fruits.  Needless to say, this was a highlight for many of the students.

Joel brought in his mother’s famous fish taco recipe.  He took on the battering while Andre took care of frying.
Chicken adobo, rice with broccoli, and seasonal fruit smoothies!  It was a busy day in the kitchen!
We spent the rest of the week focusing on other food sustainability issues including waste and composting (including a trip to visit Dr. Doo and the zoo compost yard), pesticide use at the Molbak’s Butterfly Garden, and sustainable practices around foods like palm oil and cocoa.  Of course, this had to include a tour of Theo’s chocolate to talk about the work involved in setting up a sustainable, organic, and fair trade food supplier.  The students didn’t seem to mind that this also involved sampling some of the chocolate!  We also got to visit the Tilth Alliance’s newly renovated space in Rainier Valley and discuss what it takes to grow our own food here is Seattle.

Learning about fair trade chocolate is made far more interesting when it gets mixed with samples!
Butterflies and other pollinators are important contributors to many of the foods we eat.
Living in the rainy northwest, water conservation is not always on the tops of our minds.  However, the recent dry summers have helped to highlight the importance of this issue, and students were shocked to see how much water they were using for many of their daily tasks like showers and flushing the toilet.  After some debates around the feasibility of taking less than a 10 minute shower, we also took a trip to the aquarium to learn about the steps they are taking to conserve not only water but the animals that need that water around our area.

Urban Wildlife
While we often think of the amazing natural places around our city as where most of the animals live, we have many urban residents in our own neighborhoods.  After a tour of the Northern Trail at the zoo to learn about coexisting with carnivores like wolves and bears, we went out into local parks with Mark Jordan, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Seattle University.  Professor Jordan showed us how to set up camera traps and shared what he had found from studying the carnivores that live in the parks around the city.  We also visited the Burke Museum where we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the bird and mammal collections as we talked about how research collections can help us study how animals have changed over time.

Students explored Seward Park looking for signs of wildlife after seeing some images of them from Professor Jordan’s camera traps.
Collection manager Jeff Bradley took ZooCrew behind the scenes to explore how research collections like those at the Burke can help us understand how animals have changed over time.
Consumption and Waste
From cell phones and computers to clothes and fidget spinners, youth today are the prime audience for many consumer goods.  After discussing how many of these products are designed in a way that make then obsolete or unusable after a certain amount of time, we discussed different ways we could reduce the amount of waste we use and encourage the reuse of things around us.  We followed this up with a trip to Gasworks Park to discuss re-purposing and recycled art.  

Zoo Time
When we weren’t off on field trips, we were enjoying out time on zoo grounds looking at animals and getting to go behind the scenes and talk with zoo staff.  We got to visit the commissary where we learned about how the zoo gets the food for all its animals and how it is prepared.  We took a tour of the greenhouse to learn about the ‘compost tea’ the zoo uses to fertilize many of the plants on exhibits and grounds.  Finally, we also got to visit ambassador animals and learn about what it takes to care for animals that interact with the public.  

Xavier decided he wanted to stay in the greenhouse and live with the plants.
Through all of this, students were working in groups to put together a geo-location based game that people could play on their cell phones using a program called Taleblazer.  Pulling on the short stories we read during the summer as well as our discussion with Earthgames founder Dargan Frierson from the University of Washington, student created their own story that allowed people to interact with characters and solve mysteries while the physically moved around the zoo.  Their creativity was showcased by the variety of stories, characters, and even artwork that was used.

A screenshot from “Sustainability, The Manga”, one of the many games created this summer.  Dan had a lot of fun creating all the characters himself.

At the end of the program, participants invited their families to the zoo to show off their games and enjoy an evening looking at animals.  We want to send out another thank you for all the work that ZooCrew parents and guardians put in to help make the program run smoothly this summer.  We also wanted to thank all the zoo staff and community organizations that helped provide such a great experience this summer.  We look forward to a new topic and some new adventures next summer with our next summer ZooCrew group!  Until then, look for ZooCrew this fall at select middle schools in the area.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Aibek explores the great outdoors

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

You can add one more outdoors enthusiast to the lineup of PNW adventurersAibek took to climbing, pouncing and stealthily sneaking through the outdoor snow leopard exhibit this morning for the first time. The 2 month old male snow leopard was so eager to explore his new digs that he actually beat mom out the door, but Helen was close behind the little explorer to keep an eye on him.

Prior to Aibek's first morning in the September drizzle, keepers weighed the cub (10.2 lbs.) and fed him a few meaty snacks. Keepers also sprayed a bit of cologne on branches and logs in the exhibit to entice mom, Helen. A meat treat was another incentive to head into the yard. Aibek has been eating mostly solids, although he is still nursing.

During his first outdoor exploration, Aibek took his time sniffing around the grasses and pine trees and then made his way to the top of the rocky hilland just like his parentspromptly found a spot that was nearly out of site. Snow leopards are extremely elusive and are nicknamed ghost cats, since they are so difficult to spot in the wild. Aibek already has a perfectly camouflaged coat, which would keep the little cub safe in the snowy mountains. He also has some pretty stealthy moves for a 2 month old, even Helen has to stay vigilant to keep him in her sight.

Aibek is the first single cub to be born at Woodland Park Zoo, usually snow leopards have a litter of two or three cubs at a time. Keepers say that because of this, Aibek might be a bit more timid when it comes to exploring new spaces, but so far the little guy has shown us he is fairly confident in the outdoors. Helen is an experienced mom, so keepers say they have full confidence in her ability to keep Aibek safe.

The cub was born July 6 and is the first offspring between mom Helen and dad Dhirin (pronounced as did-in), both 12. While Aibek will stick close to mom, Dhirin is in a separate yard since male snow leopards are solitary creatures.

For the last few months, Aibek and Helen have been bonding in a quiet, off-view area where keepers can perform wellness checks and make sure the pair is healthy and comfortable, but now that Aibek is ready, keepers will give them the option of shifting into the exhibit yard from noon–3 p.m. each day. (Just remember, cats will be cats and it's up to Helen and Aibek to choose whether they will stay hidden in their cozy den or play front and center.)

Getting weighed before heading out into the drizzle!
Meat snack? Yes, please!

Snow leopards are listed as a vulnerable species. The snow leopard is a moderately large cat native to the high mountain ranges of Central Asia and Russia, including in Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan. According to the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust, the population of these endangered big cats in the wild is estimated to be between 3,920 and 6,390.

Woodland Park Zoo has long been a conservation partner with the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT); the two organizations are partnering with Kyrgyzstan's State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry to protect the snow leopards of the Tian Shan mountains. Research cameras set up in the Sarychat Ertash reserve allow researchers to monitor the area's snow leopard population, which they estimate to be around 18 cats. Through innovative programs, effective partnerships, and the latest science, the SLT is saving these vulnerable cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard countries of Central Asia.

VIDEO: Adorable footage of Aibek and Helen exploring the exhibit. https://youtu.be/42--W5X2r8A

Friday, September 8, 2017

An unusual gorilla adoption

Posted by: Milou Groenenberg, Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study, a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project

At Mbeli, we follow the interesting lives of many different gorillas. One of our most fascinating stories is that of George’s group. George was already an adult silverback when the Mbeli Bai Study started in 1995. He acquired his first females in 1998, and became a successful harem holder, siring a total of 19 offspring. One of the females in his group, Leah, became famous worldwide for the first observation of tool-use by wild gorillas. From 2004 onward, George’s group slowly started to reduce in size as he lost female after female. From 2012 onward, George started to mingle with another group: Morpheus’s.

Morpheus (back), George (front) and Jockey (center, offspring of Morpheus) are tolerating each other in close proximity as their groups are mingling in the bai. This occurred regularly in the period between 2012 and 2016, until George was last seen. Photo courtesy Marie Manguette. 

There appeared to be some sort of unique fission-fusion dynamic going on in which the groups would sometimes visit the bai together, and other times, separately. This development was highly surprising as western lowland gorillas, unlike their mountain cousins, are generally very intolerant of other adult males within the same group. George still had one reproductive female (Bessie) in his group as well as dependent infant, Obama. The risk for infanticide or sneaky copulations could be lurking around the corner.

Obama is George’s youngest infant; he was still dependent when George’s group first started to mingle with Morpheus’s group in 2012. He was four years old when Morpheus accepted him and his brothers in his group. Photo courtesy Marie Manguette.

Morpheus is quite a special silverback himself. His physical appearance stands out because of a massive drooping lower lip. Morpheus has been known to the study since 2003. He had a modest breeding group and sired one of the five twin sets observed at Mbeli (Neo and Niobe). By 2011, he had lost all his females and became a single dad. His older sons were known to be some of the bravest (or craziest?) gorillas in our population; chest beating to anything from sitatunga, to cobra, and even elephants.

Morpheus is the silverback gorilla who ‘adopted’ George’s kids in 2016. His interesting physique, including a large, drooping lower lip, makes him easily identifiable. Photo courtesy Marie Manguette.

It was sad to see how George slowly became weaker and older, turning feeble and skinny. The frequency in which he mingled with Morpheus increased during this time. He was last seen in March, 2016, and is assumed to have passed away at the respectable age of 41 years. His faithful ‘wife’ Bessie has also not been seen since.

Silverback George is seen here at age 40, standing in a pool in the bai whilst feeding in bipedal position. Photo courtesy Milou Groenenberg

Interestingly, Morpheus took mercy upon George’s kids, the little four-year-old Obama, the handicapped Booker, who cannot use his left hand, and the handsome young silverback Custer. These three fellows have been visiting the bai with Morpheus ever since they lost their dad. Morpheus defends his adopted children as vigorously as his own, which was exemplified during a recent visit when a solitary silverback came too close to Custer, after which Morpheus ignited in a raging session of chest beats and splash displays.

Video: Jockey bluff charging KotickJockey and his adoptive brother showing off against an adult silverback. This video, although a bit wobbly, shows an interesting interaction between Custer, George’s biological son (right back), Jockey, Morpheus’s biological son (left front), and an adult solitary silverback named Kotick (right front). Custer can be seen ‘tight-lipped’ (a type of agonistic display) in the beginning of the video, after which suddenly Jockey decides to bluff charge through the water which startles Kotick.

These extraordinary developments in the group’s composition raise interesting questions: Were Morpheus and George related? Would Morpheus accept, raise and protect non-relatives? Did George have an intention for the future protection of his offspring when he started to mingle? For how many of the younger gorillas in our current non-breeding groups can we safely assume that the silverback is their biological father? How often do these alternative group compositions occur? What implications can such information have on management in human care? All these and more are the interesting research questions we will continue to follow at Mbeli Bai.

About the project
Woodland Park Zoo has supported the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Project since 2001 through our Wildlife Survival Fund. Since the establishment of the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study in 1995, the focus has been on the continuous monitoring of the visiting western lowland gorilla population to gain insights into population dynamics, demography, social structure, and behavior. This information is crucial for assessment of a population’s vulnerability to threats, predictions of their ability to recover from decline, and formulation of effective conservation strategies. In 2016 alone, with regular monitoring of the bai, data has been obtained on 26 gorilla groups and 12 solitary males, totaling 200 individuals.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The zoo is home for growing family of wild eagles

Posted by: Elizabeth Bacher, Marketing
Photos by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo

Here at Woodland Park Zoo, we share the habitat with all kinds of native wildlife such as bald eagles.  Two eagle fledglings, called eaglets, just left their nest above the zoo’s elk yard a few weeks ago. They’re only about 15 or 16 weeks old right now and already as big as their parents, but their overall dark coloring sets them apart from adults. 

Juveniles don’t develop the distinctive bald eagle features—white head, yellow beak and yellow feet—until they’re 4 or 5 years old. The eaglets’ long flight feathers, which help steady them as they learn to fly and hunt, often make them look even bigger than adults for the first year. But they’re still completely dependent on mom and dad right now.  

Soon, the parents will leave the nesting area to take advantage of fall salmon runs in places like the Skagit and Columbia River systems, and they won’t return for several months. The youngsters will be on their own then, and might hang around the zoo for an extra week or so before taking wing to join other juveniles and adults. The first winter is the most dangerous and difficult part of a young eagle’s life, so the lessons they learn now are important for survival. 

Until then, mom and dad will continue to hunt and provide food for the eaglets through the end of summer – giving them a few more weeks to watch and learn. That means there’s still time to catch the whole eagle family flying above the Wildlife Theater area next to the elk yard – or to see the eaglets gulp down a nutritious meal of rabbit, fish, crow or seagull. How do we know? Zoo staff – who say the pair look very well fed – have seen them eating on the ground in the elk yard, and sometimes find the remains of whatever was on the menu. #goodeagleparenting

Seattle Youth Climate Action Network Summer Superstars

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

The youth will save the world. Sentiments like this can seem overzealous in their predictions, but after spending a few hours interviewing the participants of the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (SYCAN) Summer Learning Experience, I am convinced.

An intensive pilot program, SYCAN Summer Learning Experience invited high school students from communities across King County to participate in a dynamic four-week local exploration of all things climate while keeping their brains abuzz during summer break. Along with three interns from the City of Seattle’s Seattle Youth Employment Program, three educators from Woodland Park Zoo and generous support from Stolte Family Foundation and others, the group came together to learn about the effects of climate change on people and the environment—and what some Seattle institutions and professionals are doing about it.

Each participant was given an Orca card, gifted by King County Metro, and used public transit each day of the program to get to and from a wide range of locations all around Seattle. From the Bullitt Center to Safeco Field, Recology to Pacific Science Center and Seattle Aquarium, the group visited many different locations across the city. While touring these destinations and learning about sustainability and green practices, the group also met with climate experts from varying backgrounds and professions each week. 

Removing invasive species to protect the forest at Cheasty Greenspace

Tasting the spoils at Beacon Food Forest

They discussed climate change and the environment with Climate Impacts Group’s Meade Krosby, PhD and Heidi Roop, PhD, and impacts on wildlife with Woodland Park Zoo’s Senior Conservation Fellow Robert Long, PhD and Senior Interpretive Designer Sarah Werner.  They learned about marine impacts such as ocean acidification from Seattle Aquarium’s Youth Engagement Coordinator Dave Glenn and teens from their Youth Ocean Advocates program, and learned from a panel of climate scientists at the University of Washington. One day they even hopped aboard the Sally Fox water taxi to meet Harold Tanaguchi, Director of the King County Department of Transportation,  KCDOT’s Climate Change and Energy Manager Alex Adams, Senior Climate Change Specialist Matt Kuharic, and Climate Engagement Specialist Jamie Stroble—all before lunch.

Up close at the Seattle Aquarium

The group gets the low down at Seattle's waterfront.

In between their rigorous schedule of meetings, field trips and workshops, the group spent time discussing what they had learned and prepared for their culminating assignment, a climate communication project that would be presented to zoo staff and visitors at the end of their four weeks. Bolstered by tremendous tips for successful research practice thanks to Seattle Public Library staff and first-hand experience with zoo staff and other experts on climate communication, the teams were introduced to myriad ways in which to communicate climate advocacy and connect with their audience.

Learning about ocean acidification from Discovery Corps interns at the Pacific Science Center

In addition to getting to know one another through team-building activities and journaling, the teens also learned about actions they could take to address climate change in their own daily lives.

The group split into teams dedicated to three Pacific Northwest animals: gray wolves, snowy owls and river otters. Their culminating project would attempt to communicate the effects of climate change on each animal and its habitat. The teens brainstormed ways to capture their audience (zoo visitors) and keep them interested in learning about climate change with so many distractions around (more animals to see) while delivering a somber message (climate change) with an optimistic outcome (actions to save wildlife)—no easy task! Each team came up with visuals, presentation props and clear, concise messaging to impart on each passersby. 

Working on last minute details for their presentations to zoo visitors.

Team gray wolf focused on the wolf’s role as a top predator and keystone species, keeping the biome and all its inhabitants in balance. A robust diorama and a slew of fun facts about wolf habitat kept visitors engaged. The takeaway? A brochure with more information about how actions at home, such as eating less meat and carpooling, can help mitigate climate change.

Team river otter focused on educating the public on the biology of river otters and their connection to clean waterways. Armed with an otter comic and surprising facts about climate change’s effect on water systems, the team left visitors with an understanding of small actions they could take at home that could help fight climate change.

Team snowy owl created a demonstrative climate change game, where visitors were asked to remove snowballs (cotton balls) at each prompt read aloud by the guest. An example: Lemming populations are dwindling because of changes in the sea level, remove 15 snowballs. As the snowballs were removed, visitors uncovered a drawing underneath which depicted snowy owls in peril.

The energy and passion each participant had for educating others on the effects of climate change was demonstrated in their commitment to the program and their outstanding presentations. Here, in their own words, is a little more about why they chose to spend four weeks of their summer working to make the world a better place for animals and people alike.

Karen Juliet, 15 years old, SYCAN student
“The Seattle Youth Climate Action Network was an amazing experience that I've never gotten before and I doubt I'll ever get in school. The most fun and engaging part of the program was getting to go around various areas in Seattle and interact with professionals that work with climate change, asking them questions, and learning new material. Another fun side was getting to meet, bond with, work, and spend time with new people that were passionate about the same cause as I was for 4 weeks. The impact this program had on me was gaining inspiration and knowledge. I didn't think that as an individual we can do small actions that will reduce our carbon footprints and it definitely got me motivated to start working within my school and community to communicate about climate change and the various areas it affects. I got a whole new whole perspective about climate change and how it affects the environment, economy, and people.” 

Jenny Mears, Program Educator
“Working on the SYCAN Summer Learning Experience with this group of teens was absolutely amazing. Each day, we would hop on light rail or a bus to visit a sustainability hotspot or to hear about the incredible work that climate professionals are doing around the city. We delved into climate impacts on the environment, wildlife, the economy, and people, hearing from experts on topics such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, green technology, and climate justice. It was so inspiring to see the teens’ growth in knowledge and understanding of the impacts of climate change, as well as their passion and enthusiasm to make a difference in their community!” 

Benet Sparks, 17 years old, Seattle Youth Employment Program Intern
“I am an intern hired on by Seattle Youth Employment Program and I chose to work here at the zoo. I am here to assist the students here from different schools and help them work on their communications skills and learn about climate change and be able to speak comfortably to different people. Because climate change is real, the students and this generation and our kids are most affected by it, so educating them as early as possible is really important. We can’t stay on the route that we are on. Young minds are going to invent the new things—the new chances to make the ecofriendly choice. Just because we are 14 or 17 years old, it doesn’t matter how old we are, as long as we are passionate about it.
I knew I was passionate about the environment when I fell in love with animals when I was around ten years old. I grew up in rural Georgia, looking at insects, trees and birds. Moving to Seattle was a big change; I had to drive a long ways to get out of the city and into the evergreen part of the state. Missing that connection to nature in my backyard inspired me to get involved. I’m passionate about the animals living in the environment and how urban sprawl effects them. I fell in love with animal documentaries and I wanted to be the person who tells their stories. Now I want to be a zookeeper and attend UW or be a field conservationist.”

Aji Piper, 17 years old, Seattle Youth Employment Intern and member of the SYCAN Youth Leadership Committee
“I am here as an intern for SYCAN. The reason I’m here is supporting the youth that are going through this experience with my existing knowledge of climate change and advocacy. 
The importance of SYCAN existing is that it has the potential to reach people, to connect and teach about climate change because it’s not an environmental organization that does just one thing. It is a network that connects action, political advocacy, communication—and it’s an integral part of growing the youth movement. There is something for everyone at SYCAN, kids can find their own niche in the climate change movement. 
It’s not a question of whether or not kids will understand; they have a huge capacity and great imagination to solve these problems."
Eli Wiess and Aji Piper
Eli Weiss, Community Engagement Supervisor

“The SYCAN Summer Learning Experience is an exciting new opportunity for us to expand programming for the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network to include an intensive summer program designed to be accessible and relevant for teens from diverse communities in King County.  Our goal was to create a program that empowers participants to fight both climate change and summer learning loss while exploring the many dimensions of climate action around the city. Based on initial participant feedback, I think it is safe to say that our pilot year was a huge success and we look forward to refining the program model and sharing this opportunity with more teens next summer.”
Socially conscious, environmentally mindful and digitally sophisticated beyond even the generation before them—this curious, resourceful and altruistic cohort of young people are convinced they can curb climate change and find solutions for clean technology while protecting earth’s most precious resources. I can’t wait to see them prove it.

Huge thanks to the range of community groups who made this program possible and special thanks to our partners who supported the SYCAN Summer Learning Experience: Stolte Family Foundation, Seattle Public Libraries, King Country Department of Transportation, Seattle Youth Employment Program, Seattle Aquarium, Pacific Science Center, Climate Solutions, UW College of the Environment, and UW Climate Impacts Group. 

Seattle Youth Climate Action Network was launched by Woodland Park Zoo in January 2015 with initial funding from The Ocean Project, and represents a new local partnership between a range of climate and environment focused community groups and including teen programs at Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Aquarium and Pacific Science Center. Since 2015, more than 500 teens have participated in monthly events, trainings, action campaigns, and our annual Youth Climate Action Summit!

Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (CAN) empowers teens to address climate change in their communities through education, leadership, and action. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Meet new orangutan of the forest, Godek

Godek orangutan
Godek’s steely eyes might even give “blue steel” a run for its money. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

He’s a little shy by nature. But when Godek took his first steps into the indoor orangutan exhibit, there was nothing tentative about the way he moved. The 8-year-old male Sumatran orangutan is settling right into his new home.

After arriving from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado earlier this summer, Godek completed a standard quarantine at our veterinary hospital where care staff first observed his shy demeanor. His keepers from Colorado told us to expect the young fellow to be gentle and quiet, but also very playful. We had this in mind when we began introductions between Godek and his new social group.

The plan is for Godek to live with our older females, 49-year-old Chinta and 46-year-old Melati. Siblings Belawan, female, 36 and Heran, male, 28, have formed a second group. Godek is the first new addition to our orangutan family in 28 years. While our keepers have expertise in successfully introducing apes, we know this is new and different for the orangutans. So we’re following their cues and moving at a pace that works for these animals.

The first introduction

Before their first day together in the indoor exhibit, introductions between Godek and Chinta began slowly and methodically in a behind the scenes area. Initial introductions, which we call “howdy” sessions, start with a safety barrier between the animals, such as mesh screening. This way they can see and smell each other, reach through for physical contact, but still have the security of being in their own physical space as they adjust to the presence of new faces.

Sweet and mellow Chinta was the first to break the ice with Godek. During the first howdy introduction, Godek did the usual spitting and pushing against the mesh, which is normal and not unexpected from the young male. Chinta didn’t balk at his displays. By day two, Godek took a hint from Chinta and settled into positive and calm interactions with her. When he met Melati through a howdy session several days later, the good vibes continued.

Godek and Chinta orangutans
Godek, left, hangs out (get it?) with Chinta as they get to know one another better. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sharing a home

Yesterday, Chinta and Godek shared space together for the first time. When keepers opened the doors between their behind the scenes bedrooms and their indoor exhibit, Godek was the first to enter. He had the place to himself for about 10 minutes and used it to explore all around. We now see why his Colorado keepers nicknamed him “Spider-man.” Agile and quick, he scaled the vines and platforms and has already found himself a favorite hammock.

Chinta eventually decided to join him in the indoor exhibit and the two were easily companionable. Though Chinta will turn 50 next year—an amazing old age for an orangutan—Godek seems to be bringing some youthfulness out of her. The two wrestled, ate together, playfully grunted, and explored each other’s faces and bodies. Chinta always enjoyed wrestling with her nephew Heran when he was young, and is bringing that same patience and sweetness to her new buddy. Godek can be a little demanding of attention, but when she wants a break, Chinta has no problem being gentle yet clear.

After a few hours of intense play and exploration on their first day together, Godek seemed to tire out finally and began constructing a nest on one of the platforms. Chinta stretched and rolled over onto her back to relax. The keepers had been watching every minute of the interactions, prepared for all possibilities. Even though Godek got a second wind later, keepers ultimately saw two tuckered out orangutans. That was exactly the successful first step they wanted to see. We will need to see how the next few days play out but it was a great first day.

Godek and Chinta, orangutans
Godek looks around his indoor exhibit as Chinta chills behind him. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

What’s next for Godek?

Keepers will record daily observations so we can see how Godek adjusts to the space and his mates over time. We expect to continue to see positive signs. Next up, Chinta and Godek will be introduced to the outdoor area together. Our award-winning Trail of Vines exhibit was the first in the world to provide an open canopy forested home for orangutans. For Godek, this will be his first time outdoors without a net overhead. Because it’s been nearly three decades since the zoo has had a younger, more agile orangutan, we did a thorough inspection of the exhibit and made various modifications to ensure Godek’s safety.

After he settles into both the indoor and outdoor spaces comfortably, keepers will add Melati into the mix and give this new group time to adjust. During these introductions, we are temporarily closing visitor access to the orangutan exhibit to give the animals the space and time they need.

Godek is naturally at the age when he is ready to explore on his own, away from the family he was born into. His arrival to Seattle is part of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to ensure genetically healthy populations, especially of endangered species. It will be several years before Godek reaches sexual maturity, and he will eventually be joined by a young female mate here. We hope to see them start the next generation of orangutans.

Orangutan Godek
Godek is young and has not yet developed the full cheek pads of a mature male orangutan. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

You can help save orangutans

We’re fighting for a future with orangutans in it. In their native Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans have been declared critically endangered. Overpopulation, logging, agriculture, conversion of forests to oil palm plantations, and other human activities are rapidly destroying their forest home. Working with our partner, the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program, we support eco-friendly livelihoods and education in communities that share orangutan habitat, empowering local conservation advocates.

Palm oil Malaysia
Unsustainable monoculture crops such as palm oil are a threat to forests and the diverse wildlife they support. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo, taken in Peninsular Malaysia.

Palm Oil Sustainable Shopping Guide
We’re in it to save species, but we can’t do it alone. It takes help from conservation partners and communities around the world, and that includes you. Do this one thing: download our sustainable palm oil guide to make forest-friendly consumer choices that protect orangutan habitat. Palm oil shows up in our grocery stores in everything from candy to shampoo. The guide will help you shop from companies committed to sustainable palm oil that is deforestation free. Take one look at Godek scaling heights and the need to protect forests for wild orangutans becomes so clear.