Woodland Park Zoo Logo

Monday, August 21, 2017

Conservation collaborations emerge (again) from fire

Posted by: Katie Remine, Education

In December of 2016, a fire damaged Woodland Park Zoo’s Day and Night exhibits. Staff from across the zoo came together with local firefighters to respond to the emergency and protect the animals in our care. With this tragedy in recent memory, we were very saddened to learn about a fire that impacted the conservation community in Eastern Washington. In late June, a brush fire caused great damage to the Pygmy Rabbit Recovery Project. But, like our experience at the zoo, a wide variety of partners and stakeholders came together in response to the emergency. This August, our Advanced Inquiry Program graduate students were able to go out, get dirty and help our friends at the Pygmy Rabbit Recovery Project.

Pygmy rabbit in a breeding enclosure in central Washington’s shrub steppe. Photo by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

Weighing less than a pound for an average adult, pygmy rabbits are the smallest known rabbit species in the world and are the only rabbits in the United States that dig their own burrows.  Pygmy rabbits are found throughout the Great Basin, which includes parts of Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Pygmy rabbits rely on habitat with deep soils and plentiful sagebrush, which makes up 99% of their winter diet. During spring and summer, sagebrush remains a staple, but is supplemented with grasses and other non-woody plants. The distinct Washington population, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, reached drastically low levels by the late 1990s, but thanks to efforts by local zoos, universities, The Nature Conservancy and agencies including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), populations in Washington are being re-established. Under the care of WDFW staff, pygmy rabbits are currently breeding in several large, open-air enclosures (which provide protection from predators) in shrub steppe habitat in central Washington and individuals are released into the wild each year.

In late June 2017, one of these enclosures and the surrounding habitat was impacted by a fire started by a lightning strike. Bureau of Land Management firefighters, WDFW staff and their partners all jumped in and took quick action and saved approximately one-third of the rabbits in the enclosure and transferred the survivors to the other enclosures. As staff and project partners evaluate next steps for rebuilding the population of pygmy rabbits so they can release more into the wild in future years, they are also working to take stock of the remaining population.

A view to the north across the location of the pygmy rabbit enclosure that was burned by the Sutherland Fire in June 2017. Photo by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

As part of Woodland Park Zoo’s Advanced Inquiry Program, our graduate students can take a Northwest Wildlife Conservation (NWC) course. Each year this course focuses on an ecoregion in Washington state and explores case studies of species and habitat conservation in that ecoregion. This summer our topic was the Columbia Plateau ecoregion and pygmy rabbit recovery was one of our case studies. During our course field week, our NWC class joined the Pygmy Rabbit Recovery team to help them monitor the existing population in one of the enclosures. We were all touched by the team’s firsthand accounts of the fire and their response actions. One of the first rabbits we helped to check on was a survivor from the burned enclosure—project staff could tell from the rabbit’s singed whiskers that he had been awfully close to the flames. But he was an energetic rabbit, a trait that probably helped him survive!

Stacey Nerkowski (PhD candidate at University of Idaho) and Brian Zinke (WDFW) take data on a pygmy rabbit that survived the June fire, while WPZ Advanced Inquiry Program students look on. Photo by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

During our course week, participants were inspired by all of our guest speakers, including representatives from Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship, The Nature Conservancy, a cattle rancher engaged in sustainable grazing practices, WDFW pygmy rabbit and WDFW raptor conservation staff, University of Idaho students and a local teacher. We quickly realized that conservation in a working landscape takes a lot of collaboration, communication and mutual respect. The example of the response to the fire only strengthened that understanding. Like the “one zoo” values that our zoo staff demonstrated during our fire emergency, we know it was this “one community” feeling that helped save those pygmy rabbits. Our hope for the future of the Columbia Plateau ecoregion, its biodiversity and local livelihoods was definitely rekindled by our experiences!

WPZ course participants assist Jon Gallie (WDFW Wildlife Biologist, right) with netting pygmy rabbits within the breeding enclosure in order to monitor the population. Photo by Alicia Highland.

Want to learn more about the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) and our course offerings? Join us for an AIP Information Session this fall/winter: Wednesday, November 15, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at WPZ; Tuesday, November 28 via webinar or Thursday, January 18, 2018, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at WPZ. RSVP by emailing aip@zoo.org.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

MyZoo Kids Rock Backyard Creature Art Contest

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

This summer we asked kids to show us what kinds of creatures might be hiding in their backyardthe results were some very creative and rare species indeed.


The MyZoo Kids' Backyard Creatures contest invited kids ages 3-5 and 6-10 to design their own inspired creatures, whether real or imagined and after sorting through a stack of over 100 entries we have the winners!

Grand Prize: Age 6-10

Artist: Lauren Orrison, age 7
Name of creature: Lady Lizard
Nocturnal, eats pollen, lives underground and likes to dance.

We loved Lauren's wild use of mark making and a creature that reminds us of something we have seen before, but can't quite place. Lauren will receive an overnight experience at the zoo in August. Great work Lauren!

Grand Prize: Age 3-5

Artist: Carly Rodgers, age 5
Name of creature: Sazzy
Nocturnal, eats reptiles, lives in a swamp and likes to hide.

There was something a little bit creepy and a little bit beautiful about Carly's creature, we love it! Carly will receive a ZooParent adoption plush and kit. So cool, Carly!

Runners up: Age 6-10

Artist: Asher Haukaas, age 9
Name of creature: Puffball salamander
Diurnal, eats insects, lives in damp areas and likes to release poisonous spores like a puffball mushroom.

Artist: Audrey Yu, age 6
Name of creature: Mini dragon fox
Crespucular, eats mice, lives in caves and likes to sun bathe.

Runners up: Age 3-5

Artist: Ellie White, age 5
Name of creature: Paint-the-town swallow
Crepuscular, eats bugs and roly polies, lives in trees and likes to fly to hunt for food.

Artist: Elianna Hogg, age 5
Name of creature: Cutie spider
Diurnal, eats all sorts of bugs, lives in its web and likes to make more webs.

There were so many wonderful entries, but puffball salamanders, mini dragon foxes, painting swallows and cute spiders all sounded like creatures we'd like to see in our backyards. Asher, Audrey, Elianna and Ellie will receive Woodland Park Zoo t-shirts and animal experience tickets. 

Thanks to all of the amazingly talented young artists and budding entomologists who participated in this summer's MyZoo kids contest. And, special thanks to local artist Melinda Hurst Frye for sharing her wonderful images with us in the summer issue of MyZoo magazine. To read more about Melinda's work and the beautiful backyard bugs that inspire her, check out the latest issue at zoo.org/magazine.

If you can't get enough of these creatures, stop by Bug World, our exhibit is teeming with some pretty incredible species you can find right in your own backyard.

Keep drawing, keep exploring and never stop using your imagination and creativity to celebrate nature!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Oops, snow leopard cub is a boy, not a girl

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

After a closer look, it turns out our 1-month-old snow leopard is a boy, not a girl as reported two weeks ago during a quick neonatal exam. At a follow-up exam with veterinarians today we, uh, uncovered the truth. Sometimes determining the sex of young animals, particularly cats, can be more of an art than a science.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

“Male or female, we’re pleased our cub remains in a healthy condition. Both eyes have opened and he weighed in today at 4.2 pounds, a healthy weight for his age,” said Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of animal health. Veterinarians will continue to administer health exams every few weeks until he’s about 16 weeks old for weight monitoring, vaccinations, and critical blood and fecal sampling, explained Collins. The check-ups are a part of the zoo’s exemplary animal welfare program to ensure each animal receives optimal health care.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

The new cub was born July 6 and is the first offspring between mom Helen and dad Dhirin (pronounced as did-in), both 12. Helen has had two previous litters with a different mate. Mom and cub remain in an off-view maternity den to ensure continual bonding and proper nursing in a quieter setting while staff watch the new family on a closed-circuit monitoring system. Cubs are born helpless, with their eyes closed; for several weeks they rely on their mothers for nutrition. To minimize disturbance, staff have minimal physical contact with the new family. Since snow leopards are solitary animals in their natural range, the father lives separately from the cub and can be seen by guests in the zoo’s snow leopard exhibit.

We anticipate putting the cub with mom in the outdoor, on-view exhibit in late September. 

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

Look for a naming poll coming later this month, to be launched at our Wild Asia: Asian Wildlife Conservation Day on August 12. Join us for the day and learn more about these elusive, beautiful cats and how to protect them.

“Mom is providing excellent maternal care for her cub, just like she did with her other cubs,” said Deanna DeBo, an animal collection manager at Woodland Park Zoo. “The cub is gaining more mobility each day in the den box and is using his legs instead of crawling or scooting.”

Parents Helen and Dhirin were paired under the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of snow leopards. Helen has lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 2008 and Dhirin arrived from Oklahoma City Zoo in 2014.

Snow leopards are an endangered 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 endangered cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard countries of Central Asia.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Baby giraffe Lulu takes first steps on the savanna

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Lulu's first day on the savanna. Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ.

This happened today.

It's a new milestone for baby giraffe, Lulu. For the first time, the 1½-month-old giraffe ventured onto the vast African Savanna exhibit with mom Tufani and the herd.

Hey there, guinea fowl. Have you met Lulu? You're about to! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

“Lulu’s adventurous spirit and self-confidence were on full display during her first introduction on the savanna. She crossed out to the savanna cautiously, but once she was out there, she explored, galloped, and met our gazelle, guinea fowl and a few ducks,” said Katie Ahl, a lead keeper at Woodland Park Zoo.

“Lulu is very independent but you could tell Tufani and Lulu were keeping an eye on each other and it was good to see them check in with each other throughout the introduction,” Katie added.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

Lulu’s time on the Savanna will be limited for the first week as introductions continue.  Currently, she has outdoor access in the corrals for guests to enjoy her from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily. “Lulu and her mom also have access to the barn, which is not viewable to our guests, so she may choose to go in the barn to nurse or nap,” said Katie.

Branches in the foreground acted as baby bumpers to keep Lulu away from steeper slopes. Photo: John Loughlin/WPZ.

Like human parents do at home for their own babies, the zoo closely inspected the African Savanna and took steps to baby proof the exhibit before introducing Lulu. Baby proofing the exhibit is a standard protocol when baby animals at the zoo go into an exhibit, and it is part of ensuring good animal welfare,” said Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “Giraffe-style baby bumpers were added to the exhibit in the form of branches and logs laid along steeper slopes. We also closed up any gaps where she could potentially wedge herself. The baby bumpers and the watchful eyes of her mom and aunt are a great safety net as she explores her new surroundings.”

Seattle’s tallest baby, Lulu, was born June 20 to first-time parents, 9-year-old giraffe Tufani (too-faw-nee) and 4-year-old Dave. Born at a height of 5’9”, Lulu currently stands at 7’6” tall and weighs 267 pounds.

The family. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

Widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated populations in west and central Africa, new population surveys estimate an overall 36 to 40 percent decline in the giraffe population. Of the currently recognized subspecies of giraffe, five have decreasing populations, while three are increasing and one is stable.

Giraffe fans can help support conservation efforts by visiting Woodland Park Zoo and supporting Wildlife Survival Fund projects, including the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which seeks to provide the first long-term ecological monitoring effort of the Angolan giraffe—an important desert-dwelling giraffe subspecies in northwestern Namibia.

Love this girl. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Orphaned monkey rescued from street entertainers gets a second chance

Posted by: Kelly Martin, Colobus Conservation Ltd., a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project

Editor’s note: When an animal needs help, you can rely on our conservation partners to step up. Colobus Conservation Ltd., a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project based in Kenya, may have started with a focus on saving colobus monkeys, but their mission now impacts wildlife and communities well beyond that scope. This is one of those stories.

Mel the vervet monkey. Photo courtesy Lydia Katsis, Colobus Conservation researcher

Mel, a young female vervet monkey, arrived at Colobus Conservation a few weeks ago after being rescued from street entertainers trying to sell her to tourists passing by. Colobus Conservation was called to the scene by a concerned individual after witnessing little Mel tied up, alone and on the ground. She was being handed around for people to see. The asking price for her started at $10.

Team Colobus moved fast. As so often happens, on our arrival the individuals left the scene quickly, knowing that what they were doing is illegal. We arrived in time and were able to rescue little Mel before she was sold. She was strong and tried to bite us and wiggle away, not knowing what was happening to her. We wrapped her in a towel and drove back to the center. As soon as the engine started, little Mel fell fast asleep, indicating how truly exhausted she must have been from her ordeal.

On arrival at the center, Mel was checked by the vet. She was dehydrated and covered in dirt, but her condition was not so bad.

Little Mel was found tied up to a bag on the street. She was alone and being passed around for people to see. Photo courtesy Colobus Conservation

For the rest of the day and the first night, Mel cried for her mother. She then would sleep, eat and cry some more. We did all we could to comfort her, but we knew we would never be able to give her what she really needed, her mother. The next day we introduced her to another young female vervet monkey, Mali. Within the hour both had bonded and little Mel’s crying stopped almost immediately. Finally she was with a fellow monkey. Now, weeks later, they are inseparable, sleeping, eating and playing together, which fills the hearts of all the colobus team.

Mel will now have to spend at least 2 years under human care, where she will learn to be a monkey again, figuring out how to use her environment and what foods to eat, and how to socialize with other monkeys. Once ready and fully integrated, she will be released back into the wild.

Both infant vervet monkeys, Mali and Mel, were orphaned after losing their mothers to human/wildlife conflict. Both will need to be rehabilitated and will eventually be released back into the wild. Photo courtesy Lydia Katsis, Colobus Conservation researcher

We were able to save little Mel from the illegal pet trade. However, not all monkeys get a second chance. Many will be sold as pets, or used as a photo prop or passed around for tourists to stroke and touch. Many were probably torn away from their mothers who were likely killed. Colobus Conservation believes by creating awareness in communities, and through education, we can stop this being the fate of many animals. We work with the local community, school children and tourists to create awareness of why monkeys and other wild animals are not pets, and reinforce the importance of the local wildlife.

Without funding from places such as Woodland Park Zoo, our work would not be possible. We thank you for supporting us through the zoo and helping us save such monkeys as little Mel! Vote for Wildlife Survival Fund projects through the zoo's Quarters for Conservation kiosks on your next visit to continue to support projects like this.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Baby snow leopard instantly improves your day

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Getting weighed at two weeks old. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Here is your first look at our newest addition!

Born July 6, this little snow leopard had her first veterinary exam on Thursday. It was the first time we’ve been able to get close to baby, since snow leopards are born so helpless and depend on mom’s close care.

The exam went quickly because snow leopard mom Helen wouldn’t have it any other way. We got a good look at baby and that's when we found out we have a girl on our hands. She currently weighs 2.6 pounds and appears to be healthy. One of her eyelids has already opened and one remains closed. A cub’s eyelids normally open around two weeks. Her belly was full of milk, which means she is nursing and getting nourishment.

That belly is full of milk, a great sign that she's nursing properly. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Helen has been a great mom to her two previous litters with a different mate. She’s nurturing her cub very well and they’re bonding together in an off-view den where they can have some quiet, private space together.

Parents Helen and Dhirin were matched under the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, a cooperative conservation breeding program across accredited zoos. Helen has lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 2008 and Dhirin arrived from Oklahoma City Zoo in 2014. Since snow leopard fathers are not naturally involved in cub rearing, you can find Dhirin out in the snow leopard exhibit while mom and baby are in their den. It will be several weeks before the baby is ready to head outdoors.

Our zoo veterinarian takes a closer look at the cub's eyes. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The exam went quickly so that baby could be returned to mom as soon as possible. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The elusive snow leopard is endangered, and we partner with the Snow Leopard Trust to fight extinction in their native Kyrgyzstan. Together we work 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.

New images from the research cameras have just come in, and they are a bolt of energy to us. This is what we’re fighting for. We think you'll find them as breathtaking as we do.