Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Initiative 1401 turns in 345,000+ signatures to put endangered species on the November ballot

Posted by: Fred Koontz, Vice President of Field Conservation

This morning, I joined our Initiative 1401 partners, Vulcan, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Seattle Aquarium, to announce that 348,627 people signed the petition to get this groundbreaking initiative on the November ballot. We’re one step closer to taking this critical issue to the people of Washington state.

Woodland Park Zoo Vice President of Field Conservation Dr. Fred Koontz at today's I-1401 press conference.

If passed, I-1401 will strengthen laws that ban the trafficking of products made from endangered animals—animals that are being poached or exploited so much, they are facing extinction.

Woodland Park Zoo is proud to join the thousands of Washingtonians who signed the petition sheets in support of I-1401.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife confiscated ivory. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Earlier this year, Woodland Park Zoo drafted and advocated for legislation that would have banned the sales of elephant and rhino parts, but the legislation failed under significant opposition. Personally and as a wildlife biologist, I was very disappointed with this lack of action. From my time in the field, I know that we must act now if we are to save elephants, tigers, lions, leopards, pangolins, rhinos, cheetahs, sea turtles, sharks, rays and many other endangered species.

Pangolin: Boniface Osujaki/Tarangire Elephant Project, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife. African elephant: Peter Steward via Flickr. Malayan tiger: Razak Abu Bakar via Flickr. Rhino: Jim Frost via Flickr.

Initiative 1401 will give the citizens of Washington the opportunity to say NO to species extinction and YES to strengthening our state wildlife laws. This is heartening to me and all of my colleagues at Woodland Park Zoo.

A poacher's snare hidden in tree in the tiger forests of Malaysia. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

As Vice President of Field Conservation, I oversee zoo-supported projects in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. I am fortunate to be able to travel to foreign lands and to work on these efforts, but with this good fortune is the pain of seeing firsthand the plight of these imperiled animals.

Malayan tiger at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.

For example, when in Malaysia working with our tiger conservation partners Panthera and Rimba, we often come across signs of poachers. It is heartbreaking to realize these forests have been healthy for literally millions of years, but in just a few decades, people have brought great destruction. In these forests, rhinos are now extinct, Asian elephant numbers are severely reduced, and we estimate that the number of tigers has been cut in half in the last ten years. Less than 350 Malayan tigers remain.

Yet if we act now, it is not too late.

Woodland Park Zoo is a member-driven, mission-based conservation organization. We believe it is our core responsibility to reach out to our thousands of visitors and supporters across the state to educate them about the importance of passing I-1401 this November. We want the citizens of Washington to know that the scale of endangered animal poaching is immense. Take African elephants: we estimate that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes...every 15 minutes! By closing borders and shutting down markets in each state, we can help end illegal trafficking of endangered species.

Conservation researcher setting up remote cameras to track Malayan tigers in the wild. Not everyone can work in the field, but everyone can help save tigers. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

Individuals often ask me what can be done on a personal level to help stop the senseless killing of endangered species like tigers, lions and snow leopards. I advise them to get engaged in important issues affecting animal survival and join efforts to help build a more sustainable world. Now I can tell them to be a part of history and support Washington’s efforts to be the first state to take the issue of wildlife trade to the voters.

Now I can tell them to vote YES on I-1401.

From my perspective, it is also especially important to realize that this state-level initiative will have an impact worldwide. Washington should be very proud: we will be the first state in the country to pass this law by a public vote of citizens, sending an important message to the rest of the country and other nations that Americans want the slaughter of wildlife and illegal trade stopped NOW.

Which is truly precious? 

As individuals, we get so few chances to do something that will have a global impact on species survival. I-1401 is one of those rare opportunities. I urge voters to join Woodland Park Zoo in supporting I-1401, and come November 3, vote YES!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Elephant update: Chai and Bamboo making friends at Oklahoma City Zoo

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Bamboo with little Malee. Photo by Lena Kofoed.

Chai and Bamboo are making friends! Now that the elephants have cleared standard quarantine at their new home in Oklahoma City Zoo, the two have begun spending time with their new herd mates, Asha, Chandra, Malee and Achara.


Introductions began with physical interactions through barriers inside the elephant barn, which allowed the keepers to observe behaviors and body language while the girls touched and smelled each other. Chai started out a little shy but receptive to her new herd mates. Bamboo stood her ground early on but soon after was cautious yet curious and allowed the other elephants, including the two babies, to snake their trunks all over her, taking in her scent and feel.

Chandra and Malee with Chai. Photo by Lena Kofoed.

Within days the barriers were removed. First, the doors inside were opened and all the females joined each other, which allowed keepers to assess further how they would get along. Then they were given outdoor access together. Each day, under the watchful eyes of Oklahoma City Zoo keepers and a Woodland Park Zoo keeper, the elephants spend more and more time together.

The introductions have been going smoothly. Keepers spotted Bamboo touching trunks with 6-month-old Achara and 4-year-old Malee, and Chai is right by their side, fitting in well. The bond between Bamboo and Chai has grown stronger too!

Chai and Bamboo with Malee. Photo by Lena Kofoed.

Everyone is still sorting out their place with each other, and no doubt the herd dynamics will evolve now that two older, experienced elephants have joined the mix. Integration takes time, but these early signs are positive and Oklahoma City Zoo keepers will allow the progress to continue on elephant time at a pace that works for the herd.

To follow this story and more about the elephants, look for updates by Oklahoma City Zoo on Facebook and

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How to Keep Cool: Like a Grizzly

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

It's getting hot, Seattle. A typical Northwest summer has around three days that reach over 90 degrees, and we'll be hitting that sweaty benchmark this weekend! Mother nature is mixing it up this summer, with an early heat wave bound to put our internal thermometers to the test.

The ice cubes in your chai tea latte are melting. Your dad's under-Crocs socks have come off. It might even be too hot to (gasp) paddle board. 

So, how are you going to survive this summer heat? Never fear, grizzly bears Keema and Denali have your back. Take it from these two furry, rain-loving locals—keeping cool is easy:

While our grizzly brothers have access to the cool pool, their keepers also supply them with special icy treats such as frozen salmon and fruit popsicles to beat the heat. Animals across the zoo are given special enrichment to help keep them cool, including sprinklers for the red pandas, ice piles for the otters and frozen bloodsicles for the lions. Much of the foliage in exhibits is left untrimmed to provide extra shady areas during the heat of the day. 

Of course, the most important rule is hydration—a tip that extends beyond zoo animals to people and pets. Always make sure you are drinking plenty of H2O throughout the day, not just when you feel thirsty. We also recommend ice cream.

Stay chill!

A grizzly bear finds frozen berries in an ice ball. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.
Orangutan keeps cool with an ice pop. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.
Snow leopard getting up close with a bloodsicle. Photo by Mat Hayward/WPZ.
Sea eagles don't mess around! A quick splash is the best way to cool down. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

ZooCrew students get hands-on experience with wildlife conservation

Posted by: Stacey Hammond, Education

The ZooCrew after school program season has come to a close.

This past quarter, the students studied the Asian tropical rain forest. They learned about deforestation and how the palm oil and lumber industries impact animals across the globe. After learning about the issues, the students took action to help animals by working on various projects.


One of the projects was contributing to a citizen science initiative called WildSense. Students helped record and document global tiger populations by going through tourist photos and camera trap images and classifying tigers in them. The students started off by first identifying if the photo had a tiger in it. Next, the students recorded the number of tigers in the photo, the weather conditions, the tiger’s general location, behavior, etc. After classifying over 100 images, ZooCrew students gave their feedback and suggestions to the developers in the hopes of improving the user experience for other citizen scientists. Anyone can download this free app and participate! It’s a great way to help scientists and tigers!

Tigers on Tour

Other students got in touch with their creative side by participating in a mini Tigers on Tour project. The Show Your Stripes tiger art tour is a Woodland Park Zoo initiative to raise awareness about tiger conservation through art. After learning about the campaign and the 10 life-sized tiger sculptures created by local artists, the inspired ZooCrew students jumped in to create their own tigers on tour, highlighting the conservation issues they learned about during the quarter. Using recycled materials, the students crafted miniature tigers, which will be featured on zoo grounds (locations will be announced soon). You can get a sneak peak of them at the upcoming Hoot for the Hood event on June 26. 

Asian Wildlife Conservation Day Trading Cards

A third group of students created trading cards for the zoo’s Asian Wildlife Conservation Day, an annual event in August celebrating the wildlife of Asia. ZooCrew students researched various animals and drew pictures of them on the front of the cards. They wrote up information about the animals and the conservation issues affecting the animals on the back of the cards. Through this project, the students learned about how the power of art and conservation messages can inspire others to take action. Come to Asian Wildlife Conservation Day in August to collect these beautiful pieces of artwork!

Zoo Field Trip

The year finished up with a bang as the students presented their projects to other ZooCrew students, their families, school staff, ZooCorps, and zoo staff at their quarterly field trip to the zoo. They even got to visit the new Banyan Wilds exhibit and meet some of the staff who helped design the exhibit!

Bear Affair

For the final event of the season, students from the winter ZooCrew session returned to the zoo to share their northwest projects with visitors at the zoo’s Bear Affair: Living Northwest Conservation Day. Students showcased their bat houses and encouraged visitors to find them hanging up on zoo grounds. Learn more about this past project and come to the zoo to see if you can spot the four bat houses hanging up (hint: two are near Komodo dragons and two are near lions).

Thank you ZooCrew students for all of your hard work this year. We are so proud of you! Also a special thanks to all of our community partners, ZooCorps volunteers, and zoo staff that help make this program possible! We look forward to another great ZooCrew season starting in fall 2015.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jon Huertas promotes carnivore conservation, announcing new role as animal ambassador

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo

In the company of wolves and grizzlies, Castle actor Jon Huertas came to Woodland Park Zoo today to announce his new role as Celebrity Ambassador for Wildlands Network, advocating for carnivore conservation. Jon spoke to a crowd of carnivore enthusiasts made up of zoo visitors, ZooCorps teen volunteers, a local boy scout troop and more than a few starstruck zoo staff!

Jon spoke about his passion for all things wild, but especially his enthusiasm for protecting large carnivores in North America. He had a special message for the young audience, “Please educate your parents, your grandparents and your friends. If we lose carnivores, we lose our habitat.” The actor and animal lover told the teens that he is passionate about educating others on the importance of nature corridors and protecting wild spaces. Huertas reiterated that living in harmony with carnivores is possible, a message he hopes will spread through his partnership with Wildlands Network and social media campaigns.

The teens had a chance to listen to Woodland Park Zoo's Director of Conservation, Fred Koontz and Wildlands Network's Executive Director Greg Costello who both spoke about the importance of collaboration in creating wildlife corridors in the Northwest and beyond. The teens then had a chance to ask their own questions about big carnivores and how they can help. Huertas told them that the key to making these conservation projects successful is their passion and love for animals. He emphasized that speaking organically about conservation is the easiest way to spread empathy and understanding for endangered carnivores.

Now that’s a cause we can howl about! Learn more about advocating for carnivores and our Living Northwest conservation programs here:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A who’s who of the herd for World Giraffe Day

Posted by: Katie Ahl, Zookeeper

This World Giraffe Day, coming up June 21, stick your neck out for these amazing animals by coming to visit them at Woodland Park Zoo. Here you can meet our four giraffe up close during the Giraffe Feeding Experience or watch them wander our African Savanna among zebra and oryx. Then talk to one of our keepers or volunteers about how Woodland Park Zoo and you can help save giraffe in Africa.

Zookeeper Katie Ahl with giraffes Olivia, left, and Dave, right. Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.

A Who's Who

Here’s a who’s who of our giraffe and how to tell them apart by their spots.

Olivia. Photo by Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

Olivia is 8 years old and the mother of our little guy, Misawa. She has been an excellent first time mom to Misawa and is very independent. She is lighter in color and has several spots above each eye. She also has a cool crown spot on her right shoulder. Her ossicones (horns) are smooth and slender.

Tufani up close. Photo by Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tufani is almost 7 years old (her birthday is July 8!) and she is the sister to Olivia and aunt to Misawa. Tufani has a lot more sass to her personality but when it comes down to it she is really sweet.

She is darker than Olivia and has some spots that are almost black in color. The top of her head has a lot more brown and her ossicones are bald on top and look messy. It always looks like she has bed head.

Misawa and zebra Obi. Photo by Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

Misawa is almost 2 years old. He was born at Woodland Park Zoo on August 6, 2013. You can call him Misawa but he probably won’t answer; he responds better to his nickname CJ. He is the lightest in color and can easily be picked out by the white spots within his brown spots. CJ also has two triangle spots that make a diamond high up on the right side of his neck and if you look just right he has a C-shaped spot on the right side of his hip.

Dave hungers for a treat during the Giraffe Feeding Experience. Photo by Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

And then there’s Dave. He is 2 ½ years old and our newest giraffe to join the herd. He came to us in 2014 from Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. He is very mellow and sweet. He’ll do most anything for his favorite treat, a leaf eater biscuit. Dave is dark brown with a lot of brown on his face. He has a circle spot on the left side of his neck and his ossicones are already bigger and thicker than Olivia’s and Tufani’s. Male giraffe tend to have very thick ossicones and lumpy foreheads. 

The zoo’s herd of four gets along very well. Can you tell them apart? Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now that you have the who’s who guide, can you tell which giraffe is which in this photograph? We won’t give away the answer, but here’s a hint: Our Dearest Many Thanks for reading this blog.

Photo by Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Identifying individuals can be tricky. It takes close observation of their distinctions. This is exactly the kind of challenging work the Giraffe Conservation Foundation researchers are doing out in the field to create a long-term ecological study for wild giraffe populations. This work is foundational to conservation strategies, and it is supported by Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlife Survival Fund

Every time you visit the zoo, you help make this conservation work possible. Our four giraffe are great ambassadors to giraffe in the wild. One lick from that slimy tongue and you’ll be amazed by their beauty and grace (and slobber).  

Photo by Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

In the fall, Misawa/CJ will move to another zoo to start a family of his own as part of the Species Survival Plan, a cooperative breeding program among conservation zoos. So make a point of coming to see him for World Giraffe Day, and definitely get your visit in before the end of the summer to enjoy the up close feeding experience. See you there!