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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Now Critically Endangered, is there hope for Bornean orangutans?

Guest scientist post by: Marc Ancrenaz, PhD, HUTAN, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife

Courtesy of HUTAN.

Orangutans are now one step closer to extinction. Based on an assessment led by Borneo Futures, scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have officially downgraded the status of the orangutans living in Borneo to Critically Endangered, the last step before reaching the dreadful status of Extinct in the Wild. Scientists have proven that the number of orangutans will decline by about 80% between 1950 and 2025 given current development plans by the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia.

These numbers are hard to fathom. To put them in perspective, an 80% decline is equivalent to losing four out of five people you know; it is equivalent to the disappearance of a staggering six billion of the current global human population in 75 years with no new births.

Actually, many populations of orangutans have already disappeared in Borneo—some of them because of climate changes over the past millennia, most of them because of human activities; some of them because of forest destruction and conversion to agriculture, most of them because of hunting and killing. What is clear is that at this current rate, many more populations are going to follow this path of oblivion in the near future.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the species is going to go extinct anytime soon. Indeed, drastic changes about the management of the orangutan habitat could be made to save the species from extinction.

This starts with redefining what we recognize as orangutan habitat.

Courtesy of HUTAN.

Orangutans are great apes and are our closest living relatives. This means that they are clever and highly adaptable. Despite early claims that orangutans could only survive in pristine habitats, in Borneo, orangutans are learning how to survive in deeply modified landscapes where the original forests have been replaced with oil palm or acacia plantations. For example, they are learning how to feed or to build their nests in man-made forests planted with exotic species; they feed on new plant species introduced by humans. They are also changing their behavior as a response to human disturbance: they engage in crop-raiding activities at night, when people are sleeping, although they are naturally active in the daytime.

But there is something that the orangutan species cannot adapt to and cannot sustain: hunting. These great apes are extremely low breeders with a young being produced once every six to eight years on average. Hunting for meat, to mitigate conflicts (e.g. to stop crops from being raided by orangutan) or for any other reason has always been and remains today the major driving force of orangutan decline in Borneo.

Courtesy of Hutan.

Are orangutans doomed in Borneo? This does not have to be the case as orangutans are now recognized to survive in man-made as well as natural degraded landscapes. We need first to identify ways for people and orangutans to cohabit peacefully in non-protected forests. Conservation needs also to happen OUTSIDE of the network of protected forests. Establishing and maintaining patches and corridors of forests across a landscape transformed by man would go a long way to support orangutans and many other animal species. This downgrade in status is an urgent call to reconcile people and wildlife and to reinvent ways for people and orangutans to share the same environment.

All of us need to adhere to a new vision of our world, where people and animals share rather than compete for the same ecosystems and natural resources. This is possible, this is our choice. If we fail, orangutans may follow the ever-growing list of species that are Extinct in the Wild.



Marc Ancrenaz leads orangutan and elephant research and conservation through HUTAN, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife. The zoo’s commitment to orangutan conservation continues through its partnership with Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Project based in Borneo. Though the forests these partners work in seem a world away, they are directly connected to the ice cream in your freezer or the shampoo in your shower. Palm oil appears in a huge variety of every day products, and the increasing demand for this inexpensive resource has resulted in unsustainable agriculture at the expense of orangutans’ forests. You can choose to shop from companies that have made a commitment to source Certified Sustainable Palm Oil that is deforestation free and have joined the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.  Learn more and find useful resources like a printable palm oil guide to identify more wildlife-friendly options next time you shop.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Conservation for everybody: Meet WPZ's new CEO

Posted by: Bettina Woodford, PhD, Communications

Alejandro Grajal, PhD, our new president and CEO, has a big goal: to make conservation for everybody. He’s convinced that Woodland Park Zoo is the best place to achieve it.

Alejandro is an internationally recognized voice for the power of modern zoos. He believes they are essential to help humans embrace their biggest challenge to date: developing a new relationship with nature and all beings with whom we share the planet. To the challenge he brings deep and global expertise in conservation science, environmental education, and animal welfare advocacy.

In this interview with Alejandro, we explore what brought him to the Great Pacific Northwest—via Venezuela, Florida, New York and Chicago—and his vision for Woodland Park Zoo.

You began your career as a biologist in the field. How did your trajectory turn to leadership roles in zoos? 

I’m a water man—I love anything in the water. I graduated with a degree in marine ecology, working on coral reefs. You know, I thought I was going to be the next Jacques Cousteau! But he already had his job, so I went to work at a research station in the Llanos of Venezuela where I worked with the Smithsonian Institution. 

It was a time of huge effervescence in the field of conservation biology, especially conservation and development. That was my emphasis at the University of Florida where I did my doctorate. I realized a hybrid role—research and applying knowledge in the real world—was what I really wanted to do. Fortunately, straight of out graduate school I was hired by the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York as the director of Latin American and Caribbean programs and I dove into a zoo career.

The flat, seemingly endless llanos form an eco-region of expansive plains seasonally flooded by the Orinoco River, unique for its mix of waterfowl, wildlife and livestock raising. Photo: Anagoria via wikimedia.

What has working in zoos taught you?

It has taught me that if you really want to change society’s opinions and behaviors—how we treat the planet, how we treat other species, and even how treat other people, the latter being a question that is especially pressing on everyone's minds right now—you need to understand human motivation. We are all inextricably part of the same fabric of life. Conservation ultimately is about people and the choices we make. How do we get people excited about choices that heal instead of harm? So, I had to integrate the social science side of conservation with the biological side, and of course the organizational and policy sides. 

After 25 years, I now see that my leadership role is more of an untier of knots. Maybe it doesn’t sound very sexy, but it’s exciting to me because possibilities are like puzzles, and I love solving puzzles. 

Field work in Venezuela. Photo courtesy of Alejandro Grajal.

You were most recently senior vice president for conservation, education and training at Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the U.S. What attracted you to Woodland Park Zoo and the Pacific Northwest? 

I’ve been watching the evolution of zoos for a long time. Like many others, I’ve always admired WPZ’s reputation in the industry as a leader and innovator. It pushed us to design naturalistic landscapes for animals, to pay attention to social groupings, play, psychological health, and using research and science to drive innovation in animal well-being. Today good zoos take these things for granted, but WPZ began setting these standards decades ago. 

Then there’s the attraction of the Pacific Northwest itself. There’s this mix of love of nature and conservation ethic, social and technological innovation, and people willing to invest in what they really care about. And right in the middle of it all is WPZ. We’ll find the best balance of high-tech and hands-on. We’ll turn 1.3 million visitors a year into social innovators and partners in real-time conservation. We’ll grow peoples’ capacity as agents of change. We’ll do it better with more diverse segments of our society involved, because only with multiple perspectives can we see clearly. All this can be leveraged to make conservation for everybody, to create a future where the interests of other species, even the tiniest ones, and the entire planet, truly matter. I’m on fire for that.

This spring, WPZ introduced the new president and CEO to a full gamut of achievements to get excited about: celebrating milestones in baby-mother gorilla bonding and family socialization; completing the new Alvord Broadleaf Theater outside Zoomazium; getting more people and animals nose to nose through expanded Ambassador Animal programs; celebrating early learning with Zoomazium’s 10th birthday; marking 25 years of Northwest native turtle conservation; designing a new Banyan Wilds tiger conservation tour; and inviting the entire community to get involved in two new conservation science initiatives, Otter Spotter (River Otters of Western Washington: Sentinels of Ecological Health) in the Green-Duwamish river watershed and Washington Urban–Wildland Carnivore Project in eastern King County.

What excites you most as a zoo leader?

Zoos are powerful places and instruments for healing the planet, whether people come here to learn new things, or take direct action for a favorite species, or even just to experience the calming effect of nature and reconnect to what's positive during difficult times.

What really excites me on a day to day basis is: How do ordinary people engage in conservation? Why or why not? What information or experiences are the most effective motivators? These are important questions that social science is working on, and they’re crucial to the future of our planet.
And we at zoos are at the leading edge of this! The 180 million people a year that North American zoos attract are a fascinating universe of the how and why of conservation choices. Our research with these audiences has major implications for sharing the influences that work.

For example, we’ve learned that once we get beyond our reptilian brain—existing chiefly to reproduce, eat, be free from harm or pain—we then access the next layer, the biggest motivator of human behavior: our emotions. They drive our choices way more than rational information. Zoos have a special power because they foster emotional connections between people and animals and remove barriers to taking action. 

What can be more exciting than that?

Monday, July 11, 2016

When do YOU have an impact? Every day of the year!

Whether you’re a member, donor, visitor or community partner, your continued support reflects your belief that in an increasingly urban and technology-driven society, zoos matter more than ever. Here is where we weave together face-to-face encounters with animals, hands-on environmental learning and action-based programs that engage our community in vital, global efforts to protect wildlife and wild places. Here is how you make that possible.

Check out the full 2015 Community Impact Report including achievements like these:

1. You helped welcome Yola to the world and ensured she developed a strong bond with mom, Nadiri

Your generosity helped fund 24/7 care of baby gorilla Yola when first-time mom Nadiri did not initially show strong maternal behaviors. Through daily interactions, mom and baby have now bonded and little Yola is thriving with her gorilla family!

Yola is a natural climber. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

2. You helped stop wildlife poachers in their tracks

With help from zoo supporters throughout the region, Washington’s Initiative 1401 ushered in a state law that strengthens penalties and bans commerce of products made from 10 of the most trafficked endangered species groups.

Which one is truly precious? Elephant photo courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society. 

3. You helped complete Banyan Wilds and brought tigers back to our zoo

Gifts from more than 1,250 donors transformed the last "old" exhibit into a naturalistic wonder built to engage visitors in conservation efforts for the critically endangered Malayan tiger.

Cooling off in Banyan Wilds. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

4. You brought Northwest conservation research to new heights

Gifts supporting the zoo's Living Northwest program allowed us to partner with Microsoft Research to design an innovative tech device that facilitates winter wildlife monitoring in the North Cascades, helping better protect elusive native species such as wolverines, lynx and martens.

A WPZ grizzly tests just how bear-proof new field research technology is before zoo scientists deploy the system in the field. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

5. You saved a gorilla's life

Friends of the zoo jumped into action when Vip, our 400-pound male gorilla underwent two surgeries to treat recurring sinus polyps and infection. Today he is fully recovered thanks to this breakthrough veterinary procedure, the first of its kind, and he became father to baby Yola.

Zookeepers and vet staff see to Vip's care at the zoo's animal hospital. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Butterfly Wings all-ages coloring contest

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Artists of all ages, join us in welcoming a flutter of colorful wings to Woodland Park Zoo. In celebration of the new Molbak's Butterfly Garden, we are holding a coloring contest with a few fabulous prizes. Get out your colored pencils, markers, watercolors or crayons (anything goes) and show us your most creative design. Just like butterflies, coloring can be a reflection of inner beauty, tranquility and expression. We can’t wait to see your artwork! 

If you are a member, then you've already received the summer issue of MyZoo member magazine with the coloring contest template inside. You can also download and print the template below.

Print the drawing template by clicking here. We recommend printing at 11" x 17"
Don't wait to get started, we are offering some pretty awesome prizes if you win.


Adults (13 years and older)
Grand prize winner: Tour Molbak’s Butterfly Garden with entomologist and butterfly expert Erin Sullivan and enjoy a private afternoon tea with cookies for up to six people (must prearrange tour on a mutually agreeable time and date). $50 Molbak’s Gift certificate.
Runner up: Basket of summer items from ZooStore and $25 Molbak’s Gift certificate.

Children (ages 2-12)
Grand prize winner (ages 2-6): ZooParent plush and animal adoption kit. $50 Molbak’s Gift certificate.
Grand prize winner (ages 7-12): Overnight Adevnture, Research After Dark, at the zoo for yourself and your favorite adult on August 6. $50 Molbak’s Gift certificate.
Two runners up: Woodland Park Zoo t-shirt and $25 Molbak’s Gift certificate. 

All entries must be received or postmarked by July 15, 2016.

MAIL TO Woodland Park Zoo c/o MyZoo Magazine 5500 Phinney Ave N. Seattle, WA 98103

OR DROP OFF You may deliver your artwork to any membership office, entrance gate or ZooStore at Woodland Park Zoo during zoo hours by July 15, 2016.

Photo via Nicolas Buffler.
For complete contest rules, please visit www.zoo.org/magazine

Special thanks to Molbak's Garden + Home for supplying us with a variety of gorgeous plants for the new exhibit. Need some inspiration? Check out just a few of the creatures that will be flitting around the zoo!

Great Southern white
Pipevine swallowtail
Orange-barred sulphur
Zebra longwing
American painted lady

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tiger Forest in 360°

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Malayan tigers are on a thin line between here and gone, but there is hope. If we protect their habitat and keep them out of the hands of poachers, tiger populations can rebound.

On a recent trip, Woodland Park Zoo animal care, field conservation and communications staff joined a MYCAT volunteer patrol deep in the tiger’s forest realm. They placed a 360° camera in one of the planet’s most ancient rain forests to show you what’s at stake. Use the controls to peer around this slice of tiger habitat located in a critical wildlife corridor along the edge of Taman Negara, Malaysia’s premier national park.

Video: 360° View of Malaysian Tiger Forest. 
NOTE: 360°-view enabled browser required to explore full view of the video.

The fact that you can barely see much in the distance is a good thing—the density of this forest supports incredible diversity of life. When we fight to protect tiger forests, we’re saving the home of so many more, from lichens to trees, snails to elephants.

Beware wildlife crossing as you head into Malaysia’s forests. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Looking for signs of tigers—and their poachers—a volunteer MYCAT patrol group enters the forest. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The volunteer patrol group hiked deep into the forest for days—and nights—on a mission to protect tigers. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Later, they approached this illegal logging site. In stark contrast, we see 360° of nothing—no natural diversity and no sustainable future for wildlife or people.

NOTE: 360°-view enabled browser required to explore full view of the video.

Deforestation is one of the major threats facing tigers today, but it’s not too late. You can make wise consumer choices around palm oil and Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood to support sustainable resource use.

The work continues in the field. With your support, Woodland Park Zoo and Panthera work together with on-the-ground partners in Malaysia to conserve tigers and their forests. Want to get involved? Join our Tiger Team, a coalition of local advocates like you fighting for global impact. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Butterflies take flight at Woodland Park Zoo

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

The summer air is almost still, delicately scented with a sweet, seasonal bloom. Brilliantly winged creatures flit and float between lupine, spirea and honeysuckle. Here in the Molbak’s Butterfly Garden, speak softly and step carefully as you enter another world.

Opening Sat., July 2, the new exhibit takes flight with 500 free-flying butterflies from at least 15 native North American species. You’ll get a full sensory introduction to the fragility and resilience of nature as flowers bloom and butterflies emerge around you.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Photo: Brittney Bush Bollay/Woodland Park Zoo.

The presence of a single butterfly is enchanting—tiny, delicate and fairylike. Their littleness can be measured in grams, their adult lifespan sometimes just months, weeks or days. Yet butterflies are also grand in scale. In the Lepidoptera taxonomic order, there are at least 15,000 butterfly species and 250,000 moth species. In the U.S. alone there are 750 butterfly and 11,000 moth species. Butterflies inhabit every corner of the world, except Antarctica. Their range is global and in every sense of the word, so is their impact. These tiny, but mighty insects have an impressive ecological footprint.

Iconic monarchs visit Central and Eastern Washington in June and take off in October, but the majority of butterflies here appear only during the warmest part of the year, when sunlight and nectar are abundant. Frequenting suburban flowerbeds to rural roadsides, high elevation meadows near Mt. Rainier down to the Olympic coast, the butterflies of the Northwest have a dynamic existence in our own ecosystem.

A Northwest native, the Oregon silverspot butterfly, lands on a meadow flower along the Oregon coast. Photo: Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo.

In addition to the powerhouse pollinators such as native bees and honeybees, butterflies are some of the best pollinators in our region. In lieu of buzzing from flower to flower, butterflies flutter and dance, often pollinating a wider variety of flowers during the day. Their continual flitting, meandrous though it may be, makes up for the small amount of pollen they collect at each stop.

Besides pollinating our local crops, butterflies and moths are themselves a valuable food source for a variety of creatures including birds, bats and even bears. An important element in the food chain, these invertebrates are rich in nutrition and support a range of predators. Biologists often look to butterflies and other invertebrates as indicator species for healthy landscapes.

Some biologists estimate that over 40% of insect pollinators are at risk of extinction due to loss of habitat, urbanization and the use of pesticides. Because butterflies are especially fragile to ecological change, they are one of the first species to abandon an ecosystem. Let’s persuade them to stay.

If you like these...

...we need to protect these.

Photos: Flowers (cornflower, spirea, clematis), Kirsten Pisto. Pollinators from top, clockwise: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo; Flickr user jeffreyww; Flickr user leshoward

At Molbak’s Butterfly Garden, learn about what these winged beauties need to thrive and how you can take local action for butterflies and other pollinators. The exhibit experience is made possible thanks to generous contributions of individuals, families, foundations and corporations throughout the Pacific Northwest, and funding from the Seattle Park District. Molbak’s Garden + Home generously agreed to donate the plants and landscaping supplies that will augment the butterfly habitat and visitor experience for up to 10 years.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

You can continue to support the care of the animals and exhibits—and conservation work like our Living Northwest Oregon silverspot recovery efforts—when you Name a Butterfly by making a donation of any size to the zoo’s Annual Fund now through September 2, 2016. Anyone who makes a donation and names a butterfly will receive a digital certificate—perfect for sharing or gifting—and their butterfly’s name will be displayed all summer long on signage just outside the exhibit.