Woodland Park Zoo Logo

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Welcome to the brood, young argus

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications


Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Three weeks ago on November 7, our pair of great argus welcomed a healthy chick. The baby bird tipped the scales at 48 grams, just a little heavier than a golf ball, and has steadily gained weight since.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

To increase the chick’s chance of survival, keepers are hand rearing it behind the scenes in the comforts of a warm, secure den. Soft, feathery items—like the feather duster pictured below—are added to the den to comfort the young pheasant and to familiarize it with the feeling of family.

A feather duster is used to provide comfort to the hand-raised chick. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The argus chick is a symbol of hope for this vulnerable species native to Southeast Asia. As part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP), Woodland Park Zoo’s successful argus breeding program helps ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population that’s genetically and demographically stable and diverse. Woodland Park Zoo coordinates the argus SSP on site, working to pair fewer than 60 individuals across 20 AZA zoos in North America, and educating zoo visitors about the challenges they face in the wild.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Soon, this little brown bird will tower over its two red feet and one day it, too, will join the Species Survival Plan and may even welcome a few small, fluffy chicks of its own.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving rescued endangered plants a second home

Posted by: Peter Miller, Zookeeper with Katrina Lindahl, Horticulturist

Woodland Park Zoo provides a home for the critically endangered—animals and plants alike. After local authorities confiscated a number of endangered succulent plants, seized from a collector who illegally dug them up from their native habitats, we are proud to step in and provide the plants with a second chance to thrive.

Here, keepers and horticulturists work closely together all the time to choose plants for exhibits and zoo grounds. We look at factors like overlapping native ranges of plants and animals, connections in their natural history, and potential toxicity of plants to animals when making choices. 

Using these parameters, we have found appropriate new homes for the plants, all of which are listed as protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). These wonderful specimens have been incorporated into geographically-appropriate animal exhibits within the zoo’s Day Exhibit.

A small bontaka with the radiated tortoise. Photo by Peter Miller/Woodland Park Zoo.

Hailing from the island of Madagascar, bontaka (Pachypodium baronii) grows in open deciduous forests at low elevation. When full grown it can be over two feet in diameter at the base and slightly taller than a basketball goal. The spiky trunk makes it a formidable looking plant. Look for it in the radiated tortoise exhibit inside the zoo’s Day Exhibit.

Gila monster with rainbow cactus (left) and nipple cactus (right). Photo by Peter Miller/Woodland Park Zoo.

In our own desert southwest extending southward into Mexico lives the rainbow cactus (Enchinocereus pecinatus) and the nipple cactus (Mammilaria). The purple topped rainbow and the yellow flowering nipple cacti are both small, stumpy plants. These specimens now live in the rocky Gila monster exhibit inside the Day Exhibit.

East African stem succulent. Photo by Peter Miller/Woodland Park Zoo.

In the near future, the zoo will be adding the African shield-tailed lizard (Xenagama taylori) to the Day Exhibit, and with it will go a confiscated East African stem succulent (Huernia zebrina). This short, multi-lobed relative of milkweed pollinates with flowers that attract flies by emitting a scent similar to that of carrion!

Providing outstanding care to our animals and to our plants go hand in hand, and incorporating these beautiful and biogeographically relevant endangered plants into our exhibits tells a powerful story of what’s going on in the wild.

The endangered plants in the Gila monster exhibit share a similar story—loss of habitat are putting these species at risk of extinction. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

These rescued plants are all endangered due to loss of habitat and over collecting—some of the very same threats endangered animals across the globe face. It’s a good reminder that when we save habitat, we save animals, and when we save animals, we save habitat.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving, like a beast

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo


Thanksgiving is a time for tradition—too much turkey, small talk with long-lost relatives, football jitters and holiday traffic jams—but we’re here to help you break convention and show your wild side. Take a cue from the animals and enjoy Thanksgiving like a beast!

1. Forage together

In the wild, meerkats take turns foraging for small lizards, insects, birds and fruit while one or two of them act as a sentry and keep a lookout for predators. At the zoo, our meerkat mob dines on a variety of kibble, vegetables, crickets, mealworms, mice, fish and a carnivore meat diet.


Tip from the meerkats: Holiday grocery shopping can be grueling, but not when you’ve got accomplices! Plan to visit the market with your own mob (a few close friends or family members). Divide your list and conquer the masses together. Then celebrate with a cricket pie. Hey, it’s protein!


2. Hoard your cache

Like any good scavenger, azure-winged magpies store insects, eggs, carrion and nuts in secret hiding spots in the ground to keep them handy for a rainy day. At the zoo these scrappy birds enjoy a mixed diet of fruits and veggies, kibble grain, a little raw meat, a pinkie mouse and a peanut to top it all off.


Our magpies will tell you: sometimes a little hoarding is a good thing! Begin prepping dough and desserts a few days ahead of time, and then store them in the fridge or freezer until you need them. When it’s go time, you’ll be way ahead of the game.


3. Go ahead, wolf it down!

Wolves in the wild can “wolf down” 20 pounds of food at one meal! They gorge themselves quickly because they never know when their next meal might be available. Our wolf pack enjoys a variety of enrichment treats hidden throughout their exhibit. Items such as meat-filled pumpkins, large knuckle bones, and special treats such as rabbit, chicken and trout complement their carnivore diet.


What would a wolf do? Gorging yourself every day is not healthy, but some nutritionists believe a diet molded after an animal inspired gorge-and-fast approach might provide your metabolism with a healthy variety. The verdict is still out on this diet for humans, but since its Thanksgiving, we say go ahead and stuff yourself!


4. Get loud at the dinner table

Red ruffed lemurs are extremely vocal animals, especially at mealtime. These primates have a complex system of at least 12 different vocalizations. Their incredible grunts, gurgles and famous cackles are all used to communicate. In the wild, lemurs dine primarily on fig and other fruit trees as well as some nectar and flowers. Here at the zoo, our lemurs are fed a variety of their favorite fruits, some leaf-eater chow (a special mix prepared by our zoo nutritionists) and veggies like kale, celery and spinach.


Let it out like a lemur: Thanksgiving is no time to hold back, get loud! Tell your friends and family how thankful you are for their company in the loudest voice you can muster. A loud dinner party is a happy dinner party! 


5. Get your grub on

In the wild, Asian small-clawed otters use their dexterous front paws to catch crabs, mollusks, snails, small fish and even amphibians. At the zoo, our otters enjoy a variety of fish and mollusks. The resourceful family has also been seen foraging for grubs in their new exhibit!


You otter try it: Otters aren’t bashful when it comes to protein, they’ll try to get their paws on just about anything that comes their way. Put down the fork and grab hold of your holiday feast. Use your nimble fingers to dig in. Perhaps you’ll have a gourmand awakening! (Just wash those paws first, please.)


6. Demand to be fed

Lola and Patrick are toucans. In the wild, toucans typically snack on fruits, insects and small creatures, including bird eggs, lizards and young mice. At the zoo, our toucans are offered apples, blueberries, papayas, bananas, pear, melon, and even cooked yams. But Lola doesn’t want to just eat these delicious items, she wants Patrick to feed her, which he is happy to do! A sign of affection and potential nesting, these love birds know how to please by dropping treats into each other’s beak.


Love on the table: Go ahead, slip some cranberries into your sweetheart’s mouth. Just make sure he or she likes cranberries.


7. Midnight snack

Sloths are nocturnal, so most of their snacking takes place late into the night. Sloths slowly comb the forest for food. Their diet is made up primarily of leaves, which don’t supply much energy and take a long time to digest. Of course, staying still while slowly digesting low energy food also works to the sloth's advantage, since that incredible stillness helps it stay hidden from predators. At the zoo, our sloths Nentas and Mocha snack on fiber biscuits, occasional fresh fruits and a variety of fresh browse.


Sloth it up: While we don’t recommend snacking upside down, we do recommend sneaking into the kitchen after midnight and picking at the leftovers with your cousins. Do it really slowly and channel your inner sloth.


8. Stretch it out

Pythons devour large meals all at once, but once they eat their prey the hard work comes in digesting it! In the wild, India rock pythons catch small mammals and birds. At the zoo, our python is fed a large rat or chicken once a week. After such a large meal, pythons find a safe place to digest their feast. The snake’s stomach makes it difficult to move around too much, so they tend to chill out in one spot, stretching out. The digestion process can take from several days to several weeks, but warm temperatures speed up their metabolism.


Take a snake nap: Your stomach deserves a break! After all that stuffing, find a warm, cozy spot to stretch out and give your digestive system a boost by drinking plenty of water. If you really overdo it, take a cue from our python and jump in the bath. A good float takes pressure off your belly and allows you to digest comfortably. 


9. Hide your turkey!

Our bears have some amazing turkey-sniffing skills! These big grizzlies use their excellent sense of smell to sniff out enrichment snacks hidden throughout their exhibit.  Bears can smell food from up to 20 miles away! Our grizzly brothers receive an omnivore diet of yams, carrots, apples, oranges, lettuce, celery, kale, biscuits, bread and meats such as chicken, beef, rabbit and their favorite, salmon! 


Get grizzly: This Thanksgiving, we recommend that you hide your turkey. That’s right, hide your turkey before your brother snatches it away. And make sure you lick it first, which will deter anyone from wanting in it the first place. Then, wait a few minutes before you retrieve it and then go ahead and eat it in front of everyone else. Mmm...turkey.


10. Be thankful!

We’re seriously grateful for the incredible care and love that our zoo dieticians put into each and every animal nutrition plan. Keepers, volunteers and commissary staff serve up top-notch, locally sourced products to over 300 different species; that’s an incredible amount of meal prepping! Work begins at 7:30 a.m. each morning in commissary’s restaurant-quality kitchen, where staff packs 400 containers for a huge variety of hungry beasts. From crickets to watermelon balls, salmon to pumpkins, our residents also get a variety of seasonal enrichment treats on top of their everyday diets. 

Commissary staff: Yul Haarhaus, Sonja Rosas, Leilani Konecny and Pauline Griffith. Photo by dedicated zoo volunteer Joanne Foster, Woodland Park Zoo

You can help: Wish your animal friends at the zoo "Season’s Feedings!" by helping us provide vitamin-packed meals and tasty treats this winter! On Giving Tuesday, December 2, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous group of anonymous zoo donors, doubling your impact. Every contribution, of any size, will help our animals and our zoo this holiday season. Giving Tuesday donations will be matched up to a total of $15,000. Thanks for thinking about us on Giving Tuesday!






Get a little wild and have a Happy Thanksgiving! With all that talk about food we’re going to go find ourselves a leaf-eater biscuit.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Counting tigers on the frontlines of conservation

Posted by: Fred Koontz, PhD, VP Field Conservation


Nowhere can we make a greater difference for endangered tigers than to work directly in the field. Just one hundred years ago, more than 100,000 wild tigers roamed the grasslands and forests of Asia. Now, less than 3,200 survive. Behind this sharp decline are decades of habitat loss and illegal killing. Today, conservation scientists worry about an accelerating international demand for tiger parts, such as skin for rugs and bone for Chinese medicine. Poachers are pushing this iconic big cat to the brink of extinction. We’re working hard to change that!

As you learned in last summer’s field report, Panthera and Woodland Park Zoo established a 10-year, $1 million partnership to assist our Malaysian colleagues’ efforts to save tigers from extinction. The Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) is a tiger subspecies found only on the Malay Peninsula. In the 1950s, there were an estimated 3,000 tigers in Peninsular Malaysia; possibly fewer than 350 survive today. We work in concert with many Malaysian colleagues, including staff within the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), Terengganu Forestry Department, Terengganu State Government, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT).

Our partners leading the in-country field work are the nonprofits Rimba (“Jungle” in Malay) and Pemantau-Hijau (“Green Monitor” in Malay). Currently our support focuses on Rimba’s Project Harimau Selamanya (“Tigers Forever” in Malay), which monitors and protects tigers and other large carnivores in a lush landscape encompassing the northeastern part of Taman Negara National Park and the selectively logged forests of the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor, located in the center of the peninsula.

Tigers are highly endangered. More tigers exist in zoos than in the wild, where rising poaching pressures and loss of habitat have reduced them to inhabiting just seven percent of their original range. Photo by Steve Winter/Panthera.

In July, I was privileged to work with this team, to assist them in installing and analyzing data from an extensive camera-trap grid and supporting local law enforcement efforts to reduce poaching pressures on tigers and other wildlife. The camera-trap study will provide essential information on the number and locations of tigers (and many other species) at our project site, which will serve as a baseline to monitor conservation progress in future months and years.

Lake Kenyir is a human-made water body for hydroelectric power. When dispersing into new territories, tigers can swim to and among the lake’s nearly 340 islands. Photo courtesy RIMBA.

Yes, this work does take a village

I found it invaluable to work alongside a solid, innovative network of professionals and see progress unfold first hand. Dr. Joe Smith, Panthera’s Tiger Program Director, and I had assembled the site team in 2013 by partnering with Dr. Reuben Clements (co-founder of Rimba), who oversees the entire project, especially research and government liaison, while Pemantau-Hijau leads a collaborative, protection effort with local law enforcement agencies to reduce poaching.

WPZ Conservation Associate Dr. Reuben Clements observes scratch marks probably made by a sun bear. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

All in all, we have an outstanding ground team that is strengthened by collaboration from DWNP’s biologists, Taman Negara park rangers, Terengganu State officials, indigenous communities, and others. Since 2012, we have supported four training workshops with the help of experts from Panthera, MYCAT, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. More than 60 park rangers and managers have completed training in improved tiger survey methods, anti-poaching patrol strategies, and effective law enforcement techniques.

Many local and Orang Asli field staff help the field team bolster their effectiveness. Photo by Rueben Clements/RIMBA.

Counting tigers to save them 

To get a handle on the site’s tiger population, the team is conducting a “camera trapping” project. Lam Wai Yee, from Rimba, manages this effort and is joined by Laurie Hedges (Head of Monitoring), Jasdev Sohanpal (Crew Leader), and staff from DWNP. This summer, they installed 95 camera trap stations across a 147,000 acre (600 km2) grid. At each one, two automatic cameras secured opposite each other detect and capture the motion and body heat of tigers passing by, day or night. After 60 days, researchers downloaded and analyzed photographs of tigers’ individual stripe patterns to estimate the grid’s population and to determine “tiger hotspots.” Other animals get photographed, too, including animals that tigers prey upon and animals that prey upon tigers: poachers.

Reuben, Laurie, Jasdev and Wai Yee assemble a camera trap. Reuben and Laurie pretend to be tigers to verify proper alignment. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

Patrolling tiger highways

High ridge-tops and river beds are the natural highways tigers use to hunt and travel. Our team hiked along them to inspect the grid’s cameras and download data. I marveled at the ancient forest’s sheer abundance of plant and animal diversity: tapirs, sun bears, elephants, leopards, gibbons, macaques, and countless birds and insects. Signs, or tracks, of wild pigs and sambar deer  indicate that tigers can still find a pretty good meal here. Above all, my highlight was finding a set of tiger tracks!

Densely covered forest floors make finding tiger signs like this paw print difficult. Other signs of tigers researchers look for are scat, claw scrapes, and spray. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

“Trails” in the dense forest are better suited to tigers than to humans. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

As beautiful as our hikes were, tiger conservation is no walk in the park. Conditions are among the most difficult I’ve ever seen. Walking through a forest with tigers in it is humbling enough, but venomous snakes and mosquitoes carrying deadly dengue fever, steep slopes, lack of trails, and potentially dangerous elephants and sun bears add to the challenge. This experience made me appreciate even more our tiger team’s resilience, sustained by their deep knowledge of conservation and innovation-driven spirit.

Project Manager Wai Yee oversees the team’s on-the-ground organizational logistics and SMART software data reporting. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

Getting smarter

Helping us to get more out of this work is new conservation software known as Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART). Developed collaboratively by zoos and conservation agencies as an open-source tool to reduce poaching pressure, it is integrated with our mobile data-gathering devices, field cell phones, and GPS units. SMART allows us to work, well, smarter.

SMART software allows field teams to adapt strategies and tactics quickly to changing conditions in the tiger ecosystem. Source: smartconservationtools.org

Reliably tracking massive amounts of quantitative data and rapidly sharing feedback among managers, field staff, and anti-poaching law enforcement means improved efficiency and effectiveness. This, in turn, boosts staff morale and motivation. Given the physical challenges of field conservation I just described, it is a welcome cycle of benefits.

Tiger conservation tools are continually evolving and every asset counts when it comes to staying a step ahead of poachers. Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) camera traps can send pictures of poachers to cellphones and to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying over forests to look out for suspicious activities. Even so, no tool substitutes for the local, human knowledge, physical skill and inner drive required to save these big cats. This work isn’t for everyone. When I think of heroes, I think of our ground team.

From the length and burn rate of firewood logs, rangers and researchers can estimate a poaching group’s size and how long it might remain in the forest. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

Malayan tiger camera-trapped in our study site! Panthera has generously contributed 200 cameras to the project, a value of nearly $100,000. Photo courtesy RIMBA.

Baby elephant camera-trapped in our research site. Saving tigers and their forest home also protects countless other species of wildlife.  Photo courtesy RIMBA.

Why we have hope

First, our research and protection area in and around Taman Negara is one of the best tiger habitats in Malaysia. We are still analyzing the results of our camera study, but we’ve succeeded in confirming the presence of tigers and learned that they enjoy a wide distribution.

This means it is not too late to save this iconic big cat. Although the total number of tigers remaining in Malaysia is fewer than officials estimated in 2008, when they crafted the national conservation plan, the population can rebound. Malayan tigers are prolific breeders. When she can stay out of the hands of poachers, a female may average 14 births in her lifetime. The heart of our job is protecting Malayan tigers, and their prey, giving them time to breed well into the future.

A healthy-looking and growing Malayan tiger cub, camera-trapped in our study area, inspires hope for the species’ future and for our work! Photo courtesy RIMBA.

I also have hope because of Panthera’s Tigers Forever Program, which has brought together the best researchers and conservation leaders in the world, including Reuben and his team. During my trip, we attended a Tigers Forever conference in Jakarta and shared what we’ve learned with leaders from other tiger-range countries in Asia.

While the shrinking numbers of tigers is bad news, we must stand up and speak about the good news—what’s working, why it matters, and how we can help—even more loudly. Seeing first-hand the passion of people committed to save tigers filled me with optimism for the cat’s future.

We have excellent leaders on the ground. Now, we need a groundswell of everyday citizens worldwide to show their stripes of support and encourage these heroes. Together we can make a difference!

Our Malayan Tiger project is one of 14 Tigers Forever sites across Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Brochure photo by Steve Winter/Panthera.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Phasing out the elephant program



Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

We have news we want to share: today, Woodland Park Zoo announced we will phase out our on-site elephant program and begin plans to relocate together our Asian elephants, Bamboo and Chai, to another Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution.

Above all, we are committed to putting the welfare of Bamboo and Chai first.

You may recall the Elephant Task Force—a panel of local community representatives and internationally-distinguished scientists and animal care professionals—conducted a critical and thorough external review of the zoo’s elephant program in 2013. Following that, we announced earlier this year a strategic direction to strengthen our Asian elephant program, which included an effort to expand the herd to enhance the social welfare of the animals.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

After several months of working to implement the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force, we have found that adding to the herd of our two aging elephants is not realistic in the foreseeable future. Yet it remains important that Bamboo and Chai benefit from living with a social, multi-animal herd in a healthy environment. We believe this can be accomplished best by relocating them to another AZA accredited facility that is held to exemplary standards of care. 

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

We will find a new home for 47-year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai, with the expectation to move them in 2015. We will ensure Bamboo and Chai are relocated together to an AZA facility that shares our commitment to animal health, conservation, and education. 

Bamboo and Chai will touch the hearts and open the minds of a new community, who will be as moved and inspired by their majesty as we have been. They will forever be a part of our family, and we will continue to follow them at their new home.

Woodland Park Zoo partners with Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation project to protect wild Asian elephants. Photo courtesy of Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation.

Though our on-site program will be phased out, we remain committed to saving elephants in the wild. We will continue to make a positive difference for Asian and African elephants with our conservation partners in Borneo and Tanzania, and the 96 Elephants campaign to help end the ivory trade. 

The U.S. is one of the largest ivory markets in the world, but we can make a difference. Through the 96 Elephants campaign, Woodland Park Zoo has asked the community to join in an effort to end the ivory trade in Washington state. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

This is a big change on the horizon for us. But do know that it is part of our regular state of operation when planning for the care of our animals to be always looking at what’s best for each individual, the population, and the species. We do this evaluation in collaboration with other conservation zoos and experts. Each year, we review our animal programs and make decisions to continue, phase out or introduce new animals. In 2012, after much analysis and collaboration, we phased out our African wild dog and Malayan sun bear exhibits. On the other hand, there are new and exciting additions on the way. In May 2015, Malayan tigers will be introduced to a new exhibit. The state-of-the-art complex will empower and inspire visitors with up-close animal encounters, hands-on learning, and links to meaningful conservation actions visitors can take to build a better future for wildlife. 

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

At a living institution like ours, change is a reality, but one thing remains constant—our commitment to our animals and to you, our dedicated community, which we have served for 115 years.

We know you have questions, and as the work unfolds, we’ll share updates when the answers come into focus. You can reach out to us at elephants@zoo.org, and we invite you to stay tuned here and http://www.zoo.org/elephantnews for news over the coming months.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Locals saving locals: conserving frogs in Madagascar

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor


We’re localphiles in the Pacific Northwest—we like our local food, local brews and local music. At Woodland Park Zoo, we’re working hard to get that sentiment extended to our local wildlife. And now, everything we’re learning from our work with native frogs and our Northwest communities, we’re taking with us all the way across the globe to support conservation efforts in Madagascar.

There, “local” takes on a deeper meaning—of Madagascar’s 292 known frog species, all but one exists nowhere else on the planet. Alarmingly, nearly one quarter of these endemic frog species are threatened with extinction. The time for action is now.

The critically endangered golden mantella is found only in Madagascar. Photo by John Mather via Wikimedia.

The zoo’s Amphibians of Andasibe project—a Wildlife Survival Fund conservation project—is directly addressing the rapid loss of local amphibians in Madagascar through the support of Association Mitsinjo, a community-based conservation organization in Andasibe, Madagascar.

Madagascar native Boophis pyrrhus. Photo by Franco Andreone via Wikimedia.

The first step is to halt the crisis. Mitsinjo has successfully created Madagascar’s first biosecure facility where amphibians like the critically endangered golden mantella can be bred, reared and cared for, assuring future populations against the threat of extinction.

The breeding facility in Andasibe. Photo by Jenny Pramuk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In addition to providing funding, Woodland Park Zoo has been able to lend our expertise to get the project up and running. Zoo curator and herpetology expert, Dr. Jenny Pramuk, has twice visited the facility to help train local staff in the proper care of amphibians, setting up standards, establishing evaluation tools, and bringing supplies that would otherwise be inaccessible to the community. Woodland Park Zoo keepers have loaded Jenny up with donations of their own—from lights to disposable gloves—outfitting the amphibian technicians with the tools of the trade they know work best.

Jenny Pramuk (far right) brings equipment and goodies to the Mitsinjo technicians. Photo courtesy of Jenny Pramuk/Woodland Park Zoo.

With the facility in place, the next step is to involve locals in conservation action. Seven locally-hired technicians now work at the facility maintaining populations of nine frog species. The work stretches out into the community, where locals have been trained to monitor and track frog populations and patrol frog habitat for threats such as illegal logging.

Amphibian technicians check on tadpoles at the breeding facility. Photo courtesy of Association Mitsinjo.

It’s no easy task. Andasibe is one of the richest areas in the world in terms of frog biodiversity, with more than 100 frog species found within a 30 km radius of town. But the work, challenging as it is, has become truly rewarding to the community. 

Guibemantis pulcher at the facility. Photo courtesy of Association Mitsinjo.

“Only four years ago, the unique amphibian diversity of the region was of little importance or relevance to people’s lives here,” Devin Edmonds, the project’s Amphibian Conservation Director, tells us. But now the community conservation model has citizens actively involved. And having more people involved, means having more eyes on the situation, which is helping to identify emerging issues. Patrols to breeding sites this year revealed habitat destruction and signs of illegal logging at one site with nearly 200 trees felled, which local staff was able to report to Ministry authorities in the capital.

Protecting amphibian biodiversity in Madagascar can by extension protect habitat for other native species like the indri, one of the world's largest lemurs. Photo by Jenny Pramuk/Woodland Park Zoo.

These accomplishments are admired in the community and a source of pride. According to Edmonds, “the average resident in Andasibe only makes about $1 per day. Our frog surveyors are specialized, skilled community leaders who are looked upon as having particularly good jobs, and this affects the outlook of our entire organization and the broader population of Andasibe. This is one of the strengths of Mitsinjo, as it is an organization formed by community members, and other than the proposals and progress reports written in English and some of the coordination, our work is entirely operated by people who live in and are from Andasibe.”

With plans underway to complete a conservation education center, featuring a live frog room with terrariums and education programs for local students and residents, Mitsinjo has established something that is truly of the people and for the people.

Mitsinjo’s Lead Amphibian Technician, Justin Claude Rakotoarisoa, works with staff at Parc Ivoloina to improve their new breeding facility so it is capable of supporting survival assurance colonies of threatened frog species. Photo by Devin Edmonds courtesy of Association Mitsinjo.

And now it’s time to pay it forward and spread that localphilia. The Mitsinjo project has been so successful that the project runners are now helping other communities in Madagascar establish their own amphibian conservation centers with the help of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. After meeting with the local staff of a new breeding facility operating out of the Parc Ivoloina zoological park near Toamasina, Madagascar, Mitsinjo staff reported: 

They took us to their new amphibian captive breeding facility, a small building about the size of a one-car garage… 
We were impressed! Although small, the team at Parc Ivoloina had set up live food cultures and created four terrariums to house captive frogs within. These basic aspects of amphibian husbandry are the first steps in being able to manage a captive survival assurance colony of a threatened species should a threat arrive that can’t be addressed in time to prevent its extinction.  
With more than 75 species of frogs found in the forest managed by Parc Ivoloina, including over two dozen local endemics, this was the unique set of skills needed to ensure a future for them should a foreign disease arrive or climate change push a species to the brink in coming years. 
[The local technicians] Rakoto and Pascal talked to us about some of the difficulties they were facing—the building got hot on sunny days, the solar panels and electricity were not reliable, cricket colonies hadn’t been successful, and the terrariums they had built were so tall it was difficult to service them. 
[We] assured them that these were all difficulties Mitsinjo had faced at the start in Andasibe as well. We would work together in the coming months, and find solutions as one. I proposed a training exchange, whereby Rakoto and Pascal work at Mitsinjo’s functional breeding facility in Andasibe for a month while Mitsinjo’s experienced amphibian technicians come to Ivoloina and work with them to address some of the challenges they were facing. 
We set up a draft itinerary, made plans to improve infrastructure of their building, got the OK from the bosses, and we are now anxiously awaiting again to see them this time here in Andasibe. 

In honor of their inspiring work, how about we raise a local pint?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rescued: Four Endangered Orangutans

Posted by: Cassie Freund, Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program, and Bobbi Miller, Woodland Park Zoo Field Conservation


In honor of Orangutan Caring Week, we share this powerful story coming from our Partner for Wildlife: Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program (GPOCP) out of Indonesia. This story chronicles the rescue of four endangered orangutans, and what will happen to them now.

Rescued orangutan, Bob. Photo courtesy of International Animal Rescue.

It is estimated that there are just over 50,000 Bornean orangutans left in the wild, although numbers are decreasing daily. Orangutans are the largest arboreal animals on the face of the earth today, but they are quickly losing habitat to mining and conversion of land for agriculture, namely palm oil. As habitat is lost, orangutans have nowhere to go, often ending up in the hands of local community members to be kept as pets. Remaining pockets of orangutan habitat are easily accessible from local villages and orangutans often wander into human-dominated landscapes as their forest habitat is cleared, making it easy for them to fall into the hands of community members.

Rescued orangutan, Joko. Photo courtesy of International Animal Rescue.

Over the past month, GPOCP has been working with the Ketapang Police Department, the Ketapang Natural Resources Conservation Authority (BKSDA), and International Animal Rescue (IAR) to successfully rescue four endangered orangutans being held as pets, which is illegal under Indonesian law. The hope is that these orangutans will be rehabilitated and able to be released back into the wild.

Based on information gathered by GPOCP investigators, it was discovered that four orangutans were being held as pets in different counties in the Ketapang district of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. GPOCP investigators initially gathered and reported the evidence, which was followed up on by the Ketapang Police Department and BKSDA, who then coordinated the rescue operations with IAR. All four orangutans were taken to IAR’s Orangutan Rehabilitation Facility in Ketapang, where they will live until they have regained the skills necessary to return to their forest habitat.

Photos courtesy of International Animal Rescue.

The rescue of the male orangutan in Manis Mata is an especially significant accomplishment, as GPOCP initially reported this case to BKSDA over a year ago. BKSDA is the legal conservation authority in Indonesia, so neither GPOCP nor IAR are allowed to rescue or confiscate any animals without their presence.

Male orangutan, Joko, rescued in Manis Mata. Photo courtesy of GPOCP.

On October 18, after receiving information and photographic proof that the orangutan was still chained up and that he was given cigarettes and arak (a local type of rice wine), GPOCP media staff wrote an expose that was published on Mongabay Indonesia. The link to the article was then sent to the Ketapang Chief of Police, who quickly mobilized officers to go to the scene. They then seized the orangutan, turned the case over to BKSDA, and brought the orangutan to IAR’s facility. 

According to the owner, he had initially purchased the orangutan for approximately $83 USD  two years ago. 

Bob was rescued in early October and is now at IAR's facility in Ketapang. Photo courtesy of GPOCP.

Bob’s story is similar. He is approximately a year and a half old, and was purchased for around $81 USD when he was just six months old. Unfortunately this would suggest that his mother was killed as orangutan mothers are very protective and frequently stay with their young for many years.

Mr. Agus Setiyoko, the police chief of the Ketapang district, notes that “the communities can help protect endangered animals, not by keeping them as pets in their homes, but by allowing them to live freely in their natural habitats.” Mr. Junaidi, the section head of BKSDA in Ketapang, adds that “We hope the community will help conserve not only orangutans and other endangered animals, but also the forests that serve as critical wildlife habitat.” Orangutans are legally protected under Indonesia’s Conservation Law No. 5 1990, stating that all individuals are prohibited from catching, hunting, killing or owning protected species, including living or dead individuals, or any body parts of these species. Punishment for breaking this law is up to five years in jail and/or 100 million Indonesian rupiah (approximately $8,300 USD).

We took advantage of the momentum following other cases to get this female in Air Upas rescued quickly. Photo courtesy of GPOCP.

The October rescues represent a concerted and ongoing effort by a team of orangutan conservationists, including GPOCP and IAR staff as well as local authorities, to address the problem of poaching orangutans for pets in this area of West Kalimantan. GPOCP has been working in the Ketapang district since 1999, with additional conservation programs in the district of Kayong Utara to the north, to protect and conserve the Bornean orangutan populations in and around Gunung Palung National Park. The National Park is critical orangutan habitat, with an estimated 5,000 individuals inside the protected area and its buffer zones. GPOCP’s other programs include environmental education, conservation awareness and promoting sustainable, alternative livelihoods to ensure a future for these animals.

Woodland Park Zoo has supported the efforts of the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program since 2003. Every time you visit the zoo, you make this work possible. Thank you.