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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A walk on wild’s side

Posted by: Lavaniadevi Gopalakrishnan, Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT), a grantee of Woodland Park Zoo's Wildlife Survival Fund

Editor’s Note: Adapted from an article originally published in MYCAT Tracks: The Malaysian Tiger’s Struggle for Existence, Vol  5 2014. Woodland Park Zoo and MYCAT collaborate to enhance tiger and rain forest conservation in Peninsular Malaysia. In June 2016,  14 Association of Zoos & Aquariums tiger keepers, including WPZ’s Christine Anne, will travel to Malaysia to participate in a special CAT Walk designed for zoo professionals.

CAT Walk volunteers supplement official anti-poaching patrols. Photo: Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo. 

Footsteps echo in the forest. A group of people hike in a single line along a logging road, their eyes scrutinising the trail for something. They are seen almost every weekend here, in a relatively unknown part of the Malaysian forest, occasionally even spending the night in the forest. Who are these people, and what are they looking for?

A poacher's snare hidden in a tree. Photo: Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

They are members of the general public, MYCAT volunteers participating in its flagship programme, Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT). CAT involves citizen conservationists in the protection of an important wildlife corridor along Sungai Yu in Pahang. This stretch of forest is divided by a highway that provides ease of access for poachers into the adjacent Taman Negara. The premise behind the CAT programme is simple. Wrongdoers are unlikely to carry out their activities in a place frequented by people, especially those who are alert to the possibility of crimes in progress. Similar to a neighbourhood watch (or Rukun Tetangga for Malaysians), MYCAT has brought this idea one step further — into our forests to jointly safeguard our wildlife and heritage, complementing the patrol efforts by Taman Negara rangers inside the park.

Evidence of a poacher’s camp. Photo: Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

With the ultimate goal of protecting and recovering the tiger population in the corridor and Taman Negara, CAT enables volunteer conservationists not only to deter poaching and encroachment by their mere presence, but also to save wildlife by deactivating snares or traps found during a guided recreational walk. Some tricky walks are guided by local Orang Asli. If volunteers encounter any suspicious activities, they call the 24-7 Wildlife Crime Hotline. MYCAT then relays the information to the authorities for action. In effect, CAT Walk provides much needed boots on the ground and eyes and ears in the forest. And most importantly, CAT Walk slowly but surely nurtures a sense of ownership and stewardship over nature amongst the volunteers, moulding them into future conservation champions. 

CAT Walkers celebrate finding a cache of snares hidden in a tree trunk. Photos: Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

Since the programme’s inception in 2010, 550 volunteers of 24 nationalities have detected and deactivated 83 snares, while walking 584 km in the corridor! Presently, MYCAT is seeing a declining trend of threats to wildlife, suggesting poachers are slowly being rooted out from the area. Occasionally, tiger pugmarks or images of sambar on camera traps are starting to welcome volunteers. 

Data from camera traps allow park rangers to predict routes for anti-poaching patrols. Photo: Kae Kawanishi, MYCAT.

Today, CAT Walk is very popular, showing that the public is willing to take up the reins to help protect endangered wildlife. The mantle of responsibility is not only taken up by individual members of the public, but also shared by some corporations willing to donate their staff time to walk the corridor as green corporate social responsibility.

Estimated to be 130 million years old, the rain forest of Taman Negara is nearly twice as old as the Amazon rain forest. Photo: Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

Strong support from the public fuels MYCAT’s hope of expanding the CAT programme to other important tiger habitats. Is this possible? Can an individual really make a difference in saving a species nearing extinction? The indisputable answer is yes! Find out more online with MYCAT.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Speak up for Washington’s Wild Future!

Posted by: Fred Koontz, Ph.D., Vice President of Field Conservation

Here’s your chance to tell the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) how much you care about our local animals and habitats.

Jim Unsworth, WDFW Director, has announced an exciting new multi-year initiative, Washington’s Wild Future: A Partnership for Fish and Wildlife. The idea is to seek public comments and ideas to strengthen the department’s relationships with communities, increase support for conservation and outdoor recreation, and help ensure the department meets the public’s needs.

Woodland Park Zoo has partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for nearly 25 years, including on the recovery of the endangered western pond turtle. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Four regional public forums have been scheduled for October.  Each meeting will begin with a presentation about the importance of fish and wildlife to Washington’s quality of life and the economies of its local communities. Participants will then be invited to speak with department representatives, as well as Dr. Unsworth.

Four upcoming Wild Futures meetings are scheduled for 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the following dates and locations:

  • Oct. 6 – WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd, Mill Creek.
  • Oct. 8 – Saint Martin’s University, Norman Worthington Conference Center, 5300 Pacific Ave. SE, Lacey.
  • Oct. 14 – Water Resources Education Center, 4600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver.
  • Oct. 20 – Port of Chelan County Confluence Technology Center, 285 Technology Center Way, Wenatchee.

It is very important that Dr. Unsworth, who is new to Washington and WDFW, hears from the public their strong support for wildlife conservation.  I hope you can attend one of these meetings, or alternatively, leave written suggestions and comments on Washington’s Wild Future webpage.

On October 6, zoo staff will release about 750 headstarted, endangered Oregon spotted frogs into their wetlands habitat in Pierce County. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo for nearly 25 years has worked closely with WDFW on a variety of species and wildlife issues, including western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and carnivore conservation. We are grateful for our partnership with WDFW and for their hard work protecting Washington’s rich diversity of fish and wildlife, but at the same time we are concerned about the future of wildlife in our state. Dr. Unsworth’s call to work with the public to build a stronger and more effective Fish and Wildlife is both timely and urgent.

A remote camera captures the moment a wolverine approaches a non-invasive hair snare. These monitoring techniques, set up by Woodland Park Zoo Senior Conservation Fellow Robert Long, enable researchers to take identifying images and collect hair for genetic research. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

As human numbers inevitably increase in coming years, development will likely cause significant habitat loss and fragmentation, and as a result we will witness an accelerating number of threatened species. From our perspective, the department should be less reactive and more proactive in addressing biodiversity conservation. Best management practice suggests taking actions before species become endangered. But this will require additional funds for the department and more strategic and stronger partnerships between WDFW, academia, businesses, civic leaders, citizens, non-profit organizations and other state agencies. In the long run, a more proactive approach to protect all species will cost less and is much more likely to protect human wellbeing and our local economies than trying to rescue endangered species.

Plans are being considered by federal and state officials to restore grizzly bears in North Cascades National Park.  In coming months, when the final proposal is submitted for public review, we will be asking you to speak up for Washington grizzly bears! Photo courtesy of Western Wildlife Outreach, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife.

At Woodland Park Zoo, we believe that protecting wildlife is essential in order to build a resilient and sustainable Washington for our children and future generations. Here are a few points I will make to Dr. Unsworth and Washington’s Wild Future initiative:

A healthy, sustainable Washington for people and animals requires that WDFW and its partners proactively manage and protect “all species for all constituents.”
WDFW is currently underfunded and in urgent need of additional financial resources.
Wildlife management decisions ought to be based on science and expert advice, not political compromise. This is especially true for carnivores like wolves, grizzly bears and cougars.
Protecting wildlife in Washington would benefit greatly by WDFW increasing the number and variety of its strategic partnerships, as citizen participation from a broad group of stakeholders will be necessary to demonstrate the public’s strong desire to invest in wildlife conservation.
Woodland Park Zoo stands ready to help WDFW in its efforts to protect our state’s precious wildlife heritage.

Please join me in sharing your support for wildlife by participating in the Washington’s Wild Future. Speaking up is one of the most important actions you can make to both save animals and create a sustainable world!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Penguin Chick Check-Up

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


The two tiniest members of our Humboldt penguin colony received their first exam last week at the Animal Health Department. The chicks—the 49th and 50th Humboldt penguins to hatch at Woodland Park Zoo since 2010—were given a clean bill of health by our animal care experts and Associate Veterinarian Dr. Kelly Helmick. The chicks hatched in July, just days apart, so they are both right at the two month mark. While keepers have been weighing and monitoring their growth and health all along, their first official neonatal exam is an important milestone in their development.

The exam consisted of anesthetizing the young birds to allow veterinary technicians to collect a blood sample, taking a cloacal culture, giving appropriate vaccinations, and injecting a small transponder under the skin. The blood work tells the vets a lot about the health of the penguin chicks, and it’s also the best way to determine their sex at this young age.

Here’s a look at the entire penguin exam process, from start to finish:

The penguins are delivered to the Animal Health Department by their keeper, Celine. They are placed into an animal crate (similar to your pet’s crate at home), and when they arrive you can hear their curious chirps. Celine is by their side throughout the exam to keep them calm. The keepers spend time with the hatchlings each day to get them used to handling and eating fish. The chicks are regularly weighed to make sure they are hitting their growth benchmarks.


First things first veterinary technician Kimberly waves a metal detector across the chick’s belly. Humboldt penguins are notorious for swallowing anything shiny, such as keys and coins which could be hazardous to their health. While most zoo visitors would never toss objects into the penguin exhibit, it has been known to happen—often unintentionally. A metal detector may find coins and potentially sharp metal objects such as screws or bobby pins, which are common and can be very dangerous. A metal detector is not foolproof. If abnormalities are suspected a radiograph may give better indication of foreign body injection.

You might think penguin chicks are adorable, but they make quite feisty patients!

No beep! The chick has passed Kimberly’s test with flying colors.

Next, the chick is anesthetized. Much like a human patient, the chick simply breathes to allow the general anesthesia to work. A tiny penguin-sized oxygen cup is placed over the chick’s beak and face. Unlike a human patient, the penguin chick tries to strike the vet staff.

“We raise them feisty!” jokes Celine. She’s not surprised at the chick’s behavior; the animal has never been outside of the penguin exhibit before and with relatively little contact with people, it isn’t used to the attention. After a few minutes the chick is relaxed and sacked out, ready for the exam.


Celine assists veterinary technicians Barb and Kimberly by laying the penguin belly-down on a soft, pink towel, feet sticking out back. A heart monitor is clipped to the penguin’s toes. To keep the chick cozy during the procedure, Dr. Kelly places a warm water bag over its little legs.



Celine gives tactile pats to the penguin’s chest which helps stimulate normal breathing and encourages inhaling the anesthesia. Seabirds tend to instinctually hold their breath as if diving which could interrupt the anesthesia. Watching and monitoring breathing on a patient during any exam is very important. They all give the bird a few moments to rest before the procedure begins. As veterinary staff performs a quick blood draw and vaccinate the chick against West Nile virus, Celine fills Dr. Kelly in on their daily routine and any health concerns she might have. It's up to the keepers who spend the most time with the animals to tell the vet if anything unusual has occurred. At the moment, all Celine has noted is their growing appetite!


Dr. Kelly places a stethoscope against the penguin’s chest and checks its heartbeat. She then does a closer visual check on its beak, inside the mouth and the eyes. She notes the exam is “unremarkable” which in veterinary language means all is well.


Before the anesthesia wears off, the veterinary technicians must do one last thing. A tiny transponder, about the size of a TicTac, is inserted into the left pectoral muscle. When scanned, this transponder sends short wave radio signals to let keepers or vet staff safely identify each bird. This way, all of the bird’s medical history and records are easily tracked.


As the oxygen cup is removed, the young penguin begins to show signs of awareness. First the feet begin to flick and soon the chick is fully awake. Celine places the penguin upright, with its feet firmly planted on the floor of the exam room. A bit groggy, the chick surveys the room and regains its balance. Celine continues to speak softly to the bird and massages its neck and cheeks, a little penguin TLC. Finally, the chick sticks its beak straight into the air and puffs up its chest, wings outstretched.

“There we go, that’s the penguin I know!” Celine laughs as Dr. Kelly takes a closer look at the bird’s defensive stance. “She’s one tough cookie.”


Celine guides the penguins back into the animal crate, and drapes a towel over the top to create a cozy, calming transport back to the penguin exhibit. The young chicks will spend the rest of the afternoon in a quiet area where they can rest, relax and later—when their appetites return—eat a whole lot of fish!

Back in the Animal Health building, Dr. Kelly, Kimberley and Barb clean up from the exam and prepare for their next patient. Dr. Kelly will send the penguins’ blood work to a lab where it will be tested for any abnormalities. The results, as well as the sex of the penguins, are returned in about one week.

Pictured above is a weigh in at just a few days old, they sure have grown! At the most recent exam, the penguins weighed 3.15 kg (6.9 lb.) and 3.39 kg  (7.5 lb.) Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Weigh-ins will continue through adulthood for these penguins—keepers weigh each penguin once a month to track their health. We’re also able to keep a close eye on how the birds are doing by hand feeding them every day. This way we can make sure that each individual is getting their nutritional fill, about two pounds of fish each day. Any vitamins and medication they may require is administered orally via a whole fish.

For now, the two youngest penguins are building up to their debut by first meeting members of the colony in a behind-the-scenes area of the exhibit, introducing them slowly to their larger social world. Thoughtful introductions like this help young penguins acclimate better to the colony, adapt more quickly to their surroundings, and ease the transition of going onto exhibit for the first time. Airplanes, wild birds, public noise and activity, exhibit glass, rushing and deep water, and territorial adults are a lot for little penguins to take in. It’s not easy growing up penguin; there’s a lot to learn!

Thanks to our devoted penguin keepers and top-notch animal health staff, we know these two tuxedo-clad babes are in good hands.

Swim on, #49 and #50!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bon voyage, Misawa! The lovable “grumpy face” giraffe departs zoo in October.

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications

The infamous “grumpy” look on Misawa's face that turned him into a viral sensation. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo is preparing to say goodbye to its tallest baby, 2-year-old male giraffe Misawa (me-SAW-wah). The infamous “grumpy face” giraffe will pack his bags in early October and travel south to Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas to begin his own family.

Misawa was born at Woodland Park Zoo on August 6, 2013. He is the son of 8-year-old female Olivia and 7-year-old male Chioke, who passed away before Misawa was born from complications associated with his gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. “Misawa’s birth was particularly significant for Woodland Park Zoo,” explained Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at the zoo. “He not only carries on the genes of his late father Chioke, but he was also the first viable giraffe born at the zoo since 1997; his set of circumstances makes his story, and him, all the more extraordinary.”

The zoo introduced Misawa to the public by revealing incredible footage from his birth that included him standing for the first time. He became a viral sensation at just 1 day old when the zoo shared his first photo featuring the legendary “grumpy face” look. “It is ironic that the media deemed him the ‘grumpy faced giraffe’ because he is far from a grump,” said zookeeper Katie Ahl. “He is a lot like his father Chioke; he’s very sweet-tempered and affectionate.”

The first few days were spent nursing and bonding with mom inside the Giraffe Barn, but it wasn’t long before Misawa ventured into the outdoor area of the barn. Mom Olivia and Aunt Tufani were never too far from his side—and often right on top of him! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Over the past two years, Misawa has grown from a goofy, long-legged calf into a playful explorer. When he was about 3 months old he began to venture out onto the vast savanna exhibit. While he stayed by his mom Olivia’s side at first, he grew more and more adventurous with time, eventually roaming the exhibit on his own and interacting with his neighbors the zebra, oryx, gazelle and ostrich.

At almost 1-year-old Misawa met 2-year-old male giraffe Dave, his new exhibit mate, and closest friend. “Dave arrived from Brookfield Zoo to join our zoo’s herd and Misawa was absolutely taken with his new playmate,” said Ahl. “Dave had a younger sibling at Brookfield so he knew how to handle little ones with ease; he did a great job of taking Misawa’s affectionate licks and head rubs.”

At around 7-feet-tall, and nearly three months old, Misawa was ready to begin exploring the vast savanna exhibit with mom Olivia. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Misawa celebrated his second birthday with mom, aunt Tufani and best bud Dave this past August with a special giraffe treat made of apples, carrots, yams and omolene frozen in a popsicle cake with leaf eater biscuit candles. “We knew he would be heading to his new home in the fall so we wanted to make his last birthday in Seattle special,” said Ahl. “It’s been a pleasure watching him grow from a 6-foot-tall curious calf into the 12-foot-tall (over 1500 pound) loving, adventurous guy he is today. It’s hard to say what it will be like after he leaves; it will be different that’s for sure. He’ll definitely be missed by his Seattle family.”
Misawa celebrated his first and second birthday in style. Photo by Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo
Misawa has been paired with a female giraffe at Gladys Porter Zoo under a breeding recommendation made by the Giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program to ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability in North American zoos. Woodland Park Zoo participates in 95 SSPs, overseen by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, and genetics, SSPs manage populations in North America to maximize their genetic and demographic diversity with the goal of ensuring their long-term survival. SSPs also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.
Woodland Park Zoo's giraffes (from left to right) Olivia, Dave, Misawa and Tufani. Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo
Under the SSP, Dave has been recommended to breed with Olivia and Tufani; the plan is to breed him with both ladies in 2016. Visitors can see Woodland Park Zoo’s remaining giraffe on the award-winning African Savanna.
 
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 north-western Namibia. Visit www.zoo.org/conservation to learn more about the zoo’s conservation partnerships taking place in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.
The zoo's little guy (at one-month-old on the left) is all grown up (at 2-years-old on the right) and ready to start his own family at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Photo by Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo
Bon voyage, Misawa! We are certainly going to miss you!

Seattle Youth Climate Action Network teens launch climate challenge

Posted by: Eli Weiss, Education
Adapted from a blog post that first appeared on The Ocean Project.


Woodland Park Zoo, along with our partners the Seattle Aquarium and Pacific Science Center are working together to build the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (CAN). The goal of this project supported by The Ocean Project’s Innovative Solutions Grants+ is to train and support teen leaders, helping them create a campaign that encourages their peers to take measurable action on the issue of climate change.


In collaboration with partner staff and community agencies and organization, we are beginning to build local support and enthusiasm for the project. Seattle Youth CAN is picking up momentum—we have had a handful of successful events and have already learned a lot about starting a local youth network.

Our training model for this effort has included engaging teen participants in hands-on action; a full day of instruction on climate science, communication strategies and local examples of climate action; and a campaign design workshop for the leadership group.

Training Part 1: Leading with action

We began our training with an inspirational day of action. In collaboration with Forterra and Green Seattle Partnership, 30+ Seattle area teens planted over 200 trees and native plants along a high traffic bike path in North Seattle. The event was an energetic gathering, and participants enthusiastically planted trees to offset Woodland Park Zoo’s carbon emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture Program.


Training Part 2: Climate leadership workshop

A month later, we brought 40+ teens from the three institutions to the zoo for leadership training on climate change science, communication strategies and action. To spark ideas for their own campaign, teens heard from local organizations and agencies and explored examples of climate action. Among the presenters was staff from Climate Solutions, Seattle City Light-Community Solar Program and Forterra. Each community partner shared their own work and pitched project ideas for how Seattle Youth CAN could partner with them. At the end of a full day of learning, participants shared which action campaign ideas they were interested in through a survey and small group discussions. Teens left the workshop energized and ready to get Seattle Youth CAN off the ground.


Training Part 3: Campaign design workshop for youth leaders

As the next step, a climate campaign design committee was formed with teen representatives from each institution. This committee met every other week to come up with a focus and plan for a summer action campaign. I facilitated this group process along with support from staff from our partner institutions. Rather than reinventing the wheel we used existing models for campaign design, and committee members participated in a workshop on behavior change from the zoo’s audience research staff experts. The committee hosted teens and staff from the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Unplug for an OA campaign, and participated in a King County community forum to gather their input to help inform an updated Climate Action Plan for the County.

Crafting the pilot campaign

After several months of research, planning and meetings, our campaign design committee chose to launch a transportation action campaign. Their research and interaction with city and county experts found that over 45% of Seattle’s carbon dioxide emissions comes from local transportation choices. The group felt that making smarter transportation choices would be something their peers could actually do to measurably reduce their carbon emissions.



While they are still working out the details with the message and tactics, we know the teens will be inviting their peers to participate in a challenge to reduce their carbon footprint by increasing their use of public transit, biking, walking and carpooling. With the help of our evaluation staff, the group developed an evaluation plan using an online platform hosted by King County Metro’s Ride Share Online program to track participation in the challenge. At the start of the challenge, participants will complete a baseline survey to help the group measure behavior change for participating teens over the course of the month. In addition, we will be working with local transportation agencies and organizations to increase teen awareness of how to make smart transportation choices through events and activities. Teen leaders at each institution will promote the challenge with their peers and they hope to engage 100+ participants in action.

Expanding interest

Since our action event and full day workshop earlier in the year, we have continued to organize monthly Seattle Youth CAN events. These events are designed to enable other teens from the three institutions to get involved and deepen their understanding of Seattle Youth CAN and related climate change issues. Recently, teens organized and hosted an event at Woodland Park Zoo, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Wildlife.” We had over 60 youth attend the full day event which included presentations from local climate scientists from NOAA and The University of Washington, as well as youth-led, climate-focused tours of the zoo and community building activities. More than half of the teens who attended were new to Seattle Youth CAN and we were excited to see the continued enthusiasm for our growing network.


Learning as we go

We’re feeling good about our progress and the identity we are building through the network, the trainings and events that have been well attended by our teens, and the support we have received from our partner institutions and community supporters. Our teen leaders and other members of the network are eager to finally launch the action campaign and be able to share with their institutions and peers how they plan to take action to reduce carbon emissions.

Creating a structure for truly youth driven action and leadership, while also providing participants with enough resources and support is at the core of our program model. Our teens live busy and complex lives and creating a leadership opportunity with the right mix of structure and space is something we continue to work on. After many months of supporting the group in moving their planning forward, we are proud to announce that the challenge has officially launched!

Next moves

In September teens and staff will focus their efforts on planning for the Youth Climate Summit that we will host on October 10 at Woodland Park Zoo. At this event our campaign leadership group will have the opportunity to share the results of their transportation challenge with a large audience of peers. We also see this event as the opportunity to expand our network beyond the current three institutions and invite other Seattle area teens to join Seattle Youth CAN.

I believe that with continued support, we can expand this network to be inclusive of all youth in our area who want to get involved in climate action. I am also hopeful that, as we refine our model, it will be something that can be shared and used by groups around the country looking to engage youth in collective action.

What gives me hope

Skylar Widman, a high school intern at Woodland Park Zoo and active member of the climate campaign design committee, recently shared his experiences in Seattle Youth CAN: 
Before CAN I tried to make choices that helped the environment and now I realize that there are many other teens that want to take action and that as a group we can have a greater impact in fighting climate change.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Life of a Papua New Guinea Conservation Ranger

Posted by: Daniel Solomon Okena, Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife

YUS Rangers conducting monthly patrol of the densely forested YUS Conservation Area. Photo: TKCP-WPZ.

Steep mountainous terrains, thick dense forest, and narrow walking tracks shifting due to landslides and floods. The environment I live in is extremely harsh and unforgiving, and may seem uninhabitable. But our people have been living here for many generations.

TKCP Research and Monitoring Coordinator Daniel Okena conducting survey of plant species in tree kangaroo ecological research site in YUS Conservation Area. Photo: Lisa Dabek/TKCP-WPZ

Here, we build a hut, plant a garden and hunt for our food. We collect our water, firewood, building materials and food from the surrounding land. We teach our children how to do the same. A great thing about living in this environment – everything is free! We pay no rent or water bills, we do not have to buy our land, and our food and building materials are simply free. All we need to do is manage these resources sustainably.

The concept of conservation is not new to us. Traditionally, our village chiefs and elders were entrusted to be the stewards of the land; a great privilege and honor. Some of the land outside of our villages is declared off-limits, or tambu. These areas are believed to be controlled by powerful unseen beings. Trespassers and their families will be cursed with bad fortune or death. These tambu areas then serve as reserves, regenerating and repopulating the entire forest.

It is a great honor to continue the legacy of stewarding my environment and its resources. Although the challenge is greater than it once was, Woodland Park Zoo's Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) has trained me to monitor changes in my unique forest, with its incredible terrains flowing with breathtaking creeks and rivers. As a YUS (Yopno-Uruwa-Som) Conservation Area Ranger, I spend one week every month patrolling my environment. Equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) device, a pen and datasheet, safety boots, camping gear and rations, I look for the presence of some of our forest’s different animals. I also observe and record any signs of illegal activity within the YUS Conservation Area, and report violators to the landowner to take the matter before the local courts.

Community volunteers learn techniques for ecological monitoring in the coastal areas of the YUS Conservation Area, PNG. Photo: TKCP-WPZ.

Patrolling in the Conservation Area is no easy task. Some areas are very far from the villages, with steep hills and mountains, deep valleys, and no walking tracks. But, as YUS Conservation Area Rangers, we roam with the strong conviction that our efforts are for the long-term benefit of our people. We walk for miles through the wind, rain and cold, and under the relentless heat of the sun to fulfill our honorable duties. 

YUS Landowners and community leaders discuss local conservation and development priorities during community-based monitoring workshop in Yawan village, YUS, PNG. Photo: Trevor Holbrook/TKCP-WPZ.

Apart from our Ranger work, we also have family to look after. When we are not on patrol, we spend time with our families, tending our gardens and hunting in the hunting zone areas so that our families can enjoy life in this part of the world. Our patrol allowance from TKCP helps us to pay school fees for our children and support our extended family members. It is great to be a YUS Conservation Area Ranger, but it is not without its challenges. The area is quite big, and it can be difficult to cover our entire patrol routes each month. But with the help from community members across the YUS region, we can all contribute by respecting the protected areas and exposing any violations. We must urge our neighbors to adhere so that our children and our children’s children will have the privilege to enjoy the magnificent environment that we now enjoy. 

Certified community-based marine monitoring volunteers from Ronji and Singorokai villages along the coast of YUS, PNG. Photo: TKCP-WPZ.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

ZooCrew middle schoolers explore Washington’s watersheds

Posted by: Caitlin Potter and Stacey Hammond, Education

If you visited the zoo during July, you may have seen a group of enthusiastic, orange-t-shirt wearing learners writing in their nature journals at the maned wolves exhibit, designing a scavenger hunt along the Northern Trail, typing away on computers at the building across from Bug World, observing the birds in the Tropical Rain Forest Dome, or reading about animals as they snuggled up in the den on the Discovery Loop.

ZooCrew students practice reading and writing at the zoo.

For five weeks this summer, twelve 6th and 7th grade students from Asa Mercer, Washington and Denny Middle Schools explored ecosystems, watersheds and science careers through the ZooCrew Summer Learning Program, Woodland Park Zoo’s middle school outreach program. The ZooCrew Summer Learning Program is a free program in which students participate in nature explorations and science investigations, meet and work with STEM professionals, produce and showcase their own film, participate in leadership and team building activities, and practice reading, writing, math and science. This summer, students not only explored and learned at the zoo, but also traveled all over western Washington exploring ecosystems!

We started the summer with an overnight trip to Camp Lyle McLeod on the Kitsap Peninsula. At Camp Lyle McLeod, we played team building games, swam in the lake, canoed and explored nature. We returned from camp ready to dive into an exploration of Washington’s ecosystems with a visit to the Cedar River Watershed Education Center, where we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of our local watershed.

ZooCrew students canoe at Camp Lyle McLeod.

ZooCrew at the top of the Cedar River watershed enjoy the view.

In the second week of the program, the ZooCrew students were ready to apply their newfound knowledge about watersheds with a trip to Snoqualmie Pass and the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery where they learned about the top of the watershed. From biotic and abiotic components to producers, consumers, decomposers and more, they learned about the specific parts that make up an ecosystem. The students then started to make connections and learn how an ecosystem works. They also practiced their math and science skills with a water quality investigation to determine if Issaquah Creek was a good habitat for salmon (they found that it was: great news for the Issaquah Hatchery!).

ZooCrew students explore the top of the watershed at Snoqualmie Pass.

We kicked off our third week learning about the middle of the watershed with an exciting and stinky visit to Brightwater, a wastewater treatment plant and education facility in Woodinville. At Brightwater, ZooCrew students donned safety vests and hardhats to explore what happens to water when it leaves our homes. We saw fertilizer being made, discussed careers in water management, and went on a wastewater scavenger hunt.

ZooCrew ready to learn about wastewater management at Brightwater Treatment Plant.

The students continued to explore how humans impact the watershed by learning about some of the Woodland Park Zoo’s local Living Northwest conservation projects. We met curator Jenny Pramuk and learned about the zoo’s Oregon spotted frog repopulation project, observed and learned about barn swallow research from lead keeper Gretchen Albrecht and volunteer Anna Martin, and got a peek into the ongoing amphibian monitoring work done by ZooCorps volunteers Sophie, Emily and Katherine. We even got to explore the mysterious world of animal tracking with a field trip to Chinook Bend Natural Area led by IT’s certified tracker (and long-time ZooCrew volunteer) Chris Kluener! It was an eventful week that taught the ZooCrew students not only about the important conservation work done here at the zoo and in the community, but also about the diversity of urban wildlife living in their parks and yards.

Curator Jenny Pramuk gives ZooCrew students a special glimpse into the Oregon spotted frog breeding tanks.
ZooCrew students look for signs of wildlife with expert trackers at Chinook Bend Natural Area in Carnation, WA.

In our fourth week, we made our way to the bottom of the watershed with a behind-the-scenes visit to the Seattle Aquarium, a day of bird-watching and nature explorations at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a salmon science investigation at the Ballard Locks fish ladder, and a day of tide pooling at Lincoln Park. Students got a chance to learn about marine wildlife, wetlands and estuaries. They also continued to practice writing and drawing in their nature journals and learned about how journaling is a tool that scientists use to make observations and record their findings.

ZooCrew students use binoculars to observe a Northern harrier at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Students get their hands and feet wet tide pooling at Lincoln Park.

Throughout the summer, students also had an opportunity to meet scientists, observe them at work, and ask questions about their career paths. These career expeditions were full of exciting hands-on experiences: making a cloud in a bottle with University of Washington climatologists, meeting an octopus and talking to veterinarians and marine biologists at the Seattle Aquarium, and experiencing a few of the many career opportunities in the zoo world from WPZ’s own ZooCorps summer interns. By the end of the summer, several students were talking about wanting to be zoologists, biologists and field conservationists when they grow up.

ZooCrew meeting climatologists at the University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

ZooCrew learn about marine careers at the Seattle Aquarium.

ZooCrew students also spent time throughout the summer filming and photographing their explorations, investigations and experiences. Part way through the summer, professional filmmaker Jonah Kozlowski visited the students at the zoo and led a workshop on filmmaking. In the fifth and final week of the program, the students took what they had learned from Jonah, sorted through hundreds of photos and video clips, recorded voice-overs, and put together a 25 minute film about their summer experience. Not only was the filmmaking project a great opportunity for the students to learn how to make a film, use technology, learn how to use the Movie Maker program and reflect on their summer experience, but it was also a chance for them to learn the importance of sharing their story, practice communication, and develop literacy skills.

Students work on editing their film.

In the final week, the students hosted ZooCrew’s Family Night. The students took their families and friends on a tour of the zoo and practiced public speaking as they presented their film.

ZooCrew students and their families at ZooCrew Family Night!



In the final days of the program, the students took the ferry across Puget Sound and visited IslandWood to put their teamwork to the test and to reflect on their summer experience. It was evident that the students not only had fun in the program, but also learned a lot! Maya, a student from Asa Mercer Middle School, said “I got better at communicating with people.” Milo, a student from Denny Middle School, shared “I learned a lot of stuff, like how a watershed works. Next year, we have a huge test at school about the watershed and I feel strong about the topic now!” And Mahalia, from Washington Middle School, summed up the way many people involved in the summer felt when she said “I learned what an ecosystem is and what a watershed is. I got better at teamwork and being able to write more about things that I see. Overall I had a really fun time this summer and I want to come back next year!”

For the ZooCrew Summer Learning Program students, the learning and exploring is not over. All of the students are invited to participate in the ZooCrew afterschool program at their schools, which starts in the fall.

ZooCrew students enjoy the ferry ride over to Bainbridge Island.

Thanks to all who helped make the ZooCrew Summer Learning Program a success! We are looking forward to the ZooCrew school year and future summers ahead!