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Monday, May 9, 2016

Meet the all-star ambassador animals

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications



The stage is set for awesome animal encounters this summer. Head to the all new Alvord Broadleaf Theater just behind Zoomazium to meet the all-star ambassador animals featured in a new 1:00 p.m. daily program through September 30.

These animals have been training with zoo staff for months to prepare for the experience. The program showcases the animals’ natural talents, from the flight of a hornbill to the surprisingly agile climb of a porcupine.

A child has an up close experience with an ambassador animal. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Ambassador animals have a unique role at the zoo, interacting with the public through education programs designed to bring people and wildlife closer together—not just physically, but in our hearts and minds too. We believe that empathy is at the core of conservation attitudes, and ambassador animals offer a great opportunity to develop empathy for wildlife.

We have a range of animals in training which involves positive reinforcement to move around a stage and showcase voluntary, natural behaviors. The all-star lineup includes a raccoon, porcupine, opossum, guinea pigs, snakes, lizards, raptors and more. Our animals aren’t going through the training alone—their human trainers are also learning a whole new way of working with animals and engaging with visitors.

The training process is a major focus of this summer’s program. The program we’re doing this summer emphasizes the shared journey of the animals and staff in building this program from the ground up. The animals and staff have been learning about each other, learning about the space, and now we’re going to be learning and growing along with the audience, who are themselves a vital part of the program just by being there in the seats!

There are currently 17 ambassador animals featured in the program, though they will not all be seen every day. All of the animals get days off, just like people. The daily program runs 15-20 minutes and features up to five ambassador animals. Keep coming back all summer long to meet them all!

Here is a sneak peek at several of the stars in the 2016 Ambassador Animal program lineup:


Skyáana the porcupine. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Skyáana the porcupine, female

2 years old

History: Skyáana was born at Woodland Park Zoo; her mother is currently on exhibit at Northern Trail. She is a North American porcupine, the second largest rodent in North America behind the beaver. Skyáana is curious and strong willed, and loves exploring new places. Her favorite treats tend to vary, but generally include yam, corn, leafeater biscuits and peanuts.

Talent: In the program, Skyáana showcases her climbing abilities to demonstrate how good porcupines are at climbing trees (where they go to rest).

Fun fact: Skyáana weighs approximately 20 pounds!

Flick the kookaburra. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Flick the kookaburra, male

12 years old

History: Flick was born at the National Aquarium in Maryland; he moved to Woodland Park Zoo in October 2015. His favorite treats tend to vary, but generally include mice, silversides (small fish), crickets and meal worms. Flick is a lone ranger; he does not like the company of other birds, but he loves the company of people, which makes him a perfect bird to be an ambassador animal. Plus, he loves to participate in training sessions with his keepers!

Talent: In the program, Flick showcases his flying abilities and demonstrates his hunting strategies. He is trained to fly towards the sound of a referee whistle to land on someone's hand as well as land on different objects. He can catch food reinforcement from his trainers out of the air.

Fun fact: Kookaburras hunt by perching on a convenient branch or wire and waiting patiently for prey to pass by. Their prey range in size from mice and similar-sized small mammals to venomous snakes, much longer than their bodies!

Lucy the raccoon. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Lucy the raccoon, female

1 year old

History: Lucy was wild born in northern California. She was surrendered to a rehab facility after she was found abandoned, as a baby, by someone who tried to raise her as a pet. She was too imprinted on humans to return to the wild and the rehab facility could not continue to house her so Woodland Park Zoo offered her a new home; she arrived at the zoo in December 2015. Lucy is still very young, energetic, and eager to learn and participate in training sessions. She is very curious and loves to explore every nook and cranny of her enclosure and exercise yard. Her favorite treats vary from dog kibble and raw chicken, to grapes and peanut butter.

Talent: Lucy will help put a personality to the raccoon, and hopefully inspire people to live alongside these beautiful and misunderstood animals. Since she arrived just a few months ago, Lucy is still in training; the goal is to incorporate her into the program by mid-summer. Currently, her favorite behavior is a "retrieve," where she picks up an object and brings it to a location with her hands. She loves to show how dexterous she is.

Fun fact: Lucy LOVES water; when she is not doing a training session, she can often be seen splashing in her tub or in the hose.

Blueberry the knobbed hornbill. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Blueberry the knobbed hornbill, female

19 years old

History: Blueberry was born at Woodland Park Zoo and just celebrated her 19th hatchday (that's bird speak for birthday) this past weekend! Keeper Eric Kowalczyk has been working and caring for Blueberry her entire life; she is very bonded to him. When she is not participating in programs, she lives on exhibit under Eric’s care at the Conservation Aviary. Her favorite treats are blueberries (naturally), blackberries, figs and other miscellaneous fruit.

Talent: Blueberry is a diva and absolutely loves to hang out with people. She loves to be held and have her head scratched.

Fun fact: A hornbill is often confused with toucans, but hornbills are not toucans. Toucans are native to South America whereas Blueberry (a knobbed hornbill) is native to Indonesia—specifically Sulawesi. They are primarily fruit eaters.

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