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Monday, August 29, 2016

Vultures get their day

Posted by: Susan Burchardt, Zookeeper

Turkey vulture Modoc at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Vultures are common—found all over the world except Antarctica and Australia—and yet are frequently overlooked or misunderstood.

Here in the United States we are lucky to have three species of these beautiful scavengers: the black vulture, the turkey vulture and the critically endangered California condor. Condor numbers are slowly creeping back up. Once down to 22 individuals there are now about 430 condors.

The picture is a little darker in other parts of the world. Asian vulture populations are beginning to stabilize after dramatic losses in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In Africa, carcasses are being poisoned to prevent soaring vultures from alerting rangers to the presence of poachers. This with other issues has caused several species to drop to near critically endangered levels.

Vultures are nature’s recyclers. Modoc takes that job quite seriously. Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ.

A few years ago, educators got together and started celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day. Worldwide, it’s become a tradition on the first Saturday of September. We here at Woodland Park Zoo celebrate at the Raptor Center with our 30-year-old turkey vulture, Modoc.

There will be crafts and games and lots to learn about vultures from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 3. Come join us in celebrating our bald-headed friends!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tiger rangers put eyes on the forest

Posted by: Fred Koontz, PhD, Vice President of Field Conservation

In my last blog post, you read a story about my recent trip to Malaysia, which included a visit to our Harimau Selamanya (“Tigers Forever”) conservation project area. As I wrote to you, I left feeling daunted at the sheer scale of resources needed to save the critically endangered Malayan tiger, yet hopeful about our collective power to save them, together.

Malaysia's Greater Taman Negara Region spans 3 million acres, three times the size of Washington's Olympic National Park. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The Good News: Our efforts are working! Woodland Park Zoo's partnership with Panthera, the international wild cat conservancy, and Malaysian non-profit Rimba combines resources to stop the illegal killing of tigers. In just two years, rangers from Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks, with support from our team of 14 dedicated researchers have removed more than 10 snares and helped apprehend 18 poachers. Their daily presence alone deters illegal hunting—poachers know the forest is being watched.

The Bad News: The number of known wild tigers outside our project area continues to drop. More boots on the ground are needed to protect tigers in our 250,000-acre project area AND to scale up our efforts.

You Can Help


You follow this blog because you love wildlife. I ask you then to consider helping to expand poacher patrols and put more boots on the ground and eyes on the forest.

Give $19 to sponsor a ranger


Just $19 American dollars fund a day's operations for a ranger in Malaysia. Every $19 equates to a new day of protection for wild tigers, preserving their majestic beauty 24 hours at a time for generations to come. Please consider sponsoring a ranger like Jasdev, whose father instilled a great love of nature in him at a young age, which drives him to put himself on the line each day to save tigers in his country. Watch this video to hear his story.




With fewer than 350 Malayan tigers surviving in the wild, your support can help save this species from extinction.

Thank you for joining us in the fight.

Eko, one of three male tigers at Woodland Park Zoo.

There is a tiger in a forest that has survived thanks to support from people just like you. Thank you for loving tigers and for supporting our work to protect these critically endangered animals.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lion Guardians give us something to celebrate this World Lion Day

Posted by: Amy Dickman, PhD, Ruaha Carnivore Project, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife


Lioness with cubs spotted by a remote research camera. Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project.

Lions are one of Africa’s flagship species, but their numbers have halved in the last 20 years, with around 20,000 remaining. This means there are now fewer wild lions left in Africa than rhinos. Lions have disappeared from over 90% of their original range, and now only six large populations remain. One of those is in Tanzania’s Ruaha landscape, which is estimated to hold around a tenth of the world’s remaining lions.

Many lion killings in the Ruaha landscape occur for cultural reasons, where young men hunt lions in order to receive accolades, gifts and female attention from within their communities. To reduce these killings, we have been working with the Lion Guardians organization in Kenya, and adapting their model for the Ruaha landscape. The Lion Guardians approach is to select and train the most influential local warriors, and employ them to liaise with their communities and stop lion hunts from occurring.

Conflict Officers with the Ruaha Carnivore Project. Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project.

They also help householders reinforce their bomas using traditional methods, help find lost livestock (thereby helping villagers and reducing the chances of carnivore attacks and killings), monitor the presence of lions and other wildlife, and chase lions away from households if people feel in danger. This job provides them with status and wealth without killing lions—and we now also host traditional dancing events so that men can dance with young women without needing a lion hunt to do so.

An improved boma. Photo by Jon Erickson/Ruaha Carnivore Project.

This has been very successful around Ruaha—by the end of 2015 we had 14 warriors working across seven village zones. They had prevented or actively stopped 28 lion hunts, and had fortified over 330 bomas using densely packed thornbush. 5,492 livestock were reported as lost to the Guardians, and they managed to find and safely return 5,279 (96%) of them. The value of this recovered stock to local households was over US $750,000—a hugely significant amount in these poor pastoralist societies. In addition, the Guardians regularly monitored village land for lion presence, and saw tracks of lions on 992 occasions, as well as directly seeing lions 133 times.

The Ruaha Lion Guardians team underwent a rigorous certification procedure during 2015, and we are proud to say they passed, so are now ready to become independent from the main Lion Guardians organization. This will allow the model to become even more well-suited to the specifics of the Ruaha situation, so we are excited about developing this program further throughout 2016.

All this work is having significant success around Ruaha. We are seeing reduced livestock attacks, increased community benefits, and reduced carnivore killings. However, effective conservation requires action at a huge scale, so we are proud to have co-founded the Pride Lion Conservation Alliance this year, where we are partnering with Ewaso Lions, Lion Guardians and Niassa Lion Project and working together to conserve carnivores across much of East Africa.

A large, male lion is photographed by a remote research camera. Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project.

The work that Dr. Amy Dickman is doing to protect large carnivores has resulted in the Ruaha Carnivore Project becoming a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife project this year. Partners for Wildlife projects take a comprehensive approach to conservation by incorporating habitat and species conservation, research, education, capacity building and local community support.

Every visit to Woodland Park Zoo supports this kind of work; every visit to Woodland Park Zoo helps save wildlife.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Research cameras catch scavengers in the act

Posted by: Jim Watson, Wildlife Research Scientist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife & Woodland Park Zoo Living Northwest conservation program


Pop Quiz: Scavenger Squad

Can you identify each of these typical Northwest scavengers? 
Bonus points if you can name which one is the top dog (at least for a few minutes).

We'll reveal the answer at the end of this story. Photo: Matt Orr.

This past winter we completed the fifth year of our study to investigate the feeding behavior of golden and bald eagles at carrion using remote cameras known as camera traps. Our interest is to better understand feeding rates of eagles on carrion, which is a likely source of lead fragments that eagles ingest, eventually poisoning them. 

We are working cooperatively with Dr. Matt Orr, a researcher at Oregon State University conducting similar research that emphasizes the importance of ravens in finding carrion and attracting other scavengers. Even when ravens arrive at a carcass before other scavengers, they may have to wait to eat until someone with fangs or a sharp beak and talons opens the carcass.

Scavenger pecking order may be determined by who has talons or fangs, but sometimes it's determined by who is the biggest or hungriest. Could you name all the members of the scavenger squad? More on that in a bit; after all, there are other photos from our study worth a closer look.

As you can imagine, sorting through thousands of photographs and recording data can become pretty laborious, forcing the poor biologist to take a break every now and then to rest their eyes and back, but feeding behavior by scavengers at a carcass is a 24/7 activity. When the sun goes down, diurnal birds go to roost, but a lot of scavengers are just becoming active. This means that the carrion left on the ground at the end of the day may be gone in the morning. Sometimes the animals that scavenge at night can be surprising, but glowing eyes and bushy tails are a dead giveaway.

Scavenging great horned owl. Trail Cam photo courtesy Bob Fischer

Scavenging fox. Trail cam photo courtesy Matt Orr

Scavenging cougar. Trail cam photo courtesy Matt Orr

Common “scents” says these are scavenging skunks. Trail cam photo courtesy Mark Vekasy


Back to the pop quiz: here are the members of the scavenger squad revealed, with the golden eagle in its place as top dog over the carrion.  



Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Woodland Park Zoo collaborate on work being done by Research Scientist Jim Watson, focusing on golden eagle territories affected by 2014 and 2015 wildfires. That research includes information on the condition of nests, prey and habitat. In addition, Jim is looking at the effects of lead contamination on golden eagles, as well as juvenile and adult golden eagle movements and range use. The research is part of Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest conservation program that links animal conservation, health and sustainability in our bioregion.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Butterfly Wings coloring contest: winners announced!

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Last month, in celebration of the new Molbak's Butterfly Garden, we asked artists of all ages to show us their most creative designs with the Butterfly Wings coloring contest. As 569 beautiful entries rolled in, we realized that picking the winners would be a daunting task!



To help us narrow down the contestants, we invited the entire zoo staff to vote for their favorites. After eight hours of voting, we finally have our winners. Drum roll, please...

Adults (13 years and older)

Grand prize winner: Melissa Jeffers, 21, “Butterflies in the Forest”
Melissa Jeffers, "Butterflies in the Forest." Melissa will receive the grand prize: a tour of Molbak’s Butterfly Garden with entomologist and butterfly expert Erin Sullivan and a private afternoon tea with cookies for up to six people. $50 Molbak’s gift card.

Runner up: Elissa Clough, 13, “The Butterfly Garden”
Elissa Clough, “The Butterfly Garden.” Elissa will receive the runner up prize: a basket of summer items from the ZooStore and a $25 Molbak’s gift certificate.

Children (ages 7-12)

Grand prize winner: Chloe Zhan, 10, “Exotic Wildlife”
Chloe Zhan “Exotic Wildlife.” Chloe will receive the grand prize: Overnight Adventure, Research After Dark, at the zoo for one child and one adult and a $50 Molbak’s gift certificate.

Runner up: Vivian Rice, 12, “Free to fly”
Vivian Rice, 12, “Free to fly.” Vivian will receive the runner up prize: Woodland Park Zoo t-shirt and $25 Molbak’s gift certificate. 

Children (ages 2-6)

Grand prize winner: Breckon Vanbuecken, 4, “The Fortress of Solitude”
Breckon Vanbuecken,  “The Fortress of Solitude.” Breckon will receive the grand prize: ZooParent plush and animal adoption kit. $50 Molbak’s gift certificate.

Runner up: Evie Manges, 5, “Buzz Buzz Garden”
Evie Manges, “Buzz Buzz Garden.” Evie will receive runner up: Woodland Park Zoo t-shirt and $25 Molbak’s gift certificate. 

Honorable Mentions
With so many wonderful pieces of art, we'd also like to share our list of honorable mentions. Here are a few more that really caught our eye!

Kayla Powlesland, 19, "PokeGarden"

Eden Benavides, 7, "Eden's Garden

Olivia George Blanchard, 3, "Butterflies, butterflies!"

Alice Graf, 4, "Butterfly Meadow"

Milly Ware, 9, "Butterfly Wings"


Nicholas Thio, 3, "Butterflies in my garden"
Sydney King, 6, "Butterfly meadow"

Dhriti Patel, 5, "Butterfly Wings"

Makena Easley, 12, "The Cosmos of Butterflies"

Rozzy Ware, 11 “Flutters at Twilight.”

Thanks to all the artists who entered the contest and special thanks to Molbak's Garden and Home for their generous donation of prizes! Remember to check out the Molbak's Butterfly Garden, free with zoo admission. 

Are you a participant looking for your artwork? You may pick up your Butterfly Wings coloring entry at Woodland Park Zoo’s West Membership office any time between August 5 –August 19 during the hours of 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday – Sunday. You may be asked to show some form of I.D. If you are picking up artwork for others, please have their first and last name as well as their age to help facilitate an easy pick up. Thank you for participating!