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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

MyZoo Kids Rock Backyard Creature Art Contest

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

This summer we asked kids to show us what kinds of creatures might be hiding in their backyardthe results were some very creative and rare species indeed.


The MyZoo Kids' Backyard Creatures contest invited kids ages 3-5 and 6-10 to design their own inspired creatures, whether real or imagined and after sorting through a stack of over 100 entries we have the winners!

Grand Prize: Age 6-10

Artist: Lauren Orrison, age 7
Name of creature: Lady Lizard
Nocturnal, eats pollen, lives underground and likes to dance.

We loved Lauren's wild use of mark making and a creature that reminds us of something we have seen before, but can't quite place. Lauren will receive an overnight experience at the zoo in August. Great work Lauren!

Grand Prize: Age 3-5

Artist: Carly Rodgers, age 5
Name of creature: Sazzy
Nocturnal, eats reptiles, lives in a swamp and likes to hide.

There was something a little bit creepy and a little bit beautiful about Carly's creature, we love it! Carly will receive a ZooParent adoption plush and kit. So cool, Carly!

Runners up: Age 6-10

Artist: Asher Haukaas, age 9
Name of creature: Puffball salamander
Diurnal, eats insects, lives in damp areas and likes to release poisonous spores like a puffball mushroom.

Artist: Audrey Yu, age 6
Name of creature: Mini dragon fox
Crespucular, eats mice, lives in caves and likes to sun bathe.

Runners up: Age 3-5

Artist: Ellie White, age 5
Name of creature: Paint-the-town swallow
Crepuscular, eats bugs and roly polies, lives in trees and likes to fly to hunt for food.

Artist: Elianna Hogg, age 5
Name of creature: Cutie spider
Diurnal, eats all sorts of bugs, lives in its web and likes to make more webs.

There were so many wonderful entries, but puffball salamanders, mini dragon foxes, painting swallows and cute spiders all sounded like creatures we'd like to see in our backyards. Asher, Audrey, Elianna and Ellie will receive Woodland Park Zoo t-shirts and animal experience tickets. 

Thanks to all of the amazingly talented young artists and budding entomologists who participated in this summer's MyZoo kids contest. And, special thanks to local artist Melinda Hurst Frye for sharing her wonderful images with us in the summer issue of MyZoo magazine. To read more about Melinda's work and the beautiful backyard bugs that inspire her, check out the latest issue at zoo.org/magazine.

If you can't get enough of these creatures, stop by Bug World, our exhibit is teeming with some pretty incredible species you can find right in your own backyard.

Keep drawing, keep exploring and never stop using your imagination and creativity to celebrate nature!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Oops, snow leopard cub is a boy, not a girl

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

After a closer look, it turns out our 1-month-old snow leopard is a boy, not a girl as reported two weeks ago during a quick neonatal exam. At a follow-up exam with veterinarians today we, uh, uncovered the truth. Sometimes determining the sex of young animals, particularly cats, can be more of an art than a science.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

“Male or female, we’re pleased our cub remains in a healthy condition. Both eyes have opened and he weighed in today at 4.2 pounds, a healthy weight for his age,” said Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of animal health. Veterinarians will continue to administer health exams every few weeks until he’s about 16 weeks old for weight monitoring, vaccinations, and critical blood and fecal sampling, explained Collins. The check-ups are a part of the zoo’s exemplary animal welfare program to ensure each animal receives optimal health care.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

The new cub was born July 6 and is the first offspring between mom Helen and dad Dhirin (pronounced as did-in), both 12. Helen has had two previous litters with a different mate. Mom and cub remain in an off-view maternity den to ensure continual bonding and proper nursing in a quieter setting while staff watch the new family on a closed-circuit monitoring system. Cubs are born helpless, with their eyes closed; for several weeks they rely on their mothers for nutrition. To minimize disturbance, staff have minimal physical contact with the new family. Since snow leopards are solitary animals in their natural range, the father lives separately from the cub and can be seen by guests in the zoo’s snow leopard exhibit.

We anticipate putting the cub with mom in the outdoor, on-view exhibit in late September. 

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

Look for a naming poll coming later this month, to be launched at our Wild Asia: Asian Wildlife Conservation Day on August 12. Join us for the day and learn more about these elusive, beautiful cats and how to protect them.

“Mom is providing excellent maternal care for her cub, just like she did with her other cubs,” said Deanna DeBo, an animal collection manager at Woodland Park Zoo. “The cub is gaining more mobility each day in the den box and is using his legs instead of crawling or scooting.”

Parents Helen and Dhirin were paired under the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of snow leopards. Helen has lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 2008 and Dhirin arrived from Oklahoma City Zoo in 2014.

Snow leopards are an endangered species. The snow leopard is a moderately large cat native to the high mountain ranges of Central Asia and Russia, including in Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan. According to the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust, the population of these endangered big cats in the wild is estimated to be between 3,920 and 6,390.

Woodland Park Zoo has long been a conservation partner with the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT); the two organizations are partnering with Kyrgyzstan's State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry to protect the snow leopards of the Tian Shan mountains. Research cameras set up in the Sarychat Ertash reserve allow researchers to monitor the area's snow leopard population, which they estimate to be around 18 cats. Through innovative programs, effective partnerships, and the latest science, the SLT is saving these endangered cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard countries of Central Asia.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Baby giraffe Lulu takes first steps on the savanna

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Lulu's first day on the savanna. Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ.

This happened today.

It's a new milestone for baby giraffe, Lulu. For the first time, the 1½-month-old giraffe ventured onto the vast African Savanna exhibit with mom Tufani and the herd.

Hey there, guinea fowl. Have you met Lulu? You're about to! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

“Lulu’s adventurous spirit and self-confidence were on full display during her first introduction on the savanna. She crossed out to the savanna cautiously, but once she was out there, she explored, galloped, and met our gazelle, guinea fowl and a few ducks,” said Katie Ahl, a lead keeper at Woodland Park Zoo.

“Lulu is very independent but you could tell Tufani and Lulu were keeping an eye on each other and it was good to see them check in with each other throughout the introduction,” Katie added.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

Lulu’s time on the Savanna will be limited for the first week as introductions continue.  Currently, she has outdoor access in the corrals for guests to enjoy her from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily. “Lulu and her mom also have access to the barn, which is not viewable to our guests, so she may choose to go in the barn to nurse or nap,” said Katie.

Branches in the foreground acted as baby bumpers to keep Lulu away from steeper slopes. Photo: John Loughlin/WPZ.

Like human parents do at home for their own babies, the zoo closely inspected the African Savanna and took steps to baby proof the exhibit before introducing Lulu. Baby proofing the exhibit is a standard protocol when baby animals at the zoo go into an exhibit, and it is part of ensuring good animal welfare,” said Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “Giraffe-style baby bumpers were added to the exhibit in the form of branches and logs laid along steeper slopes. We also closed up any gaps where she could potentially wedge herself. The baby bumpers and the watchful eyes of her mom and aunt are a great safety net as she explores her new surroundings.”

Seattle’s tallest baby, Lulu, was born June 20 to first-time parents, 9-year-old giraffe Tufani (too-faw-nee) and 4-year-old Dave. Born at a height of 5’9”, Lulu currently stands at 7’6” tall and weighs 267 pounds.

The family. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

Widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated populations in west and central Africa, new population surveys estimate an overall 36 to 40 percent decline in the giraffe population. Of the currently recognized subspecies of giraffe, five have decreasing populations, while three are increasing and one is stable.

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 northwestern Namibia.

Love this girl. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Orphaned monkey rescued from street entertainers gets a second chance

Posted by: Kelly Martin, Colobus Conservation Ltd., a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project

Editor’s note: When an animal needs help, you can rely on our conservation partners to step up. Colobus Conservation Ltd., a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project based in Kenya, may have started with a focus on saving colobus monkeys, but their mission now impacts wildlife and communities well beyond that scope. This is one of those stories.

Mel the vervet monkey. Photo courtesy Lydia Katsis, Colobus Conservation researcher

Mel, a young female vervet monkey, arrived at Colobus Conservation a few weeks ago after being rescued from street entertainers trying to sell her to tourists passing by. Colobus Conservation was called to the scene by a concerned individual after witnessing little Mel tied up, alone and on the ground. She was being handed around for people to see. The asking price for her started at $10.

Team Colobus moved fast. As so often happens, on our arrival the individuals left the scene quickly, knowing that what they were doing is illegal. We arrived in time and were able to rescue little Mel before she was sold. She was strong and tried to bite us and wiggle away, not knowing what was happening to her. We wrapped her in a towel and drove back to the center. As soon as the engine started, little Mel fell fast asleep, indicating how truly exhausted she must have been from her ordeal.

On arrival at the center, Mel was checked by the vet. She was dehydrated and covered in dirt, but her condition was not so bad.

Little Mel was found tied up to a bag on the street. She was alone and being passed around for people to see. Photo courtesy Colobus Conservation

For the rest of the day and the first night, Mel cried for her mother. She then would sleep, eat and cry some more. We did all we could to comfort her, but we knew we would never be able to give her what she really needed, her mother. The next day we introduced her to another young female vervet monkey, Mali. Within the hour both had bonded and little Mel’s crying stopped almost immediately. Finally she was with a fellow monkey. Now, weeks later, they are inseparable, sleeping, eating and playing together, which fills the hearts of all the colobus team.

Mel will now have to spend at least 2 years under human care, where she will learn to be a monkey again, figuring out how to use her environment and what foods to eat, and how to socialize with other monkeys. Once ready and fully integrated, she will be released back into the wild.

Both infant vervet monkeys, Mali and Mel, were orphaned after losing their mothers to human/wildlife conflict. Both will need to be rehabilitated and will eventually be released back into the wild. Photo courtesy Lydia Katsis, Colobus Conservation researcher

We were able to save little Mel from the illegal pet trade. However, not all monkeys get a second chance. Many will be sold as pets, or used as a photo prop or passed around for tourists to stroke and touch. Many were probably torn away from their mothers who were likely killed. Colobus Conservation believes by creating awareness in communities, and through education, we can stop this being the fate of many animals. We work with the local community, school children and tourists to create awareness of why monkeys and other wild animals are not pets, and reinforce the importance of the local wildlife.

Without funding from places such as Woodland Park Zoo, our work would not be possible. We thank you for supporting us through the zoo and helping us save such monkeys as little Mel! Vote for Wildlife Survival Fund projects through the zoo's Quarters for Conservation kiosks on your next visit to continue to support projects like this.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Baby snow leopard instantly improves your day

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Getting weighed at two weeks old. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Here is your first look at our newest addition!

Born July 6, this little snow leopard had her first veterinary exam on Thursday. It was the first time we’ve been able to get close to baby, since snow leopards are born so helpless and depend on mom’s close care.

The exam went quickly because snow leopard mom Helen wouldn’t have it any other way. We got a good look at baby and that's when we found out we have a girl on our hands. She currently weighs 2.6 pounds and appears to be healthy. One of her eyelids has already opened and one remains closed. A cub’s eyelids normally open around two weeks. Her belly was full of milk, which means she is nursing and getting nourishment.

That belly is full of milk, a great sign that she's nursing properly. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Helen has been a great mom to her two previous litters with a different mate. She’s nurturing her cub very well and they’re bonding together in an off-view den where they can have some quiet, private space together.

Parents Helen and Dhirin were matched under the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, a cooperative conservation breeding program across accredited zoos. Helen has lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 2008 and Dhirin arrived from Oklahoma City Zoo in 2014. Since snow leopard fathers are not naturally involved in cub rearing, you can find Dhirin out in the snow leopard exhibit while mom and baby are in their den. It will be several weeks before the baby is ready to head outdoors.

Our zoo veterinarian takes a closer look at the cub's eyes. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The exam went quickly so that baby could be returned to mom as soon as possible. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The elusive snow leopard is endangered, and we partner with the Snow Leopard Trust to fight extinction in their native Kyrgyzstan. Together we work with Kyrgyzstan's State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry to protect the snow leopards of the Tian Shan mountains. Research cameras set up in the Sarychat Ertash reserve allow researchers to monitor the area's snow leopard population, which they estimate to be around 18 cats.

New images from the research cameras have just come in, and they are a bolt of energy to us. This is what we’re fighting for. We think you'll find them as breathtaking as we do.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Siamang travels 3,200 miles to meet her match in Seattle

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Sam and Bagus. Some duets are timeless.

For newly matched siamangs Sam and Bagus (bah-GOOSE), it’s only been a week and yet somehow it’s like they’ve been together forever.

Sam and Bagus are an instant pair! Photo by Carolyn Sellar/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sam lost his mate here at Woodland Park Zoo last year when our geriatric female Briony passed away. Across the country, Bagus lost her long-time mate at Palm Beach Zoo. A siamang’s social life is naturally structured around being in a bonded pair. Though Sam’s and Bagus’s keepers gave them all the TLC two lone siamangs could ask for, we all knew that what they needed most was to be part of a pair again.

Sam and Bagus were well matched on paper. We work with other accredited conservation zoos through the Species Survival Plan to track the genetics of endangered species, such as siamangs, in our care. This way we can collaborate on matchmaking, finding pairs that are right for breeding or companionship. But animals have their own personalities and just because a match works on paper, doesn’t mean it’s meant to be. That part would be up to Sam and Bagus.

For a chance at a new life with a new partner, Bagus traveled more than 3,000 miles on the nation’s longest direct flight, Miami to Seattle. When she arrived in Seattle, she was greeted by her Woodland Park Zoo keepers who instantly went to work to make her feel at home. After clearing standard quarantine, it was time for Sam and Bagus to finally meet.

We always take it slow when introducing animals to each other. Keepers started Sam and Bagus off by setting up what we call a “howdy” introduction, where they can safely interact through a barrier, in this case some mesh screening. Right away, Bagus presented to Sam, a clear “hello” signal! Sam reached through the barrier to touch her fur, a clear “hey” in return. Then Sam started pulling at the screen as if to say “thanks, keepers, but we won’t be needing this anymore!”

By day two the siamangs were sharing the same physical space. Right away we saw positive signs of a bond in the making. They share food and groom each other, and seem to always be by the other’s side.

Soon the two will head outdoors to explore the treetops together. Up in the canopy, they’ll develop their song. A siamang duet is a symphonic call that can be heard up to two miles away and can last up to 20 minutes. It strengthens their bond and declares their territory, territory that is all too quickly disappearing in the wild.

The largest of the gibbon species, siamangs are native to forests of Asia that are being destroyed at alarming rates as human development and agriculture expand. Know that when you come to visit Sam and Bagus, your admission or membership helps support our field conservation partners working to save gibbons and other apes from extinction.

We won’t let the siamang’s song be silenced in the wild. Every note we hear from Sam and Bagus will strengthen that resolve.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Local medical team helps save gorilla's life

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Their patients are usually human. But a team of local medical specialists joined Woodland Park Zoo's animal health team last month to perform emergency umbilical hernia surgery repair on 38-year-old gorilla Vip. The all-star team re-convened with our veterinary team over the weekend to examine silverback Vip’s surgical site and perform dental and sinus procedures. The good news: Vip is doing great!

“Thanks to the expertise of the medical team, Vip successfully pulled through both the surgery and follow-up examination and is back with his family as he recovers,” said Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of animal health. “The elderly gorilla remains under close observation by his attentive caretakers and we’ll continue to keep him on a prescribed program of analgesics and joint medication.”

Prior to the surgery, keepers had reported the 430-pound western lowland gorilla had shown signs of decline including mobility challenges, a reduced appetite, weight loss and sluggishness. The zoo’s senior veterinarian called in a special team of medical specialists and a veterinary consultant to assist in diagnosing Vip and to explore a potential hernia issue. An ultrasound exam revealed an infection associated with the hernia in the umbilical region. The decision was made to perform emergency surgery that same day, which likely saved the gorilla’s life. 

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

“Vip’s condition was serious and definitely required the expert surgical intervention of the medical specialists,” said Collins. “We rely on a local network of volunteer medical specialists to help us provide top-notch health care for our 1,000-plus animals. We are very grateful to this team who donated their time and expertise to save the life of our much loved gorilla.”

During the follow-up examination of the gorilla’s surgical site, the medical team also administered a dental exam and extracted a loose tooth. In addition, Vip, who has a history of chronic sinus infection, underwent an endoscopic sinus exam as a precaution. 

Serving on the medical team for Vip’s surgery were: Greg Davis, MD, MPH, University of Washington associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Director of Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery; Andrew Wright, MD, Director of the UW Medicine Hernia Center at Northwest Hospital; Robert Yates, MD, surgeon, Northwest Hospital and University of Washington Medical Center; Robert M. Liddell, MD, a radiologist for Center for Diagnostic Imaging; and G.G. Comet Riggs, DVM, a veterinarian with practice limited to dentistry and oral surgery.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Named for being a Very Important Primate, Vip is the father of five daughters, including the zoo’s youngest baby gorilla, 1-year-old Yola. Vip lives with his female companion, 32-year-old Jumoke, and his daughter, 9-year-old Uzumma. 

The median life expectancy for male western lowland gorillas is 32 years old, although gorillas in zoos can live in to their 40s and 50s because of the evolving field of zoo medicine—improved husbandry and management techniques, excellent animal care, better nutrition, increased medical knowledge, and diagnostic and therapeutic techniques. 

“Due to expanded life expectancies in many animals, including great apes, animals experience the aches and pains of getting older, just like aging humans. Vip has mobility issues, which is natural for his advanced age,” said Collins. As part of his workup, Vip also received complementary medicine in the form of laser therapy for his arthritis.

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the critically endangered western lowland gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study. To help support this important project, drop off used handheld electronics (cell phones, MP3 players, handheld games, e-readers, digital still and video cameras, laptops, GPS, portable hard drives, etc.) at the zoo. The handheld electronics will be turned over to ECO-CELL, which operates a strict NO LANDFILL program and reimburses organizations. ECO-CELL reuses mineral ore from these devices to reduce the demand for unsustainable coltan mining in the Congo that destroys habitat for critically endangered gorillas. The zoo will direct funds from ECO-CELL toward the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study and other African conservation projects. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Every child deserves a butterfly moment

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

Standing in the sun-soaked tent at Molbak’s Butterfly Garden, we are surrounded by fluttering pollinators, gorgeous blooms and the giggles of some very special visitors. They wait, holding very still, anticipating a lucky butterfly landing. 

Gabriana and her little sister Asuzana, 3 years old, soak up the magic of a butterfly overhead.

“I really think they will land on me,” an optimistic 4-year-old Emilio explains to his mom. The butterflies seem to flit and dart just above the laughter of this group of toddlers. These kiddos and their parents are here with a group called YoungLives, which offers support and provides resources for teen moms and their young children in the greater Seattle area. YoungLives is part mentorship and part community resource for young mothers (primarily middle school through high school-aged) at a time when they may feel isolated from family, friends or schoolmates. YoungLives is an offshoot of YoungLife, a nondenominational Christian ministry for adolescents. 

The YoungLives Seattle office works with around 30 young mothers at any given time. Jenni Steinke, YoungLives Seattle Coordinator, explains how this group of moms provides support for each other as well as receives mentorship from volunteers in the community. “We meet monthly, and usually try to do something that is easily accessible for young mothers who are often still in school and working at the same time. I think across the board, the biggest thing for the girls is that the group provides support, a safe place where they can come hang out with other adults who aren’t judging them and other teen moms who have shared experiences. For many of our girls, they don’t come from a place where getting pregnant as a teen has any support, so to be in a place where other people are actually excited about their pregnancy—it’s seen as a positive—is really empowering for them.”

The YoungLives group meets once a month to spend time with one another and pick up items such as diapers, formula or clothing that has been donated to the group. Sometimes they are able to visit places like the zoo together. Through Woodland Park Zoo's Community Access Program (CAP), we partner with hundreds of local organizations such as YoungLives to provide complimentary zoo tickets to community members each year. 

Sometimes the moms come to visit the zoo on their own with their babies, but oftentimes they are able to visit as a group and bring family members like parents or siblings. Family time is really important for these young parents who are incredibly busy with school, work and parenting.

We spoke with Gabriell, Gabriana and Amanda to learn more about what access to the zoo means to them.

Amanda and Marshall, 2 years old, check out some pollinators in the Molbak’s Butterfly Garden.

We first speak with Amanda, while her 2-year-old son Marshall fully investigates a bee balm flower.

“I moved here from Boise, Idaho. I was a teen mom and so I was out of high school at that point, so I didn’t have a lot of friends around, and I found the group on Facebook. They are really welcoming; they help my son a lot. 
Visiting the zoo allows me to take my son somewhere and show him animal life; we do live in Seattle where there are mostly squirrels in the city, so taking him somewhere where I can show him new things and educate him about the environment... it’s easier to save the environment if you can see what you’re saving. 
Since we have social media, I’m connected with the other moms on Facebook and we get together when we can. I mean we’re moms, we’re working, so when we get together it’s always great to see each other and catch up.”

As Marshall’s blond curls duck around the path, Amanda reminds him to move slowly here in the garden. He’s inquisitive and curious and she is patient and attentive. Just like other families, they are here to connect with nature, but also to spend time together in a beautiful place. 

“The girls come back to YoungLives because they feel loved and supported by our volunteers in the community and that is huge,” says Jenni.  “For some of our girls, a zoo visit means that they get to have the experience of a normal childhood for their kids. This is something that otherwise would probably be unaffordable to these young moms. With the zoo's Community Access Program, their zoo becomes accessible and their kids get to run around and see animals. Access to something like this creates a really nice opportunity for feeling like they are truly part of the community.”

Gabriell takes in the blooms and color of the pollinator plants.

For Gabriell, the sense of community is the most tangible reward for participating in this group. 

“For me YoungLives is more of a safe place. I feel like especially for our group of teen moms, you basically get a chance to be around people who have the same problems as you, you feel like you’re not alone in the world. There are a lot of resources there. You also meet a lot of cool people—I’ve been  friends with some of the moms for years. Our kids have grown up together and went to camp together—to not have this would be like not having a safe space where you can be comfortable and be yourself.  I do one day want to become a YoungLives leader and share moments like these with other teen moms. 
We actually come to Woodland Park Zoo every year for WildLights and that is pretty fun. It’s a cool way for them to bond with other kids their age and socialize. Also, just for education, they learn a lot. My son has been asking a lot of questions!”

Gabriell, her son Z’aedyn, 4 years old, and her boyfriend Pedro. Z’aedyn’s favorite moment was saying hello to the napping grizzly bear and touching all of the plants. “He loves the plants!” says Gabby.

Gabriana agrees with her friend Gabby:

“What young life is for me is a group where we just support each other, we have mentors, we have adults who we get to talk to and get to know. We get to meet every month, but I actually wish it was more often. We get to all come together and be with people who care about us. We have familiar friends who are in the same situation as us and we can relate to. Just like a safe place, where we can always turn to and always get to do fun stuff like come to the zoo.”

Gabriana and Emilio crack up as a butterfly comes really close to their noses!

Gabriana’s boyfriend Ralphie chimes in, “I can say, it’s a group that, you know if you need help with any type of resources, you know diapers, formula, there are people to help you. If you have any parent problems, you know they have staff you can talk to as well as counselors who can get you the resources you need and whatever it is, someone will help you.”

Z’aedyn, Taylon and Emilio are good buddies.

“I think it’s really cool to visit the zoo,” says Gabriana, mom of 4-year-old Emilio, “I am a big fan of the zoo and the animals and I think it’s a great way, a healthy way, for us to bond with our kids and do something productive and fun and let the kids be outside and learn and just experience a lot of new things. They are exposed to new things here that they haven’t seen before."

Gabriana and the other families here today are all close. They’ve watched each other’s children grow and it’s obvious their friendship is super-strength.

Emilio (4 years old), Asuzana (3 years old), Gabriana and her boyfriend Ralphie strike a pose in front of the caterpillar shed.

In addition to access to resources, the YoungLives participants are paired with volunteer mentors from the community who provide support, offer advice and are just there to listen. Not being judged is a recurring theme that keeps coming up when we ask participants why the group is so important to them. For these young women, society can be harsh, but from our perspective their kids are here burning off energy, asking a million questions and soaking up more zoo facts than most staff probably have stored away—just like every other kid who comes to visit.

Gabriana, Asuzana and Ralphie relax among the daisy patch. Pollinators aren’t the only creatures attracted to beautiful flowers.

We are grateful to these strong, independent and optimistic young women who have taken the time out of their very busy lives to bring their children to the zoo. Families like theirs will change the world and help protect habitats for wild creatures all over the globe. When it comes to successfully implementing social change and conservation advocacy we need every member of our community to be on board.

Sometimes you have to growl like a tiger, even in the butterfly garden. Gabriell’s younger brothers Braylon and Jaylon make the most of it while their sister is being interviewed.

We believe that many moms like Amanda, Gabriana and Gabriella would benefit from access to their zoo whatever their means or motivations. Our Community Access Program works with over 600 community partners and local organizations to make a free visit to the zoo possible for more than 50,000 people every year, but we can do better.

This summer, King County voters will have the opportunity to significantly boost access to science, arts and heritage educational programming. If passed by vote, Proposition 1 - Access for All will provide funding to Woodland Park Zoo and more than 350 community-based organizations to expand access to learning experiences and remove barriers for underserved communities throughout King County. Ballots will hit King County voter mailboxes this week and we urge you to VOTE YES on Prop 1.

Exhibit attendant Sam Graham gives this crew the scoop on caterpillar morphology.

If you’d like to know more about YoungLives and ways that you can help support young families in Seattle, you can visit: https://younglivesseattle.younglife.org We want to extend a special thanks to Jenni Steinke and Seattle YoungLives for helping us tell this story and for their continued participation in the Woodland Park Zoo Community Access Program. 

Jenni and the YoungLives group give us their biggest grins after lemonade and cookies in the Microsoft Pollinator Patio. 

 We wish Gabriell, Amanada and Gabriana all the best and we hope to see them often!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Big and Little get up close with the penguin whisperer

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo

“I’m really not a seafood person.” quips Giovanni, “Ooohwee, that’s a strong smell!

Humboldt penguins feast on anchovies, trout, smelt and herring at Woodland Park Zoo to mimic their natural diet in the Humboldt Current off the coast of Chile and Peru. Sometimes the aroma can be potent!
Giovanni, ‘G’ for short, is visiting the Humboldt Penguin exhibit with his Big Brother Luke. The pair is a match with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound and they are here to get a special close up look at penguins with keeper Celine. The pair has experienced many outings since being matched by Big Brothers Big Sisters about 8 months ago, from trips to the arcade to grabbing burgers to just hanging out after schoolbut this experience is by far the most pungent.

Community Access Program tickets provide a special opportunity for the children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and supports and fosters the match relationships. Celine and G are a red-headed match to boot!
Celine introduces G and Luke to the four types of fish diet that the colony of penguins receives. She points out the vitamins that help the penguins, who range in age from 28 years to 4 months old, stay healthy and active. G is especially interested in how the penguin keepers tell all the penguins apart and keep siblings from snatching each other’s fish. He explains, “I have four brothers and a little sister, so I know a lot about siblings.”

Celine shows Luke and G the colored bands that help penguin keepers track who is who in the black and white clad penguin colony. 
G explains that one of the reasons he wanted a Big Brother is that one of his older brothers is also in the program and he thought it sounded pretty cool. “I waited forever to get a Big Brother, and now I finally have one.” Nicole Nguyen of Big Brothers Big Sisters says the average time on the wait list is a little over one year, but when you are a kid it can seem like forever! Since being paired with Luke, 10-year-old G says he’s taught Luke a lot about life, like how to win at arcade games and how to choose the best toys. “I teach him some things.” says G. Luke laughs, but agrees that he’s learned a lot from this 10-year-old. Even while looking at penguins, G tells Luke about how their feathers look just like the feathers he finds around his neighborhood. G is curious, astute and eager to share all he is taking in with Luke.

As a mentor, Luke says it’s really important to share these new experiences with G. He explains that while they do a lot of normal things like just hang out and eat meals together, these rarer excursions act as springboards for both of them to get out of their routine and do things they wouldn’t normally do, like feel the downy under feathers of a 3-month-old penguin chick or watch a penguin gulp down an anchovy. 

An egg is an egg? Celine, dubbed the ‘Penguin Whisperer’ by G, tests him on his faux egg verse real egg identification skills. He’s a pro by the end of the lesson.
“We're really grateful that Big Brothers Big Sisters provides us the opportunity to do such cool things.” says Luke, “Without receiving the complimentary zoo tickets, and having the awesome chance to speak with a zookeeper and meet the animals, G probably wouldn't have the same level of interest or knowledge when it comes to zoos. It was easy to see G's enthusiasm grow during our outing, and was a great way to get him outside, active, and learning. Now he's so excited to go back to the zoo! He can't wait to see the penguins, which he says are his new favorite animal.”

Prince shows Luke and G his moves while keeper Celine makes sure everyone behaves, including Prince.

Luke grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona and moved to Washington to go to the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. After graduating, Luke moved to Seattle to start work at Premera Blue Cross and began looking for a good way to give back to the community. “Being a Big Brother seemed like a great opportunity because I wanted to have a lasting impact on somebody's life.” 

Being a Big means meeting with your Little once a week for an hour or so, chatting about their school day, getting the scoop on their friends and family life and just being there to listen, laugh and answer questions. G asks Luke, “Have you ever seen that much poop!?” Neither of them have seen penguin guano before, but as Celine shows them the nesting burrows, guano and all, it’s clear that as fascinating as the birds are, it’s having Luke here with him that really makes this a special experience for G.

It’s obvious that while the penguins are really cool, and Celine is very entertaining, it’s sharing this experience with Luke that makes G. the happiest.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound matches hundreds of kids with volunteers who want to make a difference. The children often come from low income homes and single-parent households, which make outings like a zoo visit especially tricky for parents. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound has had a positive impact in the Seattle community for over 60 years and has been an exemplary Community Access Program partner.  The program has been delivering complimentary zoo tickets to Bigs and Littles for many years, as well as WildLights tickets during the winter celebration.

We believe that many kids like G would benefit from access to their zoo whatever their means or motivations. The Community Access Program works with over 600 community partners and local organizations to make a free visit to the zoo possible for more than 50,000 people every year, but we can do better.

This summer, King County voters will have the opportunity to significantly boost access to science, arts and heritage educational programming. If passed by vote, Proposition 1 - Access for All will provide funding to Woodland Park Zoo and more than 350 community-based organizations to expand access to learning experiences and remove barriers for underserved communities throughout King County.

Celine holds a young penguin so G and Luke can get a closer look at its downy feathers.
Celine has saved this moment in the tour for last, a 3-month-old penguin chick waddles into the back yard where G and Luke are just inches away from the adorably chatty penguin. “I’m so excited to see this baby,” says G, “They are really sweet.” Celine reminds the pair that penguins can be rough too, she shows them her protective clothing and places where the birds have pecked. She also introduces them to Prince, a 1-year-old penguin with a gregarious call. “He sounds pretty much like a donkey or a seagull.” G tells Luke that penguins are now going to be his favorite animal of all time.

Even cooler? The penguin team has decided to call the little chick “Gio” in honor of Giovanni’s visit.

Celine says of the name, “I think that would be a great way to honor the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ story of what being 'family' and caring for each other really means. Our penguin colony is all about family. And hopefully this already outgoing and inquisitive young chick will be as inspiring to the children and families who learn his story as they visit him at the zoo…just like his namesake.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters, the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, holds itself accountable for children in its program to achieve measurable outcomes, such as educational success, avoidance of risky behaviors, higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships. These mentoring programs have proven, positive academic, socio-emotional and behavioral outcomes for youth, areas linked to high school graduation, avoidance of juvenile delinquency and college or job readiness. By supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound and its participants, the zoo’s Community Access Program hopes to inspire Littles (and Bigs!) to investigate nature, fall in love with creatures of all kinds and learn about actions they can take which will help protect wild animals and their habitats.

After the penguin tour, G takes home a ZooParent penguin. This ZooParent adoption was made in Luke and Giovanni’s honor, to thank them for sharing their story with us.
We want to extend a huge thank you to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound for supporting kids in our community, and the hundreds of dedicated Bigs who make our community an especially amazing place to live. We’d also like to give big props to Luke and G for taking the time to visit us and tell us their zoo story. If you are interested in becoming a Big or know a child who might benefit from this program, you can find out more about this fulfilling and life-changing volunteer opportunity by visiting InspireBIG.org.

It's a privilege to be able to offer a zoo experience to matches throughout the year and we look forward to seeing many more smiling faces for years to come.