Woodland Park Zoo Logo

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Follow Ben to see how WildLights gets its sparkle

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photo by Kirsten Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo

Hey everyone, we’d like to introduce you to Ben Haager, our events installation coordinator. He’s the Clark Griswold of WildLights, except that Ben is actually really good at keeping the lights on! Here’s Ben with a very special Woodland Park Zoo WildLights takeover to show you what is takes to get our glow on…

Hi everyone! It’s my first year coordinating WildLights presented by Sound Credit Union—and I am learning A LOT. Like how to hang and secure large light displays—I even had to get scissor lift certified—and become an expert in Santa decorations. There are lots of trips to Home Depot and local hardware stores as well as vintage thrift stores to find supplies for outfitting Santa’s camp which has a very PNW vibe. It smells pretty great in Santa’s camp thanks to loads of pine our horticulture crew has strewn up, they do such a great job with all the boughs. I really like the details we have at Santa’s Camp—we even have an old canoe! I’m going to show you what it takes to light up the zoo each night and give you a few tips for your own light displays…

Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo
All about the lights. There are so many types of lights, you have your minis, G-12, C-6, C-7, net lights and M-5 which is sort of the standard holiday light. We have some very artistic crew members with an eye for color. Our creative services team even made a color guide for different areas of the zoo, with suggestions as to which colors will pop in different locations, but new colors, like teal this year, are always coming out. We try to stick with a two-tone color pattern on most of the displays, but sometimes we’ll use many colors that compliment like blues, greens and teals.

It’s not about the number of lights you put up, but how many you can keep on! Our wet Washington winters make it hard to keep on the lights, so sometimes a few strands can go a long way in making your yard look sparkling. Sometimes less is more in certain areas!

Squirrel photo by @mross1361 via Instagram
We’ve got problems, squirrel problems. They’re cute, but they definitely keep us on our toes! They prefer the G12 bulbs, the little round ones that most resemble acorns. We’ve tried deterrents, like hot pepper wax on the lights, but they don’t mind the spice! So, we just end up replacing wires and trying to hang them above the ground when possible. So far they have chewed through quite a few string—squirrels: 42, zoo: 0

Snowmazium is always really fun—we have UV lights that cast a magical icy glow over the whole place—and icicle streamers that our theater crew helps install—it’s a really cool transformation. Plus, we have seen some pretty epic snowball fights in here. It’s really rewarding seeing a space like this transform into a whole new look. 

This is sort of a secret workshop back here where we get all the lights organized and fix displays, but our real secret sauce for a successful WildLights? Goop. At least, that’s what we call it. This stuff protects rain or water from getting into the ends of the light strings. Obviously, electricity and water do not mix, so we seal each plug with a little bit of this goop to prevent water from getting inside. 

This is a spider box, it’s an electrical split for 250 volts, much like your circuit breaker at home. It acts as a surge protector for lights all over the zoo. We have about 12 of these units across the zoo during WildLights. Each night we have to turn on each circuit to light up the zoo. We have over 600,000 energy-efficient LED lights recreating wild animals and wild places. I have to say that it’s pretty satisfying to be able to flip a switch and transform the zoo into a dazzling light display.

This is our 6th WildLights season, and each year we’ve added new elements and displays. This year we have a few new light displays such as lemurs and warty pigs AND we have a really awesome glow wall! The glow wall is my favorite this year because we haven’t had anything like this before so it was fun to research and build. It’s also interactive which I really like. It’s always cool to see your guests become part of the event, I love the interactive element. It’s also neat to see guests come back year after year and notice the new light displays we’ve added.

We actually start the WildLights installation the day after Labor Day! I help coordinate the installation and work with two crews. We work with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees who give us a huge advantage because they are really good at thinking about lighting and thinking about how the audience will experience each display. They are also thinking about safety too, especially with so many treetop displays. Having this extra support really comes in handy since WildLights is such a big operation. Our second crew is made up of zoo staff whose job it is to wrap the trees and blanket the zoo in as much sparkling lights as we can. 

Everyone really puts a lot of creativity and effort into WildLights—it’s a ton of work and I couldn’t do it without the support of this rock solid crew.

Have you roasted a marshmallow at our cozy fire pit seats yet? Our exhibits crew cut these stumps from trees that had to be taken out or had fallen on grounds. Then our WildLights crew sanded them and coated them with a sealant to protect them from weather. I really like the way they’ve turned out and they are a really warm spot to take same chill time.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo
Thank you all for following along today. It was fun to show you the ins and outs of WildLights! 

Get your sparkle on by visiting www.zoo.org/wildlights. If you see me or any of the WildLights crew, please say hello! We always love to hear what you think of our latest light displays!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Grow with Yola, hello 2!

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Happy Birthday Yola!

Yola and her vine swing. Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.

A very gorilla birthday

Mischievous, playful, smart, curious, adorable and loved—that’s Yola. Today, November 20 is her second birthday. The 2-year-old gorilla won’t be getting a heart-shaped cake or streamers, she won’t be renting a bouncy house either—instead she’ll spend the day with her gorilla group, her family, doing what all 2-year-olds do best. She’ll push boundaries by stealing someone’s stick, she’ll snuggle up close to mom when she feels like it, she’ll play chase with her aunt Akenji, and undoubtedly she’ll investigate whatever Leo is up to—but most importantly she’ll be a gorilla.

Being a gorilla is important. Gorillas are endangered. We hear that word a lot, but let’s think about what that really means. Their habitat and natural range is shrinking every day, and while we’ve made some progress in providing them protection —most of the wild population lives outside these protected areas. Many gorillas live in areas strife with political turmoil, hazardous development and even war. They are endangered due to habitat destruction and human encroachment, they’re slaughtered as bushmeat and hunted by poachers. They also face infectious disease as human populations increasingly overlap with their habitat.

Yola, at 6 months, clings to mom, Nadiri. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo.
According to a 2010 United Nations report, conservationists believe gorillas may disappear from large parts of the Congo Basin by the mid-2020s. Yola will only be around 8-years-old by then. It’s hard to imagine a world without Yola. It’s even harder to image a world without wild gorillas. On her second birthday, let’s promise Yola we will stand up for her wild cousins and protect their future.

Woodland Park Zoo members, guests, staff and volunteers have shown an outpouring of love for Yola since she was born two years ago. We followed along with fingers crossed as dedicated keepers made sure Yola developed a bond with mom, Nadiri, so she would grow up gorilla. We all cheered as Leo, a male gorilla with a somewhat uncertain family history, stepped up to be a true silverback—protecting little Yola and showing affection for her. We watched in anticipation as the young gorilla was introduced to aunt Akenji and have delighted in watching them play together. We’ve watched as children play hide and seek with Yola. We celebrated her species on World Gorilla Day. It’s not hard to look into her eyes and feel your heart grow a little bigger, and for that we are all better off.

Yola at about 2-months-old. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo.

Yola, which means “firefly” in the African language Hausa was chosen because the baby gorilla became a spark that catalyzed and solidified the bonds within her gorilla group, and on her second birthday, it’s clear she has also sparked in all of us a stronger commitment to conservation.

Today we celebrate Yola with an update from her utterly devoted keepers and a promise to be a spark for building a sustainable future for all gorillas.

Yola at 2

Yola and a young guest share a moment. Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.
Gorilla keepers Stephanie Payne-Jacobs, Hugh Bailey, Rachel Vass, Judy Sievert and Traci Colwell and curators Kim Szawan and Pat Owen have been with Yola since her birth. They’ve watched her grow and seen her behavior develop and her character blossom. They’ve also been witness to just how much her presence has positively impacted her group—seeing Nadiri, Akenji and Leo become family.

Stephanie and Hugh share a few of their favorite recent moments with Yola:

It always makes me smile when Nadiri goes to retrieve Yola. Yola is usually laughing as she pretends to "struggle" with Nadiri as if to say no to her mom and not come to breakfast or bed. Even though Nadiri usually gets her way (mom knows best), Yola is always testing the boundaries and never passes up an opportunity for play.

There are so many great memories of Yola’s first 2 years, capping with the most recent bouts of play wrestling on exhibit with Akenji and, just yesterday, repeatedly poking Leo in the behind, which caused him to push her away with his foot as he was trying to rest.

I like when she shows her mischievous/curious and playful side the most—when she sits next to Leo while he gets his daily hand treatment and cleaning and plays with the physical rehab props we use with him. Or when she runs past Akenji from a safe distance and playfully tags her. When she squeezes into the door ahead of her mom and swipes the bowl of applesauce her mom gets in the evening—rushing off to eat it in an area that Nadiri cannot easily get to. 

In the evenings, she becomes a wild child and swings and somersaults—being an overly-energetic 2-year-old when we’re trying to feed her dinner. She’ll grab a piece of food in one hand and set off for a swing, eating as she goes.

When she tries to elude her mom’s embrace when we’re shifting them around for meals. (Nadiri knows that she needs to wrangle her baby and shift with her, which Yola doesn’t always want to do.) Yola wants to be with Nadiri and would be upset if we shifted Nadiri away, but she loves the thrill of escaping her mom’s arms and running off… much like any toddler.

We’re just all so glad that she seems to be equally stimulated by her group members and the public at the viewing windows. She seems to genuinely find enjoyment engaging with the kids that come to see her, more so than the adults.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo.
Keepers tell us that just like any 2-year-old she isn’t shy about showing her preferences either, one of which is tossing unwanted food items out of her room, towards her keepers. It’s usually a raw carrot or a cucumber chunk, but they say even flying vegetables are pretty adorable when it’s coming from Yola!

Happy birthday Yola! Hope year 2 is full of your favorite fruits, lots of play time and plenty of treetop adventures.

What you can do for gorillas

Yola is at the center of her gorilla family. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo.

All gorillas are threatened by habitat loss, wildlife trade, hunting, disease and human conflict. Critically endangered and losing ground every day in the wild, gorillas need our help.

Recycle cell phones for gorillas

Come recycle your handheld electronics with us through ECO-CELL to preserve gorilla habitat. By reclaiming the minerals in your electronics and diverting them from landfills, we can reduce demand for mining in gorilla habitat. 

How: Bring any old cellphones, MP3 players, or tablets hanging around your house to the zoo and drop them off at our ECO-CELL station at Woodland Park Zoo's West Membership.

Funds generated from recycled electronics will go toward our Mbeli Bai Gorilla Project that works to protect gorilla families like Yola’s in the Republic of Congo. 

Buy sustainable wood

By purchasing FSC-certified forest products, you can help protect gorilla habitat by encouraging sustainable forestry and curbing illegal logging. Without the FSC label, your timber might come from illegal or destructive sources in central Africa. Do the right thing and support companies that are FSC certified.

Adopt a ZooParent gorilla

ZooParent adoptions are the perfect gift for budding conservationists. Your ZooParent adoption helps us provide exceptional care for all of Woodland Park Zoo's amazing animals. Plus, your support contributes to our conservation efforts at the zoo and around the world.

Visit the zoo

Every visit to Woodland Park Zoo helps support conservation efforts like our Wildlife Survival Fund project, the Mbeli Bai Study. The study researches the social organization and behaviors of more than 450 lowland gorillas living in the Republic of Congo, providing the scientific basis for conservation strategies.

Yola learning the ropes earlier this year. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sunbittern chick makes fluffy debut

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

The cutest, fluffiest little sunbittern chick hatched recently in the Tropical Rain Forest (TRF) canopy!  

Hello, little one!
At  two or three weeks old, it can already be seen stretching its legs and its trademark long, thin neck around the nest. If you are willing to crane your own neck a bit, you can get a good view!

Camouflage fluff keeps baby hidden in the nest.
Sunbitterns typically look for dips in tree branches to lay their eggs, lining the nests with mud, moss, plant fibers, and other soft materials. Females lay between one and two eggs, and both sexes share the nest guarding, incubation, and brooding duties.

Once the egg(s) hatches, usually in about thirty days, the parents will continue to share feeding and brooding duties.

A lesson in how to gulp grubs makes for a picture perfect image.
Sticking close to mom, for now.
Our chick fledged the nest recently and its downy plumage is already beginning to be replaced with adult feathers. Those same feathers will result in the sunbittern’s signature plumage, which when displayed with spread wings will appear to be a large, colorful set of eyes. The birds use the impressive display for courtship, and to deter potential threats and predators. 

The chick is already showing the beautiful linear patterns of black, grey and brown.
It’s been four years since our last sunbittern chick hatched and hand-reared by keeper staff. That same bird, a female, is now the mother of our newest chick !

Feed me! The chick will demand lots of snacks from its parents as it grows.
Once our new chick is grown and independent, its final home will be determined by the Species Survival Plan for sunbitterns, which Woodland Park Zoo coordinates for accredited conservation zoos nationally.

But until then, pay a visit to the TRF canopy and be sure to look up!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Home Sweet Home Thanks to Seattle Park District Funds

Posted by Kizz Prusia, Communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo

There really is no place like home. Home is where we rest, relax and where we go to recharge. For our residents—the 1,200 animals who call Woodland Park Zoo home— home is where they snooze, play, explore and snack.

Seeing Woodland Park Zoo as a home is crucial to how we care for our animals—and just like your home—the zoo needs improvement from time to time to stay in top condition.

We are extremely grateful to Seattle voters for passing the Seattle Park District ballot measure nearly three years ago. The funding provided by the Park District—about $1.8 million a year—goes toward maintaining our dens, trees, caves, hot rocks, roofs and watering holes.

With this funding, we are able to update old parts of the zoo and keep new parts well-maintained. We consider this “home improvement” to also be preventative maintenance. We’d like to highlight a couple of important projects we have done around the zoo this year.  

Keep warm, keep well 

Some of our favorite memories are made around warmth. Snuggled up under blankets, cozy and sharing the heat with people we love. Baby gorilla Yola and mom Nadiri share the warmth with each other in the gorilla den they call home.

The gorilla dens at the zoo just got a major upgrade. With the design and final installation of a new air-handling and heating system, the gorillas will be cozy for months to come. These additions were completed at the end of September. This type of improvement allows the zoo to continue to provide excellent welfare just in time for the winter months. Thanks to Seattle Park District funding for making it possible to stay cozy. 

Walk this way

The zoo’s Northern Trail Boardwalk replacement project has begun! With Seattle Park District funding, Woodland Park Zoo will be able to entirely replace the original wood structure which has stood since 1993.

The Northern Trail mimics the habitat of Alaska’s tundra and taiga region and features animals that make this area their home including: brown bears, Roosevelt elk, river otters, snowy owls, mountain goat and Steller’s sea eagles. The new design was completed in June of 2017, followed by construction, which will continue throughout the end of the year. The new boardwalk leading in and out of the area will make it easier for guests to visit the animals and was made possible by Park District funding.

Could I trouble you for some browse?

When we are not busy making changes for home improvement and preventative maintenance we are busy sharing meals with those we love. At the zoo meals for several animals is browse—branches, twigs, and other forms of vegetation—and is typically collected by the horticulture team. 

This past month the zoo’s Horticulture team received a helping hand from City of Seattle Parks and Recreation. After hearing from the zoo, Parks promptly responded and helped the zoo collect willow and alder to be shared by #seattlestallestdad Dave. In all, two truckloads of browse were dumped at the giraffe barn.

Although there is an existing connection to Parks through the Seattle Parks District, this food gathering was a unique experience. This was the first joint collection of browse between Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Parks for Dave. We plan on continuing this collection work together moving forward.

We are very thankful to Seattle voters and Seattle Parks for helping us make the zoo a better home for all of our animals! 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Welcome Joy and Scarlet, new maned wolves

Posted by Alissa Wolken, Woodland Park Zoo
Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo

We have some new long-legged creatures to introduce you to! We welcomed two female maned wolves, sisters Joy and Scarlet, from the Little Rock Zoo in mid-October. You can now visit them at their exhibit in the zoo’s Wildlife Survival Zone.

Neither a fox nor a wolf, Chrysocyon is a species all its own with stilt-like legs, a pointed muzzle, an impressive red coat and dark mane along the back.
At home in the grasslands and scrub forest of central South America, these crepuscular canines roam the marshes and woodlands at dawn and dusk in search of fruit, small mammals, birds, eggs and invertebrates. 

The arrival of Joy and Scarlet followed the departure of the our sole maned wolf, Vinny. Vinny was recommended to be sent to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center to be paired with a female for breeding under the maned wolf Species Survival Plan, explains Shawn Pedersen, a collection manager at Woodland Park Zoo. Little Rock Zoo was looking for a home for their two young females, so we were able to move Joy and Scarlet here.

Since arriving in mid-October, the nearly 1-year-old sisters (born December 21, 2016) are settling into their new home quite well. “These two are young, playful and are adjusting well to their new surroundings,” says Pedersen. “Joy and Scarlet are relaxed around people; they even take their food gently from the zookeepers.” Some of the girls’ favorite foods include any meat or prey items, dry kibble and bananas; one of their least favorite foods is tomatoes. Other things the girls have in common, “they love chasing sprinklers and they seem to be avid hunters.”

Maned wolves aren’t as vocal as other wild dogs; instead they use their pungent urine as a clear form of communication.
In their short time at Woodland Park Zoo, Joy and Scarlet’s animal care team has also picked up on physical and behavioral traits that individualize the girls. “Joy is the dominant and more aloof wolf,” said Pedersen. “Scarlet is much less shy around people and the more playful of the two. Physically, the biggest difference seems to be the tips of their ears. Though subtle, Scarlet's ears have more of a flattish top.”

Maned wolves are large canids that have fox-like characteristics, an impressive red coat, large ears, and stilt-like legs, adapted for living in the grasslands and scrub forest of central South America, from Brazil to the dry shrub forests of Paraguay and northern Argentina.

A maned wolf can tell a lot by sniffing another’s scent mark. Often used as a means of marking territory, the strong “perfume” can act as a warning to other maned wolves up to a mile away.
In the wild, the gentle and timid maned wolves are primarily solitary, although a breeding pair usually remains monogamous and shares the same territory. Maned wolves are listed as near threatened due to loss of habitat by encroaching human populations, the introduction of certain diseases and hunting for their body parts, believed to have medicinal healing powers. Only about 13,000 remain in the wild.

Curious and always checking out the scents in their new digs.
Accredited zoos are responding to species decline and are leading the way in preserving animal populations, including maned wolves. Conservation breeding of threatened and endangered animals is conducted through Species Survival Plans (SSP), conservation breeding programs coordinated through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Woodland Park Zoo participates in 108 SSPs. 

Testing out Pumpkin Bash treats in late October.