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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Coexisting with Carnivores: Recent Events

Editor’s note: Morgan Jensen is a high school senior at Bear Creek High School in Redmond, Washington. Morgan completed his graduating Capstone project as a community affairs intern at Woodland Park Zoo. Next month, he is heading to South Carolina, where he'll begin college at The Citadel. Morgan spots carnivores often in his backyard in east King County, and thinks it's pretty cool.

Posted by Morgan Jensen, Community Affairs Intern

The City of Issaquah and Woodland Park Zoo have something in common: each provide an opportunity to see many great animals up close. Surrounded on three sides by forested mountains and Lake Sammamish to the north, the Issaquah area is also home to abundant wildlife, including some of Washington’s most charismatic carnivores: black bears, coyotes, bobcats, and cougars. While sharing space with these animals has potential to lead to conflict, residents can take many actions to ensure a peaceful coexistence with carnivores. This is where the zoo steps in.

Photo of black bear by @miguelb via Flickr

Coexisting with Carnivores, a Woodland Park Zoo and City of Issaquah collaboration, is an exciting program providing Issaquah residents with opportunities to appreciate these local creatures, as well as practices that make coexistence easier—both for people living in the community, and the animals that call Issaquah home.

In early May, residents gathered at two community launch events, one at Blakely Hall in the Issaquah Highlands and one at the Rogue Ales Issaquah Brewhouse. Residents shared their feelings about living with carnivores. The majority thought it was ‘pretty cool’ that they live in a place where they may see a bear in their front yard. One resident wrote, “I enjoy seeing them. It is always a good surprise.” Another said, “I feel grateful because I live where I have the opportunity to see beautiful carnivores and other wildlife.” Though not everyone in the community thinks living with these animals is such a positive experience. For example, one resident wrote “I feel scared [to live with carnivores] because of my small dogs”, while another stated, “One thing I sometimes worry about is raccoons killing cats and chickens.” Concern for small pets was the most common worry voiced during the Coexisting with Carnivores events.

Particiapnts check out some Pacific Northwest biofacts.
As residents learned, a majority of these fears can be avoided with practices such as putting garbage cans out the morning of pick up rather than the night before, and keeping pets inside at night. Those who attended the community event tried out a wildlife-resistant trashcan. The same can has been tested by our very own grizzly bears, who have never been able to open it, despite the delicious salmon smell coming from a fishy treat left inside the can by their keepers (Don’t worry, the bears still received a fish for their participation). Other engagement stations included a carnivore tracking activity complete with kinetic sand, carnivore pelts and skulls, a camera trap matching activity, information from waste management company Recology, and an interactive carnivore map. University of Washington Master’s candidate and carnivore expert, Michael Havrda, joined with camera trap photos and data about local carnivores.

Coexisting with Carnivores will continue with future events, including talks by some of Washington’s best and brightest carnivore experts. The zoo will also partner with the City of Issaquah Parks Department to help volunteers conduct camera trapping in the region, to learn more about the carnivores that live in and near Issaquah. Residents will also have the opportunity to join community groups whose goal is to create and implement solutions to help prevent carnivore conflicts in their neighborhoods.

Guests take a look at some of the camera trap photos collected from nearby locations.
Programs like Coexisting with Carnivores allow community members to determine which are the most important problems that face their community, and create solutions that meet a community’s specific needs. As this program develops, Woodland Park Zoo and the City of Issaquah hope that residents will feel empowered to address some of the most difficult issues that come with living alongside these local critters.  

To learn more, please visit: www.zoo.org/coexisting

Friday, June 8, 2018

Meet Papú, the newest zoo ambassador-in-training

Posted by: Elizabeth Bacher, Staff Writer

Meet Papú, our newest and smallest ambassador-in-training.
 Hello Papú! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo
Ambassador animals have an important role at Woodland Park Zoo—they allow visitors to have up-close experiences and serve as catalysts for educating about their species. By interacting with them, we learn more about their wild cousins. We learn more about ourselves and our impacts on the ecosystem. We are moved to protect them and the wild spaces they represent. Simply put, we love them and they inspire us to make conservation a priority in our lives. It’s a big responsibility.

What does it take to become an ambassador—to fulfill such an important role connecting people to wildlife? The answers to these big questions can often be found in the littlest places—and in this case, an egg barely the size of a ping-pong ball. The tiny egg came to Woodland Park Zoo from Sacramento Zoo, where its parents were not able to incubate it.

Day 0. This egg, barely the size of a ping-pong ball came to Woodland Park Zoo from Sacramento Zoo, where parents were not able to incubate it. Photo by Susan Burchardt/Woodland Park Zoo
On April 17, a feisty little bird pipped its way out of that egg. Meet Papú, a male. His name, which is pronounced like paw-POO, with emphasis on the second syllable, means “burrowing owl” in the dialect of the Yakama tribes of Eastern Washington and it is also the name of his species. Little Papú, who also goes by the nickname Pippin, was barely a few inches long, covered in white downy plumage, and like all birds at hatching, his eyes were not open yet.

Barely 2 days old and only inches long, Papú rests in the hands of one of his dedicated keepers. Photo by Susan Burchardt/Woodland Park Zoo
Right away, he captured the hearts of the dedicated animal keepers who will feed him, raise him, train with him throughout his life, and generally just let him become his best little owl-self. He is quickly capturing our hearts too.

Papú and animal keeper, Susan. Photo by Susan Burchardt/Woodland Park Zoo
Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are small, long-legged owls found throughout open landscapes of North and South America. These tiny predators—they’re only 8 to 11 inches tall and weigh between 5 to 8 ounces when fully grown—can be found in grasslands, rangelands and throughout the Great Plains.

When fully grown, an adult burrowing owl has mottled brown and white plumage with yellow eyes and a yellow bill. Photo by Karen Riesz via Flickr, Creative Commons.
They nest and roost in underground burrows that might have been dug out by prairie dogs or ground squirrels, although they can create their own burrows if needed. Unlike most owls, burrowing owls are often active during the day, doing most of their hunting for beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, mice and small lizards between dusk and dawn. The burrowing owl is endangered in Canada and threatened in Mexico. Although still common in much of the U.S., its population numbers are in decline and they are listed as threatened in several states due to the eradication of prairie dogs and loss of habitat.

Day 15. Papú’s eyes are open now so he (and we) can see his long legs! Evolving in open grasslands as opposed to forests, allowed the burrowing owl to develop longer limbs that enable it to sprint, as well as fly, when hunting. Photo by Susan Burchardt/Woodland Park Zoo
Over the next weeks and months, we’ll follow Papú as he grows and bonds with his keepers. We’ll provide lots of updates on what he’s learning and what we’re learning from him. For now, his education involves short trips outside (in the arms of one of his keepers) mixed with lots of exploring around the zoo’s raptor barn. Every day he spends time bonding with his keepers as he exercises and learns to coordinate those long burrowing owl legs.

Day 31. A trip outside in the arms of one of his keepers. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo
His curiosity is rewarded with lots of little breaks for tasty cricket snacks—a burrowing owl favorite.
He’s 7 weeks old now, and already adult-size, although he still has some of the downy plumage of a chick. Most baby birds are the same size as their parents by the time they’re ready to leave the nest—and Papú is just at that age. Adult feathers, which are mottled brown and white, are already starting to grow in, including those all-important flight feathers.

Day 43. Six weeks old now, Papú is starting to get some adult feathers and is exercising his wings as his flight muscles develop. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo
At this point, his flights are limited to mostly practice take-offs and soft, but not always graceful, landings on his keepers’ laps or the ground. Within another week or so, he will probably take his first real flight, and by early autumn Papú will have his adult plumage and his eyes and beak will start turning yellow.

 Papú in his cozy basket. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo
In the coming months, he’ll work with his keepers—they are his family—to master the most important role of being an ambassador animal: meeting and greeting zoo guests. We'll check in on his progress as he grows, but for now, he’s just a cute and curious young owlet. Welcome to the world, little one!

Papú and his proud Animal Keeper, Susan. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Papú enjoys an afternoon head rub. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
We’re already in love with you!