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Friday, July 30, 2010

Teens release endangered turtles into wild

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Zoo Corps teen interns Garrett Brenden and Ariel Thompson stood at the edge of a pond in a south Puget Sound protected wildlife area yesterday and released from their hands something precious…hope for the endangered western pond turtle.

Garrett (shown above) and Ariel have been working alongside zookeepers to raise 76 western pond turtles behind the scenes at the zoo as part of a headstart program to recover their wild population. Turtle hatchlings are collected from the wild then raised here until they are around 2 ounces—large enough to escape the mouths of bullfrogs and large-mouth bass—giving them an edge on surviving in the wild.
Each summer, we take trips to several protected wildlife areas and release these headstarted turtles back into the wild where we continue to monitor them. Since starting the program in 1991, we’ve seen the population of western pond turtles grow from a dangerously low 150 to now 1,500—a positive sign that this collaborative recovery effort is critical in helping these little creatures make a comeback. Here is a look at yesterday's release with Garrett and Ariel along with Woodland Park Zoo and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff:

“It was wonderful to come into this project almost 20 years after it started because not only can we see the tremendous progress it has made, but also imagine the future impact the newly released turtles will have on this project after we leave,” said Ariel, shown below getting ready to release one of the turtles.

There’s a powerful moment that happens when you open your hand and hear the first plop of the turtle’s legs reaching the water, heading into its new life filled with challenges yet also hope…for the individuals learning to survive and breed in the wild, and for a species coming back from the brink. Congratulations to Garrett and Ariel for all their hard work leading up to that moment and for helping to build a future for this species.

The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is a part of Woodland Park Zoo’s Partners for Wildlife conservation initiative, an expansion of the zoo’s efforts and resources in proven wildlife conservation projects. The zoo currently partners with 37 field conservation projects in more than 50 countries around the world. The Zoo Corps teen volunteer program gives motivated teens from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to develop useful skills, increase their knowledge of animals and habitats, and expand their conservation awareness, in a supportive, fun learning environment. If you think this experience may be right for the budding scientist or young nature lover in your life, bookmark this page and look for the next round of applications available later this year.

Photos by Ryan Hawk and Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thanks Top Ten Toys

Posted by: Jim Bennett, Marketing

Zoomazium, our indoor, nature play space, serves thousands of kids every year, so our toys in there take quite a beating! To best serve our littlest zoo goers, we needed to replenish Zoomazium with quality, durable toys and local merchants Top Ten Toys answered the call to help us out. We are grateful to owner Allen Rickert and his staff who generously worked with Zoomazium Program Coordinator Kristi Dodds to find just the right selection of toys to donate to the zoo…

Families can now enjoy these new toys at Zoomazium during zoo hours. For a bigger selection, head to Top Ten Toys just north of the zoo in the downtown Greenwood business district at 104 N. 85th Street. Thanks Top Ten Toys!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

10 million video views and counting

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

We’ve been watching the counter on our YouTube channel for the last few days waiting for the magical moment, and it’s finally here—we’ve reached 10 million video views!

It all started back in 2006 when we launched our YouTube channel and one of our very first videos, “Cute Baby Tiger,” remains our most popular video to date:

Now more than 60 videos later, we want to take the time to thank you all for watching and sharing our stories about the amazing animals at Woodland Park Zoo and the work we do to provide excellent animal care, conserve animals and habitats around the world, and provide engaging, educational experiences. We could not have done it without you!

What animal or zoo topic would you like to see a video on next?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Keeper of the Year

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Yesterday concluded National Zookeeper Week—a time to recognize and thank all the amazing keepers here at Woodland Park Zoo and beyond. They work hard every day to care for and enrich the lives of zoo animals, help to save and protect their wild counterparts, and connect with zoo visitors during their talks and public programs inspiring them to learn, care and act on behalf of wildlife everywhere.

At our annual zookeeper week lunch, curator Nancy Hawkes announced the winner of the 2010 Keeper of the Year award—John Samaras. If you are a regular zoo blog reader, you have seen glimpses of John in our photos of the penguin chicks behind the scenes. That’s just one part of the fascinating and rewarding work he does at the zoo.

What is it like to be a zookeeper? Read our Q&A with John:

1.) How long have you been a zookeeper? When did you start working at Woodland Park Zoo?
I started in the zoo field in 1997 in maintenance at the Akron Zoo and became a keeper at the beginning of 1998. After working there I went on to Audubon Zoo, to Sylvan Heights Waterfowl, to PAWS Wildlife Center and then to Woodland Park in the spring of 2009.

2.) Why did you decide to become a zookeeper?
Actually, I would say I entered the field on a non-traditional route. I had a fascination with animals and insects when I was very young. I was always outside catching bugs and watching animals. I always felt a connection with the natural world and had always wanted to make a difference but I didn't know how.

That was until I saw the ad for a maintenance worker position at my local zoo and it just clicked. I figured if I could get hired into maintenance then I could eventually work my way into animal care. So I worked in maintenance for six months, then got hired as a part time keeper for three months and then full time after that.

3.) What animals do you care for at the zoo?
Here at the zoo, my time is split pretty evenly between the penguins and the birds in the Tropical Rainforest exhibit.

4.) What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
My job is rewarding in several ways. Probably most rewarding is having the privilege to be so close to such amazing animals and to learn from them and know that they are healthy and well taken care of. When you take care of a group of animals you build relationships with them and they become like members of your family. Having them accept you into their flock, colony, herd, etc. and having that certain level of trust is a great feeling. We have a great staff of zookeepers here at Woodland Park Zoo that is extremely dedicated to the animals in our care and it's a great environment to work in. Another rewarding aspect of the job is working for an organization like WPZ that is made up of a large, diverse group of people all working together for a common good—to make our zoo the best it can be and exhibit our animals in way the public can appreciate them and be inspired to do their part to help them.

5.) What advice would you give to aspiring zookeepers?
My advice to aspiring zookeepers is to do well in school and focus on science related classes. Most zoos are looking for someone with a biology or zoology degree, as well as experience. Practical experience is very important. Whether it's a job working for a vet hospital, on a farm, or volunteering at a zoo or wildlife center, anything that gives you hands-on experience and is something you can use to build your resume is important. A lot of keepers started out as volunteers or interns, worked hard and made a good impression, and then progressed from there. Another option is attending a "teaching zoo," like Sante Fe in Gainesville, Florida. It's like going to college for a two year degree in zookeeping where you get to learn in the classroom and from doing the actual work.

Photos by Bruce Bohmke, Hannah Letinich and Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tawny frogmouth hatches

Posted by: Mark Myers, Curator

This tiny, white puffball is a tawny frogmouth chick that hatched at the zoo on July 11. When our first ever tawny frogmouth chick hatched last year, internet users raged in debate whether it looked more like a furby, a cottonball, or a tribble, but it’s actually a nocturnal bird native to Australia and Tasmania. Seen here at five days old, the chick still sports downy feathers, but soon it will start to acquire its flight feathers and darker contour plumage that acts as camouflage, blending into the color and texture of tree bark.

In the chick’s first week, keepers provided supplemental feedings to ensure good weight gain:

Under its parents’ attentive care behind the scenes at the zoo, the chick is now gaining 15-20% of its body weight daily so supplemental feedings are no longer required. The parents and hatchling will remain off public exhibit to allow staff to monitor parental care and ensure regular feedings by the parents.

The hatching is significant for the zoo population in North America. This is only the second tawny frogmouth chick ever hatched at Woodland Park Zoo and one of only nine frogmouth hatchings in four zoos in North America this year.

Photos by Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo. Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Growing food for the animals

Posted by: Kathryn Owen, Education

When it comes to enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables, what could be better than being able to pluck a ripe tomato or crisp head of lettuce out of your very own garden? For Woodland Park Zoo’s gorilla troops, fresh-off-the-vine produce is just that accessible. In the winter they may be dining on evergreen elaeagnus leaves, and in the summer they may be stuffing themselves with grape leaves and tender vines.

A wide variety of animals at the zoo enjoy fresh produce from the zoo’s browse program, which provides fresh leaves, stems and flowers for gorillas, red pandas, colobus monkeys, orangutans, elephants, tree kangaroos and many others. You and I use the term “browse” to mean sampling and exploring—like browsing the shelves of a bookstore in search of something appealing. But the term also refers to the plant materials eaten by browsers—that is, herbivores or plant-eaters that eat the leaves, stems and flowers right off the tree or bush instead of grazing on the ground.

The zoo’s supply of fresh browse comes from three sources. Some plants are grown right in the exhibit, where the animals can nibble on them whenever they want, like when there are fresh shoots on a branch, or delectable flowers are in bloom. The regular pruning and maintenance that our hardworking horticulture crew conducts is another major source of browse, and a few of the desired plants are also grown in small gardens scattered around zoo grounds.

Many Northwest native plants are on the list of approved browse, from alder and birch to Douglas fir and cotoneaster. And if you’ve ever participated in one of the twice-daily giraffe feeding experiences during the summer months, you’ve likely seen the zoo’s giraffes wrapping their tongues around fresh branches of maple or willow to strip off the leaves.

Along with the nutritional benefits, browse provides animals with opportunities to experience different smells, textures and tastes. It's all part of our ongoing effort to feed our animals the highest quality and most nutritious food while shrinking our carbon footprint by reducing our “food miles,” or the distance that food needs to travel.

Nibbling on fern fronds or munching the bark from a birch may not appeal to you, but whatever you do plant on your porch, garden or P-patch plot this summer, enjoy!

Photos by Ryan Hawk and Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Android app now available

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Since we launched the first-of-its-kind GPS-enabled zoo iPhone app back in October 2009, we've received many requests for an Android version. We've been working hard the last few months with our partners at AVAI Mobile Solutions, and the Android version is finally here and ready to download!
The app functions the same as the iPhone version with useful features to help plan your trip and enhance your visit on grounds, including:

- GPS-enabled zoo map with “Near Me” recommendations for animal exhibits, play areas, concession stands and restrooms
- daily schedule of zoo activities including zookeeper talks and children’s programs
- educational animal fact sheets with multimedia including video, photo and sound files
- special promotional offers redeemable at concession stands
- zoo news and happenings
- easy access to Facebook and Twitter so you can share your zoo experience

To see the mobile app in action (demonstrated on an iPhone), watch this quick intro video:

The mobile app costs just 99 cents and the proceeds from sales go toward the zoo’s animal care, education, conservation and operations costs that allow the zoo to care for more than 1,000 animals representing 300 species, and support 37 field conservation programs in 50 countries worldwide. To download, just search for "Woodland Park Zoo" in your mobile app store.

Have any ideas for additional features you'd like to see on the app? Let us know! And if you find a particularly useful feature in the app or a preferred way of utilizing it on grounds, share your insight with other zoo visitors on our Zoo Visitor Tips page.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jungle Party a roaring success

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

We’re still winding down from our 34th annual Jungle Party, held last Friday on the zoo’s North Meadow with nearly a thousand zoo supporters in attendance. What a party!

Even in the heat, we enjoyed dining al fresco with up-close animal encounters and tours, while the graceful Versatile Arts aerialists entertained.

This year’s theme, “Big Claws, Big Cause,” commemorated the felines living at the zoo such as snow leopards, jaguars and Sumatran tigers. And our guests must have been inspired by the theme, because some ferocious bidding on our amazing auction items helped bring our fundraising total to $1.7 million—exceeding our goal by $300,000!

Jungle Partiers were especially moved by the animal care focus of our Fund-Our-Future effort this year, with a record-breaking $832,000 (of the $1.7 million raised) dedicated to the fund which will help us support the zoo’s exceptional animal and veterinary care and exhibit upgrades. The funds will go towards important initiatives like modernizing all animal diets, upgrading medical equipment and partnering with other communities around the world to help prevent animal-to-human emergent disease.

Big, big thanks to the community for helping to make Jungle Party such a roaring success, and to our loyal members and visitors who help support the zoo every day.

Photos by Ryan Hawk and Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Penguin chicks debut, youngest needs name

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Our five Humboldt penguin chicks have joined the adult colony and can now be viewed on exhibit during zoo hours. To get them used to being in the water before they debuted, the chicks had round-the-clock access to a shallow pool behind the scenes at the exhibit where they could practice floating and swimming in a more controlled and less crowded environment. See them in action here…

The youngest of the chicks, a male hatched to parents Diego and Radar on April 25, is in need of a name and we’re asking our online fans to help.

Fans can submit name suggestions for the chick to the wall of our Facebook page beginning July 7 through July 8, noon PST. To honor the Humboldt penguin’s Chilean and Peruvian native range, fans are encouraged to submit Spanish-language names. Penguin keepers will select their three favorite names from the submissions, and fans will then vote on July 9 on the zoo’s Facebook page for their top pick. So start thinking up some name ideas tonight!

Photo and video by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Meerkats get names

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

You cast the votes, we tallied (for hours and hours!), and it’s decided. Today we revealed the names you selected for our new mob of four female and four male meerkats—though the meerkats were far more interested in the watermelon enrichment they received as part of our Red, White & Zoo celebration!

The winning names, in order of most votes received:
ZIMBA (Zambian town)
NATA (southern African river)
MOLOPO (southern African river)
KIWANO (Kalahari fruit)
KALAHARI (African desert)
DINAWA (“beans” in Tswana)
ACACIA (African tree)
NGAMI (lake in Botswana)

We received more than 2,600 ballots through our naming contest presented by U.S. Bank and The Seattle Times that ran from June 1-June 15. You had the chance to select up to eight of your favorite names from 16 choices that reflected the meerkats’ native southern African habitat. We counted more than 16,600 individual votes in total for the different names!

Big thanks to you all for voting! As a reward, we present you with meerkat melon mania…

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo. Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.