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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tree roo joey emerges fully from pouch

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Our Matschie’s tree kangaroo joey is growing up fast, so we wanted to share some new photos and video and fill you all in on how it is getting along in its behind-the-scenes exhibit.

Now eight months old, the joey has begun to leave its mother’s pouch for short bursts, doing a little exploring and then retreating back to the pouch for naps.

We do not know the sex of the joey yet so it does not yet have a name.

The joey is mostly eating leaves and munches on greens including kale, romaine and celery. Its mother, Elanna, is not so great at sharing, so the joey has learned to go after the food it wants for itself.

Elanna and joey are in a behind the scenes exhibit to give them the quiet and comfort this sensitive species requires, especially since Elanna is a first time mother. We’re using cameras and students are assisting us with observations so we can study the interactions between the mother and joey and keep a close eye on their progress.

Woodland Park Zoo is home to the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program that is working to protect the endangered tree kangaroo and help maintain the unique biodiversity of its native Papua New Guinea in balance with the culture and needs of human communities. Our scientists recently returned from Papua New Guinea with some very exciting news—we’re bringing coffee from the remote YUS region of Papua New Guinea to the Seattle market to help build economic opportunities for the local people of PNG who have pledged their own land to conservation. We’ll be sharing updates on that coffee project soon. Drink coffee, save tree kangaroos--you can't beat that!

Video: Footage from keepercam, produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Bruce Beehler/Conservation International.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rescued raptors receive special gifts

Posted by: Janel Kempf, Education and Kirsten Pisto, Communications

A few weeks ago, Woodland Park Zoo education specialist Janel Kempf and co-workers went to the West Seattle Library to present the zoo’s Little Critters animal encounter program to a group of children, as part of the zoo’s community outreach.
Janel Kempf holding peregrine falcon D1. Photo by Kyle Doane/Woodland Park Zoo.

Before the show started, a little girl and her mom came up to Janel, holding out a bundle of brightly wrapped tissue paper.
Gifts for the raptors. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

When the team opened the gifts they discovered that the package contained some very thoughtful items for our raptors!

It turns out the four-year-old girl had come to the zoo’s raptor program at the Columbia Library a few weeks before, and had been very moved by the plight of our rescued raptors including Chouette, the northern saw-whet owl. Chouette came to us after she was struck by a vehicle while bug-hunting in the light of a street light, having suffered a concussion and an open fracture of her left wing. Her wing will never fully recover and she is now essentially flightless, so we have given her a home here at the zoo to ensure she gets the food and shelter she would struggle to get for herself in the wild.
Chouette hanging out on her perch at Woodland Park Zoo’s Raptor Center. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo. 

The little girl’s gifts for Chouette and our other rescued birds included:

- A pair of the girl's outgrown shoes: The girl felt very hopeful that one day our injured birds would be able to fly again, but if they couldn’t fly at least they'd be comfortable walking around with the help of the girl’s tennis shoes.
- Colorful strips of fabric: These were to act as bandages for the birds’ injuries
- A sheaf of beautiful pictures: The girl had drawn these pictures to give the birds something pretty to look at while they recovered.
Artwork for the raptors. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Janel thanked the girl profusely on the birds' behalf, and when she returned to the Raptor Center at Woodland Park Zoo, Janel made sure to show our rescued raptors their wonderful gifts.
Outgrown shoes waiting for the raptors in their indoor residence. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The raptor keepers placed the donated shoes right next to the indoor space of D1, our rescued peregrine falcon who came to live with us after a head injury left her unable to survive on her own in the wild.
D1, Woodland Park Zoo’s 14-year-old peregrine falcon. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

One of the most powerful outcomes of our animal outreach programs is the empathy towards wildlife that we see develop in even the youngest children who participate in these up close experiences. This one girl showed us how a chance to connect with nature can be inspiring, motivating, and bring out the best in us. The keepers and volunteers who work in the Raptor Center keep the little girl’s pictures and bandages out in the office to remind them of the generosity even our youngest are capable of—a sign of hope for the future of wildlife in the hands of the next generation of conservation stewards.
Keeper Gretchen Albrecht and a spectacled owl get up close with visitors. Photo by Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo. 

Chouette, D1 and many other animals continue to serve as ambassadors through our outreach and school programs, and zoo visitors can connect with our raptors up close at our Raptor Center and free flight programs. We hope you’ll take the opportunity to meet our raptors and the keepers who care for them, and see what that connection inspires in you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vultures: Nature’s clean-up crew

Posted by: Susan Burchardt, Raptor Keeper

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

Vultures are often depicted as harbingers of death, yet many vulture populations face threats of their own with some species facing extinction. We’re celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day on September 3 to help zoo visitors look past the vultures’ bad reputation and highlight their vital ecological niche as nature’s clean-up crew.
California condor at San Diego Zoo. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Snowmanradio.

Vultures are scavenging birds that help recycle and prevent the spread of disease. But serving as a clean-up crew by feeding on carrion was partially what led to the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus)—a New World vulture—dipping down to a dismally low population of just 22 birds in the 1980s. The condors were dying from feeding on lead-poisoned carcasses, and poaching and habitat destruction compounded the problem. Zoos came together with a conservation plan in the 1990s to breed and release these birds into the wild, and offer them lead-free carcasses on which they could safely dine. And while condor numbers have bounded back now to a population of at least 399 condors living in California, Arizona, Mexico and in the captive breeding program, vultures around the world continue to face threats.
Long-billed vulture. Photo by Ravi Vaidyanathan.

Today three species of vulture in Asia are facing a similarly precipitous decline, this time due to consumption of the drug diclofenac, which was used as an anti-inflammatory in cattle until it was banned in several countries in 2006. Over the previous ten years the Long-billed Vulture, the Slender-billed Vulture and the Oriental White-backed Vulture populations have fallen drastically by 97-99%.
Modoc at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo.

At Woodland Park Zoo, you’ve probably met our charismatic turkey vulture, Modoc. The turkey vulture ranges from southern Canada to South America. Their numbers declined in the 1950s and 1960s, most likely due to the mistaken belief that they spread diseases. Shooting and poisoned baits often targeted these useful birds. The good news is that populations have increased in recent years, due to more education that has led to less persecution for the birds and safer use of pesticides.
Modoc spreading his wings at the zoo’s Raptor Center. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

International Vulture Awareness Day is our chance to continue those education efforts and join the worldwide celebration of these misunderstood animals. Come down to the Raptor Center on Sept. 3, 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. to meet our turkey vulture Modoc and join us for vulture talks, raptor flight programs, bio-facts, storytime and more. See you there!

Monday, August 15, 2011

News from the field: Penguins of Punta San Juan, Part One

Posted by: John Samaras, Penguin Keeper

This blog post is part one of a three-part series based on Woodland Park Zoo penguin keeper John Samaras’ work in Punta San Juan, Peru with a zoo conservation partner.

As part of Woodland Park Zoo’s continuing effort in the conservation of Humboldt penguins, I had the opportunity to travel to Punta San Juan in Peru and take part in an annual health assessment of the wild population conducted by zoo professionals and Peruvian biologists. Woodland Park Zoo’s penguin exhibit, which opened in May 2009, replicates the coast of Punta San Juan, a barren desert peninsula that juts out into the South Pacific in southern Peru. Because of its proximity to the Humboldt current (a cold water current from Antarctica rich in fish and prey species) there is an amazing abundance of life on the rocky coast. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds and tens of thousands of fur seals and sea lions, as well as a large concentration of Humboldt penguins, call this place home.

There are only an estimated ten- to twelve-thousand Humboldt penguins left in Peru, with historic numbers being hundreds of thousands. Years of intrusive guano harvests and overfishing of anchovies (the Humboldts’ main prey) have led to their decline. Years ago, a wall was built that blocked off the whole peninsula in an effort to protect the guano reserve and later, to help rebuild the devastated bird populations. The wall in front of our penguin exhibit replicates the real wall that helps protect Punta San Juan.

Due to the endangered status of the species, several zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, including WPZ, support efforts to research, conserve and protect Humboldt penguins in zoos and in their native habitat. For years, zoo professionals have taken part in monitoring birds during guano harvests, the annual population census, and health assessments. The census is done in mid-summer when the birds are molting. I went down for the health assessment, which was in early June—when penguins are nesting and therefore easier to catch in their burrows. This is the first of a series of three blog entries describing my experiences at Punta San Juan and the work we did with the penguins.

From Seattle to Punta San Juan

After meeting up in Lima with the veterinarians, another zookeeper, researchers and students who would be joining me in the field, we embarked on the seven-hour drive through the desert coast of Peru, south to Punta San Juan. The landscape was a barren desert with the ocean to the east and desert mountains to the west. There were no plants except when we drove through the valleys, where farmers had used irrigation to grow crops.

It was dark when we arrived in Marcona, a small town just outside of the reserve. We drove through the town, across a stretch of desert and up to the large gates of the wall. Franco and Paulo, two biologists who worked at the reserve, were there to open the gates. After a long journey we had finally arrived.

We stayed in a rustic building that had housed the managers of the guano harvest workers decades ago. There was no electricity there, so a headlamp was a must. The building sat on the edge of a cliff, and you could hear and see the waves crashing in far below. Although it was nighttime, the desert peninsula, which was just to the south of us, almost glowed in the dark from the white guano. There was a strong wind coming in off the coast and you could hear sea lions vocalizing in the background.

The sun revealed an amazing scene the next morning. The vast blue ocean pulsed with white waves that came crashing violently into the jagged rocks below. Huge rock formations stuck out of the sea like ancient monoliths. The beach was sandy, with several fur seals sprawled out basking in the morning sun and the sky was dotted with birds flying around in all directions.

We all gathered for breakfast and afterwards, gathered our equipment. Once we got our gear together, we were off to catch penguins! As we walked along through the desert towards our destination on the coast, it almost felt like I was walking on the surface of the moon. The ground was arid and littered with cormorant nests that looked like small craters.

As I approached the edge of the cliff and looked down at the spectacular scene before me, the abundance of life was breathtaking. A few hundred meters to the south, the desert was blackened with over 500,000 Guanay cormorants, with a constant stream of the birds taking off and heading north across the sea in search of their aquatic prey. Thousands of Inca terns, Peruvian boobies and pelicans, Belcher’s gulls and turkey vultures filled the sky and populated the rocky cliffs.

Covering every square inch of some beaches were thousands of South American sea lions. Another beach was blanketed with female fur seals and their recently-born pups. This beach was a nursery, where the young seals could be safely raised away from testosterone-fueled adult males. In and amongst all of this were the Humboldt penguins, standing on the beach below, drifting in with the waves and swimming in the turbulent surf.

One penguin caught my eye as he maneuvered from rock to rock through the piles of lazy, sometimes grumpy, sea lions as he tried to make it back to his burrow. This would be the first of many Humboldt penguins that I encountered there while on my trip. In the next installment of this series, I will describe the actual field work that we did there, step one being “catch ‘em up!” Stay tuned!

Photos by John Samaras/Woodland Park Zoo.

Friday, August 12, 2011

News from the field: Studying impact of wind turbines on raptors

Introduction posted by: Gretchen Albrecht, Raptor Keeper
Field notes posted by: Joanna Bojarski, Raptor Keeper

Woodland Park Zoo collaborates with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to study and protect the state threatened ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) and other raptors in Washington through the Raptor Ecology of the Shrub Steppe project, one of WPZ’s Partners for Wildlife conservation programs.

As raptor keepers we play an active role in the project by educating zoo visitors about the plight of the fragile and beautiful shrub steppe habitat on which these birds depend. We also get to assist with field work through the study which allows us to see first hand the challenges these raptors face in the wild.

This year, fellow raptor keepers Joanna Bojarski, Susan Burchardt and Jean Ragland joined the project in the field to collect data on how wind farms in the region impact raptor behavior. These are Joanna’s notes from the field…

6:30 a.m. - I arrive at the first wind farm. Driving on the dusty gravel road I see that the cows are up. They stop and stare at me as I drive by. The landscape is hilly and covered with small shrubs that look like tumble weeds. The soil is light colored, the vegetation is low, and everything is muted shades of brown, green, yellow and white. There are occasional bursts of pink, but they are few and far between. I have to drive through a couple of herds up to the top of the hill where the turbines are located. The mama cows stare at me and the calves freeze, waiting to see if they need to run or if it is safe to stay at mama's side. I get to the site and park at the foot of a wind turbine.

It is about 50 degrees out and the wind is about 7 km/hour. The turbines are all turning, about 5 seconds for a full rotation of the blades. It is chilly, but I have lots of layers on. I do a quick scan of the area with my binoculars (no birds flying), grab my gear and start walking in the soft soil towards the observation area. I set up my spotting scope, weather meter, and get my observation sheets ready. I am standing in an area of small shrubs and there are a few low plants with small flowers on them.

Within minutes the male ferruginous hawk flies off the nest—he is heading north, northeast. I observe him flying around north of the turbines, occasionally flying along the string of turbines heading south. I know it is him because of the flash of his white tail. The swainson's hawks are much darker in coloration. He weaves in and out of the turbines and eventually heads east, a direction where I cannot see any turbines beyond the ones that are 500 meters in front of me.

It is so amazing to be here observing these birds. They are the largest hawk in North America and they are threatened in our state. Trying to go out and find them to watch them is very difficult because there are not a lot of them around. The locations of their nests and territories are sometimes kept from casual birders because people want to protect them as much as possible and minimize any disturbances in their lives. I not only get to watch a pair of ferruginous hawks, I know where their nest is and have a spotting scope on it to see what they are doing. I am hopeful this project will gather important data to help these birds out.

8:30 a.m. - I have seen the male ferruginous hawk once since he went east this morning. He was south and didn't stay very long. He went east again. I turn in a slow circle as I scan the horizon looking for more Buteo and turbine interactions. I try to stay in the small area near the spotting scope so that I don’t trample too many plants. This habitat is so delicate that I try to have as little an impact as possible.

10:30 a.m. - The male ferruginous comes back. I spot him in the south and he lands in a field. I put the spotting scope on him and he stays there for about 20 minutes. I am surprised at how long he sits there. He is just hanging out, preening his feathers a bit, but he is not hunting and seems very comfortable there. These birds eat a lot of ground mammals and they spend a lot of time on the ground hunting them, so it makes sense he would be comfortable there. He finally takes off and heads east again.

11:15 a.m. - I spot what looks to be a prairie falcon flying low near the base of a turbine. It has a constant wing beat unlike the soaring and gliding that the hawks do. It is close to the turbine, but only about 20-30 feet off the ground, nowhere near the blades. I watch it for about 2 minutes then it disappears in a gully. How cool to see a falcon out here too!

12:10 p.m. - There is still no wind and the turbines are still. I haven't seen much activity at all this morning. I decide to pack up and drive over to the other site.

It takes about 45 minutes to get to the next wind farm and I have to drive on a gravel road most of the way. It is very dusty and I can see my trail in the rear view mirror. I travel through more shrub steppe habitat. It is so beautiful out here! On my way I stop to check out a golden eagle nest. The nest is in a power line tower about 30 feet off the ground. The two chicks are in the nest and very visible, they are about the size of the parents and getting ready to fledge. They are just sitting there and preening themselves once in a while. I don't see any adults come in to drop off food, but watching the young is interesting enough. The golden eagles are a personal favorite of mine and being able to observe the nest is a real treat.
Abandoned swainson’s hawk nest. Sadly, the male was killed by a wind turbine.

1:20 p.m. - I get to the second site. There are three observation sites to get to this afternoon. The first one is near an agricultural field. The field has knee high, beautiful green vegetation in it. The bright green is such a contrast to the soft colors of the surrounding hills. The field sits low below a small hill that has a small house on it and turbines all along the top ridge. The turbines are turning here, but slowly, about 5 seconds to do a full rotation of the blades. The sun has come out a little bit and it is about 65 degrees out.
Male northern harrier

The only activity I see is a pair of harriers. These are interesting raptors as they are one of the few raptors where the males, all shades of gray and white, have different plumage from the females who are shades of brown. The male seems to be hunting and the female is building a nest in the middle of the field. I hope they do well this season.

The swainson’s hawks are nowhere to be found. I check the nest tree with the spotting scope, but cannot see anything. I watch for about 20 minutes then decide it is time for a quick lunch then off to the next site.
Swainson’s hawk

2:30 p.m. - The next site is up on the hill and to the north, about a ten minute drive from the first. There is a ferruginous hawk nest here in the shadow of a turbine. The nest is in a juniper bush. I have to set up at the base of a turbine and the turning blades over my head are intimidating. I don't see any ferruginous hawks, but I can see a swainson’s hawk flying in and around a couple of strings of turbines to the south. This must be the male from the first observation site near the fields of green (a little southeast of where I am now). He is staying relatively low, but definitely weaving between turbines and occasionally going up to the height of the tip of the blades, about 40 meters off the ground. I keep an eye out for the ferruginous hawks, but get most of my data from the swainson’s hawk.

3:45 p.m. - I head to the third observation site here. There is another swainson’s hawk nest at the foot of a turbine. It takes about 20 minutes, but I finally see a swainson’s hawk. It is coming from the north, an area without turbines. It flies along the string of turbines I am closest to, but then heads out due west into an area without turbines. Far in the distance there are turbines, but the immediate area is clear, open land. Seeing the land covered with turbines causes me to pause. There are so many turbines and so little open land.

5:00 p.m. - It is still kind of cold in the wind and the sun has not been out much today. I eat another snack and then head back towards the site I went to this morning.

6:00 p.m. - I get to the site and notice there are a lot of cows on the road. They are very active, eating, walking, and then freezing to check me out as I drive by. Wow, they are big! I drive up the hill and then over the cattle grate and park at the foot of the turbine. I get my stuff and walk along a dirt road in the shrubby landscape to the observation site overlooking the ferruginous hawk nest. I know exactly where it is because I have stomped down a little area from my observations this morning. I can see the female sitting on the nest. I do not see the male. As I wait and scan the horizon I notice some of the cows are up and grazing.

6:30 p.m. - I still have not seen the male ferruginous hawk. I do another circle looking at the horizon and I am startled to see a large red cow with a white face about 60 feet away from me. It is full on facing me and staring at me. Geez, they are quiet. I don't know what to make of this, but figure if I stay in one spot and don't disturb it, I'll be okay. I slowly turn my back on the cow and a little voice starts in my head: I hope that the cow will just move on and leave me alone…Are cows aggressive? Will it charge me?

6:45 p.m. - The voice in my head is making me nervous. I check on the cow. It has moved on, but it is moving towards my car, along with all of the other cows that are up and grazing. Yikes! What do I do if I cannot get to my car?

7:00 p.m. - I am really cold at this point. I have not seen much of the male ferruginous hawk and the cows have surrounded my car. I am trying not to panic. No one really knows where I am. I do have cell phone coverage, but that is not much consolation to me now. I pack up all my gear and start to slowly walk towards my car. Most of the cows have moved beyond my car, but a few remain. As I am walking I glance towards the red cow. It has turned to face me and stare at me again. There is also another cow turned around to face me and stare at me. This makes me really nervous. I stop in my tracks and wait for them to move on. They finally start to walk, but keep me in their sights. I start walking again. As I get closer to my car I see a very large black steer right next to my car. He spots me too! He turns around to face me head on. The other cows notice this and now I have three cows staring me down.

Okay, I am panicking now. I crawl under the barbed wire fence that I am walking parallel to. I figure some sort of fence is better than nothing. Not that it will stop a charging cow. I get on the phone and call all three numbers I have for the researchers in the area. I leave a voicemail on all three phones. I don't really know what to do. I stand and think a minute and watch the cows. They are slowly moving again, towards and beyond my car. Oh thank goodness! I start to walk again and they notice me right away, but they keep moving. I am still very nervous about the steer near my car. He is not moving much, but he is watching me and he seems nervous. He turns to walk past my car. I am so grateful! If they keep going, even if it is just 40 feet beyond my car, I figure I can make a run for the car and get in on the passenger side. At least that would put a car between us!

I am watching the cows, they are watching me. We all keep walking south, the cows beyond the car and me towards it. I have to find a bit of courage to cross the cattle grate and run to my car. Here goes nothing! I get my lock remote out, balance on the beams of the grate and then dash to the car, unlocking it as I go. The cows all stop and stare, but they are a safe distance away and on the other side of my car. I throw the gear in the back seat and get in the passenger side. I lock my doors then crawl over to the driver seat. I haven't ever been so happy to hear the roar of my car engine before. I put the car in gear and get out of there. As I drive on the road beside the grazing area, the cows all stare at me. I think they are giving me the stink eye, but they are probably just laughing at me!

I drive through a couple of herds of cattle on my way out of the farm. I stop outside of the farm and I call my three contacts and tell them I made it to my car and they do not need to call me back. I am embarrassed, but would rather be safe than sorry. I also imagine them all the next time they see each other laughing over the phone calls they got from a city girl who is afraid of cows.

I am cold and hungry and tired.

8:15 p.m. - Pizza and a large glass of hot water has never been so welcome or appreciated! It was a good day—a very different day from a day at the raptor unit at the zoo—but a very good day indeed.

Photos by Gretchen Albrecht/Woodland Park Zoo and Joanna Bojarski/Woodland Park Zoo.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bear breakfast: coffee, fruit and honey

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Keema and Denali stop to sniff each other after rolling around in coffee grounds.

Keema and Denali may not have known the world was watching, but they still put on quite the show Wednesday when we broadcast a special bear enrichment session through our newly relaunched Bear Cam.

The 17-year-old grizzly bear brothers received beehive and hornet’s nest-shaped piñatas Wednesday. While it took staff almost a week to put the piñatas together, it took the bears just minutes to destroy them!

Inside the beehive piñatas, the bears found some of their favorite fruit treats including honeydew, apples, grapes and pears. The hornet’s nest contained a pocket of honey that the bears lapped up.
Coffee grounds : bears :: catnip : cats

Scattered around the space were coffee grounds from Caffé Vita. Why coffee grounds? Since the bears have a strong sense of smell, such a pungent treat is extremely attractive and stimulating to them. The bears roll around in coffee grounds like a cat in catnip!
The Bear Cam hangs in the upper right corner, broadcasting an incredible view of the bears worldwide.

We also spritzed a little Chanel No. 5 perfume on a nearby log to add a little more dimension to the stimulating smells out there. That perfume has been popular with our snow leopards, and proved to be a treat for the bears as well. Keema and Denali rubbed up against the log just as they did with the pungent coffee grounds.

As part of the zoo’s excellent animal care, our enrichment program provides zoo animals with stimulating treats and activities that get their natural instincts going. We hope you were able to watch this special enrichment opportunity live at the zoo or via the Bear Cam, and that you’ll continue to tune in to the Bear Cam to watch the bears as they explore their exhibit daily!

Photos and video by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

20 turtles for 20 years

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

As we celebrated 20 years of native turtle conservation last week, it was only appropriate that we release 20 western pond turtles into protected habitat in our continued efforts to rebuild a stable population of this state endangered species.

The 20 turtles were collected from the wild as eggs last year, hatched and head started at Woodland Park Zoo to improve their chance of survival in the wild. Once the turtles reach a suitable size of about 2 ounces—large enough to escape the mouths of bullfrogs and large-mouth bass—they are returned to their homes and closely monitored by biologists.

Before they could be released, the turtles underwent final prep work that included measuring, weighing and notching shells (shown above) for identification.

The largest of the 10-month-old turtles were equipped with tiny radio transmitters glued to their shells so biologists can learn more about post-release dispersal, habitat use during active and hibernation periods and, ultimately, their survival rate.

Western pond turtles were once common from Baja California to Puget Sound, including the Columbia River Gorge. However, loss of habitat, disease and predation by non-native species such as bullfrogs decimated their numbers. Habitat degradation and disease were, and still are, problems, but the biggest threat to fragile baby turtles is the bullfrog, native to areas east of the Rockies.

Scientists tracking the released turtles estimate that 95 percent of the turtles released back into the Columbia River Gorge have survived, and nearly all of the turtles released back in Pierce, Mason, Skamania and Klickitat Counties have survived.

Thanks to the long-term, collaborative effort among Woodland Park Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the population has been restored from a low of 150 in 1990 to about 1,500 individuals currently surviving in the state.

We’re proud to play a role in bringing this species back from the brink of extinction and we’re committed to working with the communities around us to conserve the wildlife and wild places in our own Pacific Northwest backyard.

Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What’s it like to be a keeper?

Posted by: Pattie Beaven, Zookeeper

Clockwise from top left: Keeper Laura McComsky works with a giraffe (photo by Brittney Bollay/Woodland Park Zoo), keeper Celine Pardo works with Humboldt penguins (photo by Matt Hagen), and keeper Edgar Fortune works with red ruffed lemurs (photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.)

The zookeeper’s profession by nature occurs mostly behind the scenes, so it can be hard for us keepers to find time outside of Woodland Park Zoo’s regularly scheduled Keeper Chats to meet and talk with zoo visitors. That’s why, in celebration of National Zoo Keeper Week, the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers hosted two days of activities here at Woodland Park Zoo where a zookeeper was available throughout the day to answer visitor questions about what it is like to be a keeper and what we do on a daily basis to care for the more than 1,000 animals that call Woodland Park Zoo home.

As part of the activities out on zoo grounds, we set up a table with some tools and items commonly used in animal care, including samples of animal diets, enrichment items, training tools, snake hooks, raptor gloves, and keeper boots.
Children check out various food items prepared for zoo animals. Photo by Lauren LaPlante/Woodland Park Zoo.

Kids loved putting their hands in the Jungle Pellets (diet for our fruit-eating birds) and smelling the Lemur Biscuits. Kids would fill up one of the elephants’ boomer balls with Elephant Chow and then see how challenging and enriching it is for the elephants to work at getting the pellets out to eat the yummy snack.
Keeper Jim McNeal uses a target pole with a giraffe to demonstrate animal training to young zoo visitors. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

“What’s this for?” several children asked when seeing a target pole for the first time. I explained that the target is used for training—we ask an animal to touch the red ball at the end of the pole, and reward them with a treat when they do so. That way, we can ask them to move around and follow the target, giving them treats along the way, and train them to do behaviors that help us provide the best care for them.
Keeper Pattie Beaven shows visitors how keepers prepare diets for animals. Photo by Lauren LaPlante/Woodland Park Zoo.

Of course, it’s hard to compete with stickers and coloring sheets, which were the highlights at the table for many of the kids there, but talking with families and sharing how fun and meaningful the keeper career path can be was truly the highlight for me.

Next time you are at the zoo, be sure to check out one of our daily scheduled Keeper Chats for a chance to talk with a zookeeper and learn more about how we care for the zoo’s animals.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bear Cam is back!

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Need a little more excitement in your afternoon? How about 1,350 pounds more excitement?

Broadcasting live with Ustream
Woodland Park Zoo's popular Bear Cam is back online and streaming live via Ustream. The cam, which has been gone for more than a year, is back by popular demand and bringing you incredible views into the zoo's grizzly bear exhibit in the award-winning Northern Trail.

To celebrate the return of the cam, we're giving the bears a special enrichment treat this week: piñatas filled with coffee grounds (generously donated by our friends at Caffé Vita). Tune in on Wednesday, August 3 at 11:15 a.m. (PST) to watch the bears enjoy their stimulating enrichment treat.

On a typical day, Woodland Park Zoo’s 17-year-old grizzly bear brothers Keema and Denali can be seen foraging for food, fishing for live trout, and exploring the stimulating sights and smells in the zoo’s award-winning Northern Trail exhibit. Approximately 675 pounds each in their trim summer months, the brothers can weigh up to 950 pounds each when they put on weight for their more dormant winter months.

Want to know the best times to tune in to the Bear Cam? The bears are especially active in the morning around 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. and in the afternoon around 2:00 – 3:00 p.m., particularly during the summer months.

If you are stuck at your desk, on an endless bus ride, or bored at home, the Bear Cam is a great break and way to reconnect with nature. Follow the Bear Cam at www.zoo.org/bearcam or http://www.ustream.tv/woodlandparkzoo, which is also available whenever connected to Ustream on mobile devices, Internet connected TVs, Google TV and Boxee.

Photos from top: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.