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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy 2nd birthday, Adia!

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Our youngest African lion ambassador, Adia, turned 2 last week and showed just how frisky and fearless young cats are.

The female South African lion dug into her birthday cake specially prepared by zookeeper Matt Mills: a gourmet round of ground turkey stuffed with a whole raw chicken and topped with a pair of drumstick candles. Since Adia scarfed up every morsel and bone, the cake obviously earned a five-drumstick rating.

Next, Adia opened her gift box and out rolled a boomer ball, a favorite toy of the 240-pound lion. As kids and families squealed with wonder, Adia put on quite a show “dribbling” the ball throughout the exhibit. She had so much fun that at one moment the ball rolled into the moat filled with water and she dove straight into the water after it! Keep in mind that lions don’t swim and are averse to water. Adia was submerged to her shoulders before realizing she was in the water. She jumped out and, if she had a thought bubble above her head, it would be something like, “Whoa, did I just go into the pool?!” Let’s just say, she made her zookeepers gasp with surprise. The keepers tossed another ball to her and she played with it until, alas, it too landed in the pool.

Adia is the newest addition to our family of lions and met the public for the first time at the beginning of this year. She arrived from Columbus Zoo and Aquarium under a breeding recommendation by the Species Survival Plan for African lions. The other lions at the zoo are Hubert and Kalisa, both 12 years old. In about four to eight months, zookeepers will begin the methodical process of introducing her to Hubert. Meanwhile, off exhibit, Adia has visual access to the adult lions on a daily basis.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see newborn lions, you’ll notice they’re born with spots. As cubs grow, the spots gradually fade away. However, you’ll notice that Adia’s spots are still markedly visible along her rear legs, just like her mama.

When you come to the zoo, look for Adia on exhibit in the award-winning African Savanna from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. During other times, you’ll see Hubert and Kalisa.

It’s been 20 years since the last birth of lions at Woodland Park Zoo. We have high hopes that the pair will bond and that we’ll soon establish a new pride of lion ambassadors here at the zoo.

Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo. Video by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Autumn light

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Fall has arrived and the autumn equinox is September 23! This Friday, September 23, the autumn equinox will take place at precisely 9:04 a.m. The autumn equinox occurs once a year when the earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the sun. This means that the hours of daylight and night time are exactly the same: 12 hours of day, 12 hours of night.

After September 23rd, the earth's axis, and the North Pole, will begin to tilt away from the sun. The sun rises lower and lower in the sky so the days start getting shorter until December's shortest day of the year. This creates wonderful long shadows that stretch across the ground during autumn and early winter.

The zoo is a perfect place to watch these shadows move, since we have so many tall trees and open spaces. Artists and photographers should take advantage of this time of year. The light is softer in the fall, because the sun's rays are not as direct. There is also a crisp fall look to the landscape and if you are lucky, a bright blue sky. Backlighting is more likely to occur, making the golden leaves appear to glow!

Early morning and late evening is the best time to capture a really warm golden light. This is when the sun is lowest in the sky. The light tends to be more golden and will cast warmth over subjects while creating vibrant colors. This golden hour takes place an hour and a half after sunrise and forty-five minutes before and after the sunset.

Woodland Park Zoo is one of the best places to witness the changing colors of the season. There is a 49% canopy cover here at the zoo and many of the deciduous species will soon start to change into their fall foliage. Now is a really fascinating time to visit the grounds and compare the seasonal changes week to week.

Some trees will get their fall colors very quickly and some will take longer. The evergreens of course, will continue to stay green, but have you checked out the White Spruces on the Northern Trail? Their dark blue-green color is beautiful and makes a great contrast to the bright oranges, reds and yellows that will appear on the deciduous trees. Even the ornamental grasses at the African Village will change, forming seed heads.

Are you interested in learning more about our fall foliage and autumn flowers? Check out our What’s in bloom at the zoo? guide, provided by our expert horticulturalist David Selk.

If you happen to capture any autumn shadows dancing across the paths on your way to see our animals, please share your photos and drawings with us!

Photos (from top): Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo, Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo, Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prepping endangered frogs for release

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

We’re getting ready to release more than 700 endangered Oregon spotted frogs into the wild next month. Before we can let the juvenile frogs go, we have to tag, weigh, sex and measure them so that state biologists can identify and track them once they’re released.

Not surprisingly, it takes a long time to do all that 700 times! Our zookeepers joined a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist on Monday for the hours-long process of prepping all 700 frogs, with more days of prep still to come.

Frog prepping
Step one: Break out the ruler and record the frog’s measurements. 

Step two: Place the frog in a container on a scale (then cover quickly so it doesn’t jump away!) and take its weight.

Step three: Insert identification tag on select frogs.

Step four: Note the sex of the frog and make sure all data is recorded.

These frogs are just weeks away from being released, but they started their lives here late last winter when they arrived as eggs collected from the wild. These were special eggs—the first eggs to be collected from the wild release site, which means that the frogs we’ve released in previous years have been surviving and are now successfully breeding!

Since this endangered species faces a lot of hardship in its native environment, we are working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to collect the eggs from the wild, raise them at the zoo until they are large enough to have a better chance of survival, and then release them into protected habitat, in hopes of re-establishing a self-sustaining population in Washington state. Oregon Zoo, Northwest Trek and Cedar Creek Corrections Center also participate in hatching and rearing the frogs as part of the headstart program.

Through a partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the frogs are released in the Dailman Lake area at Fort Lewis. The protected site is suitable for reintroduction because of its diverse wetlands connected to a stream system than can support and sustain a frog population.

In total, 1,400 frogs from the participating headstart institutions will be released next month, which includes Woodland Park Zoo’s 700 froggy graduates. Any that are still too small to survive in the wild will be overwintered and have a chance to grow for a few more months before joining the rest at the lake site.

The Oregon spotted frog is near extinction due to loss of habitat, predation by non-native species such as the American bullfrog and disease. The amphibian historically ranged from southwestern British Columbia to northeastern California, but is now known only in Klickitat and Thurston Counties in Washington. Washington state declared the frog an endangered species in 1997. Your support of Woodland Park Zoo makes our conservation efforts to save these frogs possible. Thank you!

Photos (from top): Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Mike Teller/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Coffee is life for more than just Seattleites

Posted by: Hilary Aten, Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife)

A home in the remote forests of Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In the remote forests of Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula, we’re brewing up something exciting with subsistence farmers—the first coffee you’ll ever have the chance to drink from this region.
Freshly picked coffee cherries. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

More than a tasty drink, this coffee is on a mission: to create a better life for the villagers of Papua New Guinea who have pledged their own land to conservation.

What’s the story behind this project?
Map of Papua New Guinea showing the YUS Conservation Area on the Huon Peninsula.

Back in 2009, the indigenous clans of the Huon Peninsula worked with Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) to make history, pledging parcels of their own land to permanent protection under the Yopno-Uruwa-Som Conservation Area (YUS CA), Papua New Guinea’s first ever protected Conservation Area. The YUS CA protects critical cloud forest habitat for several endangered species endemic to Papua New Guinea, including the Matschie’s tree kangaroo.
Matschie’s tree kangaroo. Photo by Russel A. Mittermeier/Conservation International.

In return, TKCP is working with these landowners to develop alternative sources of income that protect the natural resources vital to the local people’s subsistence lifestyle, while providing them with economic incentives to continue to collaborate on conservation efforts. That’s where the coffee comes in.

Why coffee?
A grower picks fresh coffee cherries in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Coffee means a future for these farmers. It means their first-ever cash crop that will provide money they need to send their kids to school.
Kids gather near a solar coffee dryer built with support from TKCP to improve quality and consistency of the village’s coffee. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

But coffee does not come without its challenges.
Picking coffee cherries in the shade. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

It’s true that Papua New Guinea has an ideal climate and altitude for growing high quality coffee, and by using traditional cultivation methods, the coffee gardens are inherently organic and predominantly shade grown. In fact, coffee from Papua New Guinea is in high demand from gourmet coffee roasters worldwide.
The layers of the forest: Children climb trees for nuts, while coffee (seen in the foreground) grows under the shade. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

However, the Huon Peninsula is characterized by some of the most extreme, rugged landscape in the civilized world, meaning the villages of YUS are remote and accessible only by small plane service. In the past, the high cost of small plane travel and freight has made the profit margin for YUS coffee growers to sell their product in coastal towns and to exporters prohibitive.
Traveling in and out of the remote forests of the Huon Peninsula can be challenging and expensive. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

With support from Conservation International and the German Development Bank (KfW), TKCP has led a pilot initiative over the past two years to make this conservation coffee a sustainable and profitable income-source for YUS communities. The goal is to increase the price that YUS coffee growers receive for their product, as well as pay growers directly, thereby overcoming the market hurdles to a profitable return, while also ensuring the product leads to increased support for conservation in YUS.
Daniel Shewmaker of Seattle’s Caffé Vita advises growers on best techniques for drying coffee. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

To do so, TKCP has worked with PNG’s Coffee Industry Corporation to train YUS coffee growers on farming techniques for maintaining bio-diverse shade cover, garden intercropping, tree pruning, and proper bean harvesting and drying techniques. With these improvements to quality, and the conservation message of the project, YUS growers will soon have the opportunity to sell their beans as a gourmet commodity in the Seattle market.
Caffé Vita brews samples of the Huon Peninsula coffee to test for quality and consistency. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In culmination of these efforts over the past two years, TKCP staff just returned from a trip to YUS with the coffee buyer from one of Seattle’s premier coffee roasters (and Woodland Park Zoo partner), Caffé Vita. The trip was an incredible experience, and is leading to some exciting news for Seattle’s coffee drinkers and zoo fans this fall. Stayed tuned to the zoo blog for more on our Papua New Guinea trip and the conservation coffee that will be hitting Caffé Vita shelves soon!

Friday, September 9, 2011

News from the field: Health checks for wild penguins

Posted by: John Samaras, Penguin Keeper

This blog post is part two 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.

In part one, I blogged about the diverse wildlife I encountered on my trip to Punta San Juan in Peru where I joined zoo professionals and Peruvian biologists in conducting an annual health assessment of the wild population of Humboldt penguins.

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.

Here in part two, I’ll take you through the experience of administering the health assessments on these wild penguins, a challenging annual task that is critical to establish baseline data so we can track the health and any emergent needs of this endangered population.

From the field:
We stood at the edge of a high cliff where the flat desert abruptly ends and a rock wall drops down 60 feet to the sandy beach and sea below. About 40 penguins gathered on the beach basking in the bright sun. As I peeked over the edge I could see several Peruvian boobies nesting on small rock shelves just a few feet below. Even though we were this high up, there were penguin burrows! We identified about five burrows and geared up to start.

Along with cases of medical equipment, the tools of the trade for catching penguins were: a four-foot pole curved on the end to form a hook, which was padded, and another pole with a metal bowl attached to it. We used the pole with the hook to reach into a burrow and hook it around a penguin’s legs, then carefully pull it out of the burrow. We used the pole with the bowl if any penguins had eggs in their burrow. The bowl would be placed over an egg, then slowly pulled out to safety before trying to catch the adults. After watching others on the team catch the first couple of penguins, I was ready for my turn.

I peered into the sandy burrow, and it stretched back about four feet in the shape of a “u.” There were two chicks in the burrow, so I slowly pulled each one out with the padded hook. Once the chicks were in safe hands, it was time to catch my first wild penguin!

Lying on my stomach, I saw the penguin facing me and backing up deep into the burrow. I reached in with the pole, and after a few misses I was able to loop the hook around its leg. I slowly extracted the feisty penguin from the burrow.

With the pole in the left hand and holding the penguin in place, I used my right hand to quickly grab it behind the neck and control its head. I then released the leg and restrained the bird with both hands.

I carried it a few feet over to the vets work station. One person had a clipboard and recorded the time each procedure was performed—the first being the time at which the bird was restrained. I sat down with the penguin between my knees, my legs outstretched and my ankles crossed. I held its bill securely closed and the vet started the physical exam.

We checked each penguin for a toe-tag to identify any previously-caught birds and scanned it for a microchip. For those without a toe-tag, we applied the small, numbered tag to the webbing between two of their toes. The vet then performed a lactate test, using a needle to puncture the bare skin around the penguin’s bill, and squeezing out a drop of blood.

A machine similar to a glucometer was used for this test, with a small strip being inserted into the reader and the end of the strip being put into the drop of blood to read the level of lactic acid in the blood. An animal that exerts itself and is under stress will have a high lactate reading, since more lactic acid is being produced. So, we could measure the stress level of the penguin immediately after being caught up—and again after we were finished and about to release the bird. We found that, generally, their stress levels were higher right after being caught and had lowered by the end of the procedure.

Heart rate and respiration were taken and recorded, and a microchip inserted if the bird did not already have one. Next, a small device was used to test the intraocular pressure of each eye. We also conducted blood draws, which were dispensed into about eight different collection tubes for various tests. A feather sample was taken and sealed in a small plastic bag.

Measurements of the bill, wings and feet were taken and recorded. We also weighed the penguins using a fish scale—a strap was put around the penguin’s body just under the wings, and the bird was carefully held up in the air.

After restraining the penguin again, the strap was removed and a fat yellow grease pencil was used to mark the bird so we didn’t catch the same one twice.

The second lactate test was taken, and the penguin was then ready for release! The chicks were placed back into the burrow and the adult penguin was put back into its home.

Over the next five days, we journeyed to several different beaches and caves on the peninsula to catch a total of 51 penguins for the health assessment. All of the penguins we examined were in good condition and all had either eggs or chicks. It was amazing to finally see and work with Humboldt penguins in the wild!

In my third and final blog of the series, I will reflect on my experience and the valuable first-hand perspective that I obtained by going to Punta San Juan that I was able to bring back and share.

Photos by John Samaras/Woodland Park Zoo.