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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Earn your Master's the wild way

Posted by: Jenny Mears, Education

Are you an educator interested in earning your Master’s degree with Woodland Park Zoo as your campus? Would you like to join formal and informal educators from around Puget Sound and the world in building a strong foundation in ecological literacy, inquiry-based learning and field investigation?
Instructors learn through observation at Woodland Park Zoo's award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

If so, Woodland Park Zoo and Project Dragonfly from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio are thrilled to introduce you to the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP), an exciting new Master’s program for educators. Co-delivered by Woodland Park Zoo professional education staff and faculty at Miami University, the AIP combines graduate courses at the zoo with web-based learning communities that connect you to a broad network of educators and community leaders.
Foundations of Inquiry students test whether the water strider they created will use surface tension to stay on top of the water. Photo by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.
The first cohort of 21 Master’s students began their graduate career with Foundations of Inquiry, a course that took place on zoo grounds this summer. For five days, these formal and informal educators learned about the process of inquiry-based learning and its use as a tool for participatory education and conservation action through hands-on activities, tours of zoo animals in their exhibit habitats, presentations by zoo staff, and participation in group inquiry projects.
Educators stuff peanuts into an enrichment ball for the zoo’s Asian bears. Photo by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

Foundations of Inquiry students also had the opportunity to fill enrichment balls and tubes with fruit and nuts for the zoo’s sun and sloth bears. They made predictions about how the bears would access their food and then were able to observe the animals finding the enrichment items they created while hearing a talk about these bears by zookeepers.
One of the zoo’s sloth bears sucking the fruit and nuts out of an enrichment tube. Photo by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

The Advanced Inquiry Program graduate students also had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and hear about the zoo’s Oregon spotted frog conservation program from the zookeeper who cares for these endangered amphibians. They learned firsthand how the zoo gives Oregon spotted frogs a headstart by raising them in captivity until they have completed metamorphosis from tadpole to frog, giving them a better chance to escape predators.
A young Oregon spotted frog in its behind-the-scenes pond. Photo by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

After their first course, AIP students came away with renewed inspiration and new ideas for teaching their audiences about inquiry-based learning and the natural world, as evidenced by their positive reflections on their experience:

“It's so different from any other learning opportunity that I know of, offering fresh and challenging material and interactivity with other educators.”

“I must say to you how WELL crafted the AIP is! I am completely impressed with the quality of content, professional collaboration, and academic rigor! I am learning so much, feel a little bit overwhelmed, but also feel completely supported in the process. A good place to be, at this point in the process.”

“[This program] has enriched my work life…It's kept my brain alive - reading and exchanging ideas with other, often very different, educators. And probably most important, has given me hope for the world and strategies to use when I go out to work with different populations.”

Want to know more about the Advanced Inquiry Program? Join us at our informational forum in November! We will give a presentation about the program as well as a Q&A session. This informational forum includes snacks and a live animal presentation!
When: Tuesday, November 8th from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: Woodland Park Zoo's Education Center
To RSVP, please call 206.548.2581 or email AIP@zoo.org

Applications for the Advanced Inquiry Program are accepted until February 28, 2012 for spring enrollment. Please see the Advanced Inquiry Program page on the zoo’s website for more information.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Endangered snakes hatch, set out for release

Posted by: Peter S. Miller, Zookeeper

“Is it safe to come out yet? Not yet, maybe tomorrow.” These are the thoughts that might arise in the brain of a Louisiana pine snake hatchling. It is a chance decision that could mean your life or death in the wild.

Such is the beginning of life for an endangered Louisiana pine snake. Next thoughts: hide or eat. When your serpentine undulations would signal a nearby predator that a tasty meal has just emerged from a clutch of eggs under the soil, stealth is critical…but so is breakfast! As the old adage goes, “eat or be eaten.”

The Louisiana pine snake, Pituophis ruthveni, is a species under threat from habitat alteration of its native longleaf pine forest in the southeastern United States. This species has just increased its numbers on planet Earth by two, thanks to hatchlings that emerged late this summer at Woodland Park Zoo’s Day Exhibit. This accomplishment might not sound like much, but when your species is rare in the wild and is represented by fewer than a hundred snakes in about 18 Association of Zoos & Aquariums-accredited zoos nationwide, every bit helps.

Woodland Park Zoo’s role in the Species Survival Plan for this snake was simple: pair up our male and female, individuals recommended for breeding by the population manager for Louisiana pine snakes, and hope for egg-laying in early spring.

In early June, our female came through and laid a clutch of eggs! Interestingly, the eggs of this species are relatively quite large (approximately 4 inches long). To care for the eggs, zookeepers at the Day Exhibit made their own nursery: a plastic shoe box with a mixture of vermiculite (think fancy potting soil) and water. The eggs were carefully nestled into the bedding, and placed in the incubator at a comfy 80 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius). The eggs were allowed to incubate for 65 days during which the embryos developed slowly into approximately 18-inch-long snakelets.

Two and a half months later, during their routine checks, zookeepers lifted the lid of the shoe box. The first snake to pip or emerge from its egg was periscoping from its shell, getting its first look at its new world, but then quickly retreated back into the egg. The following day, two fully emerged juveniles were pressed tightly around the edges of the incubation box. After their first shed, which normally takes about a week, zookeepers offered these snakes their first sustenance: baby mice.

Within two weeks after hatching, our two baby snakes were sent to Memphis Zoo, where they will be part of their reintroduction program for this species. As a part of that program, our babies will soon be on their own, released into the wilds of Louisiana, fending for themselves as they help rebuild the wild population of this endangered species. We wish them luck in facing the significant challenges ahead!

Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Meet the zoo’s wolf pack

Posted by: Fred Koontz, Field Conservation; Sue Andersen and Amy Brandt, Zookeepers

For Wolf Awareness Week, we’re giving you a glimpse into the fascinating dynamics within the zoo’s pack of wolves living in our award-winning Northern Trail exhibit.

Did you know Woodland Park Zoo has had wolves in its collection for more than 60 years? The zoo’s wolves serve a critical role as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.

The current pack consists of four female litter mates born at New York State Zoo in April 2010. They have four distinct personalities. When you next visit the zoo, see if you can identify them from their pack behavior:

Doba is the pack's "alpha" or most dominant wolf. She is often visible in the front and center of the exhibit, where she can keep track of the other wolves. If you see a wolf gathering bones or toys that is likely to be Doba!

Shila is the pack's most submissive member. She spends most of her time lying a bit distant from the pack or in the far north end of the exhibit along the perimeter. Shila is usually hesitant to feed with the pack, but will wait until the others are finished eating then forage for the leftovers.

Aponi and Kaya are in the middle of the pack and at different times will take on the “beta” position. Aponi has a very playful disposition and frequently will be seen jumping up and down with her crooked tail held high. Kaya acts a bit more wary around keeper staff. During feeding times, Aponi will feed closer to Doba. It seems that only the wolves know for sure the correct dominance order of their pack!

The wolves can be heard occasionally howling in the early morning and late afternoon and sometimes when sirens go by the zoo, but not in response to visitors.

Our pack helps visitors connect with the challenges wild wolves face. You can learn more about those challenges and meet our wolves in person Oct. 22–23 with a weekend of special Wolf Awareness activities, part of our Autumn Fest celebrations. See you there!

Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Attention all college students...

Posted by: Stephanie Squires, Membership

Whether you’re a Falcon, a Husky, or maybe a Redhawk, there is one thing that all college students in Seattle can agree on: Woodland Park Zoo isn’t just for kids! In the spirit of the autumn season and going back to school, Woodland Park Zoo is happy to announce an exclusive discount on our Annual Pass membership for college students. We are proud to offer college students an adult membership for only $25 (just bring your valid student ID to sign up at either zoo entrance; not available online). Regularly this membership is $42 per adult for a year of unlimited admission.

You can use your membership to enjoy Woodland Park Zoo in a variety of ways. For example, a trip to the zoo makes a great date! What is more romantic than holding your significant other close while watching a pair of lions together? Not to mention that our 92 acres make for great exercise and a unique study break!

Woodland Park Zoo is also host to many exciting events throughout the year. From BECU ZooTunes presented by Carter Subaru, our popular summer concert series, to various wine and beer tastings, there is adventure around every corner.

While there is plenty of fun to be had at Woodland Park Zoo, we are also a valuable academic resource. From Environmental Studies majors to Early Childhood Education majors, there is something for everyone to study here. There are endless research paper topics around every corner, and observation study opportunities abound.

What are you waiting for? Come to Woodland Park Zoo today and pick up a student membership.

Photos (from top): School mascots, clockwise from top right: Falcon by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Wolf by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Hawk by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo; Lions by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo; Dave Matthews and Brandi Carlile at BECU ZooTunes by Romy Brock/Woodland Park Zoo; Seattle University student with corn snake by Trileigh Tucker.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vote online to help protect snow leopards

Posted by: Brad Rutherford, Snow Leopard Trust – a Woodland Park Zoo conservation partner

Dear friends of Woodland Park Zoo and wildlife—

One of our conservation partners, Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust, has an opportunity to win $20,000 for conservation as a finalist in the BBC World Challenge. Your vote can help them win this incredible prize that will protect endangered snow leopards and improve the lives of the people who share snow leopard habitat throughout Central Asia.

Here’s Snow Leopard Trust’s executive director, Brad Rutherford, with the story behind the Trust and this exciting opportunity for zoo fans to vote and make a difference…

- Woodland Park Zoo

Across the vast mountains of Mongolia, snow leopards have been seen as an enemy by herders for generations. However, this all started to change in 1998 when two researchers sat down with herders and really tried to understand their challenges. While drinking tea and listening, it became clear that as long as herders were only being paid pennies per pounds for their raw wool there was no way they could afford to tolerate livestock losses to snow leopards. That led to the development of the Snow Leopard Trust’s Snow Leopard Enterprises. The idea behind Snow Leopard Enterprises is simple: help herders turn their wool into high-value products, like rugs, and they will have the income they need to tolerate snow leopards. Back in the late 1990s, the concept of a conservation incentive program like SLE was relatively new.

But thanks to the confidence and support shown by partners like Woodland Park Zoo, Snow Leopard Enterprises really took off! Now, each year, the Snow Leopard Trust places orders for tens of thousands of wool products and sells them worldwide, allowing herders to earn extra income. Woodland Park Zoo sells Snow Leopard Enterprises items through their ZooStore gift shops, and has even helped to design some the program’s highest selling products.

Also each year, when we place orders, each herding community signs a Conservation Agreement that specifies what actions they will take towards protecting snow leopards and their prey. In the fall, if all the terms of the Conservation Contract have been met, herders receive a 20% cash bonus. If any herding family breaks the terms of the Conservation Contract the entire community loses its bonus, creating a self-regulating system that has proven effective time and again.

I recently took a trip to the West of Mongolia to personally see how the Snow Leopard Enterprises is working, and it was a truly incredible experience. I was touched by the excitement among families as this year’s order was placed and they calculated the revenue they would be earning in the spring. It was clear what the 20% conservation bonus would mean to each community if the Conservation Agreement were upheld. For example, I met a talented yarn spinner named Surnaa who was using the revenue to help her daughter buy a laptop for school. It was also amazing to see men and women reversing their historically held roles in the household: I saw men either starting to make products or taking on chores that their wives used to do so that they have more time for making products. Another great outcome was seeing families moving all their livestock out of a nearby valley for August and September to reduce conflict with snow leopards and improve pastures for wild sheep and goats. They didn’t have to do this—but they wanted to in order to further build off of Snow Leopard Enterprises.

Throughout history, conservation has always been focused on preventing a behavior—fining or arresting people for using protected land or killing endangered species. Unlike this approach, Snow Leopard Enterprises is a positive incentive for families. And today, Woodland Park Zoo has helped the program grow into the largest snow leopard conservation project in Mongolia. Seeing Snow Leopard Enterprises develop and expand to protect hundreds of snow leopards, help hundreds of families escape poverty, and produce thousands of beautiful products that people can enjoy has been one of the most important accomplishments of my 11 years at the Snow Leopard Trust. To hear more from me and to learn about our other programs, check out this video.

I wish everyone could see the program first hand but we have a fantastic opportunity to support it right now. Snow Leopard Enterprises has been selected to compete in the BBC World Challenge! We are up against 11 international competitors and we need your help to get enough votes to win! Visit www.snowleopard.org/vote to experience this program through a short film and then cast your ballot for snow leopards and the communities who share their mountain homes.

By voting and asking your colleagues, friends and family to do the same, you will help us win $20,000 for snow leopard conservation. Equally important, we could win a feature in Newsweek Magazine and on BBC World News—coverage that will reach millions of people! Voting closes November 11, 2011. With one simple click, you can vote for this program and help us support Snow Leopard Enterprises.

Thank you.

Photo credit (from top): Snow leopard Helen at Woodland Park Zoo by Tianna Klineburger/Woodland Park Zoo; Family of herders by Jason Brown; Handicrafts available through Snow Leopard Enterprises by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo; Wild snow leopard caught on camera by Snow Leopard Trust; Snow leopard Tom at Woodland Park Zoo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. Video produced by Snow Leopard Trust.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Animal Spotlight: Update on Naku

Posted by: Carolyn Sellar, Zookeeper

In February we blogged about the departure of gorilla Naku from Woodland Park Zoo to start a new family in Milwaukee. Here’s an update on how she’s transitioning!

The entertaining and rambunctious Naku, a 10-year-old female western lowland gorilla, went to Milwaukee County Zoo at the end of June to begin a new family with Cassius, Milwaukee’s 25-year-old resident male. She had a very smooth flight there and after her standard quarantine at the zoo, she was transferred to their gorilla unit where introductions are now in progress.

The introductions have been going very well and Naku is now part of a group with both Cassius (shown above) and another female named Femelle. She spends all day with both the other gorillas, and for now spends the night just with Femelle, but soon they will all be spending the night together. In fact, it is often difficult to separate Naku from Cassius! She must be smitten!

If things progress the way they have, Naku should be starting her own new family soon!

Photos (from top): Naku/Animal spotlight, photo by Woodland Park Zoo; Naku, photo by Agnes Overbaugh/Woodland Park Zoo, Cassius at Milwaukee County Zoo, photo by Ryan Strack.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Frogs leap to recovery in Washington state

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

More than 1,000 endangered frogs started their journey back into the Washington wild yesterday.

Populations of the native Oregon spotted frog have been decimated by 80 to 90 percent in our own backyard. But thanks to a multi-institutional recovery project, nearly 1,200 frogs were released yesterday into the wild at a protected site to help restore their populations in Washington state.

These frogs start their lives as eggs collected from wetlands by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists. The biologists send the eggs to us and other rearing facilities including Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, Oregon Zoo, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Our role is to hatch and rear these frogs to give them a safe, predator-free home during those crucial first months when they transform from tadpole to full fledged frog.

We’re essentially giving these frogs a head start on survival, allowing them to grow in safety until they are large enough to avoid being eaten by predators. You can see a peek at that rearing process in this video:

Once the frogs are big enough to survive out there on their own, they are ready to be released to a protected lake site at Fort Lewis through a partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

That’s where these frogs took their leap into the wild yesterday.

The release of this batch of frogs is especially exciting for us because these frogs represent the next generation since the recovery project began in 2007. They are the first frogs to come from eggs collected at the wild release site, which means frogs we’ve released in previous years have been thriving and are now successfully breeding!

Washington declared the Oregon spotted frog an endangered species in 1997. It historically ranged from southwestern British Columbia to northeastern California. However, scientists have seen populations plummet, driving the frog toward extinction. The native amphibian has lost ground to habitat loss from draining and development, disease and the introduction of invasive species such as the American bullfrog. The Oregon spotted frog is now known only in Klickitat and Thurston Counties in Washington state.

Wondering how you can help protect endangered native frogs? Keep these tips in mind:

- Be kind to our shared habitat. Reduce pollutants by eliminating chemical pesticides from your gardening practices, or help with efforts to improve the quality of local wildlife habitat by joining a habitat restoration program in your community.
- Please always take care not to release unwanted pets or animals into wild habitat—invasive species can outcompete or prey on native frogs. Call your local animal shelter to find a new home for an unwanted pet.
- And of course, your support of Woodland Park Zoo makes native Oregon spotted frog recovery possible. Thank you!

Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.