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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New feathers on the block

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Meet the new feathers on the block: the newest group of birds that now call Woodland Park Zoo home.

Lola is a 3-year-old, female Aplomado falcon. She is currently at the Raptor Center being trained by her keepers to become part of the free-flight raptor program and will make her debut in the show this December.

Olga, a female Steller’s sea eagle, is now on view at Northern Trail where she lives with the zoo’s male Steller’s sea eagle.
This male falcated duck can be found in the Temperate Forest marsh.
A male and two female fulvous whistling ducks can be found in the Temperate Forest marsh.

A female brown booby has joined the Humboldt penguin colony. For now, she is outdoors when weather is permitting but she will become more visible as the weather warms.

Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

From the Tour Guide’s Side of the Zoo

Posted by: Jennifer Larsen, Real Close Tour Guide and Tourism Marketing Coordinator

I joined Woodland Park Zoo’s marketing team in late March, and 8+ months later it still is such a thrill to call this my place of employment! Having grown up in the Seattle area, I’ve been coming to Woodland Park Zoo since I was a toddler, and it has been an amazing experience to develop a tour program to share that sense of wonder with both visitors to Seattle, as well as zoo members and more frequent guests.

Putting together the itinerary and content for our Real Close tour program which launched this year, I had the chance to meet people from all across the zoo’s departments including Animal Management, Education, Admissions, Horticulture, Animal Health, and Guest Services. Thanks to all of them, I am able to weave together stories, facts and anecdotes that entertain and inform our guests as I lead them around our award-winning exhibits.

This past summer marked our first season of Real Close tours, which included a loop through our award-winning African Savanna before going behind the scenes to operations central where guests could see the constant flow of activity at the zoo’s commissary where all the food for the animals comes through and the Zoo Doo yard (where much of the food ends up!).

I loved seeing the smiles on guests’ faces when I pulled out my keys so we can go through the locked gates; it’s one of the best feelings to show guests something they would not have had the chance to see without taking a tour. (And I have to admit, every time I use my keys to go somewhere in the zoo where an “Authorized Personnel Only” or “Employees Only” sign is hanging, it gives me a thrill!)

I’ve had tour guests who have visited Woodland Park Zoo hundreds of times, as well as guests who have never visited a zoo in their lives! From 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds, the zoo is a place where everyone can learn something new.

With the summer season over, I have developed a new tour itinerary for our winter season going on now. During these winter Real Close tours, I take our guests around our award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit, including a look behind the gate at the mechanics that power the sustainable features of the exhibit. Then we head over to the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, including jaguars, lemurs, colobus monkeys, and a behind-the-scenes look at the zookeepers’ prep kitchen once we’re inside the exhibit building. This itinerary showcases the diversity of our exhibits, including the amazing role that our horticulture, exhibits, and animal management teams play in creating and maintaining such fantastic displays.

If you want to try a Real Close tour for yourself or book one as a holiday surprise for the animal lover in your life, you’ll find available dates and ticket info at Real Close Tours. I hope to show you my side of the zoo sometime soon!

Photos: Bottom photo (Jaguar) by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo, all other photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chai picks Cougs to win Apple Cup

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

For the second year in a row, Asian elephant Chai made her prediction for who will win the Apple Cup. Last year her pick of University of Washington proved accurate when the Huskies won. This year she picked the Washington State University Cougars to win. Do you think her prediction will prove true or will Chai have broken her perfect record of one?

The wind and rain this morning didn’t stop a food-seeking Chai from bounding onto the field toward the identical Husky and Cougar treat piles made up of hay, apples, bamboo, football-shaped icepops, papier-mache team helmets and oversized papier-mache apples stuffed with biscuits and more apples. Ignoring the boos from the Husky fans in the crowd, Chai went straight to the Cougar pile first—the action that made her pick of the Cougs official. She munched through much of the Cougar goodies before turning to the Husky pile and snacking on those treats too.

Those of us watching tried to find meaning in the littlest things. Did Chai intentionally squash the Husky football icepop? Did she reveal her true leanings when she tossed the Coug flag into the pool?

In the end, Chai thoroughly enjoyed apples from both the Coug and Husky piles, so maybe she’s just rooting for a good game.

Today’s pachyderm prediction is a part of the zoo’s admission discount in celebration of the game. Now through Nov. 27, Husky and Cougar fans receive half off zoo admission by sporting any garb from University of Washington or Washington State University, such as a jersey, sweatshirt, hat or gloves, or showing a valid student ID from either university. The admission discount applies only to the child or adult wearing the university sportswear and is not to be combined with other discounts or promotions.
Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo. Video by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Saving Washington Wolves

Posted by: Fred Koontz, Field Conservation; Sue Andersen, Zookeeper

Since their arrival last April, Woodland Park Zoo's new gray wolves have been delighting visitors with their majestic appearance and playful behavior. The four canids, all female, are an important way for the zoo to help tell the story about this important and endangered species from the Northwest. It also very timely, as the state Fish and Wildlife Commission is considering a state-wide wolf conservation and management plan—a proposal that Woodland Park Zoo supports.

Why Conserve Wolves?
Gray wolves, also called timber wolves, historically were found throughout North America, but they were relentlessly pursued and killed so that by the mid-1930s wolves were on the verge of extinction in the lower 48 states. Following their 1973 listing as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, wildlife management efforts have enabled wolves to make a comeback in the Great Lakes and northern Rockies. Biologists estimate that today the lower 48 states support a wolf population of about 5,000 animals; a number that is only 3% of the pre-European-settler population of 190,000 wolves.

Conservation biologists are encouraged by the ongoing recovery of gray wolves in the Great Lakes and northern Rockies, but also seek to strengthen wolf populations across a wider geographic range, including the Pacific Northwest. There are both value-based and practical reasons for sharing our lands with wolves. Many outdoor enthusiasts, for example, support wolf conservation because they believe in preserving these living symbols of wilderness and because wolves create a deeper experience for people when recreating in backcountry areas. Scientists increasingly are focusing on the roles wolves play in ecosystem health, based on recent discoveries of the ecological and economic benefits that top predators like wolves provide.

It is widely recognized that wolves, as a top predator, directly influence populations of elk, deer, moose and other prey animals. But it has only been in the last 15 years that scientists have unraveled the full extent of wolves' impacts on local fauna and flora. The recolonization of wolves in the Northern Rockies, made possible by a reintroduction program in Yellowstone National Park begun in 1994, has allowed for extensive study of how the absence or presence of wolves affects ecosystems. These wolf studies, along with other research on other predators like cougars, sea otters and sharks, have fundamentally changed our understanding of ecology and are revising conservation strategies and priorities around the world. We now know that conserving top predators is essential for building a sustainable and healthy world for people and all species.

Yellowstone research showed that when wolves were absent, over browsing by elk and moose on plants like cottonwoods, willows and aspens caused degradation of habitat and altered forest health. In areas where wolves have returned, ungulates are reduced by predation and consume less browse. In addition, in wolf-occupied areas, their prey is more vigilant and active, which further reduces browsing levels. The result is that habitat improves, animal diversity increases, and important ecosystem functions improve, such as better floodplain protection, river channel stabilization, and water quality.

Wolf presence also affects many non-prey animal species that share the same habitat. For example, increased availability of wolf-killed carcasses helps scavenging animals, such as bears, wolverines, foxes, mink, ravens, jays, eagles and vultures, especially during winter when other foods become scarce. Wolves also reduce coyote populations, thereby boosting pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, and other small animal populations. Without the presence of the top-down benefits exerted by predators such as wolves, natural areas become simplified, less diverse, and less healthy.

Wolves in Washington State
The gray wolf is an endangered species throughout Washington under state law and is endangered under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state. Wolves are a part of Washington’s wildlife heritage and were once found throughout the state, but great numbers were killed during the expansion of ranching and farming between 1850 and 1900. By the 1930s, wolves were eliminated as a breeding species in the state.

In the last decade, reports of wolves in Washington have increased, probably due to their recent population increases in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Since 2008, state biologists have documented that Washington has at least five wolf packs, totaling 20-30 animals. A few solitary wolves also are likely to occur. The five resident wolf packs, including the Teanaway Pack living only 90 miles east of Seattle, signal the possibility of population recovery for the species in Washington. State and federal wildlife authorities are monitoring the activity of these new resident wolves to learn about their habitat use, reproductive potential and emerging conflicts with people.

Zoo Supports the Proposed Wolf Conservation and Management Plan
A Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington—created by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife through a four-year public process—is to be considered next month by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The primary goals of the plan are:
1. Restore the wolf population in Washington to a self-sustaining size and a geographic distribution that will result in wolves having a high probability of persisting in the state through the foreseeable future. The plan aims for wolf recovery defined by Washington as having 15 breeding pairs of wolves and their packs, totaling about 100-350 wolves, for three years and distributed across three recovery regions. (By way of comparison, there are an estimated 2,000 cougars and 25,000 black bears living today in Washington.)
2. Manage wolf/livestock conflicts in a way that minimizes livestock losses, while at the same time not negatively impacting the recovery of the wolf population.
3. Maintain healthy and robust ungulate populations in Washington that provide abundant prey for wolves and other predators as well as ample harvest opportunities for hunters.
4. Develop public understanding of the conservation and management needs of wolves in Washington, thereby promoting the public's coexistence with this predator species.

The Woodland Park Zoological Society supports the proposed Washington State Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. While it is true that wolves are naturally returning to Washington state after a 70-year absence, their recovery is far from certain. We see the plan as an important step toward building a scientifically-based, adaptive management process that will help wolves return to sustainable numbers in Washington. The issue is not only about wolves, but a myriad of other species, because it is now clear that the ecological health of many plants and animals depends on the survival of top predators. The zoo also supports the conservation of other top predators around the world, like tigers, lions and jaguars. You can learn more about the proposed Wolf Conservation and Management Plan here.

We invite you to visit the zoo to learn more about our wolves and what you can do to support wolf conservation here in Washington state and beyond.

Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo; Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo; Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo; Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo; Brittney Bollay/Woodland Park Zoo; Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo; Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bid on zoo experiences at holiday auction

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Despite the fact that I’m still munching on leftover Halloween candy, I know the holiday season has arrived now that our Enrichment Giving Trees for the animals are going up and our zookeepers’ annual holiday gift auction is coming this Fri., Nov. 18.

Holiday Auction
If you are looking for an extraordinary gift that you can’t buy online or from a mall, check out Woodland Park Zoo’s Holiday Silent Auction this Friday to bid on a host of cool gifts including behind-the-scenes animal tours. You’ll get to pick from unforgettable experiences like going behind the scenes to watch an elephant bath, taking a photo with a raptor, or meeting an orangutan up close.

The silent auction is put on by the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (PS-AAZK) and will take place inside the zoo’s Education Center (near the South Entrance) on Fri., Nov. 18. Guaranteed bidding will be from noon to 2:00 p.m., and the silent auction continues from 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. Proceeds help support animal and habitat conservation projects around the world, the advancement of the zoo keeping profession and education outreach.

Holiday Enrichment Giving Trees
Want to treat your favorite zoo animals with their favorite treats and toys? Zookeepers with PS-AAZK have also put together a wish list of items for our zoo animals to enrich their lives and encourage their natural behaviors—everything from rope toys for raptors, to puzzle feeders for monkeys, to boomer balls for big cats (like lion Adia in the photo above). Each item on the wish list is represented by an ornament that will be displayed on one of our two Holiday Enrichment Giving Trees, found in Zoomazium and the zoo’s Education Center starting Fri., Nov. 18. Visitors can browse the wish list here or come to the zoo and choose an ornament off the tree. Place your present for the animals under one of the trees before the end of the year and the animals will get to enjoy them this winter and beyond.

Thanks to you all for your continued support and generosity!

Photos (from top): Grizzly by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Orangutan by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Lion by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Black and white and fishy all over

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Have you ever wanted to feed a penguin just like our keepers get to do every day?

Here’s your chance to feed our tuxedo-clad birds!

Our Humboldt penguin feeding opportunity kicked off this month and is now available daily through April 1.

Each day from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (or until daily fish supply is depleted), visitors will have the opportunity to add a penguin feeding experience to their zoo visit. For $5, you’ll get to feed the zoo’s charismatic Humboldt penguins a handful of tasty fish and experience these endangered birds hand to beak.

You can pre-purchase your feeding opportunity at the West Entrance when you arrive (located at Phinney Ave. N. between N. 55th and N. 56th streets) or head over to the penguin exhibit and purchase the upgraded experience while you are there (cash only when purchasing at the exhibit).

We have received wonderful feedback from our visitors who have had the unforgettable experience of feeding giraffes and elephants—two opportunities we make available in the summer—and we’re excited to here what you all think of this winter season feeding opportunity with some of the most magnetic birds you’ll encounter. Please share your photos and experiences with us if you get a chance to enjoy a penguin feeding this winter!

Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Being 5: Snow leopard edition

Posted by: Nora Venne, Education

Our look at the life of 5-year-olds continues in honor of Zoomazium’s big 5th birthday. In this post, zookeepers shed some light on what life is like for a 5-year-old snow leopard.

Q: Human children at age 5 are still very young and completely dependent on their families for care. Give us a brief description of what life looks like for a snow leopard. Is age 5 young or older for this animal?

A: At 3 years of age, our male snow leopard Tom had all ready consummated a relationship and at 4 years of age he was a father of two! Next year at age 5 he will once again hopefully father more children. Cats mature very quickly. In captivity snow leopards can live to be 18, although some live longer and a very few live to 21. Scientists are still researching how long snow leopards live in the wild but a domestic housecat would be considered in its upper 30s in human years when it was 5.

Q: For humans, kindergarten is just starting at age 5. Sometimes we go to school away from our parents and start being independent during the day. When do snow leopards start becoming independent from their families and how do they learn to do so?

A: Since snow leopards are so elusive in the wild, it is hard to study them. As a result, scientists don't know for sure exactly when wild snow leopards become independent, but the current thinking is that it is most likely between 2 and 3 years. In those first few years, cubs are busy learning from their mother, watching her and replicating her behavior, preparing them with the skills they need to be on their own soon after.
Q: Although we are beginning to be more independent at age 5, we still must be able to tell familiar people from strangers and know where home is. How does a snow leopard know its family and friends from others?
A: Snow leopards are thought to be largely loners though recent information seems to suggest a more active social calendar. Snow leopards use smell and sound to keep track of each other, more often in order to avoid each other than to see one another. They spray urine that conveys lots of information such as who they are and reproductive status.

Q: Kindergarten is also a time of learning. We learn our numbers, letters and other useful skills for life (like how to tie our shoes). What kind of skills do snow leopards need to learn for life and when and how do they begin learning?
A: Snow leopards need to learn how to hunt other living things and they begin learning as soon as they can walk and follow mom and watch her do it. They also learn social etiquette that should keep them out of trouble.

Q: An important step in Kindergarten is learning to share and make friends. How do snow leopards make friends and interact with each other?

A: Unless they are related snow leopards probably do not interact with other snow leopards unless they are spreading genetic material. But there is just too much we do not know about these elusive cats, so it is possible that snow leopards may socialize outside of the breeding season or even share a kill depending on how well they get along.

Whether you are a human, a snow leopard or a penguin, being 5 is an exciting time. Celebrate Zoomazium’s 5th birthday with us this weekend with enrichment treats for the zoo’s notable 5-year-old animals!

Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dale Unruh/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Being 5: Penguin Edition

Posted by: Nora Venne, Education

Happy 5th birthday, Zoomazium! We’re celebrating 5 years of child’s play in Zoomazium with a look this week at what it means to be 5 for humans and different animals. Then the party continues this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5 and 6, with cupcakes, live entertainment and birthday-themed activities at Zoomazium including enrichment treats for some of the zoo’s notable 5-year-old residents.

In this blog post, we spoke with penguin keepers at Woodland Park Zoo to learn more about what it is like to be 5 years old for a Humboldt penguin.
Q: Human children at age 5 are still very young and completely dependent on their families for care. Give us a brief description of what life looks like for a penguin. Is age 5 young or older for this animal?
A: Humboldt penguins are much further along in their maturity by age 5 than humans are. That’s because the average life span of a Humboldt penguin is around 20 – 25 years in the wild; 25 – 30 years in captivity. Penguins grow incredibly fast. A Humboldt penguin chick at age 40 – 60 days (when it is still on the nest) already weighs as much as its parents—about 7 pounds! At 1 year of age, young penguins lose their juvenile feathers and get in their full adult plumage complete with stripes and spots. They reach reproductive age at 2 – 3 years.

Q: For humans, kindergarten is just starting at age 5. Sometimes we go to school away from our parents and start being independent during the day. When do penguins start becoming independent from their families and how do they learn to do so?

A: Penguins begin to become independent at 70 – 90 days when a fledgling leaves the nest and is no longer dependent on its parents for food. In the wild, penguins typically spend their lifetime in the colony, however, once they are fledged and eating on their own, there is little interaction between parents and chicks.

Q: Although we are beginning to be more independent at age 5, we still must be able to tell familiar people from strangers and know where home is. How does a penguin know its family and friends from others?

A: As these birds are a social species and can live in colonies numbering in the hundreds and thousands, penguins use a few methods to identify each other. Humboldt penguins each have a series of spots and stripe patterns on their ventral side and under their flippers. Each pattern is unique to each individual, much like fingerprints on humans. Penguins also use vocalizations to communicate. It is believed that each individual penguin has its own voice unique to itself. This is another way penguin parents can distinguish their young in a crowd and vice versa.
Q: Kindergarten is also a time of learning. We learn our numbers, letters and other useful skills for life (like how to tie our shoes). What kind of skills do penguins need to learn for life and when and how do they begin learning?
A: Upon fledging (at around 70-90 days), Humboldt penguin young are led to the water where parents and members of the colony introduce them to the fundamentals of survival. These fledgling juveniles quickly learn to swim and hunt for fish such as anchovies and sardines. Though swimming and fishing are innate behaviors to penguins, exposure, practice, and repetition of these activities when they are young will be of continuing benefit to the colony as they grow older. The sooner individuals can develop these important skills, the sooner they can participate in foraging and hunting strategies and contribute to the colony. Practice makes perfect!

Q: An important step in Kindergarten is learning to share and make friends. How do penguins make friends and interact with each other?

A: Penguins, in general, are highly social creatures that typically live in groups of hundreds and even thousands. A social structure within a group develops over time and often dominant individuals are at the forefront. Competition is the name of the game when it comes to penguin survival. Adapting highly acute senses like eyesight, hearing, touch, and vocalizations (called braying) help penguins to distinguish and express who is friend or foe. Body posturing (using head, flippers, bill), though not easily interpreted by humans, is something penguins seem to use a lot to communicate. Penguins also bill fence when fighting, and a mate will tend to their partner's feathers or preen them when comfortable and relaxed.

Clearly, being 5 means different things for different animals. We’ll explore what it means to be 5 for the snow leopards of Central Asia in the next update.

And don’t miss out on celebrating Zoomazium’s 5th with us this weekend! Hope to see you there!

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Seattle Sounders FC recruits zoo animal kickers

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Scarves up! Woodland Park Zoo’s animals put their soccer skills to work today as we rallied for the Seattle Sounders FC’s run for the MLS Cup playoffs.

The soccer ball kicking exhibition started with Rico, a 4-year-old Sicilian miniature donkey who recently joined the zoo’s Family Farm. Donning a Sounders scarf, Rico skillfully pushed his Sounders soccer ball all around his exhibit using his nose.

He used his mouth to get the ball out of the gutter and back onto the playing field. The ref is still out on whether that’s a legal move.

Next up was our frisky 2-year-old lion Adia who chased her ball all around the exhibit and even went after it when it splashed into the moat filled with water.

It didn’t take long for Adia to crush the ball with her bite and drag it back with her to her rock for safe keeping.

Five-year-old snow leopard Tom spent a good 5 minutes first rubbing his fur all over his soccer ball, enticed by the new scent it presented to his exhibit. Then he playfully tossed the ball in the air and romped up and down the hills of his exhibit in pursuit of the rolling ball.

Grizzly brothers Keema and Denali, both 17 years old, knew something good was coming their way when a keeper went up to the roof of their exhibit ready to toss in a treat. As the soccer balls went flying into the exhibit, one bear went after the ball that plopped onto land and the other bear dove into the pool to chase after the ball that went into the water.

This one turned out to be less of a soccer playing exhibition and more of a massive jaw and teeth exhibition as the bears bit into the balls and deflated them with no effort, then tore them to shreds.

Last up was our pack of four 1-year-old gray wolves, sisters Doba, Shila, Aponi and Kaya. A mini Sounders soccer ball was placed out for each of them, and they broke into their usual pack dynamics with the alpha wolf getting first bite and the rest of the pack approaching after.

The wolves chased the soccer balls down the hill of the exhibit, then grabbed the soccer balls with their mouths and brought them back up to the top. There they’d roll around on the soccer balls, checking out the new scent and spreading their own.

Soccer balls for the animals are part of the zoo’s excellent animal care program to help enrich the lives of the zoo’s animals, promote natural animal behavior, keep animals mentally stimulated and engage zoo visitors.

It was a thrill to see the repertoire of behavior with different natural instincts from each species coming out when presented with the soccer balls—from chasing, to scent marking and even tearing them apart. That’s all part of the game, right?

Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Sarah Lovrien/Woodland Park Zoo, Sarah Lovrien/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.