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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday wishes

Posted by: Staff of Woodland Park Zoo

Happy holidays from the Woodland Park Zoo family to your family!

We hope you’ll spread the holiday cheer and pass this video or a zoo holiday eCard along to your loved ones.

Stay warm, safe and jolly!

Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Flood happy

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Unless you’ve been on a tropical getaway for the past month, you probably noticed that the Pacific Northwest welcomed in the coming winter season with regular drenchings of heavy rain. This is the time of year when leaves clog drainpipes, and puddles emerge on the streets, sometimes as big as ponds. Well, if you were a West African dwarf crocodile you would be very pleased!

Woodland Park Zoo’s male dwarf crocodile almost fully submerged on exhibit. Photo by Alex Monopolis.
Dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis) are a special type of small crocodile species found in the tropical rivers and swamps of sub-Saharan West Africa and West Central Africa. They thrive in swamps and rainforest rivers, but have also been found in Savannah flood zones where they soak up the extra moisture during the wet season, and dig burrows in heavy mud to aestivate during the subsequent dry season.

Dwarf crocodile camouflaged on exhibit at Woodland Park Zoo’s Day Exhibit. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
The dwarf crocodile is itself divided into two subspecies: The Congo dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis osborni) and the West African dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis tetraspis). Our West African dwarf crocodiles have a knob on their snouts which distinguish them from their Congolese cousins.

Woodland Park Zoo houses two beautiful West African dwarf crocodiles—a pair, male and female. Staying true to their timid behavior, our dwarf crocs have not revealed their names to us. In fact, their toothy grins seem to be hiding more than a few secrets. Did you know that a crocodile can go through about 3,000 teeth in its lifetime? Crocs use their chompers to catch and bite their prey, so they can’t afford to have any toothy mishaps. Instead of simply falling out, each tooth is hollow, and allows a new tooth to grow inside the older tooth. This way, when one tooth gets pulled out, there is a brand new tooth ready to go where the old one was lost. And that famous crocodile smile? It’s due to the fact that most of their teeth sit outside their mouth.

Woodland Park Zoo’s female dwarf crocodile shows her teeth. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Most of the time, our crocs take it easy. These ancient creatures rest most of the day, but their senses are always on cue. One really cool thing about crocodiles is their sensory organs. Both upper and lower jaws are covered with sensory pits, which appear as tiny, black speckles on the skin. These pigmented nodules hold bundles of nerve fibers that respond to the slightest disturbance in surface water, detecting vibrations and small pressure changes in water. These organs are known as dermal pressure receptors. While alligators and caimans only have them on their jaws, crocodiles have similar organs on almost every scale on their body! These organs make it possible for crocodiles to snap at prey, catch dinner, sense mates, and dodge dangers such as predators and other crocs even in total darkness.

Close up of male dwarf crocodile. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
So, since our crocodiles won’t disclose their names, and both share toothy smiles and croc like reflexes, how do we tell them apart? Easy. Our female is pretty tiny and weighs only 40 pounds, compared to her mate who weighs 175 pounds! Typically, female dwarf crocodiles are about 3-4 feet long and males are usually 4-5 feet long, but our male is an exception at 6.3 feet! Because of their sizable difference; the two can easily be identified.

The male dwarf crocodile, seen here, is considerably larger than the female on exhibit. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
Our crocodiles have produced 14 babies since they came to Woodland Park Zoo as young adults in 1973. Surviving offspring have been sent to zoos as far away as South Africa. In the wild, West African dwarf crocodiles eat mainly fish, but also frogs, birds and small mammals. Here at the zoo, our crocs are fed mice, rats, chicks and quail for variety, but their favorite snack is… all of the above!

A dwarf crocodile tail. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Keeper Peter Miller lets us in on something really cool to look out for when visiting our dwarf crocs—the male vocalizing to the female. The male lets out a really low growl, typically with his throat submerged in the water. This causes the water to vibrate vigorously, and water droplets begin to dance on the surface.

Like most of the 23 species of crocodiles, both dwarf crocodile subspecies are endangered due to overhunting, persecution and habitat deconstruction. Learn more about these incredible reptiles and how you can help protect them.

Dwarf crocodile in water. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.
Our dwarf crocs can be seen in the Day Exhibit, along with the majority of our reptiles and amphibians. The best time to visit them is early morning or late afternoon, and especially on Sundays, which is feeding day!

The next time your rain gauge overflows and the puddles begin to take over the streets, head over to our Day Exhibit (where it is always nice and warm!) and say hello to our resident crocs. They will be waiting for you!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The panda of the lizard world

Posted by: Diane Yoshimi, Zookeeper, with Linda Uyeda, Zookeeper

Recently born Chinese crocodile lizard. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Woodland Park Zoo recently had two female Chinese crocodile lizards (Shinisaurus crocodilurus) give birth to two litters of 11 babies in total. The crocodile lizard is an unusual reptile that gives birth to young after 9 to12 months of gestation. The newborn babies, weighing approximately 4 to 6 grams, are independent at birth and litter size ranges from 1 to 9. Since WPZ acquired a pair in 1993, there have been 70 crocodile lizard offspring born at the zoo. In December 2010 there were 115 individuals living in 22 North American institutions held in a managed program, meaning a studbook keeper recommends which individuals should be bred in order to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.

Adult Chinese crocodile lizard (left) in a tank next to a baby Shinisaurus (right). Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
The Chinese crocodile lizard is an endangered lizard found in the Guanxi province in Southern China and in 2002 previously unknown populations were discovered in northern Vietnam. This species is semi-aquatic and lives in creeks between 200–700m in altitude surrounded by broadleaf trees and conifers. This lizard has become severely endangered due to collection for the pet trade and for food, and from habitat destruction. The total population of Shinisaurus in China declined from 6,000 in 1978 to 950 in 2008 and now are listed as a CITES Appendix II animal (vulnerable) granted protection as a category I species under the Wild Animal Protection Law in China.

Chinese crocodile habitat. Photo by Jin Li Wei.
Zookeeper Linda Uyeda and I recently attended the Daguishan International Symposium on the Protection and Breeding of Shinisaurus in Hezhou, China. It was a rare opportunity for us to share data from our breeding program with other scientists in one of the range countries of this species. The aim of the symposium was to increase habitat protection and public awareness, and to promote the breeding and eventual re-introduction of Shinisaurus into the wild. We learned from Shinisaurus researcher Dr. Zheng-Jun Wu that there are several striking differences between the breeding behaviors of the lizards at Woodland Park Zoo and the husbandry parameters we maintain in comparison with the crocodile lizard program in China. For example, our lizards are kept solely indoors so the time of year at which they breed and the growth rate of the young are significantly different from that of Shinisaurus living outdoors in China. Our lizards also reach sexual maturity much earlier, as early as 13 months, due to the rapid growth of the young.

Symposium attendees viewing Chinese crocodile lizard breeding enclosures. Photo by Linda Uyeda/Woodland Park Zoo.
Attending this conference gave us the opportunity to learn about conservation efforts in China and—the highlight of the trip—to see Shinisaurus habitat at the Daguishan Crocodile Lizard Nature Reserve and to see lizards at the Beilou Crocodile Lizard breeding station. We learned a great deal about their status in the wild, the husbandry and breeding of Shinisaurus in China, and the additional steps the Chinese government would like to take to protect this species. This gathering of Chinese scientists and government officials underscores the serious threats to this species which we heard referred to as the reptile equivalent of the giant panda!

Adult Shinisaurus at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
The conference was also attended by Michael Zollweg of the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations in Germany, who had visited the research station earlier this year. He shared information on the status of Shinisaurus in Europe and we spent much time comparing notes on our experiences with this species. A particularly interesting item in his presentation was that a 48-million-year-old lizard fossil from Wyoming, Bahndwivici ammoskius, was found to be nearly identical anatomically to Shinisaurus, emphasizing the ancient nature of this fascinating lizard. Michael was a source of not only valuable husbandry and natural history information on Shinisaurus, but also of useful sight-seeing information. We saw many remarkable things during our stay in China but the hospitality of our hosts and their dedication to this species are the things we’ll remember most.

Close up of baby Shinisaurus born at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
The eleven baby Shinisaurus born at Woodland Park Zoo this year are currently not on view but will be placed on display when they are a little larger (at present they are each only about 5 grams). You can see the two female Shinisaurus mothers on exhibit in the zoo’s indoor Day Exhibit.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holidoo: the gift they won’t forget

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Holidoo is available now in ZooStores. Photo by Woodland Park Zoo.
The zoo’s very own Dr. Doo has been hard at work specially crafting a limited edition blend of Holidoo for the holiday season. Unlike the typical Zoo Doo compost featuring manures of nearly two dozen zoo herbivore species, the All Elephant Poo Holidoo is made up exclusively of the “end products” of the zoo’s elephants’ manure and bedding—the biggest and richest composting materials at the zoo.

ZooDooa work in progress. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Got a gardening enthusiast in your life? Holidoo makes the ideal present. Or that person who seems to have everything? Bet they don’t have Holidoo!

Holidoo's source. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
The festively packaged Holidoo product is available exclusively during the holiday season only at the ZooStore in jumbo-sized, 4-gallon containers ($20). Traditional Zoo Doo compost is also available in 2-gallon buckets ($12.95) or pints ($4.95) for stocking stuffers. Holidoo and Zoo Doo purchases help support the zoo’s animal care, education programs and conservation efforts all over the world. Hurry, supplies are limited.

Gifts galore at ZooStore. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
While shopping for Holidoo, be sure to check out the loads of eco-friendly items and conservation commerce also available at the ZooStore, open daily 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (closed Christmas Day). To make shopping more convenient for you during the busy holiday season, we’ve expanded ZooStore hours at our West Entrance store. The ZooStore West will be open 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. on the first four Thursdays of December. Parking in zoo lots is free during expanded hours.

Five dollars from every ZooParent adoption directly supports the zoo's conservation efforts at the zoo and around the world. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Prefer to shop online? Pick up zoo gift memberships and gift cards here or browse the ZooParent adoption deals.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New sloth bear undergoes quarantine exam

Posted by: Martin Ramirez, Mammal Curator

A month after arriving to Woodland Park Zoo via FedEx from Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas, 7-year-old, female sloth bear, Tasha, underwent her quarantine exam on Tuesday. At Woodland Park Zoo, the quarantine exam is the last major step in the process to clear a newly arrived animal out of standard 30-day quarantine and prepare them to move into their exhibit.

Dr. Darin Collins, the zoo’s director of Animal Health, inspects Tasha's teeth. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Tasha received a full physical examination by our expert Animal Health staff that included blood work, radiographs and weight—essential baseline data that we keep on file to reference as we track an animal’s health over their lifetime.

Close up of Tasha's claws. Sloth bears dig out insect mounds with their long, sharp claws. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Weighing in at 215 pounds, Tasha received a clean bill of health and has been approved to begin introductions to her exhibit and her new mate, Randy, the zoo’s 14-year-old male sloth bear.

The zoo's Animal Health team completes Tasha's quarantine exam. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Tasha was relocated here under a breeding recommendation by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for sloth bears. SSPs, administered by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), are cooperative breeding programs to help ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability of endangered species in North American zoos and aquariums. Tasha has never had any offspring so her genetics are particularly valuable to keeping the sloth bear gene pool diverse.

Woodland Park Zoo last had sloth bear cubs in 2004. They have since moved to other AZA-accredited zoos. Photo by Dale Unruh/Woodland Park Zoo.
While keepers will have their hands full introducing Tasha to Randy and getting the bears acquainted and comfortable together, another big project is in the works for sloth bears at the zoo. Woodland Park Zoo is currently designing a new, naturalistic exhibit complex for sloth bears, Malayan tigers, Asian small-clawed otters and tropical birds. The $19.6 million exhibit project, part of the zoo’s $80 million More Wonder More Wild Campaign, will replace the 60-year-old infrastructure that critically endangered tigers and Asian bears currently inhabit at the zoo.

Sloth bear at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
With the new exhibit design, we’ll bring visitors closer than ever to these bears, while also providing the bears with more than twice the space to accommodate multiple generations and to give the bears novel enrichment opportunities that bring out their fascinating adaptations and natural behaviors. In the new exhibit, sloth bears will use their sense of smell and dexterity to retrieve food hidden in digging pits. They will eat marrow from bones they break open in a specially designed bone-breaking pit, slurp grubs out of logs and put their vacuum-like eating style to work at a keeper-assisted feeding demonstration.

Sloth bear foraging. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
A new home for sloth bears that engages and inspires zoo visitors is especially important as Woodland Park Zoo’s sloth bears are ambassadors for their endangered counterparts in the wild, native to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Their survival is challenged by fragmented populations, deforestation and the bear parts trade. Sloth bears are very rare in zoos, with fewer than 50 currently living in North American zoos.

Draft artist’s concept rendering. Courtesy of Studio Hanson/Roberts.
We hope to unveil more of the plans for the new tiger and sloth bear exhibit project early next year. Stay tuned here for updates and learn how to get involved in the project at http://www.morewonder.org/.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Snow Leopard Trust wins BBC World Challenge

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Big news: Your votes have made a difference for wildlife!

We are proud to announce our conservation partner, Snow Leopard Trust, has won 1st place in the BBC World Challenge! Thanks to your votes, they will receive $20,000 to help protect wild snow leopards and will have their story told on the BBC's international news outlets to spread the word about big cat conservation.

Congrats to the Snow Leopard Trust and our many, many thanks to you all for voting throughout October and November and helping them win this incredible global honor.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.