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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Joey + joey

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

What’s better than one joey? Two joeys!

No, not those Joeys. We’re talking baby marsupials!

We’re excited to have had two little joeys born at our Australasia exhibit. Our 5-month-old, red-necked wallaby joey is just starting to peek out of its mother’s pouch, and our newborn wallaroo joey has not been seen yet but will start to emerge in June or July.

Wallaby joey in its mother’s pouch. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

This is especially exciting news for us as it marks the first wallaby joey born at Woodland Park Zoo, part of our work with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ collaborative Species Survival Plan breeding program.

If you come by to look for the wallaby joey, you’ll want to have a bit of patience and a little luck on your side. You’ll be looking for the joey in the pouch of 3-year-old, first time mom Kiley. You can tell her apart by the orange tag on the front of her right ear.

You can identify Kiley by the orange tag on her right ear. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Be prepared—Kiley can be quite shy. She tends to hide behind a row of bushes but occasionally ventures toward the front of the exhibit. Look for the curious little joey sticking its face, arms and feet out of the pouch. We don’t yet know the gender of the wallaby joey and the tiny thing is estimated to weigh just over a pound.

The wallaby joey has been seen poking its face, arms and feet out of the pouch. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

At only 5 months old, the wallaby joey remains in its mother’s pouch where it suckles and grows in warmth and comfort. That pouch offers a lot of security to a joey that is born blind, hairless and the size of a bean! It’ll be another two to three months before we see the wallaby joey hopping around outside of its mother’s pouch.

The other joey—the wallaroo—won’t be seen until it gets a little bigger and starts to emerge this summer. But we’ll be sure to post photos as soon as we spot the little one!

Beyond breeding at the zoo, we also play a role in marsupial conservation in the wild with our flagship conservation program, Woodland Park Zoo's Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program. Learn more about our work saving endangered tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Smell like a Komodo dragon

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Komodo dragons have an excellent sense of smell enhanced by a long, forked tongue that helps them detect carrion up to 6 miles away. 

They also use their tongue to investigate other Komodo defecation sites. That might sound gross to us, but it provides valuable information to them about another's sex, size and age.

Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New tiger and sloth bear exhibit designs revealed

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Malayan tiger. Photo courtesy Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

Serving on the exhibit design team for new Malayan tiger and sloth bear exhibits has been the highlight of my years at Woodland Park Zoo. Apologies in advance--you might see an extraordinary amount of exclamation points in this blog post because I am so excited after all this time to unveil the cool features we’ve dreamed up for this new space! And with your support, we can make it a reality!

An overview of the all new, 2-acre tiger and sloth bear exhibit complex. (Click to enlarge.) Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Our tigers and sloth bears currently live in 60-year-old exhibits, some of the last remaining old-school exhibits at the zoo. It’s time to transform this space into a state-of-the-art, naturalistic exhibit complex for these endangered species. We’re making it better for the animals, better for visitors, better for zoo staff and better for the environment through sustainable design.

Here’s how we’ll do it. Let me set the scene…

Enter the tropical forests of Asia and be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest teeming with life—endangered turtles, colorful songbirds, squealing small-clawed otters, foraging sloth bears and tigers playing and soaking up the afternoon sun.

Courtesy of Dickerson Park Zoo. Photographer: Melinda Arnold.

This immersive scene will soon be a reality in our new, 2-acre exhibit complex—the most ambitious zoo project since 1996’s Trail of Vines. In these exhibits, we’ll bring you closer to these animals than you ever have been before, get you talking to our keepers and experts one-on-one, and show you how you can get involved with our efforts to save wildlife and forest habitats.

Want to stroll with me through the exhibit? Here we go.

Pass through the rustic entry and you’re plunged into a world of greens, yellows and browns as a bamboo-rich forest surrounds you.

Exhibit entry. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Do you have little ones with you who have some energy to burn? Head on into the Kids’ Camp play area. Designed with early learners’ needs in mind, we’ll get their mental and motor skills going as they balance on logs, cross a wobble bridge, and fly along a mini-zipline.

Asian small-clawed otter exhibit. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Soon you’ll find yourself lured away from the play area with the promise of otters up ahead. A new species coming to Woodland Park Zoo, the Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest otter in the world.

Asian small-clawed otters. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Zoo.

More terrestrial than the river otters you are used to seeing in Northern Trail, these little otters will be busy running, hunting for fish, grooming and tumbling over each other, cavorting in a marsh or on the beach.

Malay argus. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

Don’t miss the Tropical Aviary across the path. Here you’ll be captivated by the electric color and musical calls of fairy bluebird, shama thrush, argus pheasant and Pekin nightingale.
Sloth bear exhibit. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Sloth bears are next and I hope you’re ready to get close. Imagine: all that separates you from a foraging sloth bear is a grove of stalks. This innovative containment features steel pipes mimicking bamboo on the bear’s side, securely yielding to the real thing on the visitor’s side.

Bamboo barrier at sloth bear exhibit. Artist rendering by Woodland Park Zoo.

You’ll see, hear, and smell the lively sloth bears as they interact with state-of-the-art enrichment opportunities throughout the new exhibit. They’ll use their sense of smell and dexterity to retrieve food hidden in digging pits, crack into marrow as they break open bones in a specially designed bone-breaking pit, slurp grubs out of logs in their dry ravine landscape and put their vacuum-like eating style to work at a keeper-assisted feeding demonstration.

Sloth bears at the zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Next up is the Conservation Action Center, the educational hub of the exhibit where you’ll connect with real success stories from our field conservation partners and learn how to take action now to build a better future for wildlife.

Conservation Action Center (building on the right) in the heart of the exhibit complex. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

You want to get to those Malayan tigers, don’t you?

Tigers at a stream. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Well, now you'll get closer to tigers than ever before at Woodland Park Zoo. See the natural instincts of these animals kick in when they interact with enrichment opportunities that allow them to stalk “prey” as they chase a lure line that runs through the exhibit, jostle trees to retrieve snacks, and track live fish in a shallow pool.

Tiger sleeping under a banyan tree. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts. 

Let the state-of-the-art acoustic engineering transport you with the symphonic sounds of the forest. As you stand under the roots of a banyan tree that bridges the divide between visitor and animal spaces, get close enough to hear even the minutest sounds of the tiger licking its paws, purring and rumbling as it settles in for a nap.

Early concept drawing of tiger training wall.

At the training wall, visitors will have the unforgettable opportunity to observe zookeepers working one-on-one with our Malayan tigers and sloth bears. These training presentations will get visitors closer to live predators than at any other exhibit at the zoo, and provide insight into how the zoo safely cares for such large and dangerous animals.


Of course, these are extraordinary changes, which means we have a long road ahead to get it all done. We expect to begin construction in the fall of 2012 and we plan to open this complex in two phases. Phase One will have the otters and play area, and will open in 2013. Phase Two will have all the rest, and will open in 2014.

We’re making great progress with fundraising but still have a ways to go. This exhibit project is part of our $21.86 million Asian Tropical Forest fundraising initiative. We have already raised more than $6 million and we now turn to the community for your support.

There are three big ways you can help:

First, consider making a gift of any size (a gift of $1,000 or more gets your name in a paw print in the exhibit!).

Second, join us at one of our upcoming open houses (March 31 and April 3) so you can learn more about the project, get your questions answered, and provide valuable feedback.

Third, help us get the word out there—tell everyone you know how excited you are for this project! Hit those Facebook, Twitter and G+ buttons and start sharing.

Together, we can make it happen! THANK YOU!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Two sets of eyes

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

When the sunbittern unfolds its wings, a burst of color is revealed with a pattern that looks like two glaring eyes.

The “eyes” can be used to frighten predators.

Come see the sunbittern in the always warm Tropical Rain Forest building. It's the perfect escape on a rainy day. And now rainy days at the zoo might come with a little something extra--50% off zoo admission!

With our new Rainy Day Discount, we'll activate a special coupon on select dreary days. Just visit our Rainy Day page to see if there's a coupon good for your next trip on a soggy day.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saying goodbye to sun bears

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

There are big changes coming soon to our tiger and Asian bear exhibits as we get ready to make over the 60-year-old spaces into naturalistic, state-of-the-art homes for these animals. Next week we’ll unveil our final design plans for the new space. But before we get caught up in what’s to come, we want to tell you about some related changes underway—saying goodbye to sun bears at Woodland Park Zoo.

As we started to gather ideas for the new exhibits that will replace this outdated part of the zoo, we had to get serious about planning for space. You see, we are seeking to deepen our commitment to and involvement in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan captive breeding programs for Asian bears. To become a center for endangered Asian bear breeding, we need to use exhibit space more efficiently to allow for multiple generations of bears—from newborns to the elderly—and account for the need to separate bears that may not be compatible outside of breeding season.

With this need for space, it became apparent that we could not provide such facilities for both species of Asian bears currently kept at the zoo—sloth bears and sun bears. So our animal care experts consulted with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and other institutions participating in Asian bear Species Survival Plans in order to determine the most appropriate species to maintain in our collection. Based on an extensive set of criteria including ease of visibility for visitors, record of success in breeding, suitability to the exhibit environment, and other factors, we determined the sloth bear was the best fit to maintain in the new exhibit complex.

That was a tough yet important decision to make, and it means we’ll no longer have sun bears in our collection at Woodland Park Zoo. Right now, two sun bears call Woodland Park Zoo home—our 4-year-old male Palu and 13-year-old female Suntil. This month, we're getting ready to place them in a new zoo home. These two bears have a strong bond so we're especially happy to have found a new home for them where they will get to stay together as a pair —Virginia Zoo, which just completed a new exhibit for sun bears.

After March 25—their last day on exhibit together—we’ll be getting ready to send Palu and Suntil on their cross-country trip. We hope with the warm weather and high humidity in Virginia that they’ll get a little kickstart in the hormone department and maybe make some babies together!

While our keepers get Palu and Suntil ready, we’re putting some final touches on our exhibit design plans that we’ll share with the public on March 22. We can’t wait to show you all the amazing features in our new, 2-acre exhibit complex that will get you closer than ever to sloth bears and tigers and connect you with ways to help them in the wild. We think you’ll be as excited as we are to see it all come together. More to come next week!

Photos (from top): Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo. Exhibit rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Snow leopard tail

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Enjoying the cold, wet snow mix this week? It’s nothing to our snow leopards.

They come equipped for bundling up: snow leopards use their 3-foot-long tails as mufflers to protect their noses and lungs from freezing at night.

Archive photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

There’s a fox in my fig tree

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Meet some of our newest frugivores!

Our colony of Indian flying foxes perches under the roof of their house. They have long-toed feet with sharp claws enabling them to roost hanging upside down. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Six Indian flying foxes have settled in (under, actually) nicely at the Adaptations Building.

While it may be hard to tell which creature the Indian flying fox resembles most, its large eyeballs, pointy ears, reddish brown fur, long snout, and wingspan of up to six feet, all belong to the megabat Pteropus giganteus. Not quite a fox, although certainly similar in the looks department, the Indian flying fox is one of the larger fruit bats in the world, weighing as much as 3.5 pounds.

In the wild, the Indian flying fox is found on the Indian sub-continent that extends from Pakistan to Southeast Asia and China, and south to the Maldive Islands. Flying fox inhabit enormous trees such as banyan, tamarind and fig. These trees are capable of holding huge bat colonies, sometimes housing thousands of bats!

Here you can really see the flying fox’s giant eyeballs. They depend on their large eyes which possess excellent night vision and perhaps some color perception to distinguish fruit from foliage. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
For the most part, these bats are nocturnal, leaving their roost just after sunset for long distance flights in search of a variety of fruit including mango, guava, banana, durian, neem and papaya, as well as blossoms and nectar. The ideal treat for these giant frugivores (fruit eaters) and the majority of their diet in the wild is figs. Imagine waking up to a tree-full of flying fox furiously feasting on figs!

These bats have many adaptations designed to help find and consume their fruit-oriented diets. A claw on their second finger enhances grasping ability. They have a long snout with an excellent sense of smell, a long tongue to reach into plants, and sharp teeth for piercing tough rinds and mashing pulp. They chew the fruit and crush it against their hard, ridged palates. Then they swallow the juice and spit out small pellets of pulp and seeds. Large flying foxes consume up to half their body weight daily. Here at the zoo, our Indian flying foxes dine on apples, bananas, cooked sweet potato and carrots, mixed greens, and vitamin and mineral supplements.

Our Indian flying foxes are a little bashful, so be sure to be extra polite when you approach their exhibit. If you are lucky they will stare right back at you. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Flying foxes are very social, literally hanging out together all the time. A colony contains several hundred, even thousands, of bats living in nearby trees. Most of their daytime is spent sleeping, resting, licking and grooming themselves and each other. They can be very vocal and erupt into a loud chatter if an outsider approaches.

This video shows a few Indian flying fox roosting atop a tree in India. You can see how they stretch and hang in different positions. (Video via adbio 12).

With wing spans of up to 6 feet and weights more than 3 pounds, a flying fox soaring through the sky is an impressive sight. Their strong wings can carry them up to 40 miles. To land, they simply slow to a stall or crash onto foliage while grasping branches.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Bats have very light bones compared to other mammals. In contrast to their powerful upper body, most fruit bats lack weight bearing hind limbs for locomotion or even standing. At best, flying foxes crawl on the ground. With lighter and weaker rear quarters, bats hang upside down. Tendons in their hind legs lock claws onto surfaces without any effort. To launch into flight, they merely release their grip!

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) proclaimed 2011-2012 as Year of the Bat to coincide with the United Nations Year of Forests. Year of the Bat promotes conservation, research and education. Flying foxes are a keystone species in the world’s tropical rain forests as many ecological benefits come from bats. They pollinate and disperse the seeds of many tropical plants and their bat guano is an excellent fertilizer.

These flying foxes are awaiting your visit. In parts of India these creatures are seen as good luck; stop by Adaptations and see for yourself. Stay batty!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Allegory of the senses…mmm smells like Fruit Loops?

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications with David Selk, Horticulture

Don’t you love the early signs of spring? Even though it’s still chilly and spring doesn’t technically start until March 20, some of the tiniest hints of the season are already in full force here at the zoo. With a few clues from our resident horticulture guru, David Selk, I went on a quick hunt for early blooms. Here are a few of the finds…

Hello spring! Above is the flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum).

Below is a fresh green sprout from an Indian Plum (Oemlaria cerasiformis), little green slivers of warmer days ahead. This is a view from the side—some pretty intense architecture! This plant is native to the Pacific Northwest, ranging from BC, Canada all the way to Santa Barbara, CA. A sure sign of spring, Indian Plum is among the first plants to leaf out and flower.

You can begin to see delicate white flowers emerge from the buds. People used to make tea from the bark, and chewed the twigs to use as a mild anesthetic.

These beautiful specimens of Garrya elliptica, the coast silktassel, are almost opalescent.

The flowers appear in long, slender hanging clusters called catkins and there are male and female flowers on separate plants. This time of year it is in full bloom and really spectacular.

These bodacious pink clusters are part of the Viburnum bodnantense or simply, Dawn. This plant is a hybrid developed in Germany by crossing the Chinese V. farreri with the Himalayan V. grandiflorum. The flowers have a lovely perfume which is sweet-smelling, and the leaves can smell distinctly citrusy. 

The flowers are pinkest and most vibrant in winter when deciduous leaves have fallen and the stark branches show only bright pink buds and baby pink blossoms. You can find them at the entrance of the Woodland Park Rose Garden.

These dangly bits are from the spiketail (Stachyurus praecox) near the Rose Garden. Its crisp green color is intense! PANTONE 13-0632 Endive, for all you color connoisseurs. The seed was traditionally used as a black dye in Japan.

One of my favorite places to slip away to is the Jaguar Cove. The space itself is beautiful; conjuring a luscious and wild rainforest. The winding paths, the crystal clear pool, and of course the jaguars, (whether napping, swimming or sneaking across a log) are absolutely spellbinding. This time of year, when most of grounds are still asleep in a floral hibernation, a mysteriously sweet fragrance breezes blissfully through the cove. 

The culprit?

Sweet box (Sarcococca). The sweet box shrub has glossy leaves and sweet-smelling, dainty, white flowers almost hidden in the foliage.

Standing very near this plant, it’s hard to detect much of a scent, but stand back a few feet and let the breeze scatter the sarcococca’s piercingly sweet fragrance all around you. When I first experienced this sensation, I never suspected such a tiny flower! Above you can see the individual stamen and pollen dust.

Meet the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in front of the Adaptations Building.  The wood of C. mas is extremely dense, and unlike most other woody plant species, sinks in water. This density makes it valuable for crafting into tool handles. Cornus mas was used as early as seventh century BC by Greek craftsman to construct spears, javelins and bows. We use it for constructing beautiful yellow backdrops!

Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) grows near the benches at the tiger viewpoint. Its pale yellow tendrils are so elegant!

Lonicera fragrantissima at the entrance of the African Village is definitely one of the most surprising. This delicate pearl flower goes by a couple common names such as Winter honeysuckle or the more evocative Sweet-breath-of-spring. Some people think this one smells like fruit loops!

Early springtime is the absolute best season for scouting out bursts of color and fresh blossoms like these crocuses ready to flower.

Visit our What’s in Bloom guide to learn more about all the seasonal flowers at the zoo including these pops of Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus).

P.S. Can you keep a green thumb secret?

Here is a peek at one of our horticulture team’s most top secret gardening contraptions! Keepers collect browse throughout our lush grounds to give to the animals.

Photos: Jaguar photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. All other photos by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.