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Thursday, January 31, 2013

A zoo for all

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications/Public Affairs

Photo provided by Somali Community Services Coalition

We believe that every kid (and kid at heart) should have access to their local zoo.

In 2012, Woodland Park Zoo’s Community Access Program (CAP) partnered with 700 local human service organizations who offered their clients more than 40,000 complimentary passes to Woodland Park Zoo.  

Photo from Academy for Precision Learning with middle school students on a field trip at Woodland Park Zoo this past summer.

Thanks to support from zoo visitors and zoo members, we are able to reach out to folks in our community who would not otherwise be able to visit.

The partner organizations determine how passes are distributed, serving homeless shelters, food banks, senior centers and homes, refugee communities, minority programs, disabled and mental health facilities, low-income youth centers, education programs and more.

We are extremely proud of this program and want to thank each of our partner organizations for their commitment to our community. It is this spirit of collaboration and kindness that makes Seattle such an inspiring place to be.

The zoo has a way of turning its most senior visitors into youngsters, stirring imagination and rousing curiosity. We are so pleased to be able to extend this experience to those who may need it the most.

Thank you for visiting the zoo and therefore supporting us in this effort, we could not do it without you.

Photo provided by Somali Community Services Coalition

I’m the Youth Programs Coordinator at Somali Community Services Coalition and I wanted to thank you for donating tickets to our Summer Adventures Program. We went to the zoo yesterday and the kids loved it! Thank you so much for making this possible.
– Somali Community Services Coalition

Photo provided by North County Headstart

I want to thank you for such a great time my families had at the zoo! Every parent showed up with so much excitement. They had never been to the zoo. It was so heartwarming seeing the faces of the parents and children. They were learning so much that day due to the opportunity you allowed these families to have. Please pass the word to all staff and the team that allows this great opportunity for families with limited resources. Thanks to your great program, these families will have a memory of a lifetime. All day they smiled and kept saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’, and ‘what is this!?’ Thanks again! 

– North County Early Headstart

By sharing access to the zoo with our families, Woodland Park Zoo opens up opportunities for our parents to empower themselves and their children as global citizens who are more aware, and active in protecting and promoting a healthy environment. Together we can support our families’ lifelong learning and commitment to environmental education, exploration and stewardship. Thank you so much for allowing Denise Louie Education Center to be a part of the Woodland Park Zoo’s Community Access Program. 

– Denise Louie Education Center

The Woodland Park Zoo has been an institution in the Seattle region for decades.  It is continually changing to meet the needs of the public, but more importantly to meet the needs of the variety of species who call this "home".  Our participants love everything about the zoo - from penguins, to bears, to monkeys and more.  It is also a wonderful social outing to get our clientele to interact with the general public and the public with our participants. 

– Specialized Programs Advisory Council

The families in our program live on very limited incomes. They would not be able to afford to have such fun and educational experiences if they had to purchase tickets. Many of the families have told me of the great family time that they had when they were able to go to the Woodland Park Zoo.  Thank you for your continued desire to give low-income families the opportunity to make wonderful memories.
- Vine Maple Place

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sneak peek at Asian small-clawed otter exhibit

Posted by: Steve Sullivan, Membership and New Ventures

Asian small-clawed otters are coming to Woodland Park Zoo. Photo taken at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

On May 4, phase one of the Asian Tropical Forest initiative—Woodland Park Zoo’s most extreme makeover in the heart of the zoo since 1996—will be unveiled to the community. We’re so grateful to all of you who have made this major milestone in the More Wonder More Wild Campaign possible!

Monica Lake, capital project manager and Erik McCormick, of Turnstone Construction express our zoo’s deepest gratitude for your support! (Turnstone is a rock work subcontractor of this project’s general contractor, Berschauer Philips.) Photo by Steve Sullivan/Woodland Park Zoo.

Otterly awesome
We broke ground on the new exhibit complex in September 2012, and hundreds of you joined us. Since then, construction crews, exhibit designer Studio Hanson/Roberts and the zoo’s exhibit team have made on-time, on-budget progress toward completing a new, naturalistic exhibit for Asian small-clawed otters, a species joining the zoo family for the first time. The exhibit will also open with a nature-play area for our youngest forest adventurers and a colorful tropical forest aviary, all brought to life through generous community support. New exhibits for endangered Malayan tigers and sloth bears are planned for phase two of this ambitious exhibit complex, slated to open in 2015.

Artist’s concept rendering of a portion of the Asian small-clawed otter exhibit. Illustration by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Going green
One of the new exhibit’s most exciting features is also one of the greenest. Taking cues from the award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit, opened to great acclaim in 2009, the small-clawed otter pool also has been designed with sustainability in mind.

The sustainably designed exhibit is coming to life as of January, 2013. In May, visitors will enjoy multiple sightlines thanks to the exhibit’s upward slope. Photo by Steve Sullivan/Woodland Park Zoo.

The entire pool will be a closed-loop biofiltration system. Visible on the surface as a constructed wetland, it will clean and recycle pool and rain water back into the exhibit. Leveraging the earth’s natural processes this way achieves zero waste. Isn’t it great to know that your support ensures a pristine water environment for the animals and cleaner Puget Sound waterways?

Tailored to otters’ specific needs
While sustainability is crucial to our mission, there’s more to this exhibit than green design. Pat Owen, one of our zoo’s collection managers, reminds us that providing our animals a full slate of choices for natural behavior is among our highest priorities. He helped the exhibit team tailor design choices to small-clawed otters’ specific needs. They will enjoy an enriching topography that integrates a waterfall, rocky outcroppings and, of course, the wetlands.

L-R: Ty Castle and Neil Harrison, of Turnstone Construction Inc., brave January’s winter air to build the otters’ cozy, heated dens into the naturalistic exhibit. Photo by Steve Sullivan/Woodland Park Zoo.

Although highly social and gregarious, the otters also need good alone time. Burrowing areas and cozy, heated dens built into the structure will provide for that. And thanks to its gradual slope upwards,guests of all ages and heights will be able to get up close and appreciate the otters’ natural behaviors: playing, grooming, foraging in the wetland mud and, eventually, raising their young.

A mating pair will call the exhibit home initially, but we hope they will soon expand their family with baby otters. To fulfill Species Survival Plan recommendations to breed the pair, the exhibit design team included features that cater to raising a family and growing old together. What we learn about this species’ reproduction, family dynamics and behavior will also help conservationists working to save small-clawed otters in the wild.

Illustration of the full 2-acre, multispecies exhibit complex by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

A naturalistic wonder
Thank you again for helping us bring this multispecies exhibit complex to life for the entire community. In May, when you experience the wonder of the small-clawed otters, you’ll know that connecting to protect this and other Asian tropical forest wildlife, such as tigers and sloth bears, is a true zoo-community accomplishment. That’s pretty awesome.

Malayan tiger. Photo by Melinda Arnold/Dickerson Park Zoo.

Stay tuned for future posts showing progress on the aviary and the kids’ nature-play area. Until then, learn more about phase two exhibits for Malayan tigers and sloth bears, a new Conservation Action Center, and how you can get involved at morewonder.org.

About Asian small-clawed otters
Aonyx cinerea
Conservation status: Vulnerable

Photo by Fred Cate/Indianapolis Zoo.

1. They are the smallest species of otter in the world (average length 3.3 feet).
2. More terrestrial than other otter species, they spend much time in or near remote swamps and freshwater wetlands of Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, southern India, China, Taiwan and the Philippines.
3. Sleek bodies, strong tails and partially webbed feet make them superb swimmers and aquatic hunters, diving underwater for up to six minutes.
4. To catch small fish and insects, crabs, frogs, snakes and rodents, they use their forepaws with finger-like dexterity and coordination; their short claws never extend past their paw pads.
5. Mates for life, they have up to two litters a year; pups remain with their mothers until another litter is born.
6. To communicate, they use 12 different vocalizations, scent mark with glandular spraint and make “sign heaps” out of sand, mud or gravel to signal their territory.
7. Their life expectancy is 10-15 years in the wild; they can live more than 20 years in zoological parks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New otter is in great shape

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

Nearly two weeks ago, a male Asian small-clawed otter arrived at the zoo. Albeit a little early, this little fella is here in anticipation of the first phase of the zoo’s new Asian tropical forest exhibit complex, which he will call home upon its opening in May. (Psst…look for more news about progress on the new exhibit coming up on the blog this Thursday.)

All newly arrived animals go through a routine quarantine examination and weigh-in by zoo veterinarian staff. Much like your yearly physical at your doctor’s office, quarantine exams help our animal management staff gather information about the animal’s overall health and well-being.

The zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins, checks the otter’s heartbeat during the exam. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Today, our new otter received his quarantine exam and, as expected, he is in great shape!  The veterinary staff checked his weight, pulse and oxygen levels, in addition to taking routine blood samples and x-rays.

An x-ray of the otter’s lower half shows his abdomen and lower bone structure. Follow us on Instagram @woodlandparkzoo to view an image of his upper half. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The 7-year-old male and his soon-to-arrive, 3-year-old female mate will be the first of their kind to live at our zoo. The male arrived from Zoo Atlanta, and the female will be arriving from Bronx Zoo before the end of the month. For now, the male will make himself at home in a temporary, off-view exhibit until phase one of the Asian tropical forest exhibit complex opens to the public in May. 

The pulse oximeter, used for checking pulse and oxygen levels, typically grips a human’s index or ring finger. Though, the Asian small-clawed otter is so small that the finger-sized clip covers its entire paw. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Asian small-clawed otters are the smallest otter species in the world. And unlike the zoo’s river otters of the award-winning Northern Trail, small-clawed otters spend more time on land. Typically, this species of otter is known for its social, active lifestyle. 

The veterinary staff and keepers noted that our new male otter is very spunky and enjoys plenty of attention!  When all eyes aren’t on him, he likes to squeal until his keepers pay him another visit. What a ham!

Before he finished his exam, the keepers warmed his crate with a mini heater. As soon as he woke, he huddled into his toasty, cozy corner. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Habitat loss presents otters the gravest threat. In their native habitats of southern and southeastern Asia, otters face deforestation, drainage of wetlands and growth of plantations that drastically reduce their suitable habitat. Once common, Asian small-clawed otters are locally extinct in Hong Kong, Singapore and India’s Sunderbans and East Calcutta.
The new Asian tropical forest exhibit complex will use innovative, hands-on education techniques to spread awareness of these conservation issues and encourage visitors to help save the wild animals and habitats we all love.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sloth bear cub update: It’s twins!

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Surprise! We’re excited to announce that we have not one, but two sloth bear cubs doing well behind the scenes at Woodland Park Zoo. It turns out our big news about having a cub born back in December is even bigger news, now that we know we have twins!

Video: Sloth bear mom Tasha leaves the maternity den briefly, lured by a snack of crickets offered by zookeepers, revealing the two cubs she birthed on December 18.

The case of the hidden sloth bear cub
Back on December 18 when the cubs were born, 7-year-old mother Tasha was so quick to build a fortress of hay around her cubs to protect and support them in the maternity den, that we never got much of a visual on the litter. We spotted one cub, but we suspected there was a second cub in the litter, hiding out from where we could see it.

What made us think we had two cubs? Through baby monitors, keepers could hear what sounded like two cubs breathing, grunting and nursing. But since we couldn't see the second cub, we didn't want to count our chickens before they hatched (or, errr, count our cubs before visual confirmation). We happily came out with the news about our one confirmed cub, but we kept our eyes and ears focused on finding any clues that the second cub wasn't just a figment of our imaginations.

Hearing double
As the weeks went by, Tasha’s formidable hay fortress continued to prevent our efforts to spot the cubs. The occasional glimpse we got through the web cam keepers had set up in the maternity den was never enough to confirm two cubs in one place at one time. But from the audio we were picking up, it was clear we were hearing two strong, nursing vocalizations. Keepers were so confident they had a second cub back there that even though they still didn't have visual confirmation, we went ahead and officially gave the cub an identification number and added it to our record books.

Video: Keepers listen to the cubs via a baby monitor while watching the maternity den cam. They use a decibel reader to help pick out the two voices.

And then it happened.

Getting the first look at the second cub
An eagle-eyed keeper was watching the cam when she spotted the break in the case of the hidden cub that we’d been waiting for.

Can you spot the two cubs with mom? Image captured from an internal web cam.

Hard to tell what you’re looking at, huh? Now you can see why this was such a challenge! Here is video from that scene where you can see a little more clearly the two cubs cuddled up on Tasha.

The proof is in! So it is now with great pleasure that we officially welcome sloth bear cub number 2 to the Woodland Park Zoo family. With the loss of the cubs’ father, Randy, to cancer just a week ago, we treasure this second gift even more now, knowing Randy’s legacy gets to live on doubly. Sloth bears are endangered in the wild and rare in zoos, and these two new conservation ambassadors will bring delight to our visitors and inspire them to learn, care and act on behalf of wildlife.

How can a sloth bear cub be so invisible for so long?
Our sloth bears are off-view now because of construction in their exhibit area, but for those who have spotted them over the years, you might be wondering how these big, hairy beasts could be so invisible to us as babies.

An adult sloth bear who is very much not invisible. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Well, sloth bears are born extremely tiny and blind at birth. Although newborn cubs have strong toes and forelegs, they don’t really start to walk until around four weeks, which explains why for the first month, the cubs never ambled into our view, staying hidden by their attentive mother’s side.

The cubs are one month old as of today (happy birthday!), so they’ll by now have opened their eyes, and they are beginning to be more active. They are even growing in some hair! It’ll be another month or two before they start to sample solid foods, though they’ll still be nursing from mom even then.

With these little milestones of independence, we believe we’ll begin to have better opportunities to spot the cubs more regularly. Tasha is a very attentive mother and is hesitant to leave the den. But as we get her more comfortable with taking short breaks away from the den, we’ll eventually be able to get access to the cubs for a quick veterinary check-up in the near future. Whatever little glimpses we’re able to sneak, we’ll be sure to share with you!

Help us build a new home for these endangered bears
Don’t forget that plans for an amazing new home for sloth bears are already underway. This spring we’re opening phase one of the most ambitious new exhibit complex at the zoo since 1996—a complex that will transform the heart of the zoo with new homes for sloth bears, Malayan tigers, Asian small-clawed otters and tropical birds.

Artist drawing of exhibit plans by Mir/Woodland Park Zoo.

The first phase opening this summer will debut with the otters, birds and a nature-play space for kids. With your continued support, we’ll be able to complete the exhibits for the sloth bears and tigers next. Learn more about the plans and how to get involved at www.morewonder.org.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Students put on a conservation town hall

Posted by: Rob Goehrke, Education

One of my favorite things about working at Woodland Park Zoo is bringing amazing partnerships into the classroom. This season, our ZooCrew middle school program partnered with the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT)--a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife conservation partner--in some exciting ways.

While deciding which animal to focus on this season, we came across a new curriculum guide that SLT put together in partnership with Facing the Future. With our snow leopard cubs just born months earlier, it seemed like a great fit.

Curriculum from http://www.facingthefuture.org/

During our first lesson, the ZooCrew students learned that snow leopards are a top predator and a keystone species—they have a much larger impact on their ecosystem than some other species, which makes their protection even more important.

During the next few weeks, the students learned about different types of people involved in protecting snow leopards—from conservationists and national parks to craftspeople and hunters. A sustainable solution would have to be a win for everyone involved. It was time to call a town hall meeting.

Because the Snow Leopard Trust is based here in Seattle, we were fortunate to have one of their staff come visit one of our ZooCrew programs. Snow Leopard Trust’s Marissa participated with the youth in their mock-town hall meeting. After introducing themselves (as a craftsperson, hunter, etc.) and their goals and needs, students formed alliances and drafted proposals on how to help both snow leopards and themselves. After presenting their proposals, a heated discussion ensued, until they finally reached consensus on a deal they could all agree to. Don't miss the brief video above for highlights from the meeting.

Students learning about the Snow Leopard Trust’s mission and work. Photo by Woodland Park Zoo.

After the town hall meeting wrapped up, Marissa shared with the youth how the Snow Leopard Trust was doing this same work in real life, bringing people with different goals and needs on board with protecting snow leopards in Asia.

One group of youth decided to do a fundraiser to help snow leopards for their Conservation and Career Project, a staple of the ZooCrew experience. Marissa brought them ornaments that were handmade by the very same Mongolian craftspeople they had just imagined themselves to be during the town hall exercise. The Snow Leopard Trust gives the craftspeople an international market so they can make a sustainable income that’s not based on hunting snow leopards. They even get a bonus if no one in their town kills a snow leopard during the year. These youth were so excited to be part of a real solution that they sold almost 50 ornaments, raising over $200!

Ornaments sold by students. Images courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust.

Since my area of expertise is youth development, it is so helpful to partner with global conservation leaders who are connected to real conservation work here in Seattle and around the world, and can inspire these kids. Thanks, Snow Leopard Trust!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lion cubs are healthy, playful and a bit of a handful

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Zookeeper Pam Cox soothes a cub as it wakes up from its vet exam. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Can you believe the lion cubs are 2 months old now? The growing boys and girls (two of each) were due for another health checkup with the zoo’s veterinarians yesterday, and they aced their exams.

Zookeeper Matt Mills carries a cub to the exam table. He holds the cub just like its mother would and the cub is relaxed by the comforting position. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now weighing in at a healthy 21 to 23 pounds each, the wriggly quadruplets are getting harder to handle, so the cubs were anesthetized for parts of this latest checkup and round of blood draws and vaccinations.

A cub hisses at the immobilizer mask after it was removed. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

We took a look at their eyes…

Vets are looking for clarity and good response in the eyes. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

…and teeth…

Checking the teeth for growth. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

…and all looked good.

The next cub lines up for its exam. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Those teeth represent an important milestone for the cubs. They have all grown in most of their baby teeth, which means that they are starting to sample solid foods—delectable ground turkey and raw beef.

Vets feel around the cub’s stomach and hips. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Our vets noticed that the cubs’ tummies feel less full than they did at their last exam, which is likely because now that they eat some solid foods, they aren’t filling themselves up on mom’s milk as much as they used to.

Curator Dr. Nancy Hawkes measures a cub from nose to tail to record the growth. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

We took some measurements of the cubs and all are growing on pace with what is expected of lions their age.

A cub hisses at the camera after returning to its den at the end of the exam. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

As the cubs awoke, the grogginess wore off and the personalities we’ve come to love began to emerge again. They were each returned to their den to rejoin their siblings and later mom Adia.

This photo, taken at the end of December, shows how the curious cubs are interested, yet always a bit cautious, about what’s happening around them. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The cubs are a playful, rambunctious foursome. They pounce all over mom, treating her tail as a plaything. They recently began playing with toys, and though at first a boomer ball was to them some strange monolith to be regarded with suspicion and caution, they soon figured out that if it rolls and can be chewed on, it’s not such a bad thing to have around.

That meat snack was lick-your-lips good. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

When you have a sizable litter, there’s always the concern that it can be a handful for mom, but 3-year-old mother Adia continues to do an excellent job with the kiddos. The little ones all seem to be sharing and bonding—they all eat, nap and play together as a family.

The four cubs getting along back in late December. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

All this growth is a positive sign that we can start planning for the cubs to make their debut when they are a little older and outdoor temperatures reach a minimum of 50 degrees. Until then, they’ll continue to live in an off-view maternity den where they can bond and develop in a more controlled environment.

These spotted markings are typical for lion cubs, and most adults grow out of them. You can still find faint spots on 3-year-old mom Adia, though. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

We know the other thing you all are waiting for is to learn the names of these little ones! We’ll reach out to you all for your help in naming two of the cubs—details to come—and then we’ll have names for all four to announce in the near future. Stay tuned here for an announcement on the upcoming naming contest.

About African lions
The lions at Woodland Park Zoo belong to the South African subspecies, Panthera leo krugeri. Known as the Transvaal lion, it ranges in Southern Sahara to South Africa, excluding the Congo rain forest belt, in grassy plains, savanna and open woodlands. These lions range in weight from 260 to 400 pounds. Although not presently endangered, the future of African lions is uncertain, particularly as the growth in human population continues to impact lion populations.

Through our Wildlife Survival Fund, Woodland Park Zoo supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project through the Lion Species Survival Plan Conservation Campaign. The project works in Tanzania to mitigate human conflict with lions and other large carnivores that share the Ruaha landscape, while collecting baseline data on lion populations to help shape lion and large carnivore conservation.

You can learn more about conservation issues and what is being done to help wildlife, wild places and the people who share these landscapes at www.zoo.org/conservation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Hawks vs. Falcons

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

With this weekend’s Hawks vs. Falcons game rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at some of the strengths of each opponent.

Red-tailed hawk (left, photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo) and peregrine falcon (right, photo by Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo)

1. Hawks capture and kill their prey with their feet, yet falcons rely on the tomial tooth of their beaks to break the necks of their prey. (I wouldn’t want to be that unlucky fellow…)

2. Hawks are known for their slow glides in the sky, while falcons are known for their incredible soaring speeds.  Falcons have produced speeds clocking in at 200 miles per hour!

3.Hawks have broad, wide wings that are perfect for soaring. Falcons have long, slender wings that are pointed at the tip, which give them greater agility in the air.

Both hawks and falcons are strong and powerful creatures, but we’ll let the playoffs determine which of the two is best on the field. Is it Sunday yet?

In the meantime, show your Seahawks spirit and get a zoo admission discount. From Jan. 11-13, wear any Seahawks garb such as a jersey, sweatshirt, hat or gloves, and receive half off zoo admission. Get the discount details, then we'll see you out there!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Empathy, healing and inspiration

Posted by: Lorna Chin, External Relations, with contributions from Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo Animal Health

I have been involved with both Woodland Park Zoo and Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington since 1998. It’s a joy to share the zoo with Make-A-Wish kids who are awaiting their wish experiences. A recent experience with a young girl named Nicole brought together the things I love most about both organizations.

Nicole and her mother first came to visit in March. Her Make-A-Wish volunteers Audrey and Stephanie said she had a special request to see the elephants. Nicole was about to have major surgery for her bone cancer and this was going to be a fun day before she’d be laid up for several months.

Nicole, Chai and zookeepers, March 2012. Photo courtesy of Audrey Seale.

A typical experience involves the keepers sharing their vast knowledge of the animals, talking about their daily routines, and answering questions. Sometimes these visits are pretty quick, lasting about 10 minutes. But sometimes, the guests are so engaged, the visit can be much longer. Nicole’s visit lasted two hours.

The keepers could clearly see that Nicole was enthralled with meeting Chai, one of our female Asian elephants. Nicole’s eyes lit up and while she wasn’t very vocal with lots of questions, an apparent bond had formed.

Nicole bravely underwent rounds of surgery and treatments. Audrey told us that Nicole carried a photo of her and Chai throughout all her treatments and couldn’t wait to share her elephants with her family in the summer.

When the keepers learned that Nicole was still having a tough time in June, they sent hugs from Chai.

Chai and her zookeepers pose with a message for Nicole. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Then this past December, we were given the opportunity to share the zoo again with Nicole and her entire family. Just days before Nicole’s 12th birthday, we gave her an unforgettable zoo experience. Not only did she get to visit Chai again, but Chai made a painting just for Nicole.

Chai makes a painting for Nicole in the Elephant Barn with the help of her keeper. Photo courtesy of Audrey Seale.

She also got a surprise tour of our animal hospital with the zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins. Nicole wants to be a veterinarian and Dr. Darin shared stories about the zoo’s gorilla baby getting surgery from doctors at Children's Hospital in 2008, gave a tour of the treatment rooms, showed her radiographs that compared femurs of different animals, and visited a newly arrived toucan currently in standard quarantine at the zoo’s Animal Health Complex.

Nicole visits a new toucan behind the scenes at the zoo’s Animal Health Complex. December 2012. Photo by Darin Collins/Woodland Park Zoo.

Audrey said that Dr. Darin showed Nicole “how to be with what has happened to her” when he related Nicole’s cancer to the animals he treats and the health challenges they can face.

To cap off the evening, the whole family, plus aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoyed WildLights presented by KeyBank, and though it rained, everyone was smiling.

But it doesn’t end there. The next day, Nicole left for her wish to go to her favorite Florida theme parks, including SeaWorld. Dr. Darin "made-a-wish" himself and requested a behind-the-scenes tour of the SeaWorld Animal Hospital from his colleagues as a birthday present for Nicole. Dr. Darin said, “I told Nicole that she inspired me. I told her to let me know what inspired her during her Orlando experience.” Since returning, Nicole has told Dr. Darin about the long-term care needed for a pilot whale with scoliosis she learned about, and how inspiring she finds the work of veterinarians who commit to helping animals through such challenges.

Nicole and Dr. Darin Collins at Woodland Park Zoo. December 2012. Photo courtesy of Anthony St. Martin.

Woodland Park Zoo plays multiple roles for people in our community. For many, the zoo is a place to share the wonder of wild animals with their families. For others, the zoo is a place to learn about empathy for animals and people. This in turn inspires our staff to continue to do meaningful work each day so that we can provide a place of learning, healing and new conservation stewards for generations to come.