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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jaguar cubs take first practice steps outside

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications
Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Video by Caileigh Robertson/Woodland Park Zoo

[UPDATE: The jaguar cubs have now made their official debut and have daily access to their exhibit, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.]

It’s a good thing these jaguar cubs are creatures of the rain forest, as their very first steps outdoors were soggy ones.

Three-month-old jaguar triplets—brother Kuwan and sisters Inka and Arizona—had their first practice session outside today. The trio is getting ready for their official public debut, which should be coming up any day as the cubs get used to their new digs.

Before the zoo opened to the public this morning, a lucky few of us zoo staff gathered around the exhibit at Jaguar Cove and watched to see what would happen when the jaguars’ den door opened. Out came the cubs for the first time, bouncing out with less of a predatory slinking and more of an enthusiastic tromping.

The keepers predicted Arizona, the boldest of the cubs, would be the first one out, and indeed her head was the first to be spotted emerging through the door. She sniffed absolutely everything in sight, so it was a sloooooow beginning for those of us watching.

Then mom Nayla emerged and made her way around the space, inspecting the logs and some of the softer, bedded areas keepers put out for the cubs. Arizona tried to follow in mom’s footsteps, but it turned out to be a bigger challenge than Arizona might have expected.

Nayla would effortlessly navigate across a wedged log to make her way down a slippery slope, while Arizona mostly tumbled her way down in mom’s shadow. Then Nayla would trot back up the log, but the slippery monolith intimidated Arizona. Instead, the little one would try to jump her way back up the side of the slope, digging her claws into rock and mud, willing herself up the side.

Jaguars can climb well and are even known to prey on treetop dwellers like spider monkeys in the wild. It’ll be a while before the cubs’ climbing gets that proficient. For now, trial and error will help them figure out how to use their muscles and claws, even when gravity and rain try to mess with them.

The cubs explored different sights, sounds and experiences, each one finding something that fit their style—the bold Arizona adventuring up and down slopes, the quiet Kuwan tasting leaves back near the den door, and the curious yet cautious Inka padding through puddles, tagging back and forth between brother and sister.

To keep an eye on all of this, mom Nayla frequently climbed to the topmost point of the exhibit to be able to see all of her cubs at once.

Eventually all three came together with mom and began navigating new spaces together like the cave, the pool, and the front slopes of the exhibit.

Adult jaguars are primarily solitary, but these youngsters are still at that playful age where they socialize with their siblings and learn how to be a jaguar by staying close to mom and watching her moves. When mom dared to walk away or out of their sightline, the little cats would cry out. We expect them to grow more independent, though, the more time they spend out there.

Keepers were stationed at different viewpoints and used walkie-talkies to call out observations and updates to each other through the first few hours. They agreed that once the family returned inside—the den door was left open to give them the choice—the keepers would regroup and decide what they might try a little differently at the next practice session. Do we need more bedded areas for tumbling? Did the whitewash on the window—meant to teach the cubs that the window is a barrier and not a clear thing to run through!—get the job done?

With a few adjustments on our end and a few more practice sessions on the cubs’ end, we’ll be ready for an official public debut in no time. We expect the cubs to make some ventures into the exhibit over the weekend, though the schedule will be unpredictable and there may be limited viewing if barriers are needed to give the cubs space to adjust. Once we have official viewing hours and a true debut date, we’ll be sure to share!

Until then, enjoy this Instagram video of the trio at play:

Love jaguars and want to support our conservation efforts to protect them and other wildlife? Become a jaguar ZooParent today!

Your ZooParent adoption helps us care for the animals at the zoo and sends $5 directly to field conservation projects in the wild.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A failproof strategy to save the tiger

Posted by: Dr. Deborah B. Jensen, President and CEO

Dr. Deborah B. Jensen.
Photo by Matt Hagen.
We have less than 20 years to save the tiger, or say goodbye to it forever. 

For millennia, the tiger has occupied a vibrant place in our collective consciousness—an icon revered in our mythology and folklore, enjoyed in our films and literature. Sadly, over the last century this magnificent animal has become one of the fastest-vanishing species on our planet. The decline owes to a lethal blend of high-class sport hunting; loss of forest habitat to logging, agriculture and growing urban areas; and a rampant increase in illegal poaching to supply tiger body parts for traditional medicine, ornamentation, and financing the black market drug trade.

Numbering as many as 100,000 in the early 1900s, as few as 3,200 tigers are left on the planet. In fact, today more tigers live in captivity than in the wild. Isolation, habitat loss and poaching threaten all tiger subspecies in the wild, decimating their ability to sustain viable populations. Sadly, the tiger is facing extinction within our lifetimes.

A recent Animal Planet survey of 73 countries found that tigers are the world’s favorite animal. And yet the tiger’s last strongholds stand on the edge of a precipice, largely due to human activity. (Credit: Derek Dammann Photography, taken at Cincinnati Zoo)

Still, I have hope for the tiger’s future. 

Once free to thrive across vast ranges of the Russian Far East to South and Southeast Asia, tigers are now constrained to just seven percent of their former habitat. (Credit: Panthera)

I’m so pleased to tell you that Woodland Park Zoo recently created a 10-year, $1 million collaboration with Panthera, the leading wild cat conservation group, the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks, and in-country tiger conservation experts. Of 42 Global Priority source sites, three are in Peninsular Malaysia’s central forest region where fewer than 500 Malayan tigers are struggling to survive. Together we will help carry out the Malayan government’s plan to double this number to a viable population level by 2022, the next year of the tiger, in and around the Taman Negara National Park, a pristine, 1,000,000-acre rainforest sanctuary. 

This is surely one of the toughest jobs we will ever love. Let me share with you how we’ll do it.

Priority sites in the Global Tiger Recovery Program. (Credit: Dinerstein et al., 2006)

In the past, tiger conservation efforts often lacked real political will and a proven strategy. Not so today. In recent years, a cadre of visionaries from biologists to lawmakers has figured out together where to focus our resources to reverse the downward trend. The holistic, top-down and bottom-up approach leverages expertise from all levels: communities, tiger-range nations, and national and international scientific, funding and policy bodies, including the World Bank and top nongovernmental organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution and World Wildlife Fund. 

No strategy can return the tiger to its former range, nor is that necessary to ensure its future. We know that, given enough space and resources, tigers are prolific breeders so bringing them back from the brink is possible. Our strategy is to secure and protect what scientists call source sites, or core breeding areas, to halt tiger decline and allow populations to recover to levels that can survive well into the future. On our watch, Malayan tigers will get the time, space and safety they need to breed and raise generations of healthy, young cubs to adulthood. 

Poaching is high in the park, so first we must stop the illegal killing of tigers and of the prey they need for food. The first stage of our work with Panthera, completed in June in collaboration with the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks, trained 80 new, in-country rangers in improved intelligence gathering and anti-poaching techniques. Getting more boots and eyes on the ground, bolstered by modern communications technology, are the first steps to mapping core tiger breeding areas for protection.

From the northern to southern boundaries of Malaysia’s Central Forest Region, scientists and citizens are working to protect Malayan tigers’ core breeding areas from poachers, and connect critical corridors to preserve the habitat resources tigers need to survive. 

Camera trap technology helps identify key habitats tigers use to hunt and breed in the Taman Negara region. Tracked with modern software, the data allow rangers and researchers to map routes for effective anti-poaching patrols. (Credit: Ruben Clements/Rimba)

Having shared our vision with government officials, a green light is on for a new Tiger Field Team to deploy in October. The team will survey core cells of tigers, increase anti-poaching patrols, and help to protect the cats in a critical northern area that abuts the Kenjir Wildlife Corridor. Tigers and other wildlife need to cross this corridor in search of food, mates and shelter in other forest habitats.

A ranger in training collects data for mapping tigers’ use of core breeding areas in Taman Negara National Park. (Credit: Suzalinur Manja Bidin/MYCAT)

Saving the tiger is not just about saving one species. Behind the polar bear and the grizzly bear, the tiger is the third largest land carnivore. Like other umbrella species, it plays a key role in regulating the long-term health of its ecosystems. Taman Negara, a premier protected area, provides a home for countless tropical animals and plants, including 600 endangered Asian elephants. Our landscape-level conservation approach will protect the interconnectivity among various ecological systems on which diverse species, including humans, rely for survival.

Throughout 2013, our project team will continue assessing patrol effectiveness and begin the tiger survey while consolidating our decade-long plan to ensure a robust future for the cat in Taman Negara and surrounding reserves. Dr. Fred Koontz, WPZ’s Vice President of Field Conservation, just returned from working in the park with our Panthera and Malayan colleagues. Citizen conservationists are joining the effort, especially Malayan youth who are eager to contribute local knowledge and passionate voices to protect the tiger as a national, indeed global treasure. Stay tuned for his fascinating field report on this blog. In the meantime, I invite you to learn more about our project

Establishing official anti-poaching communications around the borders of Taman Negara National Park increases the legal authority with which to prosecute poachers. (Credit: Suzalinur Manja Bidin/MYCAT)

Tigers evoke a deep wonder in all of us. If we use it well, that wonder can inspire humanity to do great things. Even 9,000 miles away, our choices in the Northwest can make us part of tiger conservation in Malaysia. Through our More Wonder More Wild campaign, the second and final phase of the new Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit complex will feature a new, naturalistic home for Malayan tigers and a hands-on Conservation Action Center. Millions of visitors will follow the progress of our tiger researchers and conservation scientists and join in the action to save wild tigers in Malaysia.

We will not let tigers fall. Woodland Park Zoo, Panthera and all our partners combine the know-how, will and broad public outreach to rescue this majestic cat’s future. I invite you to join us and leave a great legacy. By strengthening our collective role as stewards of our planet, we cannot fail.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A backyard bug hunt

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Kids love bugs. There is just something irresistible about the creepy crawlies that slither, march and fly around us. Maybe it is their intriguing size or perhaps their alien form. Either way, I've seen a group of kids snub a jaguar for a trail of ants, seriously.

We have plenty of bugs at the zoo, inside and out. Our Bug World exhibit is brimming with roaches, gigantic spiders and the coolest looking leaf insects you’ll ever see. We also happen to live in a region that is teeming with insects that can be found in our own backyards.

Connecting kids to the insects in their backyard is a big part of connecting them to the idea of living landscapes. Every organism is a player, and if you start with the little guys, it is easy to get kids on board with that concept.

We hung with Zoomazium interns Brianna Morley and Saritha Beauchamp as they led a group of youngsters and their parents to Zoomazium’s backyard space, gave them some nets and magnifying glasses, and let them loose. A bug hunt ensued!

Saritha doles out bug hunting equipment.

Saritha and her bug hunters get their dig on.

Digging, waiting patiently and climbing are all good tactics for these bug hunt professionals.

Checking to see if they were successful in catching up any critters.

Success! These girls caught a grub!

The beautiful bounty of a bug hunt, a tiny yellow grub. Don't worryno bugs were harmed in the making of this blog. All bugs were placed gently back from whence they were scooped.

And when you don’t find any bugs, there is always a sister to catch.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for kids to learn the value of playing outdoors,” says intern Max Hughson. Allowing kids to explore and learn on their own is invaluable in science education. When kids are excited and curious about a subject, such as bugs, they learn to value them.

“Arthropods are amazing!” adds intern Galen Schwartzberg. When little visitors see the enthusiastic Zoomazium interns hunting for insects, it is hard not to follow suit, even when it’s just an ordinary potato bug (ahem, an extraordinary Armadillidiidae!)

It is easy to see how something as simple as a bug hunt promotes problem solving, critical thinking and imagination.

Zoomazium interns lead various outdoor programs a few days per week in the afternoon. There are a number of programs including a bug hunt, web walk (participants look for spider webs and gently mist webs with a spray bottle to see the web structure) or a micro hike (participants follow a string through the backyard and see what they can find along the way).

Visitors are welcome to stop by Zoomazium in the afternoons to see which outdoor programs are going on that day.  Nature Exchange is everyday 1:00 - 4:00 p.m., puppet shows every day at 4:30 p.m. in July and August, and visitors can always explore the backyard on their own.

Kids can check out the bug hunt equipment anytime that Zoomazium is open! Happy hunting!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

If you give a black-breasted turtle a hibiscus...

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

If you give a black-breasted leaf turtle a hibiscus...she might ask for another petal!

Part of Alyssa Borek’s job as Day Exhibit keeper is to ensure all of her residents get a variety of food and enrichment items. Sometimes this means giving an animal a new palatable experience; such was the case with this sweet, little black-breasted leaf turtle and her hibiscus dinner.

Video: Black-breasted leaf turtle snacks on hibiscus. Video by Alyssa Borek/Woodland Park Zoo.

The adorable clip above shows a tiny taste-test starring our black-breasted leaf turtle, Geoemyda spengleri, and her appetite for a hibiscus petal. Four stars to the chef!

Day Exhibit keeper, Alyssa, answers a few questions about this daring culinary adventure…

What does this turtle usually eat in the wild?
In the wild, these turtles eat various invertebrates, such as insects, worms, and grubs. They also eat decaying fruit found on the forest floor and venture into streams to collect insect larvae.

What is the normal diet at the zoo? 
At the zoo, these turtles dine primarily on insects with occasional fruits, vegetables and sometimes flowers.

Alyssa, why did you decide to give her the hibiscus? 
When enrichment items are available, I try to rotate which animals receive them to provide a greater variety to the largest portion of the collection as possible. In rotating among the animals of the collection, this ensures that none of the animals receive any enrichment item too frequently; this increases the value of the enrichment to the individual animals.

When was the first time she tried the flower? 
I believe this was the first time she was offered hibiscus flowers.

What was her reaction? 
She really seemed to enjoy the flower; the video shows her eating a second petal! (The first was consumed before I started recording).

Where was the hibiscus from? 
Our horticulture department provides us flowers when available, usually hibiscus and occasionally orchids for use as enrichment. We also harvest clover and dandelion as well as other standard browse greens to occasionally offer the herbivores in our collection.

A black-breasted leaf turtle hatchling next to its shell. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Did we try giving her any more plants/flowers? If so, which does she prefer? 
I have tried offering them blueberries and other greens. This female is more adventurous than the male she is housed with and will often try the new items. She enjoyed the blueberry, rolling it around for a little while before she was able to grasp it with her beak.

Are there any more interesting changes to the leaf turtle diet? 
As novel enrichment items become available, they are offered to her as well as the rest of the appropriate animals in the collection. They have been offered roaches, snails, slugs, wax worms, and two different types of mealworms in addition to the cricket and earthworm feeds.

Looks just like a wet leaf! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Where does the black-breasted leaf turtle live? 
You can find the black-breasted leaf turtle in Southeast Asia, where they live in forested areas near streams. At the zoo, they live in the Day Exhibit.

How many black-breasted leaf turtles do we have at the zoo? 
We have a pair on exhibit in the Day Exhibit, and an additional four off exhibit, including a baby hatched here July 2012.  

The black-breasted leaf turtle’s jagged shell helps it camouflage as a leaf on the forest floor. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The black-breasted leaf turtle is one of the smallest in the world, at about five inches long. They have a unique and beautiful shell with rough edges which resemble a leaf. These turtles don’t have teeth, but they do have a beak-like bite!

Black-breasted leaf turtle are threatened due to habitat destruction and over collection. They are also used in traditional Chinese medicine, and are often sold as pets.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Black-breasted leaf turtles have uniquely large eyes that lend the species their expressive look! Compare an adult (top) and a young hatchling (below).

Photo by Ryan Hawk/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Visit the Day Exhibit and check out our tiniest turtles!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jaguar Junior names first-born son Kuwan. Well, sort of…

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications
Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo except where otherwise noted.

The truth is, Junior buckled.

Leading up to the naming ceremony, the communications and animal management teams prepared with hours of work: planning the press op, selecting culturally significant names, molding papier-mâché enrichment into maracas, and warming up Junior to practice piñatas for a successful ceremony.

Three name options chosen by jaguar zookeepers—Cruz, Tlaloc and Kuwan—were individually paired with tasty, enticing piñatas and hung from a low tree branch for Junior in Jaguar Cove Friday morning. The goal was for Junior to bite into one of the named piñatas and thus ultimately decide the name of his first-born son. The three colorful piñatas tempted Junior toward his big decision with the scents of raw, juicy chicken, which was stuffed inside the maracas. With the lure of his favorite treat, there was no doubt Junior would be game to complete the ceremony and name his son.

Crowds of zoo visitors, staff and press lined Jaguar Cove in anticipation of Junior’s final decision. Quietly cheering on our favorite names, we watched Junior weave through the tall grass to feast on the winning piñata.

He nudged the middle maraca—Kuwan—sniffed, then turned to consider Cruz. Tempted by the previous chicken breast, Junior’s nose met Kuwan again.

But despite what we imagined would happen next, Junior never made any big moves. He buckled. Junior took one last look at the Kuwan option and then kept walking. Maybe it was the build to the big decision, the inviting appearance of his resting area, or just typical cat attitude (cat lovers, you know what we mean). Junior just couldn’t bring himself to sink his teeth into a maraca. 

So, in the middle of his press op, before all of his big supporters, and with the witness of his own caring keepers, Junior retreated from the ceremony to take a snooze on his coveted corner rock. 

After he continued to show no interest in the maracas throughout the afternoon, Junior's zookeepers made the decision to go with his first sniff: Kuwan, from the Hopi word meaning “butterfly showing beautiful wings.” Zookeepers originally selected Kuwan as an option in honor of the butterfly-shaped marking on the male cub's head that helps distinguish him from his sisters (see the male in the middle in the photo below). The two female cubs will be named by donors who have helped bring big cats to Woodland Park Zoo, and we'll be sure to announce their names next.

Photo by Jamie Delk/Woodland Park Zoo

Our ceremony just goes to show; sometimes animals just have their own priorities. And c’mon, can we blame him for wanting a nap? It’s Friday! 

Keep checking back for updates on Kuwan and his sisters. Staff expect visitors will see the new family in Jaguar Cove this summer, but for now the cubs remain behind the scenes with their mother, Nayla.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Otter pop has otter pups in time for Father's Day

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

The naming contest ends this Saturday, but for right now, we’re calling our new Asian small-clawed otter pair mom and dad. That’s because the pair delivered pups on Tuesday, June 11 behind the scenes of their Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit!

Mom and dad. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In celebration of our new otter pop this Father’s Day, we’re giving away Otter Pops to zoo visitors on Sunday, June 16. Pick up a free Otter Pop while supplies last at the Rain Forest Food Pavilion.

We’d love to be able to share photos of the new pups with you, but we haven’t seen much of them yet! The attentive parents are keeping them tucked away in their behind-the-scenes den. We can hear vocalizations and have an internal cam set up so keepers can keep a watchful eye on the family and hopefully get a pup count soon!

While mom nurses the cubs, dad helps by gathering food and nesting material. He stands guard over the vulnerable pups, who are born tiny, without the ability to see or hear. They weigh around 50 grams at birth, which is 1.7 ounces, or the weight of a golf ball.

Since both parents are so involved with the rearing of pups, we won’t see them on exhibit in these earliest weeks of nursing and nesting. Though they are off exhibit for now, we’ll see the family out on exhibit again before the end of the summer. We thank you for understanding and we hope you’ll agree that the reward of otter pups at the zoo is worth the wait! You can still explore the other features of the Bamboo Forest Reserve, including a tropical aviary and a kids’ play area until then.

Any zoo baby is cause for celebration, but these pups represent more than just cute additions to the zoo. Conservation breeding of endangered, vulnerable (like the small-clawed otter) and threatened species through cooperative programs across accredited zoos and aquariums allows us to not only maintain genetic diversity for healthy populations, but also support collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education and field projects.

Adopt an Asian small-clawed otter through our ZooParent special today. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

These otters depend on connected forest habitat and clean waterways to survive in their southern and southeastern Asian range. Deforestation, loss of wetlands, and increased pollution threaten the species’ survival, but you can help. Adopt an Asian small-clawed otter through our ZooParent special today and $5 of your contribution will go directly to the zoo's conservation efforts, supporting wildlife and habitat protection throughout Asia and across the globe.

Original photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

And don’t forget, there’s still time to enter the naming contest! Woodland Park Zoo has teamed up with Umpqua Bank to give two contest winners a $100 Umpqua Bank savings account*, a ZooParent adoption, and a visit from an Umpqua Bank ice cream truck for 100 friends! Names must be submitted in the Malay language as a tribute to the otters’ native southern and southeastern Asian range.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lessons from Bear Affair

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Grizzly brothers, Keema and Denali, demonstrated at Saturday’s Bear Affair: Pacific Northwest Conservation presented by Brown Bear Car Wash what bears can do to your campsite or backyard when you don’t store your garbage, food or gear properly. 

See the damage they caused and learn bear safety tips to avoid these scenarios.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

If you are camping out in bear country, make sure to pitch your tents in a line or a semicircle facing your cooking area. With this set up, you will be more likely to spot a bear that wanders into your camp and the bear will have a clear escape route, according to our conservation collaborators over at Western Wildlife Outreach.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

When camping, remember the 100 yard rule. Locate your cook area and food cache at least 100 yards downwind from your tent when not in established campgrounds.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Even if you plan to use the waterways, avoid setting up camp next to streams and nearby trails, as bears and other wildlife use these as travel routes.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

If food scraps and good smells are around, a bear will find it. Here, a grizzly investigates the smells inside a kayak left unattended.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Use bear-resistant containers to store food. If the bear is thwarted from getting at the goods and leaves in frustration, it will be less likely to go after something like that again. The fewer human-bear encounters we have, the safer the bears and the safer the humans.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Say "goodbye" to your fishing pole if you leave it—and any bait or caught fish—unattended. Fish is especially odorous and attractive to bears.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Bears aren’t just interested in campsites. In the Pacific NW, we might encounter bears in our own backyards. This pool party was certainly not meant for bears.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Who wouldn’t go after chocolate cake? 

When barbecuing or hosting an outdoor party, remember not to leave food, scraps, garbage, recycling or pet food accessible to bears. You don’t want them to start to associate your yard with a food reward, or the encounters will just increase and the danger will escalate.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

With a bear-resistant garbage can he can’t get into on the left, and a pool he can’t fit into in front of him, who can blame this bear for giving up? 

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Even if the pizza is long gone, the odors will remain and could attract bears. Store garbage indoors or in bear-resistant garbage cans.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Everything is fair game to be destroyed once food or smells attract a bear to your backyard party.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The remains of the day.

To learn more about co-existing with not just bears, but other local predators including cougars and wolves, explore more from Western Wildlife Outreach, a Woodland Park Zoo Living Northwest conservation project.