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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Words aren't enough: a zookeeper’s perspective

Posted by: Pattie Beaven, Zookeeper and Member of Puget Sound Chapter – American Association of Zoo Keepers

Zookeeper Pattie Beaven gives an elephant-sized shout out to American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK). 

This week is a special week for many of us at the zoo. This week is National Zoo Keeper Week celebrated by the American Association of Zoo Keepers. So what's it mean to be a zookeeper? Words aren't enough to describe this amazing job and the amazing animals. You know that feeling you get when your dog wags its tail in greeting when you come home? Imagine having a pack of wolves greet you in a similar manner!

Wolf greetings. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Cats purr when they are content, and it can give us great pleasure to have our kitties sit in our laps, eyes closed, purring away. Now imagine having an 8,000-pound elephant purr with contentment upon seeing you. These are the joys of being a zookeeper.

An elephant gets a scrub from a zookeeper. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

When I was a small child I wanted to talk to the animals, and walk with the animals, and now, I'm actually my own version of Dr. Doolittle. I have swam with the animals, been graced by the presence of the most magnificent of creatures, and been touched in ways words can't describe.

Penguin keeper, Celine Pardo, mixes with the colony during feeding time. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Relationships require communication. How can you have a relationship with an animal if you can't communicate in their language? When you are communicating to your animals, you are not just communicating in a different language, you are communicating to an entirely different species. Dolphins don't even hear at the same frequency as humans. Elephants can hear sounds so infrasonic, we don't even understand. So words aren't enough. You have to use your mind, body posture, and your heart. You have to think like the animals. Then you are open enough to communicate with them.

Pattie and Spooky.

Every morning when I approached Spooky, a beluga whale I worked with at a different institution, she would buzz at me. She only buzzed a few of the staff, the fact that she only buzzed a few of the staff made it that much more special. Spooky taught me that if you really like someone, you should give them a buzz.

Pattie and Hekili.
I've learned what trainers mean when they refer to relationship building sessions as "putting money in the bank." I put a little "money" in each time I worked with Hekili, a bottlenose dolphin. We built a great rapport, and a couple years later, I was working another area when he severely injured himself. He would not come close enough to the edge in order to put him in a stretcher and take him to the vet. The only thing left to do for him was to catch him up in a restraint net. Due to my relationship with him I was asked to help with the catch up. Previously I had trained him to calmly let us put him in a stretcher. But that old adage "use it or lose it" is very true, and the behavior had not been practiced for a period of time. Would he remember it with me? Another keeper suggested I try to call him over I entered the beach area to find out. I slapped the water a couple times, my calling card to him. Hekili swam by me once, twice, and then performed a 180 degree turn hauling all the way up the beach and into my arms. I hugged him and rubbed his tail flukes. We were able to get him in the stretcher without any issue.

Putting money in the bank. If you put in just a little bit at a time, you'll find when you really need it, there's a lot there that you can withdraw.

Working hands-on with a dolphin.

Nowadays, at Woodland Park Zoo, I love watching our animals greet their favorite keepers in the morning. Elephants really do purr! It's a low rumbling noise, and it is a true sign of contentment they can express to us puny humans with pathetic hearing. Our oldest elephant Bamboo will actually vibrate her forehead when she's purring. She does it when you enter the barn, when you feed her, when you provide a new enrichment device or toy, and when she's excited. To see Bamboo get really really excited, bring in her favorite keeper, Chuck, out of retirement. The communication is crystal clear, even though words aren't exchanged at all. Bamboo will start squealing and purring, and then she (are you ready for this, folks?) pees. She gets so excited about seeing her friend, she pees herself.

Chuck and Bamboo. Photo by Woodland Park Zoo.

Watoto, our African elephant, reserves most of her purrs for her favorite living being, Chai, our youngest elephant. Only those who have worked with her for many years are privileged to have Watoto purr at them. So, you will have to use your imagination to understand what it was like to have Watoto purr at me one morning, after two years working with her, soliciting a special rub around her ears. That moment was better than my high school and college graduations. It was even better than the day I was offered the job working with elephants.

Well, hello there. Photo by Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo.

Being a zookeeper is a dream come true. We often say anyone can care for animals. You don't have to be a keeper to care. But a zookeeper is something special. We have our animals to thank for that. These are just my stories, every zookeeper has dozens like them. Want to hear about them? Stop by for a keeper chat to talk with one of our super fantastic zookeepers. And tell them how glad you are that they are there for the animals!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to train a wallaroo

Posted by: Wendy Gardner, Zookeeper
Photos by Wendy Gardner/Woodland Park Zoo

Who weighs nearly 100 pounds, belongs to a family of mammals (Macropodidae) whose name means “big feet,” has a long, muscular tail that helps with balance, turning and support while resting, and cannot walk backwards?

Harry gets a food reward for cooperating with his treatment.

That would be Harry, our male wallaroo who lives in the zoo’s Australasia zone. Harry came to Woodland Park Zoo in October 2008 as 2.5-year-old sub-adult, a term we use to describe juveniles that have not yet reached sexual maturity. In December of 2008 he weighed about 62 lb (28 kg), but as of June 2013, the now adult wallaroo weighs just shy of 100 lb (44 kg).

That’s a good weight for him, but that size and strength means we do not want to have to hand catch him if he were to ever need medical attention, both for our own safety and to prevent stress for him. We decided using operant conditioning to get Harry not only used to medical exams but also cooperative in them would be the better alternative whenever possible. Operant conditioning is a type of learning we use at the zoo to encourage behaviors from our animals with the positive reinforcement of a reward.

I've worked with Harry for several years as the Australasia unit keeper and we have built a solid, trusting relationship that has allowed me to do some really great training with him. I started out just doing a simple touch on his shoulders then moved to other areas of his body, always responding to his level of comfort. Leafeater biscuits, apple or yam are used as a reward when he accepts the touch.

Showing Harry the stethoscope so he knows what is coming. Getting him comfortable is the first step with this training. 

As time went on, I would leave my hand on his body longer and slowly worked my hand onto his chest and could feel his heartbeat—pretty cool feeling, I must say! He did so well with this that I started to use a stethoscope and could then hear and feel his heartbeat more regularly. Being able to hear his heart and learn what is normal for him could help in the future, providing us with a baseline for his health.

Harry cooperating very nicely with a little stethoscope check. 

Since he did so well with the touch and stethoscope training, I added a new behavior: hand injection. I started by touching his hip, then pulling on the fur and wiping the area with a wet piece of gauze to simulate the use of alcohol that would be used if he were to get a real injection.  He did well with all of this so I added touching him with a blunt needle after only a couple of sessions. Again he was offered treats as rewards for allowing me to perform these training sessions with him. If he ever does need a real injection, he’s well prepared for the steps now.

Harry gets used to the feeling of a blunt needle on his hip. He doesn't seem to mind, preoccupied with snacking.

An important part of a keeper’s job is learning the behaviors of each individual animal and adjusting our management to what they will tolerate. There are days that he chooses not to do the training and that is fine—it is always his choice.

I am very excited about the progress we have made in a short time and feel confident that all the behaviors he knows and will learn in the future will only improve his care. Thanks, Harry. You are one awesome wallaroo!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! If you've been enjoying the baby boom at the zoo this past year, then you have our dedicated keepers to thank. It’s their hard work in matching up animal mates, caring for growing families, and keeping babies healthy that makes it all possible. Next time you see a zookeeper, let them know what their work means to you and your family!

Video: Celebrating zookeepers at Woodland Park Zoo. Video by VIA Creatives.

The late Dana Payne, a Woodland Park Zoo curator, poignantly summed up the work of the zookeeper in an end note he wrote for local artist Catherine Eaton Skinner’s book, Unleashed:

“Those of us who have chosen a life with animals know we have chosen well. Having a conversation with a lion is a fine way to start one’s day. For that matter, so is tossing tidbits to a toucan, or medicating a cobra. There’s something there, in the lion’s luminous eyes, in the gaudy splendor of the toucan, in the cobra’s sibilant protests: it’s magic. It’s the stuff of fairy tales to interact with animals like these, even in a scientific setting, and in spite of repetitious, routine chores. You should envy us, for we are the most fortunate of humans—we take care of the animals at the zoo.”

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vote YES for your zoo and your big backyard

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

Did you know that, on average, residents of King County spend as much as 90 percent of our time within 25 miles of home? Given our Northwest love of all things outdoors, thank goodness we have King County’s 200 parks and 175 miles of regional trails to provide us access to nature’s wonders. Whether it’s an expansive network of open spaces and trails or Woodland Park Zoo’s beloved 92-acre urban oasis—we all win when we protect our big backyard.

That’s why I encourage you on August 6 to vote YES on King County Proposition One and renew essential support for King County Parks, suburban city parks and Woodland Park Zoo through 2019.

A young girl connects with nature at the zoo's award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Svane.

General fund support to King County parks was eliminated as of 2011, so keeping parks open and safe depends on you, me and other county residents renewing two 2007 voter-approved measures that expire at the end of this year. What it boils down to is 18.77 cents per $1,000 property valuation, or about $56 dollars per year for a family living in a $300,000 home. 

The levy is crucial for the zoo. Let me show you how a modest investment translates into major payoffs. 

First, we’ll be able to sustain the financial health of this widely-loved, 114-year-old community icon. The proposed levy funds to support the zoo, $4.3 million dollars each year for 6 years, equal about 12 percent of our overall annual operating budget in 2013. 

Woodland Park Zoo funding sources. Projected 2013 operating revenue: $34.9 million.

For every dollar you and I invest in the zoo as tax-paying residents (blue), the zoo more than doubles that dollar’s impact with revenue from memberships, ticket sales and donations from private individuals (green and orange). Each side leverages and benefits from the support of the other. This healthy synergy sustains our mission to engage more than one million people each year in learning, caring and acting to help wildlife and create a more sustainable world.

Passing the levy is also crucial to meet the growing needs of urban and suburban families, and to help educators use nature to get kids hooked early on science and learning—and stay hooked throughout their school years. 

Seventy-five percent of families visiting the zoo have children under 8 years of age. To connect more kids to nature, we’ve grown our early childhood education programs significantly, from lively animal encounters in the wilds of Zoomazium to action-filled camps and classes and overnights to new, interactive Adventure Packs and our popular Little Critters outreach program with Seattle Public Libraries. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

One of the greatest gains made possible by funding from the 2007 King County levies has been helping all residents enjoy access to nature’s wonders. Our School-to-Zoo and Community Access Programs are two of several programs that have increased the number of K-12 students, teachers, families and youth from underrepresented communities participating in unique learning experiences only the zoo can provide. As a leader in informal science education, we’re pleased to augment school curricula and help more youth acquire hands-on, science-inquiry skills for life.

Following on the zoo’s highly popular ZooCorps program for teens, we created ZooCrew  to empower middle school youth to get and stay excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. Continued involvement in zoo youth programs and mentoring encourages them to consider careers as scientists and conservation leaders. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Levy funds will also help the zoo strengthen our innovative field conservation programs, and engage more community members in saving endangered and native animals in the wild, such as Oregon spotted frogs, western pond turtles, and Oregon silverspot butterflies through our citizen science and Northwest species recovery and release programs. 

The zoo and its partners engage people in diverse opportunities for science learning and conservation action in local parks and regional preserves.  Here a young person trains as a citizen scientist through the amphibian monitoring program, surveying egg masses of native amphibian species to help prevent them from disappearing from our landscape. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Of course, there are many facilities to maintain, aging buildings to upgrade to more efficient standards, and new landscape immersion exhibits to create to bring people closer to animals and involve them in saving species. 

When you invest in Woodland Park Zoo, you’re investing in more than an institution. You’re investing in a quality of life and in sustaining it in ways that benefit people and wildlife right here in our big backyard. Over the last decade, zoo operations have generated more than $800,000,000 in economic benefits to residents and businesses in the Puget Sound region—a great testament to the success of our public-private partnership.

For more than a century, Woodland Park Zoo has been a vital community asset for all residents in our county and region. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

By passing King County Proposition One on August 6, you are saying YES to the value this remarkable park and community asset creates for families and schools, and for the animals and natural landscapes we all love. Thank you!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Zoo’s giraffe due to give birth any day

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

The question on everyone's mind is: who will give birth first—the Duchess of Cambridge or the Duchess of Phinney Ridge?

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The zoo's own duchess, 6-year-old Rothschild’s giraffe Olivia, is expected to give birth any day now. With a gestation period of 14 to 15 months, Olivia’s window to give birth is pretty wide—it began June 24 and closes August 12, explained Martin Ramirez, a curator at the zoo. Olivia’s belly is pretty big and she’s carrying low so we expect a calf any day.

Zookeepers are keeping a close watch for signs of labor which may include restlessness, loss of appetite, or biting or licking her flanks. We will bring Olivia into the barn and mobilize a 24-hour birth watch at the first sign of labor, and we also have a den cam installed in the barn to monitor the new family.

The last viable birth of a giraffe at the zoo was in 1997. There’s a lot of excitement at the zoo for this baby. It’s been a long time since we've had a baby giraffe running on our savanna so we can’t wait!

We'll be sure to share any news here. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Jaguar cubs ace their final exams

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communication

Jaguar cubs Arizona, Inka and Kuwan. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

This week marked the final post-birth exam for the triplet jaguar cubs. These early in life check-ups are meant to ensure the cubs are gaining weight and hitting all of their developmental benchmarks, while also providing the opportunity to give vaccinations, draw blood samples for routine tests, and establish their health baselines.

With the cubs now four months old and weighing 25-28 pounds, completing these exams can be a challenge. The cubs first need to be transferred one by one to the zoo’s Animal Health hospital. Getting the cubs into their transfer crate requires their cooperation—something they aren’t always willing to give. Cats will be cats.

Arizona is readied for her exam. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Once a cub arrives at the hospital, it is anesthetized for the exam. This allows the zoo’s veterinary team to get in close to inspect the eyes, ears, paws, teeth and tongue of each animal.

Arizona has a full set of strong,healthy teeth. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

First up was first-born cub, Arizona. Zoo associate veterinarian, Dr. Kelly Helmick, listened to Arizona’s heartbeat: nice, good and steady, as she described it. Her lungs sounded strong and clear as well.

The zoo’s animal health and animal management teams take a closer look at Arizona. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

A feel of Arizona’s legs proved how strong the young cats already are, with the species’ distinguished muscular build already developing in the young animal.

All done with her exam, Arizona is returned to a crate where she’ll slowly wake up and eventually be transferred back to her exhibit. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zookeepers watched over the exam like a graduation ceremony they were proud to attend. The cubs’ acing of their final post-birth exam means they are all healthy, growing and thriving under mom’s care at the zoo. With their vaccination series complete, the cubs can now be exam-free and won’t have to visit the vets again until their time is up for a regular, preventative wellness check-up like other animals at the zoo.

Back on exhibit, those muscular legs will keep getting stronger and stronger as they continue to climb all over, adventuring up, down and all around their exhibit. 

Putting those muscles to use climbing in the exhibit. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Those strong, full sets of teeth will get bigger and fiercer, tearing into larger and larger servings of chicken, mutton and beef as they put on more and more weight.

The usual suspects line up. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

And that stocky build will fill out, making them sturdy swimmers someday.

The cubs contemplate the pool in front of them. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Every day is a new day with these jaguar cubs, watching them grow and explore. Come see what’s new with them today! The cubs have access to their exhibit 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily. See you out there!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Otter naming contest results are in

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

Guntur and Teratai in the Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit. The pair is currently off view while they raise their newborn pups. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

More than 1,000 community members weighed in to name Woodland Park Zoo’s new Asian small-clawed otter pair in our naming contest presented by Umpqua Bank.

After a panel of zoo judges deliberated over your Malay language submissions, the winning names are:

  • Male otter - Guntur ("thunder")
  • Female otter - Teratai (“water lily or lotus”)

The lucky winners who submitted the selected names are sisters Megan and Nicole Green (ages 9 and 10) of Renton and Hanah Deets (age 7) of Bainbridge Island.

Thanks to all who entered! Guntur and Teratai are currently off exhibit while they raise their newborn pups, but will re-debut this August when the young family is ready to explore the Bamboo Forest Reserve together

Show your otter love and become an Asian small-clawed otter ZooParent today! Your adoption helps fund the daily care and feeding of our zoo animals, and $5 of your contribution will go directly to the zoo's conservation efforts, supporting wildlife and habitat protection throughout otter habitat in Asia and across the globe.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Princesses and the penguins

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

Hispanic Seafair Queen Tania Santiago gets up close with penguin Cortez thanks to zookeeper Celine Pardo.

Curator Mark Myers shows off a wand to this year's Seafair Princesses, but this wand isn't normally meant to go with tiaras. “This is a metal detector,” Mark explains. “Any idea why we might need a metal detector in the penguin exhibit?”

“To see if they ate any coins?” a Princess correctly guesses.

“That’s right, penguins like shiny objects,” Mark explains, as the ladies all self-consciously look at each other’s sparkling tiaras. Better not drop those in the penguin pool!

63rd Annual Miss Seafair Veronica Asence holds a penguin egg (don't worry, it's empty!).

But our crowned cadre is too composed to have to worry about that. This year's Seafair Princesses, participants in the Seafair Scholarship Program for Women, got to go behind the scenes at the zoo's award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit to see the hidden side of the zoo. The experience is part of the numerous community events and parades the Princesses attend to showcase their academic abilities, public speaking skills, talents and community service achievements.

Zookeeper Celine Pardo introduces the Seafair Princesses to the zoo's penguin exhibit.

The visit began with a stop at the public side of the exhibit, where zookeeper Celine Pardo explained some of the penguin behavior and biology on display as the birds hopped around, swam and sunned in the background. Hispanic Seafair Princess, Karla Ciccia, felt a special connection to the birds when she learned they are Peruvian like her. Others felt a connection when they realized they share a food preference with Humboldt penguins—anchovies.

The Princesses examine the downy, inner feathers that help insulate penguins.

For a closer look at the endangered birds, the Seafair Princesses headed behind the scenes to see how keepers care for them. They stopped in the kitchen where penguin food is prepared, the pool room where chicks first learn to swim, and the burrow room where nesting pairs gather.

Mark Myers explains how the penguin burrow room provides nesting areas for mated birds.

But it was at the penguin gate—where keepers enter the exhibit and penguins exit—that the young women got their first truly up-close glimpse of the birds. Whether it was the shiny tiaras or just curiosity about new faces, a number of penguins came waddling over to the gate to check out the crowd. “Go ahead, you can touch him,” was easily the most popular thing Mark said all day, as the Princesses excitedly lined up to feel the smooth, waterproof coat of Cortez, a male penguin who was born at Woodland Park Zoo.

Japanese Queen Scholarship Program of Washington's Christine Ito feels the smooth feathers of penguin Cortez.

Penguin chicks abound in the exhibit, and the Princesses learned about the Species Survival Plan management program that pairs up penguins for breeding and to maintain genetic diversity and demographic health in the population. Conservation breeding became the theme that connected all of their stops, as the group went on to meet the jaguar cubs and then the sloth bear cubs.

Stopping to greet new friends at the zoo.

As they made their way around the zoo, the Princesses drew gasps from little girls who delighted to pose for photos with them. Not to be outdone, three little boys perhaps were the most excited all day, punching the air with the thrill of having met so many Princesses at once! Faces light up whenever the Seafair Princesses are around—the gracious young women smile for photos, chat up community members, and remind us of what a wonderfully diverse and fun-loving community we share.

The Seafair Princesses pose at the zoo's Historic Carousel.

Look for the Princesses around the community all summer long as Seafair activities continue, and perhaps they can teach you a thing or two about penguins when you see them!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Checking in with the sloth bear cubs

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

If you haven’t visited the sloth bear cubs yet, make plans soon! Now seven months old, the twins are still small, but act double their size in their bold adventures.

Every log must be scaled, every grub must be snuffled out of its hiding spot, every tub of water must be splashed into, and every sibling battle must be fought for these two.

Brother and sister go about their lives nose-first, their sense of smell leading them on journeys big and small.

Sloth bears are the vacuum cleaners of the Asian forest—take a closer look at that snout and you’ll notice it’s designed for slurping up termites. The large gap in their front teeth (due to the absence of front upper incisors) means nothing gets in the way of vacuuming up a meal.

They can even close their nostrils on their flexible noses to prevent any bugs from crawling up the wrong way whenever they are snout-deep in a termite mound! And long claws help them dig into the protein goldmines.

The two are natural climbers and are getting better every day with practice. Visitors hold their breath as the cubs dangle and scramble from trees and ledges, but inevitably they stick the landing.

We’re just days away from officially naming the pair now that we have had the time to get to know their personalities and habits. We’ll be sure to share their names in our next update!

The cubs are out and about daily, so come see what’s new with them today!

Web cam features wild swallow chicks

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications
Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

More than 1,000 animals call Woodland Park Zoo’s exhibits home, but let’s not forget about all the native and migratory wildlife that use the zoo for nesting, feeding and breeding grounds. One of those wild animals—the barn swallow—is featured on our newest web cam.

A glimpse at the camera pointing at the nest in the Raptor Barn.

A clutch of wild barn swallows hatched the week of June 17 in a nest tucked into the rafters of the zoo’s Raptor Barn—one of four active swallow nests in the building. The migratory birds return each spring to occupy the nests, as well as others around zoo grounds including the Family Farm, to hatch and raise their chicks before the fledglings are ready to head south in the fall.

Close up of the newly hatched, hungry chicks in the nest.

The web cam streams 24/7 so you can get a glimpse of this young, wild family as the chicks hit their major milestones—growing flight feathers in June, taking their first tentative flights in July, and eventually fledging and moving on at summer’s end.

You may notice one of the parents looks like it’s wearing a small backpack. That backpack is actually a geolocator that allows scientists to study their movements and population trends.

A swallow fitted with a geolocator as part of the barn swallow study. 

For 10 years, University of Saskatchewan Professor Keith Hobson and his colleague Steven Van Wilgenburg have been banding the zoo’s annual swallow residents with small identifiers and geolocators to track their annual migration to South America, and examine the effects of habitat loss, climate change, and insecticide use, both here and in their wintering grounds. Since swallows have a keen ability to return to their nesting areas each spring, Woodland Park Zoo’s Raptor Barn is a regular home for breeding swallows and a consistent site for swallow research.

Researchers are studying the migration patterns of the swallow.

Barn swallows living in the northernmost part of their North American range are on the decline, and the study could provide key insight into the environmental factors that threaten their future.

Conservation of barn swallows and other native migratory birds has a positive impact on the Pacific Northwest’s ecological health. As great insect hunters, swallows are a beneficial bird to Northwestern backyards by providing natural pest control and keeping insect populations in balance. Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest program focuses on species restoration, habitat protection, science, and wildlife education that together address regional environmental issues. These strategies improve the sustainability of our wildlife populations, the health of our ecosystems, and the health of our communities.