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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Eager froglets hatched ready for leaping!

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Baby Solomon Island leaf frogs. Photo by Alyssa Borek/Woodland Park Zoo.

Solomon Island leaf frogs, Ceratobatrachus guentheri, also known as triangle frogs, are a very special type of amphibian because they go through their tadpole stage inside the egg, hatching as completely formed froglets. The juvenile frogs emerge from their eggs as fully developed frogs in a process called direct development. Instead of spending their first days as a tadpole, or polliwog, these frogs are hatched ready to leap! The tiny frogs grow very quickly, starting at only an eighth of an inch when they emerge. They eat very small insects until they are large enough to transition to an adult diet of arthropods and larger insects, and even smaller reptiles and amphibians.

The little froglets practice ambushing tiny insects, a behavior they will use later to pounce on any prey that happens to wander through their territory. It’s amazing to see these tiny creatures emerge from an egg and almost immediately become self-sufficient hunters. 

A pointy-nosed Solomon Island leaf frog on a mossy bed. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

In 1991, Woodland Park Zoo won a prestigious Edward H. Bean Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for our Solomon Island leaf frog propagation program. The award recognizes a significant captive propagation effort that enhances conservation of the species. At the time, Woodland Park Zoo was one of the first facilities to breed a viable offspring of this species and was very successful with many births in 1989-1997. 

It wasn't until just recently that this species was brought back to the zoo in September of last year. The zoo now has 6 adults and 7 babies. The photo below, taken by Day Exhibit keeper Alyssa Borek, shows just how tiny these frogs appear! 

These babies were born at the zoo in early February. Photo by Alyssa Borek/Woodland Park Zoo.

The frogs are found on their native Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea’s Buka Island and Bougainville Island, in a variety of habitats from dense rain forest to coconut plantations. They bury their eggs among the leaf-littered floor of the rain forest, often in the crook of tree roots or rotten stumps. The pea-sized eggs hatch in about one month, with the tiniest froglets appearing at a whopping 0.6 cm long.

These frogs are polymorphic, meaning there are many variations in color, from golden earthy browns to bright green. They also have special camouflage in the way they are shaped, with a triangle face that appears much like a leaf on the forest floor. 

The juvenile frogs are a light green right now, but their coloration may change as they mature. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

If you were walking through the rain forest at night, you would hear these frogs much sooner than you would see them. The frogs have a very unique call, a sharp barking noise that is often mistaken for a small dog. The barking begins when the sun goes down and the frogs begin to sing.

Adult Solomon Island leaf frogs chill out together in their leafy exhibit. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The Solomon Island leaf frogs at the zoo can be found in the Day Exhibit, kept in a mossy, warm (78°F) and humid (80%) environment. Because the frogs are nocturnal their environment is kept dimly lit, which also mimics the shadowy rain forest floor. The exhibit has special hiding places for the frogs, so you have to look closely to spot them. They eat insects, mealworms and sometimes a special treat— earthworms. 

This frog blends in with its leaf nest, perhaps protecting a clutch of eggs. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Next time you are in the Day Exhibit, be sure to check out these amazing amphibians!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Once a cheetah, always a cheetah

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

It’s almost time to meet a cheetah! The newest animals to join the Woodland Park Zoo family will debut in a temporary exhibit May 1, with zoo members getting a special sneak preview on April 30. The celebration continues with an official grand opening presented by Chevron on May 3.

Missy the cheetah, photographed at Wildlife Safari in Oregon. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

How did the zoo’s new, temporary cheetah exhibit come about? It all started with a call from the Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos. They enlisted our assistance to care for a pair of 14-year-old, female cheetahs for six to 18 months. The pair, Liz and Missy, has come to us from Oregon’s Wildlife Safari. By providing a temporary home for the girls, we are able to help the conservation breeding program by creating additional space for the next generation of offspring produced at Wildlife Safari. Between the two of them, Liz and Missy have reared 15 cubs of their own throughout their lifetimes!

Liz the cheetah, photographed at Wildlife Safari in Oregon. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo,

Though we have no shortage of freckled felines—Woodland Park Zoo is also home to jaguars, ocelots and snow leopards—you can easily spot the difference when it comes to cheetahs. That’s because these cats are built for speed.

Cheetahs can run in short bursts of up to 65 mph. Even when they are resting (and let’s face it, they are cats, so that’s pretty often), look for signs of the adaptations that make their speed possible like…

Keep an eye on the cheetah's back when it's on the move. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

…A flexible spine that coils like a spring and launches their body like a catapult…

Cheetahs are slender and narrow with large chests. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

…A large chest built for lungs and a heart to match that make high speeds possible…

Take a look at their specialized claws. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

…and blunt claws that act like track spikes and textured pads that act like tire treads.

Then there are those spots meant to camouflage them as they slink along savanna grasses, stalking prey before bursting into high speed (though hiding behind a rock gets the job done too).

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Yes, the fastest land mammal on the planet is a thing of beauty. But if we want to save this vulnerable species, it’s time to think fast. Through activities, chats and interpretive signage at the temporary cheetah exhibit, you’ll learn how zoos, conservationists and communities are working together to save this species through research, breeding and field work. Examining these themes for cheetahs inspired us to make over the entire corridor where their exhibit is located, now called the Wildlife Survival Zone. The newly reinterpreted Wildlife Survival Zone will examine what it takes in zoos and in the wild to save other threatened species like the red panda, cranes and western pond turtles. Look for the Wildlife Survival Zone in the southwest corner of the zoo. We’ll see you out there!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Chasing Summer and Insects: Barn Swallows Return

Posted by: Karen Stevenson, Woodland Park Zoo Volunteer; additional contributions by Gretchen Albrecht, Zookeeper and Anna Martin, WPZ Volunteer

Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/WPZ.
Just a few weeks back, the memo came through. It read only, “They’re back!”

“They” are barn swallows, Hirundo rustica, and we’re celebrating their return. Here in the Pacific Northwest, barn swallows are harbingers of spring’s longer, warmer days. Warmer days awaken long-dormant insects, and barn swallows—like most little insectivores—follow their food (mostly flies and mosquitos, but also beetles, bees, wasps and so on). They summer here, then when “summer” moves south, they do too, following available food all the way to northeastern South America and the Caribbean basin.

Barn swallows are comfortable in our big cities, small towns, neighborhoods and farms. While other swallow species prefer to nest in natural structures hidden from view, such as cliffs or tree cavities, barn swallows build mud nests out in the open so we can see the entire nesting cycle. Any straight-edged overhang will do: it might be tucked under a bridge strut, a porch, a roof overhang or a barn rafter. (Hence their clever common name.) They nest under piers, on boats, and at Woodland Park Zoo, especially in the Family Farm’s cow barn and at the Raptor Center. Once they’re settled into a nest, if all goes well, they’ll likely come back year after year, raising one or two broods before chasing summer south at the first signs of fall. They usually leave by late September.

Photo by Gretchen Albrecht/WPZ.

We love barn swallows. With dark purple backs, almost golden breasts and deep forks in their tails, they’re beautiful. They sing a soft, twittering warble. They swoop and soar. And they eat bugs, thousands of them. More importantly, barn swallows are an environmental indicator species (consider them cousins to the canary in the coalmine). Barn swallows give us clues to the overall health of the environment as food and weather influence their migrations and populations. 

Close-up look at a geolocator on a barn swallow. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

We are at the far northern reach of the barn swallows’ natural range and because populations shrink from the edges, we’re in perfect position to collect data on changes—and we’re beginning to see them. Fewer swallows nested on zoo grounds last summer than the year before and if you look back just a few years, you can track a gradual decline in active nests. We don’t yet know if the barn swallow populations are in decline, if the birds are simply nesting elsewhere in the vicinity, or if their range is moving south, but we’re eager to learn more. 

Four years ago, raptor keeper Gretchen Albrecht and docent Anna Martin, who have been monitoring WPZ’s barn swallows for years, began working with researchers to track the migration of our summer barn swallows. The Migratory Barn Swallow Tracking Project, part of the zoo’s Living Northwest conservation program, tracks the birds by putting identification bands and tiny geolocators on the swallows that nest at the zoo. When the birds return the next season, the team removes the geolocators and analyzes the data, which tells the story of the birds’ migration. 

Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

With that data foundation, researchers overlay weather and agricultural details (especially related to pesticide use) and begin to put together an understanding of the factors influencing the changes in our local barn swallow populations. The project continues today, and for the foreseeable future too. The memo, “they’re back” was great news.

So if the swallows have returned to their nests at the zoo, we hope that they’ll soon be settling elsewhere in the region. If you see a mud nest in your carport or barn, please don’t take it down. It may be a new home for a barn swallow family. (If the idea of barn swallow poop bothers you, place newspapers or cardboard beneath the nest and popular perching spots to help keep things tidy.) 

There are other things you can do too:
  • Avoid pesticides and let the birds help control insects naturally
  • Join a citizen science project to help clean up a park or waterway to provide habitat for birds.
  • Donate to a conservation project that helps protect local wildlife or vote for the Living Northwest projects at the zoo’s Quarters for Conservation kiosk next time you visit the zoo. (Be sure to ask for a token at the gate.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Porcupine baby will make you squee

Posted by: Gigi Allianic with Rebecca Whitham, Communications

She’s got quills, they’re multiplying.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The littlest new addition to Woodland Park Zoo is a female North American porcupine, born April 4 in our Northern Trail exhibit.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Porcupine babies, known as porcupettes (seriously), are born with a soft coat of quills that begins to harden within hours of birth. This immediately protects them from predators...and thick gloves immediately protect us from them!

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Our porcupette was born to Molly and Oliver, both 3-year-old residents of Northern Trail. This is their second offspring. The baby has access all day and night to the porcupine exhibit, but for now prefers to spend most of her time exploring in a den behind the scenes.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

She grooms herself a lot and is experimenting with different solid foods, like this specially prepared biscuit designed for leafeaters that looks enormous in her tiny hands.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Zoo guests will begin seeing her more frequently on exhibit as she becomes more active and curious. Porcupettes become active quickly and, as natural tree dwellers, their climbing instincts take hold within weeks of delivery. Climbing makes foraging easier on the young, a skill set they exercise early in their development as they wean themselves from mom and transition to an herbivorous diet of leaves, twigs and bark.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Welcome, Xerxes!

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

We have a new king on the savanna! Welcome our new male South African lion, Xerxes, to Woodland Park Zoo’s lion exhibit.

The handsome new king on the savanna. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Xerxes is 6.5 years old and was born on November 6, 2007 at Oklahoma City Zoo. He lived at El Paso Zoo from January 2010 until he came to Seattle in March 2014. He has been behind the scenes in standard quarantine for newly arrived animals, where he received health checkups and an assessment from our animal health staff before being introduced to the exhibit.

This week he began his first ventures into the main outdoor lion yard. We watched from the lion viewing shelter as he gingerly entered the outdoor space and began to explore. Keepers say he is a very calm lion, and they expect him to settle into his new environment without any trouble. Xerxes is very striking, with his dark-tipped mane and regal expression!

Xerxes is also exceptionally vocal.  He roars like other lions do, but he also does a lot of low grumbles, high pitched moans, and a chuffing sound similar to a tiger.  He is very talkative with his keepers and Adia, our female lion.

Stepping out. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Xerxes is being introduced to the exhibit on his own so he can feel out his new turf, but soon he will join female Adia. Keepers say the two have shown very positive signs for a smooth introduction such as vocalizing to each other while in their behind-the-scenes dens. After their introductions are complete, you will be able to see this new pair hanging out together. We have high hopes that this pair might rear a litter of lion cubs, especially since as of yet, Xerxes is not represented in the gene pool for the lion Species Survival Plan conservation breeding program. Adia gave birth to four lion cubs in November 2012. 

Keepers take turns keeping an eye on the new lion, making sure he is able to successfully navigate his new home. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Xerxes will be on exhibit daily from 9:00 a.m. to noon. If everything goes according to schedule, introductions with Adia will begin the week of May 5th. 

You may be distracted by that glorious mane, but check out Xerxes’ tail! The lion tail is the only one in the cat family with a tassel at the tip. The tassel conceals a spine, or tail bones fused together. It’s not clear what the purpose of this spike on the tail is used for, but we think it looks pretty awesome. Lions use their tails for balance, and especially for signaling to cubs and even other lions during a hunt. 

Pulling the tassle of hair away from the tip of Xerxes’ tail during an animal health exam. You can see the spiky end that is usually hidden! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Take a green tour in honor of Earth Day

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

When you love wildlife, every day is Earth Day.

An Asian small-clawed otter pup. Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.

Get into the green spirit on your next visit to the zoo: use our free mobile app to take the GPS-guided Green Zoo Tour. Discover the sometimes hidden ways we save water and energy and creatively reduce waste. Then get tips for how to do the same at home.

On the tour, you'll visit LEED-certified buildings, see solar panels at work, discover the difference trees make, and find out what we do with all that animal poop.

Together we can reduce our impact on the planet we share with wildlife and with future generations.

Monday, April 21, 2014

ZooTunes returns: See concerts, save animals

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Another season of BECU ZooTunes presented by Carter Subaru summer concerts is heating up with this year’s blazing lineup:

June 18 — Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood
June 22 — Mavis Staples / Marc Cohn
July 2 — Gregg Allman
July 6 — Carolina Chocolate Drops / The Del McCoury Band
July 30 — Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band with special guests Lake Street Dive
July 31 — Lucinda Williams
August 6 — Taj Mahal Trio / John Hiatt & The Combo
August 10 — Robert Cray Band / Shemekia Copeland
August 17 — Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue / Galactic
August 20 & 21 — Pink Martini featuring China Forbes and Storm Large
August 24 — Ziggy Marley

Join us on the North Meadow for great music all summer long. When you see concerts, you save animals by supporting Woodland Park Zoo’s mission!

Tickets go on sale to the general public on Fri., April 25 at 8:00 a.m. Current zoo members enjoy a special presale on Wed., Apr. 23—look for an email in your inbox that day for the exclusive ticket purchase link.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Penguins and Senior Zoo Walkers welcome Mayor Murray to the zoo

Posted by: Laura Lockard, Public Affairs

A suited Mayor Murray greets a tuxedoed penguin. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

We had a very special guest at the zoo this morning, our very own Mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray!

Senior Zoo Walkers enjoy a Q&A with Mayor Murray at the zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

As they wrapped up this morning’s stroll around zoo grounds, the Senior Zoo Walkers—who participate in a joint Seattle parks and zoo senior health program—were joined by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray for conversation and a cup of coffee. After a welcome by zoo President and CEO, Deborah Jensen, Mayor Murray addressed several of the walkers’ questions and concerns about our city, including traffic and bicycle safety, and funding for the city’s parks and the zoo.

Coffee and conversation at the zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

The Mayor acknowledged that many necessary infrastructure projects at the zoo, local parks and community centers have gone unfunded and incomplete. He expressed his support for a park district and funding package to support these major maintenance requirements, which are currently under review by the city council.

After speaking to the walkers, the Mayor had the rare chance to meet the zoo’s newest addition, a Humboldt penguin chick. Who can resist a four-day-old penguin chick? Certainly not Mayor Murray!

The Mayor feels the downy feather coating of a newly hatched chick. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

The rest of the colony then waddled up to greet the Mayor with open flippers!

Black and white dress code, tie optional. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

Zookeeper John Samaras provided an up-close briefing on these endangered species among the rookery. The Mayor then had some grueling penguin feeding training, a task our penguins were glad to participate in. Looks like he’s the right man for the job!

Even the heron is impressed with the Mayor’s penguin feeding skills. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

Thanks for stopping by #SeaMayor Murray—we hope you don’t smell too much like herring!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Grizzlies have a birthday blast

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

What did you do for your 20th birthday?

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Today, grizzly brothers Keema and Denali celebrated two decades by diving face-first into piles of snow courtesy of Crystal Mountain Resort. Hidden inside the snow were special birthday treats, from meaty knuckle bones and fish, to peanut butter and marshmallow fluff.

Video: Grizzly bear snow battle. Produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Though the bears technically turned 20 back in January, they slept right through their big day as bears tend to do during their winter slumber. So we held off on their birthday surprise until today.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

This morning, our friends from Crystal Mountain trucked in piles of snow fresh from the Cascades and loaded it into the exhibit. Keepers and volunteers lovingly tucked Keema and Denali’s favorite treats into the snow. Between the smell of the food and the feel of the soft snow, the bears were in for a treat!

There are a few tried and true methods for enjoying a snowy birthday:

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Make a snow angel.

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Use your snout and claws to dig in. When delicacy doesn’t get the job done, SMASH!

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

This is your pile. You must protect it.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sharing is caring, but everyone has limits.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Feel the tickle of the cold snow on your nose and tongue.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Invite a friend. The river otters got their own little pile of snow to play with.

Your next chance to see the bears tear into special treats is Bear Affair: Living Northwest Conservation presented by Brown Bear Car Wash, coming up on June 7. Throughout that day we’ll set up scenes for the bears to smash through—from a backyard wedding to a hiker’s camp—while showing you what steps you can take next time to bear-proof your yard or campsite and coexist safely!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Birthday bears to get a snowy present

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Winter is coming.

The bears will enjoy a snowy birthday treat on April 15. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In celebration of grizzly brothers Keema and Denali's 20th birthday, our friends at Crystal Mountain will deliver snow fresh from the Cascades to the birthday bears on April 15.

If you can’t join us in person, check out the Bear Cam at 10:00 a.m. that day to watch the scene streaming live.

The bears slept through their actual birthday back on January 15 of this year. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Keema and Denali turned 20 back in January of this year, but bears being bears, they slept right through the milestone, all cozy in their winter slumber. 

As the boys enjoy their belated birthday present, zoo staff will be on hand to share fascinating facts about the grizzlies, the natural history of bears, and how the zoo plays an important role in helping to conserve bears and other apex predators in the state.

Approximately 25,000-30,000 black bears exist in Washington and biologists believe there may be as few as 10 individual grizzly bears in the North Cascades and 50-70 in the Selkirk Ecosystem of northeast Washington. 

Thanks to Crystal Mountain Resort for making this awesome birthday party possible!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Thank you Woodland Park Zoo Volunteers!

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, communications
Photos by: Dennis Dow

It is National Volunteer Week and we would like to thank our talented volunteers who are an essential part of making Woodland Park Zoo a joy to visit and a phenomenal place to work. Our 750 volunteers and their devotion to our animals and passion for our mission are an incredible presence at the zoo. With their in-depth knowledge of every corner of the zoo it’s hard to imagine operating without them. Whether it’s assisting keepers with cleaning (scooping poop), speaking with children in Zoomazium (giggle fest), pruning roses with the horticulture staff (wear your gloves!), educating and assisting our guests (kids and big kids at heart!), doing office work (keeping us in check), helping with diet prep (chopping carrots like a top chef) or providing event support (musical chairs), their enthusiasm and passion for this institution keeps us all inspired.

As ambassadors for Woodland Park Zoo, each and every volunteer is put through a rigorous training program to familiarize them with every aspect of the zoo and help promote our mission of saving wildlife and habitat. While training does not include a 3-shovel Zoo Doo race across the North Meadow, the lost engagement ring scavenger hunt, or a timed identification quiz on our 300+ species… we have no doubt they could pull it off.

Thank you Woodland Park Zoo volunteers! You are all amazing and we are grateful for your superb service and unending dedication to our animals and guests.  

For more information zoo volunteer opportunities, visit www.zoo.org/volunteer.