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Top 14 of 2014

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

From welcoming new faces to celebrating old friends, heralding conservation milestones and leading veterinary breakthroughs, it’s been a year to remember. We take a look at some of our favorite stories from 2014—those that touched our hearts, made us smile, and made a positive impact on the world we share.

Here’s to a wild 2015!

14. Grizzly brothers turn 20

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

We’ve watched grizzly bear brothers Keema and Denali grow up at Woodland Park Zoo, transforming from cautious little cubs to kings of the Northern Trail. When the pair turned 20 last January, they…slept right through it. Winter is a time of little activity for bears, after all. But as they stirred from their winter slumber, we surprised them with a belated birthday blast in April, complete with mounds of snow trucked in by our good friends at Crystal Mountain Resort. Hidden throughout the snow were favorite treats from meaty knuckle bones and fish, to peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. It was a joy to see the bears smash and crash their way through the fun, and make their own versions of snow angels.

13. Local amphibians and reptiles get the spotlight

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Herpetology is cool, man. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back on the big screen, it was a great year to turn the spotlight on reptiles and amphibians. On the local front, the Northwest native Oregon spotted frog had a big year, gaining federal protection from the Endangered Species Act and getting a boost in population from headstarting efforts at Woodland Park Zoo and partners. We celebrated the comeback of turtle #23—a native western pond turtle raised at Woodland Park Zoo who was too small for wild release last year but overcame all obstacles to make it to the big leagues this year! And the support for native wildlife continues thanks to the good work of citizen scientists who are helping us map amphibian populations in our local parks and wildlife areas. Coming at conservation from all fronts—including federal, state and community levels—is bringing hope to the cause.

12. We are 12

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The animals helped us cheer the Seahawks on all the way to the Super Bowl this year. Our own Zooper Bowl enrichment showed us how penguins rush—let’s call it Beak Mode. The four male Asian small-clawed otter pups born in 2013 earned their Legion of Boom names—Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor and Maxwell—thanks to their great defense in their exhibit, blocking crows left and right. The fun continued through the big game thanks to a friendly wager with our good buddies at Denver Zoo. As the losing city, Denver sent a case of trout to our sea eagles—what a delicious victory!

11. Towan gives “Rise” to Maurice the orangutan

Portrait of Towan by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

If you saw the most recent Planet of the Apes film, the character of Maurice the orangutan may have seemed familiar to you. That’s because the actor behind the motion-capture performance, Karin Konoval, found her inspiration for the character from studying the personality and physicality of Towan, Woodland Park Zoo’s oldest male orangutan. 

On how Towan gave her the "key" to Maurice, Karin shared:
"I sat down at a window to watch Towan—he was about ten feet away from me with a burlap blanket over his head. Every once in a while a corner of the blanket would poke up and he'd peek at me. Then suddenly: he tossed off the blanket and leapt to the window to press his face to mine. For twenty minutes his eyes studied up and down my face. And in that time, somehow, Towan gave me the magic key to Maurice. I can't explain it better than that. Whatever he gave me was far richer than I could describe in words."

10. 41 is the new 40

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Our Humboldt penguins are a prolific bunch. Since 2010—the first breeding season in their new exhibit—our colony has produced 41 chicks! Earlier in the season, we were counting up eggs (yes, before they hatched) and got excited when we realized we were going to reach an historic 40th hatching. And though we love our round numbers, we won’t complain that one more egg was laid and number 41 came along at the end of May. Each hatching we have celebrated at Woodland Park Zoo represents the next generation of conservation ambassadors!

9. Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program wins international recognition

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

What a year for Woodland Park Zoo’s flagship conservation program: the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). After taking home a prestigious United Nations Equator Prize this summer, the program was again honored in the fall by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums with its International Conservation Award. Awards are nice, but what’s even more special is what they represent—the leadership role TKCP is playing in setting international standards for excellence when it comes to conservation solutions that work for people and wildlife alike. Every time you visit the zoo, you make this work possible. Thank you!

8. Otterly obsessed with otters

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

We had the joy of watching the Asian small-clawed otter family grow again this year—with four more pups born in January, turning last year’s pups into this year’s big brothers! The closely bonded family of 10 lives together and even the brothers play a role in raising the littlest ones. The heart of the zoo is alive with the chirps and squeaks of the otters who spend much of their day eating, nesting and playing together.

7. Old faces and new

Nina portrait by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

We welcomed new members of the zoo family this year—from lion Xerxes who’s now a first time dad, to Dave the giraffe who became little Misawa’s favorite friend! Our newest addition, Yukiko, only just arrived, and this male red panda has great potential to be a successful mate to our female. They were matched up through the Species Survival Plan conservation program and we hope they’ll hit it off! As exciting as it is to celebrate the new arrivals, this year we also enjoyed taking a closer look at the thoughtful care that goes into looking after the geriatric animals, like old-timers Pete and Nina, the bedrocks of our gorilla program. 

6. On the road to ending the ivory trade in Washington

Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

This was a year of great change over at the Elephant Forest exhibit, with the loss of Watoto, our beloved African elephant, and the announcement that we will phase out our on-site elephant program. Throughout this hard news was one constant—our commitment to saving elephants in the wild, and your dedication to joining us in making a difference. When we launched our 96 Elephants campaign this year to gather voices in support of ending the ivory trade in Washington state, we were blown away by the response. Along with our friends at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and their community, more than 5,000 of you pledged your name to the cause and the herd was heard. We sent your names to elected officials and drew attention to the local movement that strengthens our international efforts on the conservation frontlines in Africa and Asia. And we’re making strides! Because of your hard work, Governor Inslee proclaimed September 22 as World Elephant Day in Washington state and several legislators are now considering sponsoring legislation. Thank you!

5. Cheetahs flash through the zoo for a summer of fun

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

You know what they say: once a cheetah, always a cheetah. And while cheetahs Liz and Missy, who joined us for a temporary summer exhibit this year, have since returned to their long-term home at Wildlife Safari in Oregon, we can’t help but always have a place for them in our hearts. We put the spotlight on these dotted denizens this summer, and they helped us tell the story of the work that happens at zoos and in the field to protect vulnerable and endangered species.  

4. “Porcupette” becomes part of our everyday vocabulary thanks to Marty

She’s got quills, they’re multiplying. Yes, the birth of little Marty, our newest porcupine addition, gave us reason to sing! And then this adorable video of Marty and her stick gave us reason to dance: 

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! Porcupine Marty currently lives off-exhibit at the Raptor Center. There she works one-on-one with her keepers who are training her for future appearances in raptor and education programs. Her training is coming along well—she is learning to go to her station and into her crate, as well as how to climb a ramp on command. It’s a little challenging for keepers to find a good time for training sessions with Marty, as she is nocturnal by nature, but the progress so far is promising! 

3. From allergies to cataracts, animal health hits close to home

Lion-tailed macaque Sita received successful cataract surgery this year.  Photo by Andy Antilla/Woodland Park Zoo.

When Woodland Park Zoo helped host the annual Zoobiquity conference this year, which brings together human health, environmental health and animal health experts to find common lessons and shared insights, it seemed a fitting cap to a year in which we successfully treated a number of zoo animals for ailments that are all too familiar to many of us—from cataracts in a macaque, to allergies in a donkey; soreness for a goat and sinus problems for a silverback. Our veterinary team works closely with animal and human health experts throughout the community to find solutions and treatments that stem from our common animal biology. 

2. Conservation successes give reasons for hope

Photo by Steve Winter/Panthera.

Our conservation partners around the globe gave us reasons for hope with stories of hard work, hard truths, and hard won successes from the field. We learned of orangutans rescued in Indonesia thanks to the help of our Partner for Wildlife, Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program. We saw tremendous progress by Madagascar locals in a project we support where critically endangered frogs found nowhere else in the world are being reared in local facilities to safeguard against extinction. Since establishing a 10-year, $1 million partnership with Panthera to assist our Malaysian colleagues’ efforts to save tigers from extinction, reports are coming in from the frontline. To get a handle on the site’s tiger population, the team is conducting a camera trapping project. This summer, they installed 95 camera trap stations across a 147,000 acre (600 km2) grid, where automatic cameras detect and capture the motion and body heat of tigers passing by, day or night. After 60 days, researchers downloaded and analyzed photographs of tigers’ individual stripe patterns to estimate the grid’s population and to determine tiger hotspots. Where there are tigers, there is hope. 

1. Two words: lion cubs

Photo by Darin Collins/Woodland Park Zoo.

With her previous litter maturing and heading off to new homes to start their own families someday, Adia was ready to be a mom again. Her new mate, Xerxes, arrived from El Paso Zoo and the two hit it off immediately. Paired up through the Species Survival Plan conservation program, Xerxes and Adia didn’t take long to bring another litter to Woodland Park Zoo—this time three boys born in October. The cubs are thriving behind the scenes with mom, and we have high hopes that the family will soon live together as one big pride! We can’t wait to see what 2015 brings for them.

What were your favorite zoo memories this year?