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Monday, August 31, 2015

Turkey vultures get their day

Posted by: Greg Brandell, Animal Care
Photos by: Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo

We here at Woodland Park Zoo recognize and appreciate that all species of animals are significant and necessary within native ecosystems. Now, having said that, let’s be honest: sometimes some get a bit more recognition than others. Sometimes an animal has a dirty but essential job that needs doing. Take for example the noble turkey vulture, a species which can even be found right here in Washington.

We call them turkey vultures, but their scientific name hints at their role in an ecosystem; they are Cathartes aura, the Cleansing Wind. They are the clean-up crew, the ones that help make sure the rest of the ecosystem is nice and clean. And in this case, clean means free of dead and rotting meat, which helps protect us and other animals from harmful diseases and illness. Turkey vultures have amazing noses and can use smell alone to locate a carcass from over a mile away! They survive by eating what would make most of us decide to pass on our lunches if we were able to so much as sniff their meals.

So in honor of one of nature’s gastronomical gladiators please join us Saturday, September 5th when we will be celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day at the zoo. Learn more about not just turkey vultures but their cousins around the globe during our daily flight programs. Younger explorers can see just how researchers band, weigh and track these amazing animals and their more endangered relatives. They'll get to try their hand at being a bit of a vulture themselves, minus the diet of course. There will even be works of art created by the zoo’s own turkey vulture, Modoc.

Let’s shine the spotlight on these amazing creatures, their lives and their place within our environment.

Fine art by Modoc himself! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Monkey conservationists stretch their wings to rehabilitate injured bird

Posted by: Keith Thompson, Colobus Conservation Ltd., a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project

For field conservationists dedicated to protecting colobus monkeys, file this one under “Other Duties as Needed.”

Photo courtesy of Colobus Conservation, Ltd.

Colobus Conservation was called about a sea bird that had washed up on the beach of a nearby hotel. On arrival, I was handed a large cardboard box by the manager and told in no uncertain terms to be careful. Upon opening the box I realized why I was getting the warning as I was face-to-face with the razor sharp bill of what we later determined was a masked booby, which is a pelagic diving bird similar to a gannet.

After assessing the bird back at our vet clinic, we observed that there was nothing broken but the bird was severely underweight, exhausted and dehydrated. After a few days of assisted feeding, the bird regained a little of its strength and started to eat on its own. We outfitted one of our rehab enclosures with suitable flooring and a paddling pool.

Photo courtesy of Colobus Conservation, Ltd.

The bird continued to improve and gain weight for the next four weeks before we decided to move on to the next phase of release. Unknown to us, this was not going to be an easy process, and took around six weeks of daily visits to the beach for the booby to regain his ability to fly and to waterproof his feathers.

During this period he became quite the celebrity to tourists and locals alike, flying further and further from shore, but always coming back either by swimming or his preferred method of hitching a ride on his monitor’s surf board.

Photo courtesy of Colobus Conservation, Ltd.

On July 4, 2015, he chose to celebrate Independence Day and flew over the horizon, never to be seen by us again. It was a real challenge and required a huge team effort to reach this conclusion as the rehabilitation of sea birds was alien to us all and is far from easy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The trees are alive with the sound of siamangs!

Posted by Alissa Wolken, Communications

Welcome Sam, Woodland Park Zoo’s new male siamang! The 28-year-old male joins female Briony in the Trail of Vines exhibit. And how fitting that this new arrival comes during the Year of the Gibbon, a global effort to raise conservation awareness for these lesser known apes facing the threat of extinction.

Sam first arrived at the zoo in June and was introduced to Briony in the indoor exhibit, and now they are ready to explore their outdoor exhibit together.

Welcome Sam! Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

“Once we could see that Sam and Briony were getting along and he was familiar with the inside exhibit, we introduced Sam, with Briony, to the outside island exhibit,” says Collection Manager Pat Owen. “He is gradually spending more time out on exhibit; we anticipate it taking time for him to adjust to his new surroundings, because this is the first open air exhibit Sam has experienced.”

Briony showing Sam the ropes (er...vines!). Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sam was born at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C. and was moved to Los Angeles Zoo at 1 year of age. Sam was brought to Seattle through a recommendation by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) to pair up with Briony after our elderly male, Simon, passed away last year. Sam has not produced any offspring and we don’t expect him to produce any with Briony, but the two are a good companion match.

It didn't take too long for Sam to adjust to the treetop vistas. Here is the brave siamang dangling high in the Trail of Vines. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Although Sam is swinging from the treetops now, it took him a few days to adjust to his new outside space. “During the first few days, he would only move a short distance outside, look around to take it all in and then go back to the indoor exhibit that he was more familiar with. After about a week, he moved all the way out to the middle of the outside exhibit and climbed the very tree that Briony uses to reach the suspended vines. Now that he is more comfortable he’s been climbing up into trees, moving along the vines and browsing on the bamboo vegetation growing in the exhibit.” explains zookeeper Libby Lawson.

Briony and Sam, sitting in a tree... Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Briony and Sam. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sam also is hitting it off with his new companion Briony, too! “Each day seems to bring them closer together,” said zookeeper Laura McComesky. “We’ve seen a lot of grooming sessions and resting their heads together, vocalizing together and playing together. It is very exciting to watch their relationship grow.” Siamangs are very social animals, so we are thrilled to see Briony and Sam bonding.

Stop by the Trail of Vines exhibit to say hello to Sam. He’s a bit longer than Briony and has longer arms and legs. Once in a while you’ll see him suck on one of his big toes, a normal behavior for him since he was hand raised.

Sam's long arms and legs make him easy to spot. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Of all the gibbon species, siamangs form the closest social ties within the family unit. Siamangs are often referred to as “singing apes,” singing so loudly that it can be heard for up to 2 miles, as our neighbors can tell you—Briony and her former partner Simon could be heard from all across the neighborhood! It is believed that singing helps develop bonds between a mated pair.

Earlier this month at Asian Wildlife Conservation Day, visitors tried on the gibbon coat made by designer Ute Monjau-Porath to get a feel for the ape's special proportions built for its life in the trees.

While Briony and Sam have not yet perfected their duet, we are looking forward to hearing their song all across Phinney Ridge, Wallingford and Fremont soon!

Swinging high in the Trail of Vines. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Honoring World Orangutan Day

Posted by: Laura McComesky, Zookeeper

Today is World Orangutan Day and in honor of our fab five, we know you'll love seeing how we celebrated orangutan awareness—and how you can take a role in helping save endangered Sumatran and Bornean orangutans—during our Asian Wildlife Conservation Day earlier this month.

Tropical fruit generously provided to the orangutans by Uwajimaya. Photo by Laura McComesky/Woodland Park Zoo.

KIND Snacks was our official sponsor for the day and we thank and applaud them for their commitment to sourcing and using only certified sustainable palm oil. Family-owned Asian grocery Uwajimaya generously contributed a cornucopia of exotic tropical fruits for our orangutans.

Melati delights in the durian and other tropical fruits. Photos by Carolyn Sellar/Woodland Park Zoo.

Not everyone finds the treats as tempting as the orangutans. Photo by Laura McComesky/Woodland Park Zoo.

During our keeper talk, our orangutans enjoyed durian, jackfruit, dragon fruit, tamarind, mini bananas, lychees and sugarcane. It was certainly enjoyed by all, including letting our visitors smell some durian fruit which some guests described as smelling like dirty socks, while others thought it just had a tropical fruit odor.

Chinta tastes dragonfruit provided by Uwajimaya. Photo by Carolyn Sellar/Woodland Park Zoo.

Lots of visitors, young and old, took part in a palm pledge on one of the orangutan’s windows. As a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Woodland Park Zoo has made a commitment to support certified sustainable palm oil that is deforestation free.

Each handprint adds up to a pledge, and each pledge adds up to hope for wild orangutans. Photo by Laura McComesky/Woodland Park Zoo.

You can help orangutans each and every time you shop.  As a consumer, your wise consumer choices can make a difference for orangutans. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has developed a helpful sustainable palm oil shopping guide mobile app you can download to your device to make wise choices about palm oil during your next shopping trip.

Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife, Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Project, works to protect orangutans and their habitats. Every time you visit the zoo, you help make this work possible. Photo: Tim Laman/GPOCP.

Woodland Park Zoo has been helping orangutans in the wild by supporting our conservation partner, Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Project (GPOCP) in West Kalimantan, Indonesia for more than 10 years. We have contributed just over $100,000 in conservation funding to GPOCP, and have spent the past 20 years contributing to Dr. Cheryl Knott’s research on orangutan reproductive cycles.

On behalf of our fab five orangutans, Towan, Chinta, Melati, Heran and Belawan, please celebrate World Orangutan Day and join our quest to help orangutans!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Breathe easy: Gorilla Vip recovers from successful sinus surgery

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

Gorilla Vip is recovering from sinus surgery performed over the weekend. More than 25 medical specialists joined the zoo’s veterinary team and donated their time and expertise to help the 36-year-old, 430-pound gorilla. Vip remains off view in an enclosure at the gorilla exhibit.

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

A similar surgery was performed a year ago on the western lowland gorilla for treatment of a chronic sinus infection. As a result of that successful surgery to remove polyps (growths within the nasal sinuses), Vip was able to breathe normally through his nose for the first time in weeks. In recent days, however, symptoms re-emerged, explained Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of Animal Health. “It was evident that Vip was experiencing some level of discomfort, likely from a repeat sinus infection. During this second round of surgery, polyps and infection were surgically removed,” said Collins. “We are hopeful that Vip will slowly progress to full recovery over the coming days and weeks. We’ll continue to closely monitor him as he recovers.”

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

This year, a team of allergy and immunology specialists was pulled in to help the zoo further develop diagnostics and treatment options. “In humans, nose and sinus infections are typically recurrent and people describe headache pain and sinus congestion. We hope new treatment options will help mitigate polyps and sinus infections into the future,” added Collins. “Controlling the gorilla’s reaction to allergens may be key to decreasing or preventing new polyps from developing.”

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

“Fortunately, the polyps and infection found in Vip were minor compared to what was found a year ago,” said Greg Davis, M.D., M.P.H., University of Washington (UW) associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Director of Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery, who led last year’s and this year’s surgical medical teams. “We collected many samples, which need interpretation so we may better define the reasons why Vip is getting these sinus infections. We remain cautiously optimistic that Vip will continue to feel well in the days that follow.”

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

A cardiologist also joined the surgical team to administer a routine cardiac ultrasound and EKG as part of the zoo’s preventive health program for its great apes.

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

Most of the medical consultants were from UW, including Kelley Branch, M.D., M.S., UW associate professor of Medicine in the UW Medicine Division of Cardiology, and human and veterinary allergists Drew Ayars, M.D., assistant professor of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and Dan Petroni, M.D., both from UW Medicine. A veterinarian specialist, Kim Coyner, D.V.M., also performed allergy testing on the gorilla. “We are indebted to the medical specialists who each donated their time and expertise for the procedure, and Medtronic, Storz, and Intersect ENT companies who generously provided the equipment and medical personnel, which were critical to making this procedure possible,” added Collins.

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

Adult male gorillas are referred to as silverbacks. Vip is named for being a Very Important Primate and is the leader of one of the zoo’s three gorilla groups. Visitors and keepers know the silverback as the bedrock of his group. He shares the zoo’s East exhibit with two females, daughter Uzumma, 7, and adult mate Jumoke, 30. Since arriving at the zoo in 1996, Vip has sired six daughters and continues to be a supporting figure for his group.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the critically endangered western lowland gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Study, one of the zoo’s Partners for Wildlife. The study researches the social organization and behaviors of more than 400 lowland gorillas living in the southwest of Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. The data collected enables scientists to assess the vulnerability of populations to habitat threats and predict their ability to recover from decline.

Monday, August 10, 2015

To hand raise a wallaroo joey, it takes a village and a mob

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications
Photos by: John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo

The tools of the trade for hand raising a wallaroo joey:

1. A heavy duty pillowcase-like pouch for sleepy time
2. A handmade bottle adapter equipped with customized parts all the way from Australia for feedings
3. A kangaroo plush so the baby can redirect his playful bites and kicks at something other than one of us!
4. A lot of patience, a lot of compassion, and a sharp focus on letting a wallaroo be a wallaroo

When it became apparent at six-and-a-half months of age that wallaroo joey, Yuri, wasn’t receiving from his mother the nutrition he needed to grow, we were ready to step in. But just as importantly when hand raising an animal, we’ve been getting ready to step back out.

For Yuri, first it took a village, but now it takes a (wallaroo) mob.

The first days of hand raising

Upon the first signs that intervention was needed, Yuri was taken to the zoo’s Animal Health Complex where he was continuously monitored and put on a rigorous bottle feeding schedule. While he spent most of his time initially in a pouch, veterinary technicians were with him 24 hours a day to feed him, hold him, medicate him and meet all of his needs,” said Senior Veterinary Technician Harmony Frazier.

“Staff veterinarians checked in on his status daily and routinely ran blood and fecal tests. We were primarily monitoring his growth. We wanted Yuri to gain about 50 grams a day before he could return to the Australasia exhibit full time.”

Just 10 days later, Yuri began one-hour-a-day visits to the exhibit to be reintroduced to the mob (a group of wallaroos). “We didn’t want to rush the integration process at the risk of delaying his growth and development,” said zookeeper Wendy Gardner. “But it remained important that Yuri interact with other wallaroos and exhibit wallaroo behaviors while being hand raised, so we gradually built up the amount of time he spent at Australasia [and with the mob] before bringing him back full time.”

Learning wallaroo ways

One of the most important steps in bringing Yuri back to the unit full time is to reintegrate him with the mob and make sure he exhibits normal wallaroo behavior. “One such behavior that we have observed is his readiness to box and play with his dad, Harry,” said Gardner. “You’ll often see this with females and their joeys and is a normal part of their development; a joey will pull on their mother’s ears, bite and kick and the adults usually just sit and take it. Yuri doesn't have that bond with his mom anymore, but it’s good to see that he is interacting with them, showing these behaviors and getting more comfortable in his new surroundings every day.”

Yuri is gradually spending more time each day with the mob and continuing his hand raising routine with keepers and animal health staff. “He’s getting bigger every day and becoming quite the little powerhouse,” said Gardner. “Most wallaroos sleep quite a bit during the afternoon, but with Yuri, once he’s awake he’s jumping around and ready to go.”

When out on exhibit, Yuri likes to explore. He’s often spotted hopping quickly from one end of the exhibit to the other and jumping on the other wallaroos. “I’ve been very impressed with how self-assured he is and he’s interacting well with the mob, he pays attention to their signals, which is so important, and something we cannot teach him.” said Frazier.

Yuri also has an off-exhibit space to himself where he can eat, sleep and play. “We’ve provided him with enrichment items to encourage wallaroo behaviors,” said Gardner. “He has a plush animal kangaroo that he loves to bite and kick, which allows him to play and be a wallaroo without exhibiting those behaviors on the keepers.”

Along with his playful personality and, for the time being, his small size, Yuri has a very distinguishable characteristic that makes him easy to spot, his ears. “He is very curious and his ears constantly move around as he listens to everything that’s going on,” said Gardner. Yuri is an Aboriginal name meaning “to hear.”

Because he is being hand raised, Yuri spends a significant amount of time around humans. To promote wallaroo behaviors, keepers and animal health staff incorporate enrichment items into his daily routine. Pouches, similar to a pillow case but made from heavier material, are hung up for Yuri to sleep in. “If he were with his mother, he would have to jump into her pouch when he wanted to sleep or eat,” explained Frazier. “We want him to continue those behaviors so we hang up the pouch for him to sleep in and also hold one out for him to jump in before feedings.”

As Yuri continues to grow he will wean off of bottles and begin to eat more solid foods, a process that will take about four to five months. Keepers will also start weaning him from nursing inside the pouch to taking his bottles standing up as a joey at this stage would do naturally.

Eventually Yuri will leave Woodland Park Zoo to start his own family; but for the time being, he continues to steal the hearts of everyone he meets. “Yuri had a rough start and it was touch and go for a while but he was strong and determined to survive,” said Frazier. “It is so rewarding to see him prosper and to know the hard work and long hours have allowed Yuri to have a long, happy and healthy life.”

Friday, August 7, 2015

Native turtles return to wild to rebuild Northwest populations

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The future weighs 2 ounces.

We’re at the edge of the pond, and there are leaves scattered in the water that are bigger than the turtle in my hands.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

But now that it’s large enough to avoid the mouths of predators such as invasive bullfrogs, this turtle has a big role to play.

After hatching and getting a head start at life behind the scenes at Woodland Park Zoo, turtle #5 and 24 others are off to their next great adventure: rebuilding the wild population of native western pond turtles in Washington state.

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Western pond turtles were once common from Baja California to Puget Sound, including the Columbia River Gorge. However, loss of habitat, commercial exploitation for food, disease and introduced predators, such as bullfrogs and large-mouth bass, decimated their numbers.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

In 1990, only about 150 western pond turtles remained in two populations in the state of Washington. Over the last 24 years, the collaborative Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project between Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo and other partners has saved Washington’s last two wild populations, established four new populations, and head started and released approximately 2,150 turtles.

Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Recent surveys indicate that at least 800 of those released turtles have survived and continue to thrive. At some sites, evidence has been found to indicate that wild hatchlings also are surviving.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

That’s the challenge ahead for turtle #5 and the others. Survive and thrive—and bring the next generation into the world.

#5 doesn’t yet feel the pressure. Its instincts kick in and it swims away, off to find a meal or a place to sun.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Within a few seconds, it’s disappeared into the depths of the protected wetlands.

But we’re not going anywhere.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists will continue to monitor the turtles to track their progress and protect their nesting sites.

Nesting site with protective wiring. Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

In the season ahead, a portion of eggs and hatchlings will be collected and transported to Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo where they will get a head start on life and can grow in safety.

A number of eggs from earlier this season have already been brought to the zoo and have been incubating for weeks. As if sensing the momentousness of the day, the very first turtle of the next class began hatching this morning.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Today this tiny turtle's only job is to emerge from its shell. By this time next year, it'll be ready for release. Then we’ll return to pond’s edge holding the weight of the Northwest’s wild future in our hands—all two ounces of it.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

You can help carry the load. Saving native turtles isn’t just the work of biologists. At the core of Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest conservation program is a commitment to build living landscapes where communities—and people just like you—find ways to coexist with local wildlife.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

What you do in your own backyard can make a huge difference. In honor of turtle #5, here are 5 ways you can help native turtles.

1. Reduce pollutants to native turtle habitat by eliminating chemical pesticides from your gardening practices.

2. Improve the quality of wildlife habitat necessary for native turtle survival by joining a habitat restoration program in your community and using native plants in your own yard.

3. Use a reputable source when purchasing or adopting pet turtles and make sure the species is legal to own and the animals have been sourced legally.

4. Take care not to release unwanted pets or animals into wild habitat—invasive species can outcompete or prey on native turtles. Call your local animal shelter to find a new home for an unwanted pet.

5. Support Woodland Park Zoo and other organizations working to conserve endangered turtles. Tell your friends about turtle conservation and ways they can help, share this story online, take a trip to the zoo with friends and family to learn more, make a donation to the zoo’s conservation program…there are many ways to show your support and help us make a difference for turtles!