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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A beastly guide to giving thanks

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Each Thanksgiving season we try our best to put into words just how grateful we are for your friendship and support. With your passion for saving wildlife and wild spaces, with your generous support in providing the most nutritious diets and state-of-the-art animal health care, and most of all your love for each and every creature here at the zoo—we are incredibly lucky to call you our zoo family.

If we could invite you all to a Thanksgiving feast we would, but unfortunately the animals might get grumpy if we start sharing their grub. Instead, here is a little Thanksgiving-inspired fun to share with your loved ones. This holiday, know we are thinking of you and sending you love from the zoo. Stay cozy and enjoy your pie!

Here are 10 ways to give thanks (like an animal):

Whether it is a tasty fish or a pumpkin pie, give thanks for a full belly.

Be thankful for family, young and old (and everyone in between).

Show your appreciation by being polite. This goes way beyond the dinner table.

The earth provides us with nutrient-rich soil to literally grow our food. It doesn't get much better than that! Remember to thank the earth (the worms, the rain and the dirt!).

Competition breeds creativity. Show your peers you appreciate them by offering a simple compliment. They will be grateful!

Be yourself, let loose. Give yourself gratitude for what makes you, you!

Show your family and friends you care by taking the time to ask them questions. And really listen. Those quirky stories make your family special!

Life is hard work. Give props to those who have helped you out in difficult times or were just there to get you out of a pickle.

One of the simplest ways to show thanks is feeding others. Consider volunteering at a local food bank or donating items to a food drive at your grocery store.

Appreciate the simple comforts in your life. Best buddies and a cozy place to sleep off that Thanksgiving meal are a good place to start.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Apple-loving porcupine predicts Apple Cup winner

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

The porcupine made a clear choice for her pick to win! Photo: John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

With the Apple Cup upon us, we asked apple-loving porcupine Skyáana to try her hand at predicting the winner of the big game. Faced with a choice of apples overflowing from a Husky and a Cougar snack helmet, the 1.5-year-old prickly predictor picked the WSU Cougars for the win!

Here’s the play-by-play: The keeper calls the audible. Skyáana makes a rush down the field. She drops out of the pocket and runs a naked bootleg! She’s down to the 40, the 30, the 20, across the 10 yard line, into the Cougars end zone! Touchdown, Cougars!!!! Are you kidding me??!! Holy apples, I don’t believe it!!

Photo: John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

As she went for a second apple from the Cougars helmet, Skyáana made it perfectly clear that she is confident in her choice. But here's the deal: this is Skyáana’s first pick for a game. She has no track record, so we’ll have to see how she does after Friday’s game!

The prescient porcupine currently weighs 19 pounds and was born to parents Molly and Oliver who live in the zoo’s award-winning Northern Trail exhibit. Skyáana, whose Haida name means “to be awake,” is off public exhibit and will be featured in next summer’s new presentation programs on zoo grounds.

Zoo’s conservation program receives $2.6 million grant to strengthen biodiversity protection around the globe

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications

We have some very wonderful news to share! Woodland Park Zoo's international field conservation initiative, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP), will receive $2.6 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the Government of Papua New Guinea (GoPNG) facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to support its efforts to protect endangered species and improve the livelihoods of the indigenous people in the Pacific island country of Papua New Guinea.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo plays a major role in protecting wildlife and biodiversity through its many field conservation projects that span the globe; one, in particular, being the zoo’s collaboration with the national government of Papua New Guinea through its Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) and UNDP under its long-term partnership with the award-winning Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program.

“We are incredibly grateful to the GEF, UNDP and CEPA for awarding this significant grant and recognizing the importance of our work,” said Lisa Dabek, Woodland Park Zoo’s senior conservation scientist and TKCP founder and Program Director. Dabek, who has a PhD in animal behavior and conservation biology, said, “The grant will allow us to enhance the management of the 180,000-acre Yopno-Uruwa-Som (YUS) Conservation Area, which protects the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo and a wide range of other endemic rare and endangered species.” Created by indigenous communities with the support of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, the YUS Conservation Area is PNG’s first and only nationally-recognized conservation area. “Based on our model, we hope to see the PNG government establish more conservation areas by the end of this five-year project.”

 Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

TKCP received the grant from GEF. Established in 1992, the GEF has become a widely admired international partnership of 183 countries, international institutions and civil society organizations working together to address global environmental issues. The grant supports a national five-year project titled “Strengthening Management Effectiveness of the National System of Protected Areas” and will be implemented by CEPA in collaboration with UNDP, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program through Woodland Park Zoo and Tenkile Conservation Alliance. 

TKCP’s portion of the project will focus on strengthening the capacity of local communities to manage the YUS Conservation Area and will support sustainable livelihoods throughout 50 remote villages nearby. “Through this project, the YUS Conservation Area will officially serve as the model for community-based conservation in the country,” said Dabek. “Building on our work over the past 20 years, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and Woodland Park Zoo are playing a major, unprecedented role in protecting wildlife and biodiversity at the national level in Papua New Guinea.” TKCP’s lessons and insights gained in YUS will guide the development of national policies for managing protected areas, to be applied throughout PNG – one of the most biodiverse countries on earth.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

TKCP was created by Dabek and TKCP team in 1996 to study the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo and find ways to conserve the species in partnership with the local people. Over the past 20 years, the program has grown and evolved into a holistic program supporting habitat protection for a wide range of threatened species, as well as initiatives to enhance local community livelihoods and access to government services. Such initiatives include: training the country’s first Conservation Rangers to patrol protected areas and monitor wildlife in the area; partnering with Seattle’s Caffé Vita to help farmers produce and export high-quality, conservation-friendly coffee beans; providing scholarships to help YUS students earn teaching certificates and return to teach in village schools; and partnering with health professionals to provide basic health training and supplies for preventive care, sanitation, nutrition and reproductive health.

TKCP is a leader in taking a multidisciplinary approach to conservation and has received several accolades including the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) International Conservation Award in 2002 and 2014 and the United Nations Equator Prize in 2014. In addition, Dabek has recently been nominated for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize in recognition of her groundbreaking wildlife conservation efforts through the program.

Cheers to TKCP and the wonderful work its staff and volunteers are doing to protect the diverse landscapes of Papua New Guinea!

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Monday, November 23, 2015

Baby gorilla thrives, introduction sessions between mom and baby continue

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Baby girl, cozy and in the care of her attentive keepers.

As you may have heard, a female baby gorilla was born on Friday, November 20, to first time mom, Nadiri. First, let us thank you all for your congratulatory notes and kind words for keepers and staff. We appreciate your enthusiasm and support for this special new girl who has stolen our hearts.

The baby is thriving. Under special care of keepers and veterinary staff, the western lowland gorilla is receiving round-the-clock care and is currently off public view. She is being bottle-fed human infant formula.

Just so sleepy after her birth journey.

Although Nadiri gave birth naturally, without intervention by staff, she did not show appropriate maternal behaviors. After giving birth, she walked away to the other side of the den and staff had to step in for the safety and welfare of the baby and to let the new mom rest. Because Nadiri was partially hand-raised and does not have experience with motherhood, zoo staff prepared for different eventualities.

Attempts over the weekend to introduce Nadiri to her baby have not been successful. According to Martin Ramirez, the zoo’s mammal curator, Nadiri’s interactions are positive but minimal. “She keeps her baby within line of sight and we hear content grunting, but she has not shown any interest beyond this and has not made a move to pick up her baby. While this is not the outcome we hoped for, we remain optimistic that her maternal behaviors will kick in,” said Ramirez. “The best thing for a baby gorilla, or any animal, is to have its mom take care of it."

Staff is caring for the baby in a bedroom next to Nadiri’s den where the mom and other two gorillas in her group can see the little one.

Wrapped snug in a fleece blanket, this little one is getting lots of love from keepers and vet staff who are caring for her in a room next to mom, Nadiri. Mom and baby can see each other as keepers provide human infant formula.

“The good news is that the baby is flourishing. We’re very pleased with the baby’s first 72 hours, a critical period for newborn gorillas. She’s feeding sufficiently and maintaining her body temperature,” explained Ramirez. “Our focus over the next several days is to ensure this baby remains healthy and to keep moving forward with attempts to unite Nadiri with her baby. We just need to be patient.”

We would like to thank our dedicated keepers and veterinary team who have stepped in to ensure this precious baby girl gets the utmost care and the best chance at reuniting with her mom. Updates on Nadiri and the baby will be posted here just as soon as we have more news to share.

Thank you for your patience and your warm thoughts; we are grateful to have such an amazing zoo family.

There is nothing sweeter than this little girl.

Friday, November 20, 2015

First-time gorilla mom Nadiri gives birth

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

An image taken from a closed circuit keeper camera showing Nadiri during labor in her den this morning. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Curator Martin Ramirez monitors Nadiri via closed circuit camera during labor. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

After a night of restless tossing and turning, we knew pregnant gorilla Nadiri was close. Then the contractions started around 8:00 a.m. today and just about 4 hours later at 11:30 a.m. it finally happened—Nadiri brought her first offspring into the world.

Within moments of giving birth, Nadiri moved a few feet away from the baby and walked to the other side of her den. Keepers watching closely could see the infant was moving, though still wrapped in the amniotic sac. We made the call for the safety of the baby: it was time to intervene.

Curator Martin Ramirez explained that while we hoped Nadiri would immediately hold and care for her baby, we stepped in for the safety of the newborn and made the decision to let the new mom rest. All along, we’ve been preparing for all outcomes to ensure the health and well-being of the infant is the top priority.

Stepping in and removing the baby allowed the zoo’s animal health team to perform a neonatal examination on the baby.

It’s a girl!

Lead zookeeper Hugh Bailey and zoo veterinarian Dr. Darin Collins take a close look at the newborn girl behind the scenes at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

According to Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of animal health, the average weight for a gorilla at birth is 4 pounds. “Our new baby weighs a healthy 5 pounds. Her vital signs look good and she is physically normal,” said Collins.

Following the exam, staff placed the baby in close proximity to Nadiri to evaluate her interest. Unfortunately, Nadiri didn’t approach her baby or show any interest. At this time, a bedroom adjacent to Nadiri’s den is being set up so she can see and hear her baby. Our goal is to methodically expose Nadiri to her baby and help kick in that maternal instinct. She remains within visual contact and has content vocalized toward her baby, so she’s showing some interest. We’ll continue these efforts as long as we see positive interactions.

The first 72 hours are the most critical for a newborn gorilla. “The baby has successfully taken her first bottle, and we are prepared to bottle feed and provide round-the-clock care until Nadiri shows signs she wants her baby,” said Ramirez. The new mom and baby will remain off view in the sleeping dens where it is a hushed, comfortable environment and staff can keep a close 24-hour watch.

The newborn marks the first gorilla born at the zoo in eight years and the thirteenth gorilla birth at the zoo.

The father of the newborn is 36-year-old Vip, who has sired six other offspring with three different females at the zoo.

“It’s very enriching for a gorilla to give birth and raise a baby, and natural overall for gorillas to have babies in their groups,” said Ramirez. “Despite hitting this road bump, we have had high hopes for Nadiri to get pregnant and have her own baby, so this is a very happy day for us!”

Because Nadiri was partially hand-raised as an infant and is an inexperienced mom, the zoo’s gorilla keeper staff took extra measures to prepare her for raising a baby. Through daily sessions, Nadiri was trained to pick up a burlap “baby” to present to the keepers in case supplemental feedings are needed for her baby. On cue, she presented the burlap baby to the keepers to allow them to feed through the mesh, using a custom-made bottle extension and to closely inspect the burlap baby.

The zoo’s goal is to allow Nadiri to raise her baby on her own. As long as Nadiri continues to provide solid maternal care, the gorilla’s human caretakers will remain hands off. We want to assure a healthy future for the little one.

Wrapped up in this new bundle of joy is a touching reminder of what's at stake in a world where gorillas face extinction in the wild. She carries very valuable genes underrepresented in the gorilla population, which is managed together across conservation zoos through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan.

In Africa, 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 450 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.

That research is an investment in a future with gorillas in it, a future we fight for everyday thanks to your support.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The definitive guide to making hippo kisses

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

If "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" is your holiday jam, brace yourself: this is as close as it gets!

This Fri., Nov. 20, head to the Zookeepers' Holiday Silent Auction to bid on a chance to go behind the scenes with 15-year-old female hippo Guadalupe to create your very own hippo-kiss painting.

Photos: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

With a mouth that can open to a massive 150 degrees and lips that are 2 feet wide, a hippo's kiss is unforgettable. As you can imagine, it's not always easy to make a hippo-kiss painting. But don't worry, we've got a how-to guide for that:

The silent auction is held by the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. Along with the hippo kiss painting experience, this year’s auction will feature extraordinary experiences found only at the zoo, including opportunities to paint behind the scenes with a colony of Humboldt penguins, meet the zoo’s snow leopards up close and learn about the adaptations that allow them to live high in the mountains, and enjoy a private keeper talk and enrichment program with the zoo’s Komodo dragon.

Zookeepers' Holiday Silent Auction

  • Friday, November 20, 2015
  • 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. - Bake/lunch sale, auction preview and guaranteed bids 
  • 4:00-7:30 p.m. - Silent auction and bake/dinner sale
  • Woodland Park Zoo Education Center, located adjacent to the South Entrance at N. 50th St. and Fremont Ave. N. Free parking available after 4:00 p.m. in the south parking lot at N. 50th St. and Fremont Ave. N. (located next to the Rose Garden). Entrance to the auction is free; access to the zoo is not included. 

Proceeds help support animal and habitat conservation projects around the world, the advancement of the zookeeping profession and education outreach. The Puget Sound American Association of Zoo Keepers (PS-AAZK) is a nonprofit volunteer organization made up of professional zookeepers and other interested persons dedicated to professional animal care and conservation. The PS-AAZK chapter aims to provide excellence in animal care by providing grants and scholarships for members to attend workshops, conferences and training seminars. The organization supports conservation efforts for bees, lions, vultures, tree kangaroos, iguanas and many more.  It has created an emergency fund to respond quickly when other facilities have emergent situations, such as the confiscation and follow-up care of over 3,800 critically endangered Philippine forest turtles by the Turtle Survival Alliance facility earlier this year.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How to: photograph like a pro during autumn at the zoo

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren knows a thing or two about patience and perseverance—being the zoo’s official photographer he is well versed in, well, waiting. Waiting for the light to open up, waiting for the lemur to jump, waiting for the rain to stop, and waiting for the crowds to clear. Then the shutter clicks and we all reap the rewards.

But you don’t have to wait for fabulous photography because autumn is here and now is the perfect time to bring your camera to the zoo. With golden orange light cascading from crisp leaves, a rainbow of changing foliage and long, beautiful shadows dancing across zoo grounds, November is an ideal time for photographers of all skill levels to visit the zoo.

Jeremy joined us in his official capacity as staff photographer in August of this year, although he had been a volunteer photographer for three years prior. Here he gives us some pro tips on making the most out of the season’s shifting light and clues us in on a few of his favorite spots to shoot. We also asked him a few questions about his job (since he might have one of the most coveted jobs at the zoo).


You have a two hour block of free photo time, where is your go-to spot at the zoo?

Tough question…I don’t really have one particular spot. Well, unless the raptors are doing their flight demonstrations. I show up to those as often as I can. Very challenging photography from a technical standpoint, but when you nail it the results can be quite spectacular.


So far you’ve managed to capture a ring-tailed lemur in midair, a grizzly bear moments before catching a salmon, Oregon spotted frogs literally jumping into the wild, and Malayan tigers plunging into their pool. What advice do you have for folks who are trying to get these iconic animal action shots?

Planning, practice and patience. Have a good idea of what you’d like to capture, and practice how to make that happen. Since our animals are free to choose how they spend their day you might have to wait awhile for that to happen—so be ready to have some patience! A good example was the lemur shot. I knew I wanted a mid-air shot, and that I wanted it with a nice even background. I practiced presetting the focus point and controlling the depth of field alongside the shutter speed so the shot would be technically good. Then it was a matter of waiting for good light and the animal to hit the preset spot. I got lucky on this one and it only took two visits. Other shots took revisiting over the course of weeks and months—some have been years.


What is the one piece of camera gear you never leave without?

My Canon 70-200 2.8 is my workhorse lens, mostly thanks to its incredible versatility. Short enough for landscapes, long enough for portraits, and fast enough to handle low light and deliver lots of depth in the shots. If I had to keep only one lens, that’d be the one.


Photos have the ability to stop time, to inspire, to really change people’s minds. What is something you hope to accomplish through your work here at the zoo?

I think you pretty much summed it up! I hope that my work inspires viewers to care more about our world and the animals in it, and even better to act on making a better place for the entirety of creation.


Can you describe a photograph that you felt really connected your viewers with the animal?

I love the expression in this one; the moment captured in it. It's a reminder of how wild and awesome our animals really are.


Your background is in aviation photography. Have you seen any correlation between shooting Cessna Titan and, say, a laughing kookaburra?

Oh absolutely. For one, they’re both kinda funny looking with those long noses/beaks that taper quickly to a fine tip point, so that makes photographing both enjoyable in a weird aesthetic way. Both fly pretty slowly compared to other birds too, so they’re a bit easier to track and considerably less maneuverable than, say, a ferruginous hawk (80/mph vs ~20/mph) or an F-22 Raptor (1,498/mph vs 267/mph).


Thanks, Jeremy! We can't wait to see more of your work!

And now, here are a few tips and tricks for anyone who is exploring a fall photo shoot at the zoo:

Autumn is in the details
Consider getting close to your subject. While traditional landscape shots are an easy fall benchmark, the subtleties you’ll find by tightening your frame are just as magical. Moving closer to your subject allows you to explore the textures and tones, without getting caught up in the bigger picture.

The golden hour
The golden hour is the point at which the sun’s light has to pass through the most atmospheric haze in order to reach Earth, and that creates the magical golden glow we associate with autumn. There are technically two points each day where the sun makes its magic: once right after sunrise and again just before sunset. In Seattle, that time is right around 7:06 a.m. and 3:54 p.m. (This website tells you exactly when the golden hour will hit your neck of the woods.) Take advantage of these hours, and get outside in that soft, red light!

Take advantage of gray skies
If you happen to find yourself on zoo grounds during a gray sky day, don’t worry, gray is sometimes gold! An overcast day doesn’t mean putting away your lens. Take advantage of this natural softbox which provides bright, diffused light. A gray sky is a nice time for wildlife portraits, especially of dark furred beasts, when the light is soft. Just make sure your white balance is correct to avoid colder tones taking over.

Whether you are telling the story of a single leaf or a family of ring-tailed lemurs, think about perspective. If you are shooting a leaf, consider getting close to the ground. If you are trying to tell the story of a particular animal, consider getting down to eye level with that creature. This easy maneuver can really change a lot about your framing, opens up your angles and allows your audience to see things from a surprising viewpoint.

Get here early Early risers get the best action shots, because most animals are more active in the morning. It is during this time that many of the larger animals explore the outdoors, looking for their breakfast or just checking things out. You’ll have the opportunity to get positioned in the right spot with fewer visitors during the mornings as well.

Remember to tag #woodlandparkzoo when you share your photos with us!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thriving with change and continuity

Posted by: Bruce W. Bohmke, Acting President and CEO

November marks a yearly turning point as fall unleashes its contribution to the cycle of life, and along with it the certainty of change.

As we prepare to close out the year and begin anew, I can tell you that we are thriving in the midst of change. Since becoming acting president and CEO in June, I have been impressed by the resolve of our staff and board to continue dreaming big. My focus is to ensure continuity in the delivery of our mission while also evolving the zoo of the future, as guided by six goals in our strategic plan and our Long-Range Physical Development plan.

A Board Search Committee, aided by the executive search firm Spencer Stuart, is scouring the nation for the best, next zoo leader. I’m confident that excellent candidates will find irresistible our large and loyal membership, educational and conservation impact, and reputation as a standard setter in naturalistic exhibit design and animal care. We anticipate selecting and embracing our next leader between April and July 2016.

Until then, our goal is to sustain, innovate and deliver more value to our cherished members, supporters and partners. With Thanksgiving around the corner, YOU top our gratitude list. Let’s honor the renewal and change you make happen by reflecting on some of the year’s highlights and looking ahead to what’s coming.

Making every visit count

We’ve worked hard to make every zoo visit a conservation action. We care about reaching as many people as possible, as often as possible. Thanks to an ever-improving guest experience, this year member visits and repeat visits are up—21 percent higher than three years ago as of September.

And although a few weeks of sizzling summer weather kept some of you at home, by September 30 we had reached 98% of our overall attendance goal. Our grizzly bears simply took to splashing in their river to beat the heat.

For our fourth season of WildLights presented by Sound Credit Union, the zoo’s winter festival beginning November 27, we expect a strong turnout to thrust us past 100% of our overall attendance goal. With improved, all-season programming, the zoo really is Seattle’s best, year-round resource for fun and educational family experiences.

Photo: @momsasaurus via Instagram.

Keeping you satisfied

Even more than visitation, the numbers my staff and I care about relate to guest satisfaction. I’m pleased to report that 96 percent of guests surveyed this summer described their visit as having “met or exceeded their expectations,” and 93 percent agreed that their visit “was worth the time and money.” Consistently high over the last several years, such ratings let us know our investments in customer service, more interactive experiences, and more up-close animal encounters are paying off. We’ve also seen an especially big jump in visitors’ satisfaction with wayfinding, from 78% to 88% since 2008, owing to a new cross-over path, new directional graphics, and simpler, more customer-friendly entry and exit.

Numbers are one thing, but it’s always a pleasure to see this satisfaction on members’ faces. Families frequently send us photos of their “wild time” and their delight reminds me of why I have loved working here since 1999. Every staff member and volunteer works hard to ensure that up-close zoo experiences are dynamic and different every single day. However, sometimes we just can’t prevent them from “going to the birds.”

Visitor photos via Instagram, clockwise from top left: @vedasana, @rain_caster, @ericaxosalhus, @refreshww.

Touching hearts and minds

We completed and opened the much-anticipated Malayan tiger and sloth bear exhibits in the new Banyan Wilds, the largest exhibit transformation here since the Trail of Vines 20 years ago. We brought majestic tigers back to the zoo.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

These awe-inspiring wildlife ambassadors warmed your hearts and opened your eyes to a compelling story of how our partnership with Panthera is working on the front lines in Taman Negara National Park and the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor to save the last Malayan tigers. With Malaysian colleagues on the ground, we are scientifically mapping tigers' remaining breeding sites, known as hot spots, and protecting them from criminal poachers. 

I hope you were among the 90% of all zoo visitors who explored the new exhibit; for 40% of you, it was the primary motivation for visiting.

Photo: John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

You got closer than ever to these majestic animals, and you witnessed our staff demonstrating exciting interactions with tigers and bears. It is part of how we’re bringing more of our excellent care procedures out in front of the exhibit, and sharing what it takes to protect these cats in the wild. Already staff members are working hard to bring you more engaging, hands-on exhibit interactives in 2016 and new ways to take conservation action with our Tiger Team. Together we need to Show Our Stripes in Seattle if we are to save these felines in the wild.

A tiger art ambassador from the Show Your Stripes Tour. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
To save tigers, we need to get people talking about them. At the base of the Space Needle, we launched our Show Your Stripes Tour—the unveiling of 10 tiger statues designed by local artists to raise awareness throughout the Puget Sound area of the plight of tigers. Several of the art tigers sold for $20,000 at Jungle Party on July 10, an event which raised more than $2 million this summer for the zoo’s mission.

Keeping your zoo in top (and green) shape

Not all zoo improvements can be as visually stunning and sexy as tigers. To increase the zoo’s value to a growing community, and to steward the 116-year-old park infrastructure that makes great animal experiences possible, requires revitalizing facilities, innovating in naturalistic exhibitry, improving our beautiful grounds, and continuing to model sustainability for our entire community. 

Having lacked a dedicated source for major maintenance funds since 2008, the $1.8 million a year for six years that voters approved through the new parks district levy catapulted many critical projects from the “someday” list to the “right away” list. With those funds and with existing King County Levy monies, in 2015 we targeted upgrades to our electrical, water and other utility systems, replacing aging and energy-draining structures. 

Some projects less obvious to visitors will nonetheless make a big difference. We replaced the roof on the Animal Hospital building, and many other roof structures are in line for replacing. We also installed water-conservation devices to maintain our grounds full of significant horticulture wonders. 

Woodland Park Rose Garden in bloom. Photo: Kirsten Pisto.

Even through a hot summer, facilities and horticultural staff achieved a drop of 12.7 percent in our water use and still kept the place looking beautiful. 

We also completed installation of new solar panels on the Commissary and on the Rain Forest Food Pavilion, as part of our new Community Solar on Phinney Ridge project—the largest community solar project in Washington. The zoo, Phinney Neighborhood Association and Seattle City Light are partners.

Solar panels installed on the roof of the zoo's Rain Forest Food Pavilion. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The panels turn the pavilion into a sun-loving energy producer. Across the zoo, electrical system upgrades to decrease our energy draw, combined with other new and existing solar projects, move us closer to reaching our sustainability goals. 

Achieving big wins for animals and people

Just last Tuesday, you, the zoo and Washington made history with Initiative 1401, which passed with an overwhelming approval rate. With this groundbreaking, grassroots effort, we’ve established a model for other states and nations to stand up against the illegal trafficking of wildlife parts and products that fuels the extinction economy. 

For the past 18 months, our volunteers and staff have talked with thousands of people at the zoo and in the community about the urgent need to strengthen our state’s laws and government actions to protect animals like elephants and rhinos from poaching and illegal killing. Nearly everyone they spoke with agrees that wildlife trafficking must be stopped. 

Washington voters decided that elephants need their ivory more than we need trinkets, and that the real figure, not the figurine, is what matters to our future. Thank you to our members, donors, volunteers and partners for your advocacy to fight for animals and for joining the coalition of Woodland Park Zoo, the Humane Society of the United States, Seattle Aquarium, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, the Sierra Club, WildAid, and Paul Allen, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the 96 Elephants campaign.

Looking forward

Having brought tigers back to the zoo, we now look forward to bringing back a long-time member and visitor favorite in spring 2016: the Butterfly Garden. Zoo staff are busy designing a seasonal, multisensory marvel to immerse you in these insects’ amazing flight techniques, survival strategies, and in their beauty. It’s a great way to experience the relationship between animals and flowering plants.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Butterflies may even perch on your shoulder as you stroll about and learn ways to foster a pollinator-friendly habitat that invites these fascinating insects to your own backyard.

Near the new exhibit, we’ll celebrate Zoomazium’s 10th anniversary as well as inaugurate a new interpretive stage purpose-built for the unique nature-play space. It’s part of how we’re enhancing programs for early learners and expanding our popular presentation animal program, in which staff engage guests in up-close encounters with smaller animals not typically displayed in landscape exhibits.

Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Another way we’re enhancing zoo experiences is by studying their role in fostering empathy for other species. The art and science of caring speaks to the heart of our mission: to learn, care and act. So, we’re working with other top zoos and aquariums on a national model for fostering empathy, and measuring our collective impact. Of course we all know that kids naturally love animals, but we want to learn how children’s experiences with live animals encourage positive emotions toward them, and expand our sense of justice to include natural systems as well as altruism in social relationships.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

We often think of the zoo’s business as that of animal well-being, or environmental education, or conservation, and it’s all of those. But at the heart of it is the business of caring—for animals and people.

During the holiday season, we tend to think a lot about what and whom we truly care about. Did you know the words caring and charitable share roots? You have many deserving choices for year-end charitable giving. If you haven’t already, please consider making a gift to your zoo.

Together we’ll renew our commitment to helping everyone care about our world’s natural wonders. Thank you!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Microsoft teams with Woodland Park Zoo on a device to improve conservation research

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor with Gigi Allianic, Communications

A wolverine is caught on camera as it approaches a noninvasive hair snare designed to snag a hair that can be used for DNA testing. Photo: Robert Long/Woodland Park Zoo.

To study elusive wolverines in the wild, you need to know where they occur. To figure out where they occur, you need wolverines to trigger remote research cameras. To get wolverines to trigger the cameras, you need to attract them with a strong scent, which naturally fades after two to four weeks. To keep that scent refreshed after it fades, you need to hike into backcountry terrain with deep snow and dangerous avalanche conditions in the winter—and that’s where it gets tricky.

Senior conservation fellow Robert Long installs a new device that could revolutionize his wolverine research in the Northwest. Photo: Roger Christophersen.

Extreme winter conditions can make the small but critical task of refreshing scent lures or baits difficult for Woodland Park Zoo senior conservation fellow, Robert Long, PhD, limiting the window during which he can reliably collect data for his wolverine research throughout the year.

Until now.

Microsoft has teamed up with Woodland Park Zoo and Idaho Fish and Game to take noninvasive conservation research methods to the next level with a clever technological solution.

Earlier this year, Robert connected with an engineer at Microsoft Research, and now believes they have the answer to this difficult problem. For six months, Microsoft researcher Mike Sinclair worked with Robert and Joel Sauder, PhD, a wildlife biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, to engineer the missing piece that could dispense scents all winter long without human assistance.

The device programmed to dispense scents on a regular basis. Photo: Robert Long/Woodland Park Zoo.

Mike Sinclair developed an ultra-low power control processor board powered by lithium batteries. Through a miniature peristaltic pump, the device is programmed to release 3 milliliters of liquid scent lure each day for six to nine months in sub-freezing conditions without any maintenance. Mike then worked with high school students in his STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) mentoring group to replicate the board 70 times, which the conservation scientists integrated into metal kits that house the liquid scent pump system. 

The device is now being deployed statewide and beyond, though in the wild it will face one more test: bears. 

A bear-proof box protects the scent dispenser. Photo: Robert Long/Woodland Park Zoo.

Loaded with odors, the device is likely to attract nose-driven bears. Bear-proof boxes cover the dispensers to protect them, and at Woodland Park Zoo, we have two willing testers who were eager to let us know just how reliable those bear-proof boxes may prove to be: grizzly brothers Keema and Denali.

A grizzly bear at Woodland Park Zoo claws at the bear-proof container. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo. 

The two grizzly brothers weigh more than 750 pounds apiece but, despite their strength, they did not succeed in tearing the dispensers from a log or dismantling the boxes during a test trial today. 

Woodland Park Zoo's grizzly bears had no luck breaking into the containers or tearing them from the log. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

This is exactly what we wanted—affirmation that these dispensers are bear proof and rugged enough to work in the backcountry.

As part of a long-term wolverine study through the zoo’s Living Northwest conservation program, 25 of the dispensers have been distributed in Washington state’s North Cascades. Ten more have been deployed to detect multiple carnivore species in Washington, and another 20 are being used in a multi-species forest carnivore project in north-central Idaho. 

Next summer, field teams from Woodland Park Zoo and Idaho Fish and Game will take to their respective mountainous terrain to retrieve the remote cameras and see how well the scent lure dispensers performed. If the dispensers did their job through the harsh winter, these devices could have far-reaching impacts on wildlife research all over the world. 

These modest, yet innovative dispensers may be able to help researchers learn about a variety of species living in difficult to access places such as Canada lynx, fishers and martens. 

Conservation isn’t just the work of conservationists—it’s a responsibility that rests with all of us. Collaborations like this show what can happen when we all join forces.