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Friday, December 30, 2016

Quiz: Generate your green New Year's resolution

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

It's great to make personal goals for the New Year, and while you are at it, consider making a promise to wildlife too. Use our green New Year's resolution generator to find an action that fits you. Then commit to making 2017 a brighter year for wildlife and wild places.

Are you an email subscriber or is the quiz not showing up in your browser? You can also take it here.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Change this country's wild future with a graduate degree

Have you been thinking of going back to school? Are you searching for a way to make a positive difference on the community and environment around you? Now accepting applications, Woodland Park Zoo’s Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) offers a groundbreaking graduate degree from Miami University focused on inquiry-driven learning as a powerful agent for social and ecological change. Designed for a broad range of professionals, from education and conservation to business and government, AIP could be the next step in your career that you’ve been looking for.

Applications are accepted until February 28, 2017 for summer enrollment, and info sessions are coming up:

Since the program began in 2011, Woodland Park Zoo’s students and graduates have been enacting amazing environmental stewardship and social change in their communities. We’ve collected some of their stories about how the program has positively impacted their personal and professional lives both locally and globally.

Here, AIP graduate Sandra Becka shares how her AIP journey empowered her to be a voice for positive wildlife-human relationships.

WPZ: Why did you apply to the Advanced Inquiry Program?

Sandra Becka (SB): To best understand the why behind my motivation in applying to the Advanced Inquiry Program, I need to share a story—one that began close to a decade ago.

I was working as a wildlife biologist in New Mexico when I realized that efforts to captive breed and release Mexican gray wolves was no solution as their fate was, at the end of each day, the same. As a mere biologist I had no power to change this. Also exhaustingly the same was the fighting, name-calling and threats coming from those that owned land around Mexican gray recovery and release areas. It didn’t help that the diatribe was too often repaid.

Mexican gray wolf, 2007

There in the middle of nowhere, or at best, somewhere in the New Mexican desert I had an epiphany. I was going to go back to school and learn how to speak with the cowmen. I wanted to better understand the importance of ranching, the ranching culture and livelihood, and learn to educate the importance of the carnivore while working directly with communities. It took me longer to get here than I originally anticipated… but what an exciting time to be here!

I returned to Washington state (from New Mexico) mid-2008, just as the first wolf pack had returned after more than 80 years following extirpation, and I am here now as the grizzly bear is establishing a comeback in the Northwest.

Human-wildlife and human-environment conflict is in full swing; unfortunately this is what the media communicates on a consistent basis. However, there is so much more than opposition to this story. I believe that accounts of antagonism are misleading and distract us from the real issues and true stories—stories of shared hopes and visions for coexistence with wildlife.

This is why I wanted to be part of the AIP, as the core principles—community involvement and voice, environmental stewardship, and leadership—were my way to connect with communities so to share these stories and the true voices of real people.

WPZ: What impact has the program had on you personally and professionally?

SB: The biggest impact of this program for me was carrying out my community engagement project. During my Engaging Communities in Conservation Solutions class, I sought to connect the consumer of farmed goods, such as meat, cheese, eggs, honey and wool, to the power of their consumptive choices, making us more aware of how our choices can benefit predators and entire ecosystems.

There are only a small handful of farmers and ranchers out there that have made coexisting with carnivores an everyday choice as conventional farming practices, meaning those using lethal wildlife management praxis, are still the norm in North America. 44% of the landscape in the United States alone is farmland, farmland that wildlife utilize for migration, breeding or birthing ground, hunting and general habitat, making the choices of farmers critical to the future of wildlife. Wildlife and predator friendly farmers and ranchers need our support!

Crossing the Continent for Coexistence: travel route to 13 wildlife/predator friendly farms and ranches

I traveled to 13 Certified Wildlife Friendly® and Predator Friendly® farms and ranches across the lower 48 and Canada.

Participating farmers and ranchers were interviewed to capture their voices as well as explore, record and document a variety of non-lethal, adaptive management practices, including individual or unique innovations in wildlife coexistence.

This was executed via video, sound, photography and written case study. The goal was to create a database of non-lethal management techniques/tools from collected and recorded stories, ideas, thoughts and photographs.

Sandra's first stop was a chicken, sheep and goat farm near Eugene, Oregon where she met Sharon. Sharon's border collie Bucky and llama Lou are livestock guardian animals. They are part of the non-lethal predator disincentives that Sharon uses to protect her livestock from local cougar and coyotes. 

I wanted to make this information publicly available, thus acknowledging consumers and their buying power, inspiring conventional farmers and ranchers to move towards adaptive management methods, and to create wildlife conservation solutions through these certified farms and ranches.

Heading towards one of two Certified Wildlife Friendly® farms in Florida.

I traveled by car with a total travel time of four months. It was truly the most amazing learning experience of my life!

I am happy to report that my Crossing the Continent for Coexistence story is being put together as a book. This will be inclusive of farmer and rancher interviews, storytelling from the cross-country journey, and photos from the changing landscape. The goal is to reach a larger audience, inspiring wiser consumptive choices, as well as to share the stories and voices of wildlife friendly farmers and ranchers who are successfully coexisting with large carnivores throughout North America.

WPZ: What impact has this program had on your community?

As a result of this program, and the wonderful people I have met along the way, I decided to start a predator friendly farm myself, near to my local learning community in a rural-remote area of Washington. I’ve named my farm Wolves & Sage to celebrate the fact that when I started this Master’s program, Washington state had eight official wolf packs, and today we have at least 19.
I regularly monitor wildlife on the property using cameras and basic wildlife tracking techniques to examine species overlap and general population counts. I was inspired to learn about camera trapping in my Biology in the Age of Technology class during the course of this program, and it has become a standard practice on the farm as a way to tell our story of wildlife coexistence.

I attend local farmers markets in Seattle to share my farm goods and have expanded my community to include farmers, ranchers, and consumers of farm goods all across Washington. I have regular opportunities to discuss coexistence, to listen to the challenges of others and to propose solutions. I continue to do farm visits, as I did for my Crossing the Continent for Coexistence project, but within Washington. I maintain helping farmers, as well as documenting successful, non-lethal predator deterrents utilized in a variety of situations.

I found myself inspired by fellow students who had applied for various grants, such as for school gardens, and non-profit funding ideas. During the AIP program I applied for and was awarded a Washington State Department of Natural Resources financial grant to restore the Wolves & Sage farmland. The ecoregion is a semi-arid landscape and known for our wildfires and intense wildfire seasons. The grant will fund the thinning of portions of our overly lush pine forests and fuel reduction on the land to prevent future fire damage, and will also be used to create more healthy wildlife habitat. All of this allows for the growth of new food plants on the property to be utilized by both wildlife and human communities.

Wild Western serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia) on the Wolves & Sage farm, with the Cascade Mountain range in the distance. These berries are a favorite of local black bears and grizzly bears, as well as humans. 

Through this program I’ve managed to coalesce several factors and practices of great value to me—wildlife conservation, reconciliation ecology, herbalism, farming, simple living, and community building—all into a tightly knit platform that I call Wolves & Sage. I had no idea that my life would be so transformed in just three years! The greatest measures are my accomplishments throughout the Advanced Inquiry Program and how they will continue to live on with each farmer interaction that I have, and with each wild serviceberry that I decide not to harvest and rather leave for the bears who enjoy them so much, and of course with the predator photos that I capture with my wildlife camera and share with others—telling my story of the challenges and rewards that come with electing to coexist with large carnivores each and every day. My experience has given me a voice, one of confidence and authority, to help bring positive change to conservation.

Sandra and her farmhand, aka her dog Shiloh. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program: 20 Years of Awesome

Posted by: Alissa Wolken with Lisa Dabek PhD, TKCP Director and WPZ Senior Conservation Scientist
Video and photos by Ryan Hawk

As we reflect on 2016, one of our proudest milestones is a conservation program at the heart of the zoo’s mission to protect wild things and wild places. The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Since its debut in 1996, the Papua New Guinea-based Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) has transformed from a humble, Woodland Park Zoo supported field conservation project into one of the world's leading community-based conservation programs.

In September, high in the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea, the partners of this program came together to celebrate their hard work, community partnerships and commitment to conservation with a beautiful celebration called a sing-sing. Neighbors from all over the Yopno-Uruwa-Som area came together at Weskopkop village to reflect and celebrate their achievement with dancing, speeches, elaborate costumes and friendships that have spanned the Pacific for two decades. 

The stunning colors and artistry of the festivity, which lasted for three days (no sleep!) are a testament to the accomplishments of everyone involved in this program. 
We feel exactly like this when we think about TKCP.

To celebrate TKCP’s 20th anniversary of building community and saving the Matschie's tree kangaroo, we sat down to talk with the program's founder and WPZ's senior conservation scientist, Lisa Dabek (LD), to see what it takes to protect this diverse landscape. Dabek, who has a PhD in animal behavior and conservation biology, studies the Matschie’s tree kangaroo and works with the TKCP team to protect the species in partnership with the local people.

A tree 'roo looks on as folks gather under colorful umbrellas.

WPZ: What inspired you to begin researching tree kangaroos in the first place?

LD: Two key people that introduced me to the world of tree kangaroos were Judie Steenberg (retired WPZ lead zookeeper ) and Larry Collins (Curator at Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Wildlife Conservation). I started studying Matschie’s tree kangaroos at Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) in 1987 nearly 30 years ago! As part of my graduate studies at the University of Washington, I studied the behavioral development, mother-young interactions and the reproductive biology and behavior of female captive tree kangaroos. 

WPZ: Tell us about the Matschie’s tree kangaroo.

LD: The Matschie’s tree kangaroo belongs to the kangaroo or Macropod family. Matschie’s tree kangaroos live only on the Huon Peninsula of northeastern Papua New Guinea, in dense highelevation cloud forests. They have thick reddish fur to keep them warm in their cool, wet habitat and camouflage themselves among the reddish-brown moss growing on the trees. They mainly eat leaves, ferns, flowers, moss and tree bark. 

Matschie's tree kangaroo.

WPZ: How did TKCP get its start?

LD: I created the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in 1996 in collaboration with the local communities in a very remote area of PNG’s Huon Peninsula called Yopno-Uruwa-Som or YUS. I wanted to apply the zoo-based knowledge of the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo to help the species survive in the wild in Papua New Guinea. My research began at Woodland Park Zoo, one of the first supporters of TKCP. Woodland Park Zoo has been our base of operations for the last 11 years, and the zoo is now partnering with our newly-established, non-governmental organization in PNG to run the program.

WPZ: In 2009, TKCP worked with local landowners to establish Papua New Guinea’s first national conservation area. How did this breakthrough come about?

 LD: TKCP uses a community-based approach to species and habitat protection, involving local landowners in decision-making and working with communities to address their needs. In PNG, more than 90% of the land is owned by indigenous clans. Land cannot be bought or sold; it is passed down from generation to generation. TKCP spent years meeting with the landowners and communities, building trust and a mutual understanding of wildlife conservation. The landowners in YUS chose to pledge portions of their clan lands to create the YUS Conservation Area so that future generations can depend upon their natural resources and carry on their cultural traditions. One of the greatest assets for protecting species and habitat is the leadership of local communities in managing resources sustainably. 

Dr. Lisa Dabek thanks the village and TKCP partners for 20 years of hard work during the sing-sing.

WPZ: What are the key elements that make TKCP successful?

LD: TKCP is successful because of the community-centered strategies we use to accomplish our mission of “ensuring sustainable health and prosperity for the living YUS landscape, biodiversity, people and culture.” Those strategies include:

 •Managing the YUS Conservation Area, including monthly YUS ranger patrols and establishing ecological monitoring
• Tree kangaroo research including studies on home range, habitat use and feeding ecology
• Land-use planning, in which landowners and communities zone their land and collectively define how their resources will be used
• Community needs, in which we address the community members’ needs for sustainable livelihoods as well as access to health and education
• Capacity building and training, including skills training and education as well as building partnerships to provide YUS communities with alternative opportunities 

Junior Rangers are the future and it is awesome.

WPZ: This year marks the 20th anniversary of TKCP. Can you reflect on the past 20 years?

LD: I never could have imagined we would be where we are. TKCP is actually involved in the first and only nationally recognized Conservation Area for the entire country. We are leading the conservation effort in PNG. The commitment of the YUS community and TKCP staff has been amazing.

WPZ: What have been some of the most memorable experiences?

LD: Every trip I take to PNG is memorable; having the opportunity to be with the community members in YUS whom I have worked with for so long is always significant to me. I also vividly remember the first time I saw a wild tree kangaroo! 

Late into the night, the sing-sing is still vibrant.

WPZ: What would you say is the biggest “aha” moment you’ve had?

LD: The decision by all of the YUS landowners to create a YUS Conservation Area. This was unprecedented for the country!

WPZ: TKCP is one of WPZ’s most comprehensive conservation programs. Why do you think conservation programs like TKCP are important in this day and age?

LD: If we do not focus on community-based conservation and sustainable living, we will not succeed in conserving endangered species. Conservation is ultimately about people!

WPZ: How can zoo guests and members be involved in TKCP?

LD: Lucky for us, zoo members and guests can directly support conservation in YUS by buying YUS Conservation Coffee at the ZooStores and through Caffe Vita! They can also visit zoo.org/treekangaroo to learn about other ways to get involved. Every visit to the zoo is a vote for conservation.

Danny Samandingke welcomes visitors to Weskopkop village for the celebration. Danny is Leadership Training and Outreach Senior Coordinator, TKCP.

WPZ: TKCP was awarded the Equator Prize in 2014 for its extraordinary community-based conservation initiatives and livelihoods development. This year, the @UNDP United Nations Development Program’s Equator Initiative published a case study on TKCP. Can you tell up about that?

LD: The case study is part of a growing series by the Equator Initiative that describes vetted and peer-reviewed best practices intended to inspire the policy dialogue needed to take local success to scale, improve the global knowledge base on local environment and development solutions, and serve as models for replication. We were incredibly honored to receive the Equator Prize in 2014 and we are thrilled the Equator Initiative chose to publish a case study on our program. We hope the study helps other conservation organizations incorporate more community-based initiatives into their programs to ensure sustainable health and prosperity for living landscapes, biodiversity, people and culture.

WPZ: What’s next for TKCP?

LD: We are very excited to have just received two new, five-year grants, one from the Global Environment Facility (through the United Nations Development Program) in close partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea to strengthen the country’s protected areas efforts, and another through the Rainforest Trust to expand the 187,000-acre YUS Conservation Area to a 391,000-acre landscape-level protected area. The partnership serves as the national model for community-centered conservation, further protecting tree kangaroos and other endangered species, as well as growing our sustainable livelihoods projects, including YUS Conservation Coffee and cocoa. Above all, we will continue working in partnership with the communities of YUS and providing support for their leadership of conservation efforts.

The incredible beauty of  Papua New Guinea.

While we would love to invite each and every one of you to visit YUS area, please know that your support and visits to the zoo help make this benchmark possible, thank you.

Over two decades, TKCP has expanded to become a holistic, community-based program that responds not only to the needs of wildlife, but also to the local people and the ecosystems on which they depend.

Together with local landowners in 50 remote villages on PNG’s Huon Peninsula, TKCP has helped to create and manage the country’s first nationally-protected Conservation Area. The Yopno-Uruwa-Som (YUS) Conservation Area encompasses more than 180,000 acres stretching from coastal reefs to 13,000-foot mountain peaks, protecting ecosystems and habitat for the tree kangaroo and other rare and endangered species.

We are proud to support TKCP and can't wait to see what can be accomplished in 2017!

Friday, December 16, 2016

One Zoo

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, communications

Thank you for your continued support and thoughts for the zoo during the event Thursday night and afterwards.

We’d like to update you with more details of the fire and the recovery efforts.

Fire crews fight the blaze from the roof of the Night Exhibit on Thursday, Dec 15. Photo courtesy of Seattle Fire Department.
At approximately 3:15 p.m. Thursday, 12/15, a fire was reported in the Night Exhibit. Within minutes of making the call, the Seattle Fire Department responded. The zoo’s Emergency Response Team also responded. The fire was contained at 4:30 p.m. Visitors were safely evacuated and there were no staff or visitor injuries.

Our staff practices emergency drills throughout the year. In fact, we had held a venomous snake drill the day before the fire.  These protocols helped immensely during the incident Thursday night, as everyone knew where they should go and what role to play. Because of our training and practice throughout the year, every team member was organized which allowed for an immediate emergency response.

The Seattle Fire Department reported that two firefighters sustained minor injuries during the event last night. Fortunately, they have been treated and released. Our thoughts are with them for a speedy recovery. 

Animals are removed from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Photo by Keith Neitman/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zoo staff and SFD work to secure a perimeter and evacuate animals from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Keith Neitman/Woodland Park Zoo.

Smoke spread to the adjacent Day Exhibit where about 200 animals—a variety of reptiles, amphibians and a tree kangaroo—call home.  Even as the fire department was working to put out the flames on the Night Exhibit’s roof, pairs of keepers, after given the okay by the fire chief, bravely ventured into the Day Exhibit to begin evacuating the animals. They wore respirator masks to protect them from high carbon monoxide levels, had assignments for evacuating specific animals, and were observed by the SFD’s medical team on exit to ensure they were ok. The keepers entered the building and hooked and bagged snakes by headlamp. They waded into pools to rescue turtles and crocodiles. The animals living in the Day Exhibit were evacuated and swiftly transported in warm vehicles to eight locations around the zoo, all within a two hour period. Our keepers always go the extra mile for the animals they care for and yesterday was no different.

Smoke can be seen coming from the Night Exhibit. Photo by Kieth Neitman/Woodland Park Zoo.
While the Night Exhibit has been closed to the public for nearly seven years and has no longer housed animals, a special room in the basement was used for turtles hibernating in the winter. Two black-breasted leaf turtles and four Indochinese box turtles had been placed in a hibernation chamber in the Night Exhibit building. While there were early indications that no animals were harmed, it was later learned that these six small turtles likely perished in the fire. We still do not have access to this building. Any loss of life is hard, but this loss is especially heartbreaking given the tireless work of our staff to evacuate all of the animals they could reach. The cause of the fire remains unknown but Seattle Fire Department has indicated the fire was initiated in the building’s basement. As you can imagine, our reptile and amphibian keepers would have done anything they could to retrieve these six turtles. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Zoo staff prepare temporary quarters for evacuated animals from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Staff swiftly transport reptiles and amphibians to other areas of the zoo after removing them from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.
Some snakes were put into pillowcases for safe transportation during the evacuation. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
As staff set up a perimeter and began to evacuate the surrounding exhibits, the entire zoo acted to assist in any way they could. Staff from many departments around the zoo helped out with gathering transport crates, bringing blankets for animals, warm jackets for staff, and other supplies needed for the operation. They found room in a fridge for the antivenom we store on zoo grounds. They made room in other animal units to hold the evacuees. They formed a command center to coordinate communication and logistics throughout the afternoon and evening.  Animal Health performed health assessments for as many animals as possible last night, and they are continuing that work today. 

The evacuated animals are all doing well as of this morning, and we have developed an action plan for their interim care until we get word we can return them to their homes in the Day Exhibit. 

A frog sits in its temporary home after being evacuated. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Relocated reptiles and amphibians are placed in temporary home after being evacuated. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
“The safety of our animals, guests and staff is our number one priority. Our animals are in good condition and we have an action plan for their interim care until the Day Exhibit can be safely re-occupied. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to keep a vigilant eye on each animal, and support our staff involved in their care,” says Nancy Hawkes, PhD, the zoo’s general curator. “The efforts our staff took to save these animals and their commitment and teamwork were heroic. They put themselves in harm’s way to save these animals. We are so grateful to the amazing support from SFD who put their lives at risk every day, and to the outpouring of support from our community.”

When you work at the zoo, it’s easy to see every day examples of the commitment and compassion our entire staff have for the animals that live here. Yesterday was especially hard for the zoo community, but it was also a testament to the kind of people who work here. Every single member of our zoo assisted in some way, and they were eager to help.

Jennifer Pramuk, PhD, curator of reptiles and amphibians manages the situation on Friday morning. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/ Woodland Park Zoo.
Just a few of the 200 animals that were relocated to temporary homes across the zoo. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zoo staff tend to the animals that were evacuated from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.
The amazing support we received from SFD and the commitment, teamwork and heroics we saw from our staff and will continue to see over the coming days is heartening. 

As of now, the cause of the fire is still unknown, but SFD will provide more information as it is forthcoming. The firefighters were amazing to behold in their quick and efficient response. 

And you, our community of zoo fans and members, you sent us encouraging comments and thoughtful support throughout the night. We have also received great support from our zoo colleagues nationwide.

Many of you have asked if there are ways that you can help. Besides your continued support and uplifting words, if you’d like you can donate directly to amphibian and reptile care, by visiting https://www.zoo.org/donate, and designate “Reptile and Amphibian Care”.

The zoo is open this weekend with normal zoo hours 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. and we would love to see you.

Thank you for being on our team.

Thank you from Woodland Park Zoo General Curator Nancy Hawkes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thank you for being a force of nature

Posted by: Alejandro Grajal, President and CEO

Alejandro Grajal with Coba the spectacled owl
As the year wraps up, I take stock of what I’ve discovered in my first seven months at Woodland Park Zoo. So many highlights stand out to me. But what stands out most is what an amazing force for nature YOU have been. Thanks to you, the zoo is closing out a very strong year.

Day after day you cheer our mission on. How well a community supports a nonprofit—in words and in actions—is a good measure of the organization’s value. I’m pleased to report that more people are coming to the zoo to take part in the wonders of species conservation. We’re on track to touch the hearts and minds of 1.32 million guests this year. What’s more, in an increasingly competitive experience economy, zoo membership and private support have remained strong, and special ticketed events have done particularly well this year.

You’ve helped to bring about positive impact beyond our 92 acres as well. Each December, zoo staff creates a look back (below). I hope it reconnects you to the successes you’ve helped us achieve, such as welcoming new individuals and species and providing all animals with outstanding care; influencing thousands of learners in school and in after school programs to become the next generation of conservation leaders and scientists; and helping our expert conservation collaborators in the Pacific Northwest and around the world to protect more than 2 million acres of living landscapes and many endangered species.

I could go on. For now, let me share just one more highlight of my year: discovering how solid this zoo is as an organization. Not only in the day to day, but in growing as an innovator of social change and increasing our influence as a modern conservation zoo. This vision guides all that we do. In 2017, we’re excited to transform the highly popular raptor free-flight program into a bigger, even more moving experience. The vision will inform us as we redesign three acres in our Tropical Asia biome. And you’ll see it at work when one of your favorite experiences, the Night Exhibit, returns in 2018.

This new chapter in your zoo’s history is one of exciting change and creative energy for all our stakeholders. It’s an energy I feel honored to serve and assist. On behalf of our staff and animal family, I thank you and wish you a Happy New Year!

Big things YOU helped us achieve in 2016

Photo provided by Somali Community Services Coalition.

Zoo for all. Year round our Community Access Program works with 600+ agencies serving lower-income youth programs, refugee coalitions, senior centers, and shelters to ensure that the zoo is accessible to those who otherwise might not be able to visit. During the holiday season, the program welcomes thousands of these families, at no cost to them, to enjoy the sparkle of WildLights presented by Sound Credit Union. 

Seattle Park District funds were also at work all year on zoo grounds. Thank you, voters! From construction projects, roof and walkway repairs, HVAC maintenance, and utility upgrades to exhibit tree fabrications and canopy assessments—these essential infrastructure works create the safe and sturdy foundation for caring for all zoo residents and guests, so everyone can enjoy transformative wildlife journeys.

Our volunteers, our heroes. Our annual Celebration of Volunteers honored 45 long-serving volunteers who have together contributed more than 144,000 hours of service to the zoo. We are grateful to the huge volunteer corps—totaling 750+ individuals and 300 corporate service volunteers—dedicated to the zoo’s mission. 

Zoohackathon participants coding for wildlife. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Hacking for a great cause! You helped the zoo host the first-ever Zoohackathon, a wild weekend of conservation technology with scientists, designers and coders creating novel software tools to combat wildlife trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal industry often linked to terrorism. Events at six zoos around the globe were organized by the U.S. State Department and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, with local support and collaboration from Vulcan Inc., Google, Socrata, Microsoft Research, City of Seattle, and the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology. Local winners’ proposals were sent off to a global competition. 

Seattle Youth CAN (Climate Action Network) held its second annual Climate Action Summit. More than 100 youth and 20 local climate professionals from government agencies, NGOs and universities collaborated in interactive workshops informed by a summer-long transportation challenge. Throughout the year, regular events engage teens in learning about climate science, ways of fostering community action, and green careers.

A western pond turtle raised at Woodland Park Zoo and ready to be released in Washington wetlands. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Long-term conservation pays dividends. The zoo earned Top Honors for North American Conservation, shared with collaborator Oregon Zoo, from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums for 25 years of recovering endangered Western pond turtles. Your support of the longest zoo-based species recovery partnership with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has enabled our community to successfully bring this Northwest native back from the brink. 

Our Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) celebrated 20 years of helping local communities in Papua New Guinea create the Yopno-Uruwa-Som Conservation Area, the island nation’s first, to protect rare tree kangaroos and their habitats while increasing people’s options for sustainable livelihoods, such as shade-grown coffee. 

Earlier this year, Karau Kuna, one of our in-country TKCP leaders, earned the prestigious Whitley Fund for Nature Award for developing innovative community land-use plans with 50 villages.

Malaysia's tiger forest. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Eyes on the Forest campaign. This new flash campaign successfully inspired zoo and community members to fund a remarkable 423 days of ranger patrols—the “boots on the ground” who work with our local tiger conservation collaborator, RIMBA, in Peninsular Malaysia. Our collaboration is helping the Harimau Selamanya (Tigers Forever) project to expand the core tiger protection zone, get poachers arrested, and successfully increase involvement of local villagers and wildlife law enforcement agencies. 

Molbak's Butterfly Garden will return each summer season. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Butterflies return to the zoo! You asked, and we listened. This summer the new Molbak’s Butterfly Garden bloomed into a colorful visitor experience with Northwest flowering plants. More than 500 free-flying, North American native butterflies inspired delight and lessons about our reliance on pollinators to keep our wild lands and farm lands healthy.

Mom and baby, Nadiri and Yola. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Helping Yola grow up gorilla. Three cheers for the amazing dedication of our expert keepers, curators and veterinarians who, supported by volunteers, worked tirelessly for months to ensure a successful bond between Yola, our newest Western lowland gorilla baby, and her first-time birth mother, Nadiri (who was initially reluctant). The successful relationship is documented in #GrowWithYola, a community-generated scrapbook. Our Wildlife Survival Fund helps protect this species in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Congo.

A zoo visitor tosses a treat to Blueberry the hornbill during an Ambassador Animal program. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

More eye-to-eye experiences. Thanks to our generous supporters, we celebrated Zoomazium’s milestone 10th anniversary and opened the new Alvord Broadleaf Theatre and expanded the Ambassador Animal program! It now has 22 animals to offer guests up-close encounters on zoo grounds, in schools, and at community events where they inspire emotional connections and empathy for wildlife.

River otters spotted at Constellation Marine Reserve Alki Beach Park. Photo: Leo Shaw.

Northwest species and environmental health. You helped our Living Northwest program launch a new research project on Washington’s little studied North American river otter populations. Studying the otters’ movements, and their scat, will help researchers answer questions about health of one of our most industrially used waterways: the Duwamish. Otter Spotter, the project’s citizen science arm, enlists ordinary people to submit otter sightings online thereby assisting researchers with digital mapping.

Northwest Carnivore Project collaborators were this winter collecting data remotely from non-invasive wildlife monitoring devices developed with Microsoft Research and Idaho Fish and Game. The cameras, installed in summer but built to endure North Cascades’ sub-freezing conditions, dispense a scent to lure wolverines, fishers, wolves, cougars, black bears, grizzly bears and others into view. Being able to collect data deep in winter will help answer important regional questions about ecological connectivity, climate change adaptation, and human-wildlife conflict.

Hello, snow leopard! A remote camera detected this elusive animal in the Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by SLF Kyrgyzstan / Snow Leopard Trust / SAEPF

Saving snow leopards: No small feat. On World Wildlife Day, The Snow Leopard Trust, one of our long-time Partners for Wildlife, announced that 10 Kyrgyz wildlife rangers received a Citizen Ranger Wildlife Award for their courage in the fight against illegal hunting in the Kyrgyz Republic’s snow leopard habitat. Earlier in the year, we shared what that courage looks like on the ground as in-country conservation collaborators partnered with the government and local communities to convert a 100-square-mile hunting concession area into the co-managed Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary.

Hashtag your heart out now that you can share your #woodlandparkzoo experiences easily and quickly over Wi-Fi made possible by Cisco Systems, Inc.

Technology leaps. Great zoo experiences are benefiting from technology, thanks to a significant donation of cloud services and desktop software by Microsoft and, later in the year, a major upgrade in Wi-Fi made possible by Cisco Systems, Inc. Both donations help achieve long-term goals. One was to reduce virtualize physical servers, bringing down IT operations costs and the zoo’s carbon footprint. Another was to provide more modern and accessible science learning and networking through our zoo apps and social media sites.

The elephants of Borneo. Photo: Hutan.

New Borneo Elephant Zoo Alliance. A partnership of Hutan and our zoo, along with Oregon and Houston zoos, is the first to focus on the little-known Borneo pygmy elephant subspecies. The initiative combats the frequent and sometimes deadly conflicts between people and elephants as logging and palm oil production near wildlife habitat increase. Hutan has been one of the zoo’s Partners for Wildlife since 2007.

Monday, December 12, 2016

There could be amphibians in your neighborhood and they need your help

Posted by: Jenny Mears, Education

Pacific treefrog spotted at Forterra's Hazel Wolf Wetland. Photo: Mike Mallitt. 

Yes, YOU can get involved in local amphibian conservation! Woodland Park Zoo has partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) since 2012 to offer Amphibian Monitoring, a citizen science program in which western Washington residents learn how to survey for frogs, toads and salamanders in local ponds and wetlands. We welcome people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in the program—no science or citizen science experience is necessary!

The next Amphibian Monitoring training is Saturday, February 4. At the training you will learn how to find and identify local amphibians in a way that’s safe for people, amphibians and their habitats. Participants will form teams, choose a local wetland or pond, and monitor that site once a month using equipment provided by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, including hip waders, aquascopes and GPS units. Volunteers will upload their findings to iNaturalist, an online community where participants can connect with each other and have their species identifications verified by amphibian experts.

Some people do it for the love of amphibians, some out of a sense of stewardship to their local waterways, and still others for the joy of getting outside more often. We spoke with members of four different monitoring teams to hear more about what motivated and inspired them throughout the year.

A tale of four Amphibian Monitoring teams 

This year, 16 teams monitored 20 sites around King and Snohomish counties. These teams found six different species, including Pacific treefrog, northwestern salamander, red-legged frog and rough-skinned newt in sites that range from lowland forests to ponds and wetlands in Seattle city limits. The impact and benefits of Amphibian Monitoring has been lauded by WDFW since the program’s inception. Says WDFW Wildlife Biologist Chris Anderson, “Efforts such as this broader multi-species Amphibian Monitoring program help provide baseline knowledge for the impact of habitat loss, water quality issues, disease, and climate change on amphibian populations, and can inform management goals and long-term planning. There is no proxy in my mind; this is the only way to get this type of data. Working with the public and partners not only provides for these efforts, but develops understanding, promotes education, engagement and furthers collective goals by creating a culture around conservation of ALL native wildlife and their habitats both common and those unfortunately already known to have management issues.”

Amphibian Monitoring provides different benefits to each participant. In the following interview, we've highlighted the experiences of different team members to give you a sense of what it might be like to be a citizen scientist.

Team leader and ZooCorps teen Sophie Yasuda with WDFW Wildlife Biologist Chris Anderson at the Amphibian Monitoring practice session. Photo: Jenny Mears/Woodland Park Zoo.

Why did you decide to get involved in Amphibian Monitoring?

Stephanie Snyder, leader of Washington Park Arboretum team: I’ve always been interested in wildlife of all kinds and became particularly interested in amphibians when I learned that they can be a way of monitoring the health of our environment. I and my team were really curious to see what amphibians were actually surviving in urban areas. We looked at this project as an opportunity to learn more about the wildlife community in our own backyard and also contribute data and observations that might lead to better conservation practice in the future.

Sophie Yasuda, ZooCorps teen volunteer and co-leader of North Seattle Community College team: Most of my favorite memories from when I was little are of exploring nature, whether it was wading in the creek by my house, collecting fallen leaves or investigating tide pools at the beach. It wasn't until I got older that I realized the exploration I already loved could lead to the research that is vital for conservation. Being an amphibian monitor was an amazing opportunity for me to go out into nature to collect data that will be used to protect the ecosystems I want to see conserved for kids in the future to explore.

Joel Kresse, WPZ Youth Engagement Specialist: When evaluating priorities for the ZooCorps program, we always put conservation and leadership first. The Amphibian Monitoring program is an opportunity for volunteers to engage in direct conservation action and leadership through a significant, statewide citizen science project. They get a first-hand introduction to field biology methods and best practices while working collaboratively in a team. Volunteers gain job skills and field experience while becoming part of the larger community of citizen scientists around the state. And it all happens right in their backyard! 

Lizzy Stone, Seattle Tilth Environmental Program Coordinator: Seattle Tilth works to restore wetland habitats on our farms throughout King County. These wetland ecosystems are disturbed and degraded, so we are working to build soils, control invasive weeds, plant native trees and shrubs, and encourage wildlife to re-inhabit the sites. We were interested in the zoo’s Amphibian Monitoring program so that we could establish a baseline for amphibian populations to use as a metric for habitat improvement over time.

Julie Webster, leader of Carkeek Park team: I think we all got involved because we are interested in conservation, and citizen science seemed like a really interesting way to participate in a conservation effort. We have stayed because it is fun to be out in nature and because we have come to care for the amphibians. There really is a sense each year of hope and worry. Will they still be there? Will they make it? And there is elation when we find them doing well.

The Seattle Tilth team monitoring for amphibians at Red Barn Ranch in Auburn. Photo: Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

How did your season go? What did your team see?

Stephanie: We have had three relatively productive seasons there. So far we have found eggs of two species: northwestern salamander and Pacific tree frog. Later in the season we found juvenile salamanders and many aquatic insects like dragonfly larvae and daphnia, which the salamanders feed on.

Tracey Byrne, member of Washington Park Arboretum team: We also saw evidence of other animals that frequented the ponds, such as raccoons, ducks, owls, and insects, which made it exciting, for though we were only monitoring for amphibians, the ponds are a vital part of the urban forest ecosystem. 

Sophie: This year we were excited to see a ton of egg masses appearing as early as February. Soon we were seeing tadpoles emerge! The most common species we identified was the Pacific frog, also known as the Pacific chorus frog. We also found multiple long-toed salamander eggs and even spotted a few salamander tadpoles! My team had a lot of fun, especially when we tried to catch the speedy tadpoles on camera. 

Lizzy: The season went well! We had a large monitoring team that was very interested in exploring the two sites. At Red Barn Ranch in Auburn, we found Pacific treefrog egg masses, juveniles and adults. At Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, we did not find evidence of amphibian populations, which is important information for determining our starting point at the site!

Julie: This year, we had three core members who have been doing this for at least three years and who committed to being there. Between having a full group and having that experience, monitoring went really well. We know the site and have a sense of history. We have been able to watch how laying sites have changed as the vegetation changes. We saw egg masses for the long-toed salamander, rough-skinned newt, northern salamander, and Pacific tree frog. We saw less of the frog egg masses than last year and that may be because there was much less of the grass they seem to prefer to lay their eggs in that last year. Later in the season we saw northwestern salamander, rough-skinned newt, and Pacific tree frog tadpoles. 

The Carkeek Park team monitoring their site, which dried up especially early this year. Photo: Julie Webster.

What impact do you think participating in Amphibian Monitoring had on you and your team? 

Stephanie: Amphibian monitoring these past few years has given me a deeper understanding of how vulnerable amphibians and aquatic life in general are to changes in the environment. It’s one thing to read about it, but to witness firsthand the impact human activity has on plants and animals living nearby has made me even more committed to changing the way I live and work. It also has made me realize how difficult it really is to do that! I’ve also gained a deeper insight and appreciation of the hard work that goes into scientific research, that careful observation and gathering and recording data is just part of a very long ongoing process toward understanding what’s going on in the world. It has been fun to share the experience with my very enthusiastic team as well as people we meet in the field.

Sophie: I think that the experience of amphibian monitoring made all of us think more about the animals that inhabit the ecosystems closest to us. A lot of the time these animals, like amphibians, are overlooked, but they are also the most directly impacted by our pollution. By observing them as they traveled through their life cycle, we all gained a sense of appreciation for amphibians. Seeing the amount of life that was present in just the tiny pond we monitored, I was reminded of the proximity of nature and the responsibility we all have to ensure its survival. 

Lizzy: Seattle Tilth staff and volunteers were and still are very excited about monitoring for amphibians at our sites. We love to talk to volunteers and visitors about the wildlife populations at our sites, so it is great to know more specifics about what is present. I think that the monitoring team, students who visit the farms, and our volunteers were empowered by the concept of citizen science and their ability to make an impact on a larger scientific study!

Julie: While we all came into the work caring about the environment, we have developed a real fondness for the amphibians we have seen and are rooting for them to make it. The training gave insight into the problems facing amphibians, so when we go looking for them, we are aware they might not be there. Finding them, especially after a lot of searching, feels like a win and something worth celebrating. Being in the wetlands has also made us consider what so many kids are missing today. Aside from being useful work for conservation, it is just plain fun. We also have a real appreciation for the experience and skill required to really identify the different species. We get better each year but still work at it. 

Joel: The Amphibian Monitoring program has a positive impact on participants’ understanding of amphibians, habitat and citizen science. ZooCorps teen volunteers certainly have a lot of love for animals on Day 1. However, this program deepens that love by engaging volunteers in studying local wildlife that they may have otherwise overlooked. They witness the connection between habitat and conservation first-hand. Habitat destruction is not something that only occurs in places like the Amazon or Malaysia. It’s a local conservation issue too! The program really focuses our volunteers’ passion for wildlife conservation directly on our local environment. The wonderful thing about citizen science is that it is so accessible. Our volunteers find out that with just a small amount of training and preparation, they can make significant contributions to a collection of data that informs both local and state conservation efforts. 

Want to get involved? Please see www.zoo.org/citizenscience for more information and to sign up on our interest list! The Amphibian Monitoring program is part of Woodland Park Zoo's Living Northwest conservation program to ensure Washington's wild future. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Animals explore a winter wonderland: first snowfall of the season delights

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

Carson the red panda surveys his yard as the early morning snowfall began to taper off. 

The animals awoke this morning to a blanket of snow and, like the rest of us, were eager to explore the winter wonderland around them. Our dedicated photographer ventured out early to capture the moment as wolves, lions, red pandas and cranes got their fill of the white stuff.

While some animals prefer to stay cozy in their indoor spaces (ahem, desert donkeys Sam and Rico, who wouldn’t step foot out of their warm barn), others were totally in their element. 

Our pack of gray wolves were certainly right at home and welcomed the chilly weather. The girls are more active in the brisk winter mornings and we watched in awe as they playfully frolicked through their yard.

Sister wolves Doba, Shila, Aponi and Kaya know exactly what to do in the snow—pose elegantly for their winter portrait of course! 

The sisters are built for snow; equipped with humongous paws with fleshy pads and claws that can spread out to provide traction in snow and ice.

The girls also sport cozy winter coats which keep them insulated in the chilliest conditions.

Oh, sister wolves, you gorgeous gals are true Northwest royalty in this winter wonderland. 

Nearby, Albert the mountain goat looked absolutely majestic atop his snowy perch. 

Albert stands atop the highest rock to take in the snowy landscape.

Albert's thick, woolly fur keeps him toasty, while his cloven hooves provide built in traction for ice and rocks.

The entire Northern Trail was bustling, although grizzly brothers Keema and Denali opted to snooze right through it. The Roosevelt elk enjoyed a quiet morning stretch in their meadow.

Elk grow a special winter coat; their fur grows in two layers, one is a woolly undercoat which helps insulate the elk, and the outer coat is made up of tougher guard hairs which protect the elk while they forage through thick branches.

Our Steller's sea eagles were on watch for more snowfall, their brilliant yellow beaks striking against the winter skies.

 In the wild, these tough raptors spend part of their year in icy northern Siberia. The eagles gorge themselves on salmon pre-winter to store up enough protein and fat to get them through the harsh season.

Carson the red panda was especially curious and playful this morning. The little climber showed off his awesome snow-agility as he pounced, climbed and tiptoed through the snowy trees.

Carson’s long bushy tail is helpful in balancing atop the branches, but it’s also a portable warming device. Wrapping the fluffy red tail around his head when he curls up makes an instant cozy retreat.

Red pandas are used to chilly temps; thickly furred soles of the feet are adapted for walking on snow and ice. 

Carson keeps tabs on the photographer as he checks out his stomping grounds.

Nearby the red-crowned cranes did a little snow dance. 

There are two distinct populations of red crowned cranes; one on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, another on the mainland in northern Manchuria and southeast Siberia. 

At African Savanna, Xerxes wandered out to scope out the fluffy stuff. His expression seems to sum up how we all feel about the magic of a snowfall.

Xerxes, our male lion, looks across the snow-covered yard. The lions, like all of our animals, can choose whether or not to partake in the snow day. Hot rocks, cozy straw and blankets, den access and heat lamps are available to the animals during the chill. 

Wallabies do snow? Sure they do! Especially when there are enticing snowdrifts to land on.

A wallaby in Austrailasia takes a break from hopping through the snow.

If you aren't as excited about our recent freezing conditions, check out our Winter 101: tips from the Northern Trail.  And stay cozy!

With more snow predicted for next week, we are crossing our mittens for a snowflake-filled winter. We hope you can visit us soon! The zoo is open today, with regular hours in place. For up to date zoo conditions, you can always visit www.zoo.org