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Monday, January 25, 2016

The Night Exhibit rises

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Indian flying fox fruit bats. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

It’s a new dawn for the Night Exhibit.

Since the popular exhibit closed in the wake of the 2009 recession, we’ve heard one message from you all loud and clear—the dark night must return.

With the all new Banyan Wilds tiger and sloth bear exhibits now complete, and butterflies returning later this year, the time is right to shine a light, so to speak, on nocturnal animals once again.

In 2018, we plan to re-open a renovated Night Exhibit showcasing nocturnal animals in the dark.

The Night Exhibit will be renovated with a planned opening in 2018. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Our night vision will come together over the next two years as we design, renovate and open the exhibit thanks to a public-private partnership, using funds available for major repairs from the city of Seattle Park District, along with private philanthropy.

Approved by voters in 2014, the Seattle Park District provides more than $47 million a year in long-term funding for Seattle Parks and Recreation including maintenance of parklands and facilities, including major maintenance at the zoo and aquarium; operation of community centers and recreation programs; and development of new neighborhood parks on previously acquired sites.

Artist’s rendering depicts exhibit entry where daytime visitors adjust their eyes as they transition into darkness.

To make the building more efficient and the exhibit more engaging, we anticipate the cost of the renovations to total $3-4 million. While a formal fundraising campaign has yet to begin, we have received a substantial early gift from The Nysether Family Foundation, which in the past has helped build several capital projects at Woodland Park Zoo, including most recently Banyan Wilds and the Historic Carousel Pavilion. You can contribute during this early phase by selecting the "Night Exhibit" from the Area of Designation in our online donation cart.

The zoo’s sloths were relocated to the Adaptations Building after the Night Exhibit closure in 2010. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

When the Night Exhibit closed six years ago, some animals were moved to other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and others remained on exhibit elsewhere at the zoo. As planning begins, we’ll look at our options for which nocturnal species will call the new exhibit home, such as fruit bats, sloths or small, arboreal primates.

Artist's rendering of an exhibit viewing window.

We heard from so many of you that in addition to the fascinating animals, a big appeal of the Night Exhibit is the sensory experience of being plunged into darkness. You walk a little slower, you breathe a little more deeply, you listen a little more closely and when you finally spot a critter on the move, the heightened moment makes your heart quicken.

Like the original exhibit, we’ll reverse the light cycle so that during the day you’ll be surrounded by the dark, with new features being considered like a night vision station and digital signage to help you find your way and see nature’s night shift at work.

The night shift begins. Photo: Ryan Hawk Woodland Park Zoo.

Look for project updates coming soon with more information about how to show your support. Can’t wait to begin your night watch? Keep tabs on our colony of Indian flying fox fruit bats streaming live 24/7 on the Bat Cam.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A jaguar visits the dentist

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Providing terrific animal health care is one of the benchmarks of the zoo's mission and that includes dental care. Just like in humans, a healthy mouth is tantamount to the overall wellness of an animal. If you've ever wondered about how we provide that care, here is one detailed look at a jaguar's visit to the dentist.

Its 9:30 a.m. on Friday, January 15, and the hustle and bustle of the Woodland Park Zoo Animal Health building is well underway. The Animal Health team has prepped the procedure room for a special patient this morning, a 16-year-old male jaguar, Junior. He is here for an endodontic tooth repair on one of the biggest teeth in this big cats mouth, the right maxillary canine. The upper dental arcade of teeth are termed maxillary and the bottom teeth are the mandibular teeth. In the wild, jaguars use their canines to apprehend and potentially pierce the skulls of their prey. This tooth is really big, very strong and kind of terrifying, but one that needs a dentist nonetheless!

Curators are not sure how Junior broke his canine, but it was most likely due to old age. In the wild, jaguars live about 11 years, while in zoos they can live up to 22 years. Junior, at 16 years old, is well passed middle aged, and both his teeth and claws show typical signs of aging. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.
A little backstory:
When keepers noticed Junior’s tooth didn’t appear normal and that his upper right canine was partially broken, veterinary staff called on the expertise of a local veterinary dentist consultant, Allen Matson, DVM, DAVDC of Eastside Veterinary Dentistry in Woodinville, one of only a few board certified veterinary dentists in the country. Lucky for the zoo, Dr. Matson is fairly close by and generously offered to volunteer his time to take a look at Junior’s broken tooth.

Dr. Matson visited Junior behind-the-scenes for a preliminary consultation. Keepers regularly work with both jaguars in open-mouth training to facilitate oral exams so that they can visually check for any dental health concerns. In circumstances like this, Dr. Matson was able to diagnose the problem. After visually examining the tooth each time Junior snarled, lifting up his lip and exposing his gum line, Dr. Matson saw that the break was rather large and the pulp cavity of the tooth was exposed. Because of this, the tooth would have to be treated to prevent infection and painful nerve damage inside the tooth root canal. After the visual exam, an appointment was made for Dr. Matson to return to the Animal Health Complex with his veterinary assistants to attempt to repair Junior’s tooth.

The set up:
On Friday morning, Junior is called into his holding area where veterinary staff carefully inject him with an anesthetic before safely moving him to the zoo’s Animal Health facility in a specially equipped zoo ambulance. After arriving at Animal Health, Junior is quickly lifted onto a stretcher using a cargo net. It takes five or six people to safely lift the 159.5 lb. cat. As soon as he is placed on the procedure table the zoo’s veterinary technicians place the anesthesia breathing tube into his trachea and secure it with a small string around his head to ensure he is getting the proper amount of oxygen and gas anesthesia. 

Veterinary Technician, Linda Moneymaker, expertly draws a blood sample, adjusts the breathing tubes and monitors the anesthetic depth during the dental procedure. Junior’s body relaxes and,  as soon as this happens, everyone in the room jumps into action. 
Junior’s enormous paws are draped delicately over the exam table. His regal-looking spots stand out against the insulated blanket that maintains Junior’s body temperature during the procedure.  
All hands on jaguar

Dr. Darin Collins, director, Animal Health Programs at Woodland Park Zoo is orchestrating the procedure today. The team shaves off a few patches on Junior’s legs to place an indwelling catheter for intravenous fluids. A blood pressure cuff is placed on Junior’s right front paw to assist with monitoring his vitals during the anesthesia. Dr. Collins signals to veterinary tech Kim Dawson to start the blood draw and IV drip. While Kim begins the blood sample collection, volunteer veterinary tech Janna O’Conner holds Junior’s legs and forms enough pressure to assist Kim in finding the veins.

Dr. Collins listens to the heart and lungs, while closely monitoring Junior’s  level of anesthesia and watches for any signs of discomfort or agitation.
Between inoculations, blood draws and monitoring the anesthesia machine, the veterinary technicians give Junior’s back and legs some reassuring pats. Standing off to the side are Junior’s keeper, Jamie Delk and collection manager, Erin Sullivan, who will stay with Junior through today’s procedure until he is safely back in his den.
Junior receives a cozy blanket inflated with warm air to keep his body temperature at the right levels during the procedure.
Dr. Darlene DeGhetto , a volunteer veterinarian, sets up the electrocardiogram that allows the vet team to monitor Junior’s heart activity during anesthesia. Linda continues to oversee the anesthesia and throughout the almost three hour procedure she will monitor the jaguar’s vital signs. All of this safeguarding and monitoring serves a purpose, and that is to allow Dr. Matson and his veterinary assistants to work on Junior’s tooth with safety in mind for both the jaguar and the humans in the room.

Dr. Collins checks Junior’s eyes in a blink test, the last step to be sure the anesthesia has taken hold. Then he gives the go-ahead to the veterinary dentistry team. It’s time to fix that tooth.

The tooth

Dr. Matson lifts up Junior’s lip and takes a close look at the tooth while his assistants, Kim Heilbrunn and Trisha Romanosky, prepare the workspace. They wheel over a tray of instruments like you might see at your own dentist’s office; a table with many different dentistry instruments laid out, a large overhead light, a dental x-ray machine and the familiar air and water syringe. Dr. Matson begins right away on the problem tooth, first cleaning and disinfecting the area. 

There are eight veterinary staff, each performing a task, a bustling of activities coupled with the whir and beeps of the machines while quiet directives are being given which prompt the delivery of larger tools or more gauze. While most hearts might skip a beat when staring into Juniors propped open mouth, the veterinary dentists trust the anesthesia. This is all quite routine for them.

A series of x-rays are taken from different angles to get a detailed look at the fracture. Junior’s tooth is so large that the team has to try a few x-rays for the right angles. 

For the next hour and a half, Dr. Matson will work on Juniors tooth. He will file off the canal, remove the nerve and clean the canal out. The tooth itself is dead, but if Dr. Matson can replace the soft tissue inside the tooth with this inert filler substrate material, then Junior wont likely lose this large canine during a possible extraction procedure in the future.

This team of veterinary technicians are pros at working with dogs and cats, but a cat this large offers a few new challenges. Dr. Matson remarks that the largest tooth he had worked on previously was a large dog canine that measured maybe 45 millimeters long. Junior’s tooth is 70 millimeters long, so special tools and resourcefulness are key for today’s success.

That’s a wrap
Dr. Matson tells Dr. Collins that there is a little bit of persistent bleeding right at the tip of the tooth where the blood vessels come in. Since that could not be stopped today, Dr. Matson will put a dressing called calcium hydroxide in there which will cauterize the area and then he will place a temporary filling on the tooth. Then in two months Dr. Matson and his team will come back to open up and clean out the tooth. Afterwards, the dentist will use permanent material to fill up the canal just like a human root canal.

With Junior’s tooth in good shape for now, the veterinary technicians prepare the jaguar for transport back to Jaguar Cove. Kim hooks Junior up to intravenous fluids to make sure he is fully hydrated. Radio calls are made by the collection manager to alert staff at the receiving end that Junior is almost on his way home.

The lift-net is draped carefully  under Junior and then he is rolled onto his side while the net is tucked underneath him. Then, with an “on three,” command the vet staff has whisked him out the door and into the ambulance. 
After a few minutes the radio buzzes and we hear confirmation that Junior is back in his den. Keepers will keep a close eye on him as he begins to wake up. They’ll make sure he is hydrated and that his appetite returns, a healthy cue for any animal.

The veterinary dentist and his team collect their tools and unplug the special dental x-ray machine they have brought with them. I ask Dr. Matson about this experience and what makes this patient different than others. He tells me, “The thing is that this is just beautiful. You know, he’s such a beautiful animal; it’s awe-inspiring being next to him. That’s the biggest thing. I just feel privileged to be that close to him.”

Huge thanks to Dr. Allen Matson and his veterinary assistants Kim and Trisha for volunteering their time and professional expertise at the zoo. Junior may not remember their loving hands, but his tooth is already looking better! 
Special thanks to our entire team of Animal Health experts who are the absolute best at providing top-notch, excellent patient care to all of the animals here at the zoo.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Baby gorilla at two months old; curious and strong

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications
Video and photo by: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Nadiri and her baby are getting to know each other and learning new things about each other day by day. 

Here is video of our girl exploring new tactile sensations and trying out a few luscious leaves. Keeper Traci Colwell gives us a quick update on the newborn’s progress.

The baby gorilla receives attentive care by keeper and veterinary staff in a den behind the scenes of the gorilla exhibit, where Nadiri can see her baby and her baby can see her mom throughout the day, every day. “For the long-term benefits and welfare of the baby gorilla, it’s important for her to know she’s a gorilla, not a human. She never leaves the gorilla den. Here, she is exposed to her mom and can also see, hear and smell the zoo’s other gorillas,” said Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “It’s also a step toward integrating her into a family.”

Multiple times a day, the mom and baby gorilla are introduced to each other in the same den. During recent sessions, the two have lain just inches apart. “This is definitely progress. The close proximity is a good sign they’re comfortable together and getting to know each other,” said Ramirez.

An intimate view of Nadiri and baby behind the scenes in their cozy, private den. Photo by Woodland Park Zoo.

Meanwhile, the baby, currently weighing 8 pounds, continues to thrive and achieve the appropriate milestones at 2 months old. “She’s getting stronger every day and developing motor skills. Like a typical baby, she’s curious and exploring her surroundings,” said Ramirez. The baby also has cut new teeth. “Her fourth tooth just came in, so like most typical baby mammals, she has the urge to chew. She’s chewing on leaves her mom offers.” 

Getting her lips around a fresh sprig of leaves is a new experience for this tiny gorilla. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

In February, Nadiri turns 20. She, herself, was hand raised as an infant because her mother, Jumoke, experienced complications during labor and a team of human physicians were called in to assist the zoo’s veterinary staff with the delivery. Despite daily attempts to introduce Jumoke to her newborn, she didn’t show any interest in her baby. During Nadiri’s time of birth, it was customary, and acceptable with current scientific knowledge, to hand raise great apes with expert care staff in sterile nurseries.

Two decades later, as animal care and husbandry practices have evolved, gorilla infant care has shifted from a human-centric program to a gorilla-centric upbringing.

“Gorillas are intelligent animals that live in complex, social groups. Constantly being with a mom is natural for an infant gorilla. This gives the infant confidence and a sense of security. These are critical characteristics for a gorilla to live a healthy, social life with multigenerational gorillas, which is a natural grouping for the great ape,” explained Woodland Park Zoo General Curator Nancy Hawkes, who has a PhD in biology and specializes in mammal reproduction. “This is why raising a baby gorilla needs to be gorilla-centric from the start. Today, following proven, advanced practices, we are focused on making sure she is exposed around the clock to tactile, visual, auditory and olfactory stimuli by her mom and other gorillas.”

The zoo will continue its hands-on care program for the baby gorilla for approximately the next two months before evaluating next steps, and will continue mother and infant introductions as long as the sessions remain positive.

In mid-February, the zoo will reach out to the community to help name the baby gorilla. A naming contest will be announced and information will be available on the zoo’s website at www.zoo.org

Related blogs:
First time gorilla mom gives birth
Baby gorilla thrives, introduction sessions between mom and baby continue 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Borneo's elephants get a helping hand from new zoo alliance

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications
All photos courtesy of Hutan

Woodland Park Zoo, along with Oregon Zoo and Houston Zoo, announced today a new agreement with Borneo-based wildlife organizations to protect the endangered Borneo pygmy elephant.

The new partnership between Hutan and the Borneo Elephant Zoo Alliance is the first of its kind to focus on the little-known Asian elephant subspecies. Hutan’s primary area of focus is the Lower Kinabatangan flood plain in eastern Sabah, a state on the Malaysian island of Borneo. The initiative will combat the frequent and sometimes deadly conflicts between people and elephants.

Only an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Borneo elephants remain in the wild on the island of Borneo. While Borneo elephants are fully protected under the 1997 Sabah Wildlife Enactment, their survival is threatened due to deforestation—largely driven by logging and palm oil production. Oil palm plantations are often adjacent to wildlife habitat. This inevitably results in conflicts between elephants and humans, resulting in human casualties. Elephants raid crops and trample villages and, in response, farmers, villagers and plantation owners sometimes shoot, poison or poach elephants.

“When you are a local villager and you see your crop completely destroyed overnight, you will not be inspired to save the elephants,” said Dr. Marc Ancrenaz, scientific director for Borneo-based conservation organization Hutan. “Elephants need forests to survive, and people need to convert the forest into other types of land uses, such as agriculture, to survive, hence the conflict. If we can’t make peace there, extinction is inevitable.”

Woodland Park Zoo has supported Hutan since 2007. “While we no longer have elephants in our collection, we remain committed to ensuring a future for elephants, in Asia and in Africa, as well as a future for other threatened and endangered animals in their range countries,” said Dr. Fred Koontz, Woodland Park Zoo vice president of field conservation. Woodland Park Zoo also partners with a project in Africa, which focuses on protecting elephants living in the Tarangire ecosystem in northern Tanzania.

“Saving elephants is complex and human-elephant conflict is grim. The bottom line is that people are the conservation solution for elephant survival. As the world shrinks and we have to more actively manage animals in the wild, combining zoo-based and field-based resources is critical for conserving many animals,” added Koontz. “Partnering with like-minded organizations, including range country elephant experts, allows us to leverage our resources and come up with long-term conservation solutions that would not be possible by an organization working alone.”

The activities of the Hutan and Borneo Elephant Zoo Alliance partnership will include focusing on elephant migration patterns; supporting locally-based teams to reduce human-elephant conflict in Kinabatangan; reducing illegal killing by supporting a team of Honorary Wildlife Wardens in charge of law enforcement; involving local communities in the management of their natural resources and in the conservation of their wildlife resources through capacity building and awareness campaigns; and improving policy framework for elephant population management. The work will be carried out by the Sabah Wildlife Department and conservation organizations Hutan and Danau Girang Field Centre.

“The health of the forest is in many ways connected to healthy elephant populations,” said Peter Riger, vice president of conservation at the Houston Zoo, which has supported Borneo conservation programming since 2004. “Their need for protected areas and migration corridors literally protects hundreds of species, including amphibians, insects, mammals, birds and many others. In turn, the health of the landscape supports human communities in their livelihoods.”

The first line of defense in human-elephant conflict is largely a hardware approach. Installing electric fences and training communities to peacefully repel marauding pachyderms are two such tactics. But according to Ancrenaz, elephant-proofing only works in tandem with viable travel alternatives for elephants, such as corridors along waterways. That takes money, but also a detailed understanding of elephant migration patterns, land-use planning and backing from the government—all part of the project’s strategy.

“This is the first step in a long-term, multi-zoo commitment to protecting Borneo’s wildlife and ecosystems,” said Oregon Zoo conservation and research manager Dr. Nadja Wielebnowski. “We hope this model will both strengthen Malaysia’s resolve to protect wildlife and inspire more conservation organizations to lend their support.”

Houston, Oregon, and Woodland Park Zoos are accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). AZA-accredited zoos are well positioned to help advance conservation efforts. From 2010 to 2013, AZA institutions provided nearly $4.3 million to Asian and African elephant conservation efforts.

“Not everyone can afford to travel to Asia, Africa or other exotic places to experience animals in the wild,” said Koontz. “Seeing, hearing, and experiencing animals in AZA zoos can help visitors make a special connection with wildlife and inspire them to take meaningful action to help preserve them. Together, with our field conservation partners, we can help save wildlife and their wild places.”

The Borneo Elephant Zoo Alliance will contribute a minimum of $100,000 each year for the next three years and you can help the Alliance’s efforts.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hawk Walk: Raptor Flight Practice

By Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, unless otherwise noted

If you’ve visited the zoo during our Raptor Flight Program, you’ve seen our raptors demonstrate their skillful aerial maneuvers. Experts at flying over the crowd and returning safely to their trainer’s glove, the raptors are used to the oohs and ahhs of a large audience in the flight yard. These birds know the subtle signals of their flight trainers and are practiced at staying on task, even when the peskiest neighborhood crows taunt them from the treetops.

Lola gracefully glides between the trees, perfectly suited for quick maneuvering. 

As proficient as these raptors are, once in a while keepers put them to the test and try out fresh scenarios. This allows the birds to learn new skills as well as strengthen their instinct to return to their handlers during the free flights. By introducing new terrain, keepers have a good idea of how tuned in the birds are.

A quiet Friday afternoon with clear skies and a slight chill in the air makes for perfect test flight conditions. Winter is a great time for testing our raptor flight loops, since guest traffic on the paths is quite minimal during the low season. Keepers can focus on the birds while a few lucky zoo goers can watch without interfering in the training.

We shadowed raptor keepers Gretchen Albrecht and Susan Burchardt last Friday as they “walked” the birds.

Turkey vulture, Modoc, patrols the path just outside the Raptor Barn. Lookin' good, Mo! Keeper, Gretchen Albrecht, and volunteer,  Dan, watch patiently as the oldest member of the Raptor Center stretches his legs.

First up was our turkey vulture, Modoc, who did literally walk alongside his keepers. Leaving the raptor barn, Modoc took a leisurely stroll up the main loop path towards the Northern Trail. Mo is the oldest member of the Raptor Center’s educational team. He will be 30 years old in April! He is an ambassador for all vultures around the world, so he has an important job. While Mo was gently persuaded by bites of tasty meat bits, he waddled in line with his keepers and mostly ignored any passersby, although he did give our camera a special look. Although this time he stuck to a stroll, Mo can be seen flying, circling and showing off his signature recycling behavior as part of the Raptor Flight Program.

Next up was Lola, our beautiful Aplomado falcon. This species ranges from Northern Mexico to South America and are skilled aerial hunters. These birds are wicked fast; they often prey on smaller birds so their pursuit flight skills must be spot on. Lola has been training with her keepers at Woodland Park Zoo since 2011 and together they have mastered some amazing flight maneuvers. On this walk, Lola was asked to fly between two trees from one keeper to another. 

Lola glides through the narrow opening of two conjoined trees near the raptor yard. Of course, it was much easier for her than for our photographer, who had to time his shutter at exactly the right moment. Lucky for us, our photographer is pretty skilled too!

Lola also practices some of her signature dive attacks. One keeper calls Lola to the back of the flight
yard while the other keeper tosses a small bit of meat into the air. This way Lola has to dive to catch the treat. It all happens so fast and gracefully that it’s hard to imagine any creature being able to outmaneuver her.

Throughout Lola’s flight training it is clear she is focused on her keepers. Both Susan and Gretchen are privy to a gentle high-pitched screech. Lola is quite vocal and this screech is a sign of affection as well as a cue that means she wouldn’t mind a few more treats. Susan explains that Lola really benefits from this one-on-one keeper training. She is very reward-oriented and enjoys the flight challenges keepers present to her.  

Lola is a very polite bird, waiting patiently for a few treats while her keepers keep an eye on how she interacts with new people. 

Since this walk around the zoo is new to Lola, she is especially attentive to where her keepers are at all times. As Gretchen and Susan stroll south along the main loop path to the lion statue, Lola flits and darts along signage and overhead branches, always just a short flight away. We stop at a bench, so Lola can practice eating out of a hand other than her keepers’. This encourages her ease around new people, all part of establishing boundaries and assessing recall measurement (returning to keepers no matter who is holding the treats). As Lola gently takes the last piece of liver out of my hand she is called to navigate “home,” which means her keepers glove.

Lola is a very well-trained bird, and eager to work with her trainers. She nailed each prompt she was given, a testament to the hard work and dedication of the raptor keepers.

With Lola back in the raptor yard, keepers introduced us to Gunner, a commanding male red-tailed hawk.

Gunnar takes a break from flight school. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Gunnar first performs a sort of low swooping flight over the raptor fence. As Susan stands in the center of the flight yard, Gretchen sets up a temporary perch out on the main loop path, a short distance from the perimeter of the flight yard. Gretchen calls Gunnar and he launches off Susan’s glove, dips low and then sort of rises up just enough to clear the fence, landing with a swoosh of air onto the saddle perch. Gunnar is a large bird, and his wingspan looks enormous as he comes in for landing.

After a few test flights to the perch, Susan calls Gunnar to come play with his squirrel lure line. Lures are an important part of training a raptor to safely free fly. The lure usually represents the raptor’s natural prey. Susan explains that, “flying to a lure is a lot more fun than flying to a trainer’s glove so a lure is often used when a raptor has gone off course and is perched in an unfamiliar location where it may be uncomfortable.” Gunnar is having no problem returning to his keepers today though. He is so devoted to Susan that when she tries to lure him to the squirrel toy he swoops down and lands on her glove for a little rest, then promptly hops down onto the squirrel. Not quite the ferocious hawk attack she was going for, but he receives a treat for participation.

Susan and Cisco scope out the main loop path.

The last hawk to take a “walk” is our Harris's hawk, Cisco. Cisco likes to fly further from the keepers than the first couple of birds. He flies higher overhead and tends to perch on large branches where he can get a good view of the entire space. Gretchen and Susan walk south together on the outer loop path and Cisco lets them get all the way past the Adaptations Building before he catches up by soaring through the treetops. It may not look like it, but Cisco is very much following their lead. As Susan reaches an open space she holds her glove up and Cisco swoops down onto her arm, a perfect landing. 

Cisco zooming between trees while flying from one keeper's glove to the other's.

From here, Susan and Gretchen take turns passing Cisco from arm to arm. He is focused, but does make a quick stop at a nearby branch to check out some crows. When Susan sees this, she knows it’s time for the lure, and out comes the squirrel toy. Instinctively, Cisco jets away from the trees and onto the lawn where he grabs the lure. “Good job, buddy” says Susan. She lets him wrestle the lure for a moment before trading it in for a treat.

Proudly displaying the squirrel lure he's caught, Cisco looks to his keepers for his next move.

The hawk walkers then head back to the Raptor Center with Cisco flying overhead. A few visitors stop to watch him soar above them, a special view for those who happen to be at the zoo on a winter afternoon.

Art can really give you a new perspective; Cisco scopes out the zoo from atop the lion statue. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What's new at the zoo in 2016

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

A new exhibit for North American butterflies and a stage for up-close experiences with animals such as skunks and pot-bellied pigs are among the new features coming to Woodland Park Zoo in 2016.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The butterflies and new ambassador animals will highlight a previously underused area of the zoo near the popular Zoomazium. The new outdoor stage is expected to be a real highlight for zoo guests who want to get up close and personal with these animals. In addition—to mark its 10th anniversary—Zoomazium will see a refreshment of its programming and technology.

Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Right next door will be the new Butterfly Garden, a completely new exhibit to replace one closed during the 2009 recession. Zoo guests will enter a covered area, stroll among free-flying butterflies, and explore the various habitats of North American butterfly species while learning about the biology, behavior, and threats facing these beautiful winged insects and other pollinators.

Photo: Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo.

“These two new experiences, along with new programming in Zoomazium, will activate an exciting and interesting new area of the zoo,” said Bruce Bohmke, Woodland Park Zoo acting president and CEO.

“We are still finalizing the selection of animals for this new ambassador animals program,” Bohmke said, “but whether it’s a raccoon, a skunk, or a laughing kookaburra, we think visitors of all ages will be fascinated encountering these small animals up close.”

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zoo staff are eager to bring these new programs to the community for 2016 to build on what has been a very successful 2015.

With its new Banyan Wilds exhibit showcasing tigers and sloth bears, and a very successful WildLights festival, the zoo in 2015 set an attendance record of 1.3 million guests. It was the third consecutive year of record-breaking attendance at the zoo.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Of those attending the zoo this past year, 92% visited the new Banyan Wilds exhibit. The $15 million exhibit—which renovated the heart of the zoo and removed the last of any iron-barred enclosures—took guests into the fragile world of Malayan tigers and sloth bears. Not only can visitors experience these giant animals up close, and talk with zookeepers about how they work with tigers, but the interactive exhibit also shows actions that individuals in Seattle can take to help save animals in the wild. New interactive materials in Banyan Wilds in 2016 will invite zoo guests to sign up for the zoo’s Tiger Team and receive periodic updates on these highly endangered cats and how to help save the 3,200 tigers remaining in the wild.

“Thanks to the community’s support, 2015 was a banner year for Woodland Park Zoo. Connecting the hearts and minds of more than one million visitors a year to the wonders of nature gives us hope that we, collectively, can take meaningful action to help ensure a brighter future for our planet for all living things,” said Bohmke. “The exciting, up-close experiences planned for this year are sure to be crowd pleasers.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

From hunting reserve to wildlife sanctuary

Posted by: Snow Leopard Trust, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife

Editor's Note: Woodland Park Zoo is excited to share this latest news from our Partner for Wildlife, the Snow Leopard Trust. The Trust’s work in Kyrgyzstan is in collaboration with Woodland Park Zoo and we are very proud of our Field Conservation Associate, Kubanych Jumaby, for his innovative leadership.

The following is adapted from an article originally published on the Snow Leopard Trust Blog...

The Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz Department of Hunting and Natural Resource Management are piloting a new, innovative conservation program: they are turning a hunting concession, where ibex were commercially hunted, into a co-managed nature reserve.

The 100 square mile former concession area, Shamshy, in Kyrgyzstan’s northern Tian Shan mountains, is home to ibex, and seasonal populations of argali and wolves. It lies within a large snow leopard landscape, and has the potential to become a key part of the home ranges of several of these endangered cats if its wild ungulate population could be increased.

Ibex are a key snow leopard prey species. In Shamshy, they can thrive undisturbed in the future (photo: K. McCarthy).

Shamshy’s ibex used to be hunted commercially—but now, they will be allowed to thrive and recover undisturbed, as hunting will no longer be allowed. This comes as part of a pilot project that aims to turn the former hunting concession into a new type of reserve, co-managed by the government, conservation NGOs, and local people.

“With proper protection and management, the area’s ibex population could double or even triple in the next 10 years, so it could become an important feeding ground for the local snow leopard population,” says Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director.

The new wildlife sanctuary has the potential to become an important snow leopard feeding ground (photo: SLF Kyrgyzstan)

An Idea Born Out of the Trophy Hunting Debate

Commercial big game hunting, often referred to as trophy hunting, is a revenue source for many countries around the world, and a hotly debated topic in conservation circles. Advocates of trophy hunting say that selling licenses to hunt big game generates funds, which can be used for conservation projects, while opponents fear that it adds to the pressure many species are already under, and also question the ethics of the practice.

The idea of turning a former hunting concession into a nature reserve was born out of this debate.

Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director.

“In a hunting concession, the company that leases and manages the area would have the exclusive right to sell a stipulated number of licenses given out by the hunting department to shoot argali or ibex to any interested party—and they’d have the right to protect their interests e.g. by employing rangers. In our case, we’ll have similar rights, but we won’t sell any hunting licenses, and we’ll have rangers patrolling the area to make sure that there’s no hunting at all. We will also work with local people in the surrounding region, initiate community-based programs that they can benefit from, and strengthen their support for conservation,” Charu Mishra says.

The area will be used for research, education and limited ecotourism—camera trap population surveys of snow leopards, and distribution and abundance surveys of ibex and other species; and also law enforcement trainings for park rangers, and possibly nature camps for local children are slated for the coming years.

This new, innovative approach is made possible by a partnership between the Snow Leopard Trust, Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan, and the Department of Hunting and Natural Resource Management under the State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry of the Kyrgyz Republic, which issues hunting concessions and licenses in the Central Asian country.

“More Forests, Stronger Health, Longer Life” – a sign at the entrance to the former hunting concession raises awareness for nature conservation.

“It is our duty to manage the natural resources of the Kyrgyz Republic sustainably,” says Musaef Almaz, the Department of Hunting and Natural Resource Management’s Director. “This means finding a healthy balance between hunting and conservation. We believe that this innovative idea of co-managing some of our concessions with partners such as the Snow Leopard Trust and the local people has a lot of potential.”

More Reserves Could Be Added in the Future

For this pilot, the Hunting Department has forfeited the cost of the hunting licenses that could have been sold in this area, had it been rented out to a commercial outfit. All partners will share expertise, the cost of training, equipment and salaries for the rangers, as well as any other costs that arise from the co-management of the area.

Shamshy is an ideal spot for the pilot. It offers natural features that make it a good habitat for a wide range of species. “Shamshy has a bit of everything—the terrain gradually changes from lush meadows and thick forests along a crystal clear stream to grassland, and finally to steep, rocky peaks covered in glaciers,” says Kuban Jumabai uulu, the Director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan.

A small mountain paradise, and a future snow leopard stronghold!

While the area is fairly easy to access by road, there are only two conceivable entry points into the reserve, it’s feasible to monitor and patrol the area with a small team of rangers drawn from the local communities around.

“Local people are crucial partners for any conservation initiative,” Kuban Jumabai uulu says, “they will retain their right to graze their animals in Shamshy, albeit in an informed and systematically managed way.”

Kuban Jumabay uulu (left), the director of SLF Kyrgzystan, and Emil, a local ranger employed to patrol Shamshy

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this approach,” says Musaef Almaz. “If it works as well as we expect, we will expand it to other hunting concession areas in the future together.”

Charu Mishra agrees: “This pilot can be a great start to a promising new conservation approach that could really make a difference for Kyrgyzstan’s wildlife.”

This project has support from: Woodland Park Zoo and Partnership Funding by Fondation Segre, managed by Whitley Fund for Nature.

More information:
Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan
Leading the fight for the future of the endangered snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Foundation partners with international organizations such as the Snow Leopard Trust to better understand and protect this cat in this key range country.

The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Seattle, WA, is a world leader in conservation of the endangered snow leopard, conducting pioneering research and partnering with communities as well as authorities in snow leopard habitat to protect the cat.

Monday, January 4, 2016

First video of baby gorilla: cure for the midday blues

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

In the first video of our baby gorilla, the now 6-week-old little girl gets a quick veterinary check up from Woodland Park Zoo Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins.

She's looking great, doing well, and with a healthy appetite, she now weighs in at 7 pounds.

As she grows, her little leg muscles are starting to develop and that means baby has now hit another milestone: she's starting to crawl! She can only cover short distances, but with the way she now holds her head steady and is starting to really take in her surroundings, she'll be an explorer soon.

The infant continues to receive round-the-clock care from zookeepers. Several times a day the keepers provide opportunities for first-time mom Nadiri and her baby to interact. During these patient introductions, Nadiri is given the choice to be with her baby and the introductions have remained positive.

In the coming weeks, we'll be looking to you all to help give our beautiful baby a name fitting her personality and special story. Look for details coming soon.