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Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap frogs for Leap Day!

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Video and photos by: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Every four years, Leap Day occurs on the 29th of February to round out our Gregorian calendars. With 6 extra hours accumulating each year, Leap Day serves as an “extra” day to make up for our not-exactly-even trips around the sun. 

To help fill your 24 leaping hours, we bring you a closer look at the anatomy of a leap. With a little help from some very special creatures, a slow motion camera and a lot of patience (have you ever tried directing a frog?) here is a closer look at what it takes to leap.

A frog’s leap can make the difference in its survival, the difference in becoming prey or catching prey. With a myriad of potential predators, including birds, fox, cats, snakes and people, as well as a host of elusive prey such as crickets, spiders, worms and fish—it’s no wonder frogs have mastered the art of a fast leap.

Whether in an attempt to elude a predator or catch a bite, frogs rely on their long legs and super-ability to launch themselves into the air. Some species can jump up to 50 times their body length. In comparison, a person with this ability would be able to leap across a football field without a running start.

Waxy monkey frog. Frogs typically shut their eyes right before they leap. This protects their eyes during the jump. Their back feet stay on the ground as long as possible to maximize the push-off.

Waxy monkey frog. The longer their legs stretch out during the leap, the more power is directed into the elastic tendons. At the same time, their front legs fold in towards their belly.

Depending on the species’ diet and environment, their jump may be more or less extreme. Although still impressive, a bullfrog might only jump 10 times its body length, while some species of tree frogs have been recorded jumping at 50 times their length. Toads and burrowing frogs rely less on jumping and instead camouflage themselves in mud or water. Similarly, a tree frog might jump really high vertically, but an aquatic frog will jump farther in length. 

Solomon Island leaf frog, Ceratobatrachus guentheri.

While not all frogs or toads jump, those that do can thank their tendons for their leaping ability. The secret to a proper leap is in the wind up. A frog’s long legs and powerful muscles are helpful, but the trick to leaping is hidden in elastic storage. When its leg muscles contract, the frog’s tendon is pulled tight much like when a rubber band is pulled tight between your fingers. When the tension is released, a trigger of energy is created. When a frog is crouching in its normal position, the energy is being stored, but when it shifts into a straight leg pose, the frog is catapulted forward as the tension is released.

Like a spring coiled and ready for release, a frog’s muscles transfer energy into their tendons right before they jump, which allows them to jump far higher than muscles alone. Of course, this all happens in less than a fifth of a second, sometimes faster, so seeing this movement without the help of a slow-motion camera would be difficult.

Denny's (or Chinese) flying frog. Leap Day has long been linked to folklore and superstition. Some considered it lucky and others avoided the day.

If you’d like to experience your own human elastic storage, try throwing a baseball overhand. Your ability to rapidly release your shoulder is using the same mechanics as a frog’s leaping legs.

Giant leaf frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor.

Giant leaf frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor.

Happy birthday to all the leaplings out there and here’s to a lucky Leap Day!

False tomato frog, Dyscophus guineti

For a closer look at leaping, visit the Day Exhibit or the Tropical Rain Forest for a chance to study this awesome amphibian adaptation for yourself. Frogs are beautiful, but unfortunately they are part of the most endangered group of land animals in the world—amphibians. Visit today and learn how you can help protect amphibians and their habitat from pollution, invasive species and infectious diseases. Each visit to the zoo helps to support our work with amphibian conservation in Madagascar and with other researchers around the world

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Growing up gorilla

Posted by: Stephanie Payne-Jacobs, Zookeeper

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

While the experience of providing hands-on care for a baby gorilla is unique and rewarding, it’s with mixed emotions that keepers and Animal Health staff have taken on this responsibility. The ultimate goal of our current long hours and intense focus is to see the baby integrated into her true gorilla family.

Until then, raising Nadiri’s baby in close proximity to her family reminds us that our biggest priority is to raise her as a gorilla, and to instill in her an understanding that she is indeed one of the amazing gorillas that she sees, smells and hears throughout the day.

In this update, I’d like to provide a glimpse into the progress we are making toward that goal in our work behind the scenes.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Over the three months since giving birth, Nadiri continues to develop a relationship with her baby, which evolves as the baby goes through weekly developmental changes. Keepers are fostering this relationship via the three daily visits between Nadiri and her baby, which began shortly after she was born.

These visits occur first thing in the morning, midday—before Nadiri’s group goes out onto exhibit—and at the end of the day when they come inside, and can often last up to two hours. The more lengthy visits are typically at the beginning and end of the day, with the midday visit averaging around 20 minutes.

Before each visit, Nadiri is asked to walk away from her group mates, female Akenji and silverback Leo, and into a separate area with her baby in order to give them some time alone, away from the cares and concerns of group dynamics. Keepers are able to access both Nadiri and baby through the mesh for feedings, rewards and occasional repositioning of the baby, though that is rarely necessary now that her core strength allows her to sit upright on her own. While these visits have not yet led Nadiri to pick her baby up and have that maternal behavior kick-in, which was the original objective, they have led to a very positive connection between mother and baby. That connection will continue to grow once the baby is mobile and independent enough to be with her group full-time.

A keeper snapped this gentle moment between mom Nadiri and her baby behind the scenes. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

During the visits, Nadiri will frequently spend a good deal of time lying or sitting by the baby, touching her and gently investigating her hands, face and ears. The baby is also reaching out to Nadiri, holding onto Nadiri’s arms, fingers, and touching her face. The baby is also becoming more aware of the solid foods that Nadiri is offered during these visits and will often have her face pressed against her mom’s as Nadiri is eating something enticing. This is when the baby is exposed to the food that she will also be eating one day soon, as pieces of kale, romaine, celery and just about anything else in Nadiri’s diet is often dropped  within the baby’s reach. She has yet to do more than mouth solid foods at this point, but that doesn’t keep her curious nature from reaching out for these different items.

Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Once the visits are over, Nadiri is reunited with her group and the baby rejoins her human caretaker. During the time that Leo’s group is on exhibit, which is currently every afternoon for several hours, the baby is further familiarized with her future indoor bedrooms, climbing structures and hammocks. She is also brought outside to an off-view area in order to experience different weather patterns, temperatures and substrates.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Since the baby’s area is adjacent to the gorilla group, separated only by a mesh partition, she is consistently exposed to the play, disagreements, movements and subtle communications of her future family. Though the baby has yet to join her group full-time, her constant presence has already had a positive influence on her family’s group dynamics. Since her birth in November, there has been a steady increase in the already generous amount of play sessions and positive vocalizations between Leo, Akenji and Nadiri.

Silverback Leonel. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

For their part, Leo and Akenji have both shown their own interest in the baby. Leo often watches the baby and will occationally content-vocalize towards her. Akenji initially exhibited a bit of jealousy towards all the attention the baby was receiving, so we now make a point to engage Akenji  in more activities during these visits, if she’s  not already playing with Leo. She’s slowly coming around to sharing the spotlight with her little half-niece.

Akenji. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

While Leo will be the baby’s primary silverback, keepers are also making sure that she is familiar with her father, Vip, as well. Vip has had visual access to the baby since the day after her birth, as Nadiri’s daily visits with Vip were stopped only briefly, on the day of her labor. Similar to Leo, Vip has shown subtle interest in his latest offspring, looking in her direction and reaching out to gently touch her.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

As the baby gets stronger and more independent, the goal of her becoming a full-time member of Leo’s group gets closer and closer. We all look forward to that day, not only for her, but for the gorilla and human families that await her arrival.


Editor's Note: You have the chance to be part of this baby gorilla's story. She needs a name, and we need your help! Enter the naming contest online now for your chance to win a special zoo prize package. Ends February 29.

Enter the contest online now!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Please take our exhibit survey

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

We’re asking for your thoughts about the zoo’s next major exhibit project. Will you take a few minutes to complete our survey?

Woodland Park Zoo is redeveloping a 3.4-acre area of its Tropical Asia zone formerly occupied by the Elephant Forest exhibit. This large space allows us to explore exhibit ideas that could include a diverse range of Asian wildlife species. Your input will help guide the process as we identify new conservation ambassador species for the zoo and dynamic experiences that will connect you with these animals and the threats they face in the wild.

As stewards of the zoo, we’re working hard to fulfill the zoo’s Long Range Physical Development Plan and renovate and update older areas of the zoo for you and our community at large. Last year, we opened Banyan Wilds with new exhibits for Malayan tigers and sloth bears. This year, we’re bringing back butterflies in a new exhibit near Zoomazium. We’re also very pleased about reopening the Night Exhibit in 2018.

How to Participate
Join us for a dialogue about this Tropical Asia exhibit project during an Open House on Tuesday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the zoo's Education Center or take our online survey now. The survey will take approximately 10-12 minutes to complete.

Over the next two months, we’ll be heading out into community centers and meetings of community groups around the region to learn as much as we can about how we can make our next major project a point of pride for our region. You can help us further our reach by sharing the survey with your friends and family.

Thanks to your support, we are able to continue to evolve as your zoo, provide new and inspiring experiences, and help save endangered species in their home countries around the world. Please accept my gratitude for your help with this important next step for Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Quiz: Are you an expert on the nature of love?

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

All you smitten kittens, it's time to test how wild at heart you really are. We challenge you to take our new ‎Valentine's Day‬ quiz to see how well you understand the nature of love.

Then join us for an early Valentine's Day celebration on Sat., Feb. 13 when it's time for bouquets, sweet treats and ruby red delights for the animals as keepers hand out valentines to our wild bunch.

Take the quiz now>>

Monday, February 8, 2016

Bring in the New Year Monkey-Style

Posted by: Kristin Quirk, Education

Today marks the beginning of Chinese or Lunar New Year and 2016 is the Year of the Monkey. What better place to celebrate than Woodland Park Zoo? We’ll be celebrating with holiday and primate-themed activities in Zoomazium and the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit now through Sunday, February 14.

Monkeys, like this golden lion tamarin, are at home in the trees and make walking on thin branches up high look easy. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Those born in the Year of the Monkey are said to be smart, energetic, happy, curious and enthusiastic. They are also known for having a great memory, being self-confident and good at puzzles. Curious about your Chinese zodiac sign or what an ang pow is? Pop into Zoomazium this week for Chinese New Year inspired crafts, activities and fun.

Now, all monkeys are primates but not all primates are monkeys. So, what is the difference between a monkey and an ape, and what exactly is a lemur? Join us for a daily primate tour of the Tropical Rain Forest through Sunday to find out. We’ll depart from Zoomazium at 1:30 p.m. each day and pick up additional tour members at the great kapok tree that marks the entrance to the Tropical Rain Forest near Jaguar Cove.

Primates observe the world around them, learning skills as they watch family members perform tasks. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Are you playful like a golden lion tamarin, vocal like a siamang, protective like a silverback gorilla or intelligent like an orangutan? With immersive exhibits that encourage leaping lemurs and swinging siamangs and creative enrichment that sparks orangutans’ clever brains, the primate care at Woodland Park Zoo brings out the natural instincts of these amazing primates.

Taking a quick rest before jumping back into action, the ring-tailed lemurs are very playful and a joy to watch. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Our primate care extends beyond zoo walls, too. Woodland Park Zoo works throughout the world with projects in the countries where these animals live in the wild. The zoo’s work with collaborators around the globe is making a more sustainable world for people, wildlife and the landscapes we share.

The western lowlands gorilla is endangered and the simple task of recycling your small electronics can help gorillas in the wild. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

From Africa to Malaysia, Woodland Park Zoo’s mission to inspire people to learn, care and act strives to connect people to these wild animals so together we can keep species like gorillas, orangutans and colobus monkeys thriving in the wild. Learn more about our Wildlife Survival Fund projects and Partners for Wildlife projects committed to primate conservation.

What we buy matters to orangutans living in Malaysia and Indonesia where 85% of palm oil is grown. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

These regions have some of the most unique and rare wildlife that needs protection desperately. Always a favorite animal at the zoo, hours can be spent watching these marvelous primates. Learn how you can get involved and help primates in the wild.

Have a lucky and happy 2016 and remember to think monkey!

Primates are incredibly social, creating strong family bonds just like humans! Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

How would a middle schooler design anti-poaching solutions? ZooCrew students offer fresh conservation perspectives

Posted by: Caitlin Potter, Education

For young minds, learning doesn’t stop when the school bell rings and subjects like biology and engineering can really come to life in hands-on experiences beyond the classroom. The projects and advisors behind ZooCrew, our after-school program serving middle school age students through schools and community centers, give students early and positive exposure to how STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can improve their world, like in our most recent quarter that tackled a pressing conservation issue: poaching.

For 8 weeks last fall, ZooCrew students at three Seattle middle schools, Asa Mercer International, Washington and Denny International, studied the African savanna. In addition to playing educational games, meeting live animals and learning about careers in science, ZooCrew students delved into the topic of poaching. We learned about this complex issue by exploring the different perspectives of people involved in poaching, from the poachers themselves to middlemen, government officials, police and conservationists, all the way to consumers in Washington state and elsewhere.

After learning about these many different viewpoints, the students took action to help endangered animals by working on a variety of projects:

WildCam Gorongosa and Chimp & See

One of our projects this quarter was contributing to two app-based citizen science initiatives based in Africa. With WildCam Gorongosa, students helped scientists working in Mozambique identify and categorize photos from camera traps. In Chimp & See, students identified animals and analyzed their behavior on remote video cameras. In both projects, participants learned about the wide variety of animals living on the savanna, many of which are threatened by poaching, and became experts at identifying them from remotely-triggered cameras. They created posters, dioramas and conservation messaging about their projects, and taught zoo staff and guests about the importance of camera traps and scientists in the fight against poaching. Both these apps are free to the public to use, and the scientists behind them greatly appreciate your participation! Take a page out of the ZooCrew book and help out!

Engineering for Conservation

A second project this quarter challenged ZooCrew students to identify an aspect of poaching that could be addressed with an innovative design project. Students at all three schools took this task to heart, and designed and constructed some impressive final projects! One group was interested in the illegal pet trade, and after meeting a live Egyptian tortoise, created a “robo-tortoise” complete with habitat and facts about why a robotic tortoise pet is a better choice than a wild-caught one. Two other groups were inspired by a presentation from Pembient’s Matthew Markus. One group designed a synthetic rhino horn substitute, and the other created a faux-leopard glove and scarf set to combat the demand for leopard pelts. A final group created a prototype of a video game that educates consumers about the dangers of poaching from the perspective of various African savanna animals dodging obstacles in the savanna. All in all, zoo staff and visitors were inspired by the students’ inventive and creative designs!

Conservation Art

ZooCrew students also learned about the power of art for conservation advocacy. They got in touch with their creative side by creating special edition trading cards and poaching artwork for the upcoming Spring Safari: African Wildlife Conservation Day at the zoo, advocating for elephants and endangered tortoises through sculptures and drawings, educating their peers about poaching with a Powerpoint presentation, and even creating a collage of ivory products in the shape of an elephant to teach consumers about where their trinkets come from. Please join us at the zoo on April 16 to see some of their fabulous conservation art in person!

Green Seattle Day Restoration Field Trip

Another highlight of the quarter was ZooCrew’s participation in a Green Seattle Day restoration event at Cheasty Greenspace. ZooCrew students and their families came together on a rainy Saturday to help community members restore their neighborhood park by planting trees, mulching, and pulling out invasive ivy and blackberry. As you can see from the photos, everyone had a great time despite the weather!

Zoo Field Trip 

We closed our exciting, action-packed quarter with a special outing to the zoo. Despite the chilly, rainy weather, the students had a great time playing games, exploring zoo grounds on a huge scavenger hunt, and presenting their projects to other ZooCrew students, their families, school staff, ZooCorps and zoo staff. They even got to meet African savanna zookeepers and wildlife up close and personal!

All of us here at ZooCrew would like to extend a big THANK YOU to our wonderful ZooCrew students for all of your hard work this quarter. We are so proud of you and what you accomplished! A special thanks also goes out to our community partners, ZooCorps volunteers and interns, and the zoo staff who help make this program possible every quarter. We are looking forward to another great ZooCrew term, this time studying climate change and the animals of the Northwest!