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Thursday, July 28, 2016

5 days in Malaysia: making tiger conservation real

Posted by: Fred W. Koontz, PhD, Vice President of Field Conservation
Photos by: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo except where noted

Taman Negara National Park.

Each year, I travel to Malaysia to meet with colleagues working on Malayan tiger conservation. These trips are essential for good partner communications and ensuring the zoo’s field support is effectively placed. But my most recent visit in June was something quite different. This time, I traveled to Malaysia with 13 of the nation's top tiger zookeepers in tow, including those from National Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, San Francisco Zoo and Zoo Miami, to name just a few.

The group included Woodland Park Zoo tiger keeper, Christine Anne, who had been eagerly preparing for this trip for what seemed like a long time. Christine knew this was an opportunity to see tiger habitat, learn about threats to their survival, discuss conservation solutions with tiger experts and meet local people sharing land with big cats. Equally important, this trip would make Christine an even more informed tiger expert, and give her firsthand knowledge to share with visitors to the zoo’s Banyan Wilds exhibit.

Also joining the expedition was zoo photographer, Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren. I was delighted to be camera-free for once and see the forest beyond my Nikon’s viewfinder! Jeremy’s photos enhance this article, and keep an eye out for his upcoming videos featuring interviews with our partner biologists and rangers.

Woodland Park Zoo Tiger Keeper Christine Anne.

WPZ photographer Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren (left) recording interviews with tiger biologists. Photo: Fred Koontz/WPZ.

Tiger Team members, along with visitors to our Banyan Wilds exhibit, have learned previously of Woodland Park Zoo’s and Panthera’s technical and financial support of the Malaysian non-profit Rimba. But most of our big cat fans are not aware that the zoo also supports MYCAT (the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers) through our Wildlife Survival Fund. MYCAT is an alliance of the Malaysian Nature Society, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Program and WWF-Malaysia, supported by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia for joint implementation of the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan for Malaysia. 

One of MYCAT’s key citizen conservation activities is known as a Cat Walk. A Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) Walk is an anti-poaching, anti-deforestation surveillance walk conducted by volunteers. The walks are guided treks through the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor, a priority biodiversity area adjacent to Taman Negara National Park. Cat Walkers participate in tiger conservation activities by exploring the forest, reporting signs of illegal activity, disarming snares and checking camera traps to monitor the presence of wildlife. These walks and other MYCAT citizen conservation efforts are empowering members of the public to help save forest habitat and Malayan tigers, whose wild population—found only in Peninsular Malaysia—is about 300. 

Understanding the importance of well-informed educators all over the world, MYCAT created a special Cat Walk for tiger keepers and zoo docents called Realm of the Tiger. Our spirited bunch was only the second ever set of Realm Cat Walkers, preceded by a group of keepers from Singapore Zoo.

Meropoh, Malaysia, our expedition base.

After long flights from the states, our group gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. After a day of city sightseeing (including, of course, a visit to the National Zoo to see a tiger up close), we set off with our MYCAT guides for the 4-hour van ride to the village of Meropoh, our expedition base near the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor and west entrance of Taman Negara National Park. From here we set off for five days exploring and protecting the Park and Tiger Corridor.

Tiger expert and MYCAT General Manager Dr. Kae Kawanishi served as our expedition leader. She was assisted by field biologists Ashleigh Seow and Suzalinur Manja Bidin. 

Kae is a tiger conservation hero. For her PhD research at University of Florida, she conducted the first major Malayan tiger ecology and population study in Taman Negara in 1998. She has gone on to play a leadership role in drafting and implementing Malaysia’s tiger conservation strategy. After a few days in the rugged and steeply-hilled Taman Negara, we were in awe of her endurance and optimism.

Dr. Kae Kawanishi always at home in tiger forest!

Each day, our group set out to walk the forest, looking for signs of tigers, other wildlife and poacher activity. Cat Walkers provide volunteer “boots and eyes” on the ground. Taman Negara is a million acres (the same size of Washington’s Olympic National Park); the government cannot afford to hire the ideal number of professional rangers for the Park and Tiger Corridor. So, as MYCAT likes to say, with Cat Walks, everyone can participate in active wildlife conservation. 

Not one snare was found in our five days trekking! Kae explained that because of regular Cat Walks over the past five years, there are fewer poachers in the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor now. More signs of large mammals are even reappearing! If we had found snares or other signs of illegal activity, MYCAT would have reported the find to local law enforcement for investigation.

Christine and the trekkers had the opportunity to set up and retrieve images from camera traps, devices essential to discovering and monitoring tigers in dense tropical forests where scientists rarely see live tigers or most mammals.  After all her years spent in the forest, even Kae has never seen a wild Malayan tiger!

Zoo keepers serving as volunteer observers searching for illegal activity.

Christine sets a camera trap in hopes of detecting a wild tiger.

No tigers detected on our trip, but here is an example from the same trail I walked! Photo: MYCAT

While hiking in the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor, we were impressed to see areas of elevated highways that serve as safe passages for wildlife moving from the Park to nearby forest reserves.  

Sadly, we also came across cut forests, chopped and burned to the ground without necessary permits to make room for agriculture. It was sobering as we stood among the dead stumps of what once were the trees of a lush and life-supporting forest. Happily, Kae described a new re-planting project that is being undertaken with MYCAT staff, volunteers and local villagers.

Elevated highways serve as safe wildlife crossings. Photo: Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

A logged forest looks more like a moonscape than a living landscape.

Just one night into our jungle trek, our exhausted group crawled into jungle hammocks under the protection of mosquito nets and rainflies. Eventually we fell asleep under the incredible night sky, strewn with millions of brilliant stars normally hidden in our urban skies at home. 

Here away from it all, we could dream of how the world must have once looked, and how it could look again if people choose the path to save this incredible forest and its inhabitants.

The condition of the night sky is a measure of wilderness.

All too soon, our adventure came to an end. It was a harsh trek through diverse and challenging terrain, but one thing was constant over the five days: tiger talk. Keepers affectionately described the tigers they care for like our own Eko, Liem and Olan, while the field biologists told stories of wild tigers. There were many moments of laughter and some of tears.  

Regardless of where they are from, these 13 keepers and tiger experts have in common a deep love and respect for one of the most beautiful and fierce animals on earth. And each works every day to help tigers survive. Walking through the realm of the tiger provided our keepers with an experience they will communicate to millions of people who come to our zoos. But perhaps just as important was the building of the bonds among our U.S. keepers and their Malaysian conservation colleagues, fueled by passion and resolve to save wild tigers.  

Ever try to catch a fish with your bare hands?
Time spent in tiger forest: makes conservation real!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Now Critically Endangered, is there hope for Bornean orangutans?

Guest scientist post by: Marc Ancrenaz, PhD, HUTAN, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife

Courtesy of HUTAN.

Orangutans are now one step closer to extinction. Based on an assessment led by Borneo Futures, scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have officially downgraded the status of the orangutans living in Borneo to Critically Endangered, the last step before reaching the dreadful status of Extinct in the Wild. Scientists have proven that the number of orangutans will decline by about 80% between 1950 and 2025 given current development plans by the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia.

These numbers are hard to fathom. To put them in perspective, an 80% decline is equivalent to losing four out of five people you know; it is equivalent to the disappearance of a staggering six billion of the current global human population in 75 years with no new births.

Actually, many populations of orangutans have already disappeared in Borneo—some of them because of climate changes over the past millennia, most of them because of human activities; some of them because of forest destruction and conversion to agriculture, most of them because of hunting and killing. What is clear is that at this current rate, many more populations are going to follow this path of oblivion in the near future.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the species is going to go extinct anytime soon. Indeed, drastic changes about the management of the orangutan habitat could be made to save the species from extinction.

This starts with redefining what we recognize as orangutan habitat.

Courtesy of HUTAN.

Orangutans are great apes and are our closest living relatives. This means that they are clever and highly adaptable. Despite early claims that orangutans could only survive in pristine habitats, in Borneo, orangutans are learning how to survive in deeply modified landscapes where the original forests have been replaced with oil palm or acacia plantations. For example, they are learning how to feed or to build their nests in man-made forests planted with exotic species; they feed on new plant species introduced by humans. They are also changing their behavior as a response to human disturbance: they engage in crop-raiding activities at night, when people are sleeping, although they are naturally active in the daytime.

But there is something that the orangutan species cannot adapt to and cannot sustain: hunting. These great apes are extremely low breeders with a young being produced once every six to eight years on average. Hunting for meat, to mitigate conflicts (e.g. to stop crops from being raided by orangutan) or for any other reason has always been and remains today the major driving force of orangutan decline in Borneo.

Courtesy of Hutan.

Are orangutans doomed in Borneo? This does not have to be the case as orangutans are now recognized to survive in man-made as well as natural degraded landscapes. We need first to identify ways for people and orangutans to cohabit peacefully in non-protected forests. Conservation needs also to happen OUTSIDE of the network of protected forests. Establishing and maintaining patches and corridors of forests across a landscape transformed by man would go a long way to support orangutans and many other animal species. This downgrade in status is an urgent call to reconcile people and wildlife and to reinvent ways for people and orangutans to share the same environment.

All of us need to adhere to a new vision of our world, where people and animals share rather than compete for the same ecosystems and natural resources. This is possible, this is our choice. If we fail, orangutans may follow the ever-growing list of species that are Extinct in the Wild.



Marc Ancrenaz leads orangutan and elephant research and conservation through HUTAN, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife. The zoo’s commitment to orangutan conservation continues through its partnership with Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Project based in Borneo. Though the forests these partners work in seem a world away, they are directly connected to the ice cream in your freezer or the shampoo in your shower. Palm oil appears in a huge variety of every day products, and the increasing demand for this inexpensive resource has resulted in unsustainable agriculture at the expense of orangutans’ forests. You can choose to shop from companies that have made a commitment to source Certified Sustainable Palm Oil that is deforestation free and have joined the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.  Learn more and find useful resources like a printable palm oil guide to identify more wildlife-friendly options next time you shop.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Conservation for everybody: Meet WPZ's new CEO

Posted by: Bettina Woodford, PhD, Communications

Alejandro Grajal, PhD, our new president and CEO, has a big goal: to make conservation for everybody. He’s convinced that Woodland Park Zoo is the best place to achieve it.

Alejandro is an internationally recognized voice for the power of modern zoos. He believes they are essential to help humans embrace their biggest challenge to date: developing a new relationship with nature and all beings with whom we share the planet. To the challenge he brings deep and global expertise in conservation science, environmental education, and animal welfare advocacy.

In this interview with Alejandro, we explore what brought him to the Great Pacific Northwest—via Venezuela, Florida, New York and Chicago—and his vision for Woodland Park Zoo.

You began your career as a biologist in the field. How did your trajectory turn to leadership roles in zoos? 

I’m a water man—I love anything in the water. I graduated with a degree in marine ecology, working on coral reefs. You know, I thought I was going to be the next Jacques Cousteau! But he already had his job, so I went to work at a research station in the Llanos of Venezuela where I worked with the Smithsonian Institution. 

It was a time of huge effervescence in the field of conservation biology, especially conservation and development. That was my emphasis at the University of Florida where I did my doctorate. I realized a hybrid role—research and applying knowledge in the real world—was what I really wanted to do. Fortunately, straight of out graduate school I was hired by the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York as the director of Latin American and Caribbean programs and I dove into a zoo career.

The flat, seemingly endless llanos form an eco-region of expansive plains seasonally flooded by the Orinoco River, unique for its mix of waterfowl, wildlife and livestock raising. Photo: Anagoria via wikimedia.

What has working in zoos taught you?

It has taught me that if you really want to change society’s opinions and behaviors—how we treat the planet, how we treat other species, and even how treat other people, the latter being a question that is especially pressing on everyone's minds right now—you need to understand human motivation. We are all inextricably part of the same fabric of life. Conservation ultimately is about people and the choices we make. How do we get people excited about choices that heal instead of harm? So, I had to integrate the social science side of conservation with the biological side, and of course the organizational and policy sides. 

After 25 years, I now see that my leadership role is more of an untier of knots. Maybe it doesn’t sound very sexy, but it’s exciting to me because possibilities are like puzzles, and I love solving puzzles. 

Field work in Venezuela. Photo courtesy of Alejandro Grajal.

You were most recently senior vice president for conservation, education and training at Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the U.S. What attracted you to Woodland Park Zoo and the Pacific Northwest? 

I’ve been watching the evolution of zoos for a long time. Like many others, I’ve always admired WPZ’s reputation in the industry as a leader and innovator. It pushed us to design naturalistic landscapes for animals, to pay attention to social groupings, play, psychological health, and using research and science to drive innovation in animal well-being. Today good zoos take these things for granted, but WPZ began setting these standards decades ago. 

Then there’s the attraction of the Pacific Northwest itself. There’s this mix of love of nature and conservation ethic, social and technological innovation, and people willing to invest in what they really care about. And right in the middle of it all is WPZ. We’ll find the best balance of high-tech and hands-on. We’ll turn 1.3 million visitors a year into social innovators and partners in real-time conservation. We’ll grow peoples’ capacity as agents of change. We’ll do it better with more diverse segments of our society involved, because only with multiple perspectives can we see clearly. All this can be leveraged to make conservation for everybody, to create a future where the interests of other species, even the tiniest ones, and the entire planet, truly matter. I’m on fire for that.

This spring, WPZ introduced the new president and CEO to a full gamut of achievements to get excited about: celebrating milestones in baby-mother gorilla bonding and family socialization; completing the new Alvord Broadleaf Theater outside Zoomazium; getting more people and animals nose to nose through expanded Ambassador Animal programs; celebrating early learning with Zoomazium’s 10th birthday; marking 25 years of Northwest native turtle conservation; designing a new Banyan Wilds tiger conservation tour; and inviting the entire community to get involved in two new conservation science initiatives, Otter Spotter (River Otters of Western Washington: Sentinels of Ecological Health) in the Green-Duwamish river watershed and Washington Urban–Wildland Carnivore Project in eastern King County.

What excites you most as a zoo leader?

Zoos are powerful places and instruments for healing the planet, whether people come here to learn new things, or take direct action for a favorite species, or even just to experience the calming effect of nature and reconnect to what's positive during difficult times.

What really excites me on a day to day basis is: How do ordinary people engage in conservation? Why or why not? What information or experiences are the most effective motivators? These are important questions that social science is working on, and they’re crucial to the future of our planet.
And we at zoos are at the leading edge of this! The 180 million people a year that North American zoos attract are a fascinating universe of the how and why of conservation choices. Our research with these audiences has major implications for sharing the influences that work.

For example, we’ve learned that once we get beyond our reptilian brain—existing chiefly to reproduce, eat, be free from harm or pain—we then access the next layer, the biggest motivator of human behavior: our emotions. They drive our choices way more than rational information. Zoos have a special power because they foster emotional connections between people and animals and remove barriers to taking action. 

What can be more exciting than that?

Monday, July 11, 2016

When do YOU have an impact? Every day of the year!

Whether you’re a member, donor, visitor or community partner, your continued support reflects your belief that in an increasingly urban and technology-driven society, zoos matter more than ever. Here is where we weave together face-to-face encounters with animals, hands-on environmental learning and action-based programs that engage our community in vital, global efforts to protect wildlife and wild places. Here is how you make that possible.

Check out the full 2015 Community Impact Report including achievements like these:

1. You helped welcome Yola to the world and ensured she developed a strong bond with mom, Nadiri

Your generosity helped fund 24/7 care of baby gorilla Yola when first-time mom Nadiri did not initially show strong maternal behaviors. Through daily interactions, mom and baby have now bonded and little Yola is thriving with her gorilla family!

Yola is a natural climber. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

2. You helped stop wildlife poachers in their tracks

With help from zoo supporters throughout the region, Washington’s Initiative 1401 ushered in a state law that strengthens penalties and bans commerce of products made from 10 of the most trafficked endangered species groups.

Which one is truly precious? Elephant photo courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society. 

3. You helped complete Banyan Wilds and brought tigers back to our zoo

Gifts from more than 1,250 donors transformed the last "old" exhibit into a naturalistic wonder built to engage visitors in conservation efforts for the critically endangered Malayan tiger.

Cooling off in Banyan Wilds. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

4. You brought Northwest conservation research to new heights

Gifts supporting the zoo's Living Northwest program allowed us to partner with Microsoft Research to design an innovative tech device that facilitates winter wildlife monitoring in the North Cascades, helping better protect elusive native species such as wolverines, lynx and martens.

A WPZ grizzly tests just how bear-proof new field research technology is before zoo scientists deploy the system in the field. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

5. You saved a gorilla's life

Friends of the zoo jumped into action when Vip, our 400-pound male gorilla underwent two surgeries to treat recurring sinus polyps and infection. Today he is fully recovered thanks to this breakthrough veterinary procedure, the first of its kind, and he became father to baby Yola.

Zookeepers and vet staff see to Vip's care at the zoo's animal hospital. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Butterfly Wings all-ages coloring contest

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Artists of all ages, join us in welcoming a flutter of colorful wings to Woodland Park Zoo. In celebration of the new Molbak's Butterfly Garden, we are holding a coloring contest with a few fabulous prizes. Get out your colored pencils, markers, watercolors or crayons (anything goes) and show us your most creative design. Just like butterflies, coloring can be a reflection of inner beauty, tranquility and expression. We can’t wait to see your artwork! 

If you are a member, then you've already received the summer issue of MyZoo member magazine with the coloring contest template inside. You can also download and print the template below.

Print the drawing template by clicking here. We recommend printing at 11" x 17"
Don't wait to get started, we are offering some pretty awesome prizes if you win.


Adults (13 years and older)
Grand prize winner: Tour Molbak’s Butterfly Garden with entomologist and butterfly expert Erin Sullivan and enjoy a private afternoon tea with cookies for up to six people (must prearrange tour on a mutually agreeable time and date). $50 Molbak’s Gift certificate.
Runner up: Basket of summer items from ZooStore and $25 Molbak’s Gift certificate.

Children (ages 2-12)
Grand prize winner (ages 2-6): ZooParent plush and animal adoption kit. $50 Molbak’s Gift certificate.
Grand prize winner (ages 7-12): Overnight Adevnture, Research After Dark, at the zoo for yourself and your favorite adult on August 6. $50 Molbak’s Gift certificate.
Two runners up: Woodland Park Zoo t-shirt and $25 Molbak’s Gift certificate. 

All entries must be received or postmarked by July 15, 2016.

MAIL TO Woodland Park Zoo c/o MyZoo Magazine 5500 Phinney Ave N. Seattle, WA 98103

OR DROP OFF You may deliver your artwork to any membership office, entrance gate or ZooStore at Woodland Park Zoo during zoo hours by July 15, 2016.

Photo via Nicolas Buffler.
For complete contest rules, please visit www.zoo.org/magazine

Special thanks to Molbak's Garden + Home for supplying us with a variety of gorgeous plants for the new exhibit. Need some inspiration? Check out just a few of the creatures that will be flitting around the zoo!

Great Southern white
Pipevine swallowtail
Orange-barred sulphur
Zebra longwing
American painted lady