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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.


Austin Roofer said…
Wow, seems like the zoo had a big success this past year. Plus very proud of their after school programs and for taking time to share their experiences with thousands of learners in school. Best of success in the coming year.