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Friday, January 27, 2017

Our gift to the Internet: tiny otter pups

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Asian small-clawed otter pups at 7 weeks old. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Congratulations to mom Teratai and dad Guntur on their third litter of pups! Four Asian small-clawed otters were born December 9, 2016, and are just now becoming more mobile and have fully opened their eyes.

Asian small-clawed otters are all about family, and the new pups are being cared for attentively by their parents and three older sisters. They are spending their time in a private den behind-the-scenes.

The whole family pitches in to raise the pups. Mom nurses the newborns and dad and siblings provide supportive care. Occasionally, the adults leave the den to go outdoors briefly, but prefer to stay indoors to focus on their pups.

Teratai and Guntur are experienced parents, and have successfully raised two previous litters. Though our keepers have a close eye on the family, we trust Teratai and Guntur to do all the work, and we remain hands off as much as possible. Next week the pups will have a veterinary exam, which will be the first time they will be handled by staff. They’ll get measured, weighed, receive vaccinations, and then get returned quickly to their family.

Asian small-clawed otters are the smallest otters among the 13 otter species. Gestation lasts 60 to 64 days. At birth, these otters weigh just 50 grams, no more than the weight of a golf ball. They have managed to reach around Beanie Babies size now. Born without the ability to see or hear, the pups depend on the nurturing care of both parents until they begin developing their senses at about 3 weeks old.

The 7-week-old pups with their family. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

As the pups grow and become more mobile, the parents and older siblings will teach them how to swim in the safety of a tub we'll set up for them near their den. After mastering the tub, they will graduate to going outdoors where they will be taught to dive a few inches deep with their vigilant family by their side. The pups will be officially introduced to zoo-goers when they can swim and safely navigate the outdoors.

Water is such a critical part of the Asian small-clawed otter’s story. Though it’s more terrestrial than other otter species, the Asian small-clawed otter is still so dependent on access to clean, healthy waterways to survive in its native southern and southeastern Asia, including areas of India, Indonesian islands, Malaysia, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, southern China and Palawan in the Philippines. With rapidly declining habitat, range and population, the species moved from near threatened status in 2004 to the more serious vulnerable category in 2008.

They are not alone—water pollution is a cause for concern right here in Washington where river otters rely on the Green-Duwamish River that flows from pristine wildlands into major industrial centers. One of our field conservation researchers is collecting scat from otters all along this gradient to study their contaminant loads as a representation of the ecological health of the whole system. Our work depends on your sightings, so add to our Otter Spotter community map whenever you see an otter in Washington state.

In the spirit of being an Otter Spotter, here are a few more otter pup photos to stare at, back from before they officially opened their eyes. Yes, they really are that cute. If these little guys fill your heart with joy and a love for nature, you are one of us. Share with your friends and let's make the whole world smile.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New life emerges as hopeful sign after Woodland Park Zoo fire

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Resilient frogs, lizards, and turtles show that life goes on after surviving the December fire that damaged the Day and Night exhibit building where they resided.

Since being safely evacuated from the building through a heroic effort by Seattle Fire Department and the zoo’s animal care staff, a pair of tiger-legged monkey frogs has produced 50 tadpoles—a first-time breeding at the zoo for this species.

“We observed the monkey frogs in a ‘love embrace’ on Christmas Eve. The fact that these animals could breed and reproduce after a fire and being placed in temporary housing is a testimony to the excellent care and dedication provided by our animal care staff. This is wonderful news and a sign of hope after the fire,” said Jennifer Pramuk, PhD, animal curator and an expert in reptiles and amphibians at Woodland Park Zoo.

In addition, shield-tailed agamas (lizards found in Somalia and Ethiopia) and Asian yellow-margined box turtles have produced eggs, which are in development. The turtle species is endangered in the wild and is part of a Species Survival Plan, a cooperative breeding program among accredited conservation zoos to manage the health and growth of the population.

The frogs, lizards and turtles were among 182 animals—including reptiles, amphibians, a tree kangaroo and an armadillo—safely rescued from the fire and relocated to other animal buildings on zoo grounds. While most of the animals remain off view, you can visit the reticulated python which is on view with an Indian python in a different exhibit. Sadly, the tree kangaroo, a geriatric animal, was humanely euthanized a week ago due to age-related declining health.

A scene from the December 2016 fire. 

The fire occurred in the Day and Night Exhibit building, with the Night Exhibit side of the building sustaining significant structural damage, including holes in the roof and collapsed internal structures. The Night Exhibit side of the building had closed in 2010 and no longer housed animals except for six turtles hibernating in the basement at the time of the fire—two black-breasted and four Indochinese box turtles—which did not survive the heat and smoke..

Since the fire, we have been involved in numerous inspections, evaluation efforts, and conversations with fire, city and insurance personnel. The entire building remains unsafe to access and the Seattle Fire Investigation Unit was unable to determine the cause of the fire.

Due to much uncertainty about the extent of damage, efforts are underway to identify interim housing for the displaced animals including potential exhibit modifications over the next several months. Several animals will remain at the zoo due to their advanced age and pre-existing health conditions. We are working with our colleagues at other accredited facilities to re-home some of our venomous snakes and other animals that we might re-acquire in the future.

Another group of animals has been identified to stay at the zoo due to the husbandry expertise of zoo staff and history of caring for these species or because they are significantly endangered and are managed under Species Survival Plans. We hope to place these animals on exhibit for our guests and are focusing on ways to make this happen.

Over the next several weeks, the zoo will continue to assess the damage, including the structure and building’s mechanical and electrical system. Re-occupation of the Day side of the building will depend on damage assessment to the entire building and strategies to replace all of the utilities.

We have so much work ahead but are undaunted in our commitment to these animals, heartened by your outpouring of support. You all are the force of nature that drives us. Thanks for your kindness, patience, and understanding these last few weeks, and most of all, thanks for being the kind of people who can share in the joy of tadpole news with us!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

ZooCrew middle schoolers tackle invasive species

Posted by: Ryan Driscoll, Education

Studying Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea) and the issues surrounding invasive species, students from three Seattle middle schools—Asa Mercer International, Washington and Denny International—are resisting the invasion thanks to another great term of our ZooCrew after-school program.

Using a combination of games, research, and some hand-crafted wanted posters, students explored the impact invasive species have both in Australasia and here in the Pacific NW. They also generated ideas on what people in our communities could do to help, and learned about advocacy strategies to get their messages out there. Of course, this was all while getting to interact with live animals and examining biofacts from Australia and New Zealand!

All of this new information was then applied to their group projects which are highlighted below:

Western Shield Camera Trap Project

Since our focal area was Australasia, it was only fitting that students helped out with invasive species down under. The Western Shield Project is a citizen-science app that uploads pictures from camera traps set up along Western Australia. These camera traps help scientists determine the population size of both the native and invasive species in the area as well as determine if their current strategies for controlling invasive numbers are working. Given the sheer amount of pictures scientists get from these traps, participants serve as assistants to the project by identifying the species present (or sometimes not present) in each picture. Students then used posters, tablets, and handouts to teach people about what they learned and other projects that they could participate in to help as a citizen scientist including other apps supported by the same web platform. The ZooCrew students encourage you to head to www.zooniverse.org and find a project to help with! 

Invasive Species Trading Cards

Some groups focused on invasive species closer to home while tapping into their art and research skills. Students created a series of trading cards about invasive species here in Washington with information about where you can find them, the impact they have, and what you can do to help. With a focus on local actions around local invasive species, these cards will be a great addition to Bear Affair, WPZs NW focused conservation event. Please join us on June 3rd to pick up some trading cards of your own!

Conservation Art and Advocacy

Releasing pets into the wild was an issue that caught the attention of one group, and they decided to use their creative skills to help people understand the impact these released animals can have. Using clay models, they created a series of before and after scenes to show the impact of releasing pet dogs, cats, and reptiles into the wild. 

Mason Bee Houses

One lesson the students learned this quarter was that helping native plants and animals is sometimes one of the best ways to slow down invasive species. Many groups chose to create houses for our native mason bees and to advocate for people to plant more native flowers. Not only are mason bees important pollinators in our area, but they pollinate at different times of year than the introduced European honey bee (and are often more efficient!). Student decorated their mason bee houses, made posters to share information on mason bees and native plants, and even taught people how to build their own mason bee houses!

Green Seattle Day Restoration Field Trip

As the students learned with the mason bee projects, one of the best things we can do to deal with invasive species is help to restore habitat for native ones! In November, ZooCrew students put this into action when they participated in the Green Seattle Day restoration event at Camp Long. Despite the rain and the wind, student and their families were able to plant some trees, explore the park, and even teach some ZooCrew games to their families!

Zoo Field Trip 

The program culminated with students and their families coming together for our trip to the zoo! Continuing the long tradition of rainy December field trips, groups brazed the weather to explore zoo grounds with the help of our ZooCorps volunteers. They also enjoyed a special talk from the zoo’s own Eli Weiss, Community Engagement Supervisor, about his time in Papua New Guinea working with our Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program partners on developing their Junior Ranger program. The day ended with our project showcase where students from all three sites showed off their projects and answered questions from parents, ZooCorps teens, and zoo staff. 

As another season ends, we wanted to extend a giant 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! 

The zoo is committed to cultural access for all members of our community, which means zoo programs need to extend beyond zoo walls. A special thanks goes to the community partners, ZooCorps volunteers and zoo staff who fulfill that mission, and to the community at large for supporting this work. 

We are looking forward to another great ZooCrew term, this time looking at deforestation in the major rain forests around the world!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

It may stink like a skunk, but new wildlife research technology works like a charm

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

A zoo research camera catches a glimpse of a wolverine checking out the new scent lure. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

As part of a Woodland Park Zoo wildlife study, remote cameras and new, innovative scent lure dispensers—created by the zoo, Idaho Fish and Game, and Microsoft Research and installed last winter in Washington’s Cascade Mountains—have successfully captured images of wolverines, a carnivore rarely seen in the wild.

Research scientists deploy motion sensor remote cameras and odorous scent attractants to capture images of elusive species such as wolverines, lynx, fishers, cougars, grizzly bears and gray wolves but, in the past, have faced challenges during the winter.

Scents naturally fade and need to be refreshed every few weeks, said Robert Long, PhD, a carnivore research ecologist and a senior conservation fellow in Woodland Park Zoo’s field conservation department. “Deep snow and dangerous avalanche conditions in the Cascades typically make it too risky in backcountry terrain to routinely change out baits or replenish odorous lures,” explained Long. “We needed an electronic device that would predictably dispense a small but regular amount of liquid scent.”

A winter sighting of a wolverine. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Long teamed up with an Idaho Fish and Game colleague and Mike Sinclair, a Microsoft research engineer, to build the device. Sinclair designed the missing piece—a processor board—that ultimately led to a high-tech dispenser lure capable of dispensing scent all winter long.

Researcher Robert Long prepares the scent lure. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Long installs the lure securely to last through the winter season. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Twenty-four new dispensers were deployed in the North Cascades over the 2015-16 winter and were retrieved in early July. Long reports that wolverines were detected at 13 of the 24 stations, with a possibility of four to seven individuals represented. This is an extremely positive result given how widely these individuals roam and the vastness of the survey area. The cameras also lured other animals including Canada lynx, cougars, bears, Pacific martens and at least one gray wolf.

A bear checks out the scent lure. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

A cougar, too. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

“The new scent dispensers did their job,” said Long. “When used in the winter, or even in the summer, the dispensers dramatically increase the period of time that carnivore survey stations can be left out in the wild. Places too dangerous to access by researchers in the winter can be surveyed and researchers in the summer don’t have to revisit stations every three to four weeks to replenish scent or bait. This amounts to a tremendous savings in resources and increased safety for researchers.”

An upgraded version of the dispenser has been developed and 20 units are being deployed again this winter for testing. Long said the goal is to develop effective, non-invasive survey methods and protocols for wolverines. A version 2.0 dispenser coupled with changes such as rotating the cameras vertically and installing them above the high snow line could potentially result in a very effective survey approach. “This can get us closer to the overarching objective of creating a long-term monitoring program that will contribute to a better understanding of how the species is recovering and how individuals respond to climate change over the long term,” said Long.

We detected wolverines at 13 of 24 stations. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Forty dispensers also are being tested at survey stations as part of a much larger wolverine study spanning Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, which will generate even more test data next spring. The new scent dispensers have potential to help researchers monitor not only wolverines but other animals such as fishers, martens and Canada lynx in hard to reach locations in the winter and other seasons, explained Long.

The North Cascades terrain. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the wolverine is currently being considered for protection as a threatened species. Trapping eliminated the species from Washington, Oregon and California by the mid-1990s and from most or all of its historical range in the contiguous U.S. as well. Today, researchers suspect there could be 20 to 40 wolverines living in the Pacific Northwest, representing the only existing population in the contiguous U.S. outside of the Rocky Mountains. The primary threat facing the North American wolverine is habitat and range loss due to climate warming, although studies are currently examining whether backcountry recreation and human disturbance also are negatively impacting populations.

Long, a carnivore research ecologist, is known for spearheading innovations in non-invasive wildlife research methods and conducts carnivore research in North America. He is currently focused on wolverine research and conservation in Washington state, and is helping to expand Woodland Park Zoo's Living Northwest conservation program which includes the Washington Urban–Wildland Carnivore Project.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Meet Rufous: He is very social, enjoys hay and is fond of back scratches

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

Ahem, drum roll please... Meet Rufous!

Rufous is the newest member of the Family Farm. This miniature Jersey cow is just 9 months old, but he has already become a barnyard favorite. Right now he weighs about 415 lb, but he'll be full grown at about 3 years old and could weigh between 1000-1200 lb. His tawny red fur is especially handsome.

His main diet is Timothy Hay, a high fiber basic grass hay. The young cow enjoys playing with and eating his browse, fresh edible plants provided by his keepers. Rufous received a Christmas tree, which he nibbled on and also turned into a sparring partner. Sparring is definitely one of his favorite pastimes, a natural behavior for young bull calves. He pushes his ball around the yard with his forehead and feet. Keepers also hung a jolly ball in the barn for Rufous to knock around.

Like his barn-mates, miniature donkeys Sam and Rico, Rufous likes to run and jump and kick, but the donkeys mostly keep their distance, so we are working on getting Rufous another young steer companion.

Rufous is playful and sweet with his keepers and enjoys chin rubs and back scratches. He seems to enjoy being brushed and he uses the large car wash brush in the yard to rub against, too.

Keeper Diane Abbey tells us he's very social and curious. He greets guests and often stands for petting and occasionally gives a surprise lick! 

Next time you stop by Family Farm, make sure to say hello to Rufous!