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Friday, May 26, 2017

From zoo camper to zoologist

Roxanne Sanders, a first-grader, was new to Seattle when her mom signed her up for a summer camp at Woodland Park Zoo so she could make some friends.

However, Roxanne made more than friends. She found she liked exploring the zoo and the fact that there was more to the camp than just keeping the kids busy.

“They taught you lessons about the animals, where they came from, how they live,” Roxanne said. “We got to see what the animals were doing and how they reacted.”

Zoo camps became part of Roxanne’s life. She attended Zooper Day Camp for kids 4 to 9, then Zoo U for kids 10-14. In 2010, she became a counselor in training, and now, as a college student, she’s working as a camp assistant.

Roxanne at Woodland Park Zoo.

“Throughout elementary school, I knew I wanted to work with animals,” Roxanne said, “When I started thinking about college a few years ago, my parents were pushing me into medical jobs, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. I decided to go with what I wanted to do – zoology.” 

I’m studying zoology and conservation biology in college. I am hoping to be in Africa a few years after college as well. I want to go to different countries and actively help the animals and their environment.  Lab research is helpful; it gives us information and successful ways to complete procedures. But in the field, I will get a lot of in-your-face inspiration. That motivates me more than writing on paper ever could. That’s what I like about the zoo. It’s not just giving you books about animals, you actually get to see them, and observe how they behave. You get to build relationships with these animals that really stick with you.”

Roxanne’s experiences at the zoo have clearly given her a direction in life. She said, “I really empathize with animals, they haven’t done anything to compromise their planet. We cut down forests, we emit harmful gasses. They are suffering from what we have done. Being a zoologist gives a voice to the voiceless – I want to share stories from other countries since people here might not know much about what is going on throughout the world.”

Roxanne explained further: “I was just a kid standing in the lion den viewpoint . . . you never really read the signs when you’re young . . . but I finally did when I was older and saw how much the range had decreased over the years. I noticed I hadn’t heard much about this, which made me realize there probably aren’t that many people involved.  There are a million doctors out there, but how many field conservationists and zoologists are out there?  It’s not your beliefs, it’s your actions that make a difference . . . I really want to do something about that.”

Join Woodland Park Zoo for camp this summer; you never know where it will take you!

Children all across King County could have stories like Roxanne’s. This summer, King County voters will have the opportunity to vote yes for Access for All, which will dramatically increase science education for our county’s children. Learn more at accessforallwa.org.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A baby with a big job

Posted by: Bobbi Miller, WPZ Field Conservation Coordinator with Stephanie Fennessy, Giraffe Conservation Foundation Director

Out in the field, conservationists watch the giraffe and the giraffe watch back. Photo courtesy GCF. 

Here at Woodland Park Zoo we’re all twitterpated about the impending birth of Seattle’s tallest baby. But we’re not the only folks waiting for the giraffe calf. Halfway across the world, in Windhoek, Namibia, Steph and Julian Fennessey are anxiously awaiting word of our new arrival.

As founders of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project, they are working to understand and save the remaining giraffe in the wild. It’s a daunting task, but the birth of Tufani’s wee one (if you can call a 6 foot, 150 pound baby a “wee one”) gives them hope for the remaining giraffes in the wild. With every giraffe born in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo, more people become aware of the plight of giraffes in the wild. With awareness comes passion, and with passion comes conservation. As William Barclay said, “There are two great days in a person’s life, the day we are born, and the day we discover why.” Tufani’s baby will accomplish both on the same day since she will be born with a very important job: ambassador for giraffes across Africa.

A group of desert dwelling giraffe walking across a plain in NW Namibia. Photo courtesy GCF. 

Throughout their African range, giraffes contribute to conserving the habitat for the other animals they share the landscape with. They’re considered landscape changers because they feed at heights that no other animals can reach, spreading seeds and pollinating trees. Yes, you read that right—giraffe heads and necks are frequently covered in pollen as they shake trees to get to flowers, a favorite meal among the long-necked set. That pollen sticks with them as they travel up to 10 miles a day, eating flowers and pollinating trees as they go. But more than the ecosystem work they do, they’re iconic. Can you imagine what Africa would look like without the giraffe?

Think about that for a minute.

Desert dwelling giraffe roaming in the Hoanib river, one of the few lifelines in the desert. Photo courtesy Julian and Steph Fennessy/GCF.

It may become a reality sooner than you think. In December of 2016, giraffes were moved to vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). New population surveys show an overall 36-40% decline in giraffe populations, from more than 150,000 in 1985, to less than 100,000 in 2015. While the move to vulnerable is a good step, it may not be realistic. Recent genetic research shows that rather than just one species with multiple sub-species, there may be four distinct species of giraffe. If that’s true, it means the total number of giraffe used to determine their vulnerability need to be broken down by individual species, rather than just one aggregate number. That means different management strategies, and could mean that three of Africa’s four giraffe species (reticulated, Masai, and Northern) would become some of the most endangered large mammals in the world. 

But don’t give up hope—with the birth of Tufani’s big baby you can help to save giraffes in Africa. Every visit you make to the zoo contributes to our conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest and around the world, supporting the work of groups like Giraffe Conservation Foundation. You take a conservation action each and every time you come to the zoo, vote in our Quarters for Conservation kiosks, and share your spare change through your donations. If you want to do more, join us on Wednesday, June 21 to celebrate World Giraffe Day and know that just by being here, you’ve helped to save a giraffe in Africa.

GCF Research vehicle observing desert dwelling giraffe in NW Namibia. Photo courtesy GCF. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Birth watch begins for Seattle's pregnant giraffe

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Tufani on the African Savanna. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The signs are there: Tufani is acting restless, her appetite is reduced, and we have observed changes in her udder. She could give birth to Seattle's tallest baby any day now. Or within the week. Or hey, who knows. It's not an exact science.

Lead keeper Katie Ahl tells us more:

With a gestation period of 14 to 15 months, the birth window for a giraffe is wide. We've been expecting to see the new arrival appear sometime between May and July. According to the 3,000 of you who entered our giraffe baby pool contest (now closed), most thought we'd see him or her in June. But we could have a new bundle of joy sooner!

Keeper Katie first took note of the changes in Tufani's behavior earlier this week. She noted “Tufani has been given daily opportunities to cross from the corral to the African Savanna exhibit with the other two giraffes, but has chosen to stay behind in the corral and barn." It was then that Katie called to tell us to charge our camera batteries, because news could be coming any minute!

Hello, Tufani. Photo: Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now that the birth watch has officially begun, keepers will monitor Tufani closely for signs of labor. Giraffes give birth while standing, and the calf drops 5 feet from the ground as it is born. About 6 foot tall at birth, infants usually stand within half an hour after birth and can run around with their moms several hours later.

The father is Dave, who arrived at the zoo in June 2014. This will be the first baby for both parents who were paired under a breeding recommendation made by the Giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative, conservation breeding program to ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability in North American zoos.

Dave is a well-loved fixture around the African Savanna. We don't think anyone minds that the gifts that have been coming in from Tufani's baby registry tend to first make it to Dave for testing and approval. Here he is making sure a feeding bucket filled with salad is good enough for Tufani.

You all have been so incredibly generous by showering Tufani with gifts and contributing to our fundraising drive to provide for giraffe care such as prenatal nutrition planning, veterinary monitoring, and habitat conservation.

Tufani has a tall order ahead of her, but she clearly isn't on her own. It takes a village. Thanks for being part of ours.

Tufani's baby-on-the-way represents our love and hope for giraffe whose numbers in Africa have plummeted by more than 40% in the past two decades. Through our Wildlife Survival Fund project, Woodland Park Zoo supports the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which seeks to provide the first long-term ecological monitoring effort of the Angolan giraffe. If giraffe, with their tall necks and impressive height, are the watchtowers of the savanna, then we can return the favor and stick our necks out for them.

Monday, May 22, 2017

MyZoo Kids' Backyard Creatures Contest

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Calling creative kids and backyard explorers...

There are all sorts of enchanting creatures that live right in your backyard! From blue and green bees to magnificent butterflies, silky smooth worms to beautiful beetles—many cool animals help pollinate, fertilize and enrich your garden. If you could design a backyard creature, what would it look like?

 To print out a template, visit zoo.org/magazine . Artwork "Underneath the Prunella" courtesy of the wonderful Melinda Hurst Frye.

The MyZoo Kids' Backyard Creatures contest invites kids to design their own inspired creatures, whether real or imagined we can't wait to see what you create!

Enter and you could win:
Grand prize (ages 7-10): a zoo sleepover experience for you and your favorite adult in August 2017.
Grand prize (ages 3-6): an orangutan ZooParent adoption and plush.
Two lucky runners up (all ages) will receive a Woodland Park Zoo t-shirt and 2 giraffe experience tickets.

Use your imagination to create your own backyard creature. Fill in the white space using pen, crayon, paint, makers… anything goes! How many creatures might live there? What do they eat, what do they do? 

For complete rules and guidelines, please visit http://zoo.org/magazineSubmissions are due by June 25, 2017 11:59 p.m.

Good luck!

Special thanks to local artist Melinda Hurst Frye for sharing her wonderful images with us in the summer issue of MyZoo magazine. To read more about Melinda's work and the beautiful backyard bugs that inspire her, check out the latest issue at zoo.org/magazine

"Part explorer, artist and entomology enthusiast, Melinda Hurst Frye dives into her backyard to discover a world teeming with underground creatures. Using just a shovel, a stick and a scanner, the Seattle artist reveals an entire world right under our feet. The final product is a compilation of several scans as well as some added photographs of specific creatures, such as a mole or a caterpillar. The artwork has a magical quality to it, but all the subjects are representative of what’s really there."

From "Underneath", artwork courtesy of Melinda Hurst Frye.
What would you discover in your backyard if you stopped to take a closer look? A scanner is placed into the earth to find out... photo courtesy of artist Melinda Hurst Frye.
Even more of Melinda's fabulous work can be seen at www.mhurstfrye.com. Thanks for reminding us to look right underneath us and explore our micro environments!

If you need even more inspiration, stop by Bug World, our buggy exhibit is teeming with creatures you can find right under your toes!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Now you can charge your electric vehicle when you visit Woodland Park Zoo

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications

Woodland Park Zoo turned a shade greener with the unveiling of new Light & Charge electric vehicle stations. The stations are the first of 20 to be installed around Seattle, representing a $1.2 million investment by ReachNow, the mobility services division of the BMW Group.

Seattle is the first city in North America to receive the Light & Charge stations, which turn existing streetlights into electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. With more than 1 million annual visitors coming through Woodland Park Zoo, that’s a lot of visibility for the benefits of EVs and car sharing.

ReachNow CEO Steve Banfield (left) and Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Alejandro Grajal (right) test the new electric vehicle charging station installed on zoo grounds. 

Green is a color we wear well. Sustainability is at the core of Woodland Park Zoo's mission to save animals and their habitats. By stewarding resources and reducing our impact we not only help wildlife, but also serve as a living classroom for others to discover sustainable practices to try at home or in their own communities.

Zoomazium was the nation’s first zoo project to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and went on to earn six local, regional and national awards. The zoo’s West Entrance was the second project at the zoo to receive LEED certification.

Woodland Park Zoo is one of the leading institutions nationally on sustainable exhibit design. The Humboldt penguin exhibit  was designed with nature in mind, built sustainably using geothermal energy and an innovative filtration system that saves 3 million gallons of water and nearly 22,000 kilowatt hours of energy—the equivalent of saving 24 million pints of drinking water, and heating five, new two-bedroom townhouses—each year! The exhibit also contains and recycles all stormwater runoff thereby helping to keep Puget Sound waterways clean. The exhibit garnered the best exhibit award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums; the award is equivalent to an Oscar in the zoo community.

Similarly, the tiger pool in Banyan Wilds uses innovative filtering techniques, water features and systems based on the principles of biomimicry by which streams and ponds are filtered naturally through constructed wetlands. All visitor pathways in the exhibit complex are made with pervious pavement. Storm water is infiltrated into the ground instead of spilling into storm drains. A rain garden is also located near the tropical aviary.

In 2014, the zoo launched the largest community solar project in Washington state:  Community Solar on Phinney Ridge, an innovative partnership of Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle City Light, and Phinney Neighborhood Association. Solar panel arrays on the Rain Forest Food Pavilion and on the zoo’s behind-the-scenes animal food Commissary building enable City Light customers to purchase electricity from a renewable source right on Phinney Ridge. This project followed the installation of solar panels to the zoo’s Historic Carousel in 2011. The solar panels produce roughly 9,000 kilowatt-hours annually, enough to offset the electricity required to power the carousel, which completes an average 100,000 rides per year.

In addition to exhibit design, the zoo diverts more than 700,000 pounds of waste from going into landfills each year thanks to Zoo Doo composting, saving $60,000 per year in disposal costs.

The installation of Light & Charge stations around the city also marks an important milestone for the Drive Clean Seattle Initiative, which seeks to electrify the city of Seattle’s transportation and move toward carbon neutrality by 2050. The Light & Charge system, from eluminocity US Inc., transforms existing street and parking lot light poles into connected nodes on a smart city network. The system combines high-efficiency LED lighting. The stations will be available to other electric cars for fee-based charging.

”Public access to charging stations is a critical step to increasing the adoption and use of electric vehicles. The more EV charging stations there are, the faster we can scale the number of EVs in the ReachNow fleet and continue expanding sustainable urban transportation services,” said ReachNow CEO, Steve Banfield. “ReachNow is proud to make this much needed EV infrastructure available for the city of Seattle.”

Friday, May 5, 2017

Happy 20th birthday to hornbill Blueberry!

Posted by Alissa Wolken, Communications

It’s a milestone year for one of our long-time residents. Blueberry, our beloved knobbed hornbill, celebrates her 20th hatchday (that’s bird speak for birthday) on Sunday, May 7, 2017. You can stop by the Friends by Nature program at the Alvord Broadleaf Theater that day (11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) to wish Blueberry a happy 20th!

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Blueberry hatched right here at Woodland Park Zoo. Just think, in 1997 Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” and Hanson’s “MMMBop” were at the top of the Billboard charts and “The Fifth Element” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” ruled the box office. My how time flies.

Turning 20 isn’t the only thing Blueberry is celebrating; the hatchday girl is also a new member of the ambassador animals all-star team at the zoo and can be seen regularly in the Friends by Nature program at the Alvord Broadleaf Theater this summer! With all of Blueberry’s big milestones, we wanted to share some other fun stories that make her unique. And who better to get those stories from than her two best friends, zookeepers Eric Kowalczyk and Regina Smith.

Blueberry lips! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

WPZ: How long have you known Blueberry?

Eric: Since she hatched, I was her primary keeper. After she fledged (left the nest), Blueberry was brought into one of the off-view Conservation Aviary so she could be monitored more closely. I worked with her every day so we developed a very close relationship. That was until I retired earlier this year and passed the reins to Regina. 

Regina: Before Eric retired, he had started looking for keepers to work with Blueberry, since I’d worked with him before he tried me out for the potential role of Blueberry’s new best friend. I have to say that I was a bit nervous knowing her preference for Eric, but lucky for me, Blueberry decided that I was OK, and we started building a relationship.  

Eric feeds a very young Blueberry! Photo from Woodland Park Zoo archives.

WPZ: How did Blueberry get her name?

Eric: I wanted to name her “Blueberry” (after her favorite treat) in Indonesian, since that’s where knobbed hornbills are from. It turns out there is no word for “blueberry” in Indonesian, and naming her something close to that in Indonesian would’ve been really long and complicated! So I started calling her “Blue berry” and it caught on.

Regina: We usually go with “Blue” for short.

WPZ: How did you prepare Blueberry for her public programs?

Regina: For many years, Eric did keeper talks on zoo grounds with Blueberry while she wore falconry equipment which allowed her to safely travel to and from her enclosure and reduce the risk of her flying away. Last year, when we started training her to be part of the ambassador animals program, we made some changes to her daily routine (including removing her falconry equipment); she’s adjusted to the changes quite well. We ask for Blueberry to do and try a lot of new things, and she’s always shown that she’s up for the challenge. In fact, she learned her 2017 Alvord Broadleaf Theater routine in one session!

WPZ: Can visitors see Blueberry on exhibit outside of the ambassador animals programs?

Regina: No, Blueberry injured her leg last fall and after that she came to live at the ambassador animals unit off exhibit full-time where she could have a comfortable, warm place to live that was near Conservation Aviary (where she lived on exhibit). Before Eric retired, he would come visit her three to five times a day to feed her and do physical rehab sessions with her to rebuild muscle tone in her leg. Now she’s doing great, her leg has gained back muscle tone and she is moving around more normally. But we’ve decided to keep her off exhibit and let her rest and relax when she isn’t doing physical rehab, training for or participating in the ambassador animals program.

This bird knows how to party! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.

WPZ: Many of our members and regular visitors know Blueberry by name. Why do you think she’s been such a successful ambassador?

Eric: For me, she has been a very good bird. She was great with the public and was perfect for giving educational talks. I always looked at her as a means to spread conservation messages. Besides, she liked the attention that we gave her (at least I think she did). She would be a perfect “ambassador” for the species.

WPZ: What’s it like being Blueberry’s new best friend?

Regina: Blueberry is still excited to see Eric when he finds time in his retirement to pop by. She’s transitioned well to working with me and the ambassador animals team; she’s been wonderful and completely engaged in her training sessions. I make it a priority every day to spend time with her doing the things she enjoys most: sitting out on the Broadleaf stage in the sun, allopreening (aka head scratches), and taking her for rides in her crate–she loves it when we go off-roading, the bumpier the better!

Twenty years later, Blueberry is as big a star as ever. We can’t thank her enough for the smiles, laughter and hundreds of stories she’s provided us. 

Happiest birthday, Blue! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Three ways to celebrate Blueberry:

Visit Blueberry: Stop by the Friends by Nature program, to say hello to Blueberry and others, on her birthday, Sunday, May 7. Details here: www.zoo.org/exhibits/theater

Adopt a nest: Hornbills are the builders of rain forests, consuming a variety of fruit and then dispersing the seeds throughout the forest. Because of the important ecological niche they occupy, hornbills are considered a keystone species. As forests are cleared for agricultural uses and illegal logging, these magnificent birds are increasingly under threat. Woodland Park Zoo has had a long relationship with Dr. Pilai Poonswad, a hornbill researcher in Thailand who founded the Hornbill Research Foundation (HRF). HRF works to help the people who share the habitat by employing them to protect hornbills and their nests.

Make a smoothie:
Blueberry's Hornbill-Worthy Smoothie Bowl

1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup pineapple (sliced or chunks)
1 fig (quartered) Did you know that wild hornbills prefer figs?
1 banana (peeled obviously)
1 passion fruit (scrape yellow seeds from white skin) Passion fruit is found all over in Indonesia!
Star fruit (sliced)
Coconut flakes (optional)

Place all ingredients (except starfruit and coconut flakes) in a blender. Add a few ice cubes to make extra refreshing. Blend until fairly smooth. Place sliced star fruit on top for an extra fancy touch. Blueberry recommends adding coconut flakes if that is your thing.

Cheers to Blue!