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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Orphaned monkey rescued from street entertainers gets a second chance

Posted by: Kelly Martin, Colobus Conservation Ltd., a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project

Editor’s note: When an animal needs help, you can rely on our conservation partners to step up. Colobus Conservation Ltd., a Woodland Park Zoo Wildlife Survival Fund project based in Kenya, may have started with a focus on saving colobus monkeys, but their mission now impacts wildlife and communities well beyond that scope. This is one of those stories.

Mel the vervet monkey. Photo courtesy Lydia Katsis, Colobus Conservation researcher

Mel, a young female vervet monkey, arrived at Colobus Conservation a few weeks ago after being rescued from street entertainers trying to sell her to tourists passing by. Colobus Conservation was called to the scene by a concerned individual after witnessing little Mel tied up, alone and on the ground. She was being handed around for people to see. The asking price for her started at $10.

Team Colobus moved fast. As so often happens, on our arrival the individuals left the scene quickly, knowing that what they were doing is illegal. We arrived in time and were able to rescue little Mel before she was sold. She was strong and tried to bite us and wiggle away, not knowing what was happening to her. We wrapped her in a towel and drove back to the center. As soon as the engine started, little Mel fell fast asleep, indicating how truly exhausted she must have been from her ordeal.

On arrival at the center, Mel was checked by the vet. She was dehydrated and covered in dirt, but her condition was not so bad.

Little Mel was found tied up to a bag on the street. She was alone and being passed around for people to see. Photo courtesy Colobus Conservation

For the rest of the day and the first night, Mel cried for her mother. She then would sleep, eat and cry some more. We did all we could to comfort her, but we knew we would never be able to give her what she really needed, her mother. The next day we introduced her to another young female vervet monkey, Mali. Within the hour both had bonded and little Mel’s crying stopped almost immediately. Finally she was with a fellow monkey. Now, weeks later, they are inseparable, sleeping, eating and playing together, which fills the hearts of all the colobus team.

Mel will now have to spend at least 2 years under human care, where she will learn to be a monkey again, figuring out how to use her environment and what foods to eat, and how to socialize with other monkeys. Once ready and fully integrated, she will be released back into the wild.

Both infant vervet monkeys, Mali and Mel, were orphaned after losing their mothers to human/wildlife conflict. Both will need to be rehabilitated and will eventually be released back into the wild. Photo courtesy Lydia Katsis, Colobus Conservation researcher

We were able to save little Mel from the illegal pet trade. However, not all monkeys get a second chance. Many will be sold as pets, or used as a photo prop or passed around for tourists to stroke and touch. Many were probably torn away from their mothers who were likely killed. Colobus Conservation believes by creating awareness in communities, and through education, we can stop this being the fate of many animals. We work with the local community, school children and tourists to create awareness of why monkeys and other wild animals are not pets, and reinforce the importance of the local wildlife.

Without funding from places such as Woodland Park Zoo, our work would not be possible. We thank you for supporting us through the zoo and helping us save such monkeys as little Mel! Vote for Wildlife Survival Fund projects through the zoo's Quarters for Conservation kiosks on your next visit to continue to support projects like this.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Baby snow leopard instantly improves your day

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Getting weighed at two weeks old. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Here is your first look at our newest addition!

Born July 6, this little snow leopard had her first veterinary exam on Thursday. It was the first time we’ve been able to get close to baby, since snow leopards are born so helpless and depend on mom’s close care.

The exam went quickly because snow leopard mom Helen wouldn’t have it any other way. We got a good look at baby and that's when we found out we have a girl on our hands. She currently weighs 2.6 pounds and appears to be healthy. One of her eyelids has already opened and one remains closed. A cub’s eyelids normally open around two weeks. Her belly was full of milk, which means she is nursing and getting nourishment.

That belly is full of milk, a great sign that she's nursing properly. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Helen has been a great mom to her two previous litters with a different mate. She’s nurturing her cub very well and they’re bonding together in an off-view den where they can have some quiet, private space together.

Parents Helen and Dhirin were matched under the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, a cooperative conservation breeding program across accredited zoos. Helen has lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 2008 and Dhirin arrived from Oklahoma City Zoo in 2014. Since snow leopard fathers are not naturally involved in cub rearing, you can find Dhirin out in the snow leopard exhibit while mom and baby are in their den. It will be several weeks before the baby is ready to head outdoors.

Our zoo veterinarian takes a closer look at the cub's eyes. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The exam went quickly so that baby could be returned to mom as soon as possible. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The elusive snow leopard is endangered, and we partner with the Snow Leopard Trust to fight extinction in their native Kyrgyzstan. Together we work with Kyrgyzstan's State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry to protect the snow leopards of the Tian Shan mountains. Research cameras set up in the Sarychat Ertash reserve allow researchers to monitor the area's snow leopard population, which they estimate to be around 18 cats.

New images from the research cameras have just come in, and they are a bolt of energy to us. This is what we’re fighting for. We think you'll find them as breathtaking as we do.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Siamang travels 3,200 miles to meet her match in Seattle

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Sam and Bagus. Some duets are timeless.

For newly matched siamangs Sam and Bagus (bah-GOOSE), it’s only been a week and yet somehow it’s like they’ve been together forever.

Sam and Bagus are an instant pair! Photo by Carolyn Sellar/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sam lost his mate here at Woodland Park Zoo last year when our geriatric female Briony passed away. Across the country, Bagus lost her long-time mate at Palm Beach Zoo. A siamang’s social life is naturally structured around being in a bonded pair. Though Sam’s and Bagus’s keepers gave them all the TLC two lone siamangs could ask for, we all knew that what they needed most was to be part of a pair again.

Sam and Bagus were well matched on paper. We work with other accredited conservation zoos through the Species Survival Plan to track the genetics of endangered species, such as siamangs, in our care. This way we can collaborate on matchmaking, finding pairs that are right for breeding or companionship. But animals have their own personalities and just because a match works on paper, doesn’t mean it’s meant to be. That part would be up to Sam and Bagus.

For a chance at a new life with a new partner, Bagus traveled more than 3,000 miles on the nation’s longest direct flight, Miami to Seattle. When she arrived in Seattle, she was greeted by her Woodland Park Zoo keepers who instantly went to work to make her feel at home. After clearing standard quarantine, it was time for Sam and Bagus to finally meet.

We always take it slow when introducing animals to each other. Keepers started Sam and Bagus off by setting up what we call a “howdy” introduction, where they can safely interact through a barrier, in this case some mesh screening. Right away, Bagus presented to Sam, a clear “hello” signal! Sam reached through the barrier to touch her fur, a clear “hey” in return. Then Sam started pulling at the screen as if to say “thanks, keepers, but we won’t be needing this anymore!”

By day two the siamangs were sharing the same physical space. Right away we saw positive signs of a bond in the making. They share food and groom each other, and seem to always be by the other’s side.

Soon the two will head outdoors to explore the treetops together. Up in the canopy, they’ll develop their song. A siamang duet is a symphonic call that can be heard up to two miles away and can last up to 20 minutes. It strengthens their bond and declares their territory, territory that is all too quickly disappearing in the wild.

The largest of the gibbon species, siamangs are native to forests of Asia that are being destroyed at alarming rates as human development and agriculture expand. Know that when you come to visit Sam and Bagus, your admission or membership helps support our field conservation partners working to save gibbons and other apes from extinction.

We won’t let the siamang’s song be silenced in the wild. Every note we hear from Sam and Bagus will strengthen that resolve.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Local medical team helps save gorilla's life

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Their patients are usually human. But a team of local medical specialists joined Woodland Park Zoo's animal health team last month to perform emergency umbilical hernia surgery repair on 38-year-old gorilla Vip. The all-star team re-convened with our veterinary team over the weekend to examine silverback Vip’s surgical site and perform dental and sinus procedures. The good news: Vip is doing great!

“Thanks to the expertise of the medical team, Vip successfully pulled through both the surgery and follow-up examination and is back with his family as he recovers,” said Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of animal health. “The elderly gorilla remains under close observation by his attentive caretakers and we’ll continue to keep him on a prescribed program of analgesics and joint medication.”

Prior to the surgery, keepers had reported the 430-pound western lowland gorilla had shown signs of decline including mobility challenges, a reduced appetite, weight loss and sluggishness. The zoo’s senior veterinarian called in a special team of medical specialists and a veterinary consultant to assist in diagnosing Vip and to explore a potential hernia issue. An ultrasound exam revealed an infection associated with the hernia in the umbilical region. The decision was made to perform emergency surgery that same day, which likely saved the gorilla’s life. 

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

“Vip’s condition was serious and definitely required the expert surgical intervention of the medical specialists,” said Collins. “We rely on a local network of volunteer medical specialists to help us provide top-notch health care for our 1,000-plus animals. We are very grateful to this team who donated their time and expertise to save the life of our much loved gorilla.”

During the follow-up examination of the gorilla’s surgical site, the medical team also administered a dental exam and extracted a loose tooth. In addition, Vip, who has a history of chronic sinus infection, underwent an endoscopic sinus exam as a precaution. 

Serving on the medical team for Vip’s surgery were: Greg Davis, MD, MPH, University of Washington associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Director of Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery; Andrew Wright, MD, Director of the UW Medicine Hernia Center at Northwest Hospital; Robert Yates, MD, surgeon, Northwest Hospital and University of Washington Medical Center; Robert M. Liddell, MD, a radiologist for Center for Diagnostic Imaging; and G.G. Comet Riggs, DVM, a veterinarian with practice limited to dentistry and oral surgery.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Named for being a Very Important Primate, Vip is the father of five daughters, including the zoo’s youngest baby gorilla, 1-year-old Yola. Vip lives with his female companion, 32-year-old Jumoke, and his daughter, 9-year-old Uzumma. 

The median life expectancy for male western lowland gorillas is 32 years old, although gorillas in zoos can live in to their 40s and 50s because of the evolving field of zoo medicine—improved husbandry and management techniques, excellent animal care, better nutrition, increased medical knowledge, and diagnostic and therapeutic techniques. 

“Due to expanded life expectancies in many animals, including great apes, animals experience the aches and pains of getting older, just like aging humans. Vip has mobility issues, which is natural for his advanced age,” said Collins. As part of his workup, Vip also received complementary medicine in the form of laser therapy for his arthritis.

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the critically endangered western lowland gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study. To help support this important project, drop off used handheld electronics (cell phones, MP3 players, handheld games, e-readers, digital still and video cameras, laptops, GPS, portable hard drives, etc.) at the zoo. The handheld electronics will be turned over to ECO-CELL, which operates a strict NO LANDFILL program and reimburses organizations. ECO-CELL reuses mineral ore from these devices to reduce the demand for unsustainable coltan mining in the Congo that destroys habitat for critically endangered gorillas. The zoo will direct funds from ECO-CELL toward the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study and other African conservation projects. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Every child deserves a butterfly moment

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

Standing in the sun-soaked tent at Molbak’s Butterfly Garden, we are surrounded by fluttering pollinators, gorgeous blooms and the giggles of some very special visitors. They wait, holding very still, anticipating a lucky butterfly landing. 

Gabriana and her little sister Asuzana, 3 years old, soak up the magic of a butterfly overhead.

“I really think they will land on me,” an optimistic 4-year-old Emilio explains to his mom. The butterflies seem to flit and dart just above the laughter of this group of toddlers. These kiddos and their parents are here with a group called YoungLives, which offers support and provides resources for teen moms and their young children in the greater Seattle area. YoungLives is part mentorship and part community resource for young mothers (primarily middle school through high school-aged) at a time when they may feel isolated from family, friends or schoolmates. YoungLives is an offshoot of YoungLife, a nondenominational Christian ministry for adolescents. 

The YoungLives Seattle office works with around 30 young mothers at any given time. Jenni Steinke, YoungLives Seattle Coordinator, explains how this group of moms provides support for each other as well as receives mentorship from volunteers in the community. “We meet monthly, and usually try to do something that is easily accessible for young mothers who are often still in school and working at the same time. I think across the board, the biggest thing for the girls is that the group provides support, a safe place where they can come hang out with other adults who aren’t judging them and other teen moms who have shared experiences. For many of our girls, they don’t come from a place where getting pregnant as a teen has any support, so to be in a place where other people are actually excited about their pregnancy—it’s seen as a positive—is really empowering for them.”

The YoungLives group meets once a month to spend time with one another and pick up items such as diapers, formula or clothing that has been donated to the group. Sometimes they are able to visit places like the zoo together. Through Woodland Park Zoo's Community Access Program (CAP), we partner with hundreds of local organizations such as YoungLives to provide complimentary zoo tickets to community members each year. 

Sometimes the moms come to visit the zoo on their own with their babies, but oftentimes they are able to visit as a group and bring family members like parents or siblings. Family time is really important for these young parents who are incredibly busy with school, work and parenting.

We spoke with Gabriell, Gabriana and Amanda to learn more about what access to the zoo means to them.

Amanda and Marshall, 2 years old, check out some pollinators in the Molbak’s Butterfly Garden.

We first speak with Amanda, while her 2-year-old son Marshall fully investigates a bee balm flower.

“I moved here from Boise, Idaho. I was a teen mom and so I was out of high school at that point, so I didn’t have a lot of friends around, and I found the group on Facebook. They are really welcoming; they help my son a lot. 
Visiting the zoo allows me to take my son somewhere and show him animal life; we do live in Seattle where there are mostly squirrels in the city, so taking him somewhere where I can show him new things and educate him about the environment... it’s easier to save the environment if you can see what you’re saving. 
Since we have social media, I’m connected with the other moms on Facebook and we get together when we can. I mean we’re moms, we’re working, so when we get together it’s always great to see each other and catch up.”

As Marshall’s blond curls duck around the path, Amanda reminds him to move slowly here in the garden. He’s inquisitive and curious and she is patient and attentive. Just like other families, they are here to connect with nature, but also to spend time together in a beautiful place. 

“The girls come back to YoungLives because they feel loved and supported by our volunteers in the community and that is huge,” says Jenni.  “For some of our girls, a zoo visit means that they get to have the experience of a normal childhood for their kids. This is something that otherwise would probably be unaffordable to these young moms. With the zoo's Community Access Program, their zoo becomes accessible and their kids get to run around and see animals. Access to something like this creates a really nice opportunity for feeling like they are truly part of the community.”

Gabriell takes in the blooms and color of the pollinator plants.

For Gabriell, the sense of community is the most tangible reward for participating in this group. 

“For me YoungLives is more of a safe place. I feel like especially for our group of teen moms, you basically get a chance to be around people who have the same problems as you, you feel like you’re not alone in the world. There are a lot of resources there. You also meet a lot of cool people—I’ve been  friends with some of the moms for years. Our kids have grown up together and went to camp together—to not have this would be like not having a safe space where you can be comfortable and be yourself.  I do one day want to become a YoungLives leader and share moments like these with other teen moms. 
We actually come to Woodland Park Zoo every year for WildLights and that is pretty fun. It’s a cool way for them to bond with other kids their age and socialize. Also, just for education, they learn a lot. My son has been asking a lot of questions!”

Gabriell, her son Z’aedyn, 4 years old, and her boyfriend Pedro. Z’aedyn’s favorite moment was saying hello to the napping grizzly bear and touching all of the plants. “He loves the plants!” says Gabby.

Gabriana agrees with her friend Gabby:

“What young life is for me is a group where we just support each other, we have mentors, we have adults who we get to talk to and get to know. We get to meet every month, but I actually wish it was more often. We get to all come together and be with people who care about us. We have familiar friends who are in the same situation as us and we can relate to. Just like a safe place, where we can always turn to and always get to do fun stuff like come to the zoo.”

Gabriana and Emilio crack up as a butterfly comes really close to their noses!

Gabriana’s boyfriend Ralphie chimes in, “I can say, it’s a group that, you know if you need help with any type of resources, you know diapers, formula, there are people to help you. If you have any parent problems, you know they have staff you can talk to as well as counselors who can get you the resources you need and whatever it is, someone will help you.”

Z’aedyn, Taylon and Emilio are good buddies.

“I think it’s really cool to visit the zoo,” says Gabriana, mom of 4-year-old Emilio, “I am a big fan of the zoo and the animals and I think it’s a great way, a healthy way, for us to bond with our kids and do something productive and fun and let the kids be outside and learn and just experience a lot of new things. They are exposed to new things here that they haven’t seen before."

Gabriana and the other families here today are all close. They’ve watched each other’s children grow and it’s obvious their friendship is super-strength.

Emilio (4 years old), Asuzana (3 years old), Gabriana and her boyfriend Ralphie strike a pose in front of the caterpillar shed.

In addition to access to resources, the YoungLives participants are paired with volunteer mentors from the community who provide support, offer advice and are just there to listen. Not being judged is a recurring theme that keeps coming up when we ask participants why the group is so important to them. For these young women, society can be harsh, but from our perspective their kids are here burning off energy, asking a million questions and soaking up more zoo facts than most staff probably have stored away—just like every other kid who comes to visit.

Gabriana, Asuzana and Ralphie relax among the daisy patch. Pollinators aren’t the only creatures attracted to beautiful flowers.

We are grateful to these strong, independent and optimistic young women who have taken the time out of their very busy lives to bring their children to the zoo. Families like theirs will change the world and help protect habitats for wild creatures all over the globe. When it comes to successfully implementing social change and conservation advocacy we need every member of our community to be on board.

Sometimes you have to growl like a tiger, even in the butterfly garden. Gabriell’s younger brothers Braylon and Jaylon make the most of it while their sister is being interviewed.

We believe that many moms like Amanda, Gabriana and Gabriella would benefit from access to their zoo whatever their means or motivations. Our Community Access Program works with over 600 community partners and local organizations to make a free visit to the zoo possible for more than 50,000 people every year, but we can do better.

This summer, King County voters will have the opportunity to significantly boost access to science, arts and heritage educational programming. If passed by vote, Proposition 1 - Access for All will provide funding to Woodland Park Zoo and more than 350 community-based organizations to expand access to learning experiences and remove barriers for underserved communities throughout King County. Ballots will hit King County voter mailboxes this week and we urge you to VOTE YES on Prop 1.

Exhibit attendant Sam Graham gives this crew the scoop on caterpillar morphology.

If you’d like to know more about YoungLives and ways that you can help support young families in Seattle, you can visit: https://younglivesseattle.younglife.org We want to extend a special thanks to Jenni Steinke and Seattle YoungLives for helping us tell this story and for their continued participation in the Woodland Park Zoo Community Access Program. 

Jenni and the YoungLives group give us their biggest grins after lemonade and cookies in the Microsoft Pollinator Patio. 

 We wish Gabriell, Amanada and Gabriana all the best and we hope to see them often!