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Monday, February 26, 2018

Drafting a Future for Rhinos: Assam Rhino Reserve

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Inspired by the sweeping marshlands of Northeast India—where broadleaf forests meet elephant grasses, rolling rivers and dense pockets of jungle—Assam Rhino Reserve evokes the timelessness of nature’s grandeur. Yet look closer. The new exhibit, opening this May at Woodland Park Zoo, confronts one of the most enduring battles of species conservation: wildlife trafficking. The same wildness we revere in Earth’s breathtaking landscapes, we put at risk for trinkets, knickknacks, placebo medicines, and trophies.

Photo of greater one-horned rhinos by Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Rhinos have become one of the most iconic symbols of wildlife trafficking. But trafficking is not an issue isolated to the wildlife of Asia and Africa. The Assam Rhino Reserve will help shed light on a very local problem—trafficked animals that are smuggled through our own sea and airports, and local species that are also being illegally killed for their parts.

“This is a huge challenge,” says Woodland Park Zoo senior interpretive content developer Sarah Werner. “We have to reset the way people think about these issues and empower everyone with ways they can make a difference in the slowing of wildlife trafficking. We have to make an experience that is accessible to families; in thinking about action, hope is still important. We have to consider that our audience is all ages, kids and adults—how do we inspire them?” For Werner, a marine biologist with a background in documentary filmmaking, it’s all about being inspired herself. “This issue is not just about saving certain species. It’s about preserving the amazing biodiversity of this planet. And if this exhibit can help bring a greater understanding of that, then we’ve succeeded.”

The most inspiring experience of all will be your chance to get up close to greater one-horned rhinos for the first time in Woodland Park Zoo’s 119-year history. We will become home to two young rhinos with distinct personalities, and our design team has the animals in mind at each turn. The exhibit will feature a soaking pond and goopy mud wallows (the species is the most aquatic of its kind), opportunities for browsing and grazing, logs to play with, as well as both indoor and outdoor spaces for the two to spend their time as they choose. You will be able to get close to these animals and their care givers during feedings and bath time to see what it takes to provide them the best in care.

Aged bamboo in the Assam Rhino Reserve space, photo by Kirsten Pisto, WPZ

For Katura Reynolds, Woodland Park Zoo interpretive content developer, it’s all about the animals. “I’m just extremely excited to meet the rhinos and be able to share that with our guests. Getting up close to these animals is going to be an amazing experience—one I think will inspire our guests to take action on their behalf.” Katura has a background in science illustration and has always found communicating complex ideas to be a fascinating challenge, which is a skill that couldn’t be more fitting for this project.

The young rhinos were both born at other accredited conservation zoos. They’ve never faced the threats that haunt their wild cousins, yet their very presence may catalyze hope for their species and all the others threated by wildlife trafficking.

Rhinos are among the animals that are most hard-hit by poachers; their horns fetch more than gold or silver on the black market. Made of keratin, the same material as your fingernails, the horn has no medicinal benefits whatsoever. Yet it remains a highly sought after luxury item among those wealthy enough to seek this pretend elixir as a false cure for cancer, impotence, hangovers and other ailments against which it truly has no power. While China is often blamed for its insatiable appetite for endangered animal parts, the issue is alive and well right here at home—the U.S. also ranks as one of the largest consumers of trafficked wildlife.

Idea sketch for an educational and interpretive sign in Assam Rhino Reserve.

Whether we fault a cancer-curing rumor, a status symbol for a record number of indulgent new multimillionaires, or a shortage of real medical treatment for a growing population—the lucrative and violent poaching business has global implications. Rhino horn and other trafficked animal parts easily make their way from Africa and India to other parts of the world, snuck in among legal goods, deep inside container cargo ships in ports like Beijing, Genoa and even here in Seattle. The highly organized crime syndicates that back wildlife trafficking profit immensely, funding terrorism, corruption and human trafficking.

Photo of greater one-horned rhinos by Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Complicated doesn’t begin to explain it. But we’re up for the challenge. The exhibit design team is busy creating an interactive space that will transport our guests to another world, while also spotlighting the fact that our own state is wrapped up in the complex web of the illegal wildlife trade. The team will be introducing guests to two incredibly cool, dynamic animals while acknowledging the hard reality that this species is in great danger because of people. And most of all, the team must inspire hope in our guests and spur the community to join us in advocating for a species that lives halfway around the world—because only together can we push back against multimillion dollar, international crime rings with a growing market. Oh, and then there are the turtles and cranes in the exhibit, who have their own incredible stories. Easy, right?

Demoiselle cranes will accompany rhinos and Asian tortoise in Assam Rhino Reserve. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.

We’ll let you decide how we do, but in the meantime, we are fervently drafting an experience we hope will be a catalyst for protecting all wildlife. We hope your family continues this conversation long after you leave the exhibit. We hope you’ll add to our story, introduce your own solutions, and continue to rally with us to be the voice for rhinos, tigers, bears, otters, turtles and cranes. We believe you are up to the challenge, and we’ll be right alongside you in the fight to stop wildlife trafficking.

You can support the Assam Rhino Reserve experience at zoo.org/donate

Asian forest tortoise. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, WPZ.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Zoo Welcomes Peter Zahler as Vice President of Conservation Initiatives

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Peter Zahler will join Woodland Park Zoo as Vice President of Conservation Initiatives in March 2018.

As Peter Zahler asks in his article, Super Rare Super Squirrel, “What glides down mountains at night, sleeps in cliff caves during the day, eats primarily pine needles, and was thought to be extinct for 70 years? And, at four feet in length, is the biggest gliding mammal in the world?” Hint: it’s the same species that Peter rediscovered in Pakistan in 1994—the woolly flying squirrel (which was then thought to be extinct).

Peter is no stranger to enigmatic species having led conservation projects from Alaska, Arizona, Venezuela and Peru, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji to the temperate mountains and vast grasslands of Central Asia. He has studied animals like the Asiatic cheetah, snow leopard, markhor, hoatzin, bristle-thighed curlew, Mongolian gazelle and grasshopper mouse.

Peter’s 30 years of professional experience in conservation leadership includes field programs, research, training, capacity building and communications.  He knows that wildlife conservation is about people just as much as it is about animals. That’s why we are excited to announce that he will be joining the Woodland Park Zoo family as Vice President of Conservation Initiatives.

“We are thrilled to welcome Peter to Woodland Park Zoo where he will be leading and coordinating all institutional wildlife conservation efforts toward the creation of a social movement for conservation solutions,” said Woodland Park Zoo’s President and CEO Alejandro Grajal. “Peter brings a distinguished background in community-based conservation, an ideal fit for the zoo as we pursue our new mission, to save wildlife and inspire everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives. We are very excited to see how Peter will use his experience to electrify our community and help us take our conservation efforts and our social movement to a whole new level.”

Peter has a global perspective, with a strong emphasis in Asia, where he once served as the regional director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). His extensive managerial experience in conservation includes designing and implementing three full-sized country programs in Pakistan, Mongolia and Afghanistan. These three programs are considered cutting-edge examples of payment-for-ecological-services, institutional governance building, protected area design and development, community-based conservation and partnering with industry.

Peter joins us from the Wildlife Conservation Society, a non-profit conservation organization that works with conservation programs around the world and operates New York’s signature zoos including Bronx Zoo. There, he was the director of training and capacity building, which involved advising the global health program, coordinating the snow leopard program and the Wildlife Conservation Society Science Council. He is a mentor to young conservation leaders from developing nations and supports developing country conservationists around the world. We are eager to learn from Peter’s extensive conservation experience and welcome him to Seattle in early March.

He will no doubt feel right at home in this community that has made conservation so central to its identity, to its heart. Your love for animals and your deep commitment to wildlife drive us to be a voice for all species. In our commitment to wildlife conservation, we see Peter’s leadership, expertise and extensive background in bridging innovation and meaningful action as powerful and tangible modes for saving species.

Thank you for your support and please join us in welcoming Peter and his family to Woodland Park Zoo.

Monday, February 5, 2018

6-week-old sloth bear twins open eyes and wiggle around

Posted by Alissa Wolken, Communications

Hello, little ones!

Footage of 6-week-old sloth bear cubs in the den with mom, Tasha. (https://youtu.be/mbOJOale-Fs)

Tasha's 6-week-old sloth bear cubs have opened their eyes! New footage, captured on the zoo’s maternity den cam, shows the growing cubs becoming more mobile and opening their eyes. The two cubs, born December 27, 2017, are the offspring of 13-year-old mother Tasha and 17-year-old father Bhutan.

Cub kiss! Tasha gives her cubs a bath and snuggles them in the den. Screenshot from the keeper cam used to monitor the family.

The mother and newborn cubs remain in an off-view maternity den to allow for their best possible welfare. This time is critical for maternal bonding and undisturbed nursing. Animal care staff is monitoring the new family via a camera inside the maternity den to ensure the cubs continue to thrive. Currently, the cubs are doing well and developing well. 

Woodland Park Zoo is a participant in the sloth bear Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program under the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) that ensures genetic diversity and demographic stability among North American zoos. In addition, the zoo funds Wildlife SOS and their sloth bear research through the Wildlife Survival Fund.

For updates on the 2018 twinsies, check back right here and we'll keep you posted on their development milestones and any information on when you might be able to visit the cubs.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Chinta the orangutan celebrates her milestone 50th birthday!

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Chinta, our eldest female orangutan, is turning the big 5-0—a cause for celebration! Join us on February 17 for Chinta's birthday bash. The zoo will shower Chinta and her fellow companions with gift-wrapped presents full of favorite treats, streamers and flowers. And, of course, birthday cake! Chef David Van Gelder with Lancer Hospitality, the zoo’s food concessionaire, will bake a ginger-carrot cake fit for an orangutan and loaded with favorite ape ingredients including carrots, sweet potatoes and ginger.

Chinta cools off with a shower in summer 2017. Photo by Carolyn Sellar, Woodland Park Zoo.
The birthday girl is the oldest animal currently living at Woodland Park Zoo and one of the oldest female orangutans in North America.

Save the date for Chinta's birthday bash!
  • Saturday, February 17, 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
  • Cake and presents for Chinta: 10:30 a.m.

 Birthday activities will take place at the orangutan exhibit located in Trail of Vines. 

Born at Woodland Park Zoo in February 1968, Chinta is distinguished by ragged bangs gracing her eyebrows and by her sweet personality. Worldwide, she and her late twin brother Towan gained instant celebrity status as the first-known twin orangutans born in a zoo. Photos of the pair as infants appeared around the globe, including in “Life” magazine. While other twins have since been born, twin orangutan births are still a rare occurrence. Towan passed away in 2016. 

From the Woodland Park Zoo archive. Physicians and nurses from the University Hospital Center for premature infants and University of Washington Regional Primate Center pitched in to care for the infant apes in 1968. 

Birthday festivities include: complimentary cake pops courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo Board Member Kevin Schofield (while supplies last); a meet ‘n’ greet with animal care staff as they shed light on the quality care program for orangutans and the importance of geriatric care; a photo collage of Chinta; docents with discovery stations sharing fascinating biofacts; and free Chinta collector cards. To show love for Chinta and orangutans in the wild, guests are invited to take a palm pledge to choose consumer products that don’t have an adverse impact on tropical rain forests and the animals that live there. In addition, guests can enter a free drawing for a chance to win a commemorative painting created by one of the zoo’s orangutans, an orangutan ZooParent Adoption package and other prizes. 

From the Woodland Park Zoo archive. Eric Sano with Towan and Chinta in 1968.
A special guest will reunite with Chinta at the birthday party: Eric Sano, who was 6 years old when he named the orangutans in 1968 through a naming contest co-sponsored by The Seattle Times and KVI radio. As the winner, Sano won the privilege to be keeper of the baby orangutans for a day. Today, Sano is a captain with the Seattle Police Department.

Chinta hanging int he Trail of Vines in 2008. Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.
In addition to Chinta, two female orangutans currently live at the zoo: 46-year-old Melati and 36-year-old Belawan, daughter of Towan and Melati. The two males, who happen to have the same birthdays as Chinta, are: Heran, son of Towan and Melati, who will turn 29; and Godek, a Sumatran orangutan introduced last summer to Chinta and Melati, who will turn 9. 

From the Woodland Park Zoo archives. Towan and Chinta in 1968.
Chinta and twin brother Towan were handreared because the mother didn’t know what to do or how to feed them. The twins spent their first several weeks in an incubator converted from a snake enclosure. Since the zoo did not yet have its own veterinary staff, physicians and nurses from the University Hospital Center for premature infants and University of Washington Regional Primate Center pitched in to care for the infant apes. The twins were never reintroduced to their mother; they were handraised by zoo staff and a team of volunteer “babysitter moms” until they were about 5 years old. Animal care practices have evolved, however, and today, there are more options for developing maternal care in adult orangutans or using surrogates, so there is rarely any need for handrearing.

Orangutans, a critically endangered species, belong to the family Hominidae, which includes all four great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans. There were previously two distinct species of orangutans known—the Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia. Last November, a third species was announced—the Tapanuli orangutan found in Sumatra. Overpopulation, logging, agriculture, conversion of forests to unsustainable oil palm plantations, and other human activities are rapidly destroying forest environments required by orangutans for survival. This palm oil guide can be used to find sustainable, deforestation-free products when shopping: www.zoo.org/palmoil.

Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo
Learn about Woodland Park Zoo’s partnership with Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Project in Borneo, whose focus is to help build a future where orangutans and other wildlife can thrive alongside local villages. 

From the Woodland Park Zoo archive. Baby Chinta in 1968. 
Happiest Birthday, beautiful!