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Friday, July 27, 2018

From Cloud Forest to Reef: CEO Alejandro Grajal takes us to Papua New Guinea with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program

Posted by Kirsten Pisto with President and CEO, Alejandro Grajal PhD

A tree kangaroo checks out the hikers. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO, Alejandro Grajal, PhD, recently returned from his trip to Papua New Guinea, where he explored the community and conservation impacts of Woodland Park Zoo's Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). His mission? Experience first-hand the TKCP community and landscape that coexist in remarkable ways, bring back some of their stories, and change the batteries on three radio collars attached to three tree kangaroos that live nearly three stories about the forest floor.

Woodland Park Zoo’s own Lisa Dabek, PhD, started the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program over 20 years ago. Her dedication to saving species has created a network of partners and communities that protect over 160,000 acres of tropical cloud forest, villages, plantations and grasslands, as well as 100 acres of coral reef in the YUS Conservation Area. The story of how this charismatic marsupial has become the flagship for protecting an extraordinary variety of rare species is astounding.

Now, let's talk with Alejandro about what he has experienced through this community-based model of conservation stewardship and why he's so optimistic about its success.

Tree kangaroo habitat in the YUS Conservation Area of Papua New Guinea. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/ Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: You recently returned from Papua New Guinea’s remote YUS Conservation Area. Tell us about the region, what surprised you about your visit?

AG: It was a fantastic trip. I have been to many different places, but this was very interesting, very unusual. The thing that surprised me most about the visit was, first, the region where we were is incredibly well conserved. I saw nearly pristine primary cloud forests—the kind that are very hard to find anywhere in the world. Second, how generous and proud the people of the YUS ecosystem are about their conservation ethic and their conservation planning. The work they are doing to figure out the balance between conservation and economic progress and health—it's a struggle just like for anybody—but they were very optimistic. That was very refreshing to me.

I have seen a significant number of conservation projects. I have to say when you compare how much the community has been involved and look at the amount of biodiversity that is being preserved—it's very remarkable. The fact that Woodland Park Zoo has nurtured this program makes me very proud.

Preparing for a celebration. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: You traveled with Director of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program Lisa Dabek, journalist Penny LeGate and nature filmmaker Joe Pontecorvo. What insights or new perspectives were you able to experience with these travel companions?

AG: Going with Lisa was an eye opener. I have known Lisa from the Seattle-perspective, but seeing her on the ground—the endless energy that she puts into everything, and the admiration and comradery that she gets from her counterparts in PNG was a true joy to see. She is no question an amazing leader; she has built trust, friendship and confidence around her and that is beautiful.

Traveling with Penny and Joe, and Joe's wife Nimmida, was also an interesting look at storytelling. Joe is a seeker of images, very skilled, very detail-oriented. Penny has a unique talent to find the human stories in this larger context. The way she connects with people and is able to distill these human stories out of this complex project is exciting. Their perspectives are very valuable and bringing this type of multimedia storytelling back to Seattle is key. This will allow us to invite others to join our journey—not only in PNG, but around the world.

Dr. Lisa Dabek (top row, second from right) with the tree kangaroo radio collar team. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

Joe and Nimmida Pontecorvo prepare drones for a different camera angle. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

Alejandro Grajal and Penny LeGate celebrate a successful hike high in the cloud forest. Photo by Lisa Dabek/ Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program is a benchmark model for conservation not only in protecting wild places and wildlife, but in creating a community of conservation-minded partners. The success of this program is clearly linked to the people. You've mentioned the human story; can you speak more to that?

AG: In the end, what we are trying to do as a center for empathy here at the zoo, is not very different than what Penny was trying to do in PNG as a producer. Both are trying to convey the different perspectives of the struggles and individual stories of a person or animal. These stories can be framed in a way that relates to personal emotions. Narration is important. I hope that these stories we brought will produce in the viewer a feeling of true empathy for the people who are truly acting as conservation heroes. If others see that folks around the world are making these lifestyle changes that benefit the environment, then these changes feel more accessible.

Future conservationists! Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: Tree kangaroos are naturally elusive and live in the highest treetops. Were you lucky enough to see one?

AG: Oh yeah! We got super lucky. The main objective of the trip was to change the radio collars on these three animals because the batteries were dying. Luckily, we are getting new high-tech GPS enabled radios that will arrive in October. So, this was a temporary fix, because once you lose the battery, you lose the animal, so changing the collars was very important. Not only did we catch three of them, but we also discovered a young tree kangaroo with one of the collared adults, which we also collared.

I had heard about tree kangaroos, and have seen them in zoos of course, but to see them in their natural environment with this kind of magnificent forest of mosses, ferns and orchids—the silence when you get into these primary forests, wow. The thing that you notice is that all the sounds come from this forest and otherwise there are no sounds from the outside. It’s almost poetic to see these animals in their own ecosystem. It’s one of those inspiring moments you live to live.

The local team we worked with was unbelievable. How they moved through the forest, the way they climbed the trees, and how incredibly attuned to the forest they were. It's nearly impossible to see these animals in the wild. They sleep on branches 28 feet above the forest floor on mossy clumps that are nearly the exact same color as the animal. The moss is bright orange, and unless the animal moves an ear or tail, there is no way you are going to spot it. We had to isolate the animal, so we were supported by Dr. Carol Esson, an Australian wildlife veterinarian, who has worked with the project several times. She made sure that the animals were safe and not harmed during the process. They are so incredibly fluffy, but also very, very wild. As usual, with wild animals, I am just in awe of their presence.

A wild tree kangaroo is caught, her radio collar batteries are replaced, and then she is released back into the tree tops. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: What do you see as the next iteration of this project? Camera traps, data collection, technologies are always improving. What is the zoo's role in helping Lisa and TKCP move forward? 

AG: This is the first protected area in PNG, and it has also become an emblematic program for all protected areas in the country. Many organizations have tried and failed to accomplish this. This project is a living laboratory on how to conserve whole ecosystems and work with the local communities to achieve conservation results. That is huge. Yes, there are great improvements in tech and tracking, and we've recently come light-years ahead in understanding the connection between healthy forests and healthy people, but the bigger thing is truly saving these ecosystems. Preservation is key.

The vast majority of the country is in nearly pristine condition. Providing solutions between conservation and economic growth is truly important. How do we develop economic opportunities and save these magnificent landscapes? How do we use the YUS Conservation Area as a model to do the same in other parts of PNG? That is the future.

Gorgeous coral reefs skirt the YUS Conservation Area. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

Photo of the forest at dusk by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

The YUS Conservation Area took you to extremely remote cloud forests at 3,200 feet down to the protected reef where Papua New Guinea meets the sea. The island is an incredibly biodiverse landscape that hosts a rich array of creatures only found in these distinct ecosystems. What can you tell us about the importance of protecting living landscapes at this scale?

AG: So, what most people don't know, is that the YUS project is a giant triangle between three rivers in the Huon Peninsula. This area was actually isolated from PNG for millions of years and was finally connected to the rest of the island during the last 6 million years. The remarkable thing about the Huon Peninsula is that since it has been so isolated, it has even more unique biodiversity than the rest of PNG. Almost half the species living in Huon are unique to that very peninsula.

You are looking at a plant that is relatively common, such as a Schefflera (a common office plant), but here it is the unique Huon Schefflera plant. And there is a Huon Matchie's tree kangaroo, a Huon honeyeater, etc. In everything, from orchids to mammals, the level of endemic uniqueness is equivalent to Hawaii or the Galapagos, except that there are a lot more species here because the landscape is so untouched and vast. I hiked through forest so green it seemed like a fairy tale and snorkeled in reefs of equal measure—these landscapes are living, breathing things.

Photo by Alejandro Grajal/ Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: Can you explain how the zoo’s new mission to inspire everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives is linked to this project?

AG: PNG is probably one of the biggest carbon sinks in the whole world. It is incredibly productive.  The forest and the volcanic soil work like magic for cleaning our air. Our human existence relies on climate regulation.

The unique creatures who inhabit this landscape have intrinsic values we don't even know about. Who knows where the next modern drug or cure will come from. While I was there, there was a report of a new treatment for epilepsy derived from a species of spider discovered in Australia. If we lose these things, they are gone forever.

Lastly, this is our heritage. As humans, we must do this. As a fellow cloud forest citizen, Seattle sits in one of three largest temperate cloud forest ecosystems in the world. We are sisters to the region in PNG. We can learn so many lessons from the exercise of caring for this place and for each other.

Alejandro sketches a scene from the cloud forest. Photo by Lisa Dabek/ Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: You have traveled a lot in your career. Why is travel important to the work we do?

AG: The field is where I grew up professionally, I mean this is what I did for more than 30 years. The new thing for me is to be with a coat and tie—and not having to swat mosquitoes for a change! The forest is my element. I really loved being back there. I love to experience the whole feeling of being in the field—with all its discomforts, and its magnificence. Sometimes you forget that you make significant trade-offs. You may have a hot shower, but you may not enjoy the Milky Way on a moonless night in the middle of a pristine rain forest.

Sleeping quarters are cozy. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: I think a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest can relate to that feeling. Besides being in nature, what about meeting new people? There is sort of an Anthony Bourdain element to the TKCP program, it’s a whole other world over there, but it also feels very relatable.

AG: One of the things Bourdain did was go beyond sharing food and recipes. He was sharing feelings, cultures, and conflict. Conservation is woven into all of that. Tree kangaroos are great, but they are just one ingredient in this complex story. People in PNG are trying to find a way in their own life. Is our culture going to survive? What are the values of our culture? Things are changing, how can we provide a better life for our children? What about our health? How can we make a balance of coexisting with tree 'roos and achieving our life's dreams? These questions are not much different than what we are struggling with here in Seattle. We have more in common than we think. What is the true story we want to share? We can tell it in a larger context, because in a sense, the basic questions are the same, those commonalities are strong.

Photo by Lisa Dabek/ Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program was started by Lisa Dabek over twenty years ago and has grown from a conservation program aimed at protecting its flagship species—a then little-known creature—into a robust and holistic program with conservation, education, health care and livelihood initiatives. Coffee has transformed the livelihoods of many of the villages with partnerships like that of Seattle’s Caffe Vita. How do you take your coffee?

AG: Black. I have always been attached to the biodiversity story of coffee. It’s one of these global commodities that has a very significant impact—positive or negative—on the environment. Shade grown coffee, sustainable, organic, is a very viable solution for many communities around the world. In PNG, they are able to both make a living in a high revenue product, but at the same time preserve a significant portion of the biodiversity component in their farms. It’s working and it works in many other parts of the world. It is a beautiful combination.  

Caffe Vita YUS coffee. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: We’ve heard taro root is a staple in Papua New Guinea cuisine, did you try it?

AG: Haha, enough. There was plenty to eat. I even prepared a taro-root feast here in Seattle with Lisa and Penny, it was a fantastic meal shared with wonderful humans.

Hosts prepare a mountain-top feast! Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

KP: You are back in Seattle. What did you bring home with you? Was there an "ahaa!" moment you had that might shape the way you see the zoo’s role in conservation?

AG: Travel brain is real. It's incredibly useful to be disconnected from those little screens that enslave us. It was great to be unplugged for a long enough period to reconnect with raw nature. Many of the comforts we take for granted are stripped away. No smartphone for 12 days allows you to detach yourself—all of a sudden the ping pong balls in your mind start settling. We need to tell stories and show people that conservation is not a pessimistic attitude, but one of great optimism. Conservation and saving species from extinction can feel heavy and daunting, but it is a combination of hope, community, innovation and energy that make it an extremely exciting field to be in.


We extend a huge thank you to all who welcomed our team to Papua New Guinea and for your continued conservation work and incredible energy around saving species. Learn more about Woodland Park Zoo's Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and how you can join us. 

A tree kangaroo is about to be released back into its forest home after having its radio collar checked. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Happy National Zookeeper Week!

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

This whole week—which has been National Zookeeper Week—we’ve been celebrating our amazing animal keepers and showing them some love! Looking out for our animals is more than just a job for WoodlandPark Zoo’s keepers.

Lead animal keeper Alyssa strikes a very komodo dragon pose.

Most of these dedicated professionals consider their critters to be parts of their extended family—a furry, feathered, scaly and hairy family.

We would be happy to accept a rose from either Lucy the raccoon or from Regina, one of our awesome animal keepers.

Among Woodland Park Zoo’s animal keeper staff, you will find scientists, researchers, educators, wildlife rehabbers, conservationists and environmental stewards.

Christine, Ros, Carolyn, Jenna and Drew make for the most marvelous meerkat mob.

They represent the heart and soul of what we do, caring for our animals, providing our guests with amazing experiences and just generally being awesome.

We can't tell who's more excited about getting a basket of fruits and vegetables--opossum Penelope or animal keeper Rachel.

This dedicated group of professionals is passionate about conservation and animal welfare, and they love talking to zoo guests about the animals they care for.

Our ambassador animals, like these rats, know that sharing a snack with friends is fun. Our keepers Rachel, Susie, Regina and Erin know that, too.

Many of them are also incredibly funny, as you can see here, where they’re having fun recreating some of their favorite animal photos.

Keeper Carolyn is echoing a pose of Malayan tiger Eko, in a training session with Christine.

This week is also when our keepers come together to honor one of their own with the annual Excellence in Zookeeping Award.

Congratulations, to penguin keeper Celine! Thanks for taking such good care of these beautiful and boisterous birds.

This year, that award goes to Celine Pardo, an animal keeper at our award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit. Ironically, Celine—who has been at Woodland Park Zoo for 12 years—wasn’t even here to accept her award in person. She is in Peru at Punta San Juan, the rugged South American coastal reserve that is home to nearly half the wild Humboldt penguin population. She’s working there, with our conservation partners, to help with ongoing research into the health of the population of these endangered birds. Stay tuned. We’ll be sure to tell you more about her trip when she returns.

Is animal keeper Peter copying Taj's facial expression, or is it the other way around? Taj is a very smart greater one-horned rhino, so it really could go either way.

We’d like to honor ALL our animal keepers. Thank you for love, enthusiasm, passion, empathy and dedication that you bring to your jobs every day. Plus—let’s just come out and say it—you all have the coolest jobs and are the true rock stars of Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Rare Oregon silverspot butterfly caterpillars reintroduced to Saddle Mountain

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Silverspot butterfly. Photo by Mike Patterson

Woodland Park Zoo is part of a team that released 500 Oregon silverspot butterfly caterpillars last week on the slopes of Saddle Mountain located in Oregon.

A team from Woodland Park Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Oregon Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work together to save butterflies. Photo by Trevor Taylor
More than 200 of the released caterpillars were raised this summer at the zoo’s butterfly conservation lab. The reintroduction to the habitat is part of a collaborative, ongoing effort to stabilize the declining population of Oregon silverspot butterflies.

Caterpillars were raised in a conservation lab over the winter. Photo by Mike Patterson

Other team members joining the caterpillar release were Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Zoo.
It's a team effort! Photo by Michael Cash/Woodland Park Zoo

The caterpillars began their journey to the mountain as part of the imperiled species programs at Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo. Each year, a small number of female Oregon silverspot butterflies are collected from wild populations and brought to zoo conservation labs to lay eggs. The hatched larvae spend the winter asleep in the lab. In the early summer they are woken up and fed early blue violet leaves, which are grown by the zoo's horticulture department. Once the larvae have reached a certain size they are ready to be transported to Oregon where they are released into the wild.

Hatched larvae are released into the wild when they've matured into caterpillars. Photo by Mike Patterson.

The Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) was federally listed as threatened in 1980, and population numbers have declined continuously over the last three decades. It once lived in Washington but has since been wiped out in the state, and today, just four isolated populations remain: three in Oregon and one in California.

Adult Oregon silverspot butterflies. Photo by Mike Patterson

To survive, the Oregon silverspot butterfly needs early blue violets, a low-growing native wildflower. Silverspots lay their eggs near violet plants, and growing caterpillars rely on the violets as their sole source of food as they mature into adult butterflies. But now early blue violets are disappearing from their native coastal landscapes where they are being choked out by invasive weeds—such as scotch broom—and forest succession.

Early blue violets. Silverspot caterpillars rely on this wildflower, which is disappearing due to human development, as a primary food source. Photo by Trevor Taylor. 

Saddle Mountain was chosen as the reintroduction site for these caterpillars because the delicate violets bloom in abundance there.

Releasing caterpillars into the perfect habitat on Saddle Mountain in Oregon. Photo by Michael Cash/Woodland Park Zoo.

“Saddle Mountain is like the hot real estate market in Seattle—it’s prime land for Oregon silverspots. We have carefully nurtured these fragile caterpillars in our lab and our hope is that they will thrive, successfully reproduce and become the start of a robust butterfly population at this new release site,” said Erin Sullivan, an animal care manager at Woodland Park Zoo who oversees the silverspot recovery project at the zoo.

This pristine Oregon habitat has what these caterpillars need to survive. Photo by Michael Cash/Woodland Park Zoo.

Funding for the reintroduction project was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and Woodland Park Zoo. The butterfly recovery project is a part of Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest conservation programs that focus on native species restoration, habitat protection, wildlife education and human-wildlife conflict mitigation across the Pacific Northwest. 

Good job, team! Photo by Trevor Taylor.

In 2012, Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo earned the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Significant Achievement Award for the Oregon Silverspot Captive Rearing Program. These gorgeous creatures motivate us all to keep our landscapes healthy, green and pollinator-perfect.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jungle Party 2018 hits benchmark thanks to community support

Posted by Meghan Sawyer, Public Relations
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo

More than 1,000 Seattle leaders and philanthropists came together at Woodland Park Zoo’s 42nd Annual Jungle Party fundraising event, giving collectively more than $2 million for the zoo’s pioneering work and conservation mission. 

This year’s Jungle Party, themed “Wander Into the Wild,” was held on July 13 and presented by title sponsors The Boeing Company and Callisons, Inc. Woodland Park Zoo Board members Jim Burgett, Ben Magnano, Matt Rosauer, Ethan Stowell and Evan Wyman co-chaired the event.

“The extraordinary generosity of our Jungle Party patrons this year is humbling, energizing and inspiring,” said Alejandro Grajal, President and CEO of Woodland Park Zoo. “The contributions from our long-term supporters and new friends will directly support local and global wildlife conservation, world-class animal care at our zoo and a considerable increase in access for children and families facing any barrier to visiting the zoo.”

Jungle Party patrons enjoyed bidding on more than 500 exceptional auction items, exclusive zoo tours and animal encounters, a gourmet outdoor dinner designed by Ethan Stowell Restaurants and Lisa Dupar Catering, live entertainment and a Cool Down Session with an acoustic serenade and cocktails at the Humboldt penguin exhibit.

Thanks to a partnership with Oculus, Jungle Party guests also immersed themselves in Woodland Park Zoo’s pilot virtual reality (VR) experience. This first of its kind project utilizes 360-degree video to highlight a day in the life of the zoo’s greater one­-horned rhinos, Taj and Glenn. Through VR technology, the zoo is opening up behind-the-scenes areas of the new Assam Rhino Reserve, deepening understanding about Taj and Glenn, and demonstrating how Woodland Park Zoo’s animal care team adheres to the highest standards of animal welfare.

Jungle Party 2018 corporate sponsors include: The Boeing Company, Callisons, Inc., Alaska Airlines, Q13 Fox, Snake River Farms, Brown Bear Car Wash, Chevron, Cigna, Costco, Oculus, Sound Community Bank, Starbucks, Valence, William Grant & Sons, Amazon, ASI, Avenue Properties, Celebrity Cruises, Columbia Bank, Columbia Pacific Wealth Management, Deloitte, EC Wilson Meat, Ethan Stowell Restaurants, Facebook, Iron Springs Resort, Lane Powell, Moss Adams, The Napoleon Co., North Seattle College, Union Bank, USI, Cisco, Thompson Seattle, Vinum, AT&T, AssuredPartners MCM, Peterson Sullivan, Seattle Children’s and Trident Seafood. Nearly 200 volunteers also helped make the event possible.

As a leading conservation organization, Woodland Park Zoo strongly believes that saving wildlife and its habitats is vital to the future of our planet. Each year, Jungle Party’s sponsors and guests make vital philanthropic contributions that advance the zoo’s mission of wildlife conservation and help support animal care for the zoo’s 1,200 animals. Their support also provides access for all ages and abilities to extraordinary experiences and science education programming that inspire and empower guests to stand up for wildlife.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Zoo and biologists get turtles ready for release to the wild

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

On July 12, more than 45 endangered Western pond turtles were weighed, measured and marked for identification in preparation for being released to the wild at protected sites in Washington.

Under the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, the turtles were collected from the wild as eggs and given a head start on life under the care of Woodland Park Zoo to improve their chance of survival in the wild.

Unlike wild turtles, they are fed at the zoo throughout the winter so that by summer they are nearly as big as 3-year-old turtles that grew up in the wild.

Once the turtles reach about 2 ounces—a suitable size to escape the mouths of invasive predatory bullfrogs—they are returned to the wild and monitored by biologists.
In 1991, only about 150 Western pond turtles remained in two populations in the state of Washington and the species nearly became extinct. In 1993, the state listed the Western pond turtle as endangered. Today, thanks to collaborative recovery efforts over the last 27 years, more than 1,000 thrive at protected sites.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists and zoo staff weighed, measured and marked 47 turtles.
Over the last several years, an emerging shell disease affecting 29 to 49 percent of the wild population threatens decades of recovery progress. Known to cause lesions in a turtle’s shell, severe cases can lead to lowered fitness and even death. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have joined the recovery efforts by collaborating to better understand the disease. The aquarium and university are looking at the disease from a microbial and pathological perspective to better understand its origin and the role environmental factors could play. The goal is to give young turtles a better chance at survival in the wild.

Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo are working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other partners to address this urgent situation: studying the disease, treating severely diseased turtles, and providing overwinter care for turtles to allow their shells to heal before they are released back into the wild. After the treated turtles are released, WDFW monitors the turtles to determine if they remain healthy and are able to reproduce normally in the wild.

The Western pond turtle once ranged from Washington’s Puget Sound lowlands, southward through Western Oregon and California to Baja California. By 1990, their numbers plummeted to only about 150 Western pond turtles in two populations in the state of Washington. These last remaining individuals struggled for survival as they battled predation by the non-native bullfrog, disease and habitat loss. A respiratory disease threatened the remaining turtles and biologists could not find evidence confirming hatchling survival. 

In 1991, Woodland Park Zoo and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) joined forces to recover Western pond turtles by initiating a head start program. In 1999, Oregon Zoo joined the recovery team and, over the years, other nonprofits, government agencies and private partners have contributed to the multi-institutional conservation project. In 27 years, self-sustaining populations have been re-established in two regions of the state: Puget Sound and the Columbia River Gorge. More than 2,100 turtles have been head started and released, and surveys indicate that more than 1,000 of the released turtles have survived and continue to thrive at six sites. 

Each spring, WDFW biologists go in the field to attach transmitters to adult female Western pond turtles. They monitor the turtles every few hours during the nesting season to locate nesting sites and they protect the nests from predators with wire exclosure cages. A portion of the eggs and hatchlings are collected and transported to Woodland Park and Oregon Zoos where they can grow in safety.

While slowly making its way toward recovery, the Western pond turtle population still faces threats such as the loss of suitable habitat, invasive bullfrog predation and disease. The Western pond turtle is one of 19 species that are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) initiative, which focuses on the collective expertise within AZA’s accredited institutions and leverages their massive audiences to save species. AZA and its members are convening scientists and stakeholders to identify the threats, develop action plans, raise new resources and engage the public. 

#turtlepower #savingspecies