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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Northwestern pond turtles get a head start on World Turtle Day

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications
Photos by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo

A Northwestern pond turtle that has grown up at Woodland Park Zoo is ready to return to the wetlands of Washington state.

Woodland Park Zoo is proud to be part of the Northwestern Pond Turtle Recovery Project. Northwestern pond turtles—now recognized as a distinctive species from Southwestern pond turtles—were once plentiful up and down the coast of Washington to northern California. The Southwestern pond turtle ranges from coastal northern California to Baja, Mexico. However, loss of habitat, commercial exploitation for food, disease, drought, and introduced predators, such as bullfrogs and large-mouth bass, have decimated populations of the species.

More than 1,000 released pond turtles are thriving at protected sites in our state.

By the early 1990s, only about 150 Northwestern pond turtles remained in two populations in Washington state and the species was nearly extirpated from our region. In 1991, Woodland Park Zoo joined forces with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to recover Northwestern pond turtles by initiating a head-start program, and in 1993 the state officially listed the species as endangered. Oregon Zoo partnered with the project in 2003.

Each spring, WDFW biologists go in the field to monitor the turtles every few hours during the nesting season to locate nesting sites. To facilitate this work, they place transmitters on some of the females, in order to track their movements. When the females lay their eggs, a portion of the eggs can be collected and transported to Woodland Park Zoo for incubation. Hatchlings are collected from another site and sent to the Oregon Zoo for rearing.

Northwestern pond turtles can hatch and grow in safety at Woodland Park Zoo

The eggs are incubated in special boxes under controlled conditions until they hatch, then the baby turtles are head-started for almost a year until they reach a size that's too large for them to be eaten by many of their common predators.

Unlike wild turtles, these pampered babies are kept in a temperature-controlled habitat and are fed throughout the winter under the care of our expert zoo staff. By summer, they are nearly as big as three-year-old turtles that grew up in the wild. During their stay here, they are regularly weighed and measured to make sure they’re meeting all the needed health milestones to be released back into the same native wetland locations where the eggs were originally collected the previous summer.

We want all the turtles in our care to meet the needed health milestones before we return them to their native wetlands.

Before they’re released, the turtles are examined by veterinary staff, weighed and marked for identification, so their progress can continue to be monitored.

Each pond turtle at Woodland Park Zoo is carefully weighed and measured on a regular basis.

Today, thanks to collaborative recovery efforts over nearly 30 years, more than 2,100 turtles have been head started and released every year, and surveys indicate that more than 1,000 of the released turtles have survived and continue to thrive at the six protected sites.

Watch: 2018 Western pond turtle release: https://youtu.be/BLvzqYtVXVM

While slowly making its way toward recovery, the Northwestern pond turtle population still faces threats such as continued loss of suitable habitat, invasive bullfrog predation and wildlife disease—so our work must continue.

Bye, bye little turtle. We hope you have a great life!

The Northwestern and Southwestern pond turtles are 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 birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates that are at risk. AZA and its members are convening scientists and stakeholders to identify the threats, develop action plans, raise new resources and engage the public. AZA SAFE harnesses the collective power of all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and invites the public to join the effort.

What can you do on World Turtle Day?

Vote YES for Turtles on August 6: The King County Parks Levy is up for renewal on August 6, 2019. Vote yes for our parks to protect and preserve thousands of acres of forests and open space throughout the county. In addition King County Levy funding directly supports critical areas of Woodland Park Zoo operations and programming including our endangered Northwestern Pond Turtle Program and our Silverspot Butterfly Program. Learn more at https://www.kcparksforall.com/

Keep waterways clean: Limit the use of pesticides and chemicals in your yard and never let oil, grease or fertilizers leak into places where storm water run off can carry them into our waterways.

Support wetlands conservation: Wetlands protect our shores from wave action, reduce the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality for all. 

Other things you can do: There are so many ways to show your love for our local turtles and to keep waterways clean for wildlife and people. Pick up any trash you see along shorelines, use native trees and shrubs in your landscaping, and help replant our urban forests and shorelines.

Any actions you can take, big or small, are turtlely awesome and worth shellebrating!



Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Zoo mourns the loss of Adia, our fierce mama and amazing lioness

Posted by Gigi Allianic,communications

We have some very sad news to share. Our amazing South African lioness, Adia, passed away yesterday, May 21, at 9 years old from complications during surgery. The median life expectancy for lions in zoos is 16.9 years.

Adia and her cubs in 2013.Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Adia came to the zoo as a one-year-old in 2010 and became the foundation of our breeding program. Her first litter astounded us because as she not only gave birth to 4 cubs but also proved to be a fantastic first time mom. She went on to produce one other litter a few years later, this one with her current mate Xerxes. She will always be remembered as a diligent mother and the queen of her pride. Ask Xerxes, who would always follow her lead.

Adia had been anesthetized for a recheck exam at the zoo’s veterinary hospital due to slow healing after recent abdominal surgery. “During yesterday’s procedure, we took radiographs of Adia and discovered complications that required emergency surgery. We were able to surgically resolve these problems but, unfortunately, she went into cardiac arrest just prior to anesthetic recovery. Despite exhaustive efforts to save her, we were unsuccessful,” said Dr. Tim Storms, associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo.

Beautiful Adia on the African savanna. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
Following the procedure three weeks ago, Adia had been recovering off public view in the indoor dens in order to reduce her activity and allow her surgery site to heal. Storms explained she was prescribed antibiotics as a precautionary measure for potential infection as well as analgesics, and had remained under close observation indoors.

As a standard procedure, the zoo’s animal health team performed a necropsy (an animal autopsy). Preliminary findings did not reveal a cause of death. The zoo will be notified in several weeks of a final cause of death and related findings pending complete results of pathology and other diagnostic testing, which is routine for all animal deaths at the zoo.

Adia, Xerxes and one of their cubs on the savanna. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
“This is a very sad time for our zoo family. Adia had given birth to two litters of seven amazing cubs with two different companions,” says Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “The keepers who provided excellent day-to-day care fondly remember Adia as being energetic, playful and always excited to see her keepers every morning. Breakfast was her favorite time of the day. She was queen of the felines building at the zoo.”

Adia leaves behind her mate of five years, 11-year-old Xerxes, also a South African lion and the father of her second litter of cubs. He is the only lion currently remaining at the zoo and can be seen in the African Savanna.

Adia and Xerxes on the savanna in 2019. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
Adia arrived at Woodland Park Zoo in 2010 under a breeding recommendation by the African Lion Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of lions. “Species Survival Plans are a complex system that matches animals in North American zoos based on genetic diversity and demographic stability. Pairings also take into consideration the behavior and personality of the animals,” explains Ramirez.

Woodland Park Zoo participates in 111 Species Survival Plans, overseen by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, and genetics, these plans also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.

In 2015, two African lion subspecies were listed under the Endangered Species Act due to a dramatic 40% decline in the wild population over the last 20 years. As few as 32,000 African lions are estimated to remain in the wild and their future remains uncertain, particularly as the growth in human population continues to impact lion populations through loss of habitat. There also is retaliatory killing of lions because they pose a threat to humans and livestock.

Woodland Park Zoo partners with and supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which is protecting as much as 10% of the remaining population of wild lions in their landscape.

We thank her keepers and the animal health team for the care she received not just over the last three weeks but also during her entire time her. They are all mourning her passing today. As for Xerxes, we will be watching him closely and even giving him lots of special attention over the next few days. 

Adia with one of her cubs. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
If you'd like to leave us a message or a comment about your favorite memory of Adia, please visit us on our social channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our team is always grateful to hear from those who love our animals as much as we do.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

How Zoos and Aquariums Are Harnessing Empathy to Save Species

Posted by Wei Ying Wong, Vice President, Learning and Innovation

Zoos and aquariums inspire wonder and forge connections to nature, but that emotional journey may be more powerful than we imagine. Most people can recall, in vivid detail, a time they experienced an emotional connection to an animal—whether visiting a zoo or aquarium or in your own backyard—we call that connection empathy.


Increasingly, research shows that our connection with the natural world, and the creatures in it, inspire us to commit to making sustainable choices. Woodland Park Zoo has embarked on a journey to scientifically interrogate the mechanisms that lead people to emotional empathy and how those connections lead to sustainability actions. We are now analyzing how zoos and aquariums can intentionally inspire everyone to take meaningful actions on behalf of a healthier planet.

Research tells us that human beings often make decisions that are driven by a complex interplay between emotion, environmental and societal context and cognitive thinking. We are also increasingly aware that one of the strongest predictors for making decisions that result in behaviors that benefit others (prosocial behaviors) is empathy, a stimulated emotional state that relies on the ability to perceive, understand, and care about the experiences or perspectives of another person or animal. Our zoo’s research indicates that zoos and aquariums are uniquely suited to create vivid emotional connections with animals and nature that lead to empathy—that, in fact, zoos and aquariums have the potential to be empathy machines.


Up until quite recently, the empathy triggered by zoos and aquariums has often been a beneficial side effect rather than an intentional response elicited to inspire conservation behaviors. Woodland Park Zoo co-created the Advancing Conservation Through Empathy for Wildlife (ACE for Wildlife) learning network with 19 zoos and aquariums from around the country to more clearly understand how empathy can be stimulated, nurtured, and catalyzed into behaviors that enhance our communities and the planet. With a multidisciplinary board of advisors from different academic disciplines including cognitive psychology, zoology, visual arts, among others, we are applying scientific rigor to answer questions about how zoo and aquarium settings can uniquely foster empathy to save wildlife.

Our empathy learning network—ACE for Wildlife—allows us to share best practices and learn from each other to create a robust dialogue that continually innovates. We are taking the first steps on this journey of discovery. As we explore and identify best practices, we will be keeping our learning network, and you, appraised of our efforts at www.zoo.org/empathy.
I encourage you to join us on this journey to harness the power of the empathy machines we call zoos and aquariums for a better world for all of us, and the creatures we share it with.


Friday, May 17, 2019

River Otter Pups Take Their Swim Lessons Outside

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, communications
Photos and video by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo


Video: https://youtu.be/T2_NH9SXAJA

Squeeeeee! Our four little river otter pups have advanced to the big pool! They are now swimming, dipping, splashing and diving in (and out of) their outdoor habitat. The 8-week-old pups may look like floofy, wiggle balls, but they are already streamlined for the water. It's amazing how adapted for the aqua life these little pups arealready adept at swirling around and climbing in and out at the shore at lightning speed.

Of course, this class of elite swimmers have been practicing with mom, Valkyrie, in a private indoor den pool. Swimming doesn’t come naturally to otter pups—the otter moms have to teach them how to swim, dip and diveoften by plunging them right in! Lessons might seem rough when mom grabs the pups by the scruff of their necks and dunks them in and out of the water, but this exercise assures the otter pups can handle the elements when they need to. The pups have graduated the dunking pool and are now zooming all around the stream and pool in their outdoor habitat, which means you can stop by and see them!
The pups currently weigh between 4 and 5 pounds each, and are the most adorable 5 pounds you'll ever see.
This maneuver is part dog-paddle, part otter cheek and 100% working.
The otter animal care team plans to give mom and her pups daily access to the public habitat, however, a regular viewing schedule may be unpredictable over the next few weeks as the pups acclimate to the outdoor setting. Be sure to stop by the Northern Trail to see them in action and if they aren't out while you are there, stop by later in the day.

On March 16, Valkyrie, our fierce, fast and precocious river otter gave birth to the four little otterlettes—two boys and two girls. These baby otters are the first offspring for mom Valkyrie and dad Ziggy, who are both 5 years old. These auspicious pups are the first river otter birth documented in the zoo's 119-year history!

Incredible mom, Valkyrie, is somehow managing to teach these four how to cruise through the water and keep them all in order. She is amazing.
The North American river otters range is over most of North America in coastal areas, estuaries, freshwater lakes, streams and rivers; they can be found in water systems all over Washington state. Most of the otters folks spot in the Puget Sound are actually river otters! They love hanging out on the beach and searching for seafood treats, but are often mistaken for sea otters. River otters consume a wide variety of prey such as fish, crayfish, amphibians and birds. At the top of the food chain, river otters are an excellent reflection of the health of local ecosystems.

All otter species are considered threatened while five of the 13 species are endangered due to water pollution, overfishing of commercial stock and habitat destruction. To help Woodland Park Zoo contribute information to sustainable breeding, husbandry and public awareness of the river otter, you can adopt the species through the zoo’s ZooParent program. (We won't judge you if you adopt all four.)

Two otter pups learn to navigate the slippery rocks in the stream.
In addition to river otters, the award-winning Northern Trail habitat is home to grizzlies, elk, gray wolves, mountain goats and Steller’s sea eagles. The Northern Trail will be reimagined through the lens of the Pacific Northwest’s exceptional ecosystem and will open in 2020 as Living Northwest. Funds raised through the Living Northwest Initiative will create a new exhibit experience that will be a revitalization of the Northern Trail and will become a hub for engaging zoo guests and community members around discovery, species recovery, human-wildlife coexistence, and saving the wildlife and ecosystems right here at home for the benefit of every species.

To donate to the Living Northwest Initiative, visit www.zoo.org/donate and to learn more about our Living Northwest conservation programs, visit: https://www.zoo.org/livingnorthwest.

This precious little water weasel is built for the stream—short legs with webbed feet, warm, thick fur, a streamlined tail, tiny ears, and nostrils that can close underwater like boop. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hasani the giraffe receives a name and some new custom-made therapeutic shoes

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

Our baby giraffe now has a name! The little giraffe will be called Hasani, which means handsome in Swahili and was also the name of the baby giraffe’s paternal grandfather. The name was chosen by zoo staff—a fitting name for our beautiful calf who has already stolen hearts across the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Hello Hasani! The little calf stands tall next to mom, Olivia in the morning light of the giraffe barn. His custom-made shoes help support his legs and guide alignment.
Hasani was born on May 2 to mom Olivia. Immediately after his birth, the zoo’s animal health team noticed each rear foot was not in normal alignment. The condition, known as hyperextended fetlocks, is well documented in horses and has been reported to occur in giraffes. One day after the giraffe was born, the zoo’s animal health team applied casts on both rear legs to help stabilize his limbs.

A week ago, Woodland Park Zoo’s exhibits team constructed therapeutic shoes on a trial basis for the baby giraffe. Meanwhile, the zoo’s veterinary team consulted with a Kentucky-based equine veterinarian who specializes in foot conditions. He visited the zoo to evaluate the calf, and crafted new custom shoes based on the zoo’s specifications. He modified a design that he has used to successfully treat numerous foals with the same condition. The shoes will do the heavy lifting in the next phase of treatment of the baby’s rear leg abnormalities. Huge thanks to Dr. Scott Morrison and Manuel Cruz of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for their support and expertise with this shoe design.

Dr. Tim Storms adjusts Hasani's new shoes.
The new shoes are made of more durable metal with a textured bottom for extra grip, with an acrylic foundation and molding on top that wraps around and secures the shoe to the hooves. “This whole-toe wrap binds the toes more snugly to stabilize the shoe and provide a stronger grip to the hoof,” says Dr. Tim Storms, associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo. The shoes are more water-resistant than the previously made wooden shoes. “This will be better for walking outdoors on wet ground and will allow him to exercise more, which is critical to his development.”

The leg bandages were also removed as part of the next phase of treatment. “Though they provided important support initially, removing the bandages is an essential next step to allow the flexor tendons to strengthen unimpeded. While the bandaging is gone, the kinesiology tape remains in place for now to help stimulate and support his leg muscles,” adds Storms. 

Kinesiology tape may be familiar to many people who tape their muscles during sports activities, in this instance, the tape will help stimulate and support the leg muscles on our giraffe calf.
“Last week our exhibits team made a heroic effort by custom-making shoes with short notice to help our little giraffe. And now, a colleague from across the country has donated his time and materials to make these specialized shoes. We feel so grateful for all the help we’ve received and the overwhelming outpouring of best wishes from our community,” says Storms.

Treatment may well span over the next few months. “While we are happy with Hasani’s response so far and these new shoes, he’s not out of the woods yet. His condition is still guarded and we’re keeping him under close observation. We’ll continue assessing the best course of action to help him walk and grow normally, and to find a good balance between supporting his limbs and strengthening his tendons,” adds Storms.

Mom Olivia and little Hasani will remain off view in the giraffe barn for an indefinite period and to allow continued maternal bonding and nursing in the cozy, private setting. 

Dr. Tim Storms preps the calf's new custom-made shoes. The animal health team is hopeful that this treatment will strengthen Hasani's ability to walk and grow.
The next step is to get Hasani outdoors for exercise, explains Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “Baby giraffes are typically outdoors by the time they’re a week old,” explains Ramirez, “so we hope to begin giving him access to the outdoor corral sometime this week so he can get exercise. These outdoor sessions will be very brief at first for controlled periods of time. We will not be able to predict what time of day or how long he and mom are outdoors during these initial periods.” While his ventures outdoors may be brief, you can be sure we'll keep you up to date on Hasani's progress right here, or visiting www.zoo.org/giraffe or following the zoo’s FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Other than the abnormalities in his rear legs, Hasani remains in good health and is nursing and bonding with mom. He weighed 155 pounds at birth and now weighs 180 pounds, so he is growing and growing!

Hasani pictured here at 5 days old with his casts and custom-made therapeutic shoes.
Giraffes are widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated populations in west and central Africa. New population surveys estimate an overall 40 percent decline in the giraffe population; fewer than 100,000 exist today. Of the currently recognized subspecies of giraffe, five have decreasing populations, while three are increasing and one is stable. 

Giraffe enthusiasts can stick their necks out for giraffes and help support conservation efforts by visiting Woodland Park Zoo and supporting the Wildlife Survival Program, which includes the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The Foundation seeks to provide the first long-term ecological monitoring effort of the Angolan giraffe—an important desert-dwelling giraffe subspecies in north-western Namibia. Visit http://www.zoo.org/conservation to learn more about the zoo’s conservation partnerships taking place in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.
The giraffe baby at 5 days old with mom, Olivia.
You can also show your love for Hasani by commenting on any of our social posts on the zoo’s FacebookInstagram and Twitter. We'll be sure to share your heartfelt comments with the dedicated team of animal keepers and animal care experts who have worked around the clock to give Hasani the best chance to thrive.

This very thoughtful token of love came from a little girl with a very big heart.
We are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support for our team and our little giraffe. Your thoughtful notes, comments and messages of well wishes is truly appreciated. We've received so many beautiful messages—one example is this very sweet gift of exactly two band aids from a very young zoo visitor named Mia (with a very big heart) who wanted to make sure the giraffe baby received them. We can assure you, these bandages are hanging up in the giraffe barn for extra good luck.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Penguin colony welcomes two new floofy members!

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

A 9-day-old chick is placed into a cozy bowl (with a fleece towel) during a routine weigh-in and health check with animal keeper John.
Breeding season for Woodland Park Zoo’s Humboldt penguins has officially come to a happy conclusion with the behind-the-scenes debut of two floofy new hatchlings. These newest chicks bring the total number of successful hatchings of the species at the zoo to 70 since the zoo’s first breeding season in 2010—one year after the penguin habitat opened. We won't know the sex of these chicks until DNA tests can be conducted.

Two Humboldt penguin chicks have hatched this spring. 

Penguin keeper John gets weights and measurements on the older and larger of the two chicks. This one is currently 5 weeks old!
Incubation for penguins takes 40 to 42 days, with both parents sharing duties in the nest and day-to-day care for their chicks. The first chick hatched April 5 to mom Claudia and dad Cortez. It is the third offspring for the parents. The second chick hatched May 1 and was placed under the care of foster parents Mateo and Mini. Its biological parents used to live at Woodland Park Zoo but recently moved to another accredited institution under a breeding recommendation made by the Humboldt Penguin Species Survival Plan—a cooperative, conservation breeding program that helps ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of penguins.

The chicks are being raised by their parents, but are occasionally removed from the nest for exams and weigh-ins to make sure all growth milestones are being met. This chick is 9 days old. 
Currently both chicks are with their parents in nesting burrows that aren't visible from the public area. Other than occasional weigh-ins to make sure they're achieving growth milestones, our penguin keepers are letting the parents raise their chicks.

This little buddy is growing quickly! 

A penguin chick learns to swim in a shallow pool behind the scenes. Its downy chick plumage is molting and being replaced by new waterproof feathers. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
When they reach the right age to leave their parents—called fledging—the keepers will move them from the nest to a special behind-the-scenes area. This is where they can learn to eat fish directly from their keepers' hands. At this time they will be molting their downy baby feathers to make way for new waterproof plumage and will have round-the-clock access to a shallow pool where they can swim in a more controlled and less crowded environment. By early summer, they should be more than ready to join the rest of the penguin colony in the outdoor habitat.

Woodland Park Zoo's outdoor penguin habitat mimics the rocky coast of Punta San Juan, Peru. .
People do not usually think of penguins as a desert-dwelling species. Unlike their ice and snow-dwelling Antarctic cousins, Humboldt penguins inhabit hot, dry coastlines in Peru and Chile. They live on rocky mainland shores, especially near cliffs, or on coastal islands. Humboldt penguins have a body made to swim. Using their strong wings, they “fly” underwater, usually just below the surface, at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. They steer with their feet and tail.

A vulnerable species, approximately 30,000 to 35,000 Humboldt penguins survive in their natural range. Woodland Park Zoo is committed to conserving Humboldt penguins by supporting the Humboldt Penguin Conservation Center at Punta San Juan, Peru, breeding the birds through the Species Survival Plan, and encouraging visitors to choose sustainable seafood options as directed by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Punta San Juan is home to 5,000 Humboldt penguins, the largest colony in Peru.


Video: Penguins 10-year anniversary https://youtu.be/gbeDjXovSZY

Thursday, May 9, 2019

More than a field trip


Posted by Kirsten Pisto, communications 
with Gypsy Darrow, educator at Kent Public Schools


Connecting people with their love for animals occupies the core of who we are. Woodland Park Zoo serves the diverse communities of Seattle and King County through an inclusive approach to lifelong learning. We are dedicated to making our programs accessible and relevant for all community members. Our wide range of initiatives and outreach programs provide opportunities to learn about and connect with animals. While many of our visitors come from all over the country (and even the world) to adventure through our 92 acres—it is our honor and privilege to also serve our local schools and learning programs. The zoo’s Learning and Innovation department works with educators from around Puget Sound to introduce their classrooms to endangered species, dive into conservation actions, wander our pathways and explore our biomes.

For many kids, a field trip to Woodland Park Zoo is not only their first interaction with the zoo itself, but brings a feeling of community and belonging. We know the zoo is an important benchmark in the lives of many children, but in speaking with teachers we learn just how important equitable access to nature is—and what it can accomplish for all of us.


We asked Gypsy Darrow, a fifth grade educator at Millennium Elementary, (Kent School District) to share her experiences in bringing her classroom to the zoo, and why it matters.

Millennium Elementary qualifies for the zoo’s School-to-Zoo funding (for schools in King County with 30% or more students receiving free or reduced-rate lunches), which provides free zoo admission for students, teachers and chaperones as well as subsidized bus transportation to the zoo. This program is made possible in large part thanks to the generosity of King County voters who approved the King County Parks Levy in 2013. A renewal of the Parks Levy will be on King County ballots this August.

My name is Gypsy Darrow and I have taught fifth grade at Millennium Elementary school for five years. We are a Title I school, located in Kent, WA. Most Millennium students qualify for free or reduced lunch and we have one of the highest ELL (English Language Learner) populations in one of the largest Washington State districts. I am providing this background because it is proven that socio-economic disparities are directly related to academic achievement levels. However, when students are provided with opportunities to make meaning through engaging activities and apply classroom learning to real world situations, the disparity is reduced. Providing children with an opportunity to visit the zoo and to make connections to ecosystems, environmental situations, and current events, help to reduce the inequities between students who attend schools in lower income regions and those in more affluent neighborhoods. 



I have had the honor of working with the Woodland Park Zoo for the past three years to provide my students an opportunity to expand their knowledge through educational programs through the zoo. Over the past three years, I have benefited from the training by the WPZ education department and I have been able to provide my kids quality Problem Based Learning (PBL) opportunities. This program has allowed my children to scaffold to higher levels of understanding by researching solutions for real world conservation problems. As a result, their abilities to ask questions, research information, and apply critical thinking skills have increased dramatically.

Typically, we prepare for a trip to the zoo by learning about ecosystems. Then we use WPZ materials to introduce the problem of endangered species. We spend time researching why animals are threatened and engage in researching possible solutions for this problem. The visit to the zoo allows children to discover connections between the animals they see, the designs of the habitats, and the information posted at the exhibits to what they have learned in class. This is an engaging and fun experience for them, and it provides them with a way to make connections to what they have been studying. After the zoo visit, students are typically excited to share what they have discovered, and we have several meaningful discussions that allow them to share their thoughts and new understandings. This supports their ability to think critically and it also supports language acquisition, by providing them with opportunities to utilize new vocabulary. The culminating project is an opportunity for synthesis and students have an opportunity to utilize all these skills to create and explain their solution through a creative project.


I have clearly noticed academic improvements of my students who engage in this hands-on learning experience. However, this is not the most important reason that I love this program. Indeed, the main reason that I appreciate this program, is because I know that visiting the zoo and exploring nature is important for all children. The kids I teach, do not have this opportunity. Most of my kids live in apartment complexes with parents who work multiple jobs to pay for rent and food. There is not a lot of disposable income or extra time to make a trip into Seattle and visit the zoo. In fact, out of 26 students, only one of my students had been to the zoo, prior to our field trip. We take for granted that all kids have these enrichment activities with their families. The truth is, many cannot afford the zoo and even trips to parks are rare.

If I assign my students to play outside, many will answer they are not allowed to because it’s not safe. They need to stay inside until their parents get home, which is after dark. Once I asked a student who was taking pictures of everything we saw at the zoo, if he would like to put down the camera and just look at the animals. He told me that nobody in his family had ever been to the zoo and they had asked him to take lots of pictures of everything he saw, so they could see it too. Effectively, our field trip provided an opportunity for him to explore the zoo and to share the experience with his whole family. Ultimately, though I appreciate how the zoo experience helps my kids improve academically, I really love it because it allows my kids an opportunity to experience an activity that all kids should be able participate in. Kids are naturally curious, and they love animals. The zoo provides a fun, safe place to make new discoveries and to see things that they have only seen in books or on TV. To sum this all up in three words, I would simply say what my kids said after the field trip, “Best day ever!”


Woodland Park Zoo believes everyone in King County has the right to experience parks and nature. The King County Parks Levy on the August ballot will provide environmental education programming for King County students, preserve forests and open space and increase free admission programs at the zoo.

Join Woodland Park Zoo and support the King County Parks Levy on your August ballot so that we can continue to protect and preserve thousands of acres of forests and open space throughout the county. Every kid in King County deserves fun and safe places to play in nature. Please join us in making that a reality by voting to approve the King County Parks Levy this August.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Giraffe calf update: 5-day-old baby is outfitted with therapeutic shoes

Posted by Gigi Allianic, communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Woodland Park Zoo’s baby male giraffe has been outfitted with custom-made therapeutic shoes in the next phase of treatment of his rear leg abnormalities.

The baby stands next to mom, Olivia, in the giraffe barn after the team outfitted him with new therapeutic shoes and casts.
The baby was born on May 2 to mom Olivia. Hours after his birth, the zoo’s animal health team radiographed his rear legs after noticing each rear foot was not in normal alignment. “The condition is known as hyperextended fetlocks. It is well documented in horses and has been reported to occur in giraffes,” says Dr. Tim Storms, associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo.

One day after the giraffe was born, the zoo’s animal health team applied casts on both rear legs to help stabilize his limbs. 

After consultations of medical literature and colleagues at other zoos, the zoo’s exhibits team was called in to help. The talented team of exhibit artists specially crafted two-piece shoes made of high density polyethylene and plywood with grooves for better adhesion to the foot and for better traction.

Joe Leporati, part of our amazingly talented exhibits crew, carefully crafts a custom shoe for the little giraffe.
Dr. Tim Storms fits the new therapeutic shoes for the giraffe calf.
The team adjusts the therapeutic shoes and sole onto the giraffe calf's casts.
“At this stage, the new therapeutic shoes are on a trial basis but I’m hopeful that they will help him walk better. We’ll continue refining and improving our approach to find a good balance between supporting his limbs and strengthening his tendons,” says Storms. “We’re so very grateful to our in-house exhibits team for jumping in to help our baby giraffe. We’re very touched by their eagerness to lend their expertise to caring for this new life. It’s been all hands on deck for our baby.”

Treatment will most likely span over several months. “While our baby giraffe is healthy and continues nursing and bonding with mom, he remains in guarded condition and under close observation. As we move forward with his treatment, we’ll continue assessing the best course of action to help him walk and grow normally,” adds Storms.

During the veterinary procedure, the baby weighed in at 170.5 pounds, up from a birth weight of 155 pounds. Mom and her baby remain off view in the barn for an indefinite period and to allow continued maternal bonding and nursing in a cozy, private setting. 

Dr. Tim Storms finishes casting the second rear leg of the giraffe calf.
The little giraffe is otherwise healthy and Olivia continues to successfully nurse him.
The yet-unnamed baby giraffe was born to mom Olivia and dad Dave. It is the first offspring between the 12-year-old mom and 6-year-old dad; Olivia had her first baby in 2013 at Woodland Park Zoo with a different mate.

The last giraffe birth at the zoo was a female, Lulu, born in 2017 to mom Tufani—Olivia’s younger sister—and dad Dave. In addition to the baby, Olivia, Dave and Tufani make up the current herd of giraffes at the zoo.

You can watch for updates on our little dude right here on our blog or by visiting www.zoo.org/giraffe or following the zoo’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Thank you for all your encouragement and well wishes, it means the world to everyone here at the zoo, and we are all grateful for your support and flooded with love for our little giraffe. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Update on Giraffe Calf Born May 2

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

On May 2, Olivia, gave birth to a male giraffe. Less than 12 hours after his birth, the zoo’s animal health team intervened to radiograph and diagnose abnormalities found in his rear legs. 

The little giraffe already has the entire zoo rallying for him.
The baby giraffe was on his feet and walking within an hour after he was born. “However, we noticed right away that each rear foot was not in normal alignment, a condition known as hyperextended fetlocks,” says Dr. Darin Collins, director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo. “We have applied casts on both rear legs to help heal the tendons, which is the current best practice in treating this condition in newborns. Treatment will most likely span over several months. The baby is in guarded condition and we will continue to monitor him closely.”

This condition is found in horses and has been reported to occur in giraffes, explains Collins. “He otherwise is healthy and continues to nurse and bond with mom,” adds the director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo. 

The animal health team carefully casts the newborn's rear legs.
During the veterinary procedure, the baby weighed in at 155 pounds. Mom and her baby will remain off view in the barn for an indefinite period and to allow continued maternal bonding and nursing in a cozy, private setting.

The unnamed baby giraffe was born on May 2 to mom Olivia and dad Dave. You can catch up on the birth story here: http://bit.ly/giraffeMay2

We know that you are all sending good vibes for this little one to heal and we thank you very much for your support and well wishes at this time. It means so much to have support from our zoo communityand we will pass along your words of encouragement to our animal keepers and animal health staff. We will keep you updated here on this blog, but you can also see updates by visiting www.zoo.org/giraffe and following the zoo’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“As soon as he was born, our animal care and health staff connected with this baby giraffe as we do with all of our animals. He’s a symbol of hope for the future of his species and already lives in our hearts. We’re rallying for this new animal to thrive and we’re very grateful to our community and fans who have already showed an outpouring of love for our baby giraffe,” says Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo.

Keeper Phil comforts the baby giraffe during the casting procedure.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Welcome Little One: Olivia's Giraffe Calf Born May 2

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

Woodland Park Zoo has a new baby giraffe! Olivia, 12 years old, gave birth today on May 2 at 4:56 a.m. The baby giraffe is a boy!

Olivia with her newborn at just a few hours old on May 2, 2019.
Mom and calf are off view in the giraffe barn to allow a cozy, quiet environment for maternal bonding and nursing.

“The baby was on his feet within an hour after he was born, which is what we want to see,” says Katie Ahl, a lead keeper at Woodland Park Zoo. “The first 24 to 72 hours are critical for newborn giraffes. A healthy infant should begin nursing shortly after birth and be able to run around with its mom several hours later. Olivia is an experienced mother and she’s showing good maternal behavior for her second baby.”

While the baby is standing and nursing, he’s not walking normally on his rear legs, notes Dr. Tim Storms, associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo. “This condition could resolve itself as the baby gains more strength and walks around more. We’ll keep a close eye on it and, if necessary, take measures, such as wrapping it, to ensure the legs are stabilized.”

Hello, little one!
Giraffes have a gestation period of 14 to 15 months. The tall animals give birth standing up and the calf drops 5 feet to the ground as it is born. Baby giraffes are typically born at 6 feet tall and stand within an hour after birth. When fully grown, giraffes reach a height of 16 feet tall for females and 18 feet tall for males.

The baby giraffe marks the first offspring between Olivia and the father, 6-year-old Dave. Olivia had her first baby in 2013 at Woodland Park Zoo with a different mate.

The last giraffe birth at the zoo was a female, Lulu, born in 2017 to mom Tufani—Olivia’s younger sister—and dad Dave. In addition to the baby, Olivia, Dave and Tufani make up the current herd of giraffes at the zoo.

In the following days, the zoo will launch a community naming contest and a live barn cam. Giraffe fans will have an exciting opportunity to see Olivia and her baby as they bond in the barn and to watch the baby grow. Viewers can access the barn cam once it goes live and see updates by visiting www.zoo.org/giraffe and following the zoo’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates on the new arrival.

“We’re so excited to share another baby giraffe with our guests and community,” says Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “Baby giraffes have a magical way of touching the hearts and minds of people, no matter how old you are. We hope everyone connects again with this new baby and comes to care about saving giraffes in their natural ranges in Africa. We want everyone to care about giraffes as much as we do.”

His giraffe calf neck rolls might be the sweetest thing we've ever seen.
According to Ahl, the baby giraffe is expected to follow mom in the next several days to the outdoor corral where guests can see him with mom. “Viewing will be sporadic since the family can choose to spend time in the off-view barn too. It should be a few months before we begin introducing the baby to the African Savanna habitat,” says Ahl.

The expectant parents, Olivia and Dave, were paired under a breeding recommendation made by the Giraffe Species Survival Plan, a cooperative, conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of giraffes.

Your zoo participates in 111 Species Survival Plans, overseen by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, and genetics, these plans also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.

Every visit to the zoo supports conservation of giraffe and other species around the world and here in your backyard.
Giraffes are widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated populations in west and central Africa. New population surveys estimate an overall 40 percent decline in the giraffe population; fewer than 100,000 exist today. Of the currently recognized subspecies of giraffe, five have decreasing populations, while three are increasing and one is stable.

You can stick your neck out for giraffes and help support conservation efforts by visiting Woodland Park Zoo and supporting the Wildlife Survival Program, which includes the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The Foundation seeks to provide the first long-term ecological monitoring effort of the Angolan giraffe—an important desert-dwelling giraffe subspecies in north-western Namibia. Visit http://www.zoo.org/conservation to learn more about the zoo’s conservation partnerships taking place in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

You can also adopt a giraffe ZooParent in honor of the new calf at zoo.org/zooparent