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Endangered Species Day: Ensure a bright future for wildlife

Posted by Meghan Sawyer, Communications

Celebrate Endangered Species Day by learning how you can take part in protecting threatened and endangered species every day of the year! Woodland Park Zoo is home to more than 900 animals, many of which are considered vulnerable, threatened or endangered species. The animals you see when you visit the zoo are ambassadors for their kind: living, breathing reminders of what is at stake in the world and why we need to protect it.

As a conservation organization, Woodland Park Zoo supports more than 35 different wildlife conservation projects in the Pacific Northwest and all over the world, helping to protect wildlife on every corner of the planet. No matter where you are on earth, you can help them. These three stories, told from three different continents, prove how.

Rhinos in India: A Vision Becomes Reality

The largest threat facing rhinos to this day is poaching for their horns. Human development has also destroyed landscapes where rhinos live, leading to isolated populations. India Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV2020) was established in 2005 by the International Rhino Foundation, the Assam Forest Department, Bodoland Territorial Council, World Wildlife Foundation-India, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other local agencies. Their goal? Increase the greater one-horned rhino population in India’s state of Assam from 1,900 rhinos to 3,000 rhinos by establishing populations in new areas.

Photo by IRV2020 / Assam Forest Dept

How do you create populations of rhinos where they don’t exist? One way is translocation, and it’s one of the reasons why India Rhino Vision 2020’s vision has been brought to life. It’s a process where veterinary teams and conservationists work together to identify rhinos who can be safely moved to another area, in order to encourage growth of new populations.

“India’s state of Assam holds nearly three-quarters of the world’s greater one-horned rhinos, with the largest population in Kaziranga National Park,” said International Rhino Foundation spokesperson Christopher Whitlatch. “Sadly, the species has been driven from many of the areas where it used to be common. Its full recovery depends not only on protecting the species where it has managed to survive but also reintroducing them to places from which they’ve disappeared.”

Photo by IRV2020 / Assam Forest Dept

After more than 15 years of work to increase rhino populations, IRV2020’s final translocation took place last month. There are now more than 3,700 greater one-horned rhinos roaming India and Nepal, and rhinos are now found in four protected areas in Assam: Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park, Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park. Poaching has also decreased significantly: Only two rhinos were lost to poaching in Assam in 2020.

About International Rhino Foundation (IRF)
Woodland Park Zoo is proud to partner with IRF. IRF is based in the United States and operates on-the-ground programs in Africa and Asia where rhinos live in the wild, supporting viable populations of the five remaining rhino species and the communities that coexist with them.

IRF prioritizes collaboration. Through a network of hundreds of conservation organizations, private foundations, corporations, government agencies and individuals just like you all over the world, we can achieve common goals for rhinos together. Learn more about IRF at

Watch: Rhino Lookout: 

Joining Forces in Africa: A New Hope for Lions Emerges

The number of lions in the wild has declined by half in the last 20 years alone, and is still declining. There is no time to lose.

Photo by Ruaha Carnivore Project

For many years, Woodland Park Zoo’s Conservation Partner, the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), has been working with communities in Tanzania to reduce conflict with large carnivores such as lions, improving the outlook for both people and wildlife. Loss of wild habitat and natural prey brings lions and other carnivores into close contact with people, leading to many wildlife killings. This is because living alongside large carnivores can have devastating impacts on the local communities’ livestock, a vital economic and cultural asset. RCP’s work with the local community saw impressive success, reducing lion killings by over 80% in the area. Still, more effective conservation needed to be done at a broader scale. Thanks to a new partnership with Lion Landscapes, that’s becoming a reality.

RCP and Lion Landscapes have now joined forces to expand their conservation footprint across Tanzania, and on to Kenya and Zambia as well. This newly formed organization is creating landscapes where large carnivores and the local people can both thrive and coexist. Working together, the two formerly separate organizations can now collaborate, share knowledge, and deliver real benefits for wildlife and local communities across vast areas.

Photo by Ruaha Carnivore Project

 “This is not just good news for lions, but also for many other species and the rural communities that live alongside them,” said Dr. Amy Dickman, Co-CEO of the newly-formed Lion Landscapes along with Dr. Alayne Cotterill. “The collaboration seeks to find the most scalable tools across the combined sites and brings together the many innovative programs and impactful solutions they have developed over many decades.”

About Lion Landscapes
For more information about RCP and Lion Landscapes, visit and

Photo by Ruaha Carnivore Project

Penguins in Peru: Create the Change You Wish to Sea

When you think penguins, you may think of the species that live in the Antarctic, but the penguins who live at Woodland Park Zoo, Humboldt penguins, are actually native to Peru and Chile. In Peru, these penguins are facing several threats to their survival, shelter and food. Luckily, there’s a place where conservationists work around the clock to protect these penguins: Punta San Juan, Peru.

Photo by Michael Tweddle/ Punta San Juan Program

Though there are factors out of human control, like El Niño events that diminish prey availability for the penguins, there are many threats that are a direct result of human disruption. Humboldt penguins are competing with industrial fisheries in Peru for anchovies, which is an important prey source. Irresponsible tourism activity in Peru along with loud noise levels close to shore can disrupt penguin colonies and resting areas. Invasive species like rodents, cats, and dogs have become predators at penguin sites, targeting penguin eggs and chicks. The rodents preying on chicks and eggs can also increase disease transmission. Finally, guano harvesting, if not managed in a way that is “penguin friendly,” can destroy the very material these penguins use to nest. Guano (accumulated sea bird droppings) is used as an agricultural fertilizer, and its harvesting is a major threat to penguin habitat.

“Humboldt penguins are facing challenging times. Naturally occurring threats are being exacerbated by human activities,” said Susana Cárdenas Alayza, Program Director at Punta San Juan Program. “Besides having to face an El Niño every four to seven years, we are now seeing long-riding effects of climate change. We have seen penguin populations fall and recover from a very strong El Niño in 1997-1998, but in the past six years we have also seen a decline in the number of penguin nests, penguin pairs and chick survival, which is probably linked to climate change making unpredictable changes to our oceans’ conditions.”

Photo by Sarah Faugno/ Punta San Juan Program

Woodland Park Zoo is proud to support the Punta San Juan Program, which operates on site in a marine reserve in southern Peru that is successfully taking on these challenges and more. Their work is helping to secure a future for Humboldt penguins and all of the other species that share its ecosystem. In fact, almost half of the entire Humboldt penguin population in Peru calls Punta San Juan home. 

By working together with the local government, conservationists in Punta San Juan are helping to mitigate and minimize some of the threats targeting penguins and their habitat. Some ways they are able to do this is by coordinating the harvests to take place in the time of year that is least impactful for the penguins, enforcing “no-harvest” areas to protect the guano layer, and preventing habitat disturbances when possible.

These penguin protectors have also implemented creative solutions to threats from guano harvesting, like building panels to hide workers from penguins, which prevents direct disturbance. This strategy was tested out in 2012, proved successful and has been used ever since!

Another creative solution that is going strong is artificial nests. These nesting structures protect eggs and chicks from the strong solar radiation in the hot desert coast of Peru, and the penguins have voiced their approval: leading to breeding in new areas of Punta San Juan.

Weighing a penguin. Photo by Punta San Juan Program

Researchers at the marine reserve are still finding out solutions to ensure Humboldt penguin survival. Right now, they’re attaching mini sensors on the local penguins, like GPS and TDRs, that record location and depth. This way, they can track penguin feeding areas so they can understand when and where these species are feeding, what are the most critical areas to protect and what challenges are they facing. Soon, this research will allow them to make recommendations to fisheries about how they can help penguins obtain more food and hopefully improve chick survival. 

About Punta San Juan
For more information about Punta San Juan, visit

Photo by Marco Cardeña/ Punta San Juan Program

You Can Help Protect Species Like Rhinos, Lions and Penguins

• Visit greater one-horned rhinos Taj and Glenn, dozens of Humboldt penguins and African lions at Woodland Park Zoo! Each time you visit, funds from your ticket go directly toward supporting conservation for programs like the International Rhino Foundation, Lion Landscapes and Punta San Juan.

• Protecting endangered, threatened and vulnerable species in their natural habitat also means protecting biodiversity. When you work to save one keystone species, you’re also working to save all of the other species that live there. You can spread the word to your friends and family about the current threats to the species, the efforts to save them and the importance of biodiversity to a healthy ecosystem.

• You can make a donation to Woodland Park Zoo to support conservation programs in the wild, or even start your own fundraiser.

• Reduce impacts on climate change. For example, reduce activities that increase carbon emissions, like international flights. The planet will appreciate it.

• Choose sustainable seafood. Click here to download the Sustainable Seafood Guide.

• Conservationists need your help to hold governments accountable in enforcing wildlife crime laws to protect their wildlife.

• Visit to learn about all of the zoo’s Conservation Partners and how you can get involved.

Photo by Ruaha Carnivore Project