Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Woodland Park Zoo soaks up the sun

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications
Past the zoo’s LEED Gold-certified West Entrance and around the corner from the sustainably built Humboldt penguin exhibit, Woodland Park Zoo is rolling out yet another sun-soaking, solar project: the largest community solar project in Washington state.
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Through a partnership with Seattle City Light and Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA), 60 new solar panels are currently being installed on the zoo’s Rain Forest Food Pavilion and behind-the-scenes Commissary building. Dubbed Community Solar on Phinney Ridge, the project includes placing a 16-kilowatt grid of solar panels on the zoo’s food pavilion—similar in appearance to the zoo’s solar-paneled Historic Carousel—and an additional 45-kilowatt system on the zoo’s animal food center. A hop, skip and jump from Woodland Park Zoo, PNA’s historic Phinney Center will also be boasting a new, energy efficient rooftop as part of the project. Together, the zoo and PNA will generate more than 75,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, making it the largest community solar project in the state.
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Best of all, zoo visitors, members and neighbors can all take part! City Light customers can purchase one or more pieces of Community Solar’s output for $150 per unit and, in return, will receive credit on their electric bills through 2020 for their units’ production—a worthwhile reward for their contribution to creating a more sustainable city.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TKCP takes home top honors for AZA International Conservation Award

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

We’re proud to announce Woodland Park Zoo’s flagship conservation program, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP), was prized with top honors for the International Conservation Award at the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) national conference held this week in Orlando, Florida!

AZA names conservation as its highest priority, and annually recognizes exceptional efforts by AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, related or international facilities, and conservation partners toward habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild through its International Conservation Award.
Photo by Russell Mittermeier
Established in 1996, TKCP determined that the Matschie’s tree kangaroo and its unique habitat faced increasing threats from deforestation and over-hunting. It was clear habitat protection and sustainable resource management practices were needed to help this little-known species survive in its natural habitat. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), where local people own and control over 95% of the land, the TKCP team joined local residents, as well as government officials, to help implement a long-term habitat protection plan, raising conservation awareness and understanding, and fostering the commitment of local communities that depend on forest products and services.
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
TKCP takes a holistic approach to conservation, encompassing livelihoods, education, health, and land-use planning in partnership with local landowners. The endangered tree kangaroos remain the program’s flagship species—an animal both culturally and biologically significant to PNG—though TKCP’s mission extends to habitat protection for a wide range of threatened species that call PNG home.
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Five years ago, TKCP worked with local landowners to establish the Yopno-Uruwa-Som Conservation Area (YUS CA), the first of its kind in the country. The 180,000-acre area, voluntarily pledged by local landowners to help protect the wildlife native to PNG’s Huon Peninsula, has become a model of locally-owned protected forests that not only conserves wildlife while also focusing on the importance of community health and livelihood. TKCP has made great strides in empowering local residents to manage the community’s environmental and natural resources through their innovative initiatives and community approach, and established TKCP-PNG—a partner non-governmental organization—to manage the YUS Conservation Area. TKCP-PNG was also recently honored by the United Nations for its advancements in sustainable wildlife conservation and local livelihood solutions with the highly-esteemed, annual Equator Prize.
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
TKCP and Woodland Park Zoo established a partnership with Caffé Vita, a Seattle-based coffee roaster, to bring alternative revenue to the YUS landowners and their communities. Through a direct trade agreement, YUS farmers have exported nearly 8 tons of coffee over three years to generate profits that benefit 11 local villages. The funds are reinvested in the community through education, health and development projects. As a result, farmers are providing their families and neighbors with necessary schooling, health education and a reliable income. 
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
We’re honored to be recognized for our continued contributions to wildlife conservation, tree kangaroo research, and the communities of Papua New Guinea.

You support Woodland Park Zoo’s conservation programs every time you visit the zoo. Visit the ‘roos at the heart of TKCP on your next zoo visit by making a trip to the Day Exhibit, or check out for more information.
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Monday, September 15, 2014

AZA grants Woodland Park Zoo seventh consecutive accreditation

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, communications

Good news! Woodland Park Zoo has been granted accreditation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) Accreditation Commission, marking the seventh consecutive time for the zoo. AZA requires zoos and aquariums to successfully complete this rigorous accreditation process every five years in order to be members of the Association. Accreditation was announced Saturday, September 13 during AZA’s national conference held in Orlando, Florida.

“Only zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards are accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “The community should take great pride in knowing that Woodland Park Zoo is a proven leader in the care and conservation of wildlife, and in inspiring people to take action to protect the natural world.”

To be accredited, Woodland Park Zoo underwent a thorough review to ensure it has and will continue to meet rising standards, which include animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. 

Great grey owl, photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
“The accreditation is a testament to our commitment to providing exemplary animal care, driving local and global wildlife conservation efforts, furthering science-based learning within our community, and inspiring our annual 1.2 million visitors to ensure a future for wildlife,” said Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen.

The accreditation process included a detailed application and a meticulous on-site inspection by a team of trained zoo and aquarium professionals. The inspecting team observed all aspects of our operations, including animal care; keeper training; safety for visitors, staff and animals; educational programs; conservation efforts; veterinary programs; financial stability; risk management; visitor services; and other areas.  Finally, top officials were interviewed at a formal hearing of AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission, after which accreditation was granted. 

Thanks to Woodland Park Zoo visitors for inspiring us to be the best that we can be and holding us to the utmost standards. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

The facts about Woodland Park Zoo elephants

Asian elephant Chai at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo loves our elephants Chai and Bamboo, and we deeply mourn the loss of their herd mate, Watoto. Her recent death sent waves of grief through our community of staff, volunteers, members and guests. She was part of our family and will forever be honored in our memories.

Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant program continues to spark dialogue in our community. Productive dialogue has led to positive change, including the creation of the community-based Elephant Task Force, which concluded our elephants are in good physical and emotional health, and recommended some improvements to our program already underway.

Unfortunately, this dialogue is being colored by inflammatory campaigns from local and national activist groups and the media they garner. These campaigns rely on alarming sound bites that confuse and mislead well-intentioned people and mischaracterize the zoo as profit-driven and entertainment-focused. We are a conservation- and education-based nonprofit whose earnings are reinvested in our mission to “save animals and their habitats through conservation leadership and engaging experiences, inspiring people to learn, care and act.”

Woodland Park Zoo is a community-based organization that remains open to dialogue, and while we certainly respect personal conviction related to animals, we believe you deserve to draw your conclusions based on accurate information.

We invite you to spend a few minutes reading and absorbing the following counterpoints to misleading arguments published in the most recent action alert issued by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):

Read the complete counterpoint analysis at

The Real Elephant in the Room

Here’s the real elephant in the room—the future of elephants is at stake. Each day, 96 elephants are killed in Africa. At this rate, the species will be extinct within 20 years. In Asia, elephants are endangered and wild populations continue to be decimated. This cannot go on. We will not be the generation that allows elephants to disappear.

African elephants. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Every time you visit the zoo, you contribute to conservation. Your visit allows us to support direct conservation action on the ground in Africa and Asia through partners like the Tarangire Elephant Project in Tanzania. There our collaborative efforts support a network of 33 game scouts in seven villages who serve as anti-poaching patrol. Our partner reports that in the last year alone, 55 poachers have been arrested.

Village Game Scouts sponsored by the Tarangire Elephant Project in the Makame Wildlife Management Area, Tanzania. Photo by Boniface Osujaki/Tarangire Elephant Project.

We believe those who connect with nature are inspired to protect it. At Woodland Park Zoo, the elephants are conservation heroes. They bring the fight against elephant extinction into the hearts of our visitors and stir us to action. And we’re seeing incredible results. This summer alone, 5,000 zoo visitors and community members have joined our 96 Elephants campaign, named for the number of African elephants killed each day to fuel the international ivory trade. Shockingly, the United States is the second biggest market for ivory in the world. With your help, we are putting pressure on elected officials to end the ivory trade in Washington state. Working with a coalition of more than 150 zoos and partners, we’re committed to stopping the demand, stopping the trade and stopping the killing.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife repository of confiscated ivory. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

What we do collectively is powerful, but let’s not forget about the individuals in our herd. Each has his or her own voice and story to tell, like 9-year-old zoo member Karina, whose advocacy for elephants among her school peers earned her the honorary title of Future Zookeeper of the Year. Karina represents the next generation of conservation stewards whose actions and attitudes will determine the fate of endangered elephants, and in hands like hers, the future looks bright.

Woodland Park Zoo has been a part of this broad community for more than 100 years, and in that time, much has changed in our knowledge and practices, and in our mission and vision. Looking forward, we’re committed to always listening, always learning, and always evolving, working toward one vision: a world with elephants for generations to come.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Do you know Mo? International Vulture Awareness Day coming up

Posted by: Karen Stevenson, docent; Susan Burchardt, raptor keeper; and Anna Martin, docent

When you saw “Vulture” in the title, what came to mind? Did you think of the Marvel® comic book character? Of big, red-headed black birds pecking around fresh road kill? Important members of almost every continent’s cleaning crew? A featured friend of raptor fans at the zoo? How about “all of the above”?

Vulture in flight. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The cartoon version is property of Marvel comics and we’ll let Marvel speak for him, but living, breathing, feathered vultures are represented at Woodland Park Zoo by Modoc, the zoo’s turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). Mo is a member of the Raptor Center’s educational team. He is the zoo’s ambassador for all vultures around the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) and the New World (the Americas).

Susan Burchardt, one of the zoo’s raptor keepers says, “Vultures are easy to ignore or vilify, but they are a cornerstone in so many ecosystems.” They’re often misunderstood. On September 6, International Vulture Awareness Day, the zoo’s raptor keepers will help “grow the love.” We think vultures are marvelous!

Modoc the vulture. Photo: Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

In the wild, vultures live in large groups sometimes called wakes or committees. They are scavengers—they eat only fresh kills (once a carcass begins to smell, the vultures lose their appetites for it) and they have tough guts: anthrax, hog cholera, and botulism are no match for vultures’ stomach acids. Besides cleaning carcasses, vultures help keep these lethal bacteria out of our ecosystems. Imagine the mess if we didn’t have vultures’ help: rotting carcasses, germs and disease spreading, flies everywhere, and the smell!

Vultures are an example of divergent evolution. Old World species look similar to New World vultures, but the Old World species evolved to find food visually—they keep an eye on snow leopards in the Himalayas and move in to eat what the snow leopards leave behind. Some New World species, including California condors and turkey vultures, are able to smell a fresh kill up to a mile way and swoop down to begin cleaning the carcass right away. They sometimes fly high overhead, circling, waiting for an animal to die.

Vultures are known to circle overhead. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Circling is a useful but unfortunate behavior. In Africa, Old World vultures circling over poached elephants guide game wardens to poachers—and in a grim turn, poachers have started poisoning the elephant carcasses, killing hundreds of vultures while the poachers escape with the elephants’ tusks.

Poachers’ poisons aren’t the only threat. Cattlemen in India and Africa accidentally poison them too. You see, vultures aren’t picky about the meat they eat, so they sometimes eat cattle carcasses. Diclofenac is a common veterinary drug once given to cattle in India and Africa (and still administered in some European countries). The drug, as used by humans, is perfectly safe, but though vultures can easily stomach anthrax, diclofenac is poison to them. Hundreds of thousands of vultures have died in India and Africa after eating the meat of inoculated cattle. 

What a beauty! Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects vultures in the U.S., but as you can see, the same is not true for other vultures in other places. The zoo is one of hundreds of organizations helping raise awareness of vultures through International Vulture Awareness Day. The zoo’s celebration will focus on vultures’ habits, diets, and threats; and ongoing research, including banding, tracking, and analyzing pellets. (Don’t know what a vulture pellet is? Come by! They’re fascinating, we promise.) Mark your calendars, join the fun!

Vulture Day Schedule of Activities
September 6, 2014
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Ongoing activities:
  • Crafts
  • Banding Station: kids will get measured, weighed and banded just like researchers band vultures in the wild
  • Carrion Piñata: participants will use a vulture hand puppet to pull treasures out of a pretend carcass just like vultures forage for food
  • Vulture Pellet Guess: participants will guess the number of vulture pellets in a jar. Prizes will be awarded at 2:30 p.m.
  • Vulture Information Carts: Information about vultures will be available throughout the day
10:30 – 10:45 a.m., Vulture Talk  
10:45 – 11:15 a.m., Bean Bag Toss 
11:30 a.m. – noon, Raptor Flight Program
12:15 – 1:00 p.m., Scavenger Hunt and Bean Bag Toss
1:00 – 1:30 p.m., Research Study – Net Demonstration
2:00 p.m., Raptor Flight Program
2:30 p.m., Announcement of Vulture Pellet Guess Winners and Awarding of Prizes

Come see us!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Northwest frog gets a hand from Endangered Species Act

Posted by: Fred Koontz, Vice President of Field Conservation, and Jennifer Pramuk, Animal Curator

An Oregon spotted frog is released into protected wetlands after being raised at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told this little frog we've got its back.

Woodland Park Zoo applauds the USFWS on its official decision to extend federal protection to the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This big move will go a long way in making recovery possible throughout the Oregon spotted frog’s northwest range.

An adult Oregon spotted frog. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Once common and widespread in Puget Sound area wetlands, the Oregon spotted frog now inhabits 10% or less of its former range in the Pacific Northwest. That loss means more than just devastation to our native frog population. As Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Acting Supervisor, Tom McDowell, noted in the announcement, the frog’s decline “signals degradation in the health of natural areas that provide for people as well as fish and wildlife.”

Oregon spotted frogs need healthy wetland habitat. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Celebrating a victory for Oregon spotted frogs means celebrating a victory for wetlands. Washington’s wetlands are fast disappearing, lost to draining, damming and filling for development. Why does it matter? Wetlands are critical to the overall health of our watersheds—they provide important functions for people like flood control, ground water recharge, and recreation. It’s essential to protect the quality of the wetlands that remain as they face pressure from pollution, invasive wildlife, and disease.

With federal species protection can come federal habitat protection. The final rule designating critical habitat for the Oregon spotted frog is expected to be announced this fall, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now with federal action underway, the impact of local action through our Living Northwest conservation program becomes amplified. For the past six years, Woodland Park Zoo has been working with partners at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Northwest Trek, Cedar Creek Correctional Facility, Evergreen State College and Joint Base Lewis-McChord to restore Oregon spotted frog populations locally. Together we collect egg masses, hatch and raise the frogs in safety at the zoo, and then release them to protected wetlands in the wild.

An Oregon spotted frog tadpole raised at Woodland Park Zoo before being released into the wild. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

We are set to release several hundred more head started frogs this fall. Knowing that they and their future offspring are protected at the federal level means a better future for our northwest wildlife and wetlands, and thus a better future for our northwest communities.