Thursday, October 30, 2014

A donkey allergic to hay? You don’t say!

Posted by Caileigh Robertson, Communications

Sam the miniature donkey. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Sneezes, sniffles and itchiness are all signs of allergies in humans and, as research indicates, they’re common symptoms in allergic animals too—especially for one miniature donkey at Woodland Park Zoo.

Sam, one of our two mini donkeys living at the Family Farm, is allergic to hay! Zookeepers noticed him becoming itchy around hay, which serves as feed for Sam and his herd mate, Rico. Sam continuously rubbed and scratched against posts in his Family Farm barn, and his coat became short and thin. After a blood test came back confirming his hay allergy, our keepers and animal health team crafted a treatment plan to reduce his symptoms and ease his discomfort.

Photo by Ric Brewer/WPZ.

Keepers promptly switched Sam’s feed to Bermuda grass hay, which doesn’t trigger allergic reactions like Timothy grass, commonly known for its pollen allergen. Although Sam experiences itchy side effects from exposure to Timothy grass, Rico indulges in it without trouble—though, they’re known to sneak a few bites one another’s hay. (Allergies or not, the grass is greener on the other side. Pun intended.)

Like many humans patients, Sam also receives routine allergen immunotherapy, or allergy vaccines, to help build immunity against allergens and reduce symptoms over time. Keepers train with him regularly to familiarize him with the vaccination process, allowing Sam to best anticipate each step in his care plan (especially the apple at the end).

Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Within weeks of receiving his initial immunotherapy treatment, Sam’s constant itching slowly subsided and his coat grew back healthy and lustrous. As a result of this proactive approach to Sam’s healthcare, the miniature donkey’s hay allergy has cleared up well.

Photo by Mat Hayward/WPZ.

Within the health community, clinical overlaps between humans and animals—like allergies—are strong indications of how local and global environments affect the health of all species. Case studies of human-animal health relations span all corners of the medical industry, including obesity, cancer, geriatric health and more.

During the 2014 Zoobiquity conference, held at Woodland Park Zoo and the University of Washington on Nov. 1, veterinarians, physicians and environmental health experts will explore case studies and interactive presentations of human-animal health to demonstrate how a species-spanning approach to health and medicine can improve human, animal and environmental health.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spiders are the best

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Spiders are sort of the worst best. Homes and backyards in the Pacific Northwest seem to be teeming with spiders during the fall season and dewy-dropped webs float oh so delicately between the sidewalk and your face. But don’t get all antsy (ahem… spidery), we spoke with Sue Andersen, zookeeper at the Bug World exhibit, to learn more about these incredible eight-legged beauties.

Volunteer Jordan asks zookeeper Sue Andersen about her love of spiders and why everybody should appreciate them!

Sue, you have to work with spiders every day at Bug World. Were you always at ease around arachnids?

To tell you the truth, no. When I first started volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo, all I knew was that I wanted to become a keeper. My very first assignment was to help feed the golden orb weaver. They are long legged and they are web-builders, meaning they like to hang out high up in their exhibit. I’m not the tallest person in the world, so I had to really reach my arm way up into their space to feed them. It was challenging and I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing.

After a while though, I became accustomed to them and now I’m totally comfortable with them. It’s like anything, if you aren’t used to something it can seem intimidating, but after some practice it’s a piece of cake.

Sue delicately moves a tarantula behind the scenes at Bug World. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

It seems like there are more spiders around during the fall season. We hear people talk about house spiders coming in from the cold. What’s the deal?

I hear that all the time, but the truth is there is no greater number of spiders during autumn, we just see them more frequently. One of the most common spiders here in Seattle is the giant European house spider, Tegenaria gigantean.

House spiders do not come from the outside into your home, in fact they are always in and around your home. These spiders migrated, along with European settlers, as people brought furniture and building materials to the west. The spiders that live in your house have adapted to live there; they would not survive if people didn’t build awesome houses for them. House spiders are usually out of sight, living in the hidden parts of your home; inside walls, basement corners or attics. In early fall, male house spiders are struck with cupid’s arrow and begin running around to find as many girlfriends as they can. These guys have longer legs, so they appear larger, and they are fast, so they can startle you if you find them in the sink or bathtub.

A giant European house spider shows off its colors. Photo by Dennis Conner/WPZ.

Aggh! Yes, they can be very startling to find. So what should we do when we do see them?

Actually, you don’t need to do anything. A house spider is a wonderful creature to have around. They eat other pest insects such as mosquitoes, fleas and earwigs and have even been known to kill hobo spiders, which some people are more sensitive to. If you see a house spider the best thing to do is just wave as it crawls by. If you really can’t deal, you can carefully scoop it into a cup and move it to another part of your house.

Sure! Gently move the spider to your basement or attic and let it go, you won’t be bothered by it and you’ll know it’s helping protect you from insects that do bite people like mosquitoes and fleas.
I wouldn’t recommend touching them, since they are likely to be startled. These spiders are much more afraid of you than you are of them. Think about just the difference in size. Humans must be terrifying! Do them a favor by letting them go.

But, I will say if you can’t bring yourself to keeping it inside your home, it’s probably better to let it outside in your yard rather than stomping on it. Just remember that you aren’t putting it back, because it did not come from the outside. Most house spiders will perish if put outdoors.

Cross orb weaver hangs out in the rose garden. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

What about all the spider webs we see in the mornings?

Another common spider in the Pacific Northwest is the cross orb weaver, Araneus diadematus, sometimes called the garden spider. This species is bigger this time of year, but there aren’t actually more of them in the fall. These pretty little orange and brown spiders start off as tiny creatures in early spring, and don’t reach full maturity until late summer. That’s when you see the larger webs appear with the plump female spiders on them. 

You also notice the webs more, because the leaves have fallen off the trees. The webs are so beautiful; just spend a minute admiring these intricate structures. They are marvelous!

Morning dew on a beautiful spider web in Ballard. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

What is your favorite spider to work with at the zoo?

I love all the animals I work with, but my favorites are the golden silk orb weaver and the tarantulas. I love looking at how brilliant some of their colorings are; they are just amazing. I’ve certainly felt the most personal growth by working with the tarantulas here at Woodland Park Zoo.

If you can forget for a moment that you are looking at a spider, and just study their brilliant colors you really begin to appreciate them for the beautiful creatures they are.

Amazon Sapphire Pinktoe Tarantula, Avicularia diversipes. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

Still afraid of spiders? Whether you suffer from extreme arachnophobia or just get a little jittery when you see one crawl by, you can overcome your fears by slowly learning to appreciate them. The more you know about something, the less you will fear it. 

Visit Bug World and spend some time checking out the golden silk orb weaver. Maybe you’ll even learn to love spiders as much as Sue does.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Got Zoobiquity?

Posted by: Dr. Deborah Jensen, President and CEO

Photo by Matt Hagen.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The first wealth is health.” It’s a truism that applies to all species. Although we may think our aches and pains are uniquely human, biologically speaking, Homo sapiens is just another species of animal. As a result, we are more similar genetically to other creatures than we are different, so we share many naturally occurring diseases. Health professionals caring for animals and humans often confront similar clinical questions, but to date don’t readily have avenues to work together on solutions.

Woodland Park Zoo is working to change that.

As global health challenges ask us to be more creative about our long-term well-being, we’re asking: what can we learn from a cross-species approach to health. Can we harness knowledge from both the veterinary and human medical sciences?

At the 4th annual Zoobiquity Conference, November 1, 2014, held at the University of Washington and Woodland Park Zoo, hundreds of leading scientists and practitioners will gather to respond to these questions by exploring the species-spanning effects that asthma, obesity, and air pollution and other health problems have on animals and humans. After morning panel sessions at UW, participants will gather at the zoo for Walking Rounds—lively case discussions informed by the zoo’s animals—with our own Dr. Darin Collins, WPZ Director of Animal Health and a member of the conference organizing committee, and our veterinary team. Dr. Brian Slinker, a WPZ board member and Dean of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine also joins the dialogue.

The health of people and animals depends on an intimate relationship that is intricately woven into the health of our environment.

The term Zoobiquity was popularized by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D. and Kathryn Bowers in their 2012 book of the same name. In it they explore the spectrum of diseases that humans and animals share because of our common ancestry. Zoobiquity also advocates for cross-disciplinary communication among practitioners to spark new hypotheses and clinical approaches.

It won’t surprise you to learn that Dr. Collins and his zoo animal health team have been thinking about zoobiquity for a long time. They know that human medicine yields valuable insights when combined with modern veterinary expertise, opening up new possibilities for diagnosis and treatment. In turn, what veterinary scientists are learning about illnesses in animals, such as jaguar breast cancer, flamingo heart attacks, and respiratory problems in humans and animals is increasingly transforming human medicine.

Dr. Darin Collins discusses zoobiquity in MyZoo magazine’s Fall 2014 health issue, available to read online.

The zoo, for example, has a long history of collaborating with our region’s finest human medical and surgical teams to provide the latest approaches to treating illness. Take the recent case of Vip, our 35-year-old western lowland gorilla (his name affectionately stands for Very Important Primate). Our vet team’s approach to his complicated sinus infection, commonly treated in humans but rare in animals, is an excellent example of how we engage comparative medicine to help our zoo inhabitants thrive. 

And as the zoobiquity cross-talk deepens, what veterinary scientists are learning about naturally occurring disease is increasingly informing human medicine. Add to the mix what ecologists are learning about how the environment influences disease and an even richer mosaic of understanding evolves. This holistic, systems perspective is redefining the boundaries between animal and human medicine, and has much to teach us about how disorders develop and can be successfully treated.

Image courtesy of

For example, cancer is found throughout the animal kingdom—we all share DNA that can mutate to form tumors. Knowing that rhinos can develop cancer under their horns, the way humans can under their fingernails, or that jaguars and women are susceptible to the same kind of breast cancer, can help oncologists look for genetic and environmental factors that raise or lower risk. Similarly, all species are vulnerable to viruses and other microbes. In fact, we also share about 70 percent of infectious diseases—such as Ebola and West Nile virus—with other animals.

A presentation on penguins as sentinels for West Nile virus will be held at our Humboldt penguin exhibit during the Zoobiquity Conference’s walking rounds.

Zoos are a front line for detecting, treating and monitoring diseases that cross from animals to humans. In 1999, the Bronx Zoo was key to unraveling the mystery surrounding West Nile when first detected in the Western Hemisphere, in New York City. After noticing a sudden increase in the number of dead crows in local neighborhoods, and then dead flamingos and owls on the zoo’s grounds, zoo scientists connected the pattern of disease to one also mysteriously affecting local people, which turned out to be mosquito-borne. The discovery informed early research and development of potential vaccines. So far, mosquito control is the most effective prevention.

As the virus spread westward, Woodland Park partnered with state and federal agencies to campaign for public awareness and to protect vulnerable species, particularly birds and horses. Our own Dr. Collins also took part in an avian influenza surveillance project in Indonesia to help mitigate further spread to animals and humans in that part of the world.

How can YOU get more zoobiquity? Download our free Woodland Park Zoo app and look for the Zoobiquity mobile tour in the Maps section. You'll get to know your favorite animals through the lens of caring experts who’ve got health covered, like in the case of miniature donkey Sam's allergy to hay! Photo by Ric Brewer/WPZ.

Today, zoobiquity dialogues would seem like an obvious best practice, but this is a new sensibility. It has not always been highly valued. 

In the past, most pre-med students were not required to study evolutionary biology, which places disease in the context of species’ adaptations to changing environments. And, while ecologists studied ecosystems and species at population levels, veterinarians were studying diseases of individual animals (and sometimes wild animals). 

Now, we are already observing that changes in the environment result in changes in wild animal diseases. Some even jump across species, giving all health scientists more reasons to seek each other out. When they do, they often talk about OneHealth, a lens focused on the interconnections among all our planet’s inhabitants. The goal is to learn how those relationships lead to thriving or to sickness, and to collaborate on creating solutions. 

Ultimately, veterinarians, physicians, and environmental scientists share the same fundamental interest: to heal their patients—animal, human, and planet. Our health depends on it.

Video: 3-day-old lion cubs nursing

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

The lion cubs, seen here at three days old, are doing well behind the scenes with mom Adia. Watch them wrestle and roll around as they position themselves for nursing in this new video:

Video: Baby Lion Cub Sweetness

In case you missed it, find the first photos and video of the cubs in the birth announcement from last week.

We'll continue to provide updates on the three boys from behind the scenes. It'll be some time before we see the family out on exhibit. For now, they need to focus on nursing, bonding with mom, developing their motor skills and getting big and strong!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Autumn colors cloak the zoo

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Fall is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful seasons to stroll zoo grounds. With the autumnal nod of the Northern hemisphere, a slight shift in the earth’s axis means our days will soon be getting darker and darker until the shortest day of the year, Winter Solstice (note to self: head for the Tropical Rain Forest building on Dec. 21 to soak up some heat!).

Right now our pathways are spilling over with orange, red, gold and brilliant yellow leaves. Some of the best spots to stop for fall foliage are the oak leaf piles on the outer loop between the South Entrance and gorillas, the gigantic magnolia leaves near Thai Village, and the perfectly painted Enkianthus outside the Bamboo Forest Reserve.

If you are a photographer, visit early or late in the day and see those really warm golden hues that occur when the sun sinks low in the sky. Fall light provides some of the most flattering colors, casting a warm glow on your subject.

Here are a few of our favorite autumn details so far…

Devil’s walking stick, Aralia spinosa, photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.
A fancy spider helps us decorate for fall. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.
Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica. No relation to bamboo-just looks like it! Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.
Golden back-lighting shows off a leaf in mid turn. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.
Pretty little spider in the rose garden. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.
Redbud hazel, Disanthus cercidifolius.  Related to witchhazel! Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.
Drops of rain glimmer on a fallen leaf. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.
And one last look at summer... a pearly pink rose still in bloom!

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The pride of the zoo: three lions born

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

The vets got a first look at the cubs on Friday. Photo by Dr. Darin Collins. 

The pride of Woodland Park Zoo just got a little bigger!

Three African lions were born yesterday on Oct. 24. The cubs represent the first litter between the mother, 5-year-old Adia, and 7-year-old father, Xerxes. This is the first offspring for the father. The last birth of lions was in 2012 when Adia gave birth to four cubs with a different male.

A screen capture from an internal cam shows Adia with one of her cubs. 

Zookeepers moved the cubs into the off-view maternity den where the new family can bond in comfortable, quiet surroundings. Before reuniting the cubs with mom, the zoo's veterinary team did a quick health assessment of the cubs and determined that all three are males. The father remains separated from the cubs and mother.

Zookeepers are monitoring the new family round-the-clock. The mother and cubs are bonding and nursing, according to Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo.

The three boys photographed during their quick health assessment. Photo by Dr. Darin Collins.

A screen capture from the internal cam shows three lion cubs in a behind-the-scenes den.

The first 48 hours are critical, and animal care staff will be monitoring each of the cubs closely for signs of normal behavior and development over the next several weeks. “Animal management staff is closely monitoring the litter via an internal keeper cam to ensure the mom is providing good maternal care and the cubs are properly nursing. The mom and cubs will remain off public view until they are a bit older and demonstrate solid mobility skills. In addition, outdoor temperatures need to be a minimum of 50 degrees,” said Ramirez.

A cub in the behind-the-scenes den.

“The birth of the lions is very exciting for all of us, especially for Xerxes who was not represented in the gene pool for the lion Species Survival Plan (SSP) conservation breeding program,” said Ramirez.”

Lion cubs typically weigh about 3 pounds at birth. They are born blind and open their eyes within a week or two after birth. As part of the exemplary animal care and health program for the zoo’s thousand-plus animals, zoo veterinarians will perform health check-ups every couple of weeks for weight monitoring, vaccinations, and critical blood and fecal sampling.

Xerxes arrived in the spring from El Paso Zoo to be paired with Adia under a breeding recommendation by the SSP for African lions. Adia arrived in 2010 from Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, in Ohio. An SSP is 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.

The three cubs in their den.

Xerxes and Adia, photographed together in June 2014. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo’s lions belong to the South African subspecies, Panthera leo krugeri. Known as the Transvaal lion, it ranges in Southern Sahara to South Africa, excluding the Congo rain forest belt, in grassy plains, savanna and open woodlands. These lions range in weight from 260 to 400 pounds.

The African lion is the only big cat not protected under the Endangered Species Act. 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. There is legal hunting of lions and retaliation killing because they pose a threat to humans and livestock.

A lion in the Ruaha landscape in Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Ruaha Carnivore Project.

Through the zoo’s Wildlife Survival Fund, Woodland Park Zoo supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project focused on mitigating conflict between predators and people. To help support the project, become a ZooParent and adopt a lion. Your adoption supports the care of the animals at the zoo, and $5 from each adoption goes directly to the zoo's conservation efforts.