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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gorilla Vip recovering from successful surgery

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

Zookeepers and animal health staff wheel Vip out of the zoo's animal hospital after the surgery is completed. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Last week, we asked for your best wishes for western lowland gorilla Vip, who has been battling a severe sinus infection. After last week’s CT scan and a critical surgery this week to treat his chronic sinus infection, the 35-year-old silverback is successfully breathing through his nose for the first time in weeks! Vip is steadily improving, and for now he is spending time behind the scenes at the gorilla exhibit, getting some extra TLC from his keepers.

A peek through the door of the operating room at Woodland Park Zoo's animal hospital. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

After the CT scan confirmed a complicated sinus infection, we realized the 425-pound patient would require sinus surgery to drain the blockage and physically remove the majority of the infection. Although endoscopic sinus surgery is one of the most common procedures performed by physicians, it is rarely used in zoo medicine.

University of Washington's Dr. Greg Davis leads the surgery on Vip at the zoo's animal hospital. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The procedure was successful and Dr. Darin Collins, the zoo’s Director of Animal Health, tells us he’s optimistic for a full recovery by Vip over the next few weeks. Back with his keepers now, Vip is eating well, venturing outdoors in a behind-the-scenes exhibit and breathing much more freely. These are all very encouraging signs and we’ll continue to monitor him closely.

Woodland Park Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Darin Collins, looks in on the patient. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

We’re indebted to quite a few people for graciously volunteering their time and resources to make Vip’s CT scan and surgery possible. Dr. Collins and the zoo’s animal health staff worked alongside Robert M. Liddell, M.D. of Center for Diagnostic Imaging during Vip’s CT scan and specialist physicians, led by Greg Davis, M.D., M.P.H., University of Washington associate professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery and Director of Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery. Davis and Al Hillel, M.D., collaborated with Liddell and Woodland Park Zoo to provide the best possible patient care for Vip, with necessary medical and surgical equipment donated by Medtronic Navigation, Inc. and Storz Endoscopy. Davis and his surgical team performed the surgical procedure at Woodland Park Zoo’s animal hospital. Medical support and specialization from Liddell and the UW physicians were provided in-kind through an on-going partnership with the zoo.

The 425-pound patient. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Dr. Davis tells us the patient outcomes following surgery were positive beyond his expectations. “It is gratifying to know the animals at Woodland Park Zoo have such caring and compassionate professional animal care staff. It was an honor to work with this magnificent patient,” added Davis.

We can't wait to see Vip back with his group and active again. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Vip has a ways to go yet, but things are looking good for the Very Important Primate. We’re hoping to see him back with his girls in the near future, leading the group and acting as peacekeeper once again for daughters Calaya and Uzumma and adult mates Amanda and Jumoke.

Thanks to you all for your well wishes, and let’s keep the positive vibes going for our big guy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mourning the loss of Watoto

UPDATE: As we all mourn the loss of Watoto, we ask that in lieu of flowers you help us honor Watoto’s memory by joining the 96 Elephants campaign to save African elephants in the wild from extinction. Take the 96 Elephants pledge at to tell state leaders we want an end to ivory sales in Washington. Share this with your friends. Thank you for helping us honor Watoto.

Most days at Woodland Park Zoo are inspired by wonder and happiness given to us by our beautiful animals. Rarely are there days we write with sad news. Today we are unable to find words to make this easier for any of us.

Watoto, photographed in June 2014. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Earlier today, 45-year-old African elephant Watoto passed away in the care of our veterinary and animal care staff.

Around 7:00 a.m., keepers found Watoto lying in the elephant yard, unable to return to her feet. After multiple attempts to help her stand up, a piece of equipment was brought in to lift her. This attempt also failed.

Woodland Park Zoo’s Animal Health staff was present to assess Watoto’s well-being and provide emergency care. It was determined that her health was quickly declining and that she would likely become more uncomfortable as hours passed. With compassion and sadness, our experts and keepers decided that the most humane course of action was to euthanize her.

Grief for Watoto’s death will be felt far and wide, well beyond zoo grounds, and we will find a way to come together and share our memories as a community.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Health update on aging silverback gorilla

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

UPDATE: Vip is recovering from his CT scan, which revealed findings consistent with a severe sinus infection. We are working with a consultation team led by doctors from the University of Washington Department of Otolaryngology (ears, nose and throat) to plan for a near-future surgery to resolve this infection. We’re hoping for a positive outcome for Vip and are cautiously optimistic he’ll make a full recovery. Thanks for all the positive thoughts and well wishes—it means so much to us!

Silverback Vip. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo’s 35-year-old silverback gorilla, Vip, will undergo a diagnostic procedure for treatment of a chronic sinus infection.

“In recent days, Vip has shown signs of a complicated sinus infection,” said Dr. Darin Collins, Director of Animal Health at Woodland Park Zoo. “Vip has unfortunately not responded as expected to recent treatments, which are often effective in treating a more routine nasal infection, so he will undergo a CT scan to determine an accurate diagnosis. Due to Vip’s age, his response to current treatments, and the chronic nature of his condition, the prognosis remains guarded at this time.”

Vip’s upcoming procedure is provided by in-kind support from the local medical community, under the direction of Collins and the zoo’s animal health team.

“As always, we are providing Vip excellent care and treatment,” said Collins. “Just like with humans, there is always a risk when animal procedures require anesthesia. Our dedicated zookeepers and veterinary team are taking every precaution to prepare Vip for a safe and successful examination. We are grateful to have strong support from the regional medical community volunteering resources for Vip’s procedure, and expect to provide updated information on Vip’s health status and treatment plan later this week.”

Vip, named for being a Very Important Primate, is one of Woodland Park Zoo’s adult male western lowland gorillas. Visitors and keepers know silverback Vip as the bedrock of his gorilla group, acting as both a leader and peacekeeper. He shares the zoo’s East exhibit with four females including daughters Calaya and Uzumma, and adult mates Amanda and Jumoke. Since arriving at the zoo in 1996, Vip has sired six daughters and continues to be a supporting figure for his group.

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the critically endangered species through the Mbeli Bai Study, one of the zoo’s Partners for Wildlife. The study researches the social organization and behaviors of more than 400 lowland gorillas living in the southwest of Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. The data collected enables scientists to assess the vulnerability of populations to habitat threats and predict their ability to recover from decline.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Celebrate World Orangutan Day

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

On this World Orangutan Day, we shout out to all the kids who left their handprints at the orangutan exhibit earlier this month as a pledge to save these endangered primates.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The activity, part of our Asian Wildlife Conservation Day celebrations, helped the next generation realize that the fate of orangutans is in their hands.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Orangutans are struggling to survive in the wild, their populations under threat by the loss of forests in Asia. We work with the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program (GPOCP), a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife, to address the conservation crisis in the field.

Wild orangutan. Photo by Tim Laman.

The main goal of GPOCP is to work with the communities surrounding Borneo’s Gunung Palung National Park to foster sustainable stewardship of the area’s natural resources and build a future where orangutans and other wildlife can thrive alongside local villages. In this latest video, we are introduced to local artisans whose craft offers a sustainable income alternative to destructive forest activities:

Produced by Rizki Mulyadi for USAID IFACS

You can help too! Learn more about palm oil and Forest Stewardship Council certified wood and paper to see how your consumer choices can have a positive impact on forest habitat.

Start the quiz at

Those who connect with the natural world are inspired to save it. So we invite you to find your special connection—take the orangutan personality quiz to discover which Woodland Park Zoo ape is your match!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Underturtle: An underdog story

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

If Hollywood got its hands on the story of the endangered western pond turtle, we’d recognize all the tropes of a classic underdogturtle story, filled with struggle, redemption and hope.

Woodland Park Zoo presents: The Underturtle. Because sometimes the underdog is a turtle.
Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Knocked out by predators, loss of habitat and invasive species, the western pond turtle population hit a devastating low of 150 turtles in Washington in 1990. But now, this native species is poised for a comeback. For more than two decades, Woodland Park Zoo has partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo and others to give these turtles a fighting chance. As part of our Living Northwest conservation program, we collect their eggs from the wild, hatch and raise them in the safety of the zoo until they are large enough to avoid invasive predators, and release the turtles into local waterways to rebuild their wild populations.

Pond site where turtles are released. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

There is hope yet. Of the 2,000 turtles that have been head started and released, at least 800 have survived, now breeding and growing their own numbers.

We are watching the western pond turtle’s comeback unfold before our eyes. And no individual turtle embodies that story better than our littlest fighter, turtle number 23.

We zoom in on our hero…

Hello, 23. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

This is 23’s underdog tale.


SCENE: July 2013. Inside the turtle rearing unit at Woodland Park Zoo, a small, heated building where young turtle hatchlings have a safe place to eat, grow and practice turtle survival skills like swimming and sunning. Here zookeepers watch over them, preparing them for release into the wild. There are over 130 turtles in the unit, and one appears to be outsized by all the others. It barely fills the palm of one’s hand.

The tiny 23 back in July 2013. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

As dozens of turtles get called in to play in the big leagues—getting released into the wild—tiny number 23 is left behind, having missed the weigh-in requirements by just a few ounces. It’s hard to bench 23, but it’s for the best—the turtles need to reach a certain size before they can be released so that they are big enough to avoid the mouths of predators such as bullfrogs. It’s the best way we have to give them a fighting chance at surviving and rebuilding their population.

23’s opponent—a hungry bullfrog. Photo: Bullfrog - natures pics/Licensed under Creative Commons.

While the other turtles head off into the wild, 23 stays behind for another year. The next generation of turtle eggs arrive and hatch at the zoo, and 23 joins the new crew, preparing for its second chance.


SCENE: July 2014. Outside the turtle rearing unit, a picnic table becomes a makeshift work station for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists, zoo staff and interns. It is Turtle Prep day—time for final measurements and identification before the turtles can be released into the wild. The turtles are piled into buckets surrounding the team, and one by one are picked out to be weighed, measured, notched, assessed and approved for release. They must meet the standard of 66 mm (a little over 2.5 inches) in shell length to make the cut. 23 is up next.
23 is ready. Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo

Put me in, coach! 23 has been training hard. It has spent the past year bulking up on a high protein diet. We’re not talking Rocky-style raw egg shakes. More like mealworms, earthworms and our own special gelatin recipe made with fish, carrots and vitamins. Compared to the other turtles, 23 still appears small, but it doesn’t need to be the biggest to be our champion—just big enough to survive on its own.

If you’ll play along, let’s skip the expense of licensing copyrighted songs and instead imagine your favorite movie montage music playing as 23 gets sized up:

Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The results are in: 23 measures up and makes the cut for release! The comeback is set. And now it’s time to face the final act.


SCENE: August 2014. Off a suburban drag in south Puget Sound lies a well-hidden, protected pond site, home of one of Washington’s last remaining western pond turtle populations. Here Woodland Park Zoo releases its turtles each year, and we see a sign of their survival—adult turtles hanging out on a log in the pond, taking in some sun. With the head started turtles piled into tubs, zoo staff and state biologists head to pond’s edge where they are set to send each one off swimming into its new home.
Adult turtles soak in the sun at the pond site. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

A tub of turtles await their release. Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

23 is ready to go. But before we send 23 out into the big leagues, we give the little guy some coaching.

Turtle whisperer. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Swim fast. Stay vigilant. Watch for bullfrogs. Enjoy the sun. Find a mate. Go far. Keep fighting.

So long and thanks for all the fish! Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

It’s time to say goodbye to 23, and watch it say hello to its new life.

Photos by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

23 swims away. The comeback kid has finally made it.

Watch the grand finale, which is really more like a new beginning:

VIDEO: Turtle 23 takes a dip. Produced by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Maybe not today, but some day, 23 is going to have to face real antagonists out there: predatory bullfrogs, emerging disease, threatened habitat. But there is reason for hope. Recent surveys indicate that the released turtles are hatching and rearing their own offspring, and the wild hatchlings are surviving.

If 23 has some little ones of its own some day, we may have a sequel on our hands!


Here’s how this story differs from a Hollywood tale—the audience plays a role. We’re not just here to sit back and watch—we can influence the story by taking action at home. Let’s give these turtles the happy ending for which we’re all rooting.

Turtles need clean water, safe places to nest, and a healthy food supply to survive. You can help make these things possible by taking a few simple actions at home:

Think twice before bringing your own Donatello or Michelangelo home. With the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie out, the temptation will be stronger than ever to buy pet turtles. Inexperienced owners all too often end up releasing unwanted turtles into the wild, which can spread disease and lead to non-native species competing with local wildlife. Call your local animal shelter to find a new home for an unwanted pet.

Keep turtles’ water clean by eliminating chemical pesticides from your gardening practices. Pesticides get into water, and once water flows away from your garden, it eventually empties into surrounding water systems—from freshwater ponds to the Puget Sound—bringing contaminants into wildlife habitat. 

Make a better home for native wildlife: Join a habitat restoration program in your community, or start in your own backyard by using native plants that nourish and support local wildlife rather than compete with it. Don’t miss our Backyard Habitat classes for hands-on lessons you can apply at home or in your community.


Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.