Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gorilla dating game

Posted by: Stephanie Payne-Jacobs, Zookeeper


Calaya enjoys organic flowers from the zoo's Rose Garden. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Calaya joins the dating game

As animal caretakers, the daily welfare of the gorillas is our highest priority, but looking ahead and planning for the future of each gorilla is just as important.

Such long term plans may revolve around future breeding opportunities, socially appropriate groupings or age related concerns. At the heart of this planning is making sure we meet the mental and physical health of each individual, while also assuring the genetic sustainability and health of the population.

Recently, Woodland Park Zoo had to say goodbye to a member of the gorilla family due to a match-making opportunity that we felt was in the gorilla’s best interest.

In late February, Calaya, a young adult female gorilla from Vip’s group, was transferred to National Zoo in Washington D.C. as part of a breeding recommendation by the Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP is a cooperative breeding program across conservation zoos designed to maintain the genetic diversity and demographic health of populations, and its work is especially important for critically endangered species like the western lowland gorilla.

As a 12 year old, it is time for Calaya to leave her natal group and find an unrelated silverback to mate with, much as she would in the wild.

It goes without saying that finding a mate in western equatorial Africa would indeed occur under different circumstances. In the wild, male silverbacks may cautiously approach the periphery of a group with females and try to woo them away from their natal group. The females, in turn, may have the opportunity to check out any potential mates at large, common gathering areas where food is plentiful, such as a “bai.”

Being a life-long Seattleite, however, Calaya needed a bit of matchmaking magic to happen in order to reach her new mate, a silverback named Baraka in Washington D.C.  Unsure of whether Calaya and Baraka would like one another, we had to rely on their personalities, histories and level of experience as gauges to measure their compatibility.

Calaya at play in her Woodland Park Zoo exhibit. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The ultimate goal

Having a baby gorilla is the ultimate enrichment for a gorilla group—it encourages natural behavior in ways that cannot be replicated by caretakers. When breeding situations go smoothly, the mother and infant benefit from the experience, as does the rest of the group. Gorillas learn from experience and from one another, and no one can teach a gorilla how to be a gorilla better than a gorilla. In Calaya’s case, we are confident that her excellent upbringing with her gentle and attentive mother, Amanda, in her family group has provided her with all the necessary knowledge she needs to become a great mother and asset to her new gorilla family.

Calaya is loaded into a crate then transported by aircraft to Washington D.C. Photo: Elliott Rosenthal

Calaya’s journey begins

Unbeknownst to Calaya, her journey began four days before her departure, when her soon-to-be National Zoo caretaker arrived in Seattle in order to spend some time with Calaya before her transfer. He had a lot of questions about Calaya’s personality, her likes and dislikes and general history, which we were happy to answer (ad nauseam, he might offer). Our most common refrain was “Calaya is a gorilla’s gorilla.” What is that, you may wonder?

It means that while Calaya has always been comfortable around the humans in her life, she much prefers her gorilla companions and remains fairly indifferent to our praise, sweet talk and company in general. She is socially and politically savvy amongst the members of her family and tends to steer clear of conflict, though she will back up her mom, Amanda, and sister, Uzumma, if they need her help in a dispute. In short, she speaks the subtle language of gorilla very well, a skill that hand-raised gorillas may often find a bit more challenging.

Given her well-roundedness, age and the changing dynamics of her current group, Calaya was deemed a good match for Baraka, a 23-year-old silverback who was raised by an auntie gorilla mother in his natal group. Neither Calaya nor Baraka had been in the immediate presence of an unrelated, potential mate, so we were excited to see what their reaction would be upon her arrival.

Zookeepers regularly checked on Calaya throughout the travel and kept her well supplied with favorite treats. Photo: Elliott Rosenthal.


 Away we go

The trip to D.C. went as smoothly as we could have hoped. With her crate heavily bedded down with hay and covered with blankets, Calaya remained calm during transport to the airport as well as throughout the flight. The National Zoo keeper and I accompanied her along every step of the way and made sure she was warm, calm and cared for throughout her journey. We indulged her with her favorite fruits, nuts and fluids until she showed us in no uncertain terms that she had had enough (she would shove any further offerings away with a hasty poke of her finger). Traveling via the FedEx animal shipment department, we were able to have access to her crate during the flight, though we left her mostly alone as we had ample opportunity before, after and between our two flights to see to her needs. I must add that while many airport employees were understandably curious as to who or what was in the crate, everyone was extremely professional and respectful and stayed well away, making our job a lot easier.

After a long day of travel, we finally arrived to D.C.  in the early evening. A zoo police escort from the airport to the zoo hastened our arrival to National Zoo and, with the help of an amazing group of zoo staff, Calaya was out of her crate and into her rooms within an hour of landing. Once her crate door was opened, she cautiously walked out in into the tufts of piled hay, blankets and scattered food that was awaiting her and immediately picked up a piece of watermelon and sat on her favorite pink stool, which had been sent ahead.

For all transferring zoo animals, there is a necessary quarantine period at the receiving zoo’s end, which is usually 30 days. This is to guarantee the health of the incoming animal as well as the established group the animal may be joining. Quarantine areas are typically located in a separate building, away from where the animal will eventually be living. Fortunately, however, National Zoo had a specific ape quarantine area that was adjacent to the gorilla living quarters. This allows Calaya to be in immediate proximity to the noises, sights, sounds and smells of her future group.


A love connection

Baraka, Calaya's new mate at National Zoo.
Photo courtesy of National Zoo.
It didn’t take long for Baraka and Calaya to notice each other. The interest started casually at first, with Baraka sitting by the bedroom window and Calaya occasionally pausing to check out the new male from across the room. By her first full day there, Baraka was content grunting towards her and Calaya was posturing towards him in a way that can only be described as “Hey, I’m looking at you and I like what I see. Look at me!”

By the second day, Calaya had made a nice nest overnight in a hammock within Baraka’s sight line, and Baraka had made an equally lovely nest by the mesh window in his bedroom. At this point, keepers began having difficulty shifting Baraka out of his room-with-a-view for cleaning and feeding. He was now spending most of the day at this window in a bedroom that had previously been largely ignored.

Between Baraka’s refusal to leave his vantage point, his near-constant courtship vocalizations and Calaya’s shared interest, we all couldn’t have been happier with their initial meeting. These affiliative interactions continued throughout my week-long stay, and the updates from National Zoo report that the love connection is still going strong. Calaya’s quarantine period will end soon, and when it does, she will be introduced to her new family. We are hoping that Calaya and Baraka will then add to that family—and the genetic diversity of the population—very soon.

As I went to say goodbye on my last day, Calaya and Baraka remained focused on one another. I left with a smile on my face, knowing her future there would be a great one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New research outlines the road to coexisting with wildlife

Story by Ariel Mark, mongabay.com contributor
Originally published by mongabay.com; republished in part via The Global Forest Reporting Network


Habitat loss and illegal hunting are leading drivers behind mammal population decline and extinction in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. But what's driving these drivers? Road infrastructure, according to research. Dr. Reuben Clements* from James Cook University, along with his colleagues, conducted the first-ever comprehensive study examining the impacts of road infrastructure on mammal populations in Southeast Asia. Their findings were recently published in PLOS One.

An elephant crosses State Road 156. Photo by Reuben Clements.

Roads pose extreme environmental challenges, particularly for conservation efforts in the global south, where roads are often intertwined with economic growth and habitat degradation. From just 2005 to 2010, Southeast Asian landscapes saw an increase of total paved roads from 16 to 51 percent, according to data from the World Bank. 

Southeast Asian countries are astonishingly underrepresented in studies examining the impact land-altering road networks have on mammal populations, according to the study. However, the relative few that have been conducted indicate the situation may be dire. Scientists estimate 21 to 48 percent of native mammal species in Southeast Asia may be extinct by 2100 due to habitat loss and illegal hunting. Roads often exacerbate these threats and additionally impose direct negative impacts on mammal populations such as habitat fragmentation, discouraging movement within a population's range, and hindering gene flow between populations. Roadkill also becomes more prevalent with the introduction of road networks. Moreover, illegal hunting increases as poachers gain easier access to wildlife.

A remote camera "trap" catches a tiger on the move. Poaching and habitat loss are major threats impacting the Malayan tiger in the wild. 

The researchers recommended ten mitigation methods for minimizing environmental impacts of road infrastructure, and informing conservationists and government agencies. Among their strategies, they emphasize the importance of maintaining forest quality and connectivity in areas surrounding existing roads. They also suggest an increase in law enforcement near roads bisecting endangered species habitat, which could deter illegal poaching.

Furthermore, an improved dialogue between road development agencies and conservationists is crucial for building ecologically sound roads. Additionally, raising public awareness of the negative environmental impacts related to road construction could help prevent further habitat degradation. 


*Dr. Reuben Clements, a WPZ Partners for Wildlife Conservation Associate, leads Woodland Park Zoo’s and Panthera’s efforts to conserve tigers and their forest home in Malaysia. Learn more about our conservation work, then explore the story further in the new Banyan Wilds exhibit opening May 2. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Vote online to help save tigers

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor


Photo by Steve Winter/Panthera.

UPDATE: 

Wow! Thanks for showing your stripes for tigers—your online votes from earlier this week helped our on-the-ground conservation partner, MYCAT, win funding to expand anti-poaching patrols in Malaysia.

It's amazing what we can do when we join forces as a community with partners in the field to fight for a better future for wildlife! 

ORIGINAL STORY:

Woodland Park Zoo and Panthera work together with on-the-ground partners in Malaysia to protect tigers and their forests—and now one of those partners needs your help!

MYCAT (Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers) needs your vote to receive $30,000+ to expand its CAT Walks program, where trained volunteers trek through Malaysia’s rain forests looking for signs of poachers. Snares and traps are recorded, deactivated and reported to the authorities.

A poacher's snare hidden in a tree. Photo: Fred Koontz/WPZ.

CAT Walkers celebrate finding and confiscating a cache of snares hidden in a tree trunk. Photos: Fred Koontz/WPZ.

This is critical work: the more eyes in the forest and boots on the ground, the more opportunity we have to deter poaching.

To support tiger conservation, follow this link to the European Outdoor Conservation Association and vote for the project titled “Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT), Malaysia.” Voting is just a click away and it's easy to do: no log ins or sign ups required!

Share this with your friends and have an even greater impact.

CAT Walkers also check remote camera traps to monitor for signs of wildlife. Data from camera traps allow park rangers to predict routes for anti-poaching patrols. Photo: Kae Kawanishi, MYCAT.

Tigers will return to Woodland Park Zoo with the opening of Banyan Wilds, May 2, 2015. Guests will discover more stories of the hard work being done in the field to save tigers, and ways we can help even from all the way across the globe. Every visit to Woodland Park Zoo makes this work possible—and with your online vote, we can help get even more great work done! Thank you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cats on a plane!

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor


Malayan tiger brothers Liem, Eko and Olan arrived from Little Rock Zoo via FedEx cargo shipping last night!

The tigers in their travel crates were unloaded from the FedEx cargo plane at Sea-Tac Airport, then moved to a truck where they were loaded in for a quick trip to Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Martin Ramirez/Woodland Park Zoo.

Keepers picked up the boys at Sea-Tac Airport and brought them to their new digs here at Woodland Park Zoo. They'll be getting settled behind the scenes before the all new Banyan Wilds exhibit opens May 2.

Two of the brothers at their previous home, Little Rock Zoo. Photo: Karen Caster/Little Rock Zoo.

The tigers, each traveling in their own crate, were brought to a behind the scenes area at the zoo specialized for big cats. They were accompanied on their journey by their keepers from Little Rock Zoo who helped them settle in with us.

One by one we unloaded the crates into the holding area, allowing the tigers to step out from their crates and into their dens.

At Woodland Park Zoo the crates were unloaded from the truck and brought to the holding area by forklift. Photo: Martin Ramirez/Woodland Park Zoo.

Two of the brothers were fairly quick to exit their crates, but one was quite cautious about the whole matter. Noticing their brother still inside, the two came to visit him and tried to get him to join them, walking in and out of his crate and showing him the way out into their new digs. The two were already acclimating, accepting dinner from their new keeper and getting to know the space.

Can you spot the flash of orange and black inside the crate?! Photo: Martin Ramirez/Woodland Park Zoo.

We take our cues from the animals and realized this tiger needed to move at his own pace. So we turned off the lights, walked out of the room, and let the quiet, the calm and the encouragement of his brothers do the work. After two hours, he finally left his crate! It was about 11:30 at night and all three brothers settled in for their first night of sleep at their new home.

To minimize disturbance to the boys, we are not taking photos of them behind the scenes just yet. But I have to say, even just the sight of this empty crate is reason for excitement—it's one step closer to the return of tigers on view at Woodland Park Zoo!

An empty crate—the move was a success! Photo: Martin Ramirez/Woodland Park Zoo.

Right now the brothers are in a standard 30-day period of quarantine where we monitor their health and establish training and care routines with them. This is a chance for them to acclimate to their new surroundings, get to know their new keepers, adjust to their new diet, and settle in comfortably. 

Construction underway for the new Banyan Wilds. Photo: Monica Lake/Woodland Park Zoo.

Their new exhibit—Banyan Wilds, opening May 2—represents a transformation of the heart of the zoo. Immersing you in the tropical forests of Asia, the exhibit will bring you closer to tigers than ever before at Woodland Park Zoo. You’ll see their natural instincts kick in when the tigers climb and jostle trees, splash in a pool, and nap under the shade of a banyan tree. The forest journey continues with sloth bears, Asian small-clawed otters and an aviary of tropical birds. You'll discover how Woodland Park Zoo and Panthera work together with on-the-ground partners in Malaysia to protect tigers and their forests, and what you can do to take action.

Photo: Karen Caster/Little Rock Zoo.

We can’t wait to show our stripes—and ask you to join us in showing yours! Look for more updates as we get closer to the debut this summer, and save the date for the May 2 grand opening.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Anti-poaching program goes national in Kyrgyzstan

Posted by: Snow Leopard Trust, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife


Editor’s note: The Snow Leopard Trust’s work in Kyrgyzstan is in collaboration with Woodland Park Zoo, with special support from Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré, managed by the Whitley Fund for Nature.

Less than a year after launching a pilot program to fight poaching of endangered snow leopards and their prey in Kyrgyzstan, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners are ‘going national’ to cover all 19 of the country’s state parks and nature reserves, thanks to a grant from the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.

Wild snow leopard recorded by a remote camera. Photo courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust.

The project, known as the Citizen-Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP), trains, publicly honors, and financially rewards park rangers and local community members who successfully apprehend illegal hunters.

It addresses one of the most persistent threats to snow leopards and their prey species in the Central Asian countries: poaching by outsiders.

The Snow Leopard Trust has been working in Kyrgyzstan since 2002 with a dominant focus on community-based conservation, and more recently, with the Kyrgyz President for catalyzing range-wide governmental action for snow leopard conservation.

A snow leopard spotted by remote camera technology. Photo courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust.

The organization’s longest-running program in Kyrgyzstan, Snow Leopard Enterprises, has helped address the problem of hunting of snow leopards and wild ungulates by local community members. However, for many years, community members and rangers have expressed frustration at preventing poaching by outsiders.

“Our existing community-based conservation programs are not as effective against this outside threat,” says Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.

A Porous System Exploited by Illegal Hunters
Due to entrenched problems such as an under-resourced and underfunded wildlife conservation sector, lack of trained personnel and equipment, and low salaries for park staff, rangers and local people often feel socially and economically disenfranchised to control poaching in and around protected areas. In the past, this has supported a porous system easily exploited by illegal hunters.    

In response, the Snow Leopard Trust, local NGO partner Snow Leopard Foundation in Kyrgyzstan (SLFK), and the Government of Kyrgyzstan developed CRWPP.

When cases of illegal hunting are recorded and filed by citizens, rangers, or teams of community members and rangers, CRWPP honors them in a public ceremony with certificates and a small cash reward.

CRWPP cash rewards provide incentive to rangers to apprehend poachers and follow-through filing cases. National recognition raises social profile and respect for rangers while publicly celebrating and positively reinforcing community collaboration and best practices.

Toktosun uulu Urmat, recipient of the first-ever ranger award. Photo by Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

“Although it involves a cash reward, recognizing the rangers’ and community members’ effort is an even more important aspect of the program,” says Whitley Award winner Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Science and Conservation Director for the Snow Leopard Trust.

Arrests and filling cause hassles and costs for poachers as an added deterrent, and placing cases on record is a critical first step towards stronger law enforcement.

In 2014, the Snow Leopard Trust signed a 10-year, three-way agreement with SLFK, and the Government of Kyrgyzstan to help manage this program into the future, and later that same year, inaugural awards were conferred on a ranger-community member team that had apprehended a hunter with a gun in Sarychat-Ertash Nature Reserve.

Major Expansion Thanks to UK Grant
Now, a new grant received in 2015 from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund through the UK Government will enable us to begin massive nationwide expansion starting this spring. The grant will provide for an endowment to support the program’s financial awards into the future, including a roughly $250 US reward for cases involving endangered species.

One of the most exciting outcomes of the grant will be to enable a partnership with INTERPOL, the international police organization, to deliver quality training for rangers in law enforcement and investigative techniques.

WPZ Vice President of Field Conservation, Dr. Fred Koontz (second to right), with rangers in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Photo courtesy of Fred Koontz/Woodland Park Zoo.

“Despite their limited resources, park rangers in protected areas as well as our partner communities work hard to stop these outside poachers, but their efforts too often go unrecognized,” says Dr. Mishra. “This project therefore will be a huge enabler. We’re excited to grow this program and start a new chapter in conservation in Kyrgyzstan.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Farewell to Sunny the otter

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications


Sunny the otter (foreground) with her mate, Duncan. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

For the past couple of decades, a female river otter named Salishan enchanted visitors with her energetic diving, gliding and cuteness. Now we say goodbye to the otter keepers fondly called "Sunny."

Sunny was humanely euthanized today at the age of 19 following a period of declining health and lethargy. River otters live 8 to 10 years in the wild and 18 to 20 years in zoos.

The zoo’s consulting veterinary cardiologist, Dr. Jerry Woodfield with Northwest Cardiology Consultants, diagnosed the otter a year ago with age-related congestive heart failure. She was given a prognosis of three to six months to live but survived another 12 months.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

“Targeted treatment, close monitoring, excellent supportive care, and lots of TLC by our keeper and veterinary staff all contributed to giving Salishan a very good quality of life for the past year,” said Dr. Kelly Helmick, Woodland Park Zoo’s associate veterinarian. “Rarely do we get to successfully manage heart disease like hers for so long and for so well.”

Salishan and her brother were rescued on Bainbridge Island after being observed without a mother and arrived at Woodland Park Zoo in 1996 at approximately 2 months old. A second grade class at North Beach Elementary named the siblings through a naming contest.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Salishan lived in the award-winning Northern Trail exhibit with her male companion, 17-year-old Duncan, the zoo’s surviving otter. “For two decades Salishan showed off her superior swimming skills, playing with Duncan underwater and on land. Children especially loved trying to keep up with her at the viewing window. We will really miss her,” said Dr. Jennifer Pramuk, a curator at Woodland Park Zoo. The zoo is planning to acquire a new female and male river otter from other zoos in the next few months. “We look forward to introducing these new otter residents to our community.”

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

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 the captive breeding, husbandry and public awareness of the river otter, you can adopt an otter through our ZooParent program.