Thursday, December 18, 2014

Training animals to take part in their own care

Posted by: Susan Fisher, Animal Management

Woodland Park Zoo is deeply committed to providing excellent day-to-day care for our animals. In our efforts to continually raise the bar in animal welfare, WPZ has developed a robust and ever-evolving behavioral husbandry program. Recently, we were fortunate to bring nationally-recognized behavioral husbandry expert Marty MacPhee to Seattle to lead workshops and one-on-one sessions with our animal care and education staff.

Marty has helped develop programs for Brookfield Zoo and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. She also helped design and taught the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) courses “Animal Training Applications in Zoos and Aquariums” and “Managing Animal Enrichment and Training Programs.” Many of our zookeepers and animal managers have already had the opportunity to complete these courses with more to enroll in the years to come.

Marty MacPhee meets Marty the porcupine. Photo by Deanna Ramirez/Woodland Park Zoo.

In fact, some of our keepers were so inspired by their experience in the AZA course, that they named our North American porcupine (born in April 2014) “Marty.” In the midst of her busy visit to WPZ, Marty the person found time to meet her namesake, Marty the porcupine.

Who can forget how adorable Marty was when she was a newborn! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Porcupine Marty currently lives off-exhibit at the Raptor Center. There she works one-on-one with her keepers who are training her for future appearances in raptor and education programs. Her training is coming along well—she is learning to go to her station and into her crate, as well as how to climb a ramp on command. It’s a little challenging for keepers to find a good time for training sessions with Marty, as she is nocturnal by nature, but the progress so far is promising!

The Raptor Flight program is a great example of how the animals are encouraged to use their natural behaviors while working with zookeepers. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Behavioral husbandry is the science (and sometimes the art!) of promoting animal well-being by observing behaviors and subsequently improving care (husbandry) based on behavioral needs. Zookeepers observe the animals’ behavior and then provide enhancements to their environments with the goal of promoting natural behaviors. Two integral components of behavioral husbandry are environmental enrichment and training (or operant conditioning).

Environmental enrichment at work: orangutans are natural climbers and move among tree tops, vines, and hammocks in the canopy of their exhibit. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The incorporation of environmental enrichment into the daily care of animals is a hallmark of AZA accredited zoos. AZA defines enrichment as a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out natural behaviors, thus enhancing their overall welfare. Enrichment comes in many forms: objects and toys, sensory stimulation to appeal to the animals’ sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste, or maintaining species-appropriate social groupings that resemble those in the wild. This encourages natural feeding, play, grooming and courtship behaviors.

Through excellent training, silverback Leonel has learned to present his hands to keepers as part of treatment for dermatitis. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Training provides mental and physical stimulation and also allows animals to freely participate in their own care. For example, WPZ’s male gorilla Leonel has been trained to voluntarily present his hands so keepers can provide daily treatment for persistent dermatitis. This training program has resulted in dramatic improvement of his condition achieved with minimal stress to Leonel. Every day, WPZ’s animals are conditioned to offer trained behaviors that allow us to give them the best possible quality of life—from something as simple as stepping onto a scale to be weighed, to allowing medical procedures like blood draws and ultrasound exams, to complex routines such as raptor free-flight programs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Simon’s song comes to an end

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

We have some sad news to share: Our long-time resident Simon the siamang was humanely euthanized yesterday, Monday, Dec. 15, after showing signs of declining health related to long-term chronic illness. Simon was 34 years old.
Simon, photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.
Mammal curator Martin Ramirez remembers our operatic little dude. “Simon was a favorite of zoo guests and staff for the interest he showed in anyone who came to visit him. To the delight of our visitors, Simon would often leap from a branch in the back of his exhibit to the window sill to be closer to them.  His routine early morning calls were as much a part of the zoo opening as the daily PA announcement. His hoots could be heard across the zoo, even as he began to have trouble with the high notes.  He will be missed even by those who only knew him by his voice.”

Simon was hand raised until he moved to Woodland Park Zoo at 2 years old in 1982. He really enjoyed being around people and he quickly recognized faces he had seen before and liked interacting with them at the exhibit. A few regular visitors brought shiny objects to ‘share’ with Simon through the glass at his exhibit; they really connected with him and he was very inquisitive with them in return.

Simon and Briony. Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.
Simon lived in the Trail of Vines exhibit with his partner Briony, who came to Woodland Park Zoo nearly six years ago in need of a new partner after losing her mate. According to Martin, Simon hugged Briony within the first hour of their introduction and the pair had maintained a strong bond ever since.

Simon and Briony drew large crowds to their exhibit a few times a day as they belted out their loud duet, which could last for about 15 minutes. “For more than three decades, Simon thrilled us every day singing from the treetops at earsplitting levels and swinging agilely from branch to branch. His song has come to an end and we, and surrounding neighborhoods who could hear the siamangs’ resonating duet, will deeply miss Simon” says Martin.

The zoo is now working with the Siamang Species Survival Plan for options for Briony and will be providing her with an accelerated enrichment program to help keep her stimulated and active as she adjusts to Simon’s departure.

Simon at the Trail of Vines. Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.
It is never easy losing an animal, no matter how much we prepare ourselves. Thanks to the dedication of Simon’s keepers and our veterinary staff, Simon lived a long, active, enriching life at Woodland Park Zoo.

Wherever you are, please give a little howl, hoot or bark in honor of Simon!

Simon, singing his little heart out in the treetops. Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.

Monday, December 15, 2014

3 animals you’d never notice unless they were gone

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

They may not be as well-known by the 180 million people who visit Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoos and aquariums each year, but desert pupfish, freshwater mussels, and Polynesian tree snails play important roles in their respective ecosystems. If not for the hard work of AZA-accredited institutions and their conservation partners, some of these and many other animals would already have vanished from the planet.

With a growing number of human-influenced threats threatening animals around the world, including poaching, deforestation, and an expanding population that already exceeds 7 billion people, we are facing what some scientists call the “Sixth Extinction.”

The 228 accredited members of AZA continue to build upon their history and expertise of saving endangered species such as breeding programs that coordinate across many institutions to ensure healthy genetic and demographic diversity and partnerships with local, national, and international conservation organizations working on the recovery of these species.

Partula snail close up. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

“The Polynesian tree snail, Partula nodosa, is extinct in the wild, but thanks to the collaborative efforts of Woodland Park Zoo and other AZA zoos, plans are underway to reintroduce the species back to Tahiti in the next couple of years,” said Erin Sullivan, a collection manager at Woodland Park Zoo. “The wildlife preserve, an approximately 20-meter square protected site, might just be the smallest wildlife preserve in the world.”

Partula snails are tiny! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo has a lab exclusively for the snails, which provides a special and secure space and optimal breeding conditions. According to Sullivan, the population hovers at a little more than 900 snails at any given time. The lab is on view to zoo-goers.

The Tree Snail Laboratory at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo currently partners with more than 35 field conservation projects taking place in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Woodland Park Zoo supports the Partula Recovery and Reintroduction Project, whose goal is to preserve and enhance the survival of all surviving endemic tree snail species of the family partulidae within their natural range in French Polynesia, and to re-establish, where feasible, the 11 species that currently exist only in the international conservation breeding programs.

Fish and mollusks are among some of the oldest groups of animals still alive today, pre-dating even the earliest insects. Despite hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary success, many of these species are vulnerable to a variety of threats, and their future is uncertain. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are doing everything they can to protect the most imperiled fish and mollusks from extinction.

Over the next several months, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums will be celebrating these initiatives and inviting the public to support efforts to save even more species. Through December, fish and mollusk species are spotlighted, including:

Northern riffleshell mussels. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Freshwater mussels

Found in the rivers and streams that traverse the North American continent, these bivalves are essentially living water filters, with some individuals capable of moving eight gallons of freshwater through their systems every single day. Freshwater mussels prevent buildups of algae and bacteria and are in turn preyed upon by animals such as fish and birds. Nearly 300 species live in the United States alone, many of which are threatened by pollution, damming, and competition from the invasive zebra mussel. Scientists at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have collaborated with local wildlife agencies to establish the Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research Center (FMCRC), one of only 10 freshwater mussel conservation facilities in North America, to assist in the propagation and conservation of highly endangered freshwater mussel species. Over a five-year period alone, the Center reintroduced 6,200 endangered northern riffleshell mussels to Ohio waterways, the largest reintroduction ever to occur in Ohio. The riffleshell mussels are tagged with microchips so that they can be identified during annual surveys, and thus far the survival rate of reintroduced mussels has been extremely high.

Desert pupfish. Photo by Andrew Borcher via Wikimedia.

Desert pupfish

You wouldn’t think to look for fish in the desert, but this hardy species thrives in super-salty ponds and streams scattered throughout the American southwest. In fact, closely-related pupfish species found in isolated bodies of water offer evidence that a series of prehistoric desert lakes were once connected. These days, the desert pupfish is threatened by human developments and invasive species that compete for the precious little aquatic habitat that remains. Under the leadership of Phoenix Zoo and The Living Desert, the desert pupfish is being bred in captivity and released into protected areas so that it can carry on the story of the desert’s history. With their abilities to live in some of the most extreme desert environments, these fish demonstrate the incredible range of adaptations found in healthy ecosystems.

Up close detail of Partula tree snail. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Polynesian tree snail (Partula nodosa)

Considered among the smallest of all endangered species, this species of partula snail is already extinct in the wild and would be gone completely were it not for the work of AZA-accredited zoos (Akron Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Saint Louis Zoo, and Woodland Park Zoo) and international partners that are breeding these snails for reintroduction in their native range in the South Pacific. Like so many other mollusks, the Polynesian tree snail declined from the introduction of an invasive species—in this case, a predatory snail that was introduced to control the population of yet another introduced snail. These snails were first described from specimens collected by the British explorer Captain James Cook, have been the subject of extensive field and laboratory research, are prominent in Polynesia’s cultural history, and play important roles in nutrient recycling and in the food chain of their native ecosystem.

For a list of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums where you can see some of these incredible animals in person, visit

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ZooCrew projects highlight African conservation

Posted by: Stacey Hammond, Education

The ZooCrew middle school outreach program is back in action this fall at Asa Mercer International Middle School, Washington Middle School, Seattle World School, and McClure Middle School. This quarter, ZooCrew participants learned about issues facing the animals of the African savanna. The participants designed their own projects to take action on these issues, raising awareness and advocating for the animals.

Check out some of the projects from this quarter!

Waterhole Restoration Project: bringing awareness to issues around waterholes in the African savanna and highlighting a resource for people to learn more about the issues and projects happening. Video created by Ava, Isobel, Tracey, Malia.

African Wild Dog Project: educating people about the most endangered carnivore in the African savanna and encouraging people to take action and help. The posters, created by Raegan, Maya, Michelle, and Julia from Asa Mercer International Middle School, will be displayed at their school to inform and inspire their peers.

Congratulations to the ZooCrew participants on a job well done! Learn more about Woodland Park Zoo's conservation work in Africa and around the world through our field conservation program.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lion cubs get a vet check-up

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Attention TGIFers: Here is your update on the most adorable trio in Seattle. Our wriggly little lion cubs aced their 6-week exams this morning. Zoo veterinarians gave the energetic cublets a clean bill of health and good marks on their growth milestones. The routine wellness exam included blood draws, vaccinations, weigh-ins and an overall health assessment for the three boys.
The cubs were a bit suspicious of the stethoscope, but all in all they were very calm during their exam. Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.
Throughout the exam the cubs were pretty quiet with a few occasional little growls. Their keepers were by their side at all times to reassure them. Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.
The cubs currently weigh between 15 and 17 pounds, which means they are getting plenty of mom’s milk and are growing quickly. The smallest cub is also the feistiest, just in case you were curious. 

“We’re very pleased to report that the cubs are feisty, as they should be, and strong,” said Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of Animal Health Programs. “They’re healthy, robust and within the normal weight range of lion cubs at their age. From the looks of their full, round bellies, they’re nursing regularly and Adia continues to be a good, attentive mother with her second litter.”

At this stage, the cubs’ fur is quite downy. As they grow, their under-fur will become thinner and their coat will become a bit more course. Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.

This video shows a quick recap of the exam including a very loud little patient. Video by Kirsten Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo.

The tiniest members of the pride remain off view in the maternity den where they are bonding in quiet surroundings and are monitored by zookeepers through a den cam. Dad Xerxes is on exhibit in the African Savanna daily and Mom Adia is given the option to go outdoors to the exhibit twice a day. “The cubs are developing increased mobility, which is a critical skill before they are introduced to the outdoor public exhibit”, explained mammal curator Martin Ramirez. “We also are waiting for warmer outdoor temperatures.”

The keepers work closely with vet staff to ensure a quick and smooth exam. Here the vet techs draw a bit of blood while keeper Christine soothes the cub. Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.

Martin tells us that Dad Xerxes currently has limited access to his cubs, but he continues to show positive signs that he wants to bond. “We are drafting a plan for introducing Xerxes to his cubs and are confident that he will join Adia in the parenting role of teaching them how to be lions and roughhousing,” said Ramirez.

The cubs, born October 24, 2014 are now important ambassadors in the lion species survival program. Xerxes arrived in the spring from El Paso Zoo to be paired with Adia under a breeding recommendation by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for African lions. Adia arrived in 2010 from Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, in Ohio. SSPs are a complex system that matches animals in North American zoos based on genetic diversity and demographic stability.

Woodland Park Zoo supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which focuses on the importance of predators to healthy ecosystems, through the Lion Species Survival Plan Conservation Campaign. To help support the project, adopt a lion through the zoo’s ZooParent Adoption Program:

Thank you, zoo volunteers!

Posted by: Julie Ann Barowski, Volunteer Program Coordinator

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Today is International Volunteer Day, and we want to take this opportunity to celebrate Woodland Park Zoo volunteers! More than 1,000 individuals generously donate their time in a variety of ways every year, and we are so appreciative and proud of all the amazing work they do!

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Whether you visit during the day or an evening event like WildLights, you’ll surely encounter some of our wonderful volunteers. They offer a friendly smile, interesting animal info and stories, maps and directions, and whatever assistance you may need. Maybe you’ve had a zoo volunteer come to the rescue of a skinned knee with a cool zebra-striped bandage. Perhaps a volunteer has taught your family just how a goat likes to be petted, or offered you the chance to touch a snake for the first time. Even if you haven’t yet met a zoo volunteer in person, their hard work is evident from the beautifully kept Rose Garden to the freshly cleaned exhibits with their well cared for animal residents.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

But our happy guests and animals here at the zoo aren’t the only ones benefiting from the efforts of our zoo volunteers. Their impact also reaches far beyond our zoo grounds. The work of every volunteer extends Woodland Park Zoo’s capacity to achieve our mission of saving animals and their habitats, both locally and around the world. Our volunteers often are directly involved in conservation actions and act as strong advocates in their own communities, educating others and leading by example to help achieve a bright and environmentally sustainable future for all.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

More than 550 adult volunteers donate their time on a regular basis throughout the year as a part of the zoo’s volunteer program, helping us with nearly every aspect of our operations. Additionally, WPZ has a dynamic teen volunteer program, ZooCorps, through which more than 150 young adults give service. We also are honored to have the support of hundreds more who volunteer at the zoo’s annual Jungle Party fundraiser or through group service projects throughout the year.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

On behalf of all the WPZ staff, conservation partners, and of course the animals, we take this opportunity to applaud and thank all of our volunteers. Their dedication, passion and generosity are truly inspirational!