Friday, February 27, 2015

Bamboo and Chai to join Oklahoma City Zoo elephant family

As many of you know, we have spent the last three months carefully evaluating new homes for Asian elephants Chai and Bamboo in order to give them a chance to join a larger social herd and ensure their long-term health and well-being.

Bamboo at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

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

We are happy to announce that we have selected Oklahoma City Zoo, which best meets our criteria based on recommendations from animal welfare experts: a social herd of Asian elephants into which Chai and Bamboo may successfully integrate, a state-of-the-art facility, a healthy environment free of active infectious disease, high caliber elephant keeper and veterinary staff, a restricted contact management system, and an established history of stable finances and leadership.

In the wild elephants live in multi-generational herds, so we are delighted we can place them with a herd that includes younger elephants to which Chai and Bamboo can be aunties!

The herd at Oklahoma City Zoo includes multiple generations. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma City Zoo.

We anticipate moving the elephants in late March to mid-April and are currently training Chai and Bamboo to prepare for the road trip.

“We are delighted to be able to provide Bamboo and Chai a great new home with a family,” said Woodland Park Zoo Board Chair Laurie Stewart. “They will be with a larger, multi-generational herd, which is a primary recommendation of our Elephant Task Force. They will be cared for by some of the best elephant keepers in the country at a state-of-the-art exhibit. We are absolutely thrilled.”

Finding a new home for animals, especially elephants, is very complicated and requires a very thoughtful and thorough deliberation.

“Oklahoma City Zoo is the best choice and meets our requirements to provide the best social welfare in a healthy environment for Bamboo and Chai,” said Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen. “They will have an opportunity to live and socialize with more elephants and they will continue to receive the same kind of exemplary care they received during their lifetime at Woodland Park Zoo.”

Oklahoma City Zoo’s Elephant Habitat

Oklahoma City Zoo opened its new Elephant Habitat in March 2011. The $13 million, state-of-the-art exhibit spans 9.5 acres, with 3.95 acres available for the elephants, and includes three spacious outdoor yards, a waterfall, and a technologically-advanced barn with amenities including views into the barn from a raised boardwalk. The Elephant Barn is 12,636 square feet with about 2,000 square feet of support space (mechanical rooms, keeper work space, second floor office), and features eight separate stalls with different configuration opportunities plus a community stall with sand substrate. Other barn highlights include a radiant floor heating system, a raised office with 360° view of interior, ambient lighting through windows and skylights and hydraulic-operated animal gates. 

To accommodate Asian elephants’ love of swimming, all three yards were designed with pools and giant shade structures. Two yards are .5 acres each and the largest of the yards, 2.6 acres, features a 12-foot deep, 214,000-gallon pool plus a waterfall and stream. A pavilion seats 400+ for elephant lovers to observe presentations demonstrating natural elephant behaviors including daily routines such as baths, foot care and training sessions. 

“Adding Bamboo and Chai will help round out our family. Their maturity plus experience with a baby will be valuable in broadening the social dynamics of our herd. We look forward to having these new members join our family,” said Dwight Lawson, Oklahoma City Zoo Executive Director/CEO.

The female elephants at Oklahoma City Zoo. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma City Zoo.

Oklahoma City Zoo currently has an Asian elephant family of four females and a male, ranging in ages from 2 months old to 47 years old: female Asha, 20; female Chandra, 18, sister of Asha; female Malee, 4 in April, the daughter of Asha; female Achara, born December 2014, the daughter of Asha and Rex; and sole male Rex, 47, the father of Achara. 

Moving Bamboo and Chai

Woodland Park Zoo elephant care staff are currently training the elephants to prepare for the road trip. Bamboo and Chai will travel to Oklahoma City in individual, climate-controlled crates pulled by a tractor-trailer driven by one of the nation’s expert animal movers who specializes in moving elephants. “The timing of their departure will depend on the elephants’ readiness as well as ideal road conditions,” said Martin Ramirez, the zoo’s mammal curator. “We know our elephants are very special to thousands in our community, so we encourage everyone to come and see Chai and Bamboo before they head to their new home.” 

The 2,000-mile journey to Oklahoma City will take approximately 35 to 40 hours including stops every few hours to check on the animals and provide food and water. “We will take every precautionary measure to ensure that Bamboo and Chai arrive safely as we do for all of our animal transfers,” explained Ramirez. “Keepers from our expert elephant team and a veterinarian will follow in a car and we will have a contact list of zoo veterinarians and elephant care teams along the route in case of an emergency.” 

Oklahoma City Zoo has expertise in integrating herds and will follow a methodical plan that socializes Bamboo and Chai with the herd in incremental steps. According to Laura Bottaro, an animal curator at OKC Zoo, introductions will begin in the barn where the elephants can see, smell and touch one another through protective barriers. “During the introduction process, elephants work out a social hierarchy. This process can be immediate or it can take months. We will follow the cues of the animals,” said Bottaro. 

Woodland Park Zoo’s staff will spend as much time as necessary with Bamboo and Chai at their new home to help ease their transition to a new facility and help settle them into their new surroundings.

Factors in the Decision

Woodland Park Zoo Society Board announced in November 2014 it would phase out its on-site elephant program after several months of working to implement the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force to grow its Asian elephant herd and program. “We found that adding to the herd of our two elephants to create a multi-generational herd was not realistic in the foreseeable future and would work against the broader social welfare of Bamboo and Chai,” said Jensen. 

WPZ’s analysis included consideration of many of the other 32 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that currently hold Asian elephants in the U.S. and the Performing Animal Welfare Society facility located in California. The Asian herd of two females at this facility has an active tuberculosis (TB) infection. As a consequence of the TB infection at this facility, Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants would be required to be socially isolated from, not integrated with, other Asian elephants. These circumstances alone—active TB infection in the herd and social isolation instead of herd integration—are insurmountable disqualifiers regardless of the potential space that may be available at the Performing Animal Welfare Society facility. 

Other factors that also weigh against the Performing Animal Welfare Society facility are that it does not have a yard or barns available today for Bamboo and Chai. Although this facility has said they would be willing to raise the money and build a new enclosure for the elephants, given Bamboo’s age, the associated delay and uncertainty weigh against this option relative to other facilities with existing space and availability. Even if a new yard were available, should the TB issues in the current Performing Animal Welfare Society herd prove resistant to resolution, Chai and Bamboo would have no herd in which to integrate, and should Bamboo die before such an integration, Chai would be alone. These are unacceptable risks in planning for the long-term health and welfare of these animals.

“The decision to relocate our elephants is a difficult one for our staff, volunteers, members and zoo family, but it is the right decision. All of us care deeply about these animals and we will continue to have a lifelong investment in their health and welfare,” said Jensen. “We are very grateful to Oklahoma City Zoo for opening their arms to Bamboo and Chai. We are enthusiastic that Chai and Bamboo can join an elephant family in Oklahoma.  This is a wonderful conclusion to a complicated chapter in their lives.”
Woodland Park Zoo will remain committed to supporting its elephant conservation projects in Borneo and Tanzania and will continue to play a key role in seeking legislation to ban trafficking in elephant ivory in the state of Washington. Every time you visit the zoo, you make this work possible. Together we are building a better future for wild elephants.

Thank you for your support and love for Bamboo and Chai and all of the animals that bring us hope and joy at Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Open houses for grizzly recovery in the Cascades

Posted by: Robert Long, Senior Conservation Fellow

Washington’s North Cascades Ecosystem, an area of 9,800 square miles comprising large swaths of public land and wilderness, is one of only two regions in the contiguous United States—the other being the Northern Rockies—capable of supporting all of the larger carnivore species native to the United States. Most of these species, including black bears, cougars, and now gray wolves and wolverines, already occur in or are recolonizing their former habitats. Now, the American public will get the opportunity to support the recovery of grizzly bears—an iconic symbol of wildness—in the North Cascades.

Photo courtesy of Western Wildlife Outreach.

Grizzly bear populations once stretched from the tundra of northern Canada down through the Pacific Northwest and into California and even Mexico. Because of excessive hunting and trapping during the 1800s and early 1900s, however, grizzlies are now gone from the southern Pacific states, and very few—-possibly a handful or fewer—now call Washington’s North Cascades their home. The grizzly bear has been listed federally under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species in the lower 48 United States since 1975, and was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

Grizzly bear eating salmon at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Grizzlies sit at the top of the food chain, and their behaviors—including digging large areas in search of plants and small mammals, and dispersing salmon carcasses and the nutrients within throughout the forest adjacent to streams and rivers— have important effects on the entire animal and plant community to which they belong. Grizzly bears still inhabit large parts of Alaska and Canada, and encounters between humans and grizzlies are exceedingly rare.

Photo courtesy of Western Wildlife Outreach.

We hope you will take this unique opportunity to participate in this important recovery planning process. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service are overseeing this effort, and the first step is to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) that evaluates the various options for recovering grizzlies, and to determine whether or not the agencies will take an active role in restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem. The EIS process is designed to be a transparent one, and the first opportunity for public involvement will consist of a series of open houses conducted across the northern part of the state.

The public open houses will be held at these locations and times:

March 3, 5-7:30 pm
Red Barn Upper Meeting Room
51 N. Hwy 20
Winthrop, WA 98862

March 4, 5-7:30 pm
Okanogan PUD Meeting Room
1331 2nd Ave. N
Okanogan, WA 98840

March 5, 6-8:30 pm
Chelan County PUD Auditorium
327 N. Wenatchee Ave.
Wenatchee, WA 98801

Cle Elum 
March 9, 5-7:30 pm
Putnam Centennial Center Meeting Room
719 East 3rd Street
Cle Elum, WA 98922

March 10, 5-7:30 pm
Seattle Pacific University Bertona Classroom 1
103 West Bertona
Seattle, WA 98119

March 11, 5-7:30 pm
Bellingham Central Library Lecture Room
210 Central Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98227

In addition to these open houses, the public is invited to submit written comments at Comments may also be submitted through March 26, 2015, via regular mail or hand delivery at: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284.

For more information on grizzly bear recovery, visit or

Announcing daily schedule for lion cubs

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

It’s official: the lion cubs are now going out on a daily schedule, 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., weather permitting.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

We want to see your photos! Please share your best cub pics with us on Facebook or tag @woodlandparkzoo on Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Great ape birthday was a smashing celebration!

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

If you missed the Great Ape Senior Celebration on Saturday (or just want to relive the jubilee) check out a few of our favorite photos from the birthday festivities honoring orangutans, Chinta and Towan as well as gorillas, Pete and Nina.

Photo by Stan Milkowski/ Woodland Park Zoo

Twin orangutans Chinta and Towan celebrated their 47th birthday with special treats, birthday decorations and a whole lot of party guests! Born in 1968, the twins were the first born in a zoo. Towan is now the oldest male orangutan in North America.

Born at Woodland Park Zoo, the twin orangutans gained instant national celebrity status as the first-known twin orangutans born in a zoo. Photos of the pair in diapers appeared around the globe, including “Life” magazine. While other twins have since been born, twin orangutan births are still a rare occurrence.

A handful of fruit and a fistful of presents...what could be better? Photo by Stan Milkowski/ Woodland Park Zoo

Orangutans, Towan and Chinta, share their birth year with iconic gorillas, Pete and Nina, so we invited anyone born in 1968 to join the party free of admission.

The gorillas received some of their favorite treats, including forsythia flowers, boomer balls filled with peanuts and raisins, as well as brand new, cozy blankets.

Nina samples some birthday forsythia! Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Pete and Nina dive into a pile of boomer balls full of birthday treats such as raisins and peanuts. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Nina with her brand new blanket. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The orangutans celebrated in style with not one, but two birthday cakes fit for orangutan twins! The cakes were specially made by the commissary staff and featured corn meal fruitcakes, frosted with yams and mashed potatoes. The feast didn't end there; lettuce, kale and all sorts of greens were hidden in wrapped boxes for the orangutans' big day. Party streamers decorated the Trail of Vines, Jell-O stars were stuck to the windows (and promptly licked off!), and party guests even sang "Happy Birthday" to the orangutans! People lined up from wall to wall to see the birthday twins unwrap their enrichment treats.

Streamers filled the Trail of Vines, photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.

Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.

Partygoers signed giant birthday cards for the animals, chatted with keepers and learned all about the history of both gorillas and orangutans here at the zoo. A special drawing for a hand painted Towan original was won by a lucky guest from Redmond.

Like any good party, the majority of the activities were those of a gastronomical nature, but we don't think the birthday apes would have had it any other way!

Thank you for joining us at the Great Ape Senior Celebration, Seattle!

Guests of all ages signed the giant birthday cards, which now hang in the ape keepers' offices! Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.
After a fruit and kale overload, Towan did what any good birthday boy would, and recovered under a blanket. Photo by Stan Milkowski/Woodland Park Zoo.
Pete and Nina Bronoske pose by their name twins! Photo courtesy of Nina Bronoske.
The Kirwan family even brought their own hand drawn cards! Photo courtesy of Kris Kirwan.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ivory ban legislation fails to pass in Washington

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

We’re disappointed to share the news that legislation to #BanIvoryWA failed to pass in Olympia this year. Special interest groups opposing the bipartisan House and Senate bills fought hard to put the protection of ivory products above the protection of elephants.

Which one will you fight to protect? 
The African elephant will go extinct within 20 years if we don’t take unprecedented action to stop wildlife trafficking, which includes ending the legal loopholes that allow the ivory black market to continue right here in the United States.

If you believe no one needs ivory more than elephants, then we need your help.

Next year we’ll bring this legislation back to Olympia and we’ll need to be louder than before to contend with the opposition. We need voices all over the state—from Aberdeen to Zillah—to stand up for elephants. Talk to your friends, ask them to join the herd, and sign up for news at to be on the inside track for the next round in Olympia.

Though there’s more work to do, we want to thank you all sincerely for getting us this far—your voices raised awareness for the issue in Olympia and got legislators working. Our thanks go also to Representative Pettigrew and Senator Litzow for introducing bipartisan ivory ban bills this legislation and fighting for wildlife.

The herd will be heard.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Year of the Goat and Sheep

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Today, February 19th, Chinese New Year will welcome the new zodiac sign. 2015 is the year of the sheep… goat! Sheep! GOAT! Depending on who you ask, some will say it is the year of the sheep and some will say it is the year of the goat, while others will say it’s a combination of both. According to some Chinese folklorists, the symbol is actually of a fictional ‘yang,’ which refers to any member of the caprinae family. Both goats and sheep appear in Chinese New Year paintings, paper-cuts and other festival decorations.

But here is the real question: do you know the difference between a sheep and a goat? You might think it’s easy, but the two animals share many similarities.

Here’s a fleecy checklist of the two animals compared side by side…

q Tubby or thin
Goats are usually more slender-looking, while sheep are generally rounder-looking.

Domestic goat

q Bearded or maned
Sheep have a thick mane, while goats are typically bearded.

q Tail down or tail up
Usually, a goat’s tail will stick straight up, while a sheep’s tail tends to lie down.
Domestic goat

q Browsing or grazing
Sheep graze on grass and clover low to the ground while goats browse on leaves and vines that are a little higher off the ground. Goats often stand on their hind legs to reach the best leaves!

Domestic sheep
q Fleece or hair
Domestic sheep fleece is generally thick and wooly - goat hair is usually less thick…but not always. Our mountain goats are very fleecy as well. That’s because some goats have extremely curly and thick coats…and some species of sheep have very short hairs that shed naturally and don’t need to be sheared. Clear as fleece, right?
Mountain goat
q About those chromosomes
Sheep have 54 chromosomes. Goats have 60.

q Horns: curved or straight
Goats typically have horns that are straight and pointed-upward. Sheep have more curved horns, but again, this is not a deal breaker!
West African pygmy goat

q Flock or free?
Sheep tend to flock together and enjoy being part of the herd, whereas goats tend to be more independent and curious. Of course, this is certainly not written in stone, and many sheep exhibit goat-like behavior and vice versa.

q Kids or lambs?

Sheep are known as ewes, rams and lambs while goats are known as nannies, billies and kids.

Domestic sheep
Whether you chose to honor the goat or the sheep during Chinese lunar New Year, the yang is an auspicious symbol said to represent kindness and benevolence. We know a few residents of the family farm who are pretty stoked about 2015!

Happy New Year!