Thursday, August 20, 2009

Snow leopard cubs make debut

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Snow leopard cubs Batu and the newly named Gobi (thanks to your 35,000 votes!) made their public debut this past Saturday during Woodland Park Zoo’s 3rd annual Snow Leopard Day event.

Watch the cubs take some of their first steps into the exhibit and explore the new sights and smells.

If you want to see them in person, the cubs are typically given access to the exhibit from noon to 3:00 p.m. daily.

Video by Ryan Hawk.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zoo in the World: Tracking the elusive snow leopard

Posted by: Kim M. Murray, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Science, Snow Leopard Trust

Read on for an update on tracking wild snow leopards from the Snow Leopard Trust’s field research base in Mongolia. The Snow Leopard Trust is one of Woodland Park Zoo’s Partners for Wildlife*.

Summer is the busiest season at the Snow Leopard Trust’s research camp in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. This summer our crew spent long days in the field looking for sites with recent snow leopard activity to deploy our trap cameras. By early July we had 41 cameras distributed over a 500-square-mile area, making it the most ambitious camera trapping study ever undertaken for snow leopards. The cameras remained in the field for a month; now we’re reviewing the images to see how many cats we photographed. Because every snow leopard has a unique spot pattern, just like a human fingerprint, we can use these photos to identify individual cats to estimate the size of the snow leopard population.

We’re also using GPS satellite collars to monitor the survival and movements of individual snow leopards. This summer we were hoping to recapture Aztai (pictured above), the first snow leopard collared when we began our study last August, to change out his collar before the battery ran out. At 5:00 a.m. on June 28, a transmitter was tripped indicating a capture was possible. The crew hiked out to the site and when we arrived we were greeted by Aztai’s luminous gray eyes!

Seeing Aztai again was both rewarding and sobering. It’s exciting to know we’ll have the opportunity to follow him for another year, gathering information that will help us develop better strategies to conserve snow leopards. But we noticed that Aztai is missing a toe on his left front paw, possibly to a trap set for wolves by a herder. Even though snow leopards are protected and killing them is punishable by stiff fines, it’s difficult to enforce the laws in a country as large and with so little infrastructure as Mongolia. Although his paw is completely healed, it was still a stark reminder of the challenges we face in protecting this magnificent species. - KM

*Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust have worked together for more than 25 years to protect and study wild snow leopards and to improve the lives of people living in snow leopard countries. Learn more about this project and how you can help save snow leopards.

Photos by Snow Leopard Trust:
(Top) Aztai shortly after radio-collaring.
(Bottom) Interns Munkhoo and Sumbee examine Aztai as Ph.D. student Orjan Johannson looks on. Although the cats are an important part of their wildlife heritage, this is the first time either of the interns had seen a live snow leopard.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Endangered turtles return to wild

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications


After nearly a year of nourishment and care by Woodland Park Zoo turtle experts, 53 endangered western pond turtles swam their way back into the wild when we joined Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to release the turtles last week at wildlife refuge sites in Pierce and Mason Counties.

On hand to help release the shelled reptiles was 7-year-old Harrison Keyser of Sammamish, Wash. (pictured at left with his sisters) who arranged a “Turtle Trot” to raise more than $300 for the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project. Harrison told us he thought “it was really cool letting the turtles go in the pond” and he’d like to do this again next year. We’d be happy to have you back, Harrison!

The 10-month-old turtles were collected last fall from the wild as hatchlings and head started at the zoo to give them an edge on surviving in the wild. Collection Manager Mike Teller and his keepers have a system for growing the turtles to just the right size:

“We mimic a summer season year round for the turtles by caring for them under lights and feeding them throughout the winter. By the time summer approaches, the juveniles are almost as big as 3-year-old turtles would be that grew up in the wild. This improves their chance of survival.”
Once common from Baja, Calif. to Puget Sound, including the Columbia River Gorge, the turtles were virtually extirpated due to loss of habitat, disease, and predation by non-native species such as bullfrogs and large-mouth bass. They were on the verge of extinction in Washington in 1990, with only a mere 150 turtles left in the wild. The state listed western pond turtles as endangered in 1993. But the good news is, the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project has helped boost the population of the species to about 1,500 in Washington state!

(The reintroduction of the turtles is part of a long-term, collaborative effort among Woodland Park Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent the extinction of the species. It also is a project of the NW Zoo & Aquarium Alliance, which promotes collaboration on regional conservation among zoos and aquariums in the Pacific Northwest.)

Photos by Ryan Hawk.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Zoo Corps and Silverspot butterflies - a winning combo!

Posted by Ric Brewer, Communications

Below: WPZ staff member David Droppers with Zoo Corps interns Claire and Brenna, transport endangered Oregon silverspot butterflies for release (top) and releasing them at Cascade Head Reserve. (Photos by Katie Remine)

On Thursday, August 13, Brenna and Claire, two of our Zoo Corps teen interns got the great opportunity to have a direct impact on wildlife conservation by participating in the release of endangered Oregon silverspot butterflies at a protected site in Cascade Head Reserve, Oregon. The site, run by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department and The Nature Conservancy is not only protecting some of the last vestiges of this rare native butterfly, it also is the site of what is becoming an ever dwindling habitat, coastal grasslands. The zoo has been participating in the Oregon Silverspot Butterfly Recovery Project by raising butterfly at the zoo and releasing pupae back to this location which also hosts the butterflies' favorite food, the early blue violet.

We asked Brenna and Claire to write about their field experience. This type of hands-on conservation has really inspired them!

Brenna, Zoo Corps Intern:

Since I have been hearing about the silverspot project since 5th grade (when my class attempted to grow violets), this trip really brought out what this is all about. It’s exciting and it’s a great feeling seeing the butterflies flying that were raised in our labs and we picked so many leaves for them. I’ve felt really proud to work with a conservation project throughout the summer and I was pleased to actually be able to see them in the wild as opposed to just caterpillars in a lab (not that I don’t enjoy the caterpillars, either). I’m pleased that the whole day was agreeable (the weather, the views, the people we traveled with, etc., etc.) The silverspots looked awesome. It was incredible to see the vast diversity between them all when they all looked quite similar as larvae. I would love to have this experience again.

Claire, Zoo Corps Intern:

I think that going on this silverspot trip has allowed me to appreciate the work I have done at WPZ more. All of the dishes and violet leaves and pupae papers have made this experience come true. I am very thankful to have this opportunity. Every little action helps this butterfly species live. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this conservation effort, and I am proud to be making a difference. I enjoyed the weather, and the type of work we did at the release site. I wish I could’ve seen more of the Portland zoo, but I liked seeing their butterfly/larvae lab.

Meet the cubs at Snow Leopard Day

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Don't miss the debut of the snow leopard cubs tomorrow, Saturday, August 15, at noon during our 3rd annual Snow Leopard Day. The male cub will get his name--chosen by your votes--and the public will see the cubs take their first official steps into the exhibit!

Enjoy a full day of activities (9:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.) celebrating one of the world’s most endangered and elusive wild animals. The third annual event is hosted by the zoo and its conservation partner, the Snow Leopard Trust, to highlight the fascinating adaptations of the snow leopard and critical conservation efforts to protect them in the wild. Activities include:

* Keeper talks and special enrichment for the snow leopards
* Conservation talks by Snow Leopard Trust
* Book launch and signing of "Saving the Ghost of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia" with author Sy Montgomery
* Snow leopard-inspired crafts for kids
* Special themed programs for kids in Zoomazium
* Conservation commerce made by artisans to help support snow leopard conservation

Photo by Dale Unruh.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Take a penguin home with you

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Here's your chance to own one of the Penguins on the March penguin statues seen migrating across Seattle this summer--a public silent auction will be held for the penguins on August 14 at the monthly Art Up Greenwood-Phinney art walk.

Meet some of the artists and place your bid on one of the 30 penguin statues that will be auctioned off to benefit Woodland Park Zoo’s field conservation programs. Woodland Park Zoo currently supports 38 wildlife conservation projects in 50 countries worldwide, including the Humboldt Penguin Conservation Center at Punta San Juan.

Save the date:
Friday, August 14, 2009, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at The Greenwood Collective. See you there!

Photos by Ryan Hawk.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cast your vote to name a snow leopard cub

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

The poll is open! Cast your vote to name Woodland Park Zoo's male snow leopard cub, plus enter to win a snow leopard prize package. Vote as often as you'd like for as many names as you'd like now through midnight, August 12.

We'll announce the winning name when the cubs debut on Saturday, August 15 at noon on Snow Leopard Day. The female cub has already been named Batu (pronounced BAH-too), a Mongolian name meaning firm, hard, honest.

Photo: This male snow leopard cub, pictured here at 9 weeks, needs a name selected by you! Photo by Ryan Hawk.