Monday, February 28, 2011

Otter wins WPZ Best Picture

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


The King's Speech may have taken home the Oscar, but the academy of zoo fans voted for their own Best Picture this past week and the award goes to...



This otter video, featuring our two river otters enjoying a heart-shaped, fish-filled popsicle for Valentine's Day, took home the prize of WPZ Best Picture with 29% of the vote.

We want to thank you all for voting! It helps us get a better sense of what types of videos you all enjoy most and sparks some ideas for what we might do next. Stay tuned to this blog or our YouTube channel to catch new videos when they debut--one of them may just be a Best Picture winner next year.

Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Animal spotlight: Nina

Posted by: Carolyn Austin Sellar, Zookeeper


This is the second installment of our new series: Animal Spotlight.

Everybody knows Nina… if not by name then by sight. Yes, she has wrinkles (we call them her “distinguishing character lines”). Yes, she is a little bit round (hey, she’s short for her weight). She often holds a stick (every 43-year-old female should have a scepter or staff). Her favorite colors are red and pink, and yes, her tongue does stick out when she is relaxed!

At the gorilla unit we can all tell Nina’s mood by what we call the “tongue gauge.” When annoyed, her lips purse tightly and her tongue is completely in her mouth. But when relaxed and happy, out comes the tongue!

This year Nina turned 43. She is our oldest female western lowland gorilla here at Woodland Park Zoo. Now a great grandmother, Nina has seen a lot of changes at the zoo. She is very relaxed and unfazed when the younger female gorillas act up and is considered the solid rock in the group. She keeps everything stable and the daily routine moving. Even though Nina may not get very excited about the regular gorilla dramas like the younger girls do, she does get excited about food. She never lets anything get in her way during meal time!

When Nina does get excited, cover your ears, because she vocalizes unlike any of our other resident gorillas. Her normal content grunt gets really loud and sounds like a braying donkey!

Nina is now post-reproductive, but has had four kids (Wanto, Kamilah, Zuri and Alafia, all at other zoos), 14 grandkids and three great grandchildren! Wow! What a legacy! Nina is considered geriatric but she is in relatively good health for her age. The average life expectancy of gorillas in captivity is into their 30s, with the record being 55. Constantly improving health care and husbandry keeps these numbers increasing. Like any older animal (or person) Nina does have some unique needs due to her age. Some Metamucil every day helps keep things moving and a daily dose of Cosequin helps with her arthritis.

Although Nina is getting older and would be well past the eligibility requirement for an AARP discount if she were human, she’s still a spunky gorilla who loves being with her girls in the troop, sitting in the sun on warm Seattle days, and of course, she loves any extra servings at dinner time!

Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More joey spotting

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Last week we posted a first look at the joey that wallaroo Fergie is carrying. At the time, all we could see was a tail. But zookeeper Wendy Gardner was in the right place at the right time and snapped these new pics revealing the face of the joey in the pouch.

The joey was born at Woodland Park Zoo last September to first-time mother Fergie and father Harry. Fergie is on public view in the zoo’s Australasia exhibit and can be identified by the green tag in her right ear.

You’ll most often find her in the indoor portion of the exhibit (except on sunny days when she ventures outside) and your best chance to get a glimpse of the joey is when she cleans her pouch.
Photos by Wendy Gardner/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vote for WPZ Best Picture

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


The Oscars are coming up and we have some Best Picture nominees of our own featuring Woodland Park Zoo’s superstars—our animals, our staff and our conservation efforts.

We’ve picked five top nominees from videos produced in 2010 for our YouTube channel and now through February 27, you can cast your vote here for your Best Picture choice.

And the Best Picture nominees are...

Lion training


Penguin chicks


Flamingo squeaks


Moment of silence


Otter valentine



Cast your vote for WPZ Best Picture




We’re always experimenting with video ideas and our diverse nominees show off that variety. Your votes and feedback help us understand what our viewers want and help shape upcoming videos. Thanks for participating!

Videos produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. See more at www.youtube.com/woodlandparkzoo.

Friday, February 18, 2011

First pics of Fergie's new baby


Posted by: Ric Brewer, Communications

That’s not an alien poking a snaky arm out of wallaroo Fergie’s pouch, but the naked tail of her young joey.



Young wallaroos, a type of small kangaroo from Australia, are born weighing less than a gram and roughly the size of a bean. The blind, hairless babies make the long trek after birth into the mother’s pouch where they suckle and develop over several months.



Fergie’s joey, born September 14th, currently weighs somewhere in the range of 500-1,000 grams and at a little over 6 months old, is only just beginning to be seen sticking arms, legs or, in this case, its tail, outside mom’s pouch. By around 7 months, the joey will emerge from the pouched, fully furred but remaining close to mom for another 3-4 months—about late June or early July for this joey. The gender of the joey isn't yet known.

Fergie is on exhibit in our Australasia exhibit. The best chance to get a glimpse of the joey is when Fergie is cleaning her pouch, even though zoo visitors can see the joey moving about inside the pouch. Fergie generally spends her time in the indoor portion of the exhibit unless it’s a nice, sunny day. Look for the green tag in her right ear.

Photos by Dennis Dow

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Keeper connects young family with elephants

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


What do 44-year-old elephant Bamboo, 42-year-old elephant Watoto, 32-year-old elephant Chai, and 5-year-old human Karina have in common? A special bond with Woodland Park Zoo elephant keeper Russ Roach.

Karina and her elephant-loving, big sister Jadyn first came to an elephant keeper talk with their parents more than two years ago and there they met Russ. The elephant keeper talk is one of the most popular at the zoo, filled with the elephants displaying fascinating adaptations as they munch on apples and carrots while Russ or one of the other elephant keepers talks to visitors about the conservation issues impacting elephants in the wild.

Karina was immediately drawn to the large yet graceful elephants and their knowledgeable keeper, and her parents, Julie and Mark, found themselves taking her back week after week to learn more about elephants from Russ.

As her mother puts it, “Karina is absolutely captivated by the elephants and would stay there all day if we let her.” And there’s good reason for that in her daughter’s eyes, because according to Karina, “I just love to see my friends and they miss me when I'm not there.”

One week during a visit last fall, Karina learned that Russ was preparing for a journey to Borneo to visit with Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife, the Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation program. Karina couldn’t bear the thought of Russ being apart from the elephants in Seattle with which he shares such a deep bond. So she made him little elephant puppets to take with him to Borneo so that Boo, Tot and Chai were still with him in a way.

Tracking elephants in Borneo proved a difficult task, and during all the dry spells in between finding the real thing, Russ took comfort in the elephant puppets he kept in his pocket to remind him of what waited for him back at home.

Now back in Seattle, Russ and the other elephant keepers celebrated the three elephants’ birthdays recently with cornmeal cakes and gift wrapped boxes of fruit for Boo, Tot and Chai.

Karina, her sisters Jadyn and Makenzie, and their parents stopped by with some special birthday cards the sisters drew for the elephants, which Russ happily tacked up in the elephant keepers’ office. You can’t look at Boo’s smile as drawn by Karina and not smile yourself…

Kids come to the zoo with a curiosity about the natural world, and here they’ll find amazing animals and helpful keepers who nourish that sense of wonder. When we encounter a child like Karina who is so clearly inspired by wildlife and the people who devote themselves to caring for and protecting animals, we know we’re helping to build a future generation of conservation stewards.

Maybe one day, Karina will grow up to stand in Russ’ place, caring for the elephants and helping the next generation to learn and care about protecting wildlife.

Photo credits (from top): Foree Family, Emily Schumacher/Woodland Park Zoo, Brian Tyl, Foree Family, Russ Roach/Woodland Park Zoo, Foree Family, Foree Family, Foree Family.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine’s spotlight: Zoo members tie the knot

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


The zoo’s lush 92 acres make a naturalistic home for more than 1,000 animals—and a stunning backdrop for any wedding. In the spirit of romance on this Valentine’s Day, we’re highlighting one of the many weddings held at Woodland Park Zoo in the last year—the wedding of Seattle lovebirds Ethan and Anne Loomis Thompson.

For Anne and Ethan, Woodland Park Zoo has always been a favorite date spot. As members, they visit often to connect with their favorite animals—the red pandas, toucans, hornbills, hippos, armadillos and penguins.

When it was time to plan for their big day, the couple wanted not only a beautiful setting, but also for their wedding to support a cause that matters to them. Their minds quickly turned to Woodland Park Zoo. They had seen the zoo transform into a gorgeous event setting each time they attended the zoo’s annual Jungle Party fundraiser, and it was there that they learned about two community-focused zoo conservation programs that excited them—Hornbill Research Foundation and Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program.

“The Woodland Park Rose Garden was the most beautiful place we saw in Seattle,” Anne tells us. “And we were inspired to know that having our wedding there would also mean helping to support conservation efforts that get local people involved in preserving their native species and habitat.”

Anne and Ethan held their simple, sweet ceremony in the sustainably-managed Rose Garden and hosted a reception in the Rain Forest Food Pavilion catered by the zoo’s eco-conscious Lancer Catering, committed to sustainable food practices including Seafood Watch-approved seafood and bird-friendly shade grown coffee.

Though the big day was a happy whirlwind of activity, Anne has sage advice to engaged couples approaching their own wedding date: Find some time the day before the wedding to spend one-on-one time with your fiancé. Ethan and Anne went on a coffee date the day before their wedding and had a chance to talk and reflect on all that was going on around them, helping to keep them calm and happy on the big day.

Have you held your wedding or attended a wedding at Woodland Park Zoo? We’d love to see your photos! Feel free to post them any time to our Facebook page and show off your big day.

Photos by La Luz Photography, courtesy Ethan and Anne Loomis Thompson.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New spots at zoo

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications


A set of new spots and striping has appeared at the zoo with the birth of an ocelot! A single kitten, seen here at 3 weeks old, was born on January 15 to 10-year-old mother Bella and 15-year-old father Brazil.

At this early stage, keepers want to minimize disturbance and physical contact outside of quick health check-ups to give the new family time to naturally bond. So for now, the mother and kitten are off public view in a dark birthing den and keepers are monitoring their progress via infrared camera. Here’s a peek at some of the black and white footage from baby’s first few weeks:



Where’s dad? Like in the wild, mother ocelots care for their young alone. Brazil is keeping his distance and can be seen on exhibit in the award-winning Tropical Rain Forest. Curator Mark Myers tells us that Bella, an experienced mother, has been providing excellent round-the-clock and protective maternal care. The kitten is nursing regularly and has a healthy, round belly.

Part of the Ocelot Species Survival Plan, this birth is significant to help sustain genetic diversity for this endangered species. In the wild, the endangered ocelots continue to lose ground with their ever-shrinking habitat and the black market pet trade. At Woodland Park Zoo, the ocelot kitten will play a very important role as an animal ambassador to help connect visitors to the wonder of these beautiful animals and inspire them to take action for their protection.

It will likely be at least another month and a half before the kitten and her mother go on public view. Until then, we’ll post updates as they come in. Be sure to subscribe to our blog feed to keep up with the story or follow along on Facebook.

Want to help support Woodland Park Zoo and the care of our animals? Text WPZ to 20222 to donate $5 to the zoo today. Messaging and data rates may apply. For details visit www.zoo.org/text2give.

Photos by Jamie Delk/Woodland Park Zoo. Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The way to an otter’s heart

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


A splash of fruit juice, a handful of smelt, and lotsa love are surefire ingredients to a river otter’s heart.

Our annual Valentine’s Day enrichment event is coming up on Saturday, and we gave press a sneak peek of the action today when we let our river otters indulge in some fish-filled, heart-shaped ice pops.

River otters Sunny, a 15-year-old female, and Duncan, a 13-year-old male, swam with amazing speed and agility to chase after the pops that were dropped into their pool in the award-winning Northern Trail exhibit.

After munching their way through the ice pops, we gave the otters another enrichment opportunity—a heart-shaped wreath stuffed with frozen smelt.

The wreath proved the perfect size for the otters to swim through as they picked off the frozen fish.

Love will be in the air for the zoo’s other animal ambassadors as they celebrate Valentine’s Day with heart-shaped ice pops, herbal bouquets, heart-shaped steaks, and more on Saturday, Feb. 12, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

Here’s the full schedule of enrichment activities for Saturday:
- Golden lion tamarins 10:00
- Snow leopards 10:30
- Otters 10:30
- Jaguar 11:00
- Orangutans 11:00
- Lemurs 11:15
- Willawong Station 11:30
- Sloth bear 11:30
- Anoa 11:45
- Penguins 1:00
- Goats 1:15
- Gorillas 1:20
- Meerkats 1:30
- Pigs 1:30
- Keas 1:30
- Lions 2:00
- Elephants 2:00
- Red pandas 3:00

The special treats are part of the zoo’s ongoing enrichment program to help enrich the lives of the animals by promoting natural animal behavior, such as foraging, playing and exploring, keeping animals mentally and physically stimulated and engaging zoo visitors.

Make it a date and bring your valentine!

Photos (from top): Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Animal spotlight: Naku

Posted by: Carolyn Sellar, Zookeeper


Introducing a new series to the blog...
Who is:
  • a rowdy 10-year-old gorilla;
  • with ears that stick out;
  • a female in silverback Pete’s troop;
  • who is leaving soon to start a new family?
Our girl Naku (aka Nakunator or Naki, as her keepers sometimes call her)!

This spring Naku will fly to Milwaukee, the land of cheese, breweries, and Laverne and Shirley. There she’ll be introduced to some new gorillas in hopes of starting a brand new family, including handsome resident male gorilla, Cassius, and female Shalia, who is also arriving new to Milwaukee, coming from Toronto.

Naku’s 10th birthday was a very significant gorilla birthday. Her first double-digit birthday is a milestone that means she is mature enough physically and emotionally to become part of the cooperative breeding effort known as the Gorillas Species Survival Plan. This timing corresponds to the age at which wild gorillas begin to venture off to look for a new group to belong to, or begin a new dynasty. Her mother, Alafia, is now at Los Angeles Zoo where it’s hoped that she will join the ranks of motherhood, while her father Vip remains here, as do Naku’s grandmother Nina and grandfather Pete.

Spring will soon be upon us, so come by the zoo to tell Naku congratulations and good luck with starting her new family at Milwaukee County Zoo! We’ll continue to give Naku her favorite treats of oranges and grapes (she hates overripe bananas!), as well as logs drilled with holes and stuffed with raisins until her departure date.

Oh, and if you can give her a few tips on the Packers and how to be a good Cheddar Head gorilla, please let her know so she can fit in as a local when she arrives!

If you’d like to learn more about gorillas, be sure to attend the upcoming lecture at the zoo, From Mountain Gorillas to Mountains of the West: a Conservation Journey featuring gorilla researchers Dr. Amy Vedder and Bill Weber on Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. at our PACCAR Education Auditorium. It’s free!

Photos (from top): Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo; Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo; Adria Saracino/Woodland Park Zoo; book cover courtesy Dr. Amy Vedder and Bill Weber.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Do the pedal wave

Posted by: Ric Brewer, Communications


Seattle sports fans are well known for doing the wave, but did you know that snails also perform their own version?

Here's a short video clip of our Partula snails doing what’s called the pedal wave:



To get from place to place, snails first lay down a trail of mucus. Then they essentially surf over a trail of their slime. But that's only half of the story. Snails also have two types of muscles working in conjunction to propel them forward. A set of light and dark colored bands of muscle fibers relax and contract, in a process called a pedal wave. These muscles pull the snail forward while the other fibers push from behind.

The same process works with most gastropod species, i.e., snails, a Latin term meaning "stomach-foot" that accurately sums up their anatomical structure!

And that super tiny snail in the clip? That’s a baby Partula, that starts out life little more than the size of the head of a pin, and is seen here at about a third of the size of a Tic Tac.

Though small, these snails are a big hope for a species that was once found in Tahiti but has now gone extinct in the wild. Woodland Park Zoo is working cooperatively with five others zoos to breed Partula with the hope of eventually reintroducing them to their Tahitian homeland and restoring their wiped out population.

Video: edited by Kirsten Pisto, produced by Ryan Hawk, cameo by Ric Brewer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Animal enrichment enriching for families too

Posted by: Nicole Aragon, Education


As the Child and Family Program Coordinator here at Woodland Park Zoo, I must admit that I do spend a fair amount of time at my desk. But every now and then, I get to take part in some amazing opportunities that could happen nowhere else. One of these amazing experiences was in a class for families that I taught recently, which will be offered again this spring, called Animal Enrichment.

Enrichment is an important aspect of animal health here at Woodland Park Zoo. We provide enrichment that encourages animals’ natural behaviors like foraging, browsing, hunting, seeking out new scents and marking territories. The animals in our care are important ambassadors for their wild counterparts and we work very hard to ensure they lead healthy, enriched lives.

During the class, we toured zoo grounds and I talked about many of the different enrichment items we offer to our animals—everything from Chanel No. 5 to paper bags. Tropical Rain Forest keepers even gave us the scoop on some enrichment items that I didn’t even know about. Did you know that our jaguars get large cardboard tubes (like the ones carpet rolls come on) to roll around and carry in their off-exhibit area?

Playing games of “match the animal to its enrichment” and touring grounds were fun, but the highlight had to be the creation of a giant zebra piñata that we fed to the lions on the second day of this two part class.

The families that attended worked in teams to papier-mâché the head, legs and body of our piñata, which was no easy feat because piñatas for the animals can’t have glue, staples, tape or anything else that might harm the animals.

Our labor of love ended up looking fantastic, and Hubert, our male lion, must have thought it looked tasty. The feline keepers lowered the piñata into the exhibit on a newly installed lure line as we watched with wide eyes. With one smack of his giant paw, Hubert had the piñata off the lure line and was digging in.

The keepers had stuffed the piñata with some tasty ground beef (not the kind of piñata stuffing most kids hope for at their birthday parties). It was fantastic for all of the class participants to see something they had worked on with their own hands being enjoyed by our lions. In fact, I heard back from one participant who said, “We have taken a number of classes over the years and all have been great—engaging instructors, entertaining formats—so I mean to diminish none of them when I tell you that this was the best class yet."

I’ve taught many classes in my time here at the zoo but this one has to be one of my favorites. We are offering this exciting program again in May and registration is now open online! Woodland Park Zoo offers a variety of classes and camps for people of all ages. See our website at www.zoo.org/education/classes for our current offerings or to register for a program. I hope to see you at the zoo soon!

Photos: Grizzly bear and jaguar by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. Animal enrichment class by Nicole Aragon/Woodland Park Zoo.