Thursday, November 29, 2012

New endangered turtle hatchlings

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

As a kid, the only turtles that really interested me lived in the dwellings of New York City, fought crime against the Foot Clan and exclaimed things like “Cowabunga!” Yep, I’m talking about these guys—the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


Since then, my expectation of turtles hasn’t changed. They should be fierce fighters, find strength in numbers and ultimately, play a role in helping the world. It’s just that now, they are fighting extinction instead of foot soldiers, gaining numbers through captive breeding and head starting programs through zoos and conservation partners, and the important role they play on the planet is more ecologically significant than crime-fighting significant.

More than 50 percent of the world’s known turtle species are facing extinction, making these reptiles one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet. Turtle extinction is a global phenomenon, but with another successful turtle breeding season at the zoo we are helping to grow the populations of severely endangered species in our backyard. This month, we welcomed to the zoo new western pond turtle hatchlings, native to Washington state, and Egyptian tortoise hatchlings. (Cue the squeals!)

This Egyptian tortoise hatched two weeks ago. The Egyptian tortoise is the second smallest tortoise species in the world. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In partnership with local and international conservation leaders, including the Egyptian Tortoise Conservation Program and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the zoo’s successful captive breeding and head starting programs are increasing populations in our state as well as in our North American populations of captive species. These turtles are not giving up!

Since June, more than 100 western pond turtles have hatched at the zoo. Archive photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The Egyptian tortoise is among the top 40 tortoises and freshwater turtles at a very high risk of extinction. Native to northeast Africa and the Middle East, the second smallest tortoise species in the world is primarily threatened by habitat loss, introduced predators and the illegal pet trade. With increased research, public awareness and community engagement, the Egyptian Tortoise Conservation Program is working to prevent the species’ extinction. In the U.S., our zoo has produced more Egyptian tortoise hatchlings on average than any other zoo, producing more than 75 tortoises through our successful captive breeding program.

At two weeks old,  the Egyptian tortoises are just the size of a quarter! Photo from Woodland Park Zoo's Instagram. Follow @woodlandparkzoo.

Our western pond turtle hatchlings are part of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project. Remember our post in August on our release of hatchlings? In Washington state, the species is endangered and its population is rapidly declining. To give these animals a head start, Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo rear hatchlings each year until they are large enough to avoid predation in the wild. For 21 years, Woodland Park Zoo has led the recovery project and released nearly 1,500 turtles back into protected habitats.

Western pond turtle hatchling on the move. Archive photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Despite the challenges threatening turtle species, our new turtle hatchlings are yet another large stride for the zoo’s turtle conservation programs. Turtle power!

WildLights presented by KeyBank runs through Jan. 1. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Need a closer look at the reptiles? Visit the zoo’s Egyptian tortoises, western pond turtles, and other reptiles and amphibians day or night this winter. WildLights presented by KeyBank, the zoo’s sparkling, after-hours event, features reptiles and amphibians in the Day Exhibit. WildLights is open through January 1, 5:30-8:30 nightly and will be closed December 24-25. Tickets available now at www.zoo.org/wildlights.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Preparing for the lion cubs' first vet exam

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Lion cubs at three weeks old. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Lion momma Adia continues to do a great job behind the scenes caring for her four little cubs who turn three weeks old this Thursday. Adia is a conscientious groomer, which is a lot of work with four kitties on your hands (err, paws).

The cubs are two weeks old in this video. Video by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Later this week we’ll attempt the first veterinary check-up on the cubs to get a better assessment of their overall health and growth progress.

Three weeks old. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Keepers have been giving Adia the option to shift into her outdoor exhibit and away from the cubs for a few minutes a day, which helps to normalize the routine for her. That way when it is time for the vet check-up, Adia will be comfortable with shifting outside, allowing us brief access to the cubs for a lightning fast exam.

Cub pile! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The most famous (visiting) reindeer of all

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications


There were Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the most famous visiting reindeer of all?

Reindeer Lucky and Christi arrive at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Lucky and Christi, two female reindeer, are making a guest appearance at the zoo for all six weeks of WildLights presented by KeyBank, the zoo's all new winter lights festival, opening tonight, Nov. 23.

And with nine other famous reindeer on your minds this holiday season, it’s only appropriate to honor each of them with nine fascinating facts about these sleigh-pulling beauties.

1. Reindeer are also known as caribou in North America. Though, many use “reindeer” to describe domesticated caribou.

2. Different species of caribou live throughout subarctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America. In the U.S., caribou inhabit the northern-most territories of the states and roam throughout all ten Canadian provinces. However, their populations are dwindling. Today, caribou are severely endangered in the Northwest.

3. It is the only deer species in which both the ladies and the gents grow antlers. Every year, reindeer shed their antlers and grow a new pair. The males shed in the winter, but the females won’t shed theirs until after they give birth in the spring.

4. Although reindeer can’t fly, they can run at speeds up to nearly 50 miles per hour! And they’re great swimmers, clocking in at 6 miles per hour.

5. Typically, reindeer are herbivores and will eat around 12 pounds of food a day. Unlike other deer, reindeer rely on lichens, or fungus, during the coldest months. Lichen withstands freezing temperatures and fuels reindeer with carbohydrates that will keep them trekking for miles on a full stomach.

6. Using their antlers, reindeer shovel through snow and chisel frozen ground to find food.

7. Reindeer live in herds. Most reindeer will travel among a group of two to five reindeer.

8. People have relied on reindeer for thousands of years. In some cultures, reindeer were fully domesticated and kept for milk and transportation.

9. The image of Santa’s sleigh being pulled by flying reindeer first appeared in American popular culture in the early 1800s.

Get your holiday dose of reindeer at WildLights, your only chance to visit Lucky and Christi at the zoo. You'll find them on WildLights nights in their barn located near the Historic Carousel.


Snap a photo of the reindeer, or other WildLights sights, using Instagram and tag @woodlandparkzoo and #wpzwildlights to be automatically entered to win a zoo prize package each week of WildLights! (Please make sure your Instagram account is set to public.) The Instagram contest runs through January 1. For contest rules and details, visit www.zoo.org/wildlights/instagram.

WildLights presented by KeyBank. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

WildLights presented by KeyBank officially opens to the public today, Nov. 23. Buy your tickets online in advance at www.zoo.org/wildlights. We hope you'll enjoy seeing the zoo in a whole new light!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Animal diets by the number

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications


Imagine the amount of food it takes to feed your family every week. The average American eats nearly 40 pounds of food a week. With two adults, maybe a teenager and a couple of kiddies gathered around the table, those appetites add up fast (especially now that Thanksgiving is here, and many of us double up on servings)!

Now, imagine the zoo preparing dinner for three lions, three elephants and two full-grown hippos. Those 40 pounds of food, even the extra Thanksgiving servings, start to sound more like an afternoon snack now, don’t they? Trust us when we say that animal cravings are far greater than any hungry teenager in your household.

At the zoo, our animals’ food comes through the commissary, which is more or less a grocery depot for the animals. Much like a neighborhood market might stock your family’s mealtime essentials, the commissary shelves each animal’s breakfasts, lunches and dinners based on the season’s freshest selection.

Produce, aisle seven. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Every week, a delivery of four six-foot pallets of produce makes its way to the commissary. Weighing down those pallets are 6,000 pounds of fruits and veggies! The biggest bulk of those pallets is romaine lettuce. In fact, we receive 40 cases of it weekly.

Meat, on the other hand, is ordered as needed. Over the course of two to three months, our large cats go through about 2,500 pounds of chicken, beef, turkey and bones. The lions are the biggest consumer of meat at 10 pounds per day!

Lions enjoy a chicken treat. Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Though, that’s nothing compared to a few of our herbivores. Our three elephants require the largest diets by far. Watoto, Chai and Bamboo are fed six pounds of grain, close to 10 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and 80-100 pounds of hay every day. That’s 116 pounds of food! Think of how much they require in a year’s time. For the elephants alone, the commissary orders 1,500 pounds of apples; 1,387 bananas; 152 cantaloupes; about 5,000 pounds of carrots; more than 7,000 pounds of elephant pellets; and nearly 131,400 pounds of hay every year!

Mmm, a pumpkin snack. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Much less in weight, but equally important, are the thousands of bugs ordered for our birds’ daily plates of worm spaghetti. Okay, it’s not actually spaghetti but mealworms, crickets and waxworms are a nutritious part of the tawny frogmouth’s diet. To put on their winter weight and prepare for the cold temperatures, tawny frogmouths eat nearly twice as much food during the winter. Hmm… sounds like my winter diet. Anyway, on top of a few bug salads, frogmouths also feast on two teenage mice throughout each day.

A tawny frogmouth adult and chick await their wormy feast. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Another fascinating bird diet is the diet of Coba, the spectacled owl. Raptors like Coba need just enough food to stay in flight for their journeys. In fact, their food intake motivates their activity levels. Coba dines on two to three mice a day to maintain his 735-765 gram frame. Though, he could still soar the skies for up to six days without eating anything at all!

Shouldn't have eaten that extra mouse. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Interested in being a part of mealtime at the zoo? Join the Penguin Feeding Experience, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. (or while fish supply lasts) daily through April. Feeding the penguins requires a $5 fee per person, cash only at the exhibit or pay by credit card at the West Entrance. You'll get hand-to-beak close with the penguins as you feed them a fishy treat!

Technically a carnivore, but totally an om-nom-nomnivore. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

News from the field: Jaguar Conservation Fund

Posted by: Bobbi Miller, Field Conservation


Female jaguar, Nayla, at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

To look at a jaguar—its massive jaws, its muscular body—one would think nothing could take it down. But the jaguar faces very real threats: man-made ones. Threatened in its native Americas, the jaguar is declining in numbers due to loss of habitat and conflict with humans. The two issues are connected, as hungry jaguars living in reduced habitats wander into human-occupied land in search of food, particularly in the form of cattle ranches.

Jaguar Cove exhibit at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

Thanks to a generous bequest, the Jaguar Conservation Fund was established in 2003 by Woodland Park Zoo to support field conservation efforts for jaguars. The Fund’s goal is to support projects that lead directly to conservation of jaguars and their habitat by incorporating conservation, education, and research components, along with strong connections to communities living with jaguars. Projects must clearly demonstrate that their work will lead to long-term jaguar survival in the wild. Each year a total of $10,000 is awarded to deserving programs.

For 2012 three grants were awarded, and this update features two of those programs and what they’re currently working on in the field.


Viviendo con Felinos: Community and Conservation Living with FelinesNorthern Jaguar Project, Sonora, Mexico


The foothills of the Sierra Madre in central Sonora are home to the world’s northernmost population of jaguars. For hundreds of years, ranchers have used this remote region to graze cattle, with human-wildlife conflicts resulting in the decline of the feline population. Non-sustainable ranching practices have impacted valuable wildlife habitat and threatened ecosystems shared by jaguars and many other species, such as migratory birds, native amphibians, and a diverse assortment of mammals, reptiles and flora.

The Northern Jaguar Project works with ranchers that have land adjacent to the 50,000-acre Northern Jaguar Reserve. The participating ranchers sign agreements to protect wildlife in exchange for the chance to earn rewards for motion-triggered photos taken on their properties of the four feline species in the region: jaguars, mountain lions, bobcats and ocelots. In addition, the ranchers participate in restoration activities and learn more about wildlife preservation. Just this year a 227-acre cattle-exclusion zone was erected at Babaco—one of the newest participating ranches. This cattle exclusion zone not only protects the sensitive habitat from the constant impact of the livestock grazing, but it provides an undisturbed space where jaguar prey can thrive —reducing the potential for cattle predation. Since the fence went up in May, there have been no reports of cattle predation in the area.

Ferb and Libelula at Duraral in May 2012. Photo courtesy of Northern Jaguar Project.

Exciting photos continue to come in via the remote cameras on the ranchers' land. Recently photos of a male (Ferb) and female (Libelula) jaguar have been taken with the pair together on five separate occasions. Libelula was seen on two of the participating ranches in August showing signs of pregnancy. Since that time the photographs have been shown to several jaguar biologists who all agree that the photo indicates she is lactating, having already given birth to a cub. The hope is that sometime in the next year she, and her cub, will make their way past one of the cameras, reinforcing the work that the Northern Jaguar Project is doing to rebuild this crucial northernmost jaguar population.

Libelula at Los Alisos, photo from August 2012. Courtesy of Northern Jaguar Project.


Wildlife Conservation Society: Reducing human-jaguar conflicts in the outskirts of the Maya Biosphere Reserve – Guatemala


In the southern buffer zone (Zona de Amortiguamiento – ZAM) of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, human activities often overlap with or abut jaguar habitat—increasing the potential for human-jaguar conflicts. The conflicts, typically a result of poor livestock practices, lead to tension between ranching communities and governmental authorities, impeding the potential for collaboration and long-term advances in conservation and sustainable management. Recently, in the community of Macanche, a jaguar was blamed for the loss of livestock and killed. That led to a standoff between local ranchers and community members, the National Police and wildlife protection authorities. In an effort to address these issues, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is working with Macanche community members through the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA)—lending credibility to the program and instilling confidence in the community members.

Training MAGA technicians about the livestock-jaguar conflict. Photo courtesy of WCS.

MAGA was successful in obtaining permission for WCS to participate in a joint MAGA/community activity in October. At this meeting, WCS was able to begin work with ranchers, engaging them in ideas about jaguar-livestock conflict resolution, and providing residents with 3,000 tree seedlings commonly used as forage for livestock. This gesture should go a long way towards establishing a viable and productive working relationship between WCS and local community members, with the ultimate goal of protecting and preserving crucial jaguars and habitat. In addition, WCS, through the partnership with MAGA, will participate in the “Mesa Agroforestal del MAGA,” sharing jaguar conservation messages, working on training workshops and establishing new technologies like foraging banks in selected ranches.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lion cubs at one week

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Adia with cubs at two days old. Photo by zookeeper Pam Cox/Woodland Park Zoo.
Born a week ago, the zoo’s four lion cubs continue to grow and are showing positive signs of good health.


Three-year-old mother Adia and her cubs are together in an off-view maternity den where the family can bond in a quieter environment. We have been monitoring the litter via an internal web cam and we’re very pleased with Adia’s maternal care and protectiveness. As a first-time mother, she’s providing attentive care the way a good mother lion naturally does.

All four cubs appear to be healthy and their eyes have opened. As far as we can tell, each cub is nursing and demonstrating increased mobility. Our intent is to leave mom alone as much as possible without intervening. As part of our exemplary neonatal care program, we will conduct periodic exams. The earliest target date for their first checkup is next week.

The cubs will go out for public viewing when they are older and outdoor temperatures reach a minimum of 50 degrees. Until then, zoo-goers can watch recorded video of the cubs at a kiosk stationed at the lion exhibit or at Zoomazium, the zoo’s indoor nature play area. Updated footage and images also will be posted on www.zoo.org/lioncubs as they are made available.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Penguins get their paint on

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Flippers aren’t designed to hold paint brushes, so when zookeepers wanted to give our Humboldt penguins the chance to paint, we had to go kindergarten style and just get messy.


We held a painting session yesterday for penguin trio Mojito, Cortez and Ramón to produce artwork that will be available for purchase tomorrow at the Puget Sound - American Association of Zoo Keepers annual holiday auction.

Painting is a new form of enrichment for our penguins,though it is something we have done with other animals around the zoo for years. Asian elephant Chai has been painting for 13 years now, and her painting will also be available at the auction.

Chai paints inside the Elephant Barn. Photo by Caileigh Robertson/Woodland Park Zoo. Follow @woodlandparkzoo on Instagram.

Painting works as a great enrichment opportunity for animals like orangutans, bringing out their natural tool-user instincts, and elephants, playing to their skill at manipulating objects with their trunks. For penguins, the enrichment is less about using objects and more about connecting with the natural curiosity innate to penguins. These inquisitive birds can be fascinated by novel textures and experiences. The painting session also means quality time with their zookeeper, a highlight for yesterday's painting penguins.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The penguin and elephant paintings will be auctioned off tomorrow, November 16, at the Puget Sound - American Association of Zoo Keepers (PS-AAZK) annual holiday auction; auction preview and guaranteed bids run noon to 2:00 p.m., and the silent auction runs 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Proceeds from the paintings and other auction items support PS-AAZK, a 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer organization composed of professional zookeepers employed by Woodland Park Zoo, and other people interested in promoting professional animal care and conservation worldwide.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

WildLights is almost here

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications


WildLights presented by KeyBank—the zoo's first winter lights festival—premieres next week, but we've been daydreaming about sugarplums and snowflakes for months in preparation for the big debut. You can say we’ve been hit with the WildLights bug—Twinkleitus—ever since we saw the preliminary sketches of our zoo lit up with 375,000 sparkling LED lights!

A sneak peek at some of the sparkle.

It takes a lot of hard work to build such an elaborate lights display, so John Evans, the zoo's guy in charge of this entire operation, assembled a group of LED artisans who blew our socks off with their ingenuity and resourcefulness. A lot of these folks have backgrounds in theater design, carpentry and sculpture, but one of them is even a stuntman from Hollywood.

The pop up workshop was full of grinding, drilling, sawing, and lots of ear plugs.

The crew worked all summer building flapping flamingos, flying frogs and even a graceful elephant herd. Stationed in a big white tent behind our penguin exhibit, the team had to work fast to create all of the pieces you’ll see this winter at WildLights.

A giraffe silhouette checks in on the WildLights workshop.

Sparks fly as Matt works the metal saw.

“The cool thing,” says crew member Anthony Balducci, “is most of the material we used to make the WildLights workshop is recycled from older zoo projects. The woodshop tables, the lumber, and even the welding cart were leftover from the Zoomazium sandbox.” The reindeer barn, which will house two reindeer during the festivities, was also pre-built to shelter the crew from the summer sun.

One of the walls for the reindeer barn acts as a staging unit for these flamingo and penguin light displays.

The WildLights crew had a to-do list about as long as Santa’s: finish net light, install door lights, place vulture on fence, move rhino, decorate sycamore, replace cheetah, multi lights on silhouettes, lights on tigers, lights on ceiba tree! Whew! (And that was only on one day!)

So, how do you build two 20 ft. tall tigers, a colony of penguins and a flock of flamingos out of lights? First, the crew had to interpret the concept sketches into real three dimensional drawings. Todd Nordling, the designer, provided the team with awesome drawings, but transforming the ideas into reality took a lot of vision.

Rebar penguin silhouette.

Jason carefully places the rebar along a print out of a penguin. Manipulating steel  into this detailed design takes a lot of skill and patience.

Then came the rebar structure. Rebar is malleable enough to create some pretty intricate shapes, while remaining strong. Our crew uses weldable rebar, which can be fused together with a welding torch.


Rebar is short for reinforced steel, the same material used in construction to support concrete infrastructure.

Anthony bends the metal into shape.

The rebar is cut and fit together with clamps before being hit with the torch. The arc welder tool is then used to fuse together the rebar. Arc welders use an electric current to strike an arc between the base material and a consumable electrode rod.

Ray fuses the steel shapes together.

Now that the basic shape was constructed, they took the entire thing down to Scott Galvanizing to be dipped. Galvanizing is a process that protects the steal and seals the piece in a shiny silver coat.

One of the huge tiger heads waits for its other parts after being brought back from the silver dip.


This tiger’s paw is huge. The final product is going to be so awesome!

Amanda uses a wire brush to do last minute detail work on the steel displays before they are delivered to the light tent. 

Anthony explains the mechanics of tiger wrangling.

The next step? LIGHTS!!!

Inside the light tent, staff and volunteers from across the zoo took turns wrapping the displays with light strands. Most of the displays got a couple of strands, but about 30 strands of LED lights were wrapped around each tiger! That’s a lot of lights, but when you want a 20 foot tiger to sparkle, well, you need a lot of sparkle.

Tara skillfully wraps LED lights onto the steel frame.

Fortunately, the actual wattage the zoo will end up using is pretty minimal. With the new LED technology, this lights festival will only use about 112 W per night, which is nothing compared to the incandescent lights of yesteryear. How much power do we actually save using LED lights? Well, a 70 count strand of LED mini lights requires 4.8 watts, while a 50 count strand of standard mini lights requires 20.4 watts! That’s about 24% difference in just one strand of lights, and we have a lot strands! Plus, incandescent string lights last around 2,500 hours, while LED string lights should last up to 100,000 hours. Quick, somebody call Clark Griswold!


Across the zoo, we have main breakers, breaker sub panels, fused disconnects, wire twist locks, phase pins, Hubble twist locks, cam locks, 3 prong and 375,000 lights… in other words, a giant electrical puzzle. Good thing our electricians know the difference between a Nema L14-20R and a Leviton 460R9W, ‘cause I sure don’t!

Ernie braves the cherry picker and goes sky high for lights on the Zoomazium roof. Zoomazium is being transformed into Snowmazium for the event. 

Placing the displays on zoo grounds is the next step. It takes the entire team to manage arranging and orienting these massive displays.

The crew measures the height for one of the tree displays.

Ray and Joe install displays.

All hands on deck! This WildLights project has been a true collaboration, from horticulture (tying 400 feet of ribbon onto pine boughs) to the events team (coordinating, planning and light stringing!), animal management (ensuring our animals won’t be disturbed), Lancer food services (creating drool worthy hot chocolate!), education (keeping those real snowmen from melting), grounds (accommodating all of this fine-tuning with a smile) and every staff and volunteer in between who has made this WildLights experience sparkle.

WildLights manager, John Evans, laughs with grounds maintenance lead,  Larry McCoy.  Both teams have been up to their elbows in lights for the past three weeks. 

Mark is now officially an expert in icicle lights!

Brad and Andy smile from treetop duty. 

We are really grateful to the WildLights crew who have, since April, been dedicated to bringing a warm and twinkling new holiday tradition to our Woodland Park Zoo family and visitors. We can’t wait to share these awesome light displays with you!

Jingle, jingle! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

To purchase WildLights tickets and learn more about the event, please visit: www.zoo.org/wildlights.

(All photos by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo unless otherwise noted.)