Thursday, September 26, 2013

Baby giraffe gets a name!

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


You can still call him “cutie,” but our nearly 8-foot-tall, 7-week-old baby giraffe now has an official name: Misawa (me-SAW-wah).

Misawa at one month old. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The name was selected by the current class of Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine students. The zoo works with the WSU program to mentor the next generation of wildlife veterinarians. What better way to honor that connection than by letting them name one of the most beloved ambassadors of the next generation of zoo animals?

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
The students chose the name Misawa, a common greeting in an indigenous Luo language from Tanzania and southwest Kenya, to honor the giraffe’s native range. It’s an especially fitting connection, given the school’s dedication to human and wildlife health through their Global Animal Health programs in east Africa, a region native to giraffes like Misawa.

Woodland Park Zoo and WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine have a longstanding partnership in developing critical research and furthering education in wildlife conservation. The origin of Misawa’s name as a greeting appropriately hints at the coming together of two great friends.

Look for Misawa, his mom Olivia and Aunt Tufani in the outdoor area of the Giraffe Barn mid-mornings through afternoons. When he’s indoors, you can look for him on our live Giraffe Baby Cam streaming 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.

Baby viper goes back to school

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


It's back to school these days, and even our baby eyelash palm pit viper is ready with school supplies. Here are seven tips for a successful school day, according to our pencil-loving snakeling.


1. Always bring your favorite pencil.
This baby eyelash palm pit viper, born August 23, weighs about 0.1 ounces (2.9 grams). We brought a pencil to the photo shoot to help show scale, and that pencil quickly became the property of this little snake.


2. Protect your pencil at all costs.
Eyelash palm pit vipers are ovoviviparous, which means they give birth to live young, instead of laying eggs. This snakeling is certainly a live wire!


3. Pay attention or you’ll get tangled in knots.
Handling a baby eyelash palm pit viper is dangerous. They are venomous; do not play with snakes and pencils. Our keeper, Alyssa, was holding the pencil with a special tool for handling venomous snakes.


4. Hang in there! 
Bothriechis schlegelii is found in Central and South America and is arboreal, which means it lives in trees.


5. Don’t be too shy. 
The eyelash palm pit viper is mostly nocturnal and hides out in trees, on the leaves of big plants, or in other vegetation just above the ground.


6. Need to get away with something? Bat those eyelashes.
The eyelash palm pit viper is named for the bristly scales above its eyes. It looks as if it has eyelashes over its eyes, but it is really more of a scaly hood.


7. Have a snack and take a nap when you get home. 
Our baby eyelash palm pit viper is fed small mice or fish and spends a lot of the day curled up on its favorite stick.

No pencil was harmed in the creation of this blog post. 
We did, however, never get it back.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Young Komodo dragons move into new digs

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Even dragons start out small. Have you seen the two Komodo dragon juveniles now living at the Adaptations Building at the zoo? Born in January at the Memphis Zoo as part of the Species Survival Plan for this endangered species, the duo moved here this summer to be raised in our ample dragon digs.


Hard to imagine these tiny critters, who each weigh in at about one-and-a-half pounds (650 grams), will one day be as big as our 15-year-old male Selat, who is 110 pounds (50 kilograms). Though, they won’t reach adult size until they're about 7 to 10 years old!


Once these dragons mature, they’ll continue to participate in the Species Survival Plan and may move on to other zoos if they are matched up with a partner for breeding.


It’ll be some time before they are ready for that next step. For now, the juveniles are on view next door to Selat. We've built a little apartment for them inside one of the Komodo dragon exhibits that’s just right for their small size and juvenile temperament. It includes some tree branches for perching and UV light bulbs for sunning.


It’s hard to miss Selat when you are at the exhibit, but you may have to put in a little extra work to spot the young ones. If you don’t see them right away, try looking at the top of their cage, where they may be busy basking in the light. Not there? Try looking at the bottom of the cage. Look everywhere, honestly. These lizards like to cruise around a lot, so they could be anywhere inside their enclosure!


You might spot a keeper inside the exhibit with the young Komodo dragons at times, which usually means some training is going on. Komodo dragons, just like other monitor lizard species, are very intelligent. Monitors—lizards belonging to the family Varanidae—can learn basic tricks, such as coming to a target or responding to their name or other verbal commands. They are widely thought to be the most intelligent of reptiles. Our keepers train the Komodos to shift between spaces and follow a special targeting stick. These learned behaviors make it easier for the keeper staff to manage these potentially dangerous animals.

A hidden camera captured this image of a Komodo dragon in the wild. Photo: Population Monitoring of Komodo Dragons and Capacity Building in Komodo National Park.

When you visit these young ones, know that your trip to the zoo helps us contribute to Komodo dragon conservation in the field. Through our Wildlife Survival Fund we support a Komodo dragon research and conservation project in Indonesia, which is helping us to understand natural history and captive husbandry needs of this iconic reptile.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Elephant Appreciation Day: News from the field



This Elephant Appreciation Day, we check in with Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife, the Tarangire Elephant Project on news from the conservation frontlines. Here they report in from the field on their growing involvement in elephant territories beyond the borders of Tarangire National Park:

In the past year we have become more involved in new territory: the Makame Wildlife Management Area (WMA), to the southeast of Tarangire National Park. This is a vast area, nearly 1.2 million acres in size (almost two times larger than Tarangire National Park), which is arid, hot, and sparsely populated. Wildlife Management Areas are community lands that have been set aside for wildlife conservation and tourism, in order to encourage communities to promote conservation and benefit from the natural resources on their land. Makame is of particular interest to us because it harbors an elephant population that migrates to Tarangire National Park in the dry season. However, unlike the other elephants in Tarangire, this population spends most of the year in Makame outside the Park, and only ventures into the Park during the dry months (August–November), when the permanent water dries up in the Makame area. The elephants can survive outside the Park (where there is little protection from poachers) because much of the WMA is covered in extremely dense bush and thicket, which is extremely difficult to access and therefore provides excellent cover for the elephants.

Elephants viewed from an aerial survey in Makame WMA. Photo (modified) courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society.

Last year we hired 11 local Maasai villagers to serve as village game scouts, spread across five villages in the WMA. Their job is to patrol the WMA and report any poaching activity, as well as to carry out monthly transects along set routes, so we can get an idea of wildlife densities and distribution in the area. Because the area is significantly drier than Tarangire National Park, it harbors many arid-country species that are uncommon or rare in the Park. These include the lesser kudu and the gerenuk, a strange looking gazelle with an elongated neck and legs that has the rather apt Swahili name of Swala Twiga or "Giraffe Gazelle." The WMA is also home to a significant number of wild dogs, an endangered species in Africa. We don’t know how many wild dogs are in the WMA, although our staff has seen a pack of 50 dogs, suggesting that there may be over one or two hundred of the animals spread across the broader area. A combination of a good prey base, thick bush (which provides excellent cover for denning sites), and a low density of lions (which compete with, and sometimes kill, wild dogs), all make this an excellent site for this species. 

A rare ground pangolin was a lucky find in the Makame WMA. Photo by Boniface Osujaki.

Perhaps the best sighting record yet from our game scouts is of a ground pangolin, sometimes called the scaly anteater. This animal is extremely difficult to see in Tanzania, partly because of its nocturnal habits, but also because it appears to be rare throughout the country. In camera trap surveys we have conducted across Tanzania involving over 20,000 camera trap nights, we have only twice recorded ground pangolins. The pangolin in this picture had been found by a villager and was later released by the game scouts. Unfortunately the growing demand from China for pangolin scales has put intense pressure on the four species of pangolin found in Africa, and entire containers full of pangolins have been intercepted at ports in Asia.

Five of the eleven Village Game Scouts sponsored by the Tarangire Elephant Project in the Makame WMA. Photo by Boniface Osujaki.

Running anti-poaching activities in Makame is particularly difficult as the area is so large, and communications are poor, meaning that the scouts often have to cycle several miles before they can find an area with cellphone reception. Despite this, they have so far helped arrest 10 poachers in two different incidences, and the confiscation of one rifle and a shotgun. We intend to improve communications, provide additional transportation, and facilitate support from the Wildlife Authorities to bolster our anti-poaching operations in this vast and unique area.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to make elephant poo paper

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications
Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo


With a combined diet of nearly 300 lb. of food per day, it’s a little surprising that our three female elephants produce about 900 lb. of waste daily! And what better is there to do with 900 lb. of poo than make paper?

In the Banda Hut of the zoo’s African Village, visitors are transforming elephant dung into one-of-a-kind stationery. Beginning with the raw product of elephant poo, zoo staff steam-clean the fibrous poo balls at 160 degrees to eliminate all bacteria. Once cleaned, the poo greatly resembles hay. You see, although each elephant intakes 100 lb. of food daily, only about 40 percent of it is digested for energy. As for the rest, well, it comes back out the other end…

The steamed poo is mixed with a gray, paper pulp, an important ingredient in poo paper-making created by mixing old, shredded zoo maps with water. The old maps are shredded, stripped and soaked in water to break down. Recycling maps for paper-making is no small task. More than 10,000 zoo maps are upcycled every season, which allows us to repurpose zoo materials that would otherwise be trashed.

Making elephant poo paper in the Banda Hut.

Then—here comes the hard work—visitors sit atop a specially-made stationary bike, dubbed the “fender blender,” that powers a food processor. Pedaling, generally meant to propel a bike into forward motion, powers the food processor to blend the wet, recycled maps into a pulp. We’re removing electricity from the blending process by relying on the power of human energy, and it’s pretty cool to see it in action! If you spot the fender blender in the Banda Hut, don’t be shy to ask zoo staff for a ride!

Poo, pulp and water mixture.

OK, back to the poo. Using a combination of 30 percent steamed elephant poo and 70 percent paper pulp and a little water, we create a mud-like mixture. A handful of the mixture is pressed across a mesh frame to hold the shape of a rectangle. This, friends, is paper!

The mixture is pressed across a mesh frame.

With a little shake, the rectangular paper is released from the frame and is soon sandwiched between two pieces of dry felt. Finally, we flatten it out with a rolling pin and allow the felt to soak up any excess water. Within 24 hours, the paper will dry. VoilĂ ! Elephant poo paper is made. Now, who will you find most deserving of your special poo creation?

Rolling out the final product.

Elephant poo paper-making is on the zoo’s daily schedule for just a few more days this summer. Visit the Banda Hut 1:00-3:00 p.m. daily through September 29 to make and take your own elephant poo paper. It's a great way to make something new out of something old, reduce waste, and take a little (unexpected) piece of the zoo home with you!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sketching Animals mobile tour

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications


Kristin Folger shows off her color study skills in front of her very colorful muses.

Welcome to one of the best locations to practice sketching and drawing animals. Whether you are a novice or a practiced artist, Woodland Park Zoo offers hundreds of opportunities to polish your skills.

Ready to get started? Download our free Woodland Park Zoo mobile app (for iOS and Android), visit the Maps tab, then tap on Tours to find the Sketching Animals GPS-guided zoo tour.

On the tour, you’ll be prompted to work on a few different facets of sketching throughout the zoo. You may choose to spend a couple minutes on each prompt or spread the tour out over a few days if you like. With so many muses, you are bound to leave with some beautiful artwork as well as a deeper connection with your subjects.

The tour explores 5 different phases of sketching including: gestural drawing, details, landscape elements, mark-making and color. Follow the prompts to get started and be sure to share your work with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #woodlandparkzoo and #sketchinganimals.

Tropical Rain Forest gesture sketch by Kirsten Pisto

Drawing and zoology share a rich past. The oldest example of a human drawing is a cave painting over 40,000 years old—and people have been drawing animals for just as long. Throughout time people have been fascinated with studying the creatures around them. We've drawn animals to trace migration for hunting, to express our mythological and spiritual connection to them, to record new species, to study their behavior, to enhance education, to plead for their preservation and at last to depict the wonder and awe we might feel while in their presence.

In-house artists, Kirsten and Caileigh, take advantage of the tables near Chowder House, the perfect height for a quick sketch! 
Young artist Kristin Folger finds some quiet time to sketch Adia and the cubs. The practice of drawing allows an artist time to connect with their subject and can be one of the best ways to understand another species.

Many staff here at Woodland Park Zoo—from zookeepers and horticulturists to graphic designers and exhibits crew—practice sketching in their free time. This artistic crew can be found drawing on their lunch break and even as part of their job designing. Having a multi-talented staff is just one reason the zoo is such a great place to work!

Ink Study #3, by Misty Fried, our very own senior graphic designer.  


Tawny frogmouth and chick, by Josh Pettitt, a very talented member of our grounds crew.

Josh Pettitt gives us the lowdown on his favorite spots, “My favorite locations for sketching would be Day Exhibit, Conservation Aviary, Tropical Rain Forest, Asian Tropical Forest, Northern Trail and the African Village (in that order). I think those locations have a great variety of animals and also some indoor spots that are nice and toasty for the colder months—it’s hard to draw when your fingers are numb!”

Two versions of a tree kangaroo. Left: Tree Kangaroo, ink on paper towel by Josh Pettitt. Right: Tree Kangaroo and joey, a painting in progress by Susan Pope.

You’ll also see zoo guests and even organized drawing clubs sketching all over the zoo. If you are really lucky, you might run into one of the students from the University of Washington Natural Science Illustration program.
Illustration of Thylacine, a species known as the Tasmanian tiger which went extinct in the 20th century, by Susan Pope

Susan Pope is a recent graduate of the University of Washington Natural Science illustration (UW NSI) program and says that while sketching at the zoo can be challenging, it is also very rewarding.  Illustrations such as the Thylacine assist zoologists and conservationists alike. Having a visual of an extinct species helps educate and inform studies. Visit Susan’s website for more amazing illustrations.

Elizabeth Smith, a fellow graduate from the UW NSI program shares a few tips. “I've found it challenging to draw at the zoo. Sometimes the animals will hold still for longer poses, but most of the time they're either sleeping or moving, so an artist needs to practice quick sketches. I like to find spots where I can either sit down (ideal!) or at least rest my notepad against a railing while I draw. It's important to find a time when the place isn't crowded, too.” See more of Elizabeth Smith’s work.

Pete, Western Lowland Gorilla, by Elizabeth Smith

Elizabeth also had a cute story to share about a fellow artist:

“Once when I was in the river otter area, trying to sketch the fast-moving critters, a little girl saw what I was doing and became intrigued. I overheard her ask her mother for her notebook and drawing tools. A little while later she came over to me and shyly showed me her drawing of the swirling water. I smiled and did my best to be encouraging, and she went back to her mother and her work. A few more minutes passed and she came back over to me, handed me this drawing, and scuttled off. I don't know her name or where she's from, but I hope she keeps sketching!”

Swirling water and river otters, by unknown young artist.

Caileigh Robertson does a quick texture study near the Bamboo Forest Reserve.

Good luck sketching and remember to share your drawings with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! #woodlandparkzoo #animalsketching

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tiny lab for teensy snails gets a colossal makeover!

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications


When we say the Partula snail is tiny, we really mean it. Photo by Emily Schumacher/WPZ.

If you’ve been to Bug World lately, you may have noticed a very cool addition across the path! Our tiny Tahitian Partula snails have a teensy, new lab!

Look for the conservation lab in the Temperate Forest zone of the zoo. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

The rout of tiny endangered tree snails has moved out of Bug World and across the path to their brand new lab. The snail lab was completed this summer, and all of the residents seem quite at home in their new digs.

You can see animal care and conservation at work when you visit the lab. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

Erin Sullivan, collection manager, tells us a little more about the new lab.

Why do the snails need their own space?
The Partula snails living at Woodland Park Zoo’s lab are very special—they are extinct in the wild. Our zoo is one of the zoo’s participating in the captive breeding efforts for the Partula nodosa, so it is very crucial that these little snails thrive. We needed a special and secure space for our lab work and optimal breeding conditions for the snails.

Woodland Park Zoo works 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.

Partula up close on a synthetic leaf backdrop. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

When can visitors view the lab?
Any time! The lab window is open at all times to visitors, so you can stop by any time during zoo hours to check out the Partula breeding program. If you are lucky, you might see a keeper checking up on the snails.

What do the keepers do with the snails?
Keepers clean out the snail boxes, count the baby snails and make sure there are enough food and water sources for the snails. They also make sure the lab is nice and cool.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

Why do you keep the lab cool? Isn't it hot in Tahiti? 
Ideal temperature for a Partula snail is 68-70°F. We have an air conditioner to make sure it does not get above 70°F in the lab. These temperatures are similar to the snail’s native conditions in the wild.

What do the snails eat?
We crush nettle leaves, calcium, dog food, oats and snail vitamins into a fine powder. We then add water to make a green slurry for the snails that they love!

How many snails do we have? And, how long do they live?
We have a little over 900 snails at any given time. A rarity in the snail world, Partula give live birth to a single offspring every 4-6 weeks, as opposed to a typical brown garden snail that lays hundreds of eggs each year. Partula are very slow growing creatures, and they can live up to around 5 to 6 years.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

What will we do with the Partula population once they are healthy? 
Plans are underway to reintroduce P. nodosa back to Tahiti in the next couple of years in what is being billed as the world's smallest wildlife preserve: an approximately 20-meter-square protected site that will contain the released specimens.

Averaging only about 0.5 inches in shell length, partulid snails live on the stems, trunks, and leaves of many plant species. The snails remain fastened to the undersides of leaves during dry periods but emerge to feed and mate when it rains, mostly at night. More than 100 species of Partula once existed on islands stretching across the South Pacific from Palau to French Polynesia. Now, nearly 70 percent of these species are extinct in the wild. Learn more about our Partula conservation efforts.


Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ
Psst! If you’d like to make a tiny donation (or a colossal one) to help our Partula snail conservation program inch, slime and glide towards success, please donate to Woodland Park Zoo’s conservation program. Not only are you helping the Partula snails, you’re helping snow leopards in Central Asia, tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea, and even Western pond turtles in our own backyard!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Giraffe cam takes a licking

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Looks like our baby giraffe spotted the web cam in his barn. His curious licks were caught in extreme close up on the cam—check out that tongue!

Video: Baby giraffe webcam taste-a-thon

The cam was always safely secured, but it sure did take a licking!

The camera sits securely inside a cutout in the wall just below the giraffe feeder. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Some of our dedicated giraffe cam viewers even caught him in the act while watching live:



We'd love to know what you see when you tune into the giraffe baby cam. Send your best screenshots and observations to webkeeper@zoo.org, tweet or Instagram to @woodlandparkzoo (#giraffecam), or post to our Facebook timeline

And of course, don't miss the chance to see the calf in person! He has access to the outdoor area of the giraffe barn daily, and tends to head out there mid-mornings through afternoons.

We know the next big piece of news you all are waiting for is his official name! We should have something to share on that front shortly. Check back soon!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Komodo dragon sunbathing

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications


A sun bathing dragon is not something you see every day, unless you work at Woodland Park Zoo!

When most people think of Komodo dragons, they think of a dangerous creature with venomous bacteria filled saliva, sharp claws and tough scales. But, Komodos have a sensitive side, especially when it comes to their sunbathing needs!

Video: Go behind the scenes at the Komodo dragon exhibit. Produced by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ

In this new video, exhibit attendant Jordan Veasley and zoo experiences team member Sam Retic find out how a Komodo dragon soaks up the rays at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. They meet up with zookeeper Peter Miller who takes them behind the scenes to get up close with a sunbathing dragon.

Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

Part of our job here at the zoo is to study the health of these reptiles, especially when it comes to sun exposure and vitamin D absorption. Working with these dragons is very rewarding. When we see them cooperate with our training and animal care, we know that these creatures are getting the best care we can provide.

Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

Komodo dragons are a vulnerable species, there are only about 5,000 left in the wild today. You can help protect Komodos and other reptiles by pledging not to buy illegal pets or illegal animal products. Read up on Komodo dragons then come visit these magnificent lizards up close at the zoo!

Monday, September 9, 2013

ZooParent photo contest winner announced

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Congratulations to our ZooParent photo contest winners, Paul and Hannah DaRosa, whose Ottie the Otter took a big trip to their wedding for a series of photos worthy of the grand prize!


Thanks to all who entered and had some fun with their ZooParent plushes!


Become a ZooParent today. You can pick your favorite animal or select the seasonal specialjaguars! The special is also now available at ZooStores and makes the perfect gift.

Your adoption helps support the daily care of the animals at the zoo, and $5 of the adoption goes directly to wildlife conservation in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Flamingo chicks add to the baby boom

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


There’s been a break in the sea of pink over at the flamingo exhibit. In the past week, we've had six tiny, white puffs in the form of flamingo chicks hatch out on exhibit. Generally, we let the chicks stay on the nest for the first five days, where they are well looked after by their parents. But once they become a bit more mobile and are ready to head out of the nest, we bring the chicks and their parents behind the scenes where they can get through the first few weeks of rearing together in a more protected environment.

Newly hatched chick in nest. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Ideally the flamingo parents will feed and raise the chicks on their own. Some are first time parents and others are experienced. Zookeepers watch over the young families very closely, and are ready to step in to incubate eggs or rear chicks if it looks like any of the families are in need of a little help.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

So far, all of the parents are doing a good job. The first week or two are the most critical to make sure the chicks are properly feeding and parents are being attentive. We expect the young families to return back on exhibit in the next few weeks once the chicks are old enough and coordinated enough to be safe, and that’s when you’ll be able to see the new additions.

An older flamingo shows off those tall legs and curved beak so characteristic of the bird. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

We tend to picture flamingos in huge colonies engulfing their wetlands home. With the Chilean flamingo now at near threatened status in their native South America, we need to ensure that those numbers don’t dwindle. Keeping the wetlands pink is about more than just saving flamingos—protecting this umbrella species leads to the preservation of countless diverse species that also call the wetlands home.

ARKive video - Chilean flamingo - overview

Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlife Survival Fund supports The Grupo Conservacion Flamencos Altoandinos, a conservation project dedicated to studying and protecting South America’s flamingos. Your visits to the zoo help make our support of such programs possible. You’re helping us make a pinker world—thank you!