Thursday, January 30, 2014

Zooper Bowl: Introducing the #Tallest12 and Legion of Boom

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications


Take your pic with the #Tallest12

Some of the shortest 12s pose with the #Tallest12. Photo: Caileigh Robertson/Woodland Park Zoo.

Wear your Seahawks gear and come pose with the #Tallest12. Photo: Caileigh Robertson/Woodland Park Zoo.

For Seahawks Twelfies, take selfies next to a cutout sign of Misawa, the zoo’s 6-month-old, 9-foot-tall giraffe, who is Seattle’s #Tallest 12 decked out in Seahawks colors. Take your pic with the cutout at the zoo's West Entrance and share it with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #Tallest12 to show the wild side of your Blue Pride. (Zoo admission is not required to take your photo, but remember—wearing your Seahawks gear gets you $3 off zoo admission through Sunday.)


Legion of Boom

The Legion of Boom. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In honor of the Seahawks’ secondary, Woodland Park Zoo has named our four Asian small-clawed otter boys after the Legion of Boom. The pups, Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor and Maxwell, were born at the zoo last June and bring the boom on with high-sounding whistles, squeals and chirps. They can be seen playing defense in their Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit, blocking crows left and right.

Click to watch a video of the otter pups defending their exhibit against crows. Video: Caileigh Robertson/Woodland Park Zoo.


A wager with Denver Zoo

A Woodland Park Zoo sea eagle can't wait to eat trout delivered by Denver Zoo after the Hawks win. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

We're so confident in our Hawks that we've placed a wager with Denver Zoo: When the Seahawks return with the Vince Lombardi trophy, a bird curator from Denver Zoo will hand deliver a case of trout to Woodland Park Zoo for our sea eagles and spend a day working with our animals while sporting a Seahawks jersey. On the off chance the Broncos win, a mammal curator from Woodland Park Zoo will hand deliver a case of apples to Denver Zoo’s Przewalski’s horses and spend a day working with the horses and elephants wearing a Broncos jersey. We say any bet where the animals come out as the winners in the end is a good one! And hey, Denver Zoo's bird curator? We can't wait to meet ya!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lions on the move

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


We can’t believe the time has already come to see our four young lions move on to the next stage of their lives. Born in November 2012, brothers Pelo and Rudo and sisters Busela and Nobuhle are now nearly the size of their mother, Adia. It’s hard not to think of them as our babies, but the foursome is maturing and getting closer to breeding age. This winter, each cub will be moving to a new home at an accredited zoo. This gives them the opportunity to pair up with new mates and eventually begin their own families through the Species Survival Plan conservation breeding program, while also making room for potential new cubs at Woodland Park Zoo.

The male cubs began growing in their manes last summer. Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ

There are lots of comings and goings to keep track of as the pride reshapes over the next few weeks. Here’s what has been happening and what is coming up next:

Inside the crate is young male lion, Pelo, being loaded onto a cargo plane. The move went smoothly under the supervision of staff from Woodland Park Zoo and Henry Vilas Zoo. Photo by Christine Anne/Woodland Park Zoo.

Cubs on the move

Pelo was the first young lion to relocate. After the recent extreme weather across the country subsided, Pelo moved to his new home at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin this month. To ease the transition, Pelo traveled with a Woodland Park Zoo keeper and staff from Henry Vilas Zoo who ensured his safe arrival. When Pelo touched down on Wisconsin ground, he showed us very positive signs that he is already adjusting. He cooperated when unloading from his travel crate and ate his food on the evening he arrived, a good indicator that he’s comfortable in his new home.

The young lions have grown adventurous and independent. Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ

Adjusting to change

How are mom Adia and the remaining cubs reacting to Pelo’s move? Zookeepers are pleased to see the lions are adjusting well. It’s typical for young male lions to begin to separate from the pride. We observed the lions searching around their exhibit when Pelo first left, which is normal behavior, but this only lasted for a few minutes. They have all remained calm through this experience.

Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ

Last chance to see the cubs

If you want to squeeze in a visit to see the lions before the remaining youngsters leave, plan a trip this February. As moving large carnivores across the country is complex and requires extensive planning, we don’t yet have exact dates for when the others will move out to their new homes. It will be late-February/early-March that the other male, Rudo, heads off to El Paso Zoo in Texas, and the two sisters move to Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Lion pair Hubert and Kalisa will move together to L.A. Zoo. Photo: Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

Changes with adult lion pairs

There are some changes coming for our adult lions too. The cubs’ father, Hubert, and his mate, Kalisa, will be heading to L.A. Zoo together. The bonded pair will be heading out on February 17. As Adia has proven to be an excellent mother, she’ll have the opportunity to breed with a new mate heading to Woodland Park Zoo from El Paso Zoo in March. This match allows us to mix up the genetic diversity of Adia’s offspring. We’re hoping to see sparks with the two, which may mean more cubs in the very near future!

Conservation in the field

These lions are ambassadors for their wild counterparts, helping zoo visitors connect with the challenges facing African lions and the ways we can help. Through the zoo’s Wildlife Survival Fund, Woodland Park Zoo supports the Ruaha Carnivore Project through the Lion Species Survival Plan Conservation Campaign. The project works in Tanzania to mitigate human conflict with lions and other large carnivores that share the Ruaha landscape, while collecting baseline data on lion populations to help shape lion and large carnivore conservation.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Students build homes for bats, career skills for life

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


By day, he’s systems technician Chris K. from the zoo’s IT department. But by night (err, well, by around 3:00 p.m.), he’s Bat Man.

Chris K. teaches the students about bats in our own backyard and around the world.
Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

At least, that’s what the kids in Woodland Park Zoo’s middle school after-school program, ZooCrew, call him.

Chris is one of the latest zoo staffers to join the growing list of mentors who help ZooCrew kids see a future for themselves in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) career. ZooCrew instructors work with the students all semester long and bring in help from mentors like Chris when the students are ready to try their hands at career-focused projects. With a passion for defending bats from their undeserved reputation and from mounting conservation threats, Chris was a great match to lead students from Eckstein, Mercer, Washington, Madison and Chinook Middle Schools through a project dedicated to bat conservation.

Want to see bats at Woodland Park Zoo? Look for the Indian flying foxes in the Adaptations Building.
Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Protecting native bats was one of three Northwest conservation focuses the students could choose from last semester, with Oregon silverspot butterfly and western pond turtle as alternatives. Bats are so underappreciated, you might worry the students would overlook them during project selection, but many of the ZooCrew kids flocked to these misunderstood animals. How can you not be taken with an animal that flies, plays an essential role as insect eater, plant pollinator and seed disperser, shows up on every continent but Antarctica, and makes up nearly one quarter of the world’s mammal species diversity?! 

In the first part of the semester, the students learned about bat conservation and the zoo’s work with our Wildlife Survival Fund project, Bat Conservation International.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.

Then it was time to put that knowledge to work and do some problem solving, an essential career skill in science and engineering. If bats are facing extinction, what can we do to help with this problem? One of the major factors in bat conservation is the loss of homes for bats. For example, when forests are destroyed or improperly managed, many species of bats lose their roosts and feeding areas. Disease, such as white-nose syndrome, is also wiping out populations. Bats need a secure home in a disease-free environment to thrive.

ZooCrew students break out the tools to build a bat house. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

One solution? Build a bat house! Making and installing a bat house in your yard or community is a great way to model a commitment to protecting bats right here in our own Northwest habitat. Bat houses that mimic tight spaces in trees, under bridges or in the rafters of old buildings provide ideal nesting space for bats to help ensure population growth.

Time to paint the finished bat houses. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

By building a bat house, the students also got to practice their engineering skills. After constructing their houses from kits, it came time to paint them the recommended color: black. The students decided that they needed to find non-toxic black paint to ensure they wouldn't harm any of the animals or habitats they intended to protect. The ZooCrew instructors were so impressed with how thoughtful the students were throughout the process—it was clear they took the charge to protect bats to heart!

An installed bat house. Photo by Ann Froschauer/USFWS.

To build on the experience, the students’ next task moving into future semesters is to work with their schools to find community locations where they can install the finished bat houses. By putting them somewhere public the students open up the opportunity to draw attention to their work, the impact it can have for bats, and how others can do the same.

Many of these students will continue on with ZooCrew this semester and beyond, gaining exposure to more science and conservation careers here at the zoo—from zookeeping, to field conservation, to science journalism. What zoo job would you want to try your hand at?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wild Possibilities: Wolves, Frogs and Living Northwest

Plus meet Dr. Robert Long, WPZ’s first Senior Conservation Fellow

Posted by: Dr. Deborah B. Jensen, President and CEO



President Jensen. Photo by Matt Hagen.
December 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, a successful, complex and at times controversial federal law that has protected many of our most prized wildlife species from extinction. As we enter the New Year, the future of two native Northwest species hangs in the balance. Currently, gray wolves are being considered for delisting from the Federal Endangered and Threatened Species protections, while Oregon spotted frogs are being considered for listing. Under other circumstances, it would be hard to find a stage, outside of a Grimm brothers’ fairytale perhaps, in which both of these species shared a national spotlight.

At the zoo, kids are learning all about wild wolves and other carnivores, including humans’ misconceptions of them, in our Zoo Crew and new Coexisting with Carnivores education programs. Nearly all but extirpated in the U.S. by mid-20th century, federal protection has enabled gray wolves to gradually repopulate their historic range. Indeed, a new pack formed in the zoo’s Northern Trail too, in 2011.

The zoo’s wolf pack. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Recovery efforts so far have generated hope for this top predator and for the health of our ecosystems. But has this iconic carnivore progressed enough to warrant delisting? As a science-based organization, Woodland Park Zoo believes the answer is no. Current scientific evidence strongly suggests that gray wolves need more time to recover, across larger portions of their historic range, to sustain viable populations for the long term. This is especially true in the North Cascades, where gray wolves have been repopulating suitable, native habitat for under a decade, and very small areas of it at that. The zoo applauds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to date in recovering the gray wolf, and we continue to support Washington state’s Wolf Recovery and Management Plan. Evidence from other states, unfortunately, suggests that within one year of delisting gray wolves, hard-won recovery gains can and do turn into significant losses. We are concerned that removing federal protections for gray wolves now poses too great a setback to this valuable species’ future. I invite you to read WPZ’s full statement to Secretary Jewell at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

A crew releases Oregon spotted frogs reared at the zoo into a protected wild site. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

It’s a different scenario for the Oregon spotted frog. This early indicator species’ precipitous decline tells scientists a lot about the health of Pacific Northwest wetland ecosystems. Hope lies in its possible inclusion on the federal list of endangered species because that would engender more strategic, collaborative action to restore critical wetland habitats and to recover populations to sustainable levels, actions your zoo has been involved in since 2009.

Regardless of where you stand on these species’ proposed delisting and listing, we all can agree that good science, sound policy and thoughtful public dialogue are essential to shaping such decisions. Your zoo plays a vital role in informing this dialogue. I’m proud to be part of an organization in which keepers, educators, volunteers and conservation staff engage thousands of people every day in discussions about the invaluable place wild animals have in our world, including gray wolves and Oregon spotted frogs. The fact is that whatever our GPS coordinates are on the rural-urban or coastal-inland span, our fate, ultimately, is connected to the fate of wildlife. A mutually successful future hinges on our embracing a meaningful, life-long relationship with animals and habitats. Not someday, but now.

Woodland Park Zoo is helping our community take meaningful steps to do that right here in our own “backyard.” This year, we reorganized our regional field conservation programs into one platform which we call Living Northwest. To match our growing role in Northwest conservation leadership, we strengthened the links between the conservation we do with animals at the zoo and the health and sustainability of our bioregion. Under this umbrella, we are engaging more visitors, species experts, educators and funders in collaborations to save animals in the wild; protect critical habitats; educate families and communities; and reduce conflicts between animals and people.

Living Northwest programs include (clockwise from top left): Raptor Ecology of the Shrub Steppe, Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, Western Wildlife Outreach, Northwest Amphibian Recovery Project, and Butterflies of the Northwest

Sustaining a healthy Pacific Northwest requires balancing the needs of both people and animals. So, we’re advancing a scientific research program to study how best to meet those dual needs. The science and how it’s done, of course, is constantly evolving. That’s why I’m pleased to share with you that Dr. Robert Long has joined our team as Woodland Park Zoo’s first senior conservation fellow. He is highly respected for spearheading innovations in non-invasive wildlife research techniques, an approach he has honed for the last 12 years as a carnivore research ecologist in the northeastern and northwestern U.S.

Robert Long has led the Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project, evaluating and enhancing habitat connectivity for carnivores in the North Cascades Ecosystem of Washington. Photo: Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project.

These techniques help Dr. Long answer questions about the occurrence of bear, wolverine, bobcat and coyote populations, among other animals, especially how they use and move across landscapes where human infrastructure, such as roads and highways, are encroaching. This kind of on-the-ground science is key to informing effective strategy and policy decisions to help conserve wildlife in areas where human activities exist.

If you encountered Dr. Long out on the North Cascade trails, you probably wouldn’t see anything unusual at first. But you’d sure smell it! The scent lures he uses—things such as putrefied fish carcasses, mixed with blood and smeared over piles of sticks or on tree trunks—are delicacies not to be passed up by the carnivores he studies. He and his team hike for miles with foul-smelling supplies on their backs, putting up with the stench because the rewards are so great.

A research team member pours a concoction of animal scents to attract nearby carnivores to a study site. Photo: Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project.

It’s fascinating work. Non-invasive survey techniques creatively attract animals to study sites within the animals’ natural habitats. Once safely rigged up, hair-collection devices and remote cameras, as well as scat detection dogs and other tools, “capture” data as animals travel by. This kind of sampling eliminates the need to handle, anesthetize or outfit animals one by one with collars or other attached tracking devices. Capture and radio-tracking remain highly useful tools in some circumstances, and are sometimes mixed with newer approaches. But for many purposes non-invasive methods are yielding critical information about genetics, breeding, home-range size and movement for larger sample populations, not just single animals. And they’re pretty cost effective. Scaled up, non-invasive monitoring increases the quantity and distribution of data, thus increasing the ability to predict how animals use their home ranges and disperse into other areas as their populations grow or dwindle. 

An adult black bear and a cub visit a barbed-wire corral intended to snag hairs as animals pass over or under the wire. Photo: Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project.

Dr. Long’s expertise will help us refine and grow carnivore conservation efforts at the zoo and in the wild, strengthening the links among species preservation, education in classrooms, and field conservation and outreach. We look forward to sharing compelling stories about Living Northwest’s evolving work with you. Our zoo’s role in regional conservation leadership is already well established. Continuing to break new ground requires commitment and involvement, and we hope you join us. 

Gray wolves and Oregon spotted frogs, for all their differences, do have something fundamental in common: the will to survive. Just like you and I do. With a little bit of ingenuity, we can make room for wildlife in our lives.  We start by learning, which leads to dialogue and sharing. Ultimately, it means deciding to act on behalf of animals, which, in the long view, is also acting on behalf of ourselves. 

Learn, care and act is the zoo’s mission. I hope it’s yours, too. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Happy National Hug Day



Humans aren't the only animals that hug. On this National Hug Day, let's take a cue from the very social meerkats, who use touch to strengthen the bonds in their group.

Photo: Dale Unruh/Woodland Park Zoo.

XOXO.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cheering on the Seahawks

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications
Photos: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo


The Seahawks 12s are getting wilder than ever. Today penguins, Asian small-clawed otters, wolves, river otters, meerkats and lemurs joined the roster. Together we’re cheering on the Hawks as they advance to the NFC Championship. As they keep winning, you keep saving—take $3 off zoo admission when you sport your Seahawks gear through their run for the Super Bowl.


When zookeeper Celine Pardo tossed a bucket full o’ footballs to the Humboldt penguins, we learned how penguins rush—let’s call it Beak Mode.


Cortez the penguin took it to the next level, waving his flag for all the 12s out there.


The Asian small-clawed otters huddled to come up with their next play.


The other team will never see this gnawesome play coming.


Every team needs a dependable kicker.


If you want a wolf to keep possession, douse the ball with pineapple extract, anise extract and a spritz of musky cologne.


The tiny meerkats were outsized by a mini football, a monolith to the curious mob. But they didn’t shy away. After all, the ball was smeared with essence of mealworm, a meerkat favorite.


The river otters got in on the action too. With a fumble on the field, it was anyone’s to recover.


Zookeeper Coach Nick Sutton knows how to motivate the team: coat the football in banana!


Here comes the snap! 


Lemurs are some of the loudest animals at Woodland Park Zoo—it’s only right that they join the loudest fans in the NFL. Are you ready for Sunday, Blue Pride fans??

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Grizzly brothers turn 20

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Birthday banner? Check! Party horns? Got 'em. Now, where are the birthday boys…



Aha! There they are…sleeping right through their own 20th birthday!

That’s right—Woodland Park Zoo’s grizzly bear brothers, Keema and Denali, turn 20 today, and they are celebrating with a big ol’ snooze. Winter is a time of torpor for these bears, which means their activity level is low and their interest in our party horn shenanigans is non-existent.

But we can’t let a milestone birthday like this one go unrecognized. After all, we remember these guys when they were just this big:

Brothers hanging out at 1 year old in 1995. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

That’s Keema and Denali at one year old exploring their Northern Trail home, opened in 1994. Cut to 2014 and the 20 year olds each weigh in at just over 850 pounds. My, how they have grown!

Brothers still hanging out as adults. Photo: Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

It’s uncommon for two adult grizzly males to live together as harmoniously as Keema and Denali do. As twins, they've been together since day one and are comfortable in each other’s company. But let’s face it, if we ever introduced a lady into the mix, things would certainly change!

Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

That they get along so well 20 years on might be due in part to their complementary personalities. Keema has the more dominant, active personality, while Denali is more laid back. If you are ever watching the bears and see one exploring all over the exhibit, while the other is slumped over a log or curled up for a nap, now you know which one is which!

Keema’s lighter patch of fur on his right shoulder is visible here. Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ.

There are physical differences too, though they can be harder to spot. Keema has a lighter colored patch of hair on his right shoulder that distinguishes him at a glance. In the winter when their fur is a dark chocolate color, it is easier to notice. It can be harder to spot when both bears get a lighter, milk chocolate coat in the summer. That’s why the which-one-is-slumped-over-a-log test can be the easier route!

If the bears weren't sleeping through their own birthday, what treats might they have looked forward to? Winnie the Pooh knows what’s up. Hunny Honey is the ultimate treat for our bears. But this delicacy is used only rarely for training so that it doesn't lose its potency as the snack for which the bears would do absolutely anything.

Photo: Dennis Dow/WPZ.

What else then? You can’t go wrong with a hunk of salmon. But their sweet tooth always wins out in the end, and the ultimate satisfier in between those rare honey treats is fruit! Not just any fruit—these bears have geographically appropriate tastes. No citrus or bananas for them; they prefer apples, grapes and berries.

And if those berries are in the form of a pie, even better! Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Grizzly bears are known to live 20-25 years in the wild, so we know our boys are getting up there. Yet they are healthy and fit, and going strong for their age. They even manage to surprise us still. Like when the keepers came in one morning just a few weeks ago and found that at least one of the bears went on a fishing expedition overnight and ate all the live trout in the exhibit pool, despite the bears’ state of winter slumber. So maybe they’ll shake off this lazy morning and join in on our party after all.

Sleeping bears still sleeping. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Or maybe not.

We’ll plan some special, belated-birthday treats for the bears at the start of spring when they begin to stir. You only turn 20 once, but we’ll make an exception for our favorite nappers. Happy birthday, Keema and Denali!

Keema and Denali in 1995 at 1 year old. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

WildLights photo contest winner announced

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications


Winning photo by Instagram user momsasaurus

Your votes are in—the winner of our #WPZWildLights photo contest is Instagram user momsasaurus! She’ll enjoy a behind-the-scenes Real Close tour, penguin feeding experience and ZooParent adoption. Congrats again to all of our finalists. Thanks for voting, everyone!

Finalist: Rick Wade submitted via Facebook.

Finalist: Karen Gallup submitted via email.

Finalist: Kate Janson submitted via email.

Finalist: Yoshiki Nakamura submitted via email.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Seahawks 12th Man Discount

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Commnunications


Save $3 on zoo admission when sporting Seahawks gear beginning Jan. 11 through the run for the Super Bowl!

As the Seattle Seahawks hit the field for the NFC divisional playoff, Woodland Park Zoo is #TappedIn and will offer an admission discount to fans showing their Blue Pride. Beginning Saturday, January 11, visitors wearing garb or paraphernalia such as a jersey, sweatshirt, hat or beads will receive $3 off zoo admission every day as long as the Seahawks stay alive in the run for the Super Bowl. The admission discount applies only to the child or adult wearing the Seahawks sportswear and is not to be combined with other discounts or promotions.

Gather round, 12th man, and catch the broadcast of the Seahawks vs. Saints game in the zoo’s Rain Forest Food Pavilion on January 11. The zoo closes at 4:00 p.m. daily but fans will be allowed to remain in the restaurant until the end of the game that day.

(Photo: OK, OK, technically this is a sea eagle, but it still has 12th Man pride! Credit: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Building bridges through conservation

Posted by: Kate Neville, Corporate and Foundation Gifts Officer
Photos by Kate Neville/Woodland Park Zoo


I slouch lower in the boat and pull my hat further down over my face. It’s hot. The relentless tropical sun sends rivers of sweat down my neck…and we still have several hours to go before reaching our destination. This boat ride is the last leg of a two-day journey from Lae to the village of Ronji, a remote community in Papua New Guinea’s Morobe Province. My traveling companions are Woodland Park Zoo's Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program Director Dr. Lisa Dabek, and TKCP staff members Benjamin Sipa, Karau Kuna and Mikal Nolan. We’re traveling to the coastal village of Ronji to participate in a ceremony celebrating the community’s new bridge and field office. TKCP helped construct the bridge and office at the community’s request, thanks to support from Conservation International, the German Development Bank and Woodland Park Zoo. I glance back to the stern, where the captain is shouting to one of his compatriots. We’d be lost at sea without “the boat guys,” four expert boatmen who coax the outboard motor into a steady, reassuring hum.

En route to Ronji.

That Ronji’s bridge and field office were completed is truly something to celebrate. Ronji is a five-hour boat ride from Madang, the nearest major city. As with many communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG)including major citiesthere are no roads to Ronji. The country’s incredibly steep, mountainous terrain has stymied efforts to create a national highway system. Besides by boat, the only other way to get to Ronji is to walka multi-day trek along slick, steep jungle trails. As we bump along the ocean in our banana boat, I reflect that just transporting the construction materials for the bridge and office must have been a huge undertaking.

An opportunistic attempt to catch a tuna on the way to Ronji was not successful.

Why did TKCP, a conservation organization, invest in a bridge in this remote community? The answer lies in TKCP’s holistic approach to conservation. One of Woodland Park Zoo’s signature field conservation programs, TKCP fosters habitat and wildlife conservation and supports local community livelihoods in Papua New Guinea. For more than a decade, TKCP has been working with local landowners to create PNG’s first official Conservation Area. In PNG, a Conservation Area offers the highest level of protection available under national law. A Conservation Area can be created only when communities set aside parts of their own land to be protected from resource extraction, including hunting, mining and logging. Along with dozens of other villages on PNG’s Huon Peninsula, landowners in Ronji have worked with TKCP to pledge part of their land towards what is now known as the YUS Conservation Area. In so doing they became eligible to participate in TKCP’s education, health, and community livelihoods programs. The bridge and office were constructed as part of this effort.

Ronji village is included in the YUS Conservation Area in Morobe Province on PNG’s Huon Peninsula.

I look up and notice we’re headed towards shore. As we pull up to the beach in our little boat, I see no sign of houses or other buildings. I’m looking forward to getting off the boat, but I’m anxious about what we’ll find. Will people be happy to see us? I have no idea what to expect. We’re greeted on the beach by a reserved group of older women and young men. There’s a series of awkward hellos and shy smiles as Ben and Kuna settle up with the boat guys. It’s not clear what’s next, but soon a group of rambunctious kids arrives to break the ice, and I find that the silly faces I make for my little cousins back home work just as well in Ronji. Later that night, after a dinner of boiled plantains, sago and greens, we gather on the porch of the field office. By the light of our headlamps, the kids use one of TKCP’s field guides to show us which animals they encounter near their village.

The children of Ronji greet us on the beach.

Discussing the local flora and fauna with the help of field guides.

The following morning we get up early. Lisa, Mikal and I are planning to travel further up the coast to see the bridge, several miles from the village proper. As luck would have it, a boat has arrived to take a group of local peoplealong with baskets of vegetables and an unhappy pigin the same direction. We’re able to hitch a ride as well, saving us a three-mile walk along the coast to the mouth of the river.

The boat and its passengers.

TKCP achieved an important milestone in 2009, when the PNG government officially declared the gazettal of the Yopno-Uruwa-Som (YUS) Conservation Area. Named after the region’s three major watersheds, the YUS Conservation Area protects an area of more than 180,000 acres and extends from sea level to 4,000-meter mountain ranges. As we travel up the coast, we gaze up at miles of protected rain forest habitat, home to hundreds of plants and animal species found nowhere else on earth.

Lifestyles in this part of the world are by their very nature “sustainable.” Nearly everything in Ronji is made from renewable bush materials, from homes and buildings, to simple household items.

Pointing out the sights.

Today’s boat ride is far more pleasant than yesterday’s, so I’m almost disappointed when it’s time to disembark at the mouth of the Uruwa river. Our guides are two men including Nilbert, one of our hosts in Ronji, and a girl I gather is Nilbert’s daughter, Komptor. The language barrier makes communication difficult, but spirits are high as we traipse up the flat, grassy valley towards the bridge.

Day hike up the river. The Uruwa River is one of three major rivers that make up the Yopno-Uruwa-Som watershed after which the YUS Conservation Area is named.

With the YUS Conservation Area now established, TKCP is focusing on its sustainable long-term management. Worldwide, too many Conservation Areas are protected in name only. Protecting them over the long-term requires tremendous ongoing investment on the part of local communities. In Papua New Guinea, more than 80% of people are subsistence farmers who make their living gardening small plots carved into the jungle, fishing, and hunting. The country’s diverse communities are proud of their way of life, but like people everywhere they seek to improve their standard of living. TKCP helps local communities gain access to better public health, send their children to school, and gain access to markets for locally-grown coffee or cocoa, while at the same time providing a mechanism to preserve the region’s unique biodiversity.

Inspecting the bridge.

Once we reach the bridge, it’s obvious why the community requested its construction. It’s the dry season, but even so the Uruwa River presents a powerful flow the color of chocolate milk. In the rainy season the waters reach 15 feet high. Anyone seeking to travel across it for work, trade or school would find it a formidable barrier. The bridge provides a link between communities and makes travel easier and safer.

The view from the bridge.

On the way back to the village, we stop at Nilbert’s home. We’re eager to see his cocoa fermentation facility, a three-sided affair set up in the yard near his house. Several YUS communities already participate in TKCP's successful conservation coffee project, a partnership among YUS coffee farmers, TKCP, Woodland Park Zoo, and Caffe Vita in Seattle. Through this program, small-hold farmers gain direct access to international markets eager for their high-quality, shade-grown, fair trade coffee. Coffee doesn't grow at low elevations, however, so TKCP is establishing a similar program for cocoa production. TKCP is helping farmers like Nilbert improve the consistency and quality of their cocoa crop, and finding international buyers who will purchase the product directly. Cash earned from coffee and cocoa helps families pay for school fees or medical care.

From left: The author, a local boy and Nilbert at Nilbert’s cocoa fermentation station.

Homes in Ronji are perfectly designed to provide a cool, dry refuge.

The next day, it’s time to celebrate! As guests, we spend the morning outside the village proper so that the community can make final preparations. When the time comes to begin, we’re led to a bamboo and grass “gate” constructed specially for the ceremony.

Preparing plantains. Plantains, sago and other garden foods make up a large percentage of the local diet.

After a formal greeting, our hosts open the gate and the community greets us with a traditional sing-sing. Dressed in their traditional dress, they perform a special song for us, their guests. I notice more than one young person sports a headband made from a tree kangaroo taila reminder that these animals hold special cultural significance. We follow the procession up to a platform built especially for the occasion. I’m surprised to see that even the field office has been transformed, decorated with beautiful flowers, plants and feathers.

The official greeting.

No ceremony in PNG is complete without speeches. We’re not the only visitors who have come to Ronji for this celebration. Epemu, the YUS Local Level Government President, and Timmy Sowang, YUS Conservation Organization President, have traveled several days to participate, and each takes a turn addressing the crowd. As the afternoon air grows hotter, I’m increasingly grateful for the shade of the roofed platform. The speeches are broken up by music and dance performances. Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, we take turns walking down a line of community leaders. Each guest receives gifts of shell necklaces, bows and arrows, or bilums (traditional string bags). Finally it’s time for the mu-mua feast of roast pork and vegetables that took all day to prepare. It’s very moving that so many people have put so much effort into preparing for this day.

Sing-sing participants dressed in their formal attire.

The TKCP field office, transformed with leaves and flowers.

The next day we’re up at 5:00 a.m. The boat guys are eager to get an early start back to Madang. As a small crowd assembles to wish us farewell, I suddenly find it hard to leave. This little village, which seemed so mysterious two days before, has become familiar. I know I’ll often think about Nilbert, Komptor, their friends and family, and the warm welcome we received. And as I return to the land of ice cubes and air conditioning, I also ponder how little waste there is in this remote region. Even as TKCP helps foster habitat protection in Ronji, I can tell that our so-called modern communities have a lot to learn when it comes to sustainability. Perhaps that is the true potential in international conservation.

Waving goodbye.

Editor’s Note: In October, 2013, Woodland Park Zoo Corporate and Foundation Gifts Officer Kate Neville traveled to Lae, Papua New Guinea to lead a grant writing workshop for Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program staff. TKCP is a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife. This trip was made possible thanks to the Birnbaum Scholarship Fund, an endowment that provides professional development opportunities for zoo staff.