Cascade of Wildlife Zoos of the Northwest

by Heather Larson | Photo Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo

At Northwest zoos, ushering in the new is a way of life. No one can deny, baby animals top the cuteness scale, and several zoos have managed successful breeding programs and have celebrated recent births. Zoos also continuously acquire new animals in need of a protected home. Some animal parks have added new enclosures or renovated old ones, and zoo designers and officials are constantly unveiling new hands-on experiences for zoo-goers.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

At Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, the Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive opens this summer. Certified scuba divers, guided by trained professionals, will be able to dive into the South Pacific Aquarium shark tank with the sharks, according to Kris Sherman, public relations coordinator for the zoo.

Even if you have no diving background, you will also be able to “swim with sharks,” but in an immersion cage equipped with surface supplied air. The zoo houses 17 sharks including sandbar sharks, a sand tiger shark, nurse sharks, a wobbegong shark and a 400-pound 9-foot-long lemon shark named Lizzie. Whether you’re diving or just visiting, you’ll learn about shark conservation efforts.

Stingray Cove, scheduled to debut the week of May 1, allows guests access to two touch tanks, containing about 50 stingrays, including yellow, bluespotted and Atlantic stingrays.

“The dinner-plate-sized stingrays will have their barbs (which resemble toenails) clipped, so zoo visitors can interact with these mesmerizing creatures safely and without worry,” says Sherman.

Point Defiance also has two six- month old tiger cubs that score off the chart when it comes to adorable. Berani, a Malayian tiger, was born at the Tulsa Zoo and Dumai, a Sumatran tiger, was born at Point Defiance. Both weighed about three pounds at birth and will grow to 300 pounds in adulthood. The cubs have been hand- fed and are picking up proper tiger behavior from one another.

Woodland Park Zoo

Two snow leopard cubs born in May 2012 welcome onlookers at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Both live with their mother, Helen, as they would in the wild. And early November saw the birth of four South African lion cubs. At the time of this writing, the two males and two females lived with their mother in an off-view maternity den to allow them to bond in a quiet environment. When you plan your trip to the zoo, check to see if they are available for viewing.

To give the endangered Western Washington pond turtles a boost in their natural environment, Woodland Park and its partner, the Oregon Zoo, rear hatchlings each year as a part of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project. When the turtles become large enough to avoid predation in the wild, they are released into protected wetlands in Washington. These pond turtles along with three tiny Egyptian tortoises, the second smallest tortoise species in the world, are showcased in the zoo’s Day Exhibit.

“The zoo is hopeful for some significant births and hatchlings in 2013, “says Caleigh Robertson, the zoo’s public relations coordinator. Watch for baby ocelot, jaguar, Bennett’s wallaby, common wallaroo, Matschie’s tree kangaroo, sloth bear, Chilean pudu, giraffe and more.

See what goes on behind the scenes at Woodland Park Zoo with the new 90-minute guided Real Close tour. The tour includes a ride on the zoo’s Historic Carousel, a visit to the award-winning Northern Trail where you’ll learn about the wide variety of animal species that inhabit the cold, rugged regions of the far north and take a peek behind the eagles, mountain goats and grizzly exhibits. Real Close tours are offered Fridays through Sundays at 10:45 a.m. through April 28th.

Construction is also underway on a new Asian tropical forest exhibit with the first phase set to open in May. Phase One will introduce the new Asian small-clawed otter exhibit, a kids’ play area and a tropical aviary.

Oregon Zoo

Portland’s Oregon Zoo made headlines late last year with the birth of an Asian elephant. Considered highly endangered in their range countries, Asian elephants are threatened by habitat loss and conflict with humans. Because elephants are very social and it’s important for females to be part of a herd of related individuals, the young elephant, Lily, will stay with her family at the zoo, according to Hova Najarian, the zoo’s media and public relations officer.

The Oregon Zoo will soon break ground for Elephant Lands, a visionary expansion of the Asian elephant habitat, set for completion in 2015. With a variety of habitats and terrain, the herd’s new home will offer the elephants more choices about how and where they spend their time-inside or outside, in a group or apart from the herd, playing in water or walking through grass.

Last November, the better-than- ever Penguinarium reopened, where visitors can watch the sleek seabirds waddling over rocky terrain and darting through clear water. The water filtration system in this exhibit has been upgraded, saving 7 million gallons of water each year.

Greater Vancouver Zoo

In B.C., the Greater Vancouver Zoo has completely revamped their North American section to improve life for the animals and the experience for the visitors. What used to be a drive-through exhibit in diesel buses has changed to a walk-around format. Here the cougars live in a new enclosure, and the zoo is experimenting with placing the black bears and coyotes together.

“We want to simulate the wild as much as we can and so far it’s going well,” says Jody Henderson, general manager of the zoo. “We started with a very docile female bear and gradually introduced her and the coyotes over a six-month time span.

Zoo Boise

Zoo Boise is welcoming two young Patras monkeys, DJ and Kibibi, sisters from a zoo in Syracuse, N.Y. These primates are very social animals. The new monkeys are being added, so Incus, the lone monkey, doesn’t have to live life solo. The zoo has announced plans to construct Patras Palace, an improved Patras habitat.

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