Paw'd Defiance

It's All Happening at the Zoo!

August 28, 2019 Season 1 Episode 19
Paw'd Defiance
It's All Happening at the Zoo!
Chapters
Paw'd Defiance
It's All Happening at the Zoo!
Aug 28, 2019 Season 1 Episode 19
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Director Alan Varsik and Conservation Engagement Manager for the Zoo Karen Povey
A discussion about the modern role of zoos.
Show Notes Transcript

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium's Alan Varsik and Karen Povey stop by the show to talk about conservation and sustainability. Varsik and Povey also discuss misconceptions people have about zoos. Varsik weighs in on recent changes to the Endangered Species Act and Povey provides background information the Grit City Carnivore Project. The project is a collaboration with UW Tacoma Assistant Professor Chris Schell.

Speaker 1:
0:00
I find a lot of satisfaction and working hands on with animals and developing those relationships. But as I became more and more immersed in the field, it was really the bigger picture that drew me to it. I just really began to understand the power that we had when we could connect people to animals so closely, uh, to hopefully inspire action to protect them out in the wild. And that became my life's work
Speaker 2:
0:26
from YouTube, Tacoma. This is pod defiance. Welcome to pod defiance where we don't lecture, but we do educate. I'm your host Catherine fouls today on the pod lions, tigers, bears, Oh my point defiance zoo and aquarium director Allen Barson and conservation engagement manager for the zoo. Karen probably join us to talk about education, the environment and the role zoos play in both.
Speaker 1:
0:59
Welcome to the podcast. I am Katherine Fouts and we are here today with some of point defines his best. Would you both like to briefly introduce yourself?
Speaker 3:
1:08
All right. I'm Alan Wasik. I'm the director of environmental education and is a lot of cooperations for Metro parks, Tacoma, also known as point defined zoo and aquarium and Northwest Trek wildlife park.
Speaker 1:
1:20
Uh, my name is Karen Povey and I am the conservation engagement manager for point defiance zoo and aquarium and Northwest Trek wildlife park. All right, thank you both. So I guess we'll start with the really key questions. Do you have a favorite animal? That's a key question. That's tough. And that's, you know, when you're talking to people who've worked in the zoo industry for decades, right. That is really hard one to answer. It's like asking a parent to pick their favorite child that changes almost day to day.
Speaker 3:
1:49
Yeah. So sometimes my, my default is a dog and my dog is my favorite animal. That's very fair. Yeah. Yeah.
Speaker 1:
1:57
And, and I share something with you. I'm really partial to cats, particularly wild cats. Clouded leopards if I had to choose would probably be my favorite. But I also like the really strange critters, like giant ant eaters and Pango LHINs and, Oh panko. And, um, so can you tell us, obviously I think if you live in this area, um, it's pretty clear, but can you tell us why is you as like point defines
Speaker 3:
2:22
important? That's a great question because I think we're at a point in time with, with zoos and aquariums that things are evolving pretty dramatically. That is we're trying to ensure our, our cultural relevance moving forward. And for me that's, that's about connecting our community, our region with, with nature and instilling kind of a sense of, of stewardship and for the environment.
Speaker 1:
2:50
Yeah. And I think, um, we're, we're doing a better job lately of really telling the stories of how we do what Alan just described. Uh, I think a lot of people this really outdated image of what a zoo is, where it was just really a collection of animals for people to come and, and watch for their own amusement. But the depth of the conservation work that we do is, is really quite incredible. And, and I think we haven't really done a very good job of telling those stories up until recently. So it's been very exciting to share the work that we do, both in terms of, uh, breeding endangered species, uh, supporting conservation work internationally as well as regionally. And then as Alan said, really connecting our community in nature is I think where our biggest strength into the future lies. Okay.
Speaker 3:
3:33
Yeah. And of course we can't do that without having a, a fun family experience where people have confidence in the quality of care we provide our animals.
Speaker 4:
3:42
Right. I think it's, I appreciate that you mentioned that, you know, some people have previously thought of zoos is just like a collection of animals to view for your amusement. And I will admit that I was one person that passed you really kind of struggled with that. Like, how do you know if it's an ethical zoo, how do you know if it's like, are they really treating the animals well? Are they really care about the environment or they're just here to make some money off this port creature. So I guess, you know, moving on from that, can you talk about some of the misconceptions about zoos that you all are working to address?
Speaker 3:
4:15
Yeah. You, you, you hit on one that's, uh, one of my, I guess, uh, most least favorites. That is the concept that we, we sell animals for money. I think that is such a, an archaic concept for modern, uh, accredited zoos and aquariums. That is, we don't do that. And in fact we work collaboratively with other accredited zoos and aquariums to manage the populations of animals that we have within zoos and aquariums. So we do a lot of, uh, genetics and demographics on the different species that we have. For example, you know, if we just had the tigers that we had at point defiance generation after generation, of course you'd start to see inbreeding take effect and eventually those animals would crash. So we work collaboratively with other institutions throughout the country to look at, say our Sumatra and tigers look at who's related to who, who has space available, and then making breeding recommendations based on that. So we're, there's a lot going on behind the scenes when it comes to animal management and why we have what we have and what we're doing with it. Uh, that be, be fun to get that more in front of our audience and have that instilled in, in a takeaway for our audience.
Speaker 1:
5:30
I think another area too that Alan touched on earlier is the welfare considerations of how we care for our animals. And I think people would be absolutely shocked if they really understood the depth of care that we give. 'em. One example of that is our veterinary care. We really spare no expense, um, on any animal that has any health issue. And that doesn't matter if it's a Guinea pig, which we actually have a Guinea pig with cancer right now who is under growth going amazing treatment and responding really well, you know, all the way up to our tigers in our elephants. So, uh, it really doesn't matter what kind of animal it is, they all receive absolute world-class care, which I think is really cool and that most people don't really get that. We were just talking yesterday at Northwest track about a raccoon that's receiving special treatment and you know, you might think it's just a raccoon, you know, I see it on the side of the road, but you know, it's, it's part of our animal family and, uh, we take it pretty seriously.
Speaker 1:
6:22
The quality of care we provide. And I think with, um, you know, of course we acknowledge that there are critics of zoos as you've mentioned. And I think most of that really stems from the fact that they just don't have that understanding. And I, I often think that, um, you know, we all share the same values and so it's frustrating to me when people don't know the true story of what we do and just criticize us based on that old historic knowledge. So, you know, we certainly invite folks to come and see and have conversations with us and, um, understand that we all really have the same goals of protecting wildlife, both the individual animals in our care and animals all over the world.
Speaker 4:
6:57
Yeah, I, I love that. And I think even just like earlier when I asked you what's your favorite animal and neither of you could really choose like knowing that every animal has an importance. It's not just, Oh, this animal because it's larger because it's endangered. Like it's an animal. We care about it. That's what we're here for. To learn about them, what their, you know, connection to the wildlife and to the ecosystem is so that's, yeah,
Speaker 1:
7:18
and it's really all about empathy. We actually do a lot of work on empathy education at the zoo. We've actually are partners with our other accredited facilities here in Washington, the Seattle aquarium and Woodland park zoo on really studying how can we understand the best way to connect people to animals through the use of empathy and really looking at those animals as individuals and understanding that they have the same needs that we do and really demonstrating how we meet those needs I think is really critical in, in making those connections, which I think really pays off, not just in people really understanding our work, but wanting to protect these animals out in the wild, which is what our mission is. Yeah, it's kinda fun because, and also kind of frustrating because we're never done, you know, Karen and I have been working in, in zoos and aquariums for a few years, I'll say. Um, and, uh, we've seen a lot of changes and though we're real pleased with what we do, we're not quite satisfied. And I think we're, we're pushing ourselves every day to make things better for the animals, better for our guests and, and, uh, better for our staff.
Speaker 4:
8:20
Yeah. Yeah. I really appreciate that. Um, so thinking about, you know, conservation work and, and how long you both have been doing this. Karen, can you talk a little bit about what drew you towards as a field of zoo ology? Sure. Well, much to my parents' dismay, um, I have been an animal nuts since the day I emerged and back. Um, a few years back when I was a kid. I really didn't,
Speaker 1:
8:45
we understand what the options were if you were a kid, crazy animal, what you go into. So I started off being, um, into interest in veterinary medicine and I'm like many of my, my peers in this field. And then when I went to school, I was starting to follow that track until one day, a very fortuitous day. I was sitting in our student union and I picked up the newspaper, the student newspaper, and they had an advertisement for internships at a wild animal park down. This is in the barriers down in California. And I applied for it and I got it. And it changed my life because on my very first day of my internship, they put me in a pen full of hand raise baby tigers. Oh, wow. Yeah. And I was sold pretty much from then on, um, which, which is kind of the, the selfish motivation of why I wanted to go into this field because I just, I find a lot of satisfaction and working hands on with animals and developing those relationships. But as I became more and more immersed in the field, it was really the bigger picture that drew me to it. I just really began to understand the power that we had when we could connect people to animals so closely, uh, to hopefully inspire action to protect them out in the wild. And that became my life's work over the last many decades.
Speaker 4:
9:54
Awesome. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Um, so we'll switch to Allen.
Speaker 3:
10:00
So what, what drew you towards conservation? Right. Well, my story is pretty similar in that I was one of those, those animal kids and the, the career that comes to mind is as being a vet. And I started down that path briefly, uh, until a day came when my ornithology instructor took us out in the field. And, uh, we saw California condor at a time when there are only 22 left in the world. And that I think was my light bulb moment. That's when I thought, know, this is a really interesting story. And so I wanted to learn more. And at the time I was learning that, uh, the San Diego zoo and the LA zoo were working to save this species in the last ditch effort by bringing them in to, uh, human care. And that's when the, the light bulb went on. I said, well, wait a minute, maybe I want to get involved with that and, uh, connect animals to, to saving them from becoming extinct. So the, the condor is, is I got to give it credit. It's a big driver for my career and I've had the opportunity to work with, with California Condors, and now they've just passed their 1000th, uh, hatch of, of California Condors. And we've got some, some populations back out in the wild. So it's a long road. But, uh, and we've got a lot of stories like that to tell, but perhaps that too is one of the roles of a, a modern zoo.
Speaker 4:
11:23
Yeah, definitely. Um, as you both were talking, I realized, uh, you know, one thing for me at least, and probably a lot of people who are not sure about zoos are really not sure how to engage with work like this, is that we're so distant nowadays for most animals, we don't have that opportunity to really meet them in their habitats or see what their natural habitats are or even have any kind of idea what the relationship between us and the animal might be. Like how are they changing this environment and making it more possible for me to eat. So it's really cool that having that kind of aha moment and being in the space with the animals was really sort of the catalyst for going down the paths that you've been on. Um, so talking a little bit more about education since we are a university podcast, Karen, you have a master's in education. So how does that help you in your role? Like, what, what, what value does that add?
Speaker 1:
12:15
Well, am first I'll put in a plug for UDaB because I have to say that I was, I'd always wanted to return to school after I got my bachelor's in psychology, but I never really had that opportunity when I was living in working down in California. So when I moved up here and moved to the Tacoma area, I got super excited when I learned that you dub was just starting a graduate program in education. I was part of the first class in that program. This was back in the day when there weren't a lot of graduate programs here. But, um, it was really exciting for me, especially because I am an informal educator and all my classmates were people who actually worked in schools. So they had to really help me draft a program that was working for me. But really the reason I wanted to pursue that was I was starting to really get very curious about how could we better impact our guests in terms of learning and driving conservation action.
Speaker 1:
13:06
So that was really what my whole master's project was about. And boy, what I learned about just the strategies for a curriculum design and teaching, you know, there's a lot of parallels between what you can do in the classroom setting and what we can do in an informal setting. But our challenges are so great because we have our guests for, you know, maybe a couple of hours. So it's a very different kind of educational process. Um, and I think some of our outcomes that we're trying to achieve are quite different in terms of inspiring action. So I found, um, my learnings just really, really valuable that I took away from my UDaB experience and I'm continuing to pursue, um, understanding that a lot more. Um, as I, as I continue down my path, there's actually a really emerging field right now called conservation psychology, which really blends, um, aspects of, uh, education training, but also, um, really understanding how people think and behave and how we can help motivate that kind of change we'd like to see.
Speaker 4:
14:05
Yeah. That is so intriguing, especially when you're talking about a little bit before about that empathy aspect of like having that connection and knowing that what you do impacts your environment and the animals in it and how can you really get involved and care about that. So that's really intriguing. Um, again, focusing on that university aspect, Alan, you've mentioned that it was kind of difficult for you to find, uh, a job after you graduated and your first role was, I don't want to say settling, but you kind of had to, you know, take a couple of weeks and really just jump into something without necessarily knowing where the future was going. Well, and I think my, my path is perhaps similar to a lot of the career paths that people have getting into our field that is often starting out as, as a volunteer
Speaker 3:
14:52
or an intern. Uh, which I did. Um, I was fortunate enough to, to identify a keeper opportunity and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with the animals. And as I started doing that, I quickly learned that I enjoy working with the people. I enjoy working with the people who work with the animals. I enjoy working with our guests. I I enjoy working with our field partners and our educational partners and I think that's been a big driver for my career and kind of my evolving role, uh, throughout the past, uh, 34 years.
Speaker 1:
15:28
I would echo that too. We, um, the work that I'd done for most of my career has involved really a lot of mentorship and bringing people up through the ranks. And it is really exciting and gratifying to be able to get someone who was like me as an animal, crazy kid and help develop their career in the field. And we have a lot of ways that we do that at the zoo. We have youth volunteer programs, which are one of my favorite things that we do at the zoo. We have these kids that we, uh, help teach how to be good, um, presenters and it just builds their confidence overall. I'm not just in their ability to be public speakers, but you can really see their, even their interactions with their peers in the program. Uh, some kids, we actually even take down to Olympia every year for our youth advocacy day and we have students who have gone from being just these, you know, really shy kids and we've had them sit in front of a mic and testify to committees in Congress to, um, to try to, um, support, uh, bills and other legislation to support conservation.
Speaker 1:
16:28
So it's pretty cool.
Speaker 4:
16:29
Yeah. That's why I'll be impactful. So that's another thing that you don't think of when you think about zoos. Like how are we teaching children and giving them the power to, you know, take on the future. So
Speaker 3:
16:40
yeah, w we're in the communication business, so we want to have the perspective so we can do that to a broader audience. And I think that's one of our big goals. I think, uh, you know, historically we've had kind of a, a limited slice of folks that could make it to the zoo or make it out to Northwest track. So finding new ways to expose, uh, the entire community to what we do. Uh, as, as you mentioned, you know, I think there is a growing disconnect between people and nature. So the zoo and Northwest Trek are perhaps more culturally relevant than ever in that we provide that, that first hand, a understanding that, uh, that caring and that appreciation of, of the world around us.
Speaker 4:
17:24
Right, right. And, and just since you kind of mentioned that accessibility aspect, one thing that I do really appreciate as a semi-new Washingtonian, um, there just seems to be so many ways to engage with what the zoo is doing. And like, I can go on the Facebook and I can see what animal is being featured and I can learn about that animal and you know, see what their enclosure looks like and read more about the person who takes care of them and why they're motivated to do that. So if I don't have the ability to physically go to the zoo, I can still learn about what you're doing and I can still educate myself and feel like I'm a part of that, which is incredible. And huge for that empathy and conservation aspect, that that seems to be a growing important trend in our field. That is to, to remove the curtain of what we do behind the scenes. Uh, and I'm, I'm anxious to tell that story more because as we're talking about here, there's a lot going on that I think our audience would really appreciate and benefit from, from knowing and change, uh, thoughts, uh, about zoos and aquariums.
Speaker 1:
18:23
I share another program that we're doing that I think you'd be really interested in talking about that disconnect that some people have, especially in AU kids. There's actually something called ne nature deficit disorder. It's actually got a term which is pretty scary if you think that it's that prevalent that we have to have a name for it. But, um, we know that kids aren't connecting with nature like they used to, you know, probably in my generation growing up. But we have one program that we're doing in partnership with Tacoma public schools at Arlington elementary school, which is in the South end of Tacoma. And, um, you know, these are kids in a fairly high poverty area that don't have a lot of opportunity and particularly don't have opportunities to get out in nature. Most of these kids we've learned haven't ever been to point defiance park or many of them don't even ever get to, you know, walk along the shore that we have here, this amazing natural space.
Speaker 1:
19:08
But we have a program now that we actually have our staff embedded in the school, it's called wildlife champions. And for three years we just finished our first year, but for three years we have teachers in their classrooms every single day working with these students on um, topics of science and using empathy, best practices to engage them in nature. And the kind of, the coolest piece of it I think is their, they have a park directly across the street from their school called Oak tree park. It's one of our Metro parks parks. Most of these kids and teachers had never set foot in that park and it's literally across the street until this program. And so this program actually has a park week each month where the kids go out, they learn how to be community scientists, take a make observations, record data, and just engage with the animals that live there. And we're doing a lot of assessment of the program and already we're finding it has just huge impacts. These kids are excited about learning about science. They're starting to feel like they're stewards of this park. They're taking their families back into this park and spending time in nature on their own time, not just when we're facilitating it. So it's pretty gratifying to know that something that it requires quite a bit of effort. This is a very intensive program, but knowing that these interventions can really pay off in connecting kids and families to nature.
Speaker 4:
20:23
That's amazing. That is really amazing. It's really cool stuff. I mean, I think we're seeing kind of the, the some insight into what her growing role may be in the future. And again, broadening our reach, like I was mentioning. Right. And just making that like community connection. It's not just about the zoo, it's not just about that conservation work. It's about how everybody can benefit from this thing that we have here and all the natural green space like you said, and the shore, like what is our environment here and how do we incorporate it into the way that we love each other and meet each other and learn about each other. But I like that. That's really, really big time. I borrow that. Yeah. Feel free. Um, so the zoo, obviously, you know, your focus is conservation education, but how are you guys working to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly? What are the actions that you're taking to become a leader in that?
Speaker 3:
21:16
Yeah, I mean, uh, w we want to do our best at, at walking our talk and, uh, it's, it's, uh, something that we'd been working on for, for many years in evolving our practices. Perhaps the, the latest or best example is our plastics initiative. And, you know, I think we're, we're going along with the rest of community and it's, we're just trying to be a little bit more conscious in our, uh, use of single use plastics. And perhaps one of the more notable steps that we've taken. And this was maybe three years ago where we stopped, uh, serving a water bottles. That is, you can't buy a single use plastic water bottle. They either a Northwest track or a point defiance. And we thought, Oh my goodness, this is going to be a challenge for our audience to, to make this leap. But there's been very little push back from, in fact, I think it's been a welcoming, a welcomed, we have the water bottle fillers, the throughout the facilities and we've identified this new kind of a aluminum water a bottle and it's almost a little reasonable bottle that you can purchase at the zoo if you like.
Speaker 3:
22:24
So, you know, looking at all of our, or use of, of single use plastics through say our retail operations, we've been working with our retail vendor to try to identify things that are, uh, retail opportunities that best reflect our mission. And some of them may not be those little plastic chotchkies that you can get. So, you know, we're, we're making steps where we're just like everybody else, we're a little bit more conscious about it and recognize that we couldn't, uh, flip the switch, uh, and, and go completely plastic free just like everybody. Right. But, uh, it's a little bit more conscious part of our operation. We are making steps towards lessening our, our use of plastics.
Speaker 1:
23:04
Yeah. And it's so mission connected because we like to make those connections between ocean animals and the problems of ocean plastics. So I think it's a pretty easy sell for our guests when we connect it to those amazing sea turtles that are cruising by in our Baja Bay, um, aquarium exhibits. So yeah, that's pretty fun. Um, we are also in addition to the, um, plastics work onsite, we're actually working with community members to, to engage them on that with our whole ocean plastics campaign. We've been working with South sound, um, surf writer organization and I'm going out and trying to register local restaurants in the ocean friendly restaurant program. So they have to make a pledge that they're going to reduce their use of plastics as well as take other actions that will benefit the ocean. So lots of things going
Speaker 3:
23:46
on. Yeah. We're, we're really, I think set up well for those messages in that we can literally point at the water from the zoo, you know, this is, this is what's happening right there. We can point at the mountains at Mount Rainier and say this is what's happening there. So I think point defiance and Northwest track are really set up well to, to connect our audience with what's going on locally and make that connection with how our behaviors, how our actions influence that.
Speaker 4:
24:16
Yeah. Yeah. And again, like that, that community aspect, and I think we are very lucky in the Pacific Northwest you have that proximity to so many beautiful spaces that we do want to preserve, which gets us kind of more on board. Um, and speaking about to commons, getting on board, you Allen had written a piece in the news Tribune about the endangered species endangered species act and how to calm and should get behind that. Um, we know there've been some changes to the act. Can you talk about those changes and what that impact might be?
Speaker 3:
24:46
Yeah, I can certainly share my, my understanding in those, those changes, as I mentioned, it was the, the condor that was a big driver for me getting into this field. And I, I feel as if I've, I've seen the endangered species act in action and we experienced that in a big way at a point defiance in Northwest Trek because most people don't know that we have one quarter of the world's red Wolf population, uh, under our care. It's, it's based out at Northwest track, but that is, uh, the most endangered carnival war in North America. And we are working to, to save that in collaboration with the U S fish and wildlife service who we just happen to have a meeting with earlier this week to talk about the red wall. So there's a lot of interest in how changes in this act may influence our ability, uh, as a society to keep these species around.
Speaker 3:
25:39
So for me, one of the big changes that I'm, I'm really concerned about is adding in the, the economic perspective of these animals versus solely, uh, a scientific perspective of what's going on with the species and the environment. Now we're factoring in the, the economic piece there in our decision making. And I'm fearful that that's really just a short term perspective, you know, as, as we look at how, uh, we're losing the, the biodiversity of the planet and how, uh, economically important that is for us ecologically important. It is for us in the, in the long run, it's, it's hard for me to fathom how you can accurately add a, um, an economic piece and it, because it just seems so shortsighted. You're not thinking of, of future generation. So I have a lot of concerns about, uh, these, these proposed changes. I know a lot of our colleagues do as well, and our partners do. So, uh, we'll see how this unfolds.
Speaker 4:
26:39
Yeah, thank you for that. Um, and I guess just kind of going off of that, do you have any suggestions
Speaker 3:
26:45
or like favorite news sources that, you know, those of us who are not in the know can keep up with to really make sure that we're educating ourselves about what's going on? And I know I think that's perhaps part of our role moving forward is trying to provide the, this information in is, is in a non skewed kind of factual, uh, uh, perspective, but from a environmental one, because I think we are progressive that certainly we need to factor in the, the human component to it. And, uh, I think that's been part of our, our challenge of communication, the past that we've really driven in solely from an animal perspective and we need to include the, the human component, which is good. And also sometimes, unfortunately, yeah. But if we want to have long lasting conservation efforts, I think that needs to be taken into consideration.
Speaker 3:
27:42
If you'll look into those conservation efforts that have been deemed more successful. I think it's because there was a recognition of that, you know, uh, I was going back to a mountain gorillas and why we have mountain gorillas still around is because there's, uh, an economic component to keeping those gorillas around in, in Rwanda and Uganda. So if we, if there wasn't that driver, perhaps it would be less incentive to that. But as a part of that, there's been a real sense of pride of being able to have that species instilled, I think, in, in, uh, those countries. So it sounds like one of the key aspects, as you guys have mentioned, is really just that the community engagement, the human engagement, knowing what our role is and how we're affecting everything. That's it. And we'll create that sense of caring of perhaps a local example is the, the conversations about Orca. Okay. You know, I think that's really a, a tangible one for our audience. And it's hard to find anybody that I don't care about the Orca, you know, I, I think, I think it really resonates with our audience. Okay. So moving into something maybe a little bit happier. Karen, will you talk to us about some of the clouded leopard projects that you've been doing?
Speaker 1:
28:58
Sure, I would love to. Um, so we, we have a long history now at a point defiance working with this species. And for your listeners who may not know what a clouded leopard is, I should introduce how cool they are. They're a cat that's found in Southeast Asia and kind of a medium sized cat, uh, with a very outsized personality and really cool behaviors. They're highly arboreal or tree dwelling. So everything about their bodies is designed to help them be just amazing climbers. They spend their time up in the canopy of the rainforest. They've got these crazy long tails that they use to help them balance their back feet can actually pivot 180 degrees so that they can hold onto the bark of the trees when they're climbing headfirst down a tree, kind of like a squirrel can. So they're actually considered really one of the best climbers in the entire cat family and they're just utterly beautiful with this, um, kind of cloud-like spot pattern, which is where they get their name.
Speaker 1:
29:50
Unfortunately though they are endangered throughout their range. Um, but one of the biggest problems in trying to develop conservation action for them is that they're incredibly difficult to study. So imagine going into this dark rain forest, trying to find an animal that's, you know, maybe a hundred feet above your head. It's kind of a challenge. So we've been working for years with researchers supporting their work and they use a lot of really, and it's nice because it's advancing very rapidly now, some cool technology to be able to study animals that are literally just shadows in the forest. So they use a lot of remote cameras that are able to, um, get photos or videos of these animals as they move through the forest. Um, cause even these researchers who have studied them for decades in some cases, never ever see them in the wild, which I can't even imagine being a researcher and committing my life to an animal that I've never even gotten to see.
Speaker 1:
30:40
You know, it's, it's different. Like, if you're a researcher in Africa or you can be out in your land Rover and see all these majestic animals cruising around, it's not like that in the forest of Asia. All you do is run away from leeches and, um, sweat a whole lot because the climate is just miserable. So I'm, I've just so admired their dedication, but what we've learned through the years, um, is quite a lot through all these studies. And I've had the great fortune to go, um, both to Thailand and Borneo and Sumatra to work with the folks who are doing this field work. And it's really given me a, just a ton of respect for it, for their work. But what they're really learning is, um, where, well, how large the spaces that these animals need, the types of habitat that they prefer and um, how they are impacted by the large scale logging that's really prevalent there as well as the Palm oil industry, which you may know about.
Speaker 1:
31:31
So there's a lot of, um, changes being made to that critical habitat for them. But what we're finding in some cases is that the cats are actually still able to live in some of these logged areas and if they are logged selectively versus just wholesale clearcuts they actually seem to be doing quite well. So it's kind of going back to what Alan was talking about. It's nice to know that, um, you know, maybe there are ways that both people and these really shy cats can live together if we just are sensitive to the type of management that the land has given down there. And more and more, even in some of those countries that historically seem to pay no heat to conservation aspects of their economy are starting to really, um, make some substantive changes. So I have a very positive outlook for the future of clouded leopards and um, they're kind of one of those animals when we start at the beginning saying that most people don't get a chance to go out and see in the wild. I've never seen one in the wild despite all my time in the forest there. But just knowing that we're doing something to, to help keep them alive I think is worth a lot. And that's really intriguing that you mentioned like there that this species and other species
Speaker 4:
32:40
are really kind of shadows that you're studying or researching. You're, you know, floundering through the forest hoping that you might catch a glimpse of something. But I think that really speaks to the passion of people that work in conservation and in zoos that you can spend years dedicated to something that you may not ever see once. That's, that's incorrect.
Speaker 1:
33:00
Yeah. And it's really fun cause at the zoo we have quite a few clouded leopards and we have a very successful breeding program for them. So at least those of us in the zoo side of things get that reward of being able to see them. But I think the, the bigger reward too is knowing that if we can protect an animal that's really a Keystone animal in this ecosystem, um, by protecting that forest, we're protecting a whole suite of all the other creatures that I'll also share that space. And as you know, the tropical forest is home to the highest diversity of life anywhere. So it's, um, even though we might be going to a lot of effort for one animal, seemingly, it's actually gonna pay off, hopefully in a very big way.
Speaker 4:
33:37
Right. And I think remembering, like for those of us who aren't in this space and don't have this kind of background and knowledge that everything is interconnected, so if clouded leopards disappear, it's not just clouded leopards that are affected. It's all of these other species, even plants and things. So really being mindful of that. Um, and thank you guys for just reminding us of that.
Speaker 3:
33:58
Well, yeah, I think that a lot of the, the, the stories or examples, we've mentioned a lot about human animal interactions. You know, we've talked about, uh, uh, grills, hillbilly clouded leopards, uh, a California condor Wars, but we're bringing that story home. I think that the human animal interaction through the urban carnivore project, and I, and I, I can't help but we have to have to talk a little bit about that, that you brought that well, I thought you might. Yeah. Since you've dumped the connection [inaudible]
Speaker 1:
34:28
yes. We're working with dr Christopher shell at [inaudible]. You've done about the photo, right? Yeah. It's called the grit city carnivore project and it's really going to be a longterm study. We've been doing it almost a year now where we're looking at the diversity of wildlife that lives both within our city, but also in a whole gradient between the urban environment, um, through the more suburban and even the rural areas out towards Northwest track and Eatonville. So we're going to be doing just, we have all sorts of study questions, um, looking at how these animals are influenced by human activity throughout this, this gradient of different types of habitat. Um, but the piece I'm most excited about is the community engagement side. So we know that people are seeing, hearing, interacting with coyotes in particular more and more within the city. And there's, um, a whole spectrum of attitudes about that.
Speaker 1:
35:18
Some people love them, some people are really scared of them and with legitimate reason, you know, they fear for their pet safety, right? A lot of what we're finding though is massive misinformation about these animals and their behavior and habits. So we're actually doing a baseline attitude assessment right now. We've got a survey out to residents of the city so that we can understand kind of where we're starting and then we're going to be planning what is our intervention. So how can we best communicate to folks that, um, they really don't need to fear these animals. And, and we're hoping to really switch the narrative so that people celebrate the fact that we live in a place that wildlife can thrive in right alongside of us. I think that's pretty special and it allows us to have those connections with nature that so many of us crave.
Speaker 1:
36:01
And then, um, in the future we're actually planning on capturing some coyotes and fitting them with tracking collars and so that we can follow them through the city. And my hope with that is to actually really individualize those animals and tell their very specific and personal stories. And I think again, using that empathy lens that will hopefully help people to understand that these animals are just like us. They're living in the city, they're raising their kids, they're finding their food and making their way and how can we all better work together to make sure that both people and wildlife can thrive happily in our city. So stay tuned for a lot more on that. I'm, I'm hoping folks will be hearing about that quite a bit in the future. Yeah, I'm glad that you brought that up. Um, I believe there was like a, an app where you could like report if you'd cited something or thought you'd seen some things.
Speaker 1:
36:49
So there really is that kind of engagement. Like, Hey, I've seen this animal. What do I do about it? Is it this kind of animal? Yes, that's exactly it. Right now we have an app I'm already through, it's called I naturalist. We're actually exploring some alternatives because we're finding that there may be some barriers in using that particular app. Okay. Because I think people are getting kind of app fatigue and then, and you have to sign up for it. So we're looking at maybe even doing something that's even simpler. Um, and, but yes, you'll be hearing more about that. But definitely that's a big part of the project is we want people to report where they are, not just for the science side, because we do want to understand where they're occurring. Um, but also we want people to be excited when they see one and be able to S share that on, um, through social media channels as well.
Speaker 1:
37:33
Right. And again, like getting people to buy in and really say like, Hey, this is something that I'm part of just because I'm witnessing it. So. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. If you can appreciate it in your backyard, perhaps you can appreciate it in different parts of the world. Right. It's the same theme. Yeah. Yeah. And that's, and I love that you brought that up. Just knowing also that Hey, an animal that's in my backyard might also be in someone else's. So this connects me to other people just by the fact that we have similar animals that live near us. Yeah. Um, awesome. I love animals. This is really exciting. Um, Karen, can you talk a little bit about if there are any, and I'm assuming there are, um, challenges of being a woman in the science field and in animal conservation particularly. Well, it's, it's kind of funny.
Speaker 1:
38:18
I would say maybe there used to be a lot more than there are now because actually maybe to Allen's dismay, women are kind of taking over the world. Hopefully he likes that. But actually in the zoo community, women are starting to really outnumber men. Um, not so much in the highest. Um, I think there's still that glass ceiling a bit, but, um, I, I don't really find it to be too challenging at all. I think if you're someone who's working out in the field, there are probably more inherent challenges. But even there, um, more and more women are becoming involved in this field.
Speaker 4:
38:52
Um, so thinking again about by him and how do we talk about zoos and, you know, how do we, I guess, Farah by if as you as legitimate or has a good mission. Um, you Allen helped Northwest track to become a part of the association of zoos and aquariums. Can you explain why that's important or what [inaudible] value that?
Speaker 3:
39:13
Yeah, no, that's, that's again, another piece of, of our story that needs to be told a little bit louder because there are over 2000 USDA licensed exhibitors of animals out there. But, uh, roughly only 10% of them are accredited by the association of zoos and aquariums and both the Northwest Trek and, and point defiance have been accredited for over 25 years by that association. And it's something that we are very much a part of. It's where we, uh, we help establish the, the standards which are always increasing and it just doesn't look at, uh, animal care for, of course, that's a big component of what we look at. But it looks at everything from our conservation and research to our education, to our safety practices. Every aspect of, of zoo and aquarium operations are examined through that accreditation process. So it's pretty significant. So if, uh, if you have a question about whether you should go visit a zoo or aquarium, perhaps start by looking to see if it's accredited by the association of zoos and aquariums. I think that's a really good standard and it's a, like I said, it's, it's our, our professional association and it's a way that we kind of nudge each other along towards advancing.
Speaker 4:
40:34
Can I ask, cause you had mentioned also about like breeding and working collaboratively collaboratively with others use. Does the AZA help with that? Like identifying another's you that might be willing to work with you or you know, help breed an animal or add a new addition to yours? You is that something, a way to facilitate that? Actually,
Speaker 3:
40:52
that's where all of our animal management programs are based, is through the ACA. So that's, that's our foundation for a lot of those, uh, animal management programs that we have. That's wonderful. So there is kind of like an, yeah, I mean there's, it's still our, our zoon according professionals that typically manage those, those populations. It's kind of a, uh, as assigned duty or you know, we are, our staff are, are always looking for ways to advance our field. I mean that is, our staff are just so passionate about what we do that uh, we're always saying yes to things. And a part of that is, is a staff signing up to be a population managers
Speaker 1:
41:34
or part of the, the group of folks that help organize some of our population management. Yeah. Yeah. We're actually in just a couple of weeks heading, um, to our annual AZA conference. So we have that every year. And I tell you, it is one of my truly favorite things I do every year because it is so highly collaborative. I, um, go and meet with peers who are working on all the same issues that we are and really feeding off of the energy of what everybody's learning and all the new things that everybody's trying to better engage our, our communities is just absolutely invigorating. And I'm some super excited about that, but it is, I think people from outside the zoo world, if they were at one of these conferences, they would be blown away by the variety of topics and just as Alan said, the passion of, of the folks who are in this industry, it's pretty mind blowing.
Speaker 1:
42:21
Yeah. Another misconception may be that we're in competition with Seattle aquarium, Woodland park or the Oregon zoo. No, we're really not. I mean, in fact there's a lot more collaboration there with our neighbors. We want all of us to succeed. We're all accredited, uh, organizations with fabulous missions and yeah, being a mission driven organization, having that, I mean, that's what I'm most proud of working for the zoo in Northwest Trek. There's not many places where I feel that you can go to work every day and feel that your work really, truly has the meaning that ours does. And that's, uh, quite a blessing to be able to work in this field.
Speaker 2:
43:01
Thank you for listening and a big thank you to moon yard recording studios and to, you'd up to coma senior lecturer and Nicole Blair for letting us play your music on the show. Be sure to subscribe and go to Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google podcasts, and PocketCasts.
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