Zoo camps gain ‘ahhs’ while animal babies get the ‘oohs’

Budding zookeepers and veterinarians are spending some of their summer vacations at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (PDZA) walking among animals and chatting with zookeepers at summer camps that include squishy sea creatures and furry tree dwellers as well as poop… lots and lots of poop that the older children get the chance to shovel.

“They are super hands-on,” said program coordinator Erin O’Hagan. “They get dirty and do everything.”

More than 700 children attend PDZA zoo camps each summer and another few hundred see the zoo through day trips offered by programs around the South Sound, introducing children to animal life large and small through a roster of programs that are educationally fun for younger children and more job exploration to older campers. Younger children attend programs like “Really Big Zoo” that looks at the zoo’s longest, tallest and heaviest animals, or get their hands wet at “Saltwater Sidekicks,” where they learn about sharks, fish, marine mammals and touch sea stars or other watery creatures.

“A lot of our teen camps are career focused,” O’Hagan said, noting that camps range from wildlife photography camps to zookeeper for a week and exploratory marine biologist offerings. “Those are our most popular because they have a lot of behind-the-scenes activities.”

While camps of all ages run weekly throughout the summer, the program’s limitations don’t involve a calendar as much as space, since the zoo only has three education rooms where children can meet before heading “out to the field” around the Point Defiance facility.

And that facility is getting crowded in other ways. Jaya, an endangered Sumatran tiger, is pregnant. Baby tigers are expected in late August.

“Jaya’s pregnancy is very exciting news for Point Defiance Zoo visitors and for our global efforts to save this critically endangered species,” said zoo general curator Karen Goodrowe Beck. She noted that only five Sumatran tiger cubs have been born this year in accredited North American zoos and fewer than 380 live in zoos around the world.

This news of the stork set to pay yet another visit to the zoo comes after Jaya gave birth to twin cubs just two years ago. Millie, an endangered red wolf at the zoo, gave birth to six pups this spring as well. The births represent a milestone in an effort established at Point Defiance Zoo in 1973 to save the extremely fragile species from extinction. Their pup daddy is 9-year-old Graham. Those red wolf births followed Lupin bearing nine pups of her own at an off-site breeding facility near Eatonville. They include seven females and two males as the species hovers on the edge of extinction. In 1980 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the red wolf biologically extinct in the wild. Today, only some 100 roam the Red Wolf Recovery Area operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in northeastern North Carolina.

The birth of the new tigers will likely draw more people to the zoo. That’s what happened last year, when the toddler tigers helped boost attendance to new records.

Jaya and the tiger baby daddy, Malosi, can be seen on exhibit in the zoo’s Asian Forest Sanctuary. After the birth, the cubs will remain behind the scenes until they are old enough to make their way around in the exhibits. If all goes well, the cubs will make their public debut in early fall.

“Jaya has already shown us that she is a wonderful mother,” said Goodrowe Beck. “But we will be prepared to quickly step in and help her if anything goes wrong.”

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